by Lisa Hall-Wilson
Shame is one of the most powerful and underused emotions in a fiction-writer’s toolbox. Shame is pervasive and common, it’s ugly and hard to capture well. Readers cheer for characters who are relate-able. They cheer for characters who stand up to bullies, who stay and fight when they don’t have to. They relate to characters who have flaws!
And shame is one emotion everyone studiously avoids, denies, and conceals. It’s isolating, defining, and has some awful negative consequences like rage, anxiety, depression, emptiness, isolation, etc.
Guilt says you did a bad thing. Shame says you’re a bad person.
Shame insists we hide, conceal, and disguise what we perceive to be our greatest inadequacies. We refuse to acknowledge shame. Shame is that dark shadow that haunts your every step whether you admit it’s there or not. Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man character struggles with shame (cue memory of father’s murder). He can’t ever be good enough, and everything bad that happens is deserved because he’s a terrible person.
Shame is a hard emotion to capture authentically, but the key is to drill down into the primary emotions causing the shame and showing those emotions through internal dialogue and showing the consequences of shame that are observable. So a character fails at something and is reminded of his Dad yelling at him that he’ll never amount to anything (internal dialogue, backstory, etc.).
He doesn’t know how to handle the shame, so he off-loads the uncomfortable feelings and explodes in anger at his colleague or spouse over something trivial. The anger is what’s observable, but the character won’t label the shame in his internal dialogue. It’s clear the anger isn’t really about what the other person has done or not done, and the anger is an over-reaction.
Maybe the colleague stands up to him and calls him out on his anger. Maybe he gets written up for his anger at work. Maybe his wife breaks down in tears. The consequences of shame should be tangible for the character. This is how you SHOW shame.
What Kind Of Characters Could You Use Shame With?
Any characters who have endured a traumatic childhood will wrestle with shame (self-blame). Anyone who’s failed at anything important will struggle with shame. Anyone who doesn’t meet (or feels they don’t meet) society’s standard in any variety of ways will likely have to face shame (a man who lets others see weakness, being overweight, getting fired, chooses to be alone, etc). Those who are overly concerned about how they’re perceived or what others think of them are often shame-prone. Perfectionists often struggle with shame.
So basically, ANY character you write could deal with shame and the only way readers will be able to know they’re struggling with shame is through internal dialogue and observable off-loading/numbing/consequences of shame because in real life we’re all experts at hiding our shame from everyone—especially ourselves.
Brene Brown’s Guide To Creating An Emotional Arc Using Shame
Brene Brown in her book Rising Strongdescribed shame as living with a rock on your chest. Shame feels like a crushing, inescapable weight on our chests, cutting off our air, knotting our guts, stealing our words, making us flushed. (Read The Emotion Thesaurus entry on Shame here.)
Whether your character starts off feeling shameful about something (past or present) and works to shake that off, or shame is something that they take on in the course of the story, the key to a shame emotion arc is what Brene Brown calls The Reckoning, The Rumble, and the Revolution. It looks a lot like the 3-act structure *smile*
In Rising Strong, Brown gives this example: “…Your face turns red and heat radiates from your chest when you learn that your boss gave the lead for a new project to your colleague.”
Here are two scenarios Brene poses to this emotional problem:
“My boss is an a—hole. Todd’s such a brownnoser. Who cares? This job sucks and this company is a joke.” This is the shame-train reaction—the knee-jerk, off-loading, emotional avoidance caused by shame. As long as your character stays here and never questions WHY they feel this angry, then your character is letting emotions they refuse to admit they feel to drive the shame-train.
“I’m so pissed about her giving the lead to Todd. I need to figure this out before I lose it with everyone on our team…” This curiosity begins the process below. There’s an inciting incident that causes the character to take a proactive step to get off the shame-train.
The Reckoning: At some point in the story, your character decides to jump off the shame-train and gets curious. Why do I feel like this? Why am I reacting like this? Why do I think of x or y when this happens? Hopefully your character has a friend or ally with them. The Reckoning is about identifying and/or labelling the emotion or thinking that’s got them convinced they’re a bad person (put them on the floor of the arena).
