As a writing instructor and coach, I deal with manuscripts that may have received passes by agents, or are too long, or don’t seem to have a “voice” yet. As a writer, too, I often over-write by 10,000 to 20,000 words in search of my novel’s story. (My cozy mystery/romance manuscripts need to stay around 80-90,000 words.) Cutting 20,000 words is about 66 pages! (Using 300 words/page/12-point Times New Roman.)
To Polish Voice and Trim…Look at 1) Scene Hooks and 2) Clutter.
After your manuscript is done (or while writing Draft 1!), outline your scene hooks. Write the nugget of the hook on a single line of ruled paper, or highlight things on your screen. Find where momentum kicks in for each scene. Look for the spot where the character commits to their goal. How far into the scene do you find it? First line? Or two pages in? Circle those pages for possible condensing later.
Move on in this task…
You may have an action start for a scene. Good, but do you mess up the hook with too much info dumping or character thoughts interrupting the action? Too many usages of “said” and adverbs embellishing the action? Mark that area. Later, you’ll cut or move some or all interruptions into what’s called a “summary” area after an exciting stretch of action occurs.
Look for repetition or “reminders” of what occurred in a previous chapter. Sometimes a reminder is necessary, but overall, readers don’t forget as much as you fear. Keep going through the manuscript making your scene list. Once done, go back and challenge yourself to a few cuts or rearrangements of information.
Cut clutter. This is a fun exercise for a group to do. Bring the word counts to your next meeting or lunch and compare. Cutting clutter improves “voice” in an instant. Cut clutter even if your word count is good.
It’s typical for writers to remove 5,000 clutter words in a 300-page manuscript!
A recent client removed 7,000 words. That’s removing 20 or more pages of waste. Editors and readers don’t want to buy 20 meaningless pages, and agents know that, too. Tote up what you have for each word in the list below. Remove 80 percent. You may need 20 percent to retain or create the voice you want or to impart clear information.
But (Too often used to start sentences.)
And (Look for too many compound sentences stacking up on a page. (Also look for too many sentences starting with “And.”)
Common Clutter Words to Cut Easily:
Said (and substitutes)
Christine DeSmet is a founding member of WisRWA, a past Golden Heart finalist and winner, and the author of several novellas and mystery novels with romance. She also writes screenplays. Book 4 in her Fudge Shop Mystery Series set in Door County, Deadly Fudge Divas, is forthcoming this winter. She teaches novel master classes and online courses at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. email@example.com
Writing fiction is a passion for most authors, who come from all sorts of career fields and backgrounds. At the same time, it’s definitely work, too, to see a story through from start to finish. While there’s plenty to be said for work-life-writing balance in general and also sticking to deadlines when writing full-time and juggling other responsibilities, this article will focus specifically on how to avoid writing burnout when your other work involves writing and/or editing as well. For example, you might be a copywriter or marketer at a corporation or a non-profit or produce content for an online periodical. You might work as a freelance developmental editor, copyeditor, or proofreader for other authors. When much of your work day is already devoted to the written word, it can be more difficult to view your own writing and revising as an escape, a relief from your other obligations.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with your writing and editing work for clients or employer, but if you don’t treat your own work as necessary, it’s the first thing to get cut when you’re scrambling to meet other deadlines. Most work days, you should devote at least an hour to your current novel, whether that’s plotting, drafting, revising, or marketing. (However, don’t force yourself to work every day of the week if possible.) Block it out on the schedule, even if you have another deadline looming.
Find the most productive part of the day for you to focus on your fiction. For many, that’s the first hour they devote to work in the day, shortly after waking up. For others, it’s during a lunch break or an hour before bed. Don’t schedule your fiction-writing hour right after working on other writing or editing. Make sure you recharge yourself. (See next section.) If fiction writing a full hour per work day seems to be too much, start with just half an hour. The key is not to overwhelm yourself.
With deadlines looming, it can be tempting to stay up late, get up early, and forgo every other activity in order to get all the writing and editing done. In that frame of mind, you’re not only not at your best creatively, but you definitely won’t feel like fiction writing is the escape it needs to be for you to enjoy yourself and work productively during what limited time you may have during the day to work on it.
