A High Point In My Writing Career

The time I’ve spent in developing my writing career has been amazing. Just waking up every day and reminding myself, “Hey, I’m a writer,” is pretty awesome all by itself. But there have been a few standout moments, events that may seem small to others, yet have instilled in me a confidence and a sense of validation that have enabled me to move forward. With my writing career still in its baby stages, I can count these events on one hand. For example:  Winning my first contest on Writing.com and getting a short story published with Dreamspinner Press. Strangely enough, these events always seem to pop up when I need them most, even if I didn’t realize I needed them until after they occurred.

I had one such experience the other night, by far one of the best experiences I’ve had so far as a writer. I’d begun flagging again, losing my grip on Sovereign of Shadow. While at a family gathering, I pulled up my new logo to show it off (I love my kitty!). My sister-in-law poked around a little on my site, looking for a sample of my writing. She found an excerpt, and I’ve never been so amazed at someone’s reaction to my stories. She asked me all sorts of questions about what was happening, and she was genuinely worried for Kieran. She went on to show the rest of my family. They all enjoyed it, but my sister-in-law’s reaction in particular meant the world. It was priceless to me. Even if I only affect a handful of people the way I affected her, I will be happy.

As a writer, all I’ve ever wanted was to entertain people with stories. These stories and characters mean so much to me that I want them to matter to others as well. To see someone so entertained… that’s the dream, isn’t it?

And I know this probably seems such a small thing – a family member enjoying a story I wrote. But for me, the fact that I opened up my story to others that way is huge. During my childhood, I had my privacy intruded upon in such a profound way that even still, to this day, I have issues with sharing my written word. I’ve even stopped keeping a journal for fear that someone will see it. It affected me deeply, and unfortunately it has carried over into adulthood, and into my writing.

That’s why this experience meant so much to me. Because in that moment I let go. I shared my story – my passion and soul – with other people. And there is no longer any doubt in my mind that writing stories for others to enjoy is what I am meant to do.

Heinlein’s Rules of Writing

Though they’ve been around for some time, I’ve only recently discovered this set of writing rules suggested by author Robert Heinlein. When I found them, it was a game-changing moment for me. I had already been beyond excited about the prospects of taking my publishing into my own hands, and then I found these “rules.” Though I would be more inclined to call them guidelines, as I don’t really feel that any form of art or creativity should have a steadfast list of rules. In any case, my motivation and determination after familiarizing myself with the rules were sky high. Now that I’ve been able to take a little time to reflect on the rules and what they mean to me personally, I can better apply them to my writing habits.

And so, here are the rules (guidelines!) that further changed the way I approach my writing, and the way I view them.

*    *    *

Heinlein’s Rules of Writing

1. You must write.

Well, now. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? It should have been obvious to me that the only way to write and publish novels would be to… you know… write. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that what I was doing was avoiding writing. I would sit down during my allotted writing time and plan, or plot, or world build, or brainstorm on characters, or read over what I had written in the past, or read about writing. Sure, that’s all good, but unless I actually wrote something – produced an actual word count toward my story – none of that extra stuff was going to do me any good.

Luckily, deciding to go full indie had destroyed the anxiety and fear that had been blocking me from actually creating anything. This to me is the only real rule that every writer must follow. How can a writer expect to succeed without writing?

I’ve always had issues with allowing myself to worry about what others are going to think of my stories, and I end up dwelling on it so much that my creative process shuts down completely. The way I have to make this rule work for me is by always keeping in mind a quote from author Hugh Howey:  “Write as if nobody will read it; publish as if everyone will read it.”

2. You must finish what you write.

This is another important one that has always been rough for me. I firmly believe that seeing a project through to the end (unless said project is making you absolutely miserable) is an essential part of learning to be a successful writer. Now, this is not to say that every single story you attempt must be drafted, edited, polished, and published. Some stories just aren’t meant to be. Some need more time to percolate in your mind. Some are better used as a practice story. And some are written just for us, a private story or world where we can go to play anytime we want without having to share it.

What I believe is imperative for every story a writer starts, however, is completing the first draft from beginning to end. If all you write is beginnings, never practicing middles and ends, then your craft will never be as well rounded as it needs to be. Same goes for only writing endings or random scenes and never bothering with the rest of it.

