March 17th, 2017
Great questions this month – so much to say, so let’s get started!
Laura Drake asks: I have a question – I’ve read (no, studied) the first half of Story Genius, and it’s changed the way I write. My weakness is plotting (I don’t). So the second half of the book is lost to me – putting together critical scenes, etc. Any suggestions for using Story Genius for pantsers who get hives at the mention of the ‘P’ word?
Here’s something that may come as a surprise: the second half of Story Genius isn’t about Plotting. It’s about exactly what you’re asking here: how to create critical scenes that move your story forward.
I firmly believe that Pansters can do this work, even if you don’t do it in exactly the way I lay out in Story Genius. I created Story Genius as a tool that writers can use to make every story better, with methods that are adaptable to one’s own familiar writing process. It’s not a formula, or a rigid set of rules you have to follow or else. My goal was to identify what it is that readers are actually responding to in every story they hear – to wit: how the protagonist navigates a hard-fought internal change the plot forces them to go through – and offer guidance on how to create that internal struggle, and then make sure it’s not only on the page, but driving the external action.
Here are 5 tips for Pansters that might come in handy to be sure that your story logic holds from the first page to the last:
- Post a sticky with your story’s point, your protagonist’s overarching agenda, and her misbelief near where you write, and always look at it before you start writing. Use it as a yardstick for what she does, and why. Refer to it when you work — and keep referring to it. This might sound strange, but the physical act of looking at it – seeing it written out in black and white – can really help focus your mind on what matters most.
- Since the plot revolves around one single external problem that grows, escalates and complicates from the first scene to the last, write your scenes in order — even if at first blush they’re thin, skating along on the surface, or feel clunky. Resist the urge to skip ahead.
- Once you’ve written a scene, stop. I know that this is the hard part for Pantsers, but it’s SO powerful! Pull out a Story Genius Scene Card and test it. That way you’ll discover:
- If the scene is, indeed, a critical part of the cause-and-effect trajectory.
- If every character in the scene is acting in accordance with their agenda.
- If the scene itself arcs – that is, if something changes externally.
- If everything in the scene matters to the protagonist, given her story-long agenda.
- If what happens in the scene causes your protagonist internal conflict, forcing her struggle internally with what action to take.
- If your protagonist has a small “realization” at the end of the scene that changes how she sees things, affecting her ongoing plan in some way.
- What must happen next in the story.
- If, in creating your Scene Card, you discovered that there were still things that you need to know in order to really understand why your protagonist is doing what she does in this scene, let yourself dive into her past again to ferret out the info you’ve realized is missing. Resist the urge to race ahead. (Do you see a pattern here? I’m trying to get you to slow down just a tiny bit. Writing forward is fun; I get that. But writing 300 pages that go nowhere? Not so fun. Make sure your pages go somewhere.)
- For every scene you write, allow yourself a few minutes to brainstorm worst case scenarios for your protagonist based on what she wants/fears and keep a running list of anything that leaps to mind – for the scene you’re working on, and for future scenes. Remember, though, that these worst-case-scenarios must be an organic part of the plot’s overarching cause-and-effect trajectory, rather than some random externally dramatic thing that happens. That’s what will make your novel an actual story rather than a bunch of things that happen.
I hope that helps and doesn’t result in another case of hives — I’m itching to find out (sorry, couldn’t resist ;-). That said, perhaps you might want to keep a bottle of Calamine lotion at hand, just in case?
The next question allows me to address what some of you, whether Pantser or Plotter, may now be wondering: “Just why the heck is it so important to understand – in an in depth, story specific way – why my protagonist is doing what they do before I write it? Can’t I just figure it out later, in the next draft, maybe?” There are many answers to that question. The following is one of them.
LittleMissW asks: I’ve just been told that my protagonist is unlikable at times. When he’s angry he can say very hurtful things to the people he loves. He can also think derogatory things about people (for example, he describes an over-weight woman as being big enough to have her own gravitational pull). For me, this is what makes him real. We all lash out when we’re hurt or angry. We all have the potential to be judgmental and catty. But the impression I get is that it’s not okay to be unlikable. When does a character cross the line between being realistic and being irredeemable?
I wrote about what “likeable” means right here a couple of months back, but this is such a great question that I want to answer it. If I can sum up, this what I hear you asking: How can you have a character say or do things that, on the surface, appear ugly or mean, without making the character unsympathetic — which is why people would see him as unlikeable?