Sleep as well as you can. If the stress of everything else you have to work on or your schedule precludes you from working on fiction writing first thing after you get up—when your mind is refreshed and better able to focus—try scheduling it after you take a break from your work writing and editing. Eat a meal. Go for a walk. Do a twenty-minute workout routine at home. Do something that pulls your focus away from writing and editing entirely, preferably something that gives you more energy and gets the blood flowing, like exercise and healthy snacking. When you allow yourself this break even when you’re dealing with deadlines, you’re actually likely to be more productive and to get more work done when you sit down to do it.
For those who write or edit for a living in an office, this may be easier, but in general, separating your work station from your fiction-writing nook may boost your productivity and help you avoid writing burnout. Those who work at home may be tempted to do client/employer work and fiction writing at the same desk or in same area of the home. However, this may train your brain to blend all of this work together, making it more difficult to find the creative energy you need to jump into your own fictional worlds. Keep your client and employer work to your desk. For fiction writing, you might consider:
Fiction writing on a laptop, tablet or phone with attached keyboard, or word processor can help you write “on the go,” away from the confines of an office desktop and chair. Writing on a Wi-Fi-free device like a word processor or resolutely sticking to a period of “no Internet” (there are apps to help with this) on your laptop or phone can also help train your brain to think of this place as your fiction writing center without distractions.
Some writers can’t—and don’t necessarily want to—escape writing and editing all day, even when not working on their own fiction. However, the non-stop writing work can lead to quick burnout and fiction writing getting pushed aside sometimes more often than working in another field entirely. Treat your own writing as a necessity, reenergize yourself between tasks, and retrain your brain to be at its most productive when it’s time to work on your fiction, and you’ll still be able to achieve your fiction writing goals.
by: Amy McNulty
Amy McNulty is an editor and author of books that run the gamut from YA speculative fiction to contemporary romance under a variety of author names. A lifelong fiction fanatic, she fangirls over books, anime, manga, comics, movies, games, and TV shows from her home state of Wisconsin. When not reviewing anime professionally or editing her clients’ novels, she’s busy fulfilling her dream by crafting fantastical worlds of her own.
Best-selling author Stephen King once said, “Good dialogue is a delight to read. Bad dialogue is deadly” (181). As readers, we can readily agree, but if you’re like me, an author intent on improving her craft, you want to know how to write dialogue that is a delight. You’re seeking guided practice—some rules. Here are seven insights I’ve gleaned from Janet Burroway, the author of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft.
*Develop an ear for how people talk. Listen to conversations everywhere you go. Take mental notes. “The trick to writing good dialogue is hearing voice. The question is, what would this particular person say? The answer is entirely in language. The choice of language reveals content, character, and conflict, as well as type” (49). But as you are composing your characters’ interactions, remember that dialogue isn’t not the same as idle chat or small talk.
*Cut the slack. Just tell the important bits. When my kids were small and I was a working mom, I used to watch soap operas to relax, but I didn’t have a lot of free time. From observation I theorized only one big event happens in each episode. Between big events, the characters simply react to the smash-up event that occurred. I’d fast forward though scenes searching for the pivotal scene–until the characters looked stressed, a gun went off or a car crashed, you get the idea. Then I’d slow the recording and watch. We as writers want to focus our dialogue on the big or important moments in our character’s interactions while skipping the rehash and small talk. Burroway points out that dialogue isn’t merely transcribed speech. It’s distilled speech, the interesting bits that inspire listeners to lean in closer. Edit out the boring bits and focus on what isn’t being said as much as what is. In other words, work the conversation so that it become more than merely the words the characters are saying (47).
*Write double or triple duty dialogue. When composing characters’ interactions follow Sloane’s Law–compelling dialogue should always do more than one thing at a time. If it doesn’t, it’s too sluggish or passive to work in fiction (47). What is meant by doing more than one thing? Well, Burroway says, “Because direct dialogue has a dual nature—emotion within a logical structure—it’s purpose in fiction is never merely to convey information… it needs simultaneously to characterize, provide exposition, set the scene, advance the action, foreshadow or remind” (47).
*Be careful when you use summary or indirect speech. Know why you’re switching the narrative to quick summary or retelling. Although you can employ summary or indirect speech to explain events readers already know, don’t skip over the heart of the scene or the important event. Make sure that’s in direct speech, so that readers feel immersed in your characters’ significant drama (47).
*Don’t use dialogue to info-dump. Don’t allow characters to talk about they both know merely to pass along information to the reader (52). At best, it’ll read false. At worst, it will sound like you’ve crammed words into your characters’ mouths. As you already guess, this pulls readers out of your story.