To truly get a feel for an entire story, a writer must write the entire story. That is really the only way you’ll be able to figure out what needs to be changed or rewritten, and what needs to be added or removed. Having the entire idea out there on paper (or screen!) lets your mind see the entire scope of your story, and the writer’s mind will automatically begin piecing it together properly. It’s something I think all writers can do – I truly believe we all develop this natural ability to see exactly how a story must go to be the exciting journey we want it to be. But without that completed first draft, the initial outburst of ideas for our story, I believe this ability becomes hindered and is never allowed to really bloom.

3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.

I’ve done a lot of reading on Heinlein’s rules, and this is by far the Point that receives the most attention. There’s a lot of debate revolving around this one little statement, and I have to say that I can clearly understand the opposing opinions.

Some writers believe that the first draft is where the creative magic happens, particularly if you have learned to shut off your inner editor while writing it. They believe that the initial spark of imagination, the words that flow while writing something as raw as a rough draft, is where the story should stay. Rewriting and fiddling around with your story after this point, other than to repair glaring errors or contradictions, is only going to hurt your creativity.

Now, that is not to say that the writers on this side of the fence refrain from editing their work. In fact, I don’t recall once seeing a writer that mentioned they submitted or published immediately after the first draft. Most go on to proofread and lightly edit for spelling, grammatical, and continuity errors.

I tend toward the other side of things. While I can see the magic of the above viewpoint, I can say that for me personally this would never work. And that’s exactly why I disagree with this rule.

All the other guidelines are something that every writer must do in order to gain success. Except, perhaps, for rule #5, which I’ll mention later on. These are simple, concrete goals. “You must write. You must finish what you write. You must put the work on the market.”

But rule #3 seems out of place almost, going so far as to tell writers how to attain their goals. Every writer out there is different, and every writer has to develop their own way of doing things. Anyone can tell you that writers write and sell their work. It’s what they do. But a writer’s process is a very personal thing. Refraining from rewriting, “except to editorial order” … now, that’s a “how.” Though some writers might love this, not everyone will be successful by following this advice. Not only do some writers do the opposite, but others might even change up their process from story to story. It’s an intimate thing, a writer’s process.

I’m a firm believer that we must develop our own path through our own stories.

4. You must put the work on the market.

Yes, get it out there! Do it in the way you are most comfortable, the way that brings you the most excitement. Want to go the traditional publishing route? Send the manuscript out. If it’s rejected, send it out again immediately. Rinse, repeat, until you land the sale or an editor makes rewriting suggestions you agree with. But don’t stop writing while the manuscript is out there – get to work on the next one.

Self-publishing? Then get to work on your cover and your formatting, and publish that sucker! Forget about the fear. Just do it.

If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to find readers who love your characters and stories as much as you do. So, get those stories circulating.

5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

This I agree with to a certain extent. By all means, if you’ve polished a story up all nice and shiny and you love it, make sure you get it out there. And keep it out there. If you’ve ever attempted to sell a story, you know that this part’s not easy. It’s discouraging to get continuous rejections or bad reviews, and it can shake your confidence in the story itself.

But think about it this way – if you absolutely love your story and characters, then there’s bound to be someone else out there who loves them too, right? Keep trying, and keep searching. Give your creative masterpiece a fighting chance out there in the world!

Now, here’s that “certain extent” I mentioned above. Some stories may not be ready for the world yet. It’s difficult to see what’s wrong in a novel you’ve worked so hard on. Sometimes the story should be seen by a fresh pair of eyes, whether that be an agent, editor, or reader who bought your story on Amazon. And some of those readers might just deliver the missing piece to your story’s puzzle in the form of a review or a letter of constructive criticism from an editor. When you receive the right advice, the suggestions that make sense and that resonate with you, then you’ll know what to fix.

Once you’ve fixed it, send that manuscript out again!

Sunday Sample – Randomness

I totally had my Sunday Sample prepared last night, then realized this morning I’d only saved it as a draft. >.<  So, here’s my Sunday Sample… on Monday!

