(The 'Bama fan in me is giggling at the title of this post)
I’m having a low-key, iced-in weekend full of writing and reading. At any given time, I’ve got three documents open on my computer, flitting back and forth between them, and, surprisingly, getting a lot done. I’ll admit to being inspired by a few of the questions I received on Facebook a few days ago, and decided to talk a little about process today.
Boring writerly crap ahead.
Or maybe not boring, if you’re curious about that sort of thing.
One of my resolutions for 2017 is to find the “fun” again in my work. This involves spending less time on social media, learning how to improve upon what I’ve already written, and setting aside time to work on “me” projects, like Walking Wounded. I routinely receive questions about writing, so I thought it might be fun to put up a kind of confessional. Of sorts. A behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a published author. (Well, what it’s like for me.)
I’ve always written – even if it was fanfiction in the margins of algebra notes in school – I’ve never gone through a period in my life when I wasn’t spinning tales. But then it became my job, which is literally a dream come true. It also means I have to treat it like a job, which really turns up the pressure. Rather than an exciting escape, writing becomes the thing that you do the majority of the time. Again, a dream, because I love writing, but in your mind, it takes on a whole new importance. And when you’re a perfectionist like me, it goes from indulgent fantasy to work-related responsibility. The trick, then, is to manage your time wisely, stuff yourself to the gills with inspiration, and stay plugged in to your audience. For me, this means no vacation. If I take a day off, it’s because I’m sick and feel too crappy to sit at the computer. If I’m well, and within reach of my computer, I spend time each day working on my WIPs. When you’re your own boss, it turns out you work harder than if you’re punching someone else’s clock.
But that’s the boring, responsible part. This is supposed to be about process!
Working on a Series:
The advantage of a series is: it’s familiar. You already know the setting, the characters, the mythology behind it. It’s a matter of continuing a saga, rather than starting from scratch. But for me, I want to make sure each installment does several things:
· Carry the overall storyline forward
· Show character growth for all parties involved
· Tell a new story within the series framework
· Expand the universe
I also want to make sure each new volume isn’t merely a retelling of a previous story, one of those change-the-names, no-one will notice scenarios. I think that’s a big danger in a series like Dartmoor, where everyone’s a biker in the same club. I want each story to feel unique; I won’t write a book that’s just like the others merely to force the series to continue.
Something I’m asked a lot: Do you have ideas for future books? Oh my gosh, let me tell you: yes. So much yes. Ideas are not the problem; too many ideas are. At any given moment, I have the next few years worth of writing planned, it’s only a matter of finding ways in which to fit it into the work schedule.
Generally, when I talk about writing something that exists outside my series, I get some pushback. But ultimately, I envision myself as writing a wider variety of stories. So I was really excited and proud that I was able to publish Walking Wounded this year. It’s much more in keeping with the sort of books I read and enjoy in my own free time, and I’m grateful I had the chance to share it. That’s the difference between writing for yourself and writing for an audience – the audience has opinions.
Which brings me to…
Reader feedback is both the best and the worst part of being an indie author. A long-established, traditionally-published author like Stephen King isn’t interacting with his readers on a regular basis. A publicist puts out statements, and he shows up to signings, and while he can certainly look up reviews for his books, someone like that is more insulated.
But indie authors are available and interactive on social media. Like I said: best and worst.
I love talking with my readers. I love (hopefully) giving them the chance to see that I’m a real person, with dreams, and insecurities, and a life beyond the fictional happenings of my books. I love getting to answer questions and clarify story points for them. I love getting to know them, and talk with them. 90% of this interaction is A+.
But then there’s the other 10%...
Hilarious things people have told me in emails and private messages:
· “I think your book would have been better if…”
· “I’ve read your other books, but I WILL NOT read this one.” (Some people said this about Walking Wounded. Thanks! Not. You didn’t need to say anything, you could have just NOT READ IT.)
· “You’re almost as good as this other author I like better than you!” (How sweet.)
· “Someone suggested I read your books, and I honestly don’t know why.” (Aww, what a sweetheart.)
· “I’m disappointed in you.”
· “I didn’t like that book AT ALL.” (I feel so loved…)
· “I wrote a 1-2 star review for your book, you should check it out and share it with your followers.” (Right…)
· “Send me an ARC, though you don’t know me, have never heard of me, and I might pirate your months of hard work…That’s okay, I didn’t want an ARC from you ANYWAY.” (I don’t do ARCs, people. It’s a habit in the biz, it isn’t LAW.)
· Sidenote about people who pirate ARCs: If an author spends 4-6 months writing a book, and charges you $3.99 for it…I’m pretty sure that pirate makes more than $3.99 for six months of work at their own job.
In my mind, there’s a special fantasyland in which people who don’t jive with your work simply move on to another author they prefer, but in this business, that isn’t likely to happen. Too many book-politics in play, too many people looking to bring you down in order to elevate someone else. My advice? IGNORE, IGNORE, IGNORE. Never listen to anyone who doesn’t like what you have to offer. You wouldn’t date a guy who said you were ugly, after all.
I’ve got multiple projects going at any given time, and this makes notebooks necessary. The Dartmoor books are pretty much givens at this point, but my other work requires story-mapping and brainstorming. I keep a college-rule notebook on my desk and jot notes down when they come to me. Early morning, before I go feed the horses, is a great time to listen to music and let the creative juices flow. I generally spend a month or so researching and taking notes before I actually break ground and start writing a new project, all while working on something else. There isn’t ever a period when I’m not working on something. I have enough projects in the wings to fill up the next several years. In my opinion? That’s something necessary in the process of being a professional author – you have to have material.
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?:
Maybe I’m really lucky that I always knew I wanted to be an author. But I think I always knew that because I always had ideas kicking around in my head. I was a quiet, shy, imaginative child; I rarely spoke in large groups, but I had lots to say on paper. That hasn’t really changed.
Some of my story ideas are concepts I’ve been toying with since I was in middle school. Some are newer, inspired by songs, or real life happenings, or the shortcomings I found in some other piece of fiction. For me, ideas are plentiful: gossamer, pretty, more elegant than I can ever express. The hard part is harnessing them and turning them into an organized manuscript someone will want to read for entertainment.
In a way, this becomes its own problem, because focusing on one or two stories can be a challenge. How do you know which story is the best? The strongest? The most meaningful? I see meaning in all of them, but will readers? Will they like the new characters?
The answer, I think, is that you have to gamble. I was so excited to hear readers say they connected with Hal and Luke, because I love them so, but they are my fictional babies, after all. That book has given me the courage to keep branching out and introducing new babies.
At the end of the day, writing, just like any other job, is about taking the time to do the work. You have to sit down at the computer and type. And type…and type…And research, and edit, and brainstorm, and spend sleepless nights staring at the ceiling while you try and figure out how your hero will escape his latest predicament. I love it because I’ve always loved it, because storytelling is just a part of who I am, but it takes discipline and effort. And no lack of professional endorsement makes it any less important or worthwhile.