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GO BACK!… It’s a Trap. Blog Hopping   Leave a comment

Posted July 1, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Beware the Pitfalls   9 comments

July 1, 2019

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

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There’s an old Alaskan saying “He has a mind like a steel trap … rusted shut.” Another saying is “His mind is so open, his brains feel out.”

Keep both of those in mind as I run down what I think are some of the traps aspiring novelists fall into.

I guess I’m no longer “aspiring”. I mean, I’ve published eight books and been in several anthologies and at some point that made me an “expert” looking back at my aspirational days and hoping I can be an inspiration to those who follow me. So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I think.

Trap #1 – Not actually writing the story

I get so frustrated at the local writer’s guild because there are wonderful writers there with some great fictional ideas and they talk about their writing A LOT, but they don’t seem to be finishing any of it or publishing. And, they say things like “Oh, you’re so brave and adventurous.” No, I just got tired of making excuses for not writing.

Social media is a wonderful way to promote writing and is essential in today’s book marketing world, but if you spend all of your time on social media talking about the book you want to write, you don’t actually write the book. You need to bang out some words on a keyboard pretty much everyday if you ever hope to make progress on your masterpiece, pot-boiler or whatever. I do take occasional down days because all work and no play makes Lela a crabby harridan, but I write even when I’m chasing my husband down a mountain bike trail. It’s always going on in my head. And then I spend a few hours over the next few days writing it down so that I’m making progress toward my goal of publishing one book every year.

Meanwhile, I pop into social media, post a conversation teaser and try to spend only a few minutes a day maintaining that web presence, while noting so many aspiring authors planning their promotional campaign before they’ve even finished chapter one of their book. I also see a lot of aspiring writers talking about writing, posting on social media about writing, but rarely sitting their butt in the chair and writing their story. It doesn’t matter if it’s magazine articles, screenplays, novels, or non-fiction, I see so many people talking about writing more than they write.

It takes discipline to turn off social media and write. It also takes discipline to stop “researching” on the Internet and start writing. Yes, you need to do research to not have huge mistakes in your writing, but I’ve had colleagues who’ve spent six months trolling the web for a bunch of nonsense notes they will never use. Meanwhile, I write the first draft filled with parenthetical statements like “research”. I come back to these on rewrite and do my research then, when I’m under deadline to finish and I have a definable goal.

Slow down and focus on the work. You can’t sell a book until it is written. You’re going to spend the rest of your life promoting your books, so you want to make sure your first one is the best book you could have written. I took a lot of writing classes back in the days before you could self-publish. I have done my time in writing groups. I run my books by multiple beta readers and I hire an editor. I do some pre-promotion of upcoming books and I’m running ads on Amazon for my catalog, but 90% of my attention is on creating an original, well-written, compelling book.

Trap #2 – Thinking Your Story is Great

Yes, the bones of your story may be wonderful, but is it interesting and well-written? Will a reader actually care about your characters? Will they remember a single line from your book? Or will they yawn and forget they ever read it? Have you asked someone else who isn’t your mom, best friend or the man you’re sleeping with, what they think?

Especially if you write series like I do, you want readers not only to have enjoyed reading a book, but to want to revisit the setting and characters at a later time because something in the way you use language or the characters you’ve developed makes them want to come back for a second-helping.

The first draft needs to be written. That’s it. If you spend too much time polishing the first three chapters, you’ll never get to “the end.” It’s not easy to stop yourself from going back and making changes. I make notes along the way and keep moving forward. When I get to “the end” I go back and polish to my heart’s content. I call it the “pioneer draft” (reutilizing an Alaska Department of Transportation term for a glorified trail euphemistically called a “pioneer road”) Some authors call it the “vomit draft”. Get the words on the page, so there’s something to fix. Good writing always involves rewriting.

Trap #3 – Not waiting for life experience

I know, I just told you to get starting writing, but some stories can’t truly be written until you’ve lived a little. Synchronicity plays a major role in the creation and publishing process. Sometimes the inspiration to write a book comes to us long before we are ready to write that story. It’s  not a matter of talent or skill. Even the best steaks can be improved with marination. There are defining experiences, conversations, chance encounters,  and epiphanies that we need in order to best tell our story.

Don’t expect to publish the best book you can if you haven’t earned a litlte scar tissue as a human. Don’t publish that book before its time. That said, you don’t want to wait too long. You have to rely on instinct to know the difference. I first wrote the draft for “What If … Wasn’t” 20 years ago and it’s still not ready, but I know it’s getting near. It was a great story based on someone’s true life experiences, but I needed time for my own life experiences and thought-processes to do it justice. The result, I think, will be a far more nuanced and mature commentary on self-destruction, redemption and the prison-industrial complex than I ever could have completed prior to this point. In the grand scheme of things, trust the timing of your life and quality of your craft.