I poke around my old writing quite a bit – sometimes to remind myself that I’m not as terrible as I think I am, and sometimes to look for inspiration or a new project to work on. While I was reading through some older stuff, I found this scene that made me smile. It is meant to be part of a young adult novel about a 17-year-old homeless boy who’d been booted from his home after he told his dad he was gay. 

Got another post I’m working on for this evening, but for now this will have to do! =)

*****

I leaned up against a wall across from a convenience store and pressed on my aching stomach. I’d been standing here so long, pretty soon someone would chase me away for loitering. Every time someone passed me, I wondered if they could read my thoughts, or see my life written on my face. But I never got a second glance. 

For the last half hour I’d been eyeballing the corner store and the Subway next to it. My stomach felt like it was trying to eat itself. Never thought I’d contemplate theft, but the option became very real when I ran out of money three days ago.

The pounding in my head made it hard to think straight. My stomach roared, and I pushed my fist into my gut. I shut my eyes against a flash of dizziness. When I opened them again, I watched in envy as two more customers went into Subway – a girl wearing a pink bikini top and shorts, and a kid who actually reminded me of myself, wearing a dark beanie and tucking a skateboard under his arm.

Maybe it was the hunger, but at that moment I had an odd sensation come over me. I witnessed all these people going about their daily lives – people with jobs, money, friends, homes – and I felt a sort of detachment. They had no idea how lucky they were. Too many people went through life without appreciation, always grasping for more, never satisfied. They didn’t even look twice at those of us who yearned for just the tiniest fraction of what they had.

A shout from across the street pulled my attention. The kid with the skateboard came flying across the street, Subway bag in hand. He brushed past me and skidded around the corner.

An employee in a green polo shirt ran outside and stopped on the sidewalking to search my side of the street. His face darkened and he ran straight toward me. Well, lumbered, really. He pointed and shouted, “Stop that kid!”

A shirtless guy who looked a lot like Thor in swim trunks and sandals dashed across the street to play the good citizen. It was then that I realized how I looked to them: Exactly like the kid that had just pilfered his sandwich.

“Shit,” I hissed. I spun and hauled ass around the corner.

I thought maybe the sandals would slow Thor down, but a glance back showed me he was closing the gap between us. Maybe they were some kind of crazy Odin-issued super sandals.

Or maybe I was delirious.

Either way, I booked it. I turned another corner and slipped between a Wings and a pizzeria, shouting apologies behind me whenever I bumped into someone.

This guy was serious. He pumped his arms in a tireless rhythm. It was just a sandwich. He didn’t even work there. Just some random do-gooder surfer guy.

Part of me wondered why I ran. Why the hell didn’t I just tell them it wasn’t me? But another part of me rooted for the kid to get away with his sandwich. His delicious, freshly-made Subway sandwich. My gut screamed at me.

I didn’t have much energy left – I started to feel dizzy again, and a surge of bile ran up my throat.

Please don’t barf, I pleaded with myself. Not that anything would come up. But it would slow me down.

In front of me, a hand shot out from behind a wall and grabbed a fistful of my jacket. I lurched into an alcove as I was yanked around the corner. The Subway thief shoved me up against the wall behind a decorative pillar. I grunted with the impact. My mouth opened to yell at him – or throw up all over his shoes, whichever – but he lifted his index finger to his lips.

For some reason, I obeyed. I could hear Thor’s sandals slapping on the asphalt as he ran past. The noise slowed to a stop. The kid pinning me to the wall risked a peek around the pillar. He stood motionless like that and I just concentrated on controlling my breathing.

As my heartbeat calmed down, he flashed a triumphant grin at me. His eyes – the bluest eyes I’d ever seen in my life – gleamed with excitement.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he said. He let me go and straightened my jacket. “Didn’t mean for them to go after you.”

“Don’t worry about it.” My vision blurred and I sagged, sliding to the ground on weakened legs. I rested my head on my knees, and vomiting became a probability.

“You okay?” The kid crouched down in front of me. God damn, his eyes were blue.

“Y-yeah,” I said. “Gimme a minute.” An angry growl filled our little alcove, and he looked down at my stomach.

“Here,” he said. He untucked the half-smashed Subway bag from under his arm, unwrapped it, and held out half of the sandwich.

