Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lessons Learned Pt 1.

So I said I'd come tell you all about some of the writing tips I was given by the wise when I came back today - and here I am...

Yeah - I know - It's gonna take you all a few days to realize I'm back again... But think what a nice surprise it will be if you had given up visiting and then you pop back and see tonnes of stuff!!!

So, when I decided back in 2002 that I was going to give this writing lark another try - and possibly send something away to an actual Publisher - I was lucky enough to make several good friends in the writing community - many of them through eharlequin - and thanks to them I picked up some useful snippets of advice that have never left me and I still believe in today...

1/ Finish the (damn) book - No matter what stage of your career you're at, this will never change. If you can't finish it - you can't sell it. Never, ever send off a proposal or a pitch or a query letter or a synopsis if the book you're trying to convince people to look at does-not-exist. Cos what will happen is this (it's a sod's law thing) - when it doesn't exist - someone will want to see it. And that leaves you two choices - go without sleep for a week while you create the masterpiece you pitched and end up writing short of what you may well have been capable of - or fess up that it doesn't exist to whoever wanted to look at it and watch as their interest suddenly fades, knowing deep in your heart that they will think twice before they look at the *next* pitch that has your name attached. Even in the best case scenario - if they end up waiting weeks for you to deliver what you're trying to sell to them you're still going to drop further down the pile of work they're wading through already...
So, if you're serious about chasing your dream to be a writer don't shorten your chances by being unprofessional. Publishers want professionals - their reputation depends on it, their sales depend on it - and if it comes down to a choice between a great idea and a medium idea that exists on paper and can therefore be worked on to make it great - which one would you choose in their shoes??? (I'll revisit this on the list of things I've learned myself tomorrow)

2/ You can't edit a blank page - Now this is kind of a little bit of the same advice. But it's also very good advice for another reason... We've all been there - you know what I'm talking about; that horrible period of self doubt we like to call writer's block, when the words just won't come and we avoid sitting down to work because we just know we will end up leaving the computer frustrated that we can't think of anything fantabulous to write. The usual signs of procrastination being things like surfing the net, reading other peoples books so we can see how much better than us they are to add to our depression, cleaning house with waayyy more of a high standard than we normally do - you'll know your own method of avoidance - But there's only one way to get through it. And that's to keep writing. Even if it's complete drivel. Even if it's just dialogue. Even if it's two scenes ahead of where you left off. Even if it's just 20 or 100 words as opposed to a couple of thousand. Because at the end you can go back and edit those words - you can delete the worst drivel or add layers to make the drivel work - heck - you may even surprise yourself and discover it's not actually drivel at all. But you can't fix it if it ain't there, can you??? (And yes, I will be revisiting this again tomorrow too...)

3/ Write from the heart - Now you know you've heard that before! But it's true folks. It's also one of the reasons why you should be sure of point 4 on this list - because if you try to write something you don't believe in then there are a million and one readers out there who will sniff you out at fifty paces. If you have no respect for a pathetic heroine then don't try to write a pathetic heroine - if you're throwing a plot point or a conflict in just cos you think it should be there and not because the characters and the story have led you to it then don't put it in - basically if the story is something you would hate reading then why are you writing it? Just because you know a particular style of writing is in the Waldenbooks Best-Sellers list every week it doesn't mean you should go and try and write exactly the same way. Not if it's not the kind of thing you can't feel passionate about. The best characters, the best stories, that magical page-turning quality all comes from people who write something that they enjoy themselves when they read it back to themselves. And you're way more likely to want to tell the story and finish the damn book if you believe in it, right??? I for one don't think that changes much outside of the romance industry either. Remember if you sell the book then the Publisher will look for another from you and another and another. And if you want to be one of those people who still writes twenty years from now then surely to goodness you want to be able to enjoy what you do??? You don't want every book to be forced through your gritted teeth, do you? The people who are successful at this game may complain about a book being difficult - or being chained to the computer - or being constantly stuck in the deadline cave (like moi) - but ask them would they do anything else and the answer will be a resounding NO. That's passion. They write from the heart...

