Getting to THE END

June 9, 2008 at 7:06 am | Posted in Jessica, writing | 2 Comments
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Despite all the ups and downs, frustrations, and uncertainties, there are a number of satisfying things about writing and being a writer, and getting to the point where you can write THE END on a project is one of the best. But the accomplishment brings a bittersweet feeling as well, because after spending so much time working on something you love, something you devoted a great deal of time to, and something that has taught you A LOT, all that stuff also comes to a close with those two simple yet meaningful words.

And that’s how I feel about this blog, because today I write The End on my time here at the Purple Hearts.

Blogging over this past year has been an amazing experience. I learned more than I could ever convey and met some wonderful people as a result.

Two such people, Dianna Love and Mary Buckham, spent a day with us back in March with a post on BREAK INTO FICTION – WHAT IT TAKES TO GET PUBLISHED TODAY. In it, Mary shared the following:

The great news for writers everywhere is they have the choices daily to commit and work toward their goal of publication or not. They have the power. Many times as unpublished writers we think all the power is in the hands of editors or agents, but it’s not. It’s in your hands and the day you decide that nothing will stop you from being published is the day you’ll never turn back. You’ll make different choices as to how you spend your time, who you will associate with, how you will invest in your career. The greatest power to break into fiction publication rests with you and we’re here today to let you know that.

My leaving the blog comes down to the choices Mary mentioned above. Though endings are bittersweet, when one thing ends something new begins. And as writers we often look to start a new chapter with something completely different, which is exactly what I plan to do.

Thank you to those who spent your Mondays with me over this past year and to Meg and Bria for going on this journey with me. May you all keep writing and working toward your dreams!

-Jessica

Writing Prompts

June 2, 2008 at 8:51 am | Posted in Jessica, writing | 3 Comments
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Our friend, Marissa Doyle, has had great success with the debut of her novel, Bewitching Season.  I couldn’t wait to buy this book when it hit the shelves on April 29.  When I hunkered down and opened the first page, getting set to jump into this much-anticipated book, I was struck by her opening line — “Oh my God, you killed him!” — not because of the strength of the hook but because I recognized this very line as a writing prompt that was used in one of our RWA chapter meetings. 

I was astounded that the one line used to jumpstart one of our chapter writing exercises launched this bewitching story Marissa had written.  How very cool that six words could inspire the conception of an entire book! But isn’t that the way of it? Sometimes there is a lot more to prompt our creative ideas, but often the inspiration for a novel comes down to much less.

I thought a discussion of writing prompts would dovetail nicely with the topic of Jess Andersen’s guest post this week, because a prompt is one more option to use when feeling stuck in your writing.  If you’re spinning your wheels, not sure what to do or where to go with your story, some free writing may be just the thing to help you through the quicksand.  And what better way than to get a random suggestion, hit the gas, and run with it without a second guess.

Writer’s Digest offers writing prompts for every day of the year.  If you don’t subscribe to their magazine, you can find some WRITING PROMPT suggestions on their web site.

Another web site that offers great prompts is called CREATIVE WRITING PROMPTS.  Feeling lucky?  Pick a number at random to get your prompt for the day.

Or we can take a stab at it ourselves — what would you do with the following?

All was right with the world until that knock at the door changed everything.
 
Give yourself five minutes to write whatever comes to mind when you let your creativity play with that line. You never know if a random writing prompt could inspire you to hit the gas and write the book that becomes a much-anticipated new release!

Keep writing – the prompts are all around you!

-Jessica
 

Reading is a Part of Writing

May 26, 2008 at 8:28 am | Posted in books, Jessica, writing | 2 Comments
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Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself that you could write a much better book than the one you just read . . . or couldn’t bring yourself to finish reading? As an unpublished writer wrestling with the frustrations encountered along the road to publication, I know we’ve all come across at least one of those published works that keeps us in the game no matter the odds of our success. If such a ‘poor’ book can make its way to the shelves, certainly one of our stories can break its way through, right?

