You have fifteen minutes

If you’re an aspiring writer, no doubt you’ve heard this before. Writing experts are always pushing to write for just fifteen minutes a day. Like workout machines, they promise results if you can spend a little time doing this one thing every day.

And you know what? They’re right. If you use some of my note-taking methods and jot down bullet points of what you did in your previous writing session, you’ll be able to spend fifteen minutes writing the next day instead of reviewing what you’ve written and getting bogged down with the urge to edit. At fifteen minutes a day, you can write a novel.

I hear you saying, “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have kids. You don’t have another job. You don’t know me. You don’t know my life.”

It’s true. I only have my four furry kids, and the only other things I have to do in a day besides writing are the chores everyone else has to do, but I still know you have fifteen minutes. I won’t bore you with an endless parade of parents or employees that still manage to write. You know they’re out there. You’ve probably met some. And if your family or your job leaves you too wiped at the end of the day to write, do as my friend David R. Slayton recommends and get up earlier in the morning to write while your brain is still fresh.

“What is the point of this?” you ask. “Is it just to make me feel guilty about how much I’m not writing?” Not at all. If the occasional spurt of writing is all you want to do, go for it, but that is a very long, difficult path to finishing a novel. Write short stories or blog posts or articles, but novel writing is a commitment, and long periods of no writing can slow you to a crawl and make you forget everything you’ve done before. Even bullet points can’t save you.

If you really want to write a novel and finish it, find fifteen minutes in a day to do so. And if you can’t find those minutes, ask yourself if you really want to write a novel and why. And for heaven’s sake, stop beating yourself up if it’s not something you really want. I’m asking you to let go of guilt, to let go of this slog if you don’t actually want to do it. And if you finish soul searching, and find that writing a novel is something you really want, I’m asking you to find those fifteen minutes. You might become addicted to them. Fifteen might become thirty or an hour or two hours.

And now I hear you saying, “Goddamn it! With all this other shit I have to do, what is so wrong with wanting a little me time! Why does everything have to be work!” And I’m trying to tell you that writing IS me time. If you’re a writer, if writing and finishing a project gives you the rush it gives me, writing is the best me time ever. You will be the greatest champion your work will ever have; it’s all about you. Everything you write will live on after you, whether it storms the bestseller lists or not. It will be out there forever, a legacy that is wholly yours.

You have an idea.
You have the tools and the will.
You have my support.
You have fifteen minutes.
Go.

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First drafts: Don’t stop believin’…or writing

Let’s talk first drafts and editing. I’ve met writers who love editing, and those who loathe it, but if you want to improve the speed of your first drafts, you’re going to need to learn to love it. The first draft is all free flowing love and ideas, trying on different plots and characters and seeing how they fit. The eye is purely creative only because the editing eye can seriously get down to business later.

The most important piece of advice I can give you about writing first drafts is to never stop, go back, and try to “fix” what you’ve already done to suit what you’re doing now. So, in chapter three you decide that your guard captain isn’t really working out as your main character, and that her lieutenant is actually much more interesting and would make a better focal point for the story. Hurrah! You’ve caught that pretty quickly, and you’re happy with the decision you’ve made. Surely you should go back and change what you’ve written to reflect that, right?

Abso-freakin-lutely not!!!!

No way. Make a note in your handy dandy notes about where the change happened, maybe even why or a short note about where a new start to the novel could be, and then you keep going forward from that point and just leave those first three chapters where they lay. Why? Because they might change again, and then all your editing work would be for nothing, and because you’re on a roll now; things are becoming clearer for you in your novel, and you should embrace that forward momentum. I treat first drafts like a sprint. No matter what, I like to put my head down and run for the finish line.

If I decide the scene in chapter five should take place in a restaurant instead of someone’s living room? I make a note of the change and keep going. This secondary character isn’t working? I make a note of where I’m no longer going to be writing them and keep going. Now if it’s something really big, like the whole plot isn’t working, I do the same thing, but my primary note is that everything before the big change is likely going to be cut completely, which leads me to the second most important piece of advice I can give you about writing first drafts.

Learn to love cutting your novel!!!!!

