Winners: Stephanie, from Blue Grass country, Barbara’s a signed copy of The Promise Between Us and Linda Moore, a signed copy of Ghost Gifts.
Many thanks for all the comments!
Comment on this blog post and be entered to win a signed copy of Barbara Claypole White’s latest release, The Promise Between Us—racing up the Amazon charts. A second winner receives a signed book from my Ghost Gifts series. Which novel? That’s a surprise!
Winners announced Monday, January 22nd. Enjoy the post!
Author disclaimer: We are not writing experts. In fact, we bow to a master on this point: “There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”–Ernest Hemingway
But we have scratched the writing surface.
Between us, Barbara and I have published a dozen novels, several of them bestsellers. This week Barbara is celebrating the release of her fifth novel, The Promise Between Us. Yay! ????????????
As Hemingway notes, it is nice when writing works out “easily and perfectly.” Personally, I can count on one hand the number of times this phenomenon has occurred. “Me too,” Barbara calls from rural North Carolina. But still, this is nice when it happens and should not be discounted.
Drilling and blasting with charges—true statement. ⛏????When the dust settles, and pieces of characters are forever embedded in your mind, you stare at your explosive masterpiece and think, “Wow. Where did that come from?”
If you are fastidious and dedicated, if you’ve thrown everything you have into your book and wrung your hands raw massaging plot points, character arcs, and revisions, then your finished novel may turn out better than expected.
“We can dream, right?”—Barbara notes
It’s what writers hope for, and it’s what Barbara achieved in The Promise Between Us, an incredible novel! You can read my thoughts here. To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of things writing fiction has taught us. A published book is reason to reflect, so we offer you our hard-fought, albeit uncensored and unsolicited, lessons:
Writing is Harder Than You Think:
LS: Okay, so lots of things are harder than you think, but few can claim the scored-to-your-soul feel of having written a novel. Imagine your novel as the parts of a delicately crafted Swiss watch—laid out in front of you. Now put it together. Blindfolded.
Well, not every aspect of novel writing is this daunting, but it is trickier than many non-writers perceive. For instance, if at a party, nothing makes me smile wider than when all of the following occurs:
“I see you have a new book out! Which character are you?” (Sloshes drink at me in congratulatory gesture.)
Why yes—that’s precisely what I do, cast myself in my novels. It’s what my editor looks for and readers hope to find in a book.
“I’ve always wanted to write a novel! When I retire, of course…”
Well, of course! As leisurely endeavors go, I’d put novel writing up there with free rock climbing and a trip to Pamplona in mid-July.
“I’ve had this idea in my head for years! I swear it’d be a blockbuster novel, probably a movie. I just need someone to write it down for me.”
Inner sigh, bigger smile, reach for another drink…
Your Critique Partner Isn’t Your Ego Masseuse:
BCW: Honest feedback is critical, so choose your beta readers wisely, young Padawans. “I loved your manuscript,” never helped anyone’s learning curve.
LS: Praise is important, but it won’t improve your writing. Conversely, no writer benefits from a red pen scalding. Look for a critique partner or group that offer alternative suggestions to writing roadblocks and note your strengths, as opposed to, “Jesus, this is awful. Have you considered maintenance repair manual writing?”
BCW: I just snorted out coffee. Yes, constructive criticism is good; “Don’t quit your day job,” is not. I have three beta readers and trust them implicitly. They’ve read all of my manuscripts—including the unpublished one—and while they occasionally give smiley faces ???? for pretty sentences, they’re experts at poking fingers into my plot holes.???? Their feedback inspires me to tunnel one level deeper. I would never submit a manuscript, or even a synopsis, to my agent or editor if my beta pack hadn’t ripped it apart, chewed it up, and spat it out first. Oh yeah, they’re brutal—even my empathetic poet-musician son. Well, there was that one time he said, “Come on, Mom. You can do better.”
Publishing is a Business, Not a Love Affair—or even a hot date:
BCW: When you’re feeling betrayed or unloved, vent into a cushion, NOT on social media,???? and then write like a motherf***er. This is a tough industry, and you cannot take rejection personally. My first publisher cancelled my contract weeks after I handed in the manuscript that would become THE PERFECT SON. I was stunned, especially since I adore—present tense—my then editor, but I didn’t take it personally.
I had this weird belief things would work out, and they did. My amazing agent got me to Lake Union within two weeks, and the book went on to become a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for best fiction 2015. One door closes, one opens… just make sure you don’t slam any in your own face. Also, let writing be the cure. Not every book pads your bank account or finds its audience. The solution is to “keep writing,” she says, glancing at her unfinished story board.
