Explaining Being a Writer to Friends and Family

 

I should start by saying that I have not yet published a novel. I’ve published poetry and articles, but I haven’t hit the mother lode yet.

Explaining being a writer to friends and family can be frustrating and humorous.

First and foremost, unless they are writers themselves, they don’t understand the process, the time commitment, or the frustration that comes with wanting to be a published novelist.

Every time I talk to my mother she asks me “Are you going to get this one published?” as if I just need to walk down to the local bookstore and hand them my book. I would love to tell her, “Yes! It’s going on shelves next week!” But when I try to explain that it’s completed, and that it really isn’t “finished” just yet, I hear silence on the other end of the phone. She doesn’t get it. It isn’t her fault, she just isn’t a writer and doesn’t understand that writing is a process.

Truth of the matter is, aside from the initial completion of a novel, most of my non-writer friends and family could care less. Some of them ask about it from time to time, but then glaze over when I bring up editing, or second drafts, or the nature of the business. They don’t really want to know.

Even my own husband has only read one of my early novels. In fact, when I was teasing him about not being interested in what I was writing, he insisted that he was interested, and that he’d read my book. That was 3 manuscripts ago! If it was me, I would want to know what my partner was writing about: am I in it? Is the psycho man-hater character modeled after me? What sort of personal stuff did you put in there? But not him. I guess I should consider myself lucky on that note. I could write a whole book about him and he’d never know it until it was on the shelf of Barnes and Noble. Hmmmm…maybe…nah, I wouldn’t do that. But the point is that I could, and he’d never know.

The truth is that writing can be a lonely business. People won’t understand what you do. They won’t understand the effort you put in to character development, and structure, and plot. They won’t understand what’s taking so long to get your book published. They won’t understand that just finishing a first draft is an accomplishment in itself, even if it never gets published. And writing a second or third novel is even more impressive.

So if it seems like you don’t have the support of family and friends when you’re writing, don’t give up. Those same family and friends will be there when your book goes on the shelf. They might even buy a copy…maybe. They may even open it up and read it just to see if they’re in it.

Don’t worry about finding an answer when they ask if you’re book is published yet. Just tell them it’s in the works. Because it is…the moment that first word is written, your great novel is in the works.

More writing and less explaining!

Besides, the writing community gets it.

Do you have a creative way that you explain writing to your friends and family? I’d love to hear it.

Head-Hopping is Making My Head Spin!

 

There are hundreds of rules when writing a novel that a writer has to follow to get through the slush pile. Rules that I would venture to say most readers have never heard of (unless they are writers themselves).

Head-hopping seems to be the LATEST ‘NO-NO’ on a really long list of Taboos that writers MUST follow. But even a lot of editor’s CAN’T AGREE on when it occurs, especially in Third Person Omniscient POV, which is the POV I generally use. So how am I supposed to avoid it when I can’t even get a straight answer?

Head-hopping is my biggest pet-peeve and is probably why I will never be published. Head-hopping is when the writer suddenly changes the character point of view. There are obvious instances, but it’s the subtle changes that trip me up. I just don’t see it.

As a reader, it doesn’t bother me, or at least it didn’t until I heard about it.

I read a book and if I like it, then fabulous! And chances are, I have probably run across lots of head-hopping and never even noticed.

Take apart any work of fiction and you’re going to find it: Stephen King, Hemingway, Nora Roberts…the list goes on. They’ve all been guilty of head-hopping and survived the critics. The caveat I’ve heard is “that they’ve done it well, and the reader doesn’t even notice.” Huh?

But it’s supposed to be a cardinal rule! A giant mistake! It will get your manuscript tossed in the trash can at the first instance (or so I’ve read).

Here’s the way I look at it (and I’m probably wrong, so don’t listen to me – I’m not published):

Head-hopping is a guideline…A GUIDELINE. There are lots of editors and bloggers that will tell you that it’s a cardinal sin and will ruin your career before it’s even started. And they may be right. I mean, they’re the gatekeepers, right? They make the rules and as writers we have to follow them. But like I said before, even THEY can’t completely agree on it!

I understand that they are just doing their job, following their protocol. I’ve just gotten so frustrated with the publishing process lately. As soon as I think, “okay, I’ve got this,” I find out something else that I’m totally missing. Getting published seems further and further away every time I go deeper into that rabbit hole.

Back to the drawing board.

Head-Hopping…Ugh!