In a fabulous bit of synchronicity, the same day I was going to tackle this question, fate – in the form of an article by writer George Saunders in The Guardian — provided a spot on example of exactly how a writer can solve the problem you’re struggling with. Here’s Saunders laying out, step-by-step, how a writer can dive beneath the surface of an unlikable act, to discover the reason for it, so said act then telegraphs a very different meaning. In other words, here is how you allow a character to do something mean, and yet remain likeable:
“I write, “Bob was an asshole,” and then, feeling this perhaps somewhat lacking in specificity, revise it to read, “Bob snapped impatiently at the barista,” then ask myself, seeking yet more specificity, why Bob might have done that, and revise to, “Bob snapped impatiently at the young barista, who reminded him of his dead wife,” and then pause and add, “who he missed so much, especially now, at Christmas,” – I didn’t make that series of changes because I wanted the story to be more compassionate. I did it because I wanted it to be less lame.
But it is more compassionate. Bob has gone from “pure asshole” to “grieving widower, so overcome with grief that he has behaved ungraciously to a young person, to whom, normally, he would have been nice”. Bob has changed. He started out a cartoon, on which we could heap scorn, but now he is closer to “me, on a different day”.
How was this done? Via pursuit of specificity.”
The takeaway is this: we don’t come to story to find out what someone did – Bob snapping at the barista; your protagonist making fat jokes – we come to find out why they’re doing it. What drove them? What in their lives taught them that that was all right? What inner conflict drives their choices, their action? Give us that and we don’t need characters to be redeemable, or even likeable at all.
Which, of course, means that Saunders’ Bob didn’t have to have a bittersweet “likeable” reason to snap at the barista in order to rivet us, so long as he had a deliciously revealing one.
And now, I’m once again open for questions for my next column – leave them here in the comments, or shoot me an email at: lisa@wiredforstory
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Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her video tutorial Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story can be found at Lynda.com, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.
Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and Court TV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency. Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and she is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Visual Narrative in New York City. In her work as a story coach, Lisa helps writers, nonprofits, educators, and journalists wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. She can be reached at wiredforstory.com
March 15th, 2017
A friend’s piece.
I thought I was going to make a blob-like paperweight, until Nate, our teacher, showed me a gorgeous straight-sided largish vase. He asked what color I’d like to make the glass, but I was so stunned by the piece he held in his hand, I couldn’t answer. “Or you could make it a different shape.” He pointed to other vases in the studio. Amazing, fluted-top shapes, round-bottomed dishes, traditional vases with a round base and narrow straight sides—nothing like the blob of translucent material I’d envisioned carting home and cherishing like a piece of kindergarten art.
Maybe this is how you began your writing career; it’s how mine began. I couldn’t get this story out of my head. The characters would talk to me before I fell asleep. An English teacher friend suggested that I write the story. I did, intending it to be just for me, like a secret treasure. Like that kindergarten artwork.
Cooling and shaping after each gather.
Before you begin a glass piece, you decide how large it will be, the color, and its shape. That determines the number of gathers (times you add molten glass from the 2000° crucible; three for all of us). You also prepare your tools. I’m holding newspaper that I wet with water from a nozzled plastic bottle. When that hot glass touched onto that thin layer of wet paper, I was tense. I felt no heat, but the paper steamed and tiny bits charred and drifted into the air. Kind of the same feeling I got the first time I sat down and started writing Keeping Athena.
When you begin a new writing project, you decide the general length, the genre, and, even if you’re a pantster like me, you have an idea about the characters or the beginning scene. Unless you stick to an outline, the shape of your story may take you somewhere you hadn’t thought of when you started.
Adding the color.
Next I moved to a metal table where I had arranged the small bits of color into a large rectangle. I rolled the glass oval through the middle of the mostly emerald green with a sprinkling of cobalt blue, then rolled back, angling to catch the leftover color on the top and bottom of the glass before it cooled.
In writing, this is where you begin fleshing out your characters, adding color and details to their goals, motivation and conflict. Oh, and those idiosyncrasies that endear the people living in your mind to your readers. You need to have an idea of the kind of character you’re creating, because you can’t change colors after this step. At least, not when you’re a beginner. The beauty of your piece is going to be in how you shape and use those bits of color to show character arc.