4/ Give yourself the best chance of being published by knowing where you're aiming - This is probably where my constant chant of 'read the line you're pitching at' comes from! If your dream is to be published - turning your hobby into a paying gig - then you'll want to give yourself the best chance of achieving that dream, right? (I used to have this argument with myself all the time before I ever sent anything away - I argued that there was a bigger danger to me of briefly achieving the dream and then losing it as opposed to never having it at all. That reasoning stopped me from trying for years and years. But you know what - that's defeatest talk. I don't think you can live your life never trying to grasp hold of the things you want. Life's too short. But that's probably a philosophy that comes with age...) So once you know what your heart is telling you to write - go research where you can send it. Learn about the company - what do they sell - how do you pitch to them - how good a reputation do they have - how likely are they to take on a new writer - will they take on what we call unsolicited work (not through an agent in other words...) There's no reason these days to not know what way things are done - the internet is a fantastic resource, paricularly when it comes to writing Romance cos the author community is so friendly and welcoming - and if you still can't find what you need to know then an email can answer a lot of questions too! So be brave - get out there and make friends and ask questions! No matter how silly you might think they are!!!

5/ Be true to your voice - Ask any cateory romance author the sweeping popular belief they hate the most and I guarantee you that it will be the issue of following a *formula*! Grrrrr!!!!! And category romance gets it thrown at it at every available opportunity! Saying there is a formula for romance just because every story has a man and a woman who fall in love and live happily ever after is like saying every murder mystery is the same because someone dies and its mysterious or every paranormal is the same because there's a vampire or a werewolf in it or every biography is the same because it's about some persons life! No two people will ever tell the same story the same way - that's a fact. Why? Because each and every one of us has an individual personality, individual opinions, different phraseology - it's all in the voice. So be true to yours! Tell the story the way you might tell it to a friend - without worrying too much as you write about grammar or abbreviations or chapter breaks. Just write it with every little bit of humour, passion, angst, pain, emotion, fantasy and sense of imagination that you have in you to use and then at the editing stage worry about fixing the technical/continuity/grammatical problems. Sometimes a person can get bogged down in every word being perfect before they write another word and that can be terribly stifling to your voice. Tell the story - your way. A fresh voiced approach to an old story will always catch the eye. It doesn't have to be a brand new ground-breaking plotline - it just needs to be characteristically yours...

So there you go - that's the kind of advice I was given at the start and I have handed it on to you with a little more experience behind me. And I still believe in every single one - without question! Yes, you'll probably learn as many other things as I have along the way (some of them we'll go over tomorrow) but a great many of those will probably be individual to you. I know a lot of the things I learnt with this last horrible writing experience were linked to my personality - and all it's varying flaws - but if anything I learnt is useful to you, my good buddies, then at least I won't have suffered in vain.... right???

Let's see if any of the other writers got advice at the start that stayed with them, shall we??? AUTHORS!!!??? If you have five odd pieces of advice you were given that you want to share then Blog them - and come here to let us know you have so we can all go look see.... ok? Lovely.

And next time we'll see what lessons I learnt the hard way this time out....

6 comments:

Margaret McDonagh said...

Great post, Trish, and I agree whole-heartedly with everything you say in your points. The other related thing I was told was to not over-edit. I know we all work in different ways and have to do what is right for us, but it is part of that keeping your own voice that you talked about. If you do too many drafts and edits you risk removing all the spontaneity and life out of the work.

Some days it does seem so hard and the words won't come. I'm a great believer in the subconscious going to work on a problem. It is amazing the number of times you'll be stuck on something and wake up a day or two later with the answer right there and you can't wait to get back to the keyboard and move on.

Thanks for sharing all the advice, I am sure everyone will benefit from all the wise words - published and unpublished.

Enjoy being out of the cave for a bit.

Love,
Mags

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

TRISH!!!! Oh boy, it's so good to have you back!!