*Know what your characters want and pitch them against each other. As toddlers we learn to talk and use communication to get what we want. As adults, we’re practiced at using speech to persuade or argue for the things we seek. “David Mamet suggests that people may or may not say what they mean, but always say something designed to get what they want” (54), and fortunately, in fiction, characters don’t always want the same things. Conflict piques readers’ interest and advances story.
I’ve saved my favorite suggestion for last.
—When writing dialogue, make change your mantra. Your dialogue becomes action if it inspires change (53). When there’s the possibility that characters’ conversation will lead to something happening, or a shift in the character’s thoughts or circumstances, readers feel involved.
Writing dialogue that delights readers isn’t an easy, but it’s essential to selling stories and something we can and should strive for. I hope
I’ve helped you on your writing journey. For more awesome insights on writing, consider checking out On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway.
Burroway, Janet, et al. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. University of Chicago Press, 2019.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Hodder, 2012.
by: Mia Jo Celeste
Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English Teachers, so it’s no surprise she’s both a writer and a teacher. Currently, she’s pursuing a Master of English at Mount Mary University.
Your characters are the heart of the story, so you want them to be right. What do they look like? What do they wear? What is their occupation? What manners and mores are typical for their times?
When you decide on what time frame you have set for them, and where, it will tell us who they are. Much of the past, stations in life defined people. In your research you have to get to know your characters well. You have to find how refined people lived and contrast that with the merchant and artisans. Also, you have to study the servant and country laborer and, finally, the poor and criminal class. Most countries and times have these varied groups of people. Even though you may not include all these groups into a story, it would help for a well-rounded vision, to know about each and their attitudes about others outside their circles.
Depending where your characters are placed, there are standard racial characteristics in different parts of the world. There weren’t many blue-eyed blondes that met Columbus’s men in the new world. However, places along waterways that for centuries had been used as ports of trade between nations, may have people of many nationalities living there. Countries who waged war for land would often incorporate the population into their empire and some would be moved to the capitols as slaves. Here again, it depends on time and place where you set your story on what racial groups would be living there.
In many ways, this is similar to the racial descriptions. Where you are in the world you can see in the native clothing styles. For the average person, if you lived in the far northern climes, for centuries you would have used furs to keep warm. Europeans, most Asians, the Middle East, and North Africa developed weaving cloth out of animal hair and plant fibers centuries back. The rest of the world used animal hides sewn together or plant material strung together in various ways.
Class had a lot to do with what people wore. Upper class had the refined clothing with imported materials, embroidery, beading and jewels worked in. It was usually dyed different colors from exotic plants and animals. Purple, for example, was regarded as a royal hue because it came from the ink of the squid, which was difficult to get. Merchant and artisan classes had less money for the rare, but their clothes were of high quality and professionally made by the guilds. The poor had hand spun and woven materials that were probably made by the women of the family from the animals and fiber plants they had. They would be natural color or dyed by plant matter.
There is a wealth of information on clothing from the mid-nineteenth through the twentieth centuries with the advent of photographs and movies. If you look on the web or in the library, there is much devoted on clothing.
The earliest jobs were probably hunter, toolmaker, food gatherer, textile, and cooking equipment maker. I’ve heard about the world’s oldest profession, but I think food and shelter would have come first.
As the ages went by, people learned how to smelt metal into useful objects. Instead of gathering wild plants, people started farming plants and animals for food and material. Carpenters and masons were building shelter and business structures. Then you have the intangible jobs of government, clergy, and scientists. Storytellers and musicians were the entertainment arts for a long time. Somewhere in that time, servants and slaves were doing the menial tasks for the wealthy.
Things really started to change when people started to make machines to do labor for them. First harnessing animal power, then wind and water made jobs faster and easier to do. The Industrial Revolution, around 1800, changed many things with its steam and combustion engines. With that came many different jobs that tied into the traditional, as well. You can find what was going on and how people were working in many different time frames by looking on the internet and in the library for life in the countries and eras you’re researching.
It’s true, what was acceptable in manners years ago has changed and will change again. I’m sure you’ve heard the statement, “acting like a caveman.” Before civilization came along, people lived in natural shelters, ate what they could find, wore little or no clothes, and men grabbed any females they desired. If they needed something they didn’t have, they would steal or kill for it.