Last week, we mentioned a blog entry posted by Kristin Nelson on how MILLIONS OF READERS ARE NOT WRONG. And I wholeheartedly agree with what she says in her post — there has to be something about that ‘bad’ (in our own completely unbiased and subjective opinions, of course) book that compelled an agent to represent it, an editor to buy it, and readers to read it. And instead of blasting the book for its faults, we can instead use the frustration to figure out what it was about that particular story to make so many people help bring it to light.

On the flip side, have you ever read a book that was just so good and perfect in every way that it made you feel like a fraud for even attempting to call yourself a writer? That after reading it you hope to someday rival the storytelling ability of that author? I’ve had a few of those moments these past few months, as I’ve read and enjoyed and wished I could write books like Liza Palmer, Eileen Cook, Virginia Kantra, and most recently Jodi Thomas.

Bria has told me over and over again that I needed to read Jodi Thomas but I hadn’t had the chance until this past weekend and now I don’t ever want to stop. On her web site, Jodi has an article for people like us — readers who hope to publish and someday rival the good storytelling ability of our favorite writers — and she shares the same advice once given to her . . . “If you work really, really hard you’ll make it.” In her article she goes on to share just how hard she had to work to become the writer she is. Her story is significant.

I often wish there was a secret blueprint to follow to make it. But I know this learning process – at times painful but nonetheless rewarding – is important for us all to go through. It is what will make us the stronger storytellers, business people, colleagues, and individuals we’ll need to be to survive the ups and downs of publishing, and we all need to arrive at our own process in our own way on our own time. And reading both good books as well as bad are good learning tools and motivators as we find our way, helping us mold and shape the kinds of writers we want to be.

So part of writing is reading — widespread reading not only in your genre but anything you can get your hands on. There is much to learn from all uses of words, in good writing and in bad . . . as much as there is in partaking in the act of writing ourselves.

I hope you find time to read good books and bad . . . but no matter what, keep writing! In the words of Jodi Thomas, “If you work really, really hard you’ll make it.”

-Jessica

Writing Basics – The Process

May 19, 2008 at 8:14 am | Posted in Jessica, writing | 1 Comment

We thought that we would perhaps use this week to get back to basics. ‘The basics’ are something I’ve been toying with for the past few weeks, reading about themes, myth, scenes, mechanics, etc.

And as I’ve looked to get back to the basics, I found this You Tube video that breaks the mechanics down to the barest bones:

I love this video because it touches upon all the parts of bringing a book to life, but I certainly don’t mean to suggest that going from idea to publication is as easy as just that. I’ve been talking to our friend, Barb, lately about the writing process – how each of us goes about tackling the stages as mentioned in the video above – and throughout our chat we both acknowledge that the creative process involved in moving a story from start to finish varies from one writer to another.

If you are still looking to identify the process that works best for you, here are some questions to consider:

– Are you compulsive about research or do you fact check as needed?
– Are you a morning person or more productive in the evening?
– Are you a creature of habit who needs certain things in place before you can get to work, or can you work just about anywhere?
– Do you ‘think’ better on paper or on a computer screen?
– Do you see your stories in a linear way, as in a movie that rolls through your imagination, or do you see bright, vivid chunks of your story in random order?
– Do you need a detailed map to get from one destination to another, or are you comfortable in winging it and correcting wrong turns as you proceed?
– Can you take advantage of periodic and spontaneous chunks of free time, or do you need to plan events in advance?

Your answers to these questions will help guide the process of your writing. Once you know when and how you work best, you can move forward with much greater ease and tackle all the steps as outlined in the You Tube video I shared. From story idea to publication . . . it doesn’t matter how any of us gets there, as long as we keeping moving through the process and never give up.

Keep writing!