What’s your two cents on head-hopping? And if you aren’t a writer, have you ever noticed it when reading?

Wanted: Literary Agent

I received another rejection for my manuscript today. I’ve heard that’s supposed to be a good thing, that you should file your rejections away somewhere so that you can learn from them. But it still stings, and is very frustrating. Sometimes I wish there was a sort of “dating” website for literary agents.

I wish I could place an ad, send it out to the literary universe, and then wait for the agents to find me.

Wanted: Literary Agent for dedicated writer. Women’s fiction writer seeking agent for long and profitable relationship. If you represent character-driven, female-centric stories, please contact me. No sparkly vampires, no over-the-top supernatural plot lines. If you like flawed characters that fight with their inner demons, or females who join forces to make their lives better, then let’s talk.

But, sadly, that’s not the way it works. It’s not that I haven’t done the research, because I have, and will continue to do so. But the odds of finding the RIGHT agent that represents what I write AND that is accepting new clients AT THE VERY MOMENT that I query, seems more and more to be a real luck of the draw.

I appreciate all of the “How I Found My Agent” posts that I read, but they really aren’t very helpful, because finding an agent is such a unique and individual experience. Sure I can learn from someone else’s experience, or their mistakes, but the odds that their unique situation will be remotely similar to mine are rare. Not to mention that most of those posts or articles are written by people that got an agent within their FIRST FEW queries. Rarely do I read one that says, “After 175 (or more) queries, I finally got an agent.” THAT’S the story I want to hear.

I know this is just a fantasy, because, let’s face it: most agents aren’t looking through the want ads for new authors to represent. They don’t have to. They have more than enough authors seeking them. They’re like the hot guy on Tinder who gets swiped more times than he swipes. It’s just a fact. The “slush pile” is real.

But it’s sort of fun to pretend that a literary agent would actually be seeking me. A girl can dream, can’t she? I’ll keep reaching for the brass ring until I find my perfect match.

Editing too soon

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I’ve completed 3 novels (not yet published), but they’re written and in various stages.

The first one (I call it my practice novel) tumbled out of me. It was practically effortless to write. It was born out of an idea I’d been sitting on for about 15 years, so it was more than familiar to me before I even began the first chapter. I knew the characters well, and I knew what they wanted and how they intertwined.

I was also naïve and had no idea what went into getting something published. I just wanted to write.

My second novel (the sequel to the first novel) actually became absorbed into the first novel. So again, I knew the characters. But after researching the chances of getting a first novel ever published, I set it aside…for now.

The third novel is currently out to beta readers to help me catch things I’ve overlooked. That one, I will try to get published, preferably in the traditional sense, but I haven’t ruled out self-publishing either.

I’ve just started my fourth novel, and it’s moving slowly. In part, because I’m now working part time and have to “schedule” my writing time around work, kids, husband, dinner, oh, and sleeping. For the first few novels I had the luxury of not working and could write all day long if the mood struck me. But then real life kicked in.

I think the reason this novel is progressing so slowly is because, well, I know too much. Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t profess to come anywhere close to my published counterparts, not even a little bit. But I think I’ve read too much about writing.

I now find myself over-thinking my sentence structure and word usage instead of just writing. I know that the first chapter is rarely the “actual” first chapter, so I’m re-arranging the chapters in my head as I’m writing, and I’m only 7,000 words in.

I’m thinking too much instead of writing, and I don’t know how to get back to just writing. I can’t “unlearn” what I already know, all the research that I’ve done, and it’s messing with my process.

Here’s where I need some advice from my fellow writers: how do you block out your “inner editor” during the first draft? How do you ignore the compulsion to edit as you go? Or is there a way to use that to my advantage?

Waiting

clock-474128_1280Writers spend a lot of time writing. I know…it’s not rocket science.

But we also spend A LOT of time waiting. I can’t speak for the successful, published writer, as I’ve not yet reached that height. But I can speak from the unpublished writer’s view. In fact, I would venture to say, if you’re a writer who has actually tried to be published, and you were to actually be paid for the amount of time you wait, you would probably make more money on the hourly wage while waiting, than for the actual sales of the book.

The act of waiting has become a bit of a lost art.

Think about it. What do we wait for anymore? Our TV is On Demand, our music is downloaded instantly, even our phone calls don’t wait…we send a text when we don’t get a hold of someone right at the very moment we need them. And then, we don’t even wait for them to answer, because we’ve already moved on to our next order of business until they can answer back.