As people started living in cooperative communities, the necessity for rules and the enforcement of them became important. Out of all that came the manner of treating your fellow human being. With few exceptions, men became the lawgivers and enforcers and because if that, for many centuries, women and children were treated like possessions. In the middle ages, women who were born in noble families were pawns to raise a family’s status. The oldest son would inherit everything while the younger ones were led to the military or clergy. Merchant and artisan classes were surprisingly freer than many in the nobility, as they could choose their course within the township and amass a fortune if they worked hard. Here again, men were the leaders of the guilds and women could only help their husbands in the businesses. This was the norm until women started coming into their own in the twentieth century when women started getting the vote in different countries and working independently in jobs other than owned by the family.
Many of the social manners started in the eighteenth century that we’re familiar with. Treating a lady with deference and respect lasted well into the twentieth century. You can find old rules in etiquette books from the time you’re working on to get some idea on how your characters treated each other. And remember, different countries had other social rules. So to be accurate you’ll have to check that out, as well.
by: Ilona Fridl
Ilona Fridl was born in the Los Angeles area of Southern California, where she lived the first twenty-one years of her life. In high school and college, she took Journalism and Creative Writing. She moved with her family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she met her husband, Mark. They started a locksmithing business and raised a daughter to adulthood. All the while, she dreamed about being a writer, but she hated typewriters. In the nineties, they purchased their first computer, and she never looked back. With some articles and short stories under her belt, she started her first novel. The eighth book is just being released by The Wild Rose Press. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, and a student of AllWriters in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
From time to time, I take a moment to reflect where I’m at in my life and where I want to go. During one of these reflections, I read about habits of successful people. You should know I define success not only as financial stability, but also about our journey as individuals and what we give to the world.
As I read, I became aware how discovering what my ten rules for success are, also complimented my journey as a writer. It takes a strong determination to reach our goals as writers. We have days where our “real” life takes over our writing times or days we feel like giving up. Or how about the days you feel as though you’re just spinning your wheels in your writing career. It’s easy to become frustrated if you feel you’re not meeting the milestones you thought you would have already reached.
A technique I developed over time to combat this was to pick out a small or big goal each day to take a step toward my ultimate goal. By breaking up the larger task into smaller chunks, it helps me feel more successful when before I know it I’m able to cross things off my list.
We all reach milestones at different paces and need to forgive ourselves if we feel we should have been farther along our writing path. Taking time out periodically to reflect also helps me keep moving through what I fondly refer to as “my writing adventures”. After all, we have to protect the reason we started down this writing path in the first place. We love to write romance with happily ever after endings.
The following are my 10 rules for success which I follow to keep myself on track.
Life has a way of pulling us off track and I have found these rules help me keep moving forward toward my goals. What are your 10 rules for success?
Lisa Romdenne is a member of RWA (PRO) since November 2014 and WisRWA member since September 2015 (served as WisRWA President 2016-2018). She writes western romance under the pen name Lianna Hawkins and is presently working on a historical western romance series. THE BOUNTY’S CATCH, book two in her Runaway Outlaw Series, won the historical category in the 2019 Utah RWA Great Beginnings Contest.
Everywhere I looked, a potential story scene loomed. Who was she meeting in that corner room? Why is she rocking out in front of everyone with her happy dance? That’s what attending the Write Touch Conference did to me. It inspired me to be creative and share my tales through the power of the written word. To paraphrase conference speaker and author Lisa Cron, we are wired to share stories.
I attended the Write Touch Conference to become a better writer. Like a sponge, I soaked in as much information as I could. I learned about story beats and crafting a scene. Marketing tips flowed freely from the speakers. Personal stories from beginning and accomplished authors on their path to publication uplifted me.
Being a novice, I’m still learning the basic elements of writing a novel. So, I’m plunging headfirst into romance novel plot points, using the #writetouchconference as my guide. With the plot structure adapted from Priscilla Oliveras‘s Gale Online Course, I’ve developed a story outline that incorporates some of the conference highlights.
Conrad Hastings. He graduated from college a few decades ago, never took a creative writing course, and fell asleep numerous times reading Wuthering Heights. An unlikely romance novel writer.
Ms. Write Touch Conference. Teacher extraordinaire, romance professor, and connoisseur of fine wines. Heroine of all heroines. Motto: Dare to be Decadent.
Tara Fischer. Nicer than the girl next door, she wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. The logical love interest for Conrad, she won’t get in the way between a writer and his muse.
Reaching his mid-life crisis at full throttle, Conrad must write an entertaining novel to impress Tara or risk losing her to the sexy Scottish Highlander literary heroes (once she’s gone kilt, she’ll never come back).
