An ancient prophecy set forth her ultimate destiny:
About the Author
Cookies (women’s fiction)
(Tala Prophecy, Book 4)
I’ve been feeling very unmotivated lately. I’d say there are reasons, but for the most part (like 70%), they’re just excuses. No matter how many times I berate myself, I still find myself on the couch, staring at Jenson Ackles as Dean Winchester (I’d blame him–he is too pretty to ignore–but I know better).
In case you didn’t hear, several areas in my state and surrounding areas were without power for days. Luckier than most, my power came back after 4 days. (I’d like to take a moment and state that I’m a spoiled wuss–I need power: lights, a/c, TV, a working fridge. Having to carry a flashlight every time I had to pee got REAL old, fast.) I couldn’t type a damn thing. We got power back and then one of my/JLo’s best friends got married; since JLo was in the wedding party, that took me away for 3 days. So by this point, it’s been well over a week since I’d added any new material to my WIP. But even before we went to a temporary Dark Ages era, I’d been slacking on getting new words down. I couldn’t focus and when I did sit down to write, the words refused to flow. Frustrating. As. Hell.
I’ll admit that while I had no computer those 4 days, I did take a few hours one evening to set my mind with pen and paper on my male lead, using my “character layering” technique. I got some decent development in, realized a few new things about him and how he ticks, and now like him even more. But I haven’t touched any of the actual WIP. I found myself staring out the window or suddenly finding other things to do, like laundry or reading.
I have a full time job, a great gig that not only pays the bills, but lets me throw my creativity around as the in-house “social media expert.” I’m on the computer from 8-5, Monday-Friday and while it’s certainly not a complaint against my job, I gotta admit the last thing I want to do when I get home after work is stare at my computer screen for another 3-4 hours. So that left me braindead on the couch with marathons of Supernatural, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly not doing me any favors on getting a book written.
So. There’s the excuses, outta the way. My problem is motivation. My problem is that if I miss a couple days, I think it’s okay to miss a couple more. My problem is that I don’t hold myself accountable, despite my big talk of holding myself to deadlines, because they’re just MY deadlines and no one else’s. Despite people asking for more books, despite my pride in the fact that I wrote a freaking book, despite my desire to get all these stories out of my head and out for the world to see…I’m still avoiding sitting at the desk. And I have no one to blame but myself. No one will write the damn things for me. And if I sit on my hands and don’t release anything for months and years because of it, I’ll be forgotten, no matter how many times I tweet about that one stupid book from a hundred years ago.
How do we, as authors, overcome laziness or writer’s block or a general lack of motivation? What happens when your Muse leaves the building? When the WIP is in danger of becoming a discarded manuscript, how can we shake our funk off and jump back into our world-building?
I’ve read several suggestions. Some say to get the heck outta Dodge (or your house) and observe people. When you’re at a loss for dialogue or reactions, go sit in a coffee shop or whatever and discreetly eavesdrop (don’t get caught looking like a stalker. It’s embarrassing for everyone). Besides eavesdropping, there are other ways we can shake it up–going for a workout, taking a scenic walk or bike ride around town, having a drink with friends, etc. I think the key is taking a step away from your WIP, even for a few hours, to get a different mindset, to take a mini-break (as opposed to the long vacation my mind’s taken the last few weeks) and get a new outlook on things. For me, I need to look at everything I have to do in stages and make a few lists. (One for everyday, one for the marketing plans, one for the actual WIPs, etc.) I think once I see everything that HAS to get done ASAP, then everything that must come after that, I’ll at least feel more focused and will hopefully feel more motivated to sit down at the desk again. After lists come schedules of how I can best use my time wisely. Once I schedule my time, then I can add in the free time for reading or drooling over Jenson Ackles.
What do y’all do when your muse leaves the building? When you’re feeling lazy and uninspired and have a hard time putting words on paper?
When it comes to writing my characters, I’m all about layers. Occasionally, I’ll dive in and start writing scenes, especially ones I’ve been excited to write, but I like knowing my characters and how they’d react in their situation. One of the main reasons Lucy of Gifted is 21 years old is because I knew I couldn’t make her under 21–specifically because Lucy would never have the balls to sneak into a bar and drink underage. Lucy is brave, but not reckless (not usually, anyway) and is all about abiding rules and laws. It’s how she and her family stayed safe as gifted out in the human world for all those years.