The Reckoning is heart-breaking work because it’s one step forward and two steps back over and over. Their best thinking is what put that boulder on their chest (either as a reaction to something they did or is a survival mechanism to something done to them) to begin with and they’ve managed the rock by ignoring it was there altogether. Now that they acknowledge it’s there, life is going to get harder as they reckon with hard emotions they’ve trained themselves to numb or off-load onto others.
This kicks off The Rumble.
The Rumble:The Rumble is the shame-showdown. Now that your character acknowledges the thinking and emotions that have put them on the floor of the arena, now they’re going to THINK their way out from under the shame-boulder. But they’re acutely aware of those in the stands staring at them, at their repeated failure, their unworthiness.
The Rumble is about living with, allowing to well up, wrestling with the emotions they’ve avoided all this time. It means admitting they over-reacted. It’s about acknowledging emotions they might not understand or memories that seem unrelated that keep popping up. It’s doing the hard work of figuring out how they feel and WHY!
Now the character moves on to The Revolution.
The Revolution:Once the character has gotten the rock of shame off their chest, once they’ve rumbled with the emotions that put it there, now comes the revolution. They now must rebuild their self-esteem. This provides incredible character arc if you look for it. How does one let go of perfectionism? How does one learn to forgive themselves? What do they ask themselves as they stumble in The Rumble? That’s narrative gold, right there.
Questions To Ask Your Characters About Shame
What emotions does your character refuse to acknowledge they’re struggling with? Does the tomboy refuse to acknowledge the girly side that’s vulnerable? Does the warrior refuse to cry? WHY?
When something negative happens, we create the stories in our heads we expect to hear. We filter everything that’s said and done through how we believe we’re perceived even if there’s no evidence for that conclusion. How can a self-fulfilling prophecy of shame play into your story?
What thought does your character avoid having confirmed in any conflict or hurtful event?
What is your character’s go-to emotional substitution? Do they lash out in anger? Do they self-flagellate with destructive internal messages?
Can you think of a character from TV, movies, or fiction who struggles with shame? What are the consequences of their shame?
Lisa Hall-Wilson was a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels.
Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers, at www.lisahallwilson.com.
Last week , Sharla Rae lost her final battle with cancer. Sharla was a founding member of Writers in the Storm. On Wednesday, May 1, we'll remember Sharla with pictures and words.
I’ve read the same wording about tears in too many books.
Tears stream and streak, glint and glisten, flee and flow, prickle and trickle.
They slip, slide, run, roll, seemingly unstoppable.
Tears blur vision, soak hair, get wiped, get blinked. But some tears are unshed, unspent, unspilled, or unspecified.
Sobs can choke and rack and wrench. Characters sob on shoulders and in showers, often uncontrollably.
I could go on about crying and bawling and weeping and wailing. But I won’t.
You all get it.
Let’s dive in and play in words.
Five Tips for Writing Tears that Carry Power
1. Write Fresh.
Write sentences about tears and crying that we’ve never read before.
2. Nix Some Tears.
Give your characters some different reaction.
In real life, eyes fill to the brim with tears more often than we want to see on the page. And a single tear may slide down someone’s cheek.
But you’re in charge of your characters. You don’t have to stick with what pops on the page in your first draft.
Nix some of the crying and tears in an early draft—and give your characters a different reaction. Could be dialogue, an action, body language, a facial expression, a dialogue cue, a visceral response, or a powerful thought. And give it some fresh elements.
You can make the reaction fit your character, and not be predictable. You’ll keep the reader immersed in your story, locked on each page.
If it’s important, give the reader more.
Amplify the emotion in a variety of ways.
Every example in this blog is amplified.
4. Play with Style and Structure.
Use a wide range of rhetorical devices, provide plenty of white space, vary sentence lengths.
If you know me, you know you’ll see examples of style and structure.
5. Check for Compelling Cadence.
Read your work out loud. With feeling.
Always. Always. Always.
DON’T MISS THIS POINT:
I’m not saying writers shouldn’t ever use some of those common words and phrases I mentioned at the beginning of the blog. But if you use some, twist, play, and amplify. Give them a boost, and give your readers and reviewers a smile.
As always, I’ll share some examples and what you can learn from them.
The Butterfly Bride, Vanessa Riley, 3-time Immersion Grad
1. She should slap Hartwell or pull away from his heavy arms, but there wasn’t much fight left in her, just a sack of tears in her chest she refused to spill.