-Jessica

Killing Your Darlings

May 12, 2008 at 10:39 am | Posted in character, Jessica, life, writing | 2 Comments

Last week, I finally accepted the death of one of my friendships — something I had been resisting for a very long time. Fortunately, the person is alive and well, but my bestowed opinion, emotional attachment, and deep care and concern for this person, which had been challenged off and on for that very long time, have reached their final resting place. From the moment I made the conscious decision to lop the head off that proverbial snake, I have felt an incredible lightness of being – more healthy, more peaceful, more hopeful . . . as though I lost about 200 pounds of unnecessary and dead weight.

It took me a long time to endure the relationship ups and downs and reach this personal breaking point — the point where I felt that for my own personal story I needed to metaphorically kill this darling or have it somehow kill me. It strikes me how the agony, deliberation, and emotional stress in ending this relationship is very similar to making the decision to kill a beloved fictional character in our stories. After all, whether in writing or in ‘real’ life, we tend to get attached and grow a vested interest in the people whom we let inhabit our worlds. But despite the attachment and at times iron-clad heart strings, sometimes a character just has to go. Whether for the growth of the main protagonist, a turning point that moves the story forward, or a black moment that could make or break a story’s outcome, we are often faced with a hard yet necessary decision to eliminate a character from the story.

And despite the pain and suffering that characterizes the act of killing your darlings, aren’t our stories stronger for the painful exercise? Speaking personally, both as a writer and a friend, I must say yes. Either way, there is good that can come from the bad . . . making us better storytellers and better individuals for having endured the process.

So my goal this week is to keep putting on the big-girl pants each morning, one leg at a time, move on from my loss, and embrace my new lightness. A new twist in my story awaits!

RIP, my once and past darling! I wish you no ill will, but I am so happy to be moving onward and upward.

-Jessica

Finding Inspiration in Friendship

May 5, 2008 at 7:19 am | Posted in friendship, inspiration, Jessica, writing | 3 Comments

I had a college student’s weekend in that my weekend started on Thursday night. Sadly, I no longer have the mental and physical stamina of a college student so while I had a nice, long, busy weekend, this Monday morning feels as though it has come all too soon.

I’ll characterize my weekend by saying I spent it supporting the arts – such a fun string of days, it’s no wonder the time flew!

– Thursday night I attended an author talk, where three superstar authors spoke to a sold-out crowd about writing and life
– Friday night I attended a book launch party for a debut author and dear friend
– Saturday night I attended an opera recital
– And yesterday, I hope you all stopped by the blog to help us welcome another dear friend, Nancy Haddock, as our guest and to celebrate the release of her debut book, LA VIDA VAMPIRE

And while all of these people from my weekend are solo artists, I am reminded that it often does take a village to make our projects come to fruition. Whether in the support of a critique partner, a commiserating peer, or a loyal, caring loved one there to help pick up the pieces when they fall or help us keep up the good work when things go well, we are not as alone as it often feels. Seeing the care and support during each of these artists’ events, makes me grateful not only for being able to support them in the way(s) I can, but also for the people who provide such medicine for me.

So while I’m toiling away on seemingly endless writing conundrums, I will think back to this weekend and remember the strength and creativity and forward momentum that true friendship can inspire. And when I hit the proverbial wall, I hope to draw on that strength, creativity, and positive momentum, and keep writing!

-Jessica

The Four Ps of Publishing

April 28, 2008 at 7:40 am | Posted in career, Jessica, motivation, writing | 3 Comments

Over the years I have heard similar advice in response to the ‘how to get published question’ and almost all of that advice boils down to some variation of the same four things, all words that begin with the letter P.

Preparationto put in proper condition or readiness. I have included a mention of ‘product’ below, but being prepared requires more than having written. It helps to have market research, business savvy, professional contacts, self-awareness, and a plan. Any and all preparation will help put you on better footing when confronted with THE CALL when it comes.

