On the Importance of Ritual

The other day a reader asked me if I ever wrote in long hand, much like Neil Gaiman is known to do. I do not–never. I hate the idea of writing something by hand knowing I’ll just have to type it again later, creating twice the work for me. But, I conceded, I do hand write my outlines, always. I tried to type one once because I always end up adding asides and run out of space on my papers, and I thought it would be nice to be able to just add in a line when I needed to but there was no magic in a typed outline.

So, always type a story, always hand write the outline.

Funny, right?

But it got me thinking about the rituals of writing. Any art, really, but writing is my magic, so that’s what I’m focusing on now.

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Any professional artist will tell you that you can’t wait for the Muses to speak to you, otherwise you’ll (almost) never get any work done. You have to make your Muses speak on days you just don’t feel like it. On days where you only have an hour, or less, to get the words done. You have to force the magic to make the art.

And there are ways to do this. There are ingredients to every spell and if you manage to figure them out, you can create the magic potion to get the art done even under the worst situations. A few years ago, I was stuck at jury duty for the full 8 hours. I got so much writing done that day, it must’ve been a record, all because I have my ritual to make the magic.

First, I outline. Now, if you’re a pantser, this part doesn’t apply to you. But for me, I allow myself at least a week to complete an outline before I ever start a new manuscript. You’ll have to figure out how detailed or loose your outline needs to be, that in of itself is its own magic spell. If too loose you leave yourself sitting at the keys, trying to figure out how to get from point D to point M. Too detailed you might feel like you’ve already written the story and lose your excitement to actually write it.

Secondly, if this is the start of a brand new book, not part of a series, I allow myself a day to start to curate a soundtrack for the book/main character. I know, this seems like one of those “I’m an artiste! I need my special music to write!” kinda things, but it’s not. For many, both reading and writing a book plays out like a movie in our heads and what is a movie without a soundtrack? You need the creepy notes that warn you the monster is coming. You need the pounding base to choreograph a fight and get your heart moving. You need the sweet strings of a romantic moment. But, I think, most importantly, it gives you the feel of the book or main character. This, for me, is what helps me get into the right headspace for a book, no matter where I am or what mood I am in. And with each book in a series, I add more and more songs to the list until it’s hours and hours long.

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I also have a few universal playlists to help me with certain types of scenes. If I’m in the middle of fights or battles, I have strong lyric-less soundtracks from movies or video games to help me. If I’m trying to get into the head of a strong, angry female, I have a playlist of what I call “angry power” songs, only sung by strong female vocals.

You could be trapped in the middle seat of coach, on a full flight, but you put your headphones on and turn on the soundtrack of your book, and bam! Watch the words flow. I won NaNo last year in that exact situation because I had my music.

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This also helps if you’re working on more than one project at a time. For example, I’m working on a witch book in my Matilda Kavanagh series and I’m working on a piece of flash fiction that is a spin off from my post-apocalyptic Ash & Ruin series. Neither MC is the same and both worlds are totally different. So, they have their own soundtracks to help me switch my brain depending on which one I want to write in.

Third, I always have something to drink. Usually it’s coffee, but sometimes just water. It’s a small thing, but it’s important. It adds to the level of comfort as you stare into that bright screen and create indents on your wrists as you pound away.

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There are other things, like I try to write in the mornings, but if I miss that window, I don’t skip on writing unless it’s One Of Those Days. It’s always easy to make excuses to get out of writing, but unless you’re under a contractual deadline, you’re just letting yourself down by putting it off or treating it like a chore. I mean, some days, it does feel like a chore but when it’s done, damn that’s a good feeling.

Figuring out your rituals to help you get shit done is important. It’s not being a fussy artiste, it’s creating magic. Allow yourself the special combo of ingredients that will allow you to create art no matter what the situation. Make no excuses for doing what you need to get it done and give yourself no excuses to avoid it.
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Speaking of… I have some words that need writing before dinner.

You Can Take a Break; You’re Still a Writer

The last two posts have been about being stuck while working on a writing project. I’ve seen a lot of this lately; so many creatives are struggling to work in the climate we’re all facing.

When I was young, a teenager, I reveled in my dark, black moods to create my best work. I even did better writing term papers when I was unhappy. And some people stay that way their whole lives — they need that dark place to tap into their creative muse to get words or other art done.

But as I’ve grown older, as I’ve turned this into a job, I’ve found it much harder to work when I’m in a dark place or when life is being difficult. I don’t want to create magic and monsters and adventure. I want to curl up and be alone with my dogs and husband and shut out the world. Even if I’m working on something dark or difficult and it brings me down while I’m working, so much so, that when I leave my office I have to physically shake it off, I don’t need to first be in that place to write those words.