Deep Edit Analysis:
Power Words — slap, pull away, heavy, fight, tears, refused, spill
Rhetorical Device — Structural Parallelism:
- sack of tears in her chest
- she refused to spill
Look how Vanessa Riley deepened characterization. She showed what the character thought she should do, but didn’t. Then she explained why.
Vanessa also shared that the POV character felt like crying, but wouldn’t give Hartwell the satisfaction of seeing her break down.
But smart Vanessa didn’t rely on my overused phrases. Her sack of tears was fresh.
2. No one would see her cry. None of the duke’s friends, especially the leeches.
Deep Edit Analysis:
Vanessa amplified that basic first sentence. She shared specifics and backloaded with the strongest power word, leeches.
Never Let Me Fall, Abbie Roads, 4-time Immersion Grad
1. (Crying) She clung to him—the only safe place—as the battle for her soul and sanity raged. And then it was over, and she hiccupped against his shirt as she tried to catch her breath.
Deep Edit Analysis:
Power Words: clung, safe, battle, soul, sanity, raged, over, breath
Rhetorical Device — Alliteration: soul, sanity
2. Tears burned in her sinuses, then filled her eyes and spilled to race to her hairline. These weren’t sad tears. They were angry tears. Tears filled with fight.
Abbie Roads packed power and rhetorical style in those 28 words.
Deep Edit Analysis:
Power Words: tears, burned, filled, spilled, race, sad, tears, angry, tears, tears, filled, fight
Rhetorical Devices —
- Alliteration: filled, fight
- Assonance: filled, spilled, filled
- Anadiplosis: …tears. Tears…
Backloaded with the most important power word, fight
Bound by a One-Night Vow, Melanie Milburne, 4-time Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller
1. She had worked hard to get herself strong again.
Must not cry. Must not cry. Must not cry.
Deep Edit Analysis:
Power Words: worked, hard, strong, not cry, not cry, not cry
2. She swallowed and blinked a few times, the tears drying up as if she regretted losing control. Her expression tightened as if all of her facial muscles were holding in her emotions and only just managing to contain them.
Deep Edit Analysis:
Power Words: swallowed, blinked, tears, drying, regretted, losing control, tightened, holding in emotions, just managing, contain
Love how Melanie Milburne deepened characterization by amplifying with two similes. And the second simile is mega-amplified. I see that barely-in-control expression.
Dear Wife (Advanced Reader Copy), Kimberly Belle, 5-time Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller, International Bestseller
Dear Wife will be released June 26.
To my absolute horror, my eyes grow hot, the tears welling so quickly it’s impossible to blink them away. I choke on a small but audible sob. “I can’t even tell you how much.”
The Reverend takes me in with a kind expression. “Are you all right, child?”
I wipe my cheeks with my fingers, but new tears tumble down before I can mop the old ones away. “Thank you, but I’m fine. Or I will be. I don’t even know why I’m crying.” I force up a throaty laugh. “I promise it won’t be a regular occurrence.”
I hate to cry. For the past seven years, my tears have been slapped, backhanded, punched, yanked, kicked, squeezed and one time, burned out of me. Tears are a sign of weakness, followed always by punishment. Only losers cry.
Deep Editing Analysis:
Power Words: horror, eyes hot, tears, welling, quickly, impossible, blink, choke, sob, Reverend, kind, fine, tears, crying, force, laugh, promise, hate, cry, seven years, tears, slapped, backhanded, punched, yanked, kicked, squeezed, burned out of me, tears, weakness, punishment, losers, cry
Deepened characterization. Used crying to slip in powerful backstory.
Asyndeton: No and in the first sentence.
These past four months, I’ve shed a shitload of tears. More than I’d like to think about. But I stand here, in the middle of the church aisle and bawl, and for the first time I don’t feel ashamed of my tears or wipe them away with a sleeve. I let them fall because these are the good kind of tears. The—well, if not the happy kind, at least the everything’s-going-to-be-okay kind.
Deep Editing Analysis:
Power Words: four months, tears, more, church, bawl, don’t feel ashamed, tears, fall, good, tears, not, happy, okay
Amplification: Tears. All 73 words are about her tears.