For whatever reason, Gifted sort of simply came together for me. I mean, I worked hard on it and edited thousands of times to tie up all my loose ends, but sometimes it simply wrote itself through my fingers, my subconscious secretly piecing things together without my even realizing it. More importantly, the characters were almost a no-brainer. I knew almost immediately who they were, their roles in the story, what they looked like, and how their relationships with Lucy would evolve. I knew exactly how each person would react in any given situation. They were already old friends of mine and they nearly jumped off the page for me. I only had one major change with the characters–Renata, the Earthshaker we see a handful of times throughout, was actually a main player. I decided there were already lots of characters, so I scooted her to the background (though I kept in her big moment during a fight scene). After a while (like after the 2nd draft), I finally wrote everything down about the characters–their families, tics and habits, all of it. I made sure I knew those guys inside and out. And it took several layers that even led me to their secrets I might not have found otherwise had I not dug a little deeper.
When I say layer a character, I mean that’s my method of writing. I’d been having some difficulties with the WIP lately. When working on SuperNova, I couldn’t figure out why I was having such a blasted hard time with the characters. I could picture them in my mind, but I didn’t know them yet. Every scene I wrote sounded flat because despite my physical movements and settings, the voices were simply neutral. I could’ve traded them in for anyone. The last thing I want is Nova getting confused for Lucy. So last week, I took a step back and realized I’d skipped a step that I didn’t really have to do for my Gifted characters right away. I’d been so worried about getting the story out on paper that I didn’t take a good look at my characters, didn’t interview them or consider their thoughts and feelings.
Once I sit down to write characters, I spend pages and pages with them. Unless I’m acknowledging a relationship with another character in the book (brother/sister, love interest of, etc), the sole focus is that one person. I don’t just write about their appearance or how they react to things; I write about their fears, their insecurities, what makes them happy, their hopes and dreams, the tiny scar they have on their knee from 5th grade baseball, and so much more. I round out possible scenarios that I’ve outlined for the story and as I ask questions, I answer them along the way, cleaning up the loose ends that might be somewhere in the manuscript. For example, when writing about a new character, Penelope:
“Penelope Warner [age, physical description, role in story]…She’s younger, so more prone to jealousy and childishness…she’s bored and wants to stir up action…if [situation] occurred, she would [action]. When she first meets Nova, she thinks [thought]. How does she see her brother? When they are together [she acts this way], but if [character/situation] were to happen, maybe she’s [action].”
Sorry, I know that’s like the world’s worst Mad Lib, but you probably get the general idea (plus I know all the answers to those questions and I refuse to give spoilers before the first draft is even done!) 🙂 Once I’m done with the first layer, realizing who they are, I can move on to the next: placing them in scenes. Because I’ve already set up everything, I add in specifics, such as their facial expressions (reactions), tics (like Lucy’s finger tapping), or emotional reactions (Delia’s cookie problem). I also get little ideas within those scenes on how to move forward. Sometimes I get thrown for a loop, but often it leads to a helpful dose of detail later on in the book.
I have no doubt that layering sounds a little strange to some, just as other techniques might baffle me. However, it’s working for me in this strange little system. It’s like I’ve put all the ingredients together and now it’s time to bake the cake (I’ve got dessert on the brain). The point is, no matter how a writer composes their story, it’s important for us to know our characters inside and out. When they talk to you, write everything down! It doesn’t matter if family history or a random event in their life doesn’t make the cut–it makes the characters who they are. Those ideas shape them just as any of our pasts shape us. Brainstorming is fun and you’ll put all the pieces together eventually. Even if the details don’t make it into the story, it helps us to create our world and its people.