Romance Plot Outline
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
Conrad has heard that phrase before, but it especially stung when it came from his friend Tara. A voracious reader, she could not look into his eyes. He’s asked her for an honest review of his novel, but he sensed her hesitation to tell the plain truth. He knew. He’s known all along. His writing sucked and he needed help.
Tara slid her smart phone across the restaurant table, opened to the WisRWA conference web page. No words were needed. He realized he has to attend.
Conrad cautiously stepped through the Hyatt vestibule, his senses overwhelmed with the busy lobby. But there she was – she could not be missed. Plastered on placards and a large wall, Ms. Write Touch Conference welcomed all writers.
Conrad nearly jumped out of his shoes from the slight tap on his shoulder. He turned around to gawk at the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.
“Welcome,” Ms. Write declared with a large grin, “I’m so happy you could attend.”
More enduring than advertised, she promised to guide him throughout the day. She suggested attending both writing and publishing/marketing events. Conrad was already smitten before the conference sessions even began.
Development (Intimacy Grows)
Day One lived up to the hype. Literary agents Courtney Miller-Callihan, Kimberly Brower, and Laura Zats talked about the current state of publishing and offered insights into new trends and possibilities. Editors Jennie Conway and Madeleine Colavita and Author Becca Puglisi offered constructive criticism to authors wanting a fresh and resplendent start to their novels. Authors Angela Ackerman, Mel Jolly, and Angie Stanton provided ideas to find his audience and connect with them. The indelible and genuine Lisa Cron taught an all-day, intensive writing course on crafting the irresistible novel. Conrad felt his confidence grow, knowing even published writers had obstacles to conquer on their journey to success.
Yet, he did not have Ms. Write’s full attention. She guided other aspiring and veteran writers through the smorgasbord of conference offerings. Night One’s special: An Evening with Daring and Decadent Girls. He wished he could be there to share in the fun, but family commitments came first. Will missing the evening adventure derail his novel?
Day Two was just as dazzling as the first day. Authors Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi, Valerie Biel, Mel Jolly, Amy Reichert, Lisa Cron, Angie Stanton, and Bobbi Dumas discussed novel writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. Keynote Speaker Maya Rodale spoke about writing the right story. He was given the tools to be successful. It was up to him to apply them, but fortunately inspiration was as close as the titillating glass elevator. He now had the perfect setting for writing a sex scene.
Guilt washed over Conrad’s face, stuck on the outside, looking in. There Ms. Write was again, center stage in the best restaurant with the best view, basking in glory as the sun set upon downtown Milwaukee. He had to go home early, while she regaled the writers with Daring Dialogue and Decadent Prose. Does she even miss him?
Misery or Big Black Moment
Why did he even want to write a novel? A great friend, Tara will always like him, even if his head-hopping scenes and verb conjugation made her dizzy. Ms. Write was there to provide the tools for a successful career and to provide guidance, support, and encouragement for his writing journey. He’s got the support, but he searched for motivation.
It’s simple – he wanted to share his stories and donate any proceeds to his favorite charities.
At breakfast, in-between sharing bites of bacon with his dog, he realized he does not have to be jealous of Ms. Write. She favored no one, but supported everyone. She wanted all authors to succeed.
He made a promise. In two years’ time, he will reconnect with Ms. Write Touch Conference. She will be impressed. So will Tara.
By T. Ganfield
Tom Ganfield is working on his first novel, Chasing Chestnut, with younger versions of Conrad and Tara. As a dog lover, he is trying to position Chestnut (the dog) to steal scenes and the hearts of his characters (and maybe the readers?).
Imagine this scenario. A young woman has been asked out, repeatedly, by the same young man. Whenever she bumps into him in their small town, he asks her out again. She keeps saying no. He’s pressed her for a reason, and she’s told him that she just isn’t interested in dating him. She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, but she isn’t attracted to him and his continued advances make her uncomfortable. He keeps bothering her, again and again. One night, she is crossing a bridge on her way home and meets the guy again. Is it really a coincidence? Has he been following her? He asks her out again; again she says no. So he climbs over the railing of the bridge and leans over the edge. The water beneath him is shallow and rocky. He tells the girl that if she doesn’t agree to go out with him, he’ll let go. He even releases one hand to show her how serious he is. Scared and with no other choice (other than to let him fall off the edge), she says yes.
