So you’re writing a novel. 5 things to think about.

Hi, friends!

I tend to think a lot about process and the little things that go into working on a project and yeah, the overarching philosophy behind the act of writing.

I mean, obviously, if you’re writing a novel, you probably have the ultimate goal of being published. Let’s assume that’s the goal, anyway and let’s focus here on writing novels/fiction.

BUT.

Writers don’t write just to get published. If that’s the only reason you’re doing it, re-assess. Write because you love it, because you can’t NOT write, because if you didn’t your soul would wither into a desiccated carcass, left to bake on the salt flats of your future.

So with that in mind, I’m here to disavow you of some notions because writing a draft of a novel isn’t just hammering something out and then you’re ready to go get it published (and then make ass-loads of money).

I think most people probably are aware that more goes into this, but what they don’t realize is even when you have a draft hammered out, that draft will need to be re-written several times. Re-writing is a huge part of writing, and it can be tedious, but that’s the nature of the beast.

Writing, like any other skill or ability, requires a lot of practice and some new writers aren’t willing to put in the time, energy, or resources to learn the craft or the mechanics of it and develop from there.

Nobody starts out a perfect writer and honestly, there is no perfect writer. Even the really good ones aren’t perfect.

There are people who might have a better grasp of craft prior to writing a novel, and people who have read widely and taken classes and have an excellent command of the language, but their drafts are going to need work, too.

Also, writing isn’t necessarily a goal. It’s a journey, and as you travel, you will be kicked around, experience frustration and exhaustion/burnout, be subjected to harsh critique, deal with the constant of trying to market yourself, and chewed up and spit out by publishing, regardless of the platform you use.

So here are 5 things I’ve learned in the decade+ I’ve been professionally writing fiction about what you need to consider when you embark on your first novel-writing adventure.

1. Assess your reasons for doing this. Seriously. Really have a think about this. Because if you’re thinking writing a novel is a get-rich-quick scheme…oh, honey. Bless yer heart.

Not to suggest this doesn’t happen. But…generally, it doesn’t. Everybody in this business is hungry, and competing for various readers. Finding your audience is going to take much more than one book. So once you embark on this idea of being a novelist, that means you need to write many more than just one. You need to commit, and it’s a fuck-ton of work.

  • Who are you writing for?
  • What are you trying to say? (your message)
  • Have you found your writing voice?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice on this journey?

See: “Writing Tips to Make You Better” (writer Jeff Goins; lots of good stuff at his blog, btw)

That last one is something new/new-ish writers don’t seem to really consider, is what they’re willing to sacrifice on the journey. Because you will be making sacrifices. So it’s good to get to know yourself (if you don’t already) and understand what you’ll give up and what you won’t in order to do this.

Write because you feel the call. Not because you think there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that a bunch of dancing leprechauns are only too happy to give you. If you’re looking to make money out of writing, stop. Write because you want to, because it’s almost a need, because you’re compelled to tell stories.

See: 10 Inspiring Reasons to Become a Writer (HuffPo)
See: “Writers Don’t Write to Get Published” (writer Jeff Goins)

The majority of professional writers have day jobs, especially if you’re in the US because that’s the only way we’re able to access affordable health insurance and benefits (and that’s a whole other subject and rant). Which is not to suggest there aren’t writers who are able to make a living at this. But it’s a constant hustle, 24/7 and if you have family who depend on you or you have other commitments, you’re going to have to figure out how to make all that work, in addition to ensuring that you’re taking care of yourself and engaging in wellness. This can be a stressful business and you have to ensure you’re part of the wellness equation.

So really think about what your goals are in terms of writing. If you’re just wanting to hammer something out for NaNoWriMo to prove to yourself that you can do it, that’s one thing. But if you’re wanting to turn that project or something else into a published work and then embark on a writing life in some regard, that’s a whole other thing.

Think about what you intend to do with your project. And along those lines…

2. Focus on craft. There are a lot of moving parts to writing. Stories that are written well run smoothly, and you aren’t aware of all the moving parts because they’re flowing seamlessly together.