I participated in Camp NaNo in April. I set myself a goal of 40k words. In the beginning, it went like any NaNo usually does. I had my outline and was ready to get started and felt good about my daily word counts. But, as the month went on, and things in my life weren’t perfect and outside things started to drain away my energy, I found each word that much harder to type. When I finally hit my 40k word goal, I was relieved. I had one day to spare, but I did it. Obviously, that’s not the whole book. But with everything else going on outside of writing, my hubs and I agreed we needed a week to decompress. So I promised myself if I hit my NaNo goal, I was going to take a week off from writing to get my head right again.

That was last week. This week, these are the first words I’ve written. We planned our “take a break” week from everything but the bare minimum at just the right moment. We run a business together and we had an emergency happen last week that, had I been writing, would have taken any energy away from my daily goals. We’ve weathered the emergency and I think the ship is righted and we’re going to be okay, but I am so glad I gave myself permission to take a break from my book.

This book is from my favorite series and if I had continued to write while dealing with so much, I think it would have suffered and when the editing came around, it would have been a snarl of a headache to fix.

I used to say you had to write every day when you’re working on a project. Yeah, take the weekend off, or a day here or there if you like working on the weekend, but don’t abandon the project because you’ll lose momentum and the narration and it’ll be so much harder to pick back up. But I needed that break. It’s okay to take a break. The book will be there when you get back and if you’re serious about writing, you’ll go back to it.

I’m 40k words in, the beginning is always a huge hurdle and I’m almost half-way done, so there’s no reason for me to be scared that I can’t pick it back up.

We have to give ourselves permission to take a break when we need it. Burn outs and break downs are real and horrible and if you can see one coming before it hits, you should do whatever you have to to avoid it. We all need self-care and sometimes that means dealing with life while your imaginary friends take a seat and wait for you to come back.

Well. This isn’t quite where I thought this post was going to go, but there you have it. I’m nearly 20 books into the business, so I think I can safely say that each book is different, each book will ask different things of you and you just have to trust your gut with each one. Some will come hard and fast and you’ll never take a break because you’re just trying to keep up with the words yourself, and others will take their time and give you the space you need, you just have to let yourself take it.

It’s okay. You’re still a writer. Every book has its own process.

Shameless Self-Promotion/New Release

If you’ve been following me on other outlets then you know I’ve been working on the very first companion novel to my Ash & Ruin Trilogy. I’ve turned it into a full-fledged book with a full cast of characters, some of whom will get their own spin-off books. And this one ended up earning a TBC ending even though I really intended for it to be a one off.

Books. Whadda gonna do, right?

Anyway, this baby drops in just under twenty days on 4/25/17 and you can pre-order your ebook copy now at all the outlets. If you’re a paper book person, never fear, this will be released in paperback as well!

So, are you ready to see it?

At fifteen years old, Gwen’s world has ended. Not because she’s gone through a break-up. Not because her parents are ruining her life with a lame curfew. Not because her grades are struggling. Not in the way a fifteen-year-old’s life usually ends.

At fifteen years old, Gwen has burned the dead bodies of both her parents and fortified her home against the plague-spreading monsters who killed them, waiting for her sister, Maggie, to make her way back home in the apocalyptic landscape that is the world now.

At fifteen years old, Gwen’s world has ended, but she’s not giving up. She’s not giving up on life, her home, or her sister. Because all you have left when the world ends is hope, so that’s what she’s got, a BB gun and hope.

Hopefully it’ll be enough.

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(It, along with all of my other books, are available on all of Amazon’s sites, but there are so many to list, so just do a quick search for it and you’ll find it!)

English Majors Unite!

The other day there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter. I know, quelle surprise!

A very successful writer was asked for a bit of advice from a young fan as a new English Major.

The writer’s response? English Major = “Do you want fries with that?”

I mean.

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She told the fan to get a degree in something that would get them a lucrative job and write on the side.

Yeah. Sure. Some people totally do that. But to completely belittle the fan’s already chosen path while also tearing down the service industry? REALLY?

You won’t be surprised to find out that I, myself, was an English Major. I have a loverly BA in English with a concentration on Creative Writing. A major I created myself because it didn’t exist at my school at the time. I was very lucky that my adviser was also the department chair at the time so getting it approved wasn’t quite the battle it could have been.

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I am damn proud of my degree. I have both dyslexia and dyscalculia. Believe me, getting dyslexia under control has been much easier than my dsycalculia–there was no way I was going to be a math or science or business major. But guess what? As a self-published writer, I am running my own business. My husband also runs his own business, but I also help with that. I run the office for both of us. And my degree helped me, believe it or not.

English degrees teach you critical thinking, creative solutions, and so much more.

