Uncensored Writing Advice
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… ????????????
*Comment and be entered to win. Contest open to US residents only.
Love that quote, “I’m a badass author.” You Go Girls!
I love it too!
That was informative and helpful. I love you for being so supportive of other writers, especially those of us who haven’t yet broken through the publishing curtain.
Laura and I connected in the early days. Her debut was already out, mine wasn’t…and we’ve become pals. Other writers make this journey worthwhile.
It’s incredible good fortune to have met someone basically on the same publishing page. I don’t know how often that happens, but it was like going through boot camp together, then off to the front line. The benefit to having had someone walk the same path, at the same time, has been just a wonderful thing.
Good morning, ladies. I enjoyed reading all the pointers from two who have been on the writing/publishing merry-go-round for some time. As a newbie who is now in the process of sending out queries, I will keep reminding myself that publishing is a business, not a love affair, and keep slogging straight ahead like a horse wearing blinders. LOL Since I love the writing process itself, I will deal with the self-inflicted torture of submissions.
Thanks to both of you for the joy, education and entertainment you bring to all of us with your books.
Yup, we just have to keep marching forward.
you guys are awesome
You two together..what a treat! Thanks for all the insight! xoxo
Awesome! Thanks for the chance.
Omg. Must win!
There are so many sneaky obstacles waiting to derail a writers’ success. Rejection, jealousy, bad reviews, etc. It’s hard to rise above all our doubts. But my big take away from this post is that writers need other writers. I love the rapport between Barbara and Laura. Reading this made me want to pull up a chair and buy you both a G&T . The friendship and support of other writers makes even the hardest days easier. Cheers!
Absolutely. We should have included that point! Writers need other writers, and Laura’s been sharing my foxhole since day one.
That was great would love to win ????
I would love to win this book so want to read it so trying everytime to win one so good luck….
A lot of hard work and rewarding or you wouldn’t do it! Thank you for enriching our lives through your writing.
Thank you! Your advice is realistic and helpful!
Loved reading this. I read The Promise Between Us and it is my 2017 all time favorite book. I also have a signed copy of it. But, I don’t have any of the Ghost Gifts books, so that would be an awesome win. I wish good luck to everyone entering, fantastic luck to authors always. They keep us in great books, and want to win. LOL Seriously, good luck everyone. Have a warm weekend.
What a lovely comment, Linda. You will love ALL Laura’s books.
I love bed the sign “Go Away, I’m Writing “
I want that sign. Where did you find it Laura?
Would you believe a Christmas gift from Jamie, about a week late because it came from… Wait for it… England!
Awesome! Thank you for the chance!
I can’t wait for this book. The cover is so beautiful and the excitement is building
This is great! Loved reading the blog and comments! Thanks for the opportunity to win! ❤️
How awesome! Loved the sloth!
Thanks! Hope to win!!!!
You both sound like such positive writers! Winning either of your books would be wonderful and I thank you for the chance.
You’re welcome, Margie! I have my fair share of moments, but I take Barbara’s advice and scream into a cushion or FB message her!
Thanks for supporting other authors ! Hoping for a win!
Our pleasure entirely, from the been there, done that end of the room!
A giveaway of Barbara’s book on Laura’s website. What more could a person ask for…. friendship, camaraderie, am amazing accepting peep in a competitive industry. As a holistic psychotherapist, I witness such freedom when people lean into their fears and just reveal who they really are. Thank you for sharing from your hearts- open, unedited, and so real.
You’re very kind, Denise! I do think both Barbara and I are very “what you see…” But I shall let her reply!
I can’t lie, the publishing industry can be really tough, but other authors make it bearable. When I lost my contract with MIRA, Laura was one of the few people who knew. I press-ganged her into my foxhole way before that though…
Oh, lsdies……..to sit down between the two of you with a cocktail!
I don’t hapve a bucket list, but that would be at the top!
Ha! What a nice thing to say, Tonni! And it would be our bucket list (think i can speak for Barbara here) to sit down with you too!! As always, thank you for the book love!
Hell, yeah. We’re even more fun in a bar… Thanks for all the support, Tonni.
You schedule it…I am there! Your welcome, anytime!
You are 2 of my very favorite authors!
Hi Tonni! Sounds like a plan!! 😉 ????????????
Love this! Thanks for writing and sharing.
Glad you enjoyed it, Alison! Happy Friday!
Both books sound very interesting. I can’t wait to read them. They are on my TBR list.
Writing isn’t for the faint of mind
Everyone needs support especially from someone that is going through the same thing or has gone through it. I would be honored to win either book. Laura I loved all your books so far, and Barbara you are a new to me author. Your book sounds awesome. Thank you for the chance.
Thank you for stopping by, Karina, and sharing such very thoughtful words! Much appreciated!
Nice to meet you, Karina!
Thank you for a fun article and some very good advice. a big part of my job is technical writing, and it’s hard work. My husband and I have been expanding our list of favorite gins, lol.
Now see, I think that’s a fine hobby to pursue, though I admit Barbara is the gin expert! Thanks for commenting, Sue!
Susan–have you tried the Botanist with Fever Tree tonic? Fab combination.
Excellent post. Thanks for sharing the photo of your story board. Yeah, focus is a challenge. Coffee helps.
Thanks, Rhonda! Barbara is the Brit, yet I’m the teetotaler. Oh, wait… teetotaler is someone who doesn’t drink alcohol. Guess I’m out on both points! ???? Thanks for coming by!
I would love this!
I love to write so I’m fascinated by the process of creating a work of art from it, so thank you for taking the time to share.
Thank you for stopping by my blog, Ann! I’m such a fan of yours!!
I would love to win this book! Thank you for the chance! 🙂
You girls rock!! Thank you kindly!
