Month: March 2015

Reading Can Help Improve Voice

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately. My goal was to read at least forty books this year. I’m already at twenty which is a lot for me.

It dawned on me mid way through one of my latest reads that I was analyzing what I wouldn’t do as an author. I was in the middle of a fantasy book that was taking too long to get going (The first major action doesn’t happen until over 200 pages in.) Don’t get me wrong, I understand that fantasy, in particular, is granted some leeway when it comes to world building. This writer’s characters were well done. The writing itself wasn’t bad at all. Yet, I found myself yearning for action to drive the story along.

Another book I tried reading took fifty or so pages to build up to a significant action scene only to have the POV character fall and hit their head. They were knocked unconscious and woke up five hours later. Not only did the character miss what happened, readers did too. I felt duped, misled. Why build up to an action scene only to skip it? As a reader I was annoyed and frustrated, so much so that I stopped reading.

Many authors suggest up and coming writers read often, and widely. I never quite understood the whole reason…until now.

As we grow as writers, our skill level should increase. When we pick up a book we should be able to see what makes it work, or not work. Granted this will vary from writer to writer, as no two people will view any book the same light. If I can pick out why I don’t like an author’s choices in their book, I can avoid those things in my own work. It’s logical to assume that if I can avoid things I perceive as negative, my work, and voice, should strengthen.

For me, I wouldn’t want my readers to slog through two hundred pages of world building without any significant action. I also would never build up to relevant action only to have it take place “off camera”. It’s easier for me to see what makes for a good read both technically and structurally now that I’ve been writing for a while. I’ve always been a stickler for details. Now it seems my comprehension is also expanding.

I’ve always been a big believer that writers should never stop learning. Reading can certainly help. Grab a book. Discover why you like, or don’t like, it. Look at it structurally. Pick out it’s strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself how that information can benefit your writing? Understanding can lead to a breakthrough. Apply what you learn to your writing. You should see improvement.

If we want to be included in the same breath as some of our favorite authors, we must not be afraid to walk among them. That means analyzing someone like Dean Koontz, Stephen King, or Anne Rice. Don’t be afraid. Pull on your big kid pants. Dive into a book. Walk among the greats. Hopefully one day we’ll be lucky enough to be counted as one of them.

NOTE – I’m not suggesting copying our favorite author’s style of voice. Most inexperienced writers try that at some point and their words always come across as disingenuous. Copying a particular style or voice won’t help anyone discover their own voice. They only way to work on your voice is to sit down and write. Your words. Your story. Your way. Rinse and repeat. You’ll likely be frustrated. Work through it. Learn as you go. Things will get better with time and experience.

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Don’t Forget Your Passion While Writing

Thus far, 2015 has been a ball buster of a year. A family member was diagnosed with three different kinds of cancer, the roof decided to leak, and another family member became so overwhelmed with emotion and stress that they started therapy. Real life, y’all, doesn’t stop just because you’re a writer.

Each writer has a life outside of writing. Or, at least, we should. Sometimes our lives wreak havoc on our writing routines. As for me, I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to. But I’m not going to sugar coat things or make excuses. Words haven’t been written and it’s all my fault.

I sat down at my computer the other day and knew what I wanted to do…but just couldn’t start typing anything. There were too many distractions, too much on my mind. I’ve been doing that more and more lately. It’s not that I want to quit writing altogether. For me, writing had lost that magical feeling. It became mundane. I was going through the motions instead of creating something I loved.

That’s not the kind of writer I want to be. Ever.

It took me a while to figure things out. Outside stress and pressures were getting to me. Real world drama and drama from my writing career collided. My brain melted.

Like Austin Powers, I had lost my mojo, my passion for writing. I saw writing as a chore instead of fun. I would feel guilty about not writing, but not about writing/creating something I loved. You see, I need to feel connected to whatever I’m writing. My stories generally pull me in and get me excited. I never really saw it as genuine passion until recently.