Trap #4 – Craft Matters

There are all kinds of reasons writers fail and sometimes even best-selling authors fall into traps.

I recently beta read a story that had a great plot and one character with 15 names. Really! The writer’s personality shown through at every level, in every scene. Often the only way I could tell that the characters weren’t all the same person was through carefully following the dialogue tags. Voice needs to vary from POV character to POV character, but also within dialogue. In Transformation Project, I’ve got a 96-year-old man from rural Kansas. The way he talks should be different from the way the 28-year-old Egyptian-American virologist speaks. And if you can’t tell the difference when they are talking to one another, I haven’t done my job as a writer.

Originality matters. Writing is not only about what’s written but also about the impact it brings. Fancy words mean nothing if authenticity is lacking. The comedian Christopher Titus says his career was going nowhere until he started being honest about his life in his sketches. You wouldn’t think a schizophrenic-bipolar mom who killed her last husband, a womanizing, child-beating alcoholic dad, and the damaged offspring they produced would be comedic fodder, but I’ve wet my pants laughing while watching Titus prove that contention wrong. As authors, we don’t to lay our lives raw that a comedian does, but the reader senses authenticity when we’re writing with passion and having our characters claim our own truths.

There’s a temptation that many authors run up against. I call it the Stephen King Syndrome. I can’t stand Stephen King’s horror novels. Yeah, I don’t really like to read horror, but it’s also that he writes to a formula so that I can pretty much guess what’s going to happen within a few pages. I get it. He had a publishing deadline and formulaic writing goes down faster than discovery writing. And King proves that to me in his non-horror writing, which I quite enjoy.

Yeah, I’m a writer, so maybe I’m just more aware of the “best-seller plot line”, but I’m willing to bet that any aspiring author reading my blog doesn’t have a following like King’s and so can’t afford to give their readers the blue-plate special of novels. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know — all the writing gurus say to structure your plot this. It’s good to know the rules and it’s better to break them, bend them, twist them into a pretzel and keep your readers guessing — unless you’re writing a mystery and even then, you don’t want the reader to guess whodunit before the end of the first chapter.

Trap #5 – Not managing expectations

You are an aspiring author and you’ve written a great book. Now the hard work starts. You aren’t James Patterson or Nora Roberts. Even if you sell your book to a publishing house, you’ll be doing all of your own marketing and publicity and spending your own money to do it. Welcome to modern-day publishing. It’s easier than ever to get published, but publishers don’t help you unless you’re already famous.

Stop crying, put on your big girl panties and get back to work. You will spend more time working to get your name and books out to readers than it took to write the book. I’m not all that friendly. I live in Alaska for a reason. I like writing stories, but I’m not all that fond of finding the next way to get my books in front of readers. Learning Photoshop for making images, learning to write ad copy, finding placed to put the ad copy and images, tweaking online advertisements, posting on social media — these all take an extraordinary amount of time that takes away from being able to write the next story. If you want to be an “inspiring author” instead of just an aspiring one, these are a part of your life now. Nobody will read your book if they don’t know it’s there.

Learn to meter your time and focus on what is important – writing the next book — but be aware that you do actually need to pay attention to all the window-dressing. And, who knows – maybe you’ll never make more than a few dollars selling that wonderful novel you wrote … or maybe you’re the next JRR Tolkien or Ray Bradbury. They had to do a lot of work to before they became household names.

So my oil for the traps is ….

Just write! Enjoy it. Strive for authenticity. Write the very best book you can and don’t be afraid to let it rest for a few years or a decade until you’ve matured enough to tackle the meat of it. In the meantime, write other books. Be yourself. Be aware of the rules, but don’t try to slavishly follow a strict plot structure or character map. Make sure your characters are entertaining and walk, talk and fart like real people. Let them run through your setting creating their own plot. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and get a little messy for your craft, like I did with Hullabaloo on Main Street. And above all, plan to publish because nobody can read your book if it stays on your hard drive.

And because I do have to market my own books, maybe you could help an indie author out and check them out. I promise, you will enjoy them.

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Posted July 1, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Meeting the Public   4 comments

Feb. 26, 2018 – Do you attend Author/Reader Events? What do you offer on your tables and how do you interact with readers?

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I live in Alaska, which means I am a long way away from everywhere else. It’s a great place for a writer to live because the weather calls you indoors for half the year, but it makes things like book conventions prohibitively expensive.

Image result for image of a author tableI have participated in a few electronic conventions and not found them particularly helpful in selling books – a lot of work usually involving my getting up at an insane time of the morning (time zones, doncha know?) and I didn’t sell any more books than a Facebook advert has.