Reheating the glass.
You can change your mind about the shape as you go. The glass goes back into the 1000° furnace every 2-3 minutes to keep it molten, pliable. During this time it is important to make sure your blob, with the tiny starter bubble in the center of the molten glass, stays centered on the hollow-tubed rod. This is similar to centering your clay and keeping it centered if you’ve ever thrown a ceramic pot.
I do this all the time in my writing, and so do you. Sometimes I think something is going to happen on a planet, and it doesn’t. Sometimes I’m surprised by a razorfish attack. But all the while, I have to stay centered, make sure the story is proceeding with a good pace, that everything I add is important to the plot or the character arc to show the motivation, goal and conflict. My story is pliable as I reread and revise it. I can talk to my critique partners if I have a question, just like I talked to Nate, my glass-blowing teacher, while I worked.
Keep turning that rod.
Now you blow and enlarge the air bubble, to open up your piece. Your artwork is constantly moving, to keep it from slumping and falling off the rod. You’re turning the rod all the time, even when you’re blowing, so that you don’t end up with a thinner wall on one side of your piece.
If you haven’t seen the similarities to writing yet, you’ve heard “just keep writing” often enough that you can equate that to “keep turning the rod.” If you set aside a project for awhile, when you come back to it, you’ll have to put it back into the fire of your creativity, and spin it around with your craft to get it back on track. And revising, looking at how your character arcs, plot arcs, and GMC all work together, keeps your writing from becoming thin on the side of motivation or character growth.
Opening the neck.
It’s time to open up the glass into a vase. How much I open up the bubble will determine the shape of my finished piece. It might have straight sides or slanted sides, depending on how I hold the forceps-like tool. Picture huge metal tweezers. Once I open the neck, you guessed right, back into the 1000° furnace to keep it molten-enough for the next step.
My novel’s dark moment is at this point. I have to decide how to drive the dialogue, the setting, the conflict, and the stakes to mold my story into something memorable. By this point my reader should have an idea, a worry, of what might happen. I have to deliver that crisis in a way that delivers the initial promise of the book. I have to commit to how wide I want to open the neck.
Back to the glass-blowing studio. I have another decision to make. Am I ready to remove my vase from the rod, or do I want to put it into the fire to flute the rim? My piece went back into the fire. Nate showed me how to make the top edges have that free-form ripple. It was easier than I thought it would be.
At the end of my novel, I can wrap things up quickly or take just a bit longer to tie up loose ends. No matter my choice, it is my responsibility to deliver a solid, satisfying ending for my reader. That doesn’t mean long and drawn out, it means focused and clear. Big on emotion. If I’ve done my job in the first 95% of the book, the resolution of the black moment should be easy to write. I say this from experience. When the ending of the book didn’t gel, I had to go back and find out why. I hadn’t motivated the actions and emotions of my characters to get them where they needed to be for the ending I’d planned. Back into the fire.
Using a blow torch to polish the base.
The last step is to remove the glasswork from the rod. Once that’s done, the bottom needs to be polished or finished so there are no rough spots. I used a small blow torch to smooth out the rough bottom of my piece.
In my writing, working with an editor and completing final revisions is that polishing step. Just as polishing makes a glass piece not scratch the table or shelf what will become its home, revisions polish your manuscript to allow it to find a place in your readers’ hearts. It’s an important part in the process.
What part of the glass-blowing process do you identify most with in your own writing process? What task gives you the most trouble?
If you’re ever in the vicinity of Harmony, California on the central California coast, just south of Cambria, drop in to Harmony Glassworks. You might be able to watch someone blowing glass. If you’re lucky, you could be the person someone else is watching. My thanks to my teacher, Nate.
Here’s my finished work of art.
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen.
March 13th, 2017
Writers have only two motives—we write to say something, or we write to be heard. One is all about us. The other is all about the reader. In a perfect world, good writers combine both the desire to convey information and the desire to serve the reader by “speaking the readers’ language,” giving the readers what they seek, and making the material easy for them to absorb.
Image of reader by CanstockPhoto.
In this mission, we must remember that even before our words, the reader sees the page. If the page is not inviting and suited to the information being conveyed, the reader will go no further. We will have satisfied our own desire to speak, but we will not have satisfied our readers’ desire to hear. This is especially true in expository writing.