A reader should stop reading because something was so awesome that they wanted to read it again. They shouldn’t stop because something isn’t working. Colleague and fellow author Joan Opyr told me that years ago. Good writing/story-telling is like a well-tuned engine. Everything works together so well that you don’t notice how well it works and you just enjoy the ride.

Work on your craft — on the mechanics of writing. Learn grammar, the parts of sentences, the parts of a story, how things fit together. Become a better writer before you go out in the world looking for a reward for it.

See: “Don’t Fake It–Learn the Craft” (Beth Hill at The Editor’s Blog)
See: “10 of My Favorite Writing Craft Sites” (author Kate Weiland)
See: “7 Craft Lessons Every Writer Must Learn” (writer and editor Michael Noll at HuffPo)
See: “The Most Neglected Writing Tip” (Jeff Goins)
See: “The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers” (Jeff Goins)

Take workshops/classes/webinars on writing and craft. Learn fundamentals. Read books on how to construct novels: plot, characterization, dialogue, pacing, narrative arcs. Types of fiction. What connotes style. What genres you’re interested in. How those types of stories are constructed.

If you want to write well, you have to work at it, which means you also need to read widely and often. Read writers better than you so you get a sense of what makes a good story. Read across genres to expose yourself to all kinds of approaches and styles. All of this will inform your style and craft, and will help you develop as a writer.

I’ll repeat: To write well, you have to WORK. You have to make the time to practice your craft and to learn the mechanics of writing. Sorry. There’s no easy way to do this. Good product requires a lot of work on the back end and in writing, you’re the back end.

3. “Hope for the best but expect nothing.” The late Harper Lee said that, which seems funny now because she didn’t publish more than a couple of novels and look what happened there. But her point is well-taken. It’s great to hope. Hope fuels a lot of cool things and without that, what the hell would ever get done?

But don’t expect that the world owes you a damn thing for your novel, no matter how much blood, sweat, or how many tears you poured into it. Refer to point 1, above. Write because you feel the call and you want to tell stories. But don’t expect that people will care about those stories. That’s part of writing. Don’t be looking for rock star status. If that’s your only reason for writing, re-assess.

Here’s more of Lee’s quote, from an interview she did in 1964 (Lee was notoriously press-shy, so this is a treat):

Hope for the best and expect nothing. Then you won’t be disappointed […] You must come to terms with yourself about your writing. You must not write ‘for’ something; you must not write with definite hopes of reward … People who write for reward by way of recognition or monetary gain don’t know what they’re doing. They’re in the category of those who write; they are not writers.

4. Read. I said this above, but I’ll say it again. All good writers read widely. Nonfiction, books, short stories, periodicals, long-form journalism — brain and soul food, friends. If you’re serious about improving your craft, do not lose sight of reading as an important ingredient in your writing life.

If you’re going to do this writing thing, you need to challenge yourself through reading. Writers need to be wordsmiths, and versed in the art of language. Don’t stick to one genre or one or two authors. Read widely, read often. You’ll find inspiration and ideas in other people’s words, and you can use that to improve your own writing and feed your brain.

Carlo Dolci: “St. Catherine Reading a Book” (EVEN SAINTS READ), early-mid 17th c.

See: “14 Reasons Why Writers Need to Read” (editor and author Jan Fortune at Noteworthy)
See: “3 Reasons Writers Read Books” (Joe Bunting at The Write Practice; excellent writing advice there)
Podcast: “Why is It So Important for Writers to Read?” (Write Now podcast with author, editor, podcaster Sarah Werner)

So if you’re serious about this writing stuff, READ.

5. Think about your writing life. What that means is, writing isn’t just about reading books and doing workshops/classes. It’s also about understanding that like any other skill, you need to practice just about every. freaking. day. Top athletes and musicians engage with their craft every day. If they take a break from the physical act of sports/music, they’re still thinking about it.

It becomes embedded in their bodies, brains, and lives.

I’m not suggesting you work 12-hour days at writing and take an hour off here and there. Like anything else, writing requires that you find a work/life balance, but if you’re new to this, you absolutely need to be realistic about how much time you’re willing to give to a writing life and if you can’t commit to engaging with your craft every day, then this isn’t the gig for you. And that’s fine. It’s not for everybody. Go, you, for giving it a shot! There’s no shame in not continuing and finding your groove elsewhere.