Alaska is a very artsy community, however, and it’s a community that is isolated, so people plan their own events. My favorite of these is 1st Friday. Local businesses keep their doors open on the first Friday evening of the month and invite the public in.

Imagine:

  • A sporting goods store displaying art work from local artists and is okay with a table where authors can sell books
  • A beauty shop putting out hors d’oeuvres while a local bluegrass band or ensemble group plays in the background and a table where authors can sell books
  • A used book store in a mini-mall hosting a table for local authors to sell their new books
  • A coffee shop that allows writers to take over a table to sell their books while the resident band plays

I cannot take full advantage of this all the time because I buy my books POD from Createspace, so the cost outlay keeps me from doing this up big, but I have several friends from the local writer’s guild who have boxes of books in their garage, so I help cover their tables and I hand out flyers for my books with a discount code. I always sell a couple of books in the week following, so it’s worth it to spend a pleasant evening interacting with people who I enjoy and talking to the public.

What I learn from the public is that not all Alaskans want to read Alaskana, so they are surprised to encounter an Alaska novelist who does not write Alaska-based fiction. Surprised and pleased.  What I’ve also learned is that I really need to put my books into Ingram so I can buy in bulk and take better advantage of the local paperback market.

When Your Villain Isn’t A Villain   Leave a comment

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Villain: wicked or evil person; someone who does evil deliberately; principal bad character in a film or work of fiction (WordWeb). I’d like to add to that: character who refuses to cooperate with your plot.

When Your Villain isn't a Villain #writerslife #amediting @kayelleallenI started with the definition of villain so we both speak the same language. Mine was named Pietas and he was the bad guy in a book I’d written, edited, rewritten, re-edited, and restarted nine times since 2008.

I picked it back up, considered it, and set it aside again multiple more times before I realized my problem was not with the plot, the hero, or the concept. It was the villain.

My problem was with my immortal Ultra, Pietas.

He would not do any of the things I thought a bad guy should do. Seriously? A villain who doesn’t even swear? What kind of bad guy is that? Although he had used a “bad word” in a book no longer in print, that was me badly writing his character to fit my “vision” of who he was. It felt wrong at the time but I didn’t listen to my gut. I should have.

Like any proper scoundrel, Pietas was cold and inhuman and his followers obeyed him without question. But unlike the usual dastardly-deed-doer, the minions of Pietas followed him out of loyalty. I’d missed something in creating this villain of mine and I didn’t know what it was. I figured I had to either put the book away forever or find a way to make Pietas behave.

Those who know the Bringer of Chaos are laughing right now. Make Pietas do what? Right!

Talking to a writer friend, I lamented about this frustrating villain and how difficult it was to write about a narcissistic sociopath. She laughed in my face and informed me I couldn’t be more wrong. He was not a villain at all, but a passionate, honorable, and humble man who’d been put in a position of being the heavy.

To which I replied, “No, no. I’m talking about Pietas.” Turned out, so was she. Obviously, I had missed far more than I suspected. But what?

With her help, we set up an “interview” where she would ask me questions and I would answer as Pietas in a free association format. This is a thought process in which ideas, words or images suggest other ideas in a sequence. Using what I already knew about him, I would try to figure out how he’d answer. I’d role play. Why not? Pietas was not only the king of the immortals in my story, he was the Gamemaster in the role-playing game they all obsessed over: Peril.

We agreed to record it so I could go back and listen again. She would ask open-ended questions that couldn’t be answered “yes” or “no” which would elicit conversation. We talked for well over an hour. She asked “Pietas” about his father, how he felt about his mother, why he did not get along with his sister, and why he was so hung up on a previous lover. What had happened to him as a child that made him angry now? What did he hope to accomplish?

By the end, I had a far deeper understanding of the immortal king. I got to know the real person and not the superficial character I’d written. What showed up in other books was the person he presented to the world. In reality, the psychotic front he showed to others was not at all who he was.

That insight changed everything.

I got to work writing his story instead of the one I’d wanted. When I finished Bringer of Chaos: the Origin of Pietas and released it, one reviewer said “He’s painted as a complete psycho in other books. It’s really great to get some insight into who he truly is.” Readers told me they felt Pietas was a real person and I was channeling his energy. My heart sang. I’d accomplished my purpose and revealed the true person to the world. Although, now I had to deal with Pietas, who wasn’t all that happy about the big reveal! I’ve sweet-talked him into bringing his truth into the light, so we should see several more books in his series.

I’ve been busy writing the sequel to the Origin of Pietas. I’m on the last few pages now. Here’s the blurb for the new book, Bringer of Chaos: Forged in Fire. (updated cover on the way)

Reviving after death isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and wounds of the heart take forever.