If you don’t love what you create, why should anyone else?

Some of us are passionate about contemporary YA, others are passionate about horror, or something else entirely. It doesn’t matter where your passion lies. What matters is that we grab hold of our passions and never let go. The author who genuinely loves horror will probably write a better story than a writer who is looking to jump on a trend as a way to get noticed or paid.

Don’t forget your passion when you sit down to write. Forget the word count. Forget the stress. Let your passion be your guide. Chances are if you can harness that passion, readers will pick up on it too. The proof is in the pages.

If something is hampering your writing, don’t settle for mediocre. Take some time to discover what’s bothering you. Re-discover your passion.

I went back to a technique that helped me early on. I bought a notebook and wrote out my plans for each remaining chapter of my WIP. I would include things like an overview of what I hope to accomplish with the chapter, relevant characters, setting, and then a more detailed plot line. After a few days, I found that I wanted to write again.

Even though life still weighs heavily on me, I can write through it. My passion for this story, these characters, is a powerful driving force. I’m going to take my time and make sure I get things right. And now that I understand the importance of passion, I won’t make the same mistake again.

Have you lost your passion for writing? If so, what did you do to re-discover it?

March Update

Hello, everyone! I hope your March has started with less snow and less frigid temperatures than mine. There are snow piles at the end of my street that are almost as tall as me…and I’m 6’2″! And the cold temperatures mean they aren’t melting!!! I’m done with winter. Where’s Spring?

Things will probably be a bit more quiet on the blog in the coming months. I’ve finally picked up the pace and my third book is rapidly approaching the halfway mark. The halfway mark for me is usually 40,000 words. So, I’ll probably be busy until the first draft is done, which will hopefully be sometime around the end of March or the beginning of April.

Short story news.

The Paying the Ferryman anthology (Charon Coin Press) has been pushed back a month and will now be published in April instead of March. My short story, DEATH BLOSSOMS, will appear in the anthology. It’s my longest short, clocking in at 8,600 words. Did I mention it has killer bacon? I can’t wait to share it with all of you. Stay tuned to this space for more details as they become available.

FROM THE COLD, which was shortlisted for a different anthology, was ultimately rejected. For those of you who don’t know, being shortlisted means you made it through the initial round of submissions and the editors liked your story enough to set it aside. This particular anthology had four contracted stories from well known authors and was looking to round out the table of contents with an open call for submissions. The publisher received 1,363 submissions. 18 were shortlisted for possible publication. 7 of those stories made it into the anthology. I was close, but my story just didn’t fit in with the others in the anthology. I’ve been getting more and more of those kinds of rejections lately. You know, the “We love your story and writing style but feel it isn’t right for our anthology. We would encourage you to submit to us in the future.” Those kind of rejections are encouraging, but are still rejections.

AN UNFAMILIAR SKY is still alive and kicking. The anthology I submitted to rejects stories fairly quickly if they don’t want them. Well, I subbed my story three months ago and no rejection yet. Fingers crossed!

I should be hearing back from a magazine soon about THE BRODGAR RING in the next couple of days. I have a one percent chance of being accepted. Those are long odds. Like Han Solo said, “Never tell me the odds!” As working authors, we’ll never know if we don’t try.

Han Solo never tell me the odds gif Imgur

Even though I’ve had some success with short stories, my focus is on books. My first two books (BETWEEN SHADOWS AND DARKNESS and ENDURING DARKNESS) are with my agent. As soon as my third is completed, including a synopsis and blurb, I’ll send that along too. Then it’s on to the next book. I have several complete outlines to choose from and any one would make a great addition to my writing resume. My plan all along has been to finish two books this year. If life doesn’t throw me anymore curve-balls, that goal is going down!

To all the writers out there who are feeling down over rejection, don’t let it get to you. As long as you’re still writing and submitting, you’re making progress. With each new story you complete, the better your writing becomes. If you don’t give up, eventually you’ll get noticed. Believe in yourself.