As Mags (and regulars to eHarl) will know, I've been having major writing collywobbles for a while now, and this post couldn't have come at a better time. No's 3 & 4 particularly resonate with me, because my doubts have been directed towards whether I'm writing for the 'right' line. I'm writing a Medical but since beginning the wip back in March my own health (MS related) has been a living nightmare. I've felt 'yucky' more often than not and writing the Med bits of my book has become harder and harder. I've also found it hard to read Meds the past year too (except Mags' debut novel), but I've been reading lots from the Tender and the new Romance line.

I've made a decision that the next ms I write will be aimed for the Romance line, because that's what I love to read. But, when I have one of my rarer 'better' days health-wise, my doubts resurface on whether I should stick with writing Medicals. The real dilemma will come when I finish this (damn) book. It'll be the first full I've ever done, and I'll be desperate to submit it - but if I'm not able to write another Med I can't, can I? (Grrrr... can you see the circles I go round in?!).

Well, I've rambled on, for a change, ;-) but it's so nice to have you to ramble to again that I couldn't resist it.

I'm sorry you've suffered with your latest, but I thank you in advance for sharing your experiences. I know that I, for one, will come away richer for it.

Love,
Sue :-)

Trish said...

Hey Mags! And THERES some sound advice there too folks!!!! Over-editing can become a disease! Like I said, even now I read books of mine in print and think oh dear - cud have fixed that - too many ANDS ... I know my vices now. But sometimes I think you just have to know when to hit SEND and leave it in the hands of a cp or and editor. And even then any advice given doesnt necessarily have to be done verbatum (spelling?) - it's our own take or twist on an idea that keeps it *yours*. I find the best critique is when you bounce an idea back and forth and suddenly the lights go on in your head, you know???

Anyway - once I have revisions done I'll come back to the things I learnt this time out - THE HARD WAY...

Sharon J said...

Thanks for that, Trish. You're such an inspiration to us strugglers, y'know :-)

Trish said...

You're very welcome Sharon!

I don't know what I would have done without the internet this last couple of years - particularly when I gave up my other job to try this Full Time. There's a lot to be said for just *seeing* people every day and talking about nothing much at tea break time. Whereas when you're at home all the time that lack of *faces* can lead to problems in writing seeming bigger, the general work ethic being hard to stick to stick to as well - no-one there for you to have a general moan to about the difficulties you're having with what you're working on... And the NET and the small community we all have here is invaluable because of that!!!

I just think by having someone to talk and at times debate things with, it keeps the brain working and the creative juices flowing...

So really I should be thanking all YOU GUYS...

Trish said...

Where did my post to Sue go Blogger????

SUE!!!!!!!!!! You KNOW you can *ramble* to me anytime. I don't see it as rambling. I see it as talking it through!!! And just like old friends who haven't talked in a while - we have a load to catch up on! That's all it is!

I know that everyone says (me included) that you should finish a book - But listen, if the thing is proving sooooo difficult to write and depressing you along the way - then it aint the damn one to finish! So do one thing for me??? Open a word doc - entitle it edits - and c&p out anything you think you might be able to use elsewhere - even if its one line or a phrase or a just a few words of dialogue - but make them bits you're EXCEPTIONALLY pleased with!!! Then you will have a word doc of *spice* that you might be able to add to the body of another book *recipe*.

Every book - every short story - even Blogging through how you feel on something as it hapens - it's ALL part of the learning process. Writing is a never ending journey. Anyone who tells you they aren't still learning something has probably been in the business a very very very long time and has seen pretty much everything there is to see!!!

So, don't drag yourself down babes. If it ain't working it ain't working. If your heart isn't in it then put that sucker away and do what your heart is calling you to do. I wrote five stories before I FINISHED ONE. All of them set in America with American characters and outlandish plots....

The first one I finished all the way to the end was Irish characters with a simple tale of friendship becoming love over the years... THE FIRST ONE I FINISHED...

The first one I finished, subbed, sold and won an award with.

That book was THE BRIDAL BET....

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