Like anything else that you want to do well, writing requires COMMITMENT and WORK and TIME and PERSEVERANCE. If that’s you, then GO, YOU again!

But really think about why you’re doing this.

Writer Jeff Goins wrote a manifesto for writers, and I totally agree with it. Here it is:

Jeff Goins, “A Writer’s Manifesto”

So there you go. If you’re working on your first novel, there are lots of things to consider. Like your platform. And in the great scheme of things, why you’re even doing this and what it’s going to entail.

Whatever you decide to do, GO, YOU! If this writing life is for you, welcome!

Happy Monday, happy READING, happy writing.

I still swear and sometimes I’m an asshole but for generally good reasons

Greetings, all!

So yesterday on social media I brought up an issue that I think garners discussion and I’m pleased to say that overall, the discussion was pretty much respectful (and delightfully irreverent in some cases), with the exception of a few pissy comments. Which is fine. That’s how this stuff goes.

Anyway, the subject was swearing. As in cursing.

I’ve blogged about this before, because I am of the lady variety who swears. Not only in real life, but in my writing. Some of my characters also swear. Swearage is part of my existence. I have many friends who swear. And others who don’t swear as much. And still others don’t swear at all.

I tailor my swearage to my contexts. In some places, I don’t swear. Like, say, job interviews. Or around children.

I call this self-policing. It’s basic manners, and it’s a conscious, individual choice I make.

But then there’s this other kind of policing and that’s what I want to talk about now.

Yesterday I posted the description of a panel that is being presented at an upcoming lesfic conference. The description made me uneasy. Here it is:

Profanity, Vulgarities and Obscenities, Oh My!
A discussion of the growing and often unnecessary use of profanity in lesbian fiction. Do readers deserve a more intelligent vocabulary? How can non-objectionable words and phrases work to an author’s advantage? How much is too much? Is the shock value muted when swearing is over used? When is a carefully placed obscenity absolutely necessary?

NOTE: This description is being re-written and I want to thank the person who wrote the original and then came to my social media post and acknowledged that it was problematic and that the description was being re-written. When I have the new description, I’ll update here. I made sure to update the original post on social media with this information.

AND a conference official did reach out to me, and I greatly appreciate that. So thank you, for being willing to engage and for addressing the issue quickly.

That said, I will own that yeah, maybe it was asshole-ish of me to post the panel description and say that it felt like speech-policing without going to the organization first. But I wanted to see what others in my lesfic reading/writing community felt about this and about the description because I’ve been speech-policed over the years by ciswomen in this community who expressed displeasure about my use of profanity in my books. And I know fellow authors who have been speech-policed for profanity in their books to the extent that these authors even got bad reviews as a result.

So the issue is actually bigger than this panel — though the person who proposed it and wrote the description didn’t intend at all for the sense that speech-policing was involved.

Though it wasn’t the intent, it came across that way, and I want to now raise why I think this issue is much bigger than this panel, because it’s something I and other authors have dealt with in the lesfic reading and writing community.

And as I said in my previous blog about this (see link above), policing swearing is something that women go through way more often than men. If I were a male author, I don’t think the swearing I incorporate in some of my work would even be blinked at.

There are several layers to this. Lesfic is a marginalized community in many ways, and to be speech-policed by fellow travelers in that community is a particularly bitter pill. And I say that as a white ciswoman.

KD Williamson, one of my fellow authors in this community and who has indulged me with many conversations over the past year, is also speech-policed for profanity in her work, but that policing gets tied up with something else. In one instance, she was speech-policed with regard to profanity in her work but with the added comment about how the reader knew she was black because of “all the curse words” in the book.

Would that reader have made the comment that she knew the author was white because of all the swearing? Or perhaps because of the lack of swearing?

That’s a hella big load of baggage in a statement like that. Speech-policing becomes a statement about someone’s race, which also laps at the boundaries of behavior-policing. It’s not much of a leap from “you can’t say that” to “you can’t do that” and within that are historical tropes about the “kinds” of people who “are allowed” to do and say certain things.