Now, do you need an English Degree to be a writer? Of course not. I know many writers who are also something else. Writing isn’t paying the bills just yet for them. But it might some day.

Did I need an English Degree to be a writer? To be a good one, yes.

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I can say with a little confidence that I had “raw talent” when I was younger. When I got to be creative with my English assignments, I always did well. I actually remember my senior English AP teacher writing “I can’t wait to see what happens next!” on a paper I turned in. It was an amazing feeling. I really thought I could write. I thought I was a good story teller.

Then I went to college.

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I had professors who were published novelists and playwrights and poets.

And they let me know raw talent wasn’t enough then and it wouldn’t be enough in the future. They tore my papers apart. I had one professor (the aforementioned adviser) who knew I was turning in the first drafts of papers and would automatically deduct a full letter grade because of it. I went to him, demanding to know why I kept getting B’s on my papers and he told me. He told me even if the paper was an A on the first try, that just told him the second try would be that much better.

My poetry was ridiculous. It was flowery and vague, like I didn’t want my reader to know what I was talking about. My professor shredded my poems until I learned to paint a damn picture that he could see.

I am the writer I am today because of the lessons those professors gave me. It was well worth the time and money. Maybe I would have gotten to that point as an English Minor, or just taking a couple of classes for fun, who knows? But I know being an English Major changed my life and I am damn grateful for it.

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Do you need to be an English Major to be a successful writer? Of course not. Or maybe you do. None of us are the same. Some of us need the instruction, some of us don’t. Some of us will write a NYT bestseller in our 20s and others will do so in their golden years. You are special and different and need to decide what is right for you. Don’t let some random person–even if they are a NYT bestseller themselves–tell you what is the right path for you.

Oh, by the way, I was a waitress all through college. It was the most thankless, degrading job I’ve ever had and I worked in insurance after college. Never tear down the service industry. Customers are assholes and service industry people are overworked and treated like shit every day. Everyone should have to wait tables on Mother’s day, or run a cashier over the holidays. People would be far, far nicer and learn some damn manners.

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Now. Thanks to that English degree, I’m putting out my 16th novel (under this name), and it is up for pre-order now! If you were a fan of my Ash & Ruin Trilogy, this is a companion novel, maybe you’d like to take a peek?

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Crutch words – Self editing

Crutch words, or phrases, plague all writers. It doesn’t matter how many books you write, you will always have words or phrases you abuse.The key to being a good writer is not being perfect, but recognizing your weaknesses and trying to fix them. And always remember, that is what editing is for.

I have published some 20+ titles between my two names and I’m still falling into the trap of crutches, so, I thought I would share a few with you. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these issues in your own writing and they’ll help.

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There are a couple that new writers will always fall into. One that’s very popular with beginner writers is having your characters releasing breaths they didn’t know they were holding. Yeah, we all hold our breath in a tense moment but it’s amazing how many fictional characters aren’t aware they’re doing it. I mean, you’d think a few would faint once in a while. An easy fix? “I released the breath I was holding.” Boom. No need to pretend you didn’t know that you weren’t breathing.

Another common crutch for new writers is “suddenly.” Suddenly often becomes redundant. “She suddenly screamed.” Right, as opposed to gradually screaming? “He suddenly burst into the room.” When is bursting ever not sudden? See how you can eliminate the word without hurting the action? Slice and dice that word from your MS.

Now, here are a few from my current WIP that I, and a few of my writing friends, all admit to using.

  • Just.

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This is an actual note from my editor after she line-edited this book. 350+ uses of “just”?! DUDE. The book isn’t even 350 pages in Word. Let’s just put one here, and just there. Okay, just one more. No, not just one more because I just need another. BAH! You pretty much never need this damn word. Slice and dice!

  • Stating the obvious, especially when describing actions.

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Yes, my character crumpled the paper in her hand. As opposed to crumpling it in her feet? You’ll find yourself “nodding heads” or “waving hands”. We know how the body works and how actions work. You can just nod. Or just wave. Look for these, again, it’s being redundant with action.

  • Still and not being concise.

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Here is a double-whammy edit. “Still” is another one of those “just” words. You very often don’t need it. See how the sentence works as well as it does with or without “still” in there? And the end of the sentence, see my editor’s change? Obviously they both work, but you do need to be aware of the economy of words, especially when writing an action scene. If you’re building tension you want to make sure you’re not dragging things out.

  • Adverbs.

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New or old-hat, we all love adverbs. Again, they are almost never helpful. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but if you have an abundance of adverbs you’ll need to take a critical eye to them and really decide which ones help and which ones are fluff. This one? Quickly? It’s fluff.

  • That.