It’s more than just killing your darlings. It’s more than cutting scenes or words that don’t add anything or characters you love that other people can’t connect with. It’s taking whole chunks of perfectly good writing, seeing that they really don’t fit, and excising them as if they were dead tissue. You can do with them what you like. I like to save them in a folder (with little notes in the beginning about what they are and where they came from) so that later I can stick them back in if they’re a good fit. You have to be okay with cutting thousands of hard-earned words if it makes your novel better. Learn to be a novel sadist and love it.

You will need that sadist within because if you’re writing down all your ideas in your first draft, many of them will have to go. You’re going to have a lot of editing work to do. You may have to change tenses or person. I almost always have to add description and subtract exposition. But if you’ve got an entire first draft, you’ll have an entire novel waiting and not just pieces that you’ve been editing and re-editing for years. You’ll have finished a freaking novel! It may be ugly and in pieces, and you switched main character in chapter three, it all takes place in a diner now, and no one has the same eye color anymore, but you wrote a goddamned novel all the same!

If that’s too scary to contemplate, break it down into smaller increments. Think of finishing chapters, scenes, or sentences; one word following another won’t seem so intimidating. Editing can be thought of the same way. If you look at your crappy first draft and the work seems too hard, dissect it with the help of your notes. Look at it as building bricks to be moved around. Line edits can wait to until the end, long after the plot and the characters are settled in their proper spaces.

Remember, do not stop whatever part of the process you’re in just to move on to another part because you’re bored/tired/OCD. If every time you write, you go back to edit, you’ll never finish a first draft, and if every time you edit, you stop and work on the first draft of something else, you’ll never have a completed work. Very advanced writers can work on multiple novels that are at different levels of completeness, but even then, it’s difficult. If you’re just starting out, I’d stay with one novel until it’s done unless you’ve decided to abandon it completely because no part of it is working.

Sound insurmountable? Wonderful! Welcome to being a writer. Now thumb your nose at insurmountable and go write. Then edit. Just like writing those first drafts, the more you edit, the more you’ll want to edit. You’ll get a taste for it until you’re sidling up to other writers and offering to edit their work, too.

Or maybe not. Don’t be creepy.

Do you love editing as much as I do? Do you bite your lip every time you have to cut a chunk from your novel? Is that creepy?

Have questions about other parts of the writing process? Let me know, and I’ll probably steal your ideas and do a blog post!

!!!!!

Notes, the writing before you write

People often ask me how I write so quickly. My typing speed is pretty high, but that’s not usually what they mean. They want to know how I move through projects so quickly and finish first drafts within a month or two, so I thought I’d share some tips. First off, Notes.

Notes!!!!

I can’t stress them enough. I’ve heard of both pantsers and plotters. The first doesn’t use an outline and writes “by the seat of their pants.” The second has a detailed outline and sticks to it. I’m somewhere in between. I think most people are, but I can’t move without my notes, and if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t write anything down before you start writing and then stalls out quickly, I believe this is because you didn’t make any notes.

I like to make my notes with pen and paper. My notebooks are color coded and I use different pen colors for different characters or timelines. I like to have them open beside me while I’m working on my laptop, and the color coding of the notebooks helps me keep track of them. But you use whatever notes you like. Some weirdos hate paper, or so I’ve heard.

Spitball the ending!!!!

(The exclamation points make orders come alive!!!!!)

You don’t have to do an outline, but I think it is helpful to have a general idea of where the story is going, even if it’s something like, “A guard captain starts off believing her queen is awesome and ends up realizing she’s evil.” That’s enough to set a bulls-eye to aim for. You’re going to need a whole lot more plot to wrap around that, but you know in the beginning you want someone to think one way and end up thinking another. This could change. You could decide you want this realization to be in chapter three. Then your main character needs a new goal. Even if you don’t have one right away, jotting down potential ideas can help you think of something. Even if your idea is as vague as, “I want everyone to die like in Hamlet,” that will get you thinking of ways to make that happen. Writing them down solidifies them and helps them stick in your brain.

React to all the things!!!!