Persistence to continue steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, esp. in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc. There are some people who find publishing gold straight out of the gate while others toil for years with mixed or no success. As Thoreau said, ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams . . .’ If publication is your end goal, may you persist and not be distracted from your goal.

Patience an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay. Anyone who has ever sat down to write a book knows that it is a process that takes time. And even if you are a quick, prolific writer, the wheels of the publishing industry tend to move at a slow pace. There are many things you can do to help during the interminable delays — keep writing (of course!), read, volunteer for your writing groups, mentor newer writers, devise and present writing workshops, research, treat yourself to a writer’s date, vent to your writing friends . . . whatever you need to do to keep yourself sane instead of running your imagination in unhealthy circles.

Perseverance steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. No matter how much joy writing may (or may not!) bring, writing is work . . . and is often hard work. And that’s just the act of fighting to sit down every day with the need to produce strings of words, coherent thoughts, and strong sentences. Pages and pages of what we hope is good, intoxicating, evocative prose. In the outside world, there lurks around every corner the villains of rejection, critics, naysayers, thwarters, bloodsuckers. I know of one writer who keeps a rhino (small, stuffed, animal) on his desk to remind him of the thick skin he needs to endure the sharp spears thrown in this business. But he stays steady on his course, determined to persevere and succeed. Which he does.

Do you have any other Ps you would like to add to the four above?

I would like to add two more Ps to that list . . .

Product – the best way to get published is to write and to have written. Write the best book you can, and, when you finish that one, start the next one. Keep learning and growing, but, no matter what, keep writing.

Professional. Nathan Bransford had an interesting post in the past few weeks on how personality counts in increasing ways in the publishing business. And while the product is what sells, having a complete and total professional package can only help you in the long run. As with any job search, you want to put your best foot forward. And I believe that placing your product with the right professionals is akin to finding yourself a new job.

Even with the four Ps (or six, or however many you would like to add), timing also plays a huge factor. I know I have said it before, but I believe that getting published is about having the right product in the right hands at the right time. But if you are doing what you need to do to get yourself published, I also believe that you can create your own luck. Keep minding your Ps and, most of all, keep writing!

-Jessica

The Writing Train

April 21, 2008 at 10:15 am | Posted in career, Jessica, writing | 3 Comments

At the end of the week last week I went to an all-day workshop for things-related-to-my-day-job and I got the chance to listen to three really great speakers who clearly loved what they do, were well-versed on their subjects, and loved to interact with and share information with the 150 or so professionals in attendance. They were great and I learned a lot just by listening to them . . . but throughout the sessions I couldn’t stop from trying to see how I could apply their wisdom, not to my day-job, but to my writing life. Because although I was a fellow professional at that meeting, participating in the field for which I’d been trained, I really just want to stay home and write.

In that context, I want to point you to a blog post that Tess Gerritsen shared last week on The Sad Financial Truth About Writing. In it, she reported some statistics acquired from Novelists, Inc. (NINC) of a random sample of 100 of its multi-published members — they were asked if they could support themselves on their writing income alone. Please check Tess’s blog post for the total distribution percentages, but 52% of multi-published authors polled reported they could not.

So, there I sat on Friday as a representative of my work-a-day life (completely unaware of the numbers Tess had just reported) and I was trying to make connections between product placement and web 2.0 and 30-point-imperatives with my writing, and as I contemplated today’s blog post I decided to leave you with a short story and a thought.

One of the speakers I heard on Friday told a story about Albert Einstein, which I would like to paraphrase here:

While on a trip to America, Albert Einstein had booked travel on a train. He got settled into his compartment and the train shoved off. As the train rumbled down the tracks, the ticket-taker came to his quarters to collect:

“Ticket, please, sir.”

Albert Einstein looks for his ticket, a bit taken aback that he’s misplaced it. “I don’t have it.”

The ticket-taker recognizes him and says, “Oh, Dr. Einstein! I didn’t realize it was you. You don’t have to worry about your ticket.”

“But I must find it.”

