I hope your holidays were wonderful and that you had some fun and got some rest. As you know, I was outta control over at Women and Words with our giant 12-day giveaway we call the Hootenanny. And things get CRAY CRAY over there. This year we also did a concurrent Rafflecopter giveaway that included a couple of Kindle Fires and…well, it was insane and fun but kind of exhausting.
At any rate, let’s get back to work!
Today I wanted to talk about observation. I bring this up because a huge part of writing is (or should be) observation. Think about it. How your characters speak and act. The quirks they have. Their surroundings. The settings of your stories. And, going a bit meta, the things your characters actually observe during the course of your plot, how they filter it, how they relate it to others.
Holy outta control calendars, Batman! It’s been a crazy two weeks but here I am with some MOAR TIPS!
As some of you know, I attended the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) conference in New Orleans toward the end of July. I try to go every year (though I have missed a couple since I started publishing) because literary/writing conferences provide invaluable opportunities for both writers and readers.
For those of you who are writers just starting out, make the time and save the money to attend at least one conference a year. Gatherings like that are invaluable aspects of your writing career. For those of you who have been at this a while, you might already know that you need to attend writing conferences. If you didn’t know that, well, here’s why:
I heard that George Michael song the other day during a throwback radio show. You know the one. “Faith.”
And I got to thinking about that. There are many kinds of “faith.” Faith in yourself. Faith in your friends. Faith in your family. Faith that you’ll get that big promotion. Faith that things will work out. And, of course, the kind of faith that too often gets grafted onto religion.
I say this because a few days back, someone asked me if I go to church. I immediately froze, because I’m not comfortable with questions like that. The person proceeded to tell me that I’d probably feel better if I prayed. Which only made me even more uncomfortable.
Why? Because it’s presumptuous to think that everybody thinks like you do. And it’s presumptuous to think that your way of coping with something (i.e. religion) is for everybody. I try to be mellow about statements like this, because I’m sure the statements come from good intent. But nonetheless, it comes off as patronizing and, honestly, proselytizing. And yes, I have an uneasy relationship with organized religion, given my current go ’round on this planet as a woman and as someone who identifies as not straight.
And before you ask, I’m one of THOSE people who tends not to discuss religion publicly. I will occasionally discuss politics, but when it comes to religion, I just don’t go there. Why? Well, because I consider religious and spiritual beliefs to be a personal matter, so I don’t ever ask people what theirs are nor do I offer anything about mine. If someone asks, we can discuss it privately. Otherwise, it’s not something I address and it’s never something I ask people.
Hope everything and everybody are treating you well. April has been a whirlwind of crazy bizzy, but it’s all good.
Anyway, I bring up the holidays, friends, because there are usually many opportunities to submit short stories to holiday anthologies at many different publishers. Now, I’m not going to delve into whether or not said anthologies make money, but they remain pretty dang popular every year. And some publishers turn them into really cool fundraising opportunities for good causes, like Ylva did last year with their anthology, Unwrap These Presents. ALL profits go to organizations that help homeless LGBTQ youth. (full disclosure — I have a story published in this anthology)
At any rate, so what, Andi? It’s NOT EVEN FREAKING MAY AND HERE YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT DECEMBER HOLIDAY CRAZY.
Indeed. But I do this because if you want to get your stories in said anthologies, you need to start writing NOW. That’s one of the issues with holiday anthologies. You have to start thinking about it at least 6-7 months in advance and get that story hammered out and submitted. I personally enjoy writing for holiday anthologies because of a bit of personal baggage.
That is, I am so not a fan of the November-December holidays. Christmas is a particular drag for me, but I realized some years back that I get to decide my holiday fate, so I make it a point not to get involved in the absolute nuttiness and rampant commercialism of the season. My friends and family all agreed that instead of doing that, we’d engage in good works and fun and relaxed party things and we all discovered that we are way happier and less stressed at that time of year than in the past.
So I’ve decided that part of my holiday therapy, if you will, is to make it a regular thing to write a story or novella or something comparable that deals with some aspect of the November-December holidays and either get it published or post it somewhere. I particularly like romance/romantic comedies that time of year, so that’s probably going to be a recurring theme.
Having said that, I actually just started writing a holiday novella a couple of nights ago. The idea hit me the day I started writing it. I went home after work and BOOM. Writing crazy. Most likely it’ll be done toward the end of May and then all my critique peeps will rip it apart and I’ll rewrite is 32 times and then see what kind of publishing venue is out there for it. If nobody wants it, I may make it available on Kindle. We’ll see…
So for now, friends, start thinking about holiday anthologies as possible venues for your work. Ylva loves holiday anthologies, and they’re doing one this year, too. F/F romance and/or erotica.
Or, if you totally don’t want to do holidays in that vein at all, consider submitting to me and my co-editor R.G. Emanuelle for a second round of F/F FOOD and ROMANCE/EROTICA. FOR REALS! We’d love to consider your work.
Anyway, if you know of any other holiday anthologies, please feel free to share in the comments. Other readers will totally appreciate that. And for now, start thinking about getting stories ready. After all, you don’t need snow to feel festive.
So a couple of folks expressed interest in how to write an effective opener for a novel.
To which I say, “good luck.”
And then I supply links LIKE THIS, which have the alleged “100 best first lines from novels”, posted by the American Book Review site. I must say, Iain M. Banks’ line from The Crow Road is a grabber: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
Hit that link at Amazon and you’ll be able to read the first few pages to determine what that’s about.
At any rate, what makes a great opening line? Well, I’d say that’s a topic up for debate, depending on a reader’s taste. But overall, let’s try to dissect what makes a great first line in terms of writing craft. Here are five things to think about.