I love collecting signed books!!
90% AIC — YES. Thanks for great post.
So many good books out there. I can never imagine how there could be so many stories to tell, but they just keep eating better and better
Getting not eating! Lol
One of the things I admire most about authors is the fact that they do support one another genuinely. Thanks for all this info and insight. Wishing you both continued success.
Thanks for stopping by, Jenny! And we always appreciate the support!
What Laura said. And yes, the best part of this life is being in a world filled with other authors.
Would love to win this awesome book!
Badass authors!!! You both rock! I’m thouroughly enjoying Ghost Gifts and Also I Started the Promise Between Us! Love your blog. Keep
On writing…no online shopping. I do that enough for all of us!!!
Thanks, Lynn! That sounds like a Laura/Barbara read-a-thon!!
Cracking up because I’ve just collected the mail and had to sneak my latest online shopping purchase by my husband. My 2018 resolution is to delete every shopping-related email before I open it. <3
Thanks for some great thoughts from both of you. I am only a reader but I do agree that somebody “sucking up” is not a favor. A dear lady that I truly loved was the one I could count on to give me constructive criticism. I had many “Ouch moments” but I always discovered that I was a much better person because of them! I would love to win either of your books!
Blessings to both of you!
Yes, constructive criticism! Thanks for stopping by, Connie!
Loved reading this interview. I’ve read two others of Barbara’s books and loved them. I would love to read The Promise Between Us. I have many of Laura’s books on my to-read shelf. I really need to get one soon. Thank you for the chance to win.
Thank you, Bonnie!
I’ve never read your books, The Promise Between Us looks good to me, I like the title .
Thank you for the chance. Interesting read.
This interview was amazing and I have wanted to read The Promise Between Us ever since it came out. Some changes in my life outlook needs something uplifting.
Pam, thank you. The book starts out dark, but it is ultimately uplifting. Hope things are okay
I loved reading this blog post it was both interesting information and very fun to read. I love to read both of your books!
Thank you, Kelly. <3
“The Promise Between Us” sounds like a great read. Looking forward to reading. Thanks for the chance.
i am in the middle of reading the promise between us ,its an awesome book ,thank you for the chance ,would love to win a signed copy
Hey, Christine. Thanks for stopping by!
A bad ass author, huh? Now that would be me! I wrote a children’s story once ,was gonna get it published too, but it was stolen, hasn’t been published. ….Stupid me, no back up..it was titled “Bug guts County “! Now I’m too old! Anyway, it was blast of colorful characters! Would love to win….Sounds great! ….Lylah Donaldson
Oh how I needed to read this. I have always told my former students and anyone else I know that Every Day Is A Story and no one else can tell your story but YOU! But at times I struggle to do what I encourage others to do. Yes part of it is not putting my butt in the chair and dedicate time for writing. But a huge part of the reason is questioning myself if I am even a writer. So I try to remember what I told my students. We are all writers.. just different types. I have been blessed to be in a few Chicken Soup For The Soul anthologies. So I feel more comfortable writing shorter inspirational stories. But trying to see if I have what it takes to take that huge leap to write my own novel. Will it happen? Who knows! But up to me. Your quote “Not every story has been told, because no one writes in your voice.” Encouraged me as I do believe that Every Day Is A Story and you are often the only author. Bless you from this Bluegrass girl for reading these writing ponderings from Providence Kentucky. Forever thankful for your sharing your writing advice to your readers. Thank you for this chance.
So very glad you find the post useful, Stephanie! I like your advice–we are all writers… just different types! Happy weekend!
So tickled I won!
This blog post was just what I needed to get my writing rear in gear so that was a great prize as well. Bless you bunches from the Bluegrass for sharing your writing tips!
Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. Butt in the chair and keep on writing, I say!
This KY gal is in tears to be the winner of your autographed book. The cover captured my eyes months ago and have no doubt the content will captivate my attention and yes heart too. The tips you wrote about writing came from your heart. Can only imagine your soul shared in this book. Blessings for your advice and yes for my autographed copy! I will probably tackle my mailman when he delivers it!
Your very welcome, Stephanie and Barbara and I are glad you’re so excited! Thank you for the kind thoughts!
Woot! Can you bottle up some of the unabashed joy and send it my way, Stephanie? We’ve had bad weather down South, but I will get to the post office in the next few days. Enjoy, enjoy. I hope your mailman enjoys his hug. xo
Great post! Thanks for the chance to win ????
Great blog post with some great writing tips. Would love to try writing but can’t come up with what to write about. Maybe someday.
Thanks for the opportunity to win your new book.
Just start. Write anything–whatever comes into your mind. Writing, like any skill, needs practice.
Very interesting read, thanks for sharing. And thanks for the chance at two different novels. Fingers crossed!
This cuts right to what we all feel, think and know, thank you for articulating the fears that we’re afraid to expose as we skulk around, cringing at imagined criticism – it’s a needed reality check.
Be a badass! Fear can be debilitating, but we have to boss it back.
So interesting seeing how you approach writing using a storyboard! Your book The Promise Between Us is definitely on my TBR list!
Hi Phyllis–Thanks for stopping my blog! I’m sure Barbara will be by to say “hi” as soon as possible. ????
Goodness, ladies. Sorry for being missing-in-blog-action. Crazy weekend with launch party and sick husband. Wait, it’s Monday… What happened to the weekend?
Just fascinating..the thoughts and writing process !
Thanks for doing this, Laura. It was a blast. And thanks for all the fab. comments. Sorry to not answer every comment individually, but it’s been a crazy few days with book launch, launch party, and sick hubby. Good luck, y’all. <3
It looks like I’m too late to win the contest but great article anyway. I shared it on social media