Alliteration: shed, shitload
Since You’ve Been Gone, Christa Allan, Multi-Margie Grad
1. I pounded my fist on the desk, my pens jumping up in the air, my coffee leaping out of the mug. This rage was a hand grenade whose pin had been pulled, and there was nowhere for it to go. I had no tears left. Just a raw, aching wound.
Deep Edit Analysis:
An example of NO TEARS. Christa Allan showed her character’s rage.
Power Words: pounded, rage, hand grenade, pin, pulled, no tears, raw, aching, wound
Rhetorical Device — Metaphor, Mega-Amplified.
2. I’d moved past tears, past sobbing, to a convulsing, ragged-breath squall.
Deep Edit Analysis:
That sentence seems simple. But it’s brilliant and powerful.
Power Words: tears, sobbing, convulsing, ragged-breath, squall
3. If only I could be like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News and schedule my cathartic crying. My eyes dripped, my underarms dripped, and my emotional reserves dripped. All in a medical building lobby as I waited for Mia to come up with a plan, and I wiped my face with a crumpled Starbucks napkin. I counted on her to save me from myself. Now wasn’t the time for her to forgo the life vest when I was drowning in the sea of my own irresponsibility.
Deep Edit Analysis:
Love the humor hits, and the juxtaposition of those humor hits with her reality. If you’ve read this book, you know her reality is emotionally challenging.
Power Words: cathartic crying, eye dripped, underarms dripped, emotional reserves dripped, medical, plan, counted on her, save me, forgo life vest, drowning, irresponsibility
Rhetorical Devices —
- Alliteration: Holly Hunter, cathartic crying
- Allusion: Holly Hunter
- Metaphor: life vest, drowning
- Asyndeton and Symploce and Zeugma: My eyes dripped, my underarms dripped, and my emotional reserves dripped.
If you’ve taken my Deep Editing course online (or lecture packet), or Fab 30: Advanced Deep Editing, or an Immersion Master Class, you know the terms I used, or you figured out the structure they referenced.
If you haven’t taken my Deep Editing course, I’ve been talking Greek to you. I shared a quick explanation of all the rhetorical devices but epistrophe and zeugma.
Symploce: The word or words at the beginning and end of three or more phrases, sentences, or clauses, are the same (my, dripped).
Zeugma: In a series of two or more, the last one is an idiomatic mismatch. It’s not like the other. Eyes and underarms are part of your body. Emotional reserves are not.
Want to learn more about my deep editing techniques?
My blogs share a few deep edit points out of hundreds. And that’s not hyperbole.
Drop by my website and check out my online courses and lecture packets. Your writing career will be glad you did.
A big THANK YOU to Vanessa Riley, Abbie Roads, Melanie Milburne, Kimberly Belle, and Christa Allan.
If these examples impressed you, check out their books. I bet you’ll love them!
BLOG GUESTS: Thank you so much for dropping by the blog today.
Please post a comment or share a ‘Hi Margie!” and you’ll have two chances to be a winner.
You could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy valued up to $100.
Lawson Writer’s Academy – May Classes
- Write Better Faster, Instructor: Becca Syme
- It’s All About Character, Instructor: Elizabeth Essex
- Crazy-Easy Social Media for Authors, Instructor: Lisa Norman
- Virtues, Vices, and Plots, Instructor: Sarah Hamer
- Taking a Book from Good to Sold, Instructor: Shirley Jump
- Getting Series about Writing a Series, Instructor: Lisa Wells
- Creating Compelling Characters, Instructor: Rhay Christou
Please drop by my website to read course descriptions and register: www.margielawson.com
I’ll draw names for the TWO WINNERS on Sunday night, at 8PM, Mountain Time and post them in the comments section.
Like this blog? Share with your friends. Give it a social media boost. Thank you soooo much!
I love the brilliant WITS gals. Thanks so much for inviting me to be your guest.
Margie Lawson—editor and international presenter—loves to have fun. And teaching writers how to use her deep editing techniques to create page-turners is her kind of fun.
She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.
To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2019, in Palm Springs, Denver, Dallas, Cleveland, Columbus, Atlanta, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, Australia), Cruising Writers cruises, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com
Interested in Margie presenting a full day workshop for your writing organization? Contact Margie through her website, or Facebook Message her.
Interested in attending one of Margie’s 5-day Immersion classes? Click over to her website and check them out.