But writing is different. Writers don’t always get an answer. Sometimes they don’t even get the obligatory “thanks for your interest, but we’re not accepting at this time.” A lot of times it’s just the sound of crickets on the other end of that email.

So what does a writer do while they wait? They write, of course. And they read. And they learn. And they hope. And they wait some more.

What other profession (other than parenting) involves producing a product, sometimes over years (sometimes 20 or more), and then gingerly handing it over to someone you hardly even know to have it come back to you riddled with red marks, or worse…having no feedback at all?

I think blogging revolutionized the writing industry for the writer. Sure, it provides hours of entertainment to its recipients, but before blogging, the only feedback a writer had was maybe a handful of people that they allowed to read their work, or it just gathered dust in a box in the attic.

I’m a child of the 80s, and I remember the punk rock underground mags that were photocopied, stapled and distributed at shows, and thrift shops, and then passed around to friends. I remember how dog-eared and tattered they would be by the time they got to you sometimes. Imagine if that was still how we got our material out there. Imagine how long that wait would be.

Without the blogging community, the waiting would be unbearable at times.

Waiting takes patience, and it takes practice. And sometimes the best things do happen while we wait. Have you ever had something remarkable happen while you were waiting for your next step in life?

Setting the Write Mood

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No, this is not about setting the right romantic mood for tonight’s romantic escapade. Sorry to disappoint.

This is about setting the mood to write.

After reading a post on The Lonely Author blog about how writers live through their characters, it got me to thinking about how we write certain scenes and how we identify with characters.

I’m curious how other fellow writers work their writing process, and if it makes a difference to the quality of writing they produce?

For instance, do you require silent isolation? Do you have your own personal space you work in, and does it have a door to shut off the world around you?

Do you require different settings for different characters?

Do you write at your favorite coffee house, or library?

Do you write in the middle of chaos with your four children screaming in the background? There’s a story about a woman named Susanna Wesley, who had something like 19 kids, and would sit at the kitchen table and pull her apron over her head and study the Bible in the midst of the chaos. I am not that woman.

How important, if at all, is it for you to have the proper mood to write? Or do you write “on the fly” between meetings, in traffic, waiting in the carpool line for the bell to ring, or at soccer practice?

Do you have to write a scene down when it comes to you, or do you have amazing recall?

I think mood is important. Recently, I watched part of “the Shining” (before it got too scary for me) and was frightened by the way I could identify with Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, when he’s alone in that beautiful, giant room, typing away at the typewriter, and he keeps getting interrupted by his wife and son, and totally freaks out on them. Okay…maybe Jack Torrance isn’t the best example and may be a little extreme…but I totally got what he was experiencing.

Sometimes, when I’m knee deep in a scene, especially something dark or heavy, and I feel someone approaching with a question, I fight to keep the mood of the scene going. But sometimes their mere presence ruins my train of thought.

Fortunately, I’m not living in a remote resort, cut off from civilization, with ghosts and my own demons playing tricks on my psyche.

But you get the idea. Setting the mood, whatever that means, is part of writing.

What advice do you have for writers who may be struggling to set the mood and find their groove?

Writing in a Vacuum

My vacuum is a bit of a relic. I bought it sometime around 1992, and it still works. It’s got actual metal parts and still uses bags (which I have to purchase from the manufacturer), but I won’t trade it for one of the newer plastic models until it inhales its last dust bunny.

But that durability has its drawbacks: it’s heavy and can be hard to maneuver, and vacuuming the stairs can be a real workout.

Sometimes writing can be that way too. Of course there are steadfast rules to writing. There are plot formulas, and correct grammar usage, and trends in the publishing arena that a writer should be aware of to stay relevant, if a writer cares about such things. Publishers and writers need those things to create a business for themselves.

But sometimes, just sometimes, a writer needs to go beyond the formulas. Sometimes a writer needs to step away from the keyboard and get some real life experiences. Otherwise, we are just writing in a vacuum. And just like my trusty relic, our writing becomes clunky, and hard to maneuver. Writing becomes a workout.

Writing is by nature a solitary, lonely business, especially if we forget to get out of the vacuum. Remember to share life with others, not just with the voices in your head. Have conversations, not just texts. Don’t be afraid to vacuum up a lego once in a while to really shake things up. That’s when writing really comes alive.

What do you do to shake things up? How do you get out of the vacuum to make your writing better?