I can hear you now . . . Wait! Expository writing? But I’m a fiction writer. What does that mean to me?
Notice who writes these non-fiction posts? We fiction writers inevitably write some form of non-fiction, whether it is our own biographies, blog posts, or freelance articles for popular web sites. Some few, like my writing partner and I, write both fiction and non-fiction books. The fact is that almost every fiction writer will write a non-fiction post for the internet at some point in their career.
What the Reader Sees
The first thing a reader sees of any non-fiction post is the overall page. It’s important to design a page that invites readers to linger long enough to glean the information that is on it. Several factors play into this design.
- Content Density
- Paragraph length
- Article length
Readers may or may not have short attention spans, but they definitely are busy people. If information isn’t easy to look at and sort through, they simply won’t bother. Add to that the fact that many people read internet posts on their mobile devices, which have their own restrictions on page presentation. That means now more than ever before in history, we writers must construct our visual delivery of information mindfully in order to serve our readers.
The internet gives us unlimited design capacity, and with that comes colors…Woot! Woot! Right?…Not necessarily.
Bright colors are like sex and violence. If they are essential to the “story,” that’s one thing. However, if the colors are only the product of our daydreams or an attempt to mask a lack of substance, they are gratuitous.
Nothing gratuitous serves our readers. Let me show you why.
That being said, dark colors on a white background make nice accents for titles, lists, links, or sentences that we want to emphasize, such as this one.
The reader is busy; the page shouldn’t be. If a page is too busy, it will visually overwhelm readers. Readers will not sort through a barrage of visuals to find the information they want. They will click out and move on. That means simple text arrangements are more efficient than complicated ones, and accent pictures are better than collages for everyone except professional photographers.
Use basic, visually friendly fonts such as Helvetica, Times New Roman, or other standard fonts. SIMPLE variations, such as Comic Sans MS or an unadorned script, are also easy on the eyes. However, stay away from more elaborate variations.
Pitch is the size of the print. Vary it with titles to make them stand out. This will break up the page and help the reader hone in on what matters to them. However, keep in mind that pitch variations can also be like sex and violence, as in they do not serve the reader if they are gratuitous.
Titles help our readers quickly locate what is most important to them. They also serve to break up large blocks of information into smaller focuses that are both easily digested and visually friendly.
We’ve all been there…English 101. Five sentence topic paragraph with an opening, three supporting points, and a thesis statement. Then on to three paragraphs, each with a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a conclusion, followed by a conclusion paragraph with a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and the grand finale that is usually a simple restatement of the original thesis statement. This structure is one of the most difficult things for non-fiction writers to take to the next level. Do we need a theme or thesis for every non-fiction piece we write? Absolutely. We should retain the English 101 element of focus that is the basis of all good non-fiction writing. However, what we must abandon is the five-sentence/five-paragraph structure if we are to convey information to the modern internet reader. For the modern digital reader, we need to condense our points. We live in a sound bite world where even our president converses in 140 characters or less. While five sentences or more are necessary to make a point at times, if we are able to make that same point in two or three sentences, that’s okay. No one will be looking for the rest of the paragraph.
Which brings me to another reason why it’s okay to take liberties with the English 101 Bible…
Long paragraphs cause readers to throw mobile devices against the wall. Example A above. Wasn’t that annoying? Did anyone really read every word before skipping to this part? If you did, was it a chore? I’ll consider my point made.
Article length should be adjusted for the audience. If the audience is medical students, we can count on readers with longer attention spans. However, if the audience is the average Facebook or Twitter surfer, they are more likely to read and pass on articles of 500 words or less.
The topic will also help determine the appropriate article length. If the topic is a recipe for lemonade, the article should be short and sweet…so to speak. If the topic is an aspect of national security, like the posts my writing partner and I publish, 500 words would leave more questions with the reader than answers. As a loose rule, 1000 words is about all most readers can tolerate from one internet article, and then only if the article is full of substance.
Keep in mind the audience and the topic and give the reader every opportunity to glean the information as efficiently as possible. By doing that, we can not only say our piece, but we can be heard, as well.
What keeps your attention on a page? What are your pet peeves? What ways do you make reading easier for your audience?
All the best to all of you, and may your muses be generous.
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Piper Bayard is an author, a recovering attorney, and the managing editor of the Social In Worldwide network. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE. You can find Piper at BayardandHolmes.com.