Margie’s newsletter is going out next week. Sign up on her website, and you’ll be in a special drawing for a 5-page deep edit from her!
SEO for authors... It's a catchphrase that makes all my writing pals shudder. As one of our gals at WITS said, "I know how to spell it, but that's about all." SEO doesn't have to be hard. In fact, some of the best techniques are the easiest for writers, because they involve writing.
What is SEO?
Wikipedia says, "Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's unpaid results - often referred to as "natural," "organic," or "earned" results."
What it really means to authors is: How do I help people find me? How do I stand out? How do I get to Google's first page?
Those are all the things that will help build your platform and sell books.
Good SEO can go really deep, down into the programming and structure of your website, but we're writers. We don't want to do all that. We just want to write.
5 easy SEO methods you can use NOW
1. Research the keywords that apply to you.
Search engine optimization is rooted in keywords. But what about your words? You want to find the words that readers will use to search for you. Help your readers find you by tagging your posts and videos with 3-10 keywords that describe you and your work.
Remember, you are very likely be at the top of the search results for keywords you create. That's a pretty big deal.
You can be on page 3 on search engine results for "great YA reads," or teach your readers how to search for you with your words. Words like your book title or your name. You're likely to be on page one with those. And yes, you have to already have a platform to do this.
Most people just piggyback off other people's keywords. You could spend hours looking these words up, but you can minimize the time spent by doing some brainstorming and mind mapping.
- A bang-up post on mind mapping from Orly Konig Lopez.
- Mary Jaksch also recommends five mind-mapping tools at Write to Done.
- This SEO article has TONS of info - SEO Keyword Tools to Improve Your Author Platform & Sell More Books
- An article specific to articles: SEO for Authors, a How-To Guide.
Or you might want to go the other direction and find out which key words will take you to readers. Two ways to do this is by searching in Google (for “keyword” + “forum" or “keyword” + “board”) or going to a site like BoardReader that will search the boards for you.
Backlinko, a site full of great SEO info, provides a comprehensive article on keyword searching and ways to identify the key words that define your markets (called Niche Cloud Maps) if you want to study this in more depth.
2. Make your titles work for you.
Do you see that title up top? It starts with the entire point of this post: "SEO For Authors." It ends with the other key point: "Search Ranking."
The easiest tip for great titles is to keep them direct and to the point and focused around your topic and keywords.
SmartBug Media wrote a fantastic post on capitalizing on both the titles and the tags inherent in platforms like WordPress. Another great article from SmartBug Media has SEO tips for titles that emphasizes "the big stuff":
- The best link structure is short, descriptive and helps categorize your site. Did you know you can customize your URLs, especially in WordPress? It's a great way to help the search engines find you.
- Put keywords or topics towards the front of the title. Whatever's first wins, at least for search engines.
- Optimize Page Titles. SmartBug recommends you use title tags, which tell search engines and searchers about your page. "Since Google will only display between 50-60 characters in the title tag, you should keep title tags under 55 characters and try to drive people to click with compelling copy."
3. Use a mobile-ready theme for your website or blog.
Here's what you need to know: in March of 2018, Google rolled out mobile-first indexing. That means that it indexes the mobile version of any website first. This is the reason why having a mobile-ready theme is important.
Search Engine Land put out a great article on mobile-first indexing and whether it will affect SEO rankings.
Some things to focus on to improve your mobile SEO:
- Verify the mobile-friendliness of your site and/or your theme.
- Make sure your site is responsive and don't use a lot of redirects.
- Don't use pop-ups.
- Tell Google about your site.
In 2014, almost 40 percent of organic search traffic was done on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. In 2018, 70% of web traffic happened on a mobile device. [Great stats here.]
If your site's design isn't mobile-friendly, many searchers won't be back. If you aren't in charge of this, ask your web designer. If you are a DIY-er, be sure you pick a mobile-ready theme for all your marketing, whether it's your site or your email newsletter.
4. Write descriptive mini-blog posts for your YouTube videos.
This was an excellent piece of advice from 21 Actionable SEO Techniques You Can Use Right Now that I LOVED. We're writers - we can rock this one!
Note: YouTube is owned by Google, another reason they run high in search rankings.
The article states:
Using 200+ words in your video's description will push you up the rankings for both YouTube and Google.