“But, sir, I am not going to take it from you.”

They went back and forth like this a few times . . .

At this point, Albert Einstein is on his hands and knees in his compartment, searching for his missing ticket. He looks up at the ticket-taker and says, “Young man, my dilemma is no longer about the ticket. I need to find it to know where I’m going.”

The same speaker who shared this short story with us also challenged us to stop strategically planning and to start strategically thinking when it comes to our organizations and how we intend to function and stay relevant in our ever-changing environment. As intuitive as it may sound, planning and thinking do not always go hand-in-hand.

So, I don’t mean to imply that the 52% of authors who reported that they cannot sustain themselves on their writers’ salaries alone have not strategically thought about their writing careers. On the contrary — I can’t imagine being multi-published without having strategically thought about career building moves. However, now that I have had time to process my conference experience from two weekends ago and synthesize some of those concepts with the ideas I took from ‘my other life’ workshop, I confess that while I may have hopped on the writing train, I really have not given much strategic thought as to where I’m going.

I find this revelation exciting! The great news is that it’s never too late to create or change strategy. So . . . my to-do list now includes some strategic thinking in addition to becoming a better quality storyteller. I am going to do all I can to get my ticket ready and keep writing! Anyone wanna’ come with me?

-Jessica

Conference Afterglow

April 14, 2008 at 7:18 am | Posted in career, inspiration, Jessica, writing | 5 Comments
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It was a super busy, tiring, exhilarating, motivating, inspiring and all-around awesome weekend, as are most conferences I get the chance to attend. Meeting new and old friends. Learning new things. Stocking up on new books. Making new connections. Conceiving new ideas and approaches for my writing life. As I think through and process all the elements from the weekend, there are just a couple of things I thought I could mention in today’s blog post.

There are certain elements about conferences that are out of an attendee’s control. Venue issues. Technical glitches. Travel atrocities. Inappropriate colleagues. [Fill in your personal conference peeves here.] But what I have learned over the years is that whether you have a personally good conference outcome or a bad one, the end result is up to you. The whole experience is truly what you decide to make of it.

There have been times when just one workshop has made the whole expense worth my price of admission. I love those A-HA! moments of clarity or inspiration or new line of thought. This parting of the clouds is magic to me, and there were two things that came to me over the past four days that made me want to reorganize the way I thought about my writing.

The first came when a NYT best-selling author was talking to me about the workshop she was set to deliver and she said, ‘[This topic] is what I needed to learn to sell my first book.’ So many times I feel as though I have everything left to learn and I am not sure I can distill the many craft pieces down to any one thing, or at least a small, prioritized list of things that I really need to learn before I sell. But this woman and the time and advice she shared with me make me want to fill in those gaping holes. In struggling with the amorphous blob that is my writing life I mentally chastised myself for not setting up a much better strategy. I am excited to change that and figure out the top three things I need to learn to improve my writing, if not sell.

One other thought that took on new and stronger meaning for me over the weekend can be summed up in two words: Who cares? Please don’t misunderstand my meaning here . . . I think about those two words in the context of the book(s) I am working on and I think to myself, ‘Who is going to care about these characters and what is going on between them, for them, or to them?’ In my mind, the stories I have been trying to tell just are not as compelling as I would like them to be. Granted, I am still learning so much about the process, and, to add to my to-do list from the previous paragraph, upping the care quotient is another aspect of my storytelling that I want to enhance.

So . . . a whole weekend spent and only two parting shots to report?! I’d say that was a pretty successful weekend!

We would love to hear about any conference revelations you may have had – in recent or from previous years – that have helped you overcome any blocks in your writing path. It’s all about the ‘Keep Writing!’

-Jessica

Conference Checklist

April 7, 2008 at 7:34 am | Posted in Jessica, writing | 3 Comments
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There are a number of RWA Chapter and regional conferences that take place in April so I thought it might be helpful and timely to share some conference tips acquired from over the years.  Here are some quick quips, in no particular order:

1. Dress Professionally.
Writing conferences are a huge, fun, social event.  But it is also a gathering of our profession.  Be conscious of the impression you want to make.