Shaking Off a Bad Review—or two:
BCW: Also called the softly-spoken it’s-all-lovely, practiced in the mirror with a big smile. Because smiling lifts your mood and positive comments are infinitely preferable to voodoo. Not that I’ve ever considered this after a stinker of a review. Have you, Laura?
LS: What? Oh, sorry, I was distracted, just moving a straight pin… Um, probably the worst moments in the whole book writing gig is reading a bad review. It’s like being dumped by that really cute guy back in high school. It’s the end of the world! Everyone is looking, and whispering, and pointing, and you just want the floor to open up and swallow you whole.
But think back. A) Was that really the case, or was your mind exaggerating what “the world” was thinking? B) More importantly—we grow. We’d never define ourselves by a crush gone bad. Don’t let one naysayer have this power over your work.
BCW: C) Remind yourself that reading is subjective by checking out negative reviews of books you love. And treat yourself! I always bring out the good gin after a negative review, because I’m worth it, and haters are a weird sign of success. ????
Be Loud and Proud with Your Writing Voice—own it, girlfriend:
BCW: Repeat after me, “I’m a badass author.” I learned a long time ago that my quirky style isn’t everyone’s cup of Earl Grey. Nor does it have to be. Find peace with the sentiment that not everyone’s going to ‘get’ your fiction and focus on being true to your voice. My voice is the one thing I control in this crazy business and editing it—even if I break grammar rules—is non-negotiable. Not every story has been told, because no one else writes with your voice.
LS: Barbara’s right—voice is solely yours. But like a singing voice, it takes time to develop and clunker notes are inevitable. When I first attempted novel writing, I mimicked one of my favorite authors—sentence structure, cadence, pacing. It was a critical learning tool. The more confident I became, the less I needed to hear her voice. The more I heard and understood my own.
Do NOT Go Green—Coveting Another’s Success is the Devil’s Fodder:
LS: This is an easy one to fall into. No matter how evolved and gracious we are, envy is a natural reaction. There is no one-size-fits-all fix for this. Sometimes the easiest way around that Grinch-like heart palpitation is to quietly acknowledge your “Why not me?” feelings and move on. Focusing on others’ successes will get you and your WIP nowhere.
BCW: Couldn’t agree more. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and then recycle jealousy into something more productive. Retail therapy will only take you so far—besides, that often leads to guilt—but try a random act of kindness for another author. Works for me.
Growing a Following is Like Partnering with a Sloth in a Three-legged Race:
BCW: I used to describe growing my writing career as trying to build a 6’ wall from pebbles. I’m proud of those pebbles, but my wall is still pretty low. I keep plugging away, but I also treat any interaction with readers seriously. I have to because I’m writing about the impact of mental illness on families, and readers often have their own heartbreaking stories to share. Those stories remind me why I do this. Mental illness isn’t a sexy topic, but writing about it is my passion. Bring on the sloths, I say!
Procrastination is the Mother of Defeat:
LS: Writing a book is 10% inspiration and 90% ass-in-chair. And when your ass is in that chair, keep other distractions at bay. For example, if you are supposed to be working on a novel proposal, don’t be diverted by things like the release date of your very good writer friend’s most amazing new novel, and mischievous ideas about a blog on writing/publishing tips. Keep your goals organized, at the forefront, and manage time wisely.
Uh, wait a second…
Can You be a Hybrid Panster-Plotter?
BCW: Totally! I’m an organic writer. However, writing to contract taught me to speed up my sloppy process. Outlining might be algebra to my math-challenged brain, but books on screenwriting make sense. As a visual person, I can analyze a movie. After reading SAVE THE CAT, I started creating storyboards written to movie beats. They’ve become my road maps. Even if I abandon them, they get me on the journey.
LS: Here, here. While Barbara and I write very different books, our process is somewhat similar. I learned long ago that I can’t see past the headlights in the fog. I had to figure out how to write a book with that limitation—or even better, make it work to my advantage. My single secret: for every book I write, I know the precise ending before I’ve fleshed out the beginning. Then I start driving in that direction. ???? —You may rely on it
Social Media Can Drive You to Drink, Pass the Gin:
BCW: I never need an excuse to pour gin, but you have to act the parent with social media and set limits. Right now I have book launch squirrel brain, but normally I restrict my social media to a quick fly-by when I stop for breakfast—my day starts at 6:00 a.m., another quick fly-by at lunch, and I engage in the evening. Guard that writing time if you want to be productive. (I have to write with the Internet off, otherwise I start checking out sales on RueLaLa or Garnet Hill. Off Fifth has good ones, too…) The best advice I had as a newbie author was to pick one social media platform—that worked for me—and use it well. Although I probably shouldn’t be posting around gin o’clock.
LS: What Barbara said… ????????????
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