"Don't mindlessly toss a few words into the description box. Instead, [let Google] rely on your video’s text-based title and description to determine what your video is about. Not only does this extra text-based information help you rank better for your target keyword…it also ranks your video to any closely related long tail keywords."
Here's that author's guide to great SEO strategy for YouTube videos.
5. Create posts and pages with at least 1,000 words.
This requires more work on your part, but it is the reason why "slow bloggers" like Anne R. Allen and social media Jedi Kristen Lamb often crush the competition in terms of social sharing and backlinks to their blogs. Yes, they are both great writers, but they also write long posts filled with useful information.
"First off, long posts show Google that you’re providing in-depth information for searchers.
"In-depth content flips an important emotional switch that pushes people to share online content: awe.
"University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Jonah Berger found that content that elicited awe made people 30% more likely to share it."
I like that number, don't you? Long posts take more work, but they're worth it.
SEO is a huge subject for such a tiny little acronym, and things change constantly. But we've got enough changes to worry about in these crazy writing lives of ours. We don't need to spend energy worrying about change.
Right now, we just want to worry about these five tips that we can implement now.
Do you have SEO questions you've been wondering about? Will you share any great (EASY) techniques that have worked for you? Let's talk about how to get our work noticed.
See y'all down in the comments!
* * * * * *
About Jenny Hansen
By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes news articles, humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
It’s here. The fourth anniversary of Write Up a Storm.
We’re writing up a storm from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00p.m. EDT. If you missed the tips, you can read them here on our Facebook page.
Seventeen hours of opportunities to connect with others, meet goals, and get your words “on paper.”
We’ll be writing from the top of every hour for fifty minutes. In the interest of health, we’ve planned a ten minute break at the end of every hour for walking around and other physical necessities. If you need to work on a different schedule, say around breaks and lunch at work, that’s fine. Keep track of your progress and, when you get a chance, let us know how you’re doing.
During that ten-minute break, you’re welcome to post your word or page counts and anything else in the comment section on our Facebook Event page. (No other electronic “stuff” which might end up being a time sump and stealing your planned writing time!) We’ll tally numbers and post them every hour. Or so. Heck, we’ll be writing, too!
We’re hoping for at least a novella-length combined word count. Fae is betting we can get a novel’s worth of word count.
You can commit to hours or only a fifteen minute block of writing time. Just follow through on your goal. That’s how you finish a book. Today is a chance to make headway on finishing your book. As Laura Drake says, “You can’t sell a book if you haven’t finished one.”
So let’s support each other and make this fun. Because it can be, with a community. Writing is, by nature, a solitary endeavor. That doesn’t mean you have to feel alone. Join us.
Here’s your dance card:
Laura Drake will start the party from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. EST.
Fae Rowen, Jenny Hansen , and Julie Glover will check in during the day at the top of the hour. Don't panic if we miss an hour or two of check-in. Heck, we're writing, too, and might misplace our schedule!
Of course, we’ll all be checking in throughout the day, even when we don’t have “formal” responsibilities.
You can let us know you’re writing as you begin, or you can share what you’ve accomplished when your writing stint is finished.
Today’s the day.
Write Up A Storm.
Share your experiences and word counts on our Facebook page.
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 enjoys sharing 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.
I recently passed my 10-year anniversary of Writing In Earnest. I began the novel that became my first full manuscript after I evacuated to my in-laws’ house to escape Hurricane Ike, which hit the Texas Gulf Coast in September 2008. When I returned home, I committed to writing one full hour each day, which quickly turned into two to four hours of writing until, finally, I had a complete book.
It’s been a long road since then.
The road included seven manuscripts and multiple short stories; pitches, submissions, and rejections; finaling in various contests, including RWA’s Golden Heart; classes, conferences, and craft books; landing my dream agent; more submissions and rejections; co-writing three novellas; self-publishing that trilogy; and much, much more.
Although every writing journey has unique aspects, a 10-year anniversary demands that I share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Nothing else matters if you don’t finish the book.
A great story idea and a wonderful cast of characters, a perfectly structured plot, well-crafted scenes, etc. equal a Big Fat Zero if you don’t finish the book. And I don’t mean the first draft, though that’s very important.