When Pietas reunites with the immortal Ultra people he was born to lead, they reject his human friend, Six, a member of Ghost Corps. Ghosts, their most feared adversaries, are resurrected special ops soldiers who possess enough strength to perma-kill Ultras.

Six is taken hostage, and Pietas must free his friend, deal with the brutal father he’s detested since childhood, make amends with his sister, and rescue his ailing mother. Meanwhile, the tempestuous affair he rekindles with a beautiful, telepathic warrior he’s adored for centuries lays bare long-held and deadly secrets.

The gift of telepathy he’s always wished for activates at the worst possible time, but it gives him one huge advantage. He bonds with an ally who harbors every bit as much hatred for his father as Pietas does: a tribe of genetically enhanced panthers. As much as he loves these noble creatures, connecting with their feral bloodlust threatens to undermine his legendary self-control.

How can he even hope love will withstand the unstoppable berserker rage within the Bringer of Chaos? If it can’t, Ghost Corps will be the last thing Ultras need to fear.

To know when this book is released, join the Romance Lives Forever Reader Group.
Pick up Bringer of Chaos: the Origin of Pietas

Posted August 2, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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Finding Head Space   Leave a comment

Most indie writers don’t have a lot of time to write. We have to work other jobs to pay the bills, after all. Even when I was a stay-at-home mother, I had this other job that required I change her dirty diapers and feed her.There is never enough time to practice your art. You are forever battling against the many demands life puts on the precious hours in your day,

Ray Bradbury reported that he enjoyed writing amid the chaos of his family and, frankly, I agree with Mr. Bradbury. For a while, my writing cave was a spare bedroom away from the family and, frankly, I didn’t like it. I write in snippets and have a high tolerance for noise, so the living room or the master bedroom where the kids were yelling outside in the hall worked fine for me … and still does.

I honestly don’t know what I would do with 24/7 time to write. I suspect I would waste a great deal of it in other activities. And I would lose connections with the world that I value greatly. My jobs have been a great source of inspiration and research for me over the years.

Someone at the local writer’s guild asked me how I get into the zone for writing when I have distractions that she, being a non-working empty nester whose husband is gone on military deployment does not have. I stared at her, dumbfounded. She’s reading my fantasy series and marveling that I can get into the headspace some writers call “flow”. I’m glad I didn’t really have any answer for her, because I think what I’m about to say now may sound a litlte arrogant to other writers.

 

Certainly I carve out time where I can surrender all of my attention to the creative task for hours at a time, but more often than not, I am surrendering my attention for minutes. To surrender myself totally to the creative process requires a deliberate throwing of a switch inside my brain, but it is a switch that I have been aware of since high school. It allows me to slip into a state where I am not so much working on my art, but breathing my art. For me, it’s really not that tough to create instantaneous headspace in the midst of a busy day. I pre-write a lot of scenes while doing mundane tasks like reconciling credit card charges for my office. I don’t wait around for a muse to inspire me. The muse is almost always there, taking in my head and it is in that headspace where beautiful things happen. When I put my fingers to the keyboard, I am often just transcribing the story that has already played out in my head.

 

How do you create headspace? Well, I find it just comes to me when I’m thinking about something else, but I’ve had friends tell me that they think about nothing. That wouldn’t work for me, I don’t think. My brain would distract itself with all the wonderful things there are to think about, so it’s better that I’m thinking about something that doesn’t require a lot of thought. I give myself permission to step outside of my life — to unfocus just slightful from whatever tedious task I have chosen for myself. I allow myself to think someone else’s thoughts, to become someone else.

 

There is nothing wrong with setting aside time for this if you can manage it, but my life has never arranged itself thusly, so I don’t allow it to dictate my creativity. I take frequent breaks. I switch between stories. I go hiking. There is a natural ebb and flow to creativity. You can’t run the well dry, but you can sap its energy if you push too hard and too long on one particular story. That leads to burn out and I suspect is the source of the writer’s block I’ve never experienced. When I get stuck, feeling uninspired, I switch to another story and work on that for a while. I give myself a break, a momentary step back from my primary project and purposefully go do anything else.

When I get into rewrite, I do set aside time to actually get into deep concentration on the project, to envision scenery and action sequences. Sometimes that feels awkward, so I have to go through the motions, writing one word after another after another, until the creativity starts to flow.

The one thing I never do is allow myself to be freaked out when I feel less than inspired. The characters inside my head will almost always speak to me again in the future — if I’m patient and filing documents, because that is how my writer’s brain works.

 

 

Jacquie Biggar-USA Today Best-selling author

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