Stories like this are becoming disturbingly common, especially among young people. On social media, we see stories of “crazy” guys pressuring girls into agreeing to go out with them, sometimes with wild ultimatums. Say yes, and he’ll stop harassing and threatening you. Say yes, or he’ll bring a gun to school. Say yes, or he’ll kill himself. We all know that there is nothing romantic about forced consent. Consider the story above. It’s not romantic. It’s creepy. This isn’t what love looks like.
Or is it?
The Notebook is arguably one of the most popular romance movies of our time. Reconsider that opening scene, and keep The Notebook in mind. This is oddly similar to the hero of The Notebook, who refused to take no for an answer and even went so far as to hang off a Ferris wheel to convince the heroine to date him. Of course, it was all okay because he was the hero and we knew he had good intentions. He wasn’t a creeper and they were soul mates. We find this story sweet and endearing… or is that what we’ve been taught to think?
We’ve all heard that young boys pick on girls because they like them, teaching us that if a boy is mean to you, it’s because he likes you, not because he’s a jerk. (He’s Just Not That Into You, anyone?) In romance novels, we love a persistent hero who won’t give up. Young girls are taught that guys should chase them and that girls should play hard to get. If he doesn’t give up, he must really love you, and then you fall in love and live happily ever after. But in writing stories like these, are we part of the problem? Are we teaching young ladies that it’s okay for their “hero” to treat them badly because once they fall in love, everything will be okay? Are we teaching young men to do whatever it takes to get a girl to say yes, even if she doesn’t want to? Are we teaching young people that “no” doesn’t really mean no—it means “keep pushing until I give in?”
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but as we sit down to pen our next romance, hopefully these are things we’ll all take into consideration. Are you writing a story where your hero acts like a jerk, but it’s excused because he’s the hero of the story? Are you writing a story where the heroine is helpless and trapped, pressured by the guy who says he loves her? Or are you writing a story that models a good relationship for young people?
Food for thought.
by: Kayla Bain-Vrba
Kayla has been living in daydreams ever since she was a little girl and writing about them for as long as she can remember. It was her discovery of m/m romance that jump-started her adventure as a published author in 2010. When she’s not writing—or is procrastinating writing—Kayla enjoys spending time with her other half, crafting, and planning things to a tee.
Like most writers I know, I collect inspiring/encouraging quotes and keep them where I can see them in my office. Somehow, these quotes and thoughts are shortcut reminders of various attitudes and qualities we need as writers: determination, persistence, fired up creativity, the courage to dream big, making course corrections, and so on. You probably have a list of your own that matches what you need to make a life in the creative life possible.
Right now, I’m starting something new, a type of writing I haven’t done before. It’s all fresh ground to cover and explore. Because other books were ahead in line, I’ve let this old idea-project slide down on my list of priorities for years. No more! It’s time to put it in the top ten—maybe the top three. If I don’t get on with this book, which I believe in for all kinds of reasons, I am 100% sure I’ll regret it.
So, now is the time for Mark Twain to pay me a visit and give me a boost with a gentle reminder:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore…Dream…Discover.
Since I spent a lot of time sailing at one time in my life—decades ago now—the idea of “throwing off the bowlines” arouses something in me. A sense of adventure, a curiosity about what’s around the next corner, a feeling that something special is waiting for me to claim it. You know what I mean. But our friend Mark Twain was also right about regretting what we don’t do.
As for me, I wish I’d started writing fiction sooner. I was steeped in nonfiction, the source of my income, so it wasn’t like I was slacking off. But the longing was always there. Story ideas written in journals and spiral notebooks twenty-five years ago made it onto my to-do list and many are still waiting patiently today. Some one or two line notes eventually became Greta’s Grace or Girl in the Spotlight or any of my other books. One idea also became this new book I’m inching my way into.
I don’t want my new idea to be one of those “wish I’d done” projects. Pushing ideas under the rug, ignoring snippets and flashes, and delaying the start of a project costs too much. Mentally, I mean. When I used to ghostwrite books, the clients knew (or thought they knew) the price of procrastination. They measured it in lost income and delayed professional prestige.
We novelists usually can’t calculate a financial cost. Maybe we’d be better off financially if we took up some other line of work. Wait, I was only kidding. I hear you hollering at me at the very suggestion. Not every project is weighed the same, of course. I’ve let a few ideas shrivel up and die and that’s okay. They hadn’t merited enough passion to keep them alive.