2. Dress in Layers.
The temperatures in the hotels tend to be on the cooler side, no matter what the season.

3. Wear Comfy Shoes.
You wouldn’t think that walking from conference room to conference room within the same hotel would take such a toll, but there is more schlepping than one would expect. Take good care of your feet! 

4. Bring Comfort Clothes.
You’ll want something comfortable to lounge in at the end of the day or for venturing outside the conference venue.

5. Keep Hydrated.
Drink plenty of water.  If possible, find a nearby grocery or convenience store and buy water, Diet Coke, snacks, [fill in your own brand of snacking necessities here], for your quick nosh during the day.  The Hotel will charge too much for these items, if available at all.

6. Fashion a Supply Kit.
Receipt holder. Pads of paper. Pens. Pencils. Post-it notes. Blank note cards. Stamps. Business Cards.  Paper clips.  Binder Clips.  Highlighter. Tylenol. Chapstick. Band-aids. Safety pins.

7. Buyer Beware. 
It’s tempting to go overboard in buying books!  If you indulge, know that you can ship the books back home (with mixed results).  Better yet, pack an extra carry-on bag and carry them home.

8. Stay Connected.
Have cell phone will travel.  Exchange cell phone numbers with your writing buddies.  You never know when you’ll need to find a familiar face in that huge crowd.  And pack your charger.

9. Smile and Nod.
If you are approachable, the networking opportunities may come to you!

10. You Don’t Have to Go to Everything!
Schedule some time to get away to recharge your batteries every day.

11. Go to Any Workshop Given by Jennifer Crusie or Susan Elizabeth Phillips . . .
. . . or any sessions at your respective conferences that may not be taped. The great thing about conferences is that most chapters arrange to have the sessions recorded for later purchase in either audio CD or MP3 format. If there are two sessions in one time slot and you can’t decide which to attend, choose the one not being taped and purchase the other.

12. Practice Sensible Etiquette.
Don’t pitch your manuscript to the editor of your dreams from the bathroom stall next to hers.  See #1. Be conscious of the impression you want to make.

Remember that there are eyes and ears all around you.  If you have a rant or criticism that just cannot wait, find a private place and a trusted friend with whom to share it.

13. Bring cash.
Think of the bar as the conference golf course – a lot of networking and business take place on these links so even a little time logged in this social setting can have great and unexpected benefits.

14. Have Faith in Yourself.
If you are aware of what’s going on in the industry and your genre, or who’s writing what, or even if you have just started writing your first book, you can talk about anything with anyone. Don’t underestimate yourself!  

In the comments section on Friday, I recommended a post on Conference Etiquette from Jessica Faust from Book Ends LLC, which shared some insight from an agent’s perspective — a perspective that I think is helpful for first-time attendees to read for advice and conference veterans to read as a refresher.

And if it helps, here are a few of the April conferences taking place:

Desert Rose RWA – Desert Dreams Conference. April 4-6, 2008.

Dallas Area Romance Authors – Dreamin’ in Dallas Conference. April 4-6, 2008.

RWA-New England Chapter – Let Your Imagination Take Flight. April 11-12, 2008.

Gulf Coast Romance Writers – Silken Sands Writers Conference. April 11-13, 2008.

Kansas Writers Association – Scene of the Crime Conference. April 11-13, 2008.

Romantic Times Book Convention. April 16-20, 2008.

Chicago-North RWA – Spring Fling Writers’ Conference. April 25-26, 2008.

Malice Domestic. April 25-27, 2008.

If I have missed any conferences, please share them in the comments section . . . and if you have any other conference advice, we would love for you to share your input.

For all the attendees, I wish you fun and successful conference-going. Go forth and write!

-Jessica

 

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