How characters react to various situations is the best way to show how their minds work, imo. I won’t believe a narrative that simply tells me a person is jovial or angry or homicidal. I want to see them being all those things. So I jot down character sketches before writing the story. My guard captain is jovial when she’s off duty, angry when she’s on, and homicidal when someone attacks her. I think of how she might react to a potential lover, too, or something less threatening than an attack. That way, if it happens in the story, I can look to my notes and my character can react quickly, so to speak, and I can keep writing without slowing down to worry about who this person is and why they do what they do. I can get the heart of them down right away and add some fine-tuning later. A first draft is not the time to polish. It needs a framework of a plot and a framework of the characters, too.

Notes do more stuff, too!!!!

(Or, I suck at headings!!!!)

Notes are useful for  more than what I’ve listed here. As I’m writing, I keep a loose timeline of what’s happening when. Sometimes I don’t do this until after I’ve got my first draft done, that way I can tidy up the timeline as I polish.

Also, when I finish writing, I sometimes jot down bullet points about what I’ve just written, especially if there’s going to be a gap of a few days before I can write again. This saves me from having to read what I’ve written before, which saves me from the temptation to edit as I go and get bogged down in details when I should be writing new stuff.

It’s also very handy to write down chapter breaks in your notes, so you can see how long each chapter is as you write. If you’re trying to be consistent with the lengths of your chapters, you’ll see what you’ve done so far and have an idea of how long you want a scene to be by looking at how much room it’s already taken up within a chapter.

You may have noticed that I treat first drafts sort of like notes themselves. This is very true, but I will save how I get through first drafts for another post. Hint: never stop writing a first draft in order to edit it.

Do you use notes when you write? Do you find they make your life easier? If you didn’t before, are you going to try them now?

Small press vs. large press, a question for the ages

ConDFW went off without a hitch last weekend. A modestly attended con, but still an attentive one, it left me with ample opportunity to talk with readers and other writers. Most of my panels were well attended, and I picked up several new blog and twitter followers.

All in all, a big hooray.

Except…

There were lots of small presses in attendance as well as authors (like yours truly) that publish through other small presses. There were some indie authors as well, and quite a few set up tables in the dealer’s room alongside bookstores selling the wares of larger presses. I did not join them as I hate sitting still for hours, and for someone who only has two books available, I don’t think I’d see the sales needed to justify the cost. Some of those who had several published books seemed quite busy.

Except…

Even to someone like me who loves my small press and has had a wonderful experience, there is a whiff of legitimacy about books from large presses. Their authors don’t have to hawk their own books. (But they do have to do all their own marketing online.) To a lot of people, this makes them seem more…real.

Never mind the fact that I know for certain that my books are sold at major bookstores around the country. They’re just not sold at those stores in the south, where LGBT prejudice is still very easy to stumble upon. But it was because my books weren’t available at the con that I think many people automatically equated me with “not as good.”

We all know this is shit. As the big houses continue to coalesce and falter, small houses rise. And you can get stories from the small houses that you can’t get from the large ones. (Like lesbian princesses, for example. As a side note, there are definitely other gay fantasy main characters, but their stories are usually tragic in some way because of their gayness. Finding a no-big-deal tale like mine is a little harder. Just throwing that out there. ^_^)

Many small presses continually put out quality work, and people know this, they acknowledge it, and still that legitimacy stench comes creeping out. One person at the con (who I know is in favor of small press) expressed the opinion that small houses must be easier to “get into” than larger presses, like they’ll take anything that comes along. When is the last time you ever heard of a publisher being desperate for things to publish? Yet small presses seem a healthy target.

I fell into the trap myself, watching people pass over small press tables in order to spend their hard-earned cash at the bookstores. People had told me many times over the weekend how entertaining I am. They loved my buttons and my cover postcards. I can hope they’ll buy the ebook or order the paperback online. But they ambled right up to the stores and handed over their money.

I suppose some of it could be subject matter. Though my books aren’t graphic sex-wise, some people get weird about two women falling in love. But I have to wonder how much is that legit-vibe. I even thought, Gee, I have to try and sell something else (something non-LGBT) to a major publisher again, which means trying to get an agent, which means boarding the rejection train, a pit of despair from which many writers never escape.