March 10th, 2017
The explosion of independent publishing houses in the U.S. and abroad makes it vital for authors to investigate publishers carefully before signing a contract. While even diligent research can’t ensure you’ll avoid every possible problem, here are some questions to ask before you accept a traditional publishing deal:
- Does the Contract Require You (the Author) to Pay for Anything?
If the answer is “yes,” this is not a traditional publishing house, and probably not a deal you should sign. Traditional deals don’t require the author to pay for anything, either out of pocket or by allowing the publisher to recoup expenses before calculating the author’s royalty share.*
This applies not only to publishing costs but also to marketing – legitimate publishers don’t require authors to pay the publisher or an affiliated firm for marketing services.
Traditional publishers also don’t require the author to purchase any finished books. (Most allow you to do so, but a traditional deal never involves a mandatory purchase.)
*Note: some “hybrid” presses offer authors a cost-sharing arrangement under which the author has more control and receives a higher share of the profits; however, this is not a “traditional” deal—have an agent or lawyer review any hybrid contract before you sign.
- Does the Publisher Make Any Claims About Success, Sales, or Reviews?
No legitimate publisher can or will promise any author success (financial or otherwise). Any publisher that promises you sales (or good reviews) is not a legitimate publishing house. Also, beware of publishers whose websites contain statements like: “Make extra income writing books!” or “Become a bestseller with us!”
Run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction.
- How Long Has the Publisher Been in Business?
This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s an important point to consider. The longer a publisher has been in business, and the more books it produces, the better you can evaluate the publisher’s history of contract compliance, distribution, sales, and successfully published works.
It’s OK to take a chance on a newer publisher if you choose…but only if all of the other factors align with industry standards. Also, be aware that working with newer publishers is a risk, because publishing houses have high failure rates (among other reasons). Make sure your contract contains appropriate protections and termination rights.
- How Much Publishing Experience Do the Publisher’s Owner & Editors Have?
Many independent publishers open with great intentions, but little or no experience in traditional publishing, sales, and distribution. This creates enormous risk for the publisher and the author. Before signing with any publisher, ask about the owner and editors’ industry experience. Remember: inexperienced publishers often have more difficulty negotiating contracts and complying with legal obligations–not from malice, but because they don’t have experience running a traditional publishing house.
- What is the Publisher’s Reputation in the Industry?
Never, ever sign with a publishing house unless you’ve researched both the house and the publisher/editor with industry watchdogs like Publisher’s Marketplace, Writer Beware, and Preditors and Editors. Pay attention to what you see, and don’t sign with any publisher unless you can confirm its legitimacy with industry watchdog sites.
Also, talk with 2-3 of the publisher’s other authors before you sign. If the authors won’t speak with you honestly (or tell you the contract won’t let them talk), move on.
You and your work deserve a press that gets glowing reviews from authors and the industry. Don’t settle for less.
- Have You Seen the Publisher’s Other Books?
Go to a bookstore (or Amazon) and find the books the publisher produces. Hold them—or look at them on an e-reader if the publisher is a digital-only press. Consider the font, the production value, the covers, and ask yourself: will I be proud if my book comes out like this? If not … you have your answer.
- How Are the Publisher’s Books Distributed? Where Are They Sold?
Many small presses don’t have elaborate distribution arrangements. They may or may not have books on bookstore shelves. Find out where the publisher’s books are sold, and use that information to evaluate whether the press can support your work the way you want it to. There is no “right” answer, incidentally. Distribution is a business decision every author has the right—and the obligation—to make individually.
- How Many Books Does the Publisher Release Each Year?
Generally speaking, the more books a publisher releases annually, the fewer resources the publisher has to dedicate to each individual book. Moreover, many publishers give the lion’s share of their time and resources to A-list titles by authors who already have a substantial following. That said, the answer to this question is not a deal breaker. It’s simply another business point for authors to evaluate.
- Does Anything Else Seem…Odd?
Trust your instincts. They’re better than you think. If anything seems “off” about the publisher, remember: you’re better off with no publishing deal than signing a deal you later regret.
- Has an Agent or Attorney Reviewed Your Contract?
Navy regulations don’t allow a compromised captain on the bridge…and every author is compromised when it comes to evaluating his or her own publishing deal. Consult a lawyer or an agent before you sign, especially if you’re not fluent in legalese.