To me, a finished book is one that’s ready to go to your beta readers or critique partner or be submitted to an agent/editor or even published. Dig deep, write, edit, and finish the book.
2. Know why you’re writing.
At first, I wrote for me—just to see if I could write a whole novel. Then I wanted people to read it. And now I want to also make money so I can pay my bills and keep writing. As my goals have changed, I've needed to shift which aspects of writing I'm focusing on.
If you’re a hobbyist in the writing world or crafting a single family memoir, some of the intense write-or-die advice doesn’t really apply to you. But if you need to eat on the money you make writing, you might focus less on the sweeping epic you dream of writing and more on rapid release shorter works.
It all depends. Be clear about why you’re writing so you know which advice to take and which to take with a grain of salt.
3. Learn your craft.
Too many writers think they already know how to write, since they read a lot. Funny, because I never once thought that visiting my massage therapist once a month qualified me to get a therapy table, charge customers, and start rubbing backs. Substitute your own analogy, and you understand what I'm saying.
There are authors, good authors, and great authors. Do everything you can, within your resource limitations, to become a great author. If you write fantastic books, readers will keep buying what you write.
4. Story beats prose.
However, don’t focus so much on crafting words and phrases that you lose sight of being a wonderful storyteller. Our brains are wired for story (see Lisa Cron), and that’s what people ultimately want. It’s why novels that aren’t all that well-told still sell when a great story underlies the less-than-spectacular prose.
Of course, putting together a wonderful story and well-crafted prose makes for a standout combination. Don't forget: Story beats prose.
5. Find a writing community.
We say it all the time on Writers in the Storm, and we promote it by bringing writers together for conversation, but it’s important to be in community. Not only will you feel a sense of belonging and experience encouragement, you learn from other authors. I’ve learned as much from conversations with other writers as I have from classes, conferences, and craft books.
Join a chapter in your genre, connect online, and/or form your own group. But find a writing community.
6. Put your work in others’ hands.
This is one of the hardest things to do at first! You’ve spent hours and hours and hours on your novel, and now you’re going to share it with a beta reader, a critique partner or group, contest judges, an agent or editor, or your own family member.
What if they hate it? What if they red-pen it everywhere? What if they just don’t get you?
It’s tough, but if you want readers who pay, you have to be willing to start with readers who don’t pay who will give you honest feedback.
7. Don’t listen to everybody who critiques your work.
That said, not everyone who critiques your pages has the same quality of feedback. Be choosy about who you send to, consider their viewpoint, and then make your own decisions. At the end of the day, it’s your book.
You need to be very, very open to critique, but also willing to stand your ground when your story’s integrity is at risk.
8. Be an entrepreneur.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking: But I don’t want to be an entrepreneur, I just want to be a writer!
Sorry to break it to you, but I fought this for far too long. I’m saving you the years of grief I experienced, resisting the inevitable. If you’re writing in the 21st century, you’re a business.
You can be self-published or traditionally published, agented or unagented, and still you are a small business responsible for your own career, marketing, and finances. Learn what you can about running your business well.
9. Embrace your own writing process.
Writing advice based on a particular writer’s process abounds. Write every single day. Write first thing in the morning. Plot first, then write. Don’t plot, just write. And on and on and on.
Reality check: Successful authors run the gamut on how they actually manage to go from story idea to book-on-shelf.
Go read about various authors’ processes and try things out, but don’t feel like any one particular approach is the be-all-end-all. The only thing they all have in common is they finish books (see Point #1).
10. Remember, writing is a journey.
As I write this post, I’m in Knoxville, Tennessee, a destination that took over 13 driving hours to reach. My journey involved some great roads and scenery and some not so great moments where I wanted to pull to the side of the road and give up.
Most journeys are like that, with ups and downs. So is writing. I’ve learned that I will have super-highs and dispiriting lows, but neither represents the whole journey. Don’t get too caught up in the mountaintops or the valleys. Most of the way is a steady drive, and you’ll get where you want by focusing on the destination.
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What have you learned in your writing journey?
Julie Glover usually writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. But she recently branched out to co-author the Muse Island Series with Kris Faryn, which begins with Mark of the Gods, under the pen name Jules Lynn. You can visit the series website here, follow the Facebook page here, or head to her Jules Lynn website to learn more.