It would mean throwing all my hopes and dreams and hard work at the feet of a crumbling industry, all for the hope that a bookseller in Texas would deign to carry me at SF cons.

Well, when I put it like that…

Writers, if you’re published through a small press or if you publish your own work, do you ever feel this way? Readers, do you pass over indie or small press books because you assume the quality is lower, despite what your own experiences might be?

As another aside, my time with Bold Strokes is and has been fabulous, and I hope to keep publishing with them for a long time to come as I have many many LGBT stories to tell. And they are one of the largest LGBT presses and one of the largest small presses there is. I guess I’ll just have to form a thicker skin when it comes to comments thrown around at a con. 😉 And I’ll have to turn more people on to LGBT fantasy stories, one reader at a time.

Another another aside, this was one of the first times at a SF con (as opposed to a lesfic con) that someone showed up to see me. Thanks @shadowriver, you made my day. ^_^

Ups and downs

Wow, what a couple of weeks!

First off, my computer died. Not so much my entire laptop, but my hard drive decided it’s time had come. Luckily, Ross predicted this, so he had a new one waiting. It is now replaced, and life can finally go on.

I could access the internet briefly with the kindness of strangers, but I couldn’t write except for longhand, and that gives me horrible cramps. It was madness, I tell you, madness. Several people told me to think of it as a vacation. Strangely, forced vacation = not fun. I’ve written two short stories since I got my dear laptop back, just because I missed writing that much.

More post-hard drive good news, I got to write the acknowledgments and dedication for The Pyramid Waltz. That was a lot of fun and a lot of trying to remember everyone to thank! I felt like those people at awards shows who just start shouting names and then have to end with, “If I forgot you, I’m sorry.” Luckily, no one was playing me off the stage.

Today I’m going to look at a book launch venue. Soooo exciting. I’ll give you a full report once I’ve finally FINALLY nailed down my location.

Is anyone else doing Nano summer camp this year? I’m gonna try to do it this June, though I have a lot of non-writing tasks to complete. Who’s with me?

Did you have any tragedies these past weeks? Any near misses?

If you’re looking for IWW, it’s below this one

You know you are. ^_^ I’m very happy that everyone’s liking them.

Guess who's engaged to whom

I’m going full steam on edits right now as well as freaking out that I’ll have to do author appearances and beg people to review my book before the year is out. You may think I’m funny, but I’m really a hollow shell of a person held together with caffeine and candy.

What have you dreaded lately? I’d love to hear a few stories of when you were sure you would fail but instead came through with flying colors. Go ahead, after-school-special me.

The trollest of them all

You guys, what bliss!

I almost had NOTHING to blog about today. My next IWW post won’t be ready until next week, but I felt the need to say something, as I do every Wednesday. I’m hip deep in edits and thought I would have to redirect you to more interesting things when lo, I get an email from Letty herself!

Quoth the Letty:

“You are the reason I joined another group…I doubt you REALLY HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT UNLESS IT IS SELF PUBLISHED.
You need to get an honest opinion of your writing. You already have mine.”

Oh, you darling flirt. What acts of charitable kindness did I do to deserve you? I despaired, oh Letty, and down you dropped like a troll-scented angel from Topic Heaven. (Which was next door to Hot Topic in the mall.)

Look how kind you are, trying to assuage my guilt for helping you get tossed from your group by hinting that you left of your own accord. And that you joined a group because of me!!! Did they remind you of me somehow, and you couldn’t stay away?

You’re still a teensy bit confused about the book, though. It’s coming September 18th from Bold Strokes Books. (I never just want to throw the link up, but since you asked so nicely…) And thank you for your honest opinion about my writing. I clearly remember you saying how much you loved it. You’re such a dear.

Ah, now I feel better. A topic and a lovely conversation with my dear Letty. Anyone else have a wonderful yet unexpected email today?

IWW: The Love Triangle

Action movies take three to tango, a wild dance of hero/villain/captive culminating in some serious high-wire fighting over pits of rabid crocodiles.

