The Truth About Being a Writer

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue. This giant, awkward, socially inept, elephant in the room.

I’ve been in the field for a while now, in various capacities. I’ve listened to the wailing, to the arguments, to the ‘but…but…my voice!’. I’ve read the reviews that make me want to poke hot spoons into my eyes and cut off my fingers so I never write again. I’ve bled on other people’s manuscripts, only to have them tell me I’m a douche-hat who has the sense of an ostrich trying to bury its head in cement.

So, today, I’m thinking about what the truth of being a writer is. This entire perspective could change by tomorrow morning. Or even after I’ve had my full cup of coffee today.

But here it is.

Writing is hard. I’ve lost count of the amount of people who have said ‘I could write a book. No problem.’ Or who have compared it to a hobby, much like washing dishes, picking lint off stranger’s clothes, or cleaning ash from the fireplace. But the truth is this: writing well is damn hard work. Just like any craftsperson, you don’t just pick up the tools and make something beautiful without knowing how the tools work.

You practice. You try things, and sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes someone bleeds on your manuscript, and you have to suck it up. Because writing well is hard. Learn, study, and practice. Get better. Don’t assume you know everything and everything you write is perfect. It isn’t. It never is.

You earn your stripes. Yeah, we’ve all heard the stories. Some author who never put a word down to paper had an idea, and their first book made them a billionaire, and now everyone will buy anything they write.

Know what? That’s not you. Or me. Or 99.9% of the other writers out there grafting for every perfect word. You aren’t going to build your audience and have people flock to you when you’ve written one book. Or two. Or, maybe even ten. You have to write, and write, and write. And learn (see above). And get better with every book. And when you’ve got a whole bunch of books out there, and you’ve learned and gotten better, then you can worry about the fact that you only have 2.3 followers on Twitter and the only FB messages you get are from women with enormous breasts from other countries. And they’re certainly not asking about your books.

It takes time. Earn your stripes.

It won’t always work. If you’ve read your reviews, or other people’s reviews of other books, you know that people can be incredibly cruel. They can take issue with your cat, or your choice of socks. Both of which have nothing to do with your novel. They can also be very kind. But the fact is, you’re not going to please everyone, and sometimes, a book you thought was great won’t get the audience you’d hoped for, and a book you thought was just okay will get accolades. And sometimes, a book fails to take a breath. It happens.

So keep writing. Keep learning. Get better.

Write because you want to write. Not because of people. I think this is the most important one. We live in an age of instant response, of social media spreading the word and telling us who is out there. Of favorites list that we don’t get on, of reviews from ‘respectable’ places that never see the light of day. Of having to market ourselves to let people know about our beloved words.

All of that can suck the life out of you, and your creativity, faster than an anteater can eat an anthill. Or faster than grandma will box your ears for laughing in church.

Write because you want to write. Write because you have stories to tell. Write because you love the creation of something that wasn’t there before. Write to still the voices in your brain. Do it for the love of it. Not for the people. One will often come along because of the other.

That’s the truth of being a writer.

It’s hard. You get better. It doesn’t always work. Do it because you want to.

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Rusty Eel Memories

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Memories are funny things.

We kind of think of them like Polaroids, like snapshots frozen in time.

But they’re nothing like that. The slippery eels of memory distort, stretch, and shrink as they slide through the murky subconscious of our brains.

What you remember is a belief of a memory–“It happened like this…” but then, someone else tells you about the same moment, and it’s a different memory. Because it’s not a moment frozen in time, but a remembered perception of a moment that’s now faded and rusty, like the car left in the field for a decade or two.

I am currently at the age my aunt was when she died. When she passed, I was in my early twenties, and forty-two seemed a million miles down the road. Now, as I sit here giving advice to our adopted daughter who is my age when my aunt did the same for me, I wonder if she hears me. What her perceptions will be of this time in her life.

I know now that I never really knew my aunt, because when you’re twenty the world is all about your own oyster and all its dramas. I wish I could go back and really talk to her, really understand who she was. She was an artist, a journalist, a whizz with numbers, a smoker, a drinker. The number of people who turned out for her funeral was stunning; we had no knowledge of the life she lived beyond our little family unit.

My memories are sepia tinged and worn at the edges now, and I question them because I can see that I’m only remembering the moments through the me-colored lenses of a messed up twenty-something. The same goes for the moments with my parents and situations. How much of that memory is shaped by perception rather than what actually happened? Can we remember without putting all our ‘stuff’ on top of the memory? Or is that simply not possible? The fact that someone can remember the same moment you’re remembering, but completely differently…does that make all our memories both valid, and invalid?

Random meanderings for the day as the holidays approach, bringing with them a host of bittersweet and weirdly shaped memories.

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Stop floundering aimlessly in word-land

Looe Harbour by Robyn Nyx

We’re currently on our annual personal writing retreat. There are some differences with this one that means my word count isn’t as high as usual by this point in the week, but they’re happy reasons, so it’s all good. I’m still averaging about 4,000 a day, which isn’t bad.

I’m blogging a bit over on my author page about my writing struggles this week, and it’s making me think craft things.

I’m a pantster. I have a general idea of what’s going to happen, but how I get there is a bit of a mystery until it happens.

I don’t recommend this.

Because as has happened, I’m floundering. I don’t have a road map, and as such, I can get aimless. That means I’m writing slower, and without direction.

On the other hand, I’m fixing some line level things and taking more time to write in deep third, filtering out my filter words, and creating metaphors where there were bland spaces.

But I need to arc my pulse points at the very least so I have a minimal map to my ending. That will help refocus the work and prevent plot gaps.