I stared, first at him, then at the offering. I didn’t know if I should take it.

“Turkey,” the boy said. He waved the food in front of my face with a smile that said, “Come on, you know you want it.”

My hand trembled as I took it. I murmured my thanks and took a small bite, leaning back up against the wall.

“No prob,” he said. “You look like you ain’t eaten in a while.” He took a bite and leaned up next to me. “And you worked for that shit as much as I did.”

I had to laugh.

“I’m Liam,” he said.

I took his outstretched hand and shook it. “Eric.”

We ate in silence for a while. I tried to take my time to savor the sandwich, but before long I shoved the last bit into my mouth and stared at my empty hand. Who knew turkey, lettuce, and tomato on wheat bread could be so heavenly. I could only hope it would stay down in my stomach, where it belonged.

I glanced over at my companion and chuckled when he picked at the tiny bits of shredded lettuce stuck to the paper wrapper.

After a moment, he sighed and rolled his head to the side to look at me. “Wanna split the paper?”

My laughter echoed in the small space. It had been a while since I laughed like that.

“So, Eric,” he said. “How long you been on the street?”

I blinked. How did he know that?

“Seen you around lately,” he said in answer to my unspoken question. “You’re new at this, huh?”

Looking myself over, I wondered if it was that obvious to everyone that I was homeless. “Yeah,” I said. “Maybe two months.”

“First few weeks are easy,” he said. “Then you wake up one day under a bush in a parking lot and think, ‘Fuck. This is real.’”

That revelation had hit me this morning – my third day with no more than a few crackers I unearthed from the bottom of my backpack that must have slipped out of the package a while ago.

Curiosity got the better of me. “How long for you?”

Liam took a deep breath and crossed his legs on top of his skateboard like it was a footstool. “Two years?”

“Holy shit,” I said. Was I going to be out here for two years? Five? Forever?

“Yeah,” Liam said. “Thinkin’ about workin’ on my bum beard.” He stroked his face, and I laughed again.

“How old are you?” I asked. He couldn’t be much older than me.

“Nineteen,” he said. He jerked his chin in my direction, batting the question back to me.

“Seventeen.”

Liam nodded. He shrugged his backpack off and opened it, producing a plastic water bottle. He opened it and offered it to me.

I took it with thanks, trying not to drink too much of it. At least I’d never go thirsty; if I had to be homeless, I was glad it could be here, by the beach. Had a bathroom and a free shower with all the ice-cold water I could ever want.

A sense of camaraderie came over me. Having company might make my life a little less shitty, especially if it was someone who knew what I was going through. I sent a silent prayer up into the cosmos that Liam wouldn’t bail on me after our shared lunch. No one ever talked to me – their eyes just slid over me like I was furniture. It felt good to be treated as a normal person.

Even though I’d only known Liam for all of thirty minutes, a tiny tendril of fear crept up my spine at the thought of facing the world alone again.

Liam backhanded me on the shoulder, jolting me out of my thoughts. “Come on,” he said.

I staggered to my feet, legs feeling a little sore. “Where?”

He only shrugged. “Wherever,” he said.

I poked my head around the pillar. “Think Thor’s gone?”

“Thor…? Oh!” An amused light filled his eyes and he doubled over laughing with a hand on his stomach. He patted my shoulder as he stepped out of the alcove, still chuckling.

“Hey, thanks again for the sandwich.” I felt a million times better than I had an hour ago, though I thought I could have eaten about ten more sandwiches and still have been hungry.

“Welcome.”

We wandered toward the boardwalk closer to the beach, boards tucked under our arms. We made a wide circle around Subway and kept an eye out for Thor.

Personal Magna Cartas

I’ve read Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! several times. (If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it – the book is fun to read, concise, and offers some great advice for stripping the stress from your writing process.)

In the book, one of his suggestions is to create two separate Magna Cartas for us, as writers, to refer back to time and again – reminders of what we love and hate in novels. Things to remember to add or steer away from in our own writing:

“What, to you, makes a good novel?

It’s an excruciatingly broad question, but give it a shot. And feel free to be as vague or as nerdily detailed as you like; this list can include anything from ultra-short chapters to ribald sex scenes to massive infusions of ill-tempered elves. Anything that floats your fictional boat should go on the list.” ~ Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!