KD blogged about this whole dust-up, too. Reviews of her work often include references to her use of profanity. I’ve been approached in person and I think there are reviews floating around out there that reference my use of it, and generally, someone’s issues with profanity may bring them to write a bad review, even if the book is structurally sound and tells a good story.

So that’s why speech-policing makes me knee-jerk. I’ve been subjected to it, and my colleagues have been subjected to it, some with added implications about race and class.

Speech-policing can have a chilling effect on writers, especially when people do it in reviews and on conference panels — again, I understand the intent was not to do that in this panel, but reading the original description demonstrates why many of us reacted the way we did. But the question remains, why are we policing each other in a community that now, more than ever, needs to stick together and support the stories we’re telling?

And that’s why I brought it up yesterday. I have no issue with discussing effective use of language — whatever its type — in writing. And hell, in speaking. And certainly, some people want to learn how to wield profanity better in their work. Sure. Have a panel about that. But I also think it’s important to think about perceptions about swearing and the historical and cultural baggage that comes with it and with judgments about it. Because it’s one thing to say: “learn how to swear effectively in your writing” and quite another to say “discussing the growing and often unnecessary use of profanity in lesbian fiction. Do readers deserve a more intelligent vocabulary?”

One statement is a how-to. The other is a judgment.

And I worry that a panel like this, no matter the intent behind it, may end up being the latter.

Hence my knee-jerk, and the reason I brought it up, because as KD says in her blog on this topic, “sanitized lesbian romance and lesbian fiction is okay. Guess what? So is everything else.”

Indeed. Your cup of tea may not be to someone else’s taste. That doesn’t make it “bad” or “unnecessary.” There’s plenty of room for all kinds of stories. Let’s make sure they get told, and let’s keep talking.

Bring out your dead: on killing characters and historical tropes

Hi, peeps! (see what I did there, given the holiday? Heh.)

I hope this weekend treats you well and that everything is fab with you and yours.

This, my friends, IS A MAJOR LONG-ASS POST. But one in which I need to unpack a few things with regard to certain tropes.

I’ve been thinking about the characters I write, and the characters I’ve grown attached to through other people’s writing, and how it affects people when a writer decides to kill a character.

Writers make decisions all the time on which characters live or die, and that depends on a variety of factors, including the genre, narrative arc, and the personal arcs of the characters themselves. It also depends on where the story may be headed, especially if it’s a series, and how that character is going to fit into a larger picture down the line, if at all.

So there are any number of factors involved in a decision to remove a character either from the printed page or a TV show or movie. And there are any number of things that can happen, both inside the story and outside once the character’s death occurs.

There are also much larger currents at play, and those, too, have a role in reactions. Especially outside the story, among those who are following it.

Specifically, I’m thinking here of a couple of series on TV that I follow. Those are The CW’s The 100 and AMC’s The Walking Dead.

And here’s where I put the SPOILER ALERT. If you follow both these series and you have not seen the most recent episodes, DO NOT READ ANY FARTHER. STOP NOW.

I MEAN IT. SPOILERS.

NOT KIDDING.

Okay, fine. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Let’s proceed.

And because this is a looooong piece, with lots of rumination, grab your fave delicious beverage and snacks before reading on. I’ll wait.

dum dee dum. la la la. ::checks the Twitterz:: ::plays around on Facebook::

Okay, ready? Let’s go.

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How not to be a jerk when you promote

Hi, peeps!

Happy Friday n’ all a’ that. Oh, and don’t forget to turn your clocks forward this weekend, if you’re in a place that does that whole Daylight Savings Time thing. If you’re not, well, stay asleep.

ANYWAY. Let us discuss some promotional tips. Please start with this blog by fab spec fic author Delilah Dawson titled “Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work.”

And then, after you get pissed at her, read the follow-up, “Wait, Keep Talking: Author Self-Promotion that Actually Works.”