I feel like I’m holding my breath right now. That I have been for a while now. I don’t know when I can let go, but my face hasn’t quite turned blue yet. Luckily, I’ve got this guy–Fisher, not his chipmunk pal–to keep me distracted enough to barely even feel the burn in my lungs: (brief pause to show off my cute dog)
I have several (no, dozens) of copies of my book out right now for review. Lots of paperbacks; triple that with Kindle copies. Now the hard part is playing the waiting game. Because my book is already out, I’m not upset my book isn’t “blowing up” but that means when everyone finally does review it (which is apparently next month and through the summer), I’m going to hear ALL THE THINGS that people like or don’t like. While I’m noting and planning corrections to my marketing mistakes, for now I accept whatever time frame it takes for bloggers to get back to me. I understand that I should’ve planned much further ahead of time. But I’m taking it in stride and will apply that to future releases. In the meantime, that leaves me waiting with bided breath, hoping that when reviews begin to come in, I’ll appreciate and learn from each positive or negative one. I expect reviews will be, as my mom puts it, feast or famine. Much like my two years of job searches, I expect I’ll have days, weeks even, without a single review or mention, followed by two straight weeks of my email hitting Red Alert.
As I’ve stated before, bad reviews don’t scare me (I’ve got a flask). I plan to take what criticism I can work with and use it to my advantage when writing Book 2. Assuming people aren’t jerks (and I can’t imagine that’ll be anyone I spoke with, rather random Amazon reviewers), I could take what they appreciate or can get by without to move the story along. That’s how writers grow and while it might sting, I’m ready to anticipate fixing any weak spots in future manuscripts. Plus I expect it’ll help my writing in other works too, as far as character development or pacing goes. I get where book bloggers are coming from and I’m hoping for honest reviews.
Now for the other side of the page: Writer have feelings, too. I don’t know if this applies to every writer, but many, many of us are pretty much just nervous people. That’s what I’ve decided in the last few months of putting out my work, specifically when I talk to other authors. There are plenty of others like me who are downright scared sometimes. We want our work to be good, to be special, to really grab an audience and move them the way your characters hope they do. It’s gut-wrenching to be turned down after so many queries to agents, so once we nut up the courage to go indie publishing, we now have to face everything ourselves. It’s intimidating and overwhelming and really, I’m looking forward to it being easier the 2nd time around.
Approaching a person, trying to be sincerely interested each individual, is worth every bit of the research and time investments a writer makes. (For the record, reading a book blogger’s Review Policy is crucial. Every writer pitching stories to book bloggers, please take notice of their entries. You might have a basic skeleton of what your review request looks like, but send separate emails, name names, and anything else that shows a blogger you are. Read the About Me’s. If they’re investing their time to read an effin’ novel, you can take eight minutes of your day to read a few notes.) Once book bloggers have the books, however, it’s up to them to write a piece that best represents their ideas and opinions. Some state the sunny side of things–even if a book didn’t work for them, they still talk about what might work for others or what they did like. This is how I write reviews–even if I had problems, I don’t want to be blunt or rude about it. I especially defend the right to opinions (provided they’re all respectful), because what didn’t work for some usually works for others.
I’ve even seen some bloggers that offer the DNF (Did Not Finish) option to email the reason why and opt out of a review, thus sparing the reviewer time and the author pain. It makes sense to me, actually. If I can’t get through the first 100 pages of your book, it’s not going to end well for anyone. I just want to move on to the next book at that point. And at least as an author, I can be saved of a poor review and the only loss is a bit of your time (I’d say about twelve minutes**, tops).
I suppose that while I may get a low score on the love-o-meter, my hope is that it’ll be stated with respect. All the bloggers in my Twitter feed and email inboxes have been excellent and I believe even if they aren’t crazy about the story, they’ll still like something about the book. A character, a detail, a particular Gift even, would be something positive I can take from it, at least. We writers should always, ALWAYS be polite and sincere when asking book bloggers to do us a favor. But book bloggers will hopefully be considerate and professional about their reviews. (This is my general plan to saving the world, but we’ll come back to that.)
**I’m only joking about the time it takes for blogging, emailing contacts, and staying up to date on social media. Far longer than twelve minutes. I’d have a hell of a lot more posts if it didn’t take time and thought to create a unique post. Don’t throw tomatoes at me, book bloggers.
And now, just because she’s super cute and you deserve to smile on Tuesday, here’s my friend’s dog Lady. We like to think Lady and Fisher are dating, but neither of them seem particularly fond of the other. Either way, she’s a doll. It’s always better to begin and end a post with cute dogs.