“For the second list, write down those things that bore or depress you in novels. Again, feel free to be as specific or wide-ranging as you like. And be honest. If you don’t like books where the words-to-pictures ratio favors the text too heavily, write that down. We just want to understand you better.” ~Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!

I came across my own Magna Cartas just now, and thought they would be fun to share. I read “No Plot? No Problem!” in October 2012, just before Nano, and it helped me immensely. That was one of the most exciting stories I’ve written, and with Chris’ advice I was able to pump out the 50k without getting bored once during the entire month of November.

These are word-for-word, just as I wrote them back then. My apologies in advance for the language… my personal writing tends to lack a filter. So, here we go – my own personal Magna Cartas of writing!

What makes a good novel to me?

  • Suspense
  • Gritty themes
  • Strong romance (not the lovey-dovey kind)
  • Bad-ass male protagonists
  • Dark fantasy/urban fantasy
  • Protagonists breaking free and finding themselves
  • Balance between internal and external conflict
  • Villains I’d like to have a beer with
  • Gray-area stuff – no clear-cut black vs. white/good vs. evil
  • Archers, rogues, scoundrels, and swashbucklers
  • Tons of page-turning action and conflict
  • Amazing, heavy descriptions packed into just a few words
  • Concise, clear-cut, fast-paced writing style
  • Outcasts doing awesome things and becoming heroes

What bores or depresses me in novels?

  • Prophecy and destiny
  • Chicks who are around just to fawn over the guys (or vice versa)
  • Long, boring description (a la Robert Jordan)
  • Too much politics or logics shit I can’t follow without busting a brain vessel
  • Limp, floppy characters I wanna smack (read: pussies)
  • Deus ex machina
  • Flowery language just for the sake of flowery language

I find that these still hold true over a year after writing them. I’m sure I could have embellished on these lists a bit more, but these were the absolute core things that excited or bored me. Interesting that I came across them in my notes right when I needed them =)

What are your own personal Magna Cartas of writing? I’d love to hear them!

~Beka

Getting A Grip On Life

So far, I’ve tried to keep my posts limited to the topic of writing. But I realized there’s a lot more to my journey than just the act of writing stories. It’s about all aspects of my life – kids and family, paying bills, hobbies, mental health, etc. – and learning how to balance them all to get where I want to be. Its about getting my entire life under control and being who I want to be.

On that note, I’ve learned a few things since quitting my job. First, and perhaps most important, I miss medical transcription. More than that, I miss making money. It might sound superficial, but I do. I miss making good money. I hate budgets. I hate scrimping month after month. I hate asking for help with my bills, and I hate that I can’t pay those loans back. I hate that I can’t spend money on my kids. And I hate that I can’t support my family anymore.

I don’t miss the company I left, not in the slightest. But I do miss the company that left me. I want that job back. I want my training and experience to mean something again. I don’t want to spend every moment of my spare time going back and forth on various at-will transcription sites only to be paid a few bucks for my efforts. I’m worth so much more than that.

After I understood that this wasn’t going to work for me, I started asking around and applying, looking for a hospital or clinic that still had an in-house transcription department. Had no luck for a while. But then I get an email out of the blue from my old supervisor, the one from the job I loved. She’s now heading the transcription department for another local hospital. The in-house transcription department. She emailed to let me know that there was a position available.

Long story short, I applied, interviewed, and was hired for a full time medical transcription position. Benefits and excellent pay. I only have to put up with a few more weeks of poverty, then things will start improving for us. I’ll be forever grateful to my supervisor for putting the word out there and letting me know specifically that there was an opening.

She pretty much saved us. Saved our finances, our lifestyle, and in a way, she saved my dream.

Now I can relax. I feel relieved. My free time can once again be used for what it should be… Writing.

I’m behind on my goals and the publications I’d scheduled for this year. That sucks. But at least now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Once I reach it, I can get myself back on track.

I haven’t had much time to write, but I finally started to fiddle around with my domain and website. Check it out if you like. I’m not very good at things like that, so I’d love some feedback.

Quillcraft Publishing

Thanks for listening to me ramble! :)

Beka