My new project is different. If I don’t write this book, I’ll regret it and the characters will hunt me down and haunt me forever. That’s the only guarantee I have. So, I’ve sailed away from the dock.
What about you? Do you have one or two or ten of those book ideas that call your name—even in your sleep? So do you hear Mark Twain urging you on?
I’m grateful for my WisRWA friends for many reasons. They understand the way ideas grab me and why I can’t or don’t start them immediately. But they gladly turn into cheerleaders when I say I’m finally plunging in. And I’m here doing the same for them. The gifts we give each other are truly priceless. Let’s all sail away into great new writing adventures and see how far we can go!
A member of WisRWA since 2001, the same year she moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, Virginia McCullough writes women’s fiction and romances for Harlequin’s Heartwarming line. A FAMILY FOR JASON, book one of her new series, Back to Bluestone River, is scheduled for an August 2019 release. Her award winning novels tell the stories of everyday people struggling with everyday life issues in settings that often include oceans, lakes, rivers—and boats. A past-president of WisRWA, Virginia has also enjoyed a long career as a ghostwriter and editor of nonfiction books and novels.
I’d just finished reading a passage of my WIP to my writing group, and one member was like, “Wow, Dave, it’s amazing to see you write a book with no sex or swearing.”
And I was like, “Hell-o. My Fairy Dogmother.”
And then everyone in the group was like, “Oh, yeah.”
The experience illustrates a problem any writer who doesn’t stick strictly to one genre is likely to encounter. The previous four books I’d brought to my group were snarky novellas about a horny, potty-mouthed, screw-up witch. The WIP has all the snark, horniness and blue language of a Hallmark Christmas movie. But so did My Fairy Dogmother, which I wrote before The Incompetent Witch Series.
So what gives? Am I daring or just stupid? Is it wise to write spicy and sweet, Paranormal and Regency, Romantic Suspense and Romantic Fantasy?
Writing guru Kimberly Grabas says that exploring multiple genres “equals more work (and often) less income. It’s hard to build traction in one genre, let alone several. Switching or jumping genres leads to building multiple smaller audiences instead of steadily building a larger, more engaged fan base. Momentum is your friend, and sticking to one genre and writing books in a series (and releasing them back-to-back) is more lucrative, and builds a readership faster, than diversifying.”
New York Times Best-Selling Author Rebecca Zanetti kinda sorta disagrees, arguing that indie publishing has changed the game. “A few years ago, conventional wisdom dictated that an author should only write in one genre—at least until becoming well established. With the advent of ebooks, many authors have published across genres quite successfully. What’s fascinating is watching how readers committed to one genre will follow an author into another imaginary realm just because they enjoy that author’s work.”
The takeaway might be that writing in multiple genres could be either daring or dumb, but nobody knows until you do it.
My first series falls under the heading Contemporary Romance, the most popular genre when I wrote it. It’s set in Hollywood, so there’s plenty o’ carnality and cursing. The second series, listed as Humorous Supernatural Romance, was originally published in the Kindle Worlds program as a spinoff of books penned by a very successful Amazon author. The audience for those already existed, so I had expectations to meet.
Meanwhile, My Fairy Dogmother and my WIP are targeted toward much different readers and their expectations, and I intend to use both to test the trad publishing waters.
The marketing gurus—including Gabras, Zanetti and multi-platinum author HM Ward—say is that it’s not bad to write in different genres, but suggest a few things to keep in mind if you do.
In addition, keeping up on marketing trends can help. “Branding,” Grabas says, “isn’t nearly as corporate or commercial as it’s believed to be. It’s your style, your unique voice, and the combination of recurrent themes, character types, settings, and ideas that make up the familiar elements characteristic to your writing.” It includes things like your website colors, logo design and tagline and social media presence and the tone of your newsletter.
Zanetti notes that having the right cover design and book descriptions go a long way in telling readers what your books and series are about, lest they become confused and buy a book they’re likely to despise. On the other hand, Ward says that many readers might be willing to explore a genre they never considered just because they like you!
And then, there’s this: Tastes change. Contemporary Romance fell out of favor for a while, so it probably wouldn’t have been a great idea for me to keep flogging that horse. The supernatural Kindle Worlds books sold pretty well until Amazon killed the Kindle Worlds program—and I had a lot of fun writing them.
