I heard the phrase “killing your writing babies” when I first started and didn’t really get what it meant until I went to my first critique group meeting. I had only written one chapter on my first ever novel and as you can imagine I was a bit taken aback at all of the comments, feedback and markings all over the page. Yes, that’s back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and we still critiqued on paper…lol! Now we do it all online, but that was back in 2003 when we first started – you know, back there before the first electric light and all of that 🙂 Anyway – I digress. There were a few sentences that I thought were particularly well written and I liked the sound of them. I knew they were grammatically correct but I just really liked how they sounded and was quite proud of how I’d written them. Very “writerly”, if you get my drift. Yes, you can see where this is going. Every single one of my new critique partners pointed out those few sentences as way too flowery and not really saying what I was trying to say. In other words, I wasn’t stating plainly what I was trying to say – I was going for flowery writing and losing the reader. Yes, it was hard to hear, but wow, am I glad they all told me, and that that lesson has stuck with me all these years later. If you read my writing now I’m pretty sure I’m fairly straightforward and that you won’t find a lot of flowery. I’ve been told my books are a pretty fast paced read – not just for the action (or sex, depending on the book…snicker) but for the writing style. And some people are confused at why I’m happy to hear that feedback. It’s mainly because after I received that feedback I started paying attention to what I was reading. I figured out which authors I read wrote flowery and which wrote more straightforwardly. And I realized the books in the latter category were the ones I usually couldn’t put down. Granted, they also needed to have wonderful, complex and engaging characters as well as a well developed and believable plot, but I took the lesson and ran with it. So one of my pieces of advice for new writers is to not fall in love with your ‘babies’. That could be a particular sentence, a way of describing things, a particular phrase you like to say (or write), a plot point, a certain setting or scene etc. Sometimes those things won’t work within the story, or will NOT make it a better story or a better read. And as an author, your job (and hopefully your goal) is to give readers the best book you possibly can which hopefully means they will fall in love with your characters and your stories enough so they want to read not only everything you’ve written but re-read what they already have read. Our stories give readers not only an escape, but stress relief, a mini vacation, keeps their minds alert and a whole host of other things. So, as I heard one author tell a particularly stubborn newbie – “Put on your big girl panties, stop whining about what you THINK the readers SHOULD want, and go write a damn good book that your readers will love! That’s your job so get to it!” 🙂 I’ve always remembered that, and every time I get discouraged I remind myself to “put on my big girl panties and get to it!” And on that note, I’m off to get back to writing and kill off any “babies” I find that aren’t adding to my story. Off to be ruthless! 🙂
Well, I should say what I USUALLY do. I’ve been fighting with a scene for the past month and just realized I should’ve taken my own good advice long ago! I’ve rewritten the thing a gazillion times and it just won’t work. It feels forced and aimless even though I’ve given the characters plenty of good motivation for doing what I need them to do…
Anyway – at least once in 80% of the books I’ve written I’ve hit a wall with a scene. Like I said above, it just WON’T work. It doesn’t flow, it feels forced or won’t move at all. It’s like all of the characters have gone to sleep on the page and just won’t wake up. I HATE that feeling!
But several years ago when I was writing my very first book I heard Jennifer Ashley speak at a conference and she mentioned that sometimes she skips ahead and writes other scenes when one she’s on just isn’t working. Before that I had always envisioned writers just sitting down at the keyboard and writing from Chapter One until the end in one continuous stream. So hearing this comment from a New York Times Best Selling author who writes great books opened up a whole new vista of possibilities for me.
I immediately went home and wrote the last scene of the book which had been perking in my mind from almost the beginning of the book. After that was out of my head and on paper, I was able to go back and write the rest of the middle and thread it all together. That book – Into a Dangerous Mind – went on to win the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for 2006 for Best Small Press Contemporary Paranormal, and is one of my best selling books as Tina Gerow to date.
Since then I’ve also used that tactic on many of my other books, including most of my Cassie Ryan books. It allows me to move on with a scene I can already see inside my head, and there’s also something about getting it out of my brain and into my manuscript that kicks my imagination and creativity back into high gear. Usually after that accomplishment – I can go back and thread those scenes together with the previous ones to bridge the gap, so to speak. So now I usually take the time to go ahead and write any scenes that keep playing over in my imagination, even before it’s their turn to play out in my manuscript.
However, this time, for some reason I didn’t do that and it has bitten me on the butt with a month of spinning my wheels. I can try to blame it on the personal stress lately or some other external thing, but I think the problem was that this was just a novella length story that I was writing to keep me writing daily until I’m back under contract. So consequently I don’t have the axe over my head of an actual deadline, and I wasn’t quite as driven as I normally am to finish. I know that’s a piss poor excuse and I need to get my ass in gear and finish it and move onto the next even while continuing to work with my agent to get me back under contract.
But after my <FACE PALM> moment this morning where I realized what I had been doing to myself, I’m finally back on board and first thing tomorrow I will take my own good advice! Or actually, the great advice that I got from Jennifer Ashley years ago and have since heard from countless other authors.
I say first thing tomorrow because I’ve already spent an hour this morning rewriting that damn scene yet again only to wear out my brain and frustrate myself beyond belief!
Yeah, sometimes I’m not too bright…lol!
So take my advice (and feel free to toss it back at me if you see me falling into this rut again!) If a scene just isn’t working, don’t force it. Jump ahead and write something later in the book and get your “love” for that story back. Then you can always go back and thread those together. In fact for one of my Cassie Ryan books I had in mind several different scenes – I think there were 8, but I wasn’t sure of the overall book arc yet. So I wrote those 8 different scenes and then threaded them together with the first three chapters – which was the partial I sold the trilogy off of – and then smoothed the entire thing together and BAM – Ceremony of Seduction was finished and ready to edit! Which incidentally, is my best selling book under either pen name – EVER 🙂
Happy writing, all!