I can’t promise these tips will save you from a deal you regret, or protect you against every predatory or inexperienced publisher. That said, they will at least give you a start in evaluating a publishing offer or deal.
*Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship between the author and any person. It is intended for educational purposes only. The author does not represent or warrant that this post contains all information required to protect you when choosing a publishing house, escaping a swarm of killer bees, or trying to avoid a shambling horde of zombie lawyers. Your experience, legal rights, and candy
Have you ever run into a ‘run don’t walk’ publisher who fit the above description?
Do you have any publishing law questions for me?
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Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business, and is also the author of the Hiro Hattori (Shinobi) mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, released from Seventh Street Books in August 2016. Susan was the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.
Find her online at http://www.SusanSpann.com, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (/SusanSpannBooks).
March 8th, 2017
Revisions have always been my favorite part of the writing process. That’s when my geek side takes over and I color code scenes and lay them out and analyze story threads and add the details that pull everything together. A control freak’s happy place.
When the editorial letter for book 2 came in I was giddy. I ordered new sticky notes in fun colors. I bought a batch of yellow note pads (I edit long hand) and a box of purple pens to go with the purple binders I’ve been using for this story. Then I printed out all 300 pages. I. Was. Ready!
I rocked chapter one and two. Blew through the first 100 pages even with quite a bit of rewriting. The story was coming together.
And then something wicked happened … I lost my confidence. For every change I made, I second guessed the entire manuscript. I worked on one page for an entire week. Five days on one stinking page. I wrote two paragraphs, deleted four. Wrote one paragraph, flipped through 60 pages to quiet a nag and ended up rewriting an entire chapter.
The voices in my head said I’d broken the book. Ruined the story. I was doomed.
So I did what I always do … I got feedback. And the feedback fed my crisis – loved it vs. nope, not working. We’ve all been there, right? But I’ve always been able to weed out the bits and pieces that felt right and move on.
Except this time. I was doo-doo-doomed!
In a fit of desperation, I whined to a writing friend that I was about to make s’mores on the manuscript bonfire. Her advice: “Trust your gut. You didn’t get where you are on accident. You know better than you think you do!” My response: *laugh-crying because scroll back through the previous two paragraphs*
My gut was as fickle as my creativity. And it wasn’t just with writing. I’ve been very busy triple guessing everything. And I do mean everything. Parenting decisions? Yup. Life choices? Of course. What to cook for dinner? Oh dear lord, I’ve got nothing!
Triple guessing is second nature to me. And I’ve had plenty of “this is crap” moments when it came to my writing. But I always managed to write myself back into a happy spot.
Except this time. What was different? Pretty much everything, actually. That’s helpful, right? Revising on contract, major personal life upsets, a very unsettled political climate, to name a few. My gut was curled up in a corner hugging a stuffed animal, pretending to be in a sunny, remote vacation spot. And as much as I wanted to join my gut in that alternate reality, life and deadlines weren’t going away.
I reread my friend’s advice over and over – “You know better than you think you do!” Maybe she was just blowing hot air up my flannel pjs, but I needed to latch on to something positive so why not this?
First I had to quiet the doubts and there was only one way of doing that … unplug. An awesome writer’s retreat in a soul-refilling location – yeah that. Nope, not that. I unplugged from social media, logged out of email, turned off all news notifications, waved my family off for the day, and spent the next few hours going through my editor’s notes and the manuscript.
And there it was – the story I wanted to tell. Without the distractions of external and internal noise, the story found its way back to the surface.
This is where I give you the lessons-learned and lay out the handy-dandy take away. I wish I could. I wish I could say that I’ve learned what not to do or what to do better in the future. But the truth is, I’ll have another “this is crap, I’m doomed” crisis with the next manuscript or the one after that. Because we’re writers and we do these things to ourselves.
Doubts will always color our manuscripts. Feedback will always be mixed. Every story will have moments of brilliance and hours of despair. When those moments hit, I’ll be looking at this sign and listening to my gut …
What gets you through those times?
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Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world, where she spent roughly sixteen (cough) years working in the space industry. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking entirely too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around two over-fed cats. She is a co-founder and past president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. She is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.
Orly’s debut, The Distance Home, will be released by Forge on May 2, 2017.
You can find her on on Facebook, on Instagram, on Goodreads, or on her website, www.orlykonig.com.