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Oh, that. Just, still, that. That is a tough word because we do need it a lot in the English language but you’d be amazed how often we use it. When you’re editing, be mindful of “that”. If you’re not sure if you should slice and dice, read the sentence out loud, does it work with or without “that”? Then delete.

There are so many more crutches we need to be aware of, but sometimes they’re very specific to the writer. One that was mentioned to me was relying on metaphors. I remember the first time I wrote “his cheekbones were so sharp, I could cut my wrists on them.” Oof, I loved that line. I loved it so much I used it three or four more times in different books with different characters. Yep. Crutch. If you use the same metaphor more than once that first awesome impact gets muddied and loses its impact. Don’t fall victim to this.

Don’t fall victim to any of these!

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Have you come to recognize your crutches? Share them in the comments, you might just help out your fellow writers who are still looking for crutches to kill like ants on the page.

Resist || Create

Hey guys. How’s it going? Are you doing okay? It’s been a whirlwind, right? Everyday we brace ourselves to see what else is going to happen. It’s exhausting, right?

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We haven’t been political on the blog, not because we don’t care and not because any of us are supporting the current administration, just because sometimes we all need an escape for a few minutes and there’s nothing wrong with that. So we’ve tended to post lighter things, stuck with topics about writing and craft. Tried to make this a nice break space for you.

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But holy shit does each week get harder and harder to keep that up.

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On Saturday I participated in my local march, like many of you did around the world. It was inspiring and invigorating. I tend to be one of those borderline introvert/extroverts who is happy to say yes to making plans but then is secretly really happy when you cancel so I don’t actually have to go.

On Thursday night, I found out our little town was in fact having a march (yes, I could have gone to LA but crikey that one was crazypants huge), so I was going to go! I was so excited and rage-faced and ready! Then Friday night I waffled. My husband couldn’t go because of work and I didn’t know anyone going (which turned out to be wildly untrue) and did I really want to go? I’ve donated and spread the word about causes and called my reps weekly, I don’t have to do this one thing. I was going to talk myself out of going. But then as it came closer and closer to go to bed to wake up in time to get downtown I knew I had to go. I had to. I couldn’t miss this. This was important.

And then, when I was standing in our crowd as it got bigger and bigger the closer to the start time we got, the organizers said we were one of nearly 700 marches, in every single state, in 80 countries. Can you imagine if I’d convinced myself to stay home? I would have missed being part of history. I would have hated myself.

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It was a great day. And I was so wonderful to see so many diverse faces and when people honked and waved at us as we marched, we were pleasantly surprised to see so many of the drivers were men–cheering us on!

But then the week has gone on and while we’re still fighting and spreading the word, every day something else comes out to steal a little bit of our fire. It’s hard. I was fully ready and excited to start work on a new witchy story this month and can’t seem to find the inspiration for it.

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I have 4 other story ideas on deck for current series I have out that I could work on and save the new story idea. But I’m finding it so hard to find my motivation to actually do it. The last time depression and sadness worked for me as a muse was when I was a teenager. People think pain pain makes good art, and it does, but security and support and happiness can make some amazing art too.

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But we have to try, right? Just like I couldn’t talk myself out of going to the march by myself, I can’t talk myself out of writing, out of creating art and escapism for myself and my readers.

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So, I guess that is the point of this post. Don’t give in to the sadness. Don’t give up. Keep up the resistance. Rise and rise again, everyday, get up and keep moving. Even if it’s just one step, one page, one action. That’s how they win this, through attrition. Do not give in.

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This year, it’s a killer

So. No one wanted to write this week. We’ve been doing so good with the holidays not screwing up our positing schedule, but this week it was too much.

Twenty-four hours ago we found out that Carrie Fisher, prolific writer, unapologetic badass, mental health hero, General Organa, and destroyer of the patriarchy has become one with the Force.

Ten minutes ago we found out that her mother, beautiful, hilarious, talented, Debbie Reynolds, died of a broken heart, from the pain no parent wants to endure.

After a year of so many profound losses, who would want to write a blog post? Anything would sound pithy and trite.

I know I speak for all of the Scribes when I say our hearts and thoughts are with Billie Lourd at this breathtakingly difficult time and hope that she has the love and support she needs to survive it. And poor little Gary.

It’s difficult to know what to write today. It’s difficult to find words and light when this year, this fucking year, seems to want to steal our childhood heroes and destroy our hope for a better, brighter future.

But Carrie never gave up. Even when she lost her mind, she fought back. So we’ll fight back. We’ll get up, pick up our pens, and we’ll fight.

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And, I don’t know about you, but I am going to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve this year. Just so I can watch this mean sunnovabitch of a year end.

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Now. Excuse me while I go watch Singing in the Rain and hug my dogs.