As some of you know if you follow this here bloggie thingie, I’m in the middle of a bit of a writing burnout and I’m actually not currently writing (stories/novels/novellas), which, though a relief in some ways, comes with its own set of issues (OH NOES I AM SLIPPING INTO WRITING OBSCURITY AND NO ONE WILL EVER CARE THAT I WAS ONCE HERE WRITING *gnashes teeth tears hair reaches for glass of bourbon*).
Regardless, I had to take a break because it just got way too scary trying to balance everything and not take any time to simply live and I started worrying about things like emotional health. And I’ve found some awesome things since I went on writing vay-kay. Here they are, in no particular order:
Some FORTY PERCENT of homeless youth are LGBTQ and nearly 7 in 10 respondents in this 2012 study about homeless LGBTQ youth said that family rejection was a major contributing factor to their homelessness.
I’m currently in that awkward place between projects. Kind of. I’ve published a novel this year, just released an anthology I co-edited (in which I have a story), and had 2 other stories selected for publication in 2 other anthologies. I’m also waiting to hear on whether another story I wrote is selected for a different anthology.
I am working on the fourth installment of my space opera series (I’m about halfway through) and I’m doing a bit of research on the fifth in my mystery series, so I am working on some long-term things, but I’ve just about finished up a whole bunch of things that I wanted to this year. And that feels pretty good.
Having said that, I am trying to hammer out another story this month for yet another anthology, but I’m not sure I’m going to make the deadline. If not, I’m not going to freak out about it because it’s not like I haven’t done any other writing this year.
In terms of my writing life, it generally cycles between completely slammed and these stretches where I’m not pressed to do a whole lot. I like these lulls. I still write during them, but I don’t feel the frantic OMG I HAVE TO GET THIS DONE HOLY SHIT SOMEBODY HOOK ME UP TO A RED BULL IV that can accompany my slammed periods. I also use the lulls to ponder writing projects that aren’t related to what I’m currently working on, and that’s always fun, to think about all different characters. I think that might be why I’ve written a lot more shorter stories this year than in years past. I wanted to hang out with some different characters and see what sorts of things could unspool in the narratives.
I do that, too, if one of my long-term projects is giving me some issues and I haven’t figured out how to write/re-write it to fix it. I’ll write something else — usually a short story or novella-length thing — and that helps loosen the logjam in the other project. There are times, too, that I’ve completely scrapped a project and started over from scratch. I don’t know any author who hasn’t had to do that, so if you’re in the middle of that, don’t freak. It’s normal.
So here. 5 things I do that help with the writing cray-zee.
1. Don’t force it. If a project you’re working on is just not working out, stop working on that one. Work on something else. If even that isn’t working, it’s a sign that you may need to take a couple days off (or more) from writing. In which case…
2. Read. Yeah, you heard me. Go read somebody else’s book. When I’m not feeling it, I read. And I generally read a genre that is different than the one that’s got me hung up. For whatever reasons, that gets me out of my headspace and gets me excited and interested in different kinds of plotlines. That feeds the creative stuff, and helps with logjams. If you don’t want to read…
3. Watch a movie. Or stream something. Some cool series you’ve been wanting to watch. Watch a couple episodes. Or, hell, go ahead and binge-watch. Just be careful with that. You don’t want to get into the habit of binge-watching all the time. But every once in a while, it can help get you out of a writing rut.
4. Get out of your house. Or office. Or wherever you write. Take a walk. Go exercise (which you should be doing regularly anyway, because that, too, helps the creative juices). Go do something in your community like visit a museum that’s having a cool temporary exhibit. Go catch a live music show. Call up some friends (or text or however you do it these days) and meet them for dinner or coffee. Have a barbecue with friends/family. Point being? Remove yourself from writing for a bit. Writers live in their heads. It’s important to get out of your head and, as they say, smell the roses. Besides, if you don’t, you might be missing out on good writing fodder.
5. Take a couple of days and go out of town. No, really. Leave. Even if it’s something goofy like driving a hundred miles to a neighboring town and spending the night at a B&B there. Do it. Go hiking or mountain biking. Rent a canoe and do a day-long tourist-y river float. Being outside in natural surroundings is a cure-all for just about anything that ails you. Don’t believe me? Here. And here. Oh, and definitely here.
Find whatever combo works for you. And don’t beat yourself up if you’re in a writing rut or stuck. What that means is you need to recharge the ol’ creative batteries. It’s a normal part of a writing life, to hit ruts. So make it part of your normal writing life to develop healthy strategies to recharge.
Speaking of, what are some of yours? Leave ’em in the comments and happy Wednesday.
This is the follow-up to my Rainbow Award runner-up, the novella From the Boots Up. So you’ll see it posted in a variety of places — thanks, peeps! MUCH appreciated! Anyway, here’s more info plus some goodies to check out:
Meg Tallmadge is a veterinarian at a clinic in Laramie, Wyoming. She’s got a great job, great friends, deep ties to the family ranch, and big plans for her vet future. Sure, there are bumps in the road, like her mom’s continued denial about who Meg is and her painful and infuriating attempts to make Meg a “proper” woman. Then there’s Meg’s recent breakup with a girlfriend, which has her wondering why she can’t seem to open up to relationships. But Meg knows that life is messy, and sometimes all you can do is get through and shake it off. What she can’t seem to shake off, however, is her past.
It’s been almost ten years to the day since she met the love of her life, and about eight since she let her go. Meg has a hard time admitting that maybe she didn’t really let go, and that maybe some things you never really get over, no matter how hard you try. But her past is half a world away, caught up in her own life, relationship, and journalism career, and Meg isn’t one to chase the ghosts of past relationships. Even if they send you a birthday card and nudge what you thought were the closed-off parts of your heart. After all, second chances are the stuff of fantasies and movies where the good guy always gets a happy ending. You can’t count on something like that.