It’s nice when you can switch to your editor hat and be stern with yourself.

So this weeks writing tip: don’t get on the road without a decent (not vague) idea of how to get to your destination.

Make it hurt

It’s been a while since I wrote about writerly things, and there’s something specific on my mind.

Quiz: what makes for a better story?

A. Two women have to work together. Neither really likes the other, (not for any big reason), but things happen and they work it out in the end.

B. Two women from vastly differing ideologies must work together. But one knows something the other doesn’t, and fears, justifiably, that if the other found out she’d turn tail in a heartbeat. And when a work issue comes up that forces them to confront their own patterns, and secrets, they’re left with no choice but to work things out.

3…2…1

The primary difference here is conflict. Without it, a story has very little oomph, and can flatline to the point that a reader simply isn’t interested in the story.

The most common argument I hear about conflict is, “but life isn’t that complicated!” And that’s true. Daily life also isn’t that interesting. That’s why we make up stories. And the best stories require that you give depth and flesh to your characters, that you make them overcome things. And they can’t do it easily or with a shrug. You need to make it hurt; the reader needs to feel the character’s emotions and invest in their journey.

For instance:

A. A woman is born to a middle class family, has typical money worry issues, but gets by. She moves, is happy, finds someone she dates, they fall in love. (Yawn)

B. A woman is born into a struggling middle class family. The child of a single parent, she’s had to grow up fast and has learned the hard way that people shouldn’t be trusted. She moves to get away from that life, but once she’s gone, finds that she doesn’t know the rules the new people play by. She always feels on the outside. When she meets a woman she likes she’s convinced there’s no chance in hell, and even if there was, she knows better than to trust someone with her heart… (and so on)

Conflict.

I think this is something we often don’t give enough thought to. It’s fine to say you’re a pantster, that you just see where it leads, but if you don’t have a solid idea of the main conflict, of the thing holding your characters back and the big thing getting in their way, you’re setting yourself up for one of two things: a massive rewrite or a flatline novel. You don’t want either.

Conflict is tied to emotions and emotional reactions. It’s not enough to say, ‘she just does’ when it comes to understanding why a character would react a certain way. If you give her enough depth, the reader will understand and stick with her. False conflict is when you put it in just to keep the story going (I.e the unasked and easily answered question), and it doesn’t feel authentic to the character/plot you’ve built. True conflict comes from a solid plot line and the emotional journey that character takes in relation to that plot line. They interlink and the more consistently and smoothly they do so the more believable and interesting your conflict will be. Ask yourself why. Why does it work that way? Why did the character react one way and not another? What would the simple answer be that would mean the story would end, and what specific and believable thing is keeping that from happening?

Conflict in a story is what makes a reader keep reading. If I say, ‘how was your day?’ And get ‘good.’ I’m going to shrug and zone out. If, however, I say, ‘how was your day?’ And she bursts into tears and tells me about the car wreck that happened before the coffee massacre and the donut box full of carrots…then I’m paying attention.

Conflict. Dig deeper. Make it hurt.

Get your suitcase out…

I’m really excited to say that my first anthology for BSB, coedited by the wonderful Sandra Lowe, will be out in January.

Escape to Pleasure is all about finding the sensual while away from home. Whether that’s in Thailand on a business trip, playing out a fantasy with a partner, or getting under someone new to get over an ex, these stories are told with emotional depth and a definite element of heat.

Come along for the journey with award winning authors who are ready to take you on a very special trip.

Come Talk to Me?

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Hey all. Hope you’re well as we slide into autumn. Here in the UK, we’ve had a gorgeous run of chilly sunshine and our yard is full of Halloween decorations. That definitely points to the fact that there’s a Yank living here, since no one else in the entire estate has decorated.

Anyway, I’m going to be answering questions in a live Facebook Q&A session on Saturday 27th at 5pm UK time under my pen name, Brey Willows. It would be great if folks are available to chat and ask questions and such.

Here’s the link. It’s being hosted by Lez Spinecrackers, a great group dedicated to telling folks about lesfic books. https://www.facebook.com/events/1952197748204771/ 

See you soon!

Nicotine and backgammon

Nostalgia is a funny phenomenon…

I moved around a lot as a kid. Three years in a place was an average.

But I was born in Glendale. My aunt and my grandmother lived there too. My aunt moved around some, but she ended up back in Glendale. I spent many a weekend at my grandmother’s apartment, swimming in the concrete enclosed pool overlooked by every apartment, watching my aunt and grandmother play backgammon for pennies, and generally just being a kid.

When you’re a kid, life is what it is. You don’t do a lot of soul searching or thinking about socioeconomics or addiction.

But when you get older, and you look back over your reading glasses at the nicotine tinted past, you begin to analyse. You think of the serial killer who lived on the second floor for a while, and how he gave the three of you the creeps. You think of running across the road to the 7-eleven to get beer for your aunt, and when you explained that to the cashier, they sold it to your nine-year-old self. You think of the boy you crushed on, and how you never saw him again, even though his grandmother lived there for the rest of her days. You think of your matriarchal family’s last days in those peeling studio apartments.

Nostalgia. Remembering a past through a different set of lenses.

I ended up back in Glendale not long before I left the country for good. I never thought I’d live just down the street from that apartment in my childhood, which now sported police crime tape and shattered windows at the front entrance. But it was good for me, I realise now. I went back to put my past to rest, to lay down the alcohol fumes and despair, to leave behind the guilt and loss.

I can look back with clear eyes and smile at the memories rather than shrink from the ghosts.