Am I right?

The villain has more style, loves a shiny, jagged knife (because she wants that shit up close and personal), and has a pet that’s cooler than yours. Not a dog or a cat, something more…MORE. Like a baby panda.

Also, she builds her lair beneath an active volcano

Nailed it.

The hero’s in black ops, which I assumed meant she wore lots of black. She’s ex-CIA, ex-military, ex-coast guard, and an ex-librarian because I like to read. She uses a gun because killing from a distance is somehow humane.

Doesn't need to see the light die in your eyes

But because we’re hard fucking core, we can’t use weapons to hurt each other. That shit’s for babies who don’t KUNG FU.

Ditch gun!

Lose knife!

Battle royale under an exploding volcano…full of crocodiles (not pictured, but trust me, they’re down there)!

Body slam with pithy comment!

Mind if I drop in?

Flying kick with lamer comment! (The villain is always cleverer than the hero. See: Schwarzenegger, Arnold.)

Sorry, I've got to take out the trash!

After several death defying jumps over lava crocs, the hero wins, saves the captive and either kills the villain or leads her away in cuffs.

Let's get this panda back where he belongs!

Scene.

But…I’m disturbed. My three-way tango? Not so much. You see this?

Sigh

That’s not a tango-er, that’s a helpless muppet. It’s more like a love…line, than a triangle. All the conflict, all the passion is between the hero and the villain. This thing hanging behind them could be a giant plastic pear for all the ways it drives the plot.

The villain may have tried to seduce him. The hero may have realized that she wanted to live/retire/random epiphany because of him, but in the end, he’s a tool, in more ways than one. He’s a plot device, not a character, as replaceable as they come.

Let's get this panda untaped from this pear

And in the movies, that was always a woman.

What the shit? I didn’t want to be hanging in the villain’s lair under the volcano. I wanted to be swinging by my whip and cutting fools with my light saber. I wanted to kick ass on my own time, my own way. I’d already started on the path to writing strong female leads, and Barbie was going to help.

Did you ever put yourself in movies or television? Which role did you covet? (It’s all right if you wanted to be rescued. ^_^)

We have liftoff!

Well, we have a date for liftoff. My novel, The Pyramid Waltz is being published on:

September 18, 2012!

Woooooooo hooooooo! It might seem a long way off, but it’s really just around the corner. I’ve got so much to do, most of it mental preparation. I’ve got to get ready to talk to scads of people I don’t know. On the internet, it’s easy. In person, it can be a lot harder. I can be pretty funny, but I usually make jokes around what other people are saying, making them laugh. If people won’t talk to me, well, there’s not much I can do. I think I must be meeting lots of introverts lately. When no one can think of anything to say, damn it’s awkward.

Does anyone have any tips about getting people to come out of their shells? I’ve got a lot of talking to do. ^_^

Right now, let’s celebrate. I don’t drink champagne, so this will have to do:
(Find this recipe here.)

What are you up to this week, friends? Got any big deadlines looming on the horizon?

Yeah, yeah, rejection, blah blah

Favorite quote of the day:

“Rejection always stings. It stings me, you, everybody. Nobody likes to be rejected. A writer who likes being rejected is a writer who is secretly a robot and must be smelted down into slag before he tries to kill us all because he hates our meat. Pain is instructive. And it’s not permanent. Not if you don’t let it be. Some writers savor misery like a hard candy endlessly sucked in the pocket of one’s cheek, but fuck that.”

Taken blithely from Chuck Wendig’s blog.

I read that earlier today and it brought up so many memories. I’m not currently submitting anything, but I distinctly recall most of the rejections I’ve gotten. Many have been the puzzling form rejections. Some of have been handwritten little gems. Only one suggested I try something different with the work. The rest were veiled ways of saying, “I don’t think I can sell this.”

My favorite rejection was from an assistant who said she tried really hard to convince her boss to take me on. It was handwritten on the first page of my manuscript, wrapped around the form rejection as if she couldn’t leave a paper trail. Utterly heartwarming. I hope she some day gets her own agency. ^_^

I think I’m going to have a thoughtful day. How about you?