Okay. The point of Dawson’s first post was to get you thinking about how you go about promoting your work. Everybody knows you have to do some kind of promotion. But there are good ways to do it and not-so-good ways. Dawson lays out the not-so-good ways in the first post. And then she lays out the better ways in the second.

I like to think of self-promotion as “not being a jerk” and I already subscribed to Dawson’s approach before I actually read her blogs. So here’s a list of 10 things I recommend, culled from my own experience and Dawson’s advice, with regard to self-promotion as an author.

Shall we?

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Crisis of Faith (in writing)

Greetings, peeperas y peeperos!

I hope this past weekend was awesome for you.

Me, I’ve been having deep thoughts all over the place, like these over at Women and Words.

And the ones I’ll be revealing here. Don’t freak out when you start reading. Read the whole thing. There’s an HEA.

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Gay Romance Northwest Meet-up: a lesfic panel

HEY, peeps!

Whew. Just finished up the all-day soiree that is the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-up, which happened in Seattle (LUV ME SOME SEATTLE) this past weekend at the amazing Seattle Public Library downtown. Wow. What a facility.

Seattle Public Library, downtown branch (from Wikipedia)

See all about the GRNM at THIS LINK.

I moderated a panel dealing with the future of lesbian romance in terms of subject matter, publishing, and promotion. Panelists included fellow authors Jove Belle, Jill Malone, R.G. Emanuelle, and Kate McLachlan.

One of the things that came out (see what I did there?) in the panel was that there appears to be “parallel universes” of LGBTQ fiction. That is, M/M appears to have the most established infrastructure in terms of things like networks and professional review sites as well as a greater presence at conferences and book events followed, distantly, by F/F and then trans and queer.

So let’s chat more about this, yeah?

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Andi’s 10 reasons you should totally go to writing conferences

Hi, all!

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:

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Identity, politic

Hi, all!

Geez, WTF, Andi? It’s been, like, forever and a day and all kinds of THE THINGS happened and where the hell were you and just what are you doing?

I know. Straight up, I’ve been FB’ing incessantly about the Women’s World Cup (OMG YAY TEAM USA) and writing for deadlines and then there was the amazing historical BOOM when marriage equality was ruled the law of this great land and then there was a horrific tragedy and then all kinds of crazy over certain flags. I decided much wiser heads than I can address those two latter issues, and I still haven’t quite been able to wrap my head around the whole marriage equality thing.

At some point, I will blog that, because I’m coming from a perspective of believing that I probably wouldn’t see it in my lifetime or if I did, I’d be in my 60s or 70s. This perspective, I think, causes a fatalistic outlook on relationships. Marriage was something I thought I could never have, so I never planned for it. I educated myself about the issues, worked to advance them as I could, but I never thought it would be something that I myself could enjoy.

And that leaves its own kinds of scars. Which I will discuss later, as I ponder more.

In the meantime, I wanted to discuss something else. Specifically, what repercussions marriage equality may have on genre fiction.

I wonder this because yesterday at Women and Words, we posted a blog by New York Times bestselling romance author Melissa Foster, who just released a new book in her Harborside Nights series that features a lesbian main character and this character’s love for another woman.

Foster predominantly writes heterosexual romance, and this is her first F/F. As she notes in the blog she did at WaW, she got a little bit of blowback from her writer colleagues.

Why?

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On writing (or not) religion

Hi, peeps!

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.

Why am I thinking about this?

Go see!

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Why the hell are you writing a new edition?

Hi, all! Hope the weekend treats you well.

I decided — after some comments (some cranky; others not so much) I got regarding my decision to reboot my first mystery, Land of Entrapment — that it might be a good idea to explain what a new edition is and why some authors decide to do it. LoE for website

There are many reasons authors come to these decisions. We don’t wake up one day and decide, “Oh! I’m going to re-do one of my earlier works and re-issue it! Won’t that be fun?” Because not. It’s not fun. I mean, some of it is. But for the most part, it’s stressful and time-consuming and the longer the book stays off the market, the less opportunity there is for readers to read it. And authors never make this decision to piss people off. Trust me on this.

So let’s chat about some of the reasons authors decide to create a new edition of an earlier work.

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