So, even if I’m being stupid, I have no regrets. And, who knows, maybe someday the discussion will be about genre-hoppers and niche-specialists, much in the way “outlining” and “pantsing” are now both recognized as legitimate approaches to writing a first draft. It may just come down to who you are and/or what you’re writing at the moment.
by: Dave Thome
Dave lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin, where he and his wife Mary Jo run a writing business. An automotive news writer by day, he’s penned several screenplays, including a few that came this close to being made into movies, and has indie-published several novels under the name DC Thome, including the Fast Lane Romance Series. He’s currently republishing The Incompetent Witch Series, which originally appeared as Kindle Worlds books
I have been writing for a long time. (My first history book came out in 1998) I have 27 books in print, am an award-winning, Amazon best-selling author. But I’ve been struggling lately. Struggling with all the things going on in the writing world, making me wonder why I do what I do – other than the fact that I love creating stories. And it seems each year things are getting worse.
First, we have to deal with Amazon taking down reviews, eliminating KindleWorld, changing the way we publish our books with them, and just plain making it difficult for authors to make a living.
Last year there was the whole “Cockygate” fiasco, where an author thought she should be able to copyright a word, with a couple other writers following suit. And some who think they can copyright an idea. Thankfully they didn’t win. But it was another hoopla taking us away from our writing.
Plagiarism has been around probably since the first and second writers put words or symbols to paper, rock, or whatever their medium was. Well-known authors have plagiarized other well-known authors. Unknown authors have done it. Authors who proclaim to write best-selling books, only to find out most, if not all, of them were copied from many, many authors and then blame it on ghostwriters. How can you even call yourself an author if you don’t even write your own material?
It has been said that we should be honored that someone thinks so much of our work that they want to copy it. Honored? More like angry. It’s our work, not theirs. Again, thanks to readers, they seem to always get caught. But it’s one more thing for authors to worry about. Are these words I’m putting together sounding like someone else’s? Is the story I’m writing too close to someone else’s? Is my title just like another, or several other ones? Will someone come after me because I’ve used the same character names in my books as in theirs? Will someone think I’m writing about them?
Book pirating has been around since e-books came into being. It was only a matter of weeks after my first romance came out, that I was told by a reader that she’d seen my book on a site for free. I was shocked. How did this happen? Why did it happen? What can I do about it? Thankfully, this book was a traditionally published one and my publisher handled it. But, once again, it showed up on another site. Dealing with it as an indie author is another whole matter.
One book pirate recently said he was doing authors a favor by offering up our books for free, since if a reader likes a free book, they may then purchase your others. How does that work when all our books are on pirated sites? And it’s not just us unknown authors this is happening to. Nora Roberts, Christie Craig, Linda Lael Miller, Kat Martin, just to name a few. Even Michelle Obama has been pirated.
It seems as soon as you request your books be taken down and they’re removed, they pop back up again. Or if a pirate site is removed, another one is created by the same person. It’s frustrating, irritating, and outright stealing by readers.
On one site, I have one book listed, on another two, and those the ones I know about. The one book has been viewed 652 times. It doesn’t say if it’s been downloaded that many times, but let’s say it has been. I figure I’m out over $2,600. I don’t even want to think about how much I’ve lost from other sites. And think about someone like Nora Roberts. Almost her entire list of books is on one site. She must be out millions.
I can’t understand why people think it’s all right to steal these books from us. I’d never, ever take money from their pocket or paycheck, yet that is what they are doing.
I’ve been thinking about what to do to keep my spirits up and keep writing. I have to remind myself that I love, love, love creating plots and putting characters in interesting situations. I have to remind myself how far I’ve come since I started this journey.
I have a bulletin board in my office where I have a lot of sayings, pictures, awards, etc. posted. Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I started reading some of the sayings. Here are a few of them:
“Don’t let someone who is no longer in your life, continue to run your life.”
“You are never given a dream without the power to achieve it.”
“It’s always too early to quit.”
“Every day is a good day…some are just better than others.”
“Some succeed because they are destined to. Most succeed because they are determined to.”
“To thine own self be true. Write every day.”
“A professional writer is one who didn’t quit.”
These are good reminders to keep going. Never give up, no matter what outside forces are against us. Keep writing, my dears.
by: Tina Susedik
Tina Susedik is an award-winning, Amazon best-selling, multi-published author with books in both fiction and non-fiction, including history, children’s, military books and romances. Her favorite is writing romance stories where her characters live happily ever after. Tina also writes spicier romance as Anita Kidesu. She lives in northwestern Wisconsin where winters are long, summers short, and spring and fall beautiful.