Monthly Archives: May 2014

Writing Monday: Baby steps

As a mother of four all of whom are now walking, I’ve seen four different approaches to first steps. My eldest, Kath, waited for her entire family to be gathered in one room to take her first steps on Christmas Eve. My oldest son MJ took his time. He’d coast from one object to another, taking care with every movement so he wouldn’t fall. The twins’ first year is a blur, but I remember Chunk was cautious and Cupcake was forthright. Within a month of their first steps, all of them were practically running. Now as a write-at-home mom, I’m looking back at the baby steps I’ve been taking in my writing. Here’s what I’ve learned.

First step. Read books in the genre you want to write. I’ve heard people say that they’re going to write a romance novel when they’re proud to announce they’ve never read a romance novel in their lives. Other people think science fiction is the genre for them although they’ve never read Heinlein, Asimov or any other sci-fi writer. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but each writing genre has nuances about that individual genre that makes it different from other genres. Even romance writing has different categories within the genre: series contemporary, single title contemporary, erotica, historical, inspirational, fiction with strong romantic elements, paranormal, young adult, and new adult. Reading the genre you want to write will help you develop tools by knowing the different tropes and different writing styles unique to each.

Second step. Read books about craft. There are some writing books that transcend certain genres. Stephen King’s On Writing and Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey are two books highly touted by writers of different genres. Then there are books that can help within your genre. For romance writers, Deb Dixon’s GMC book is a must have and a must-read. I’ve recently also purchased Jane Porter’s new book about writing romance and have begun reading it. The pep talk chapter (Ready, Set, Go) is worth the price of the book alone. I’ve also downloaded Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View and look forward to exploring more about that aspect of craft soon.

Third step. Write your book. The most important advice to give a writer is to write. How many people have said that they would love to write a book? Lots. The best way to get that book written is to sit down and write, whether it’s by using a computer or longhand. It’s harder than it looks, but until you start, you don’t know whether you can or not.

Fourth step. Get feedback. I wrote my first book all by myself, without attending any seminars, without reading any books about craft, without any critiques, and without any beta readers. It’s now under the bed and is going to stay there. After my “maternity leave,” I started attending conferences and found Georgia Romance Writers where the wonderful Tanya Michaels gave me my first critique. Did I mention how wonderful she was? I totally mean it because she gave me great advice: learn about craft, read your work to look out for word repetition, check your paragraphs to make sure you don’t start every paragraph with the same word, read your work to make sure that a scene is told from one point of view and not from multiple points of view in the same paragraph (otherwise known as head hopping). Without this critique, I wouldn’t have known how I needed to hone my writing to (hopefully) improve it. Since then, I’ve learned to exchange WIPs with prospective critique partners in hopes of getting good feedback. I want to get better, and if I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I can’t improve.

Fifth step. Discover your voice and start running. I love cozy mysteries. I’ve curled up with many a wonderful mystery author from Carolyn Hart to Joan Hess to Rita Mae Brown. Each of these authors has a gift for crafting an engaging mystery. Each of these authors also has a gift for discerning which genre and which category to hone their craft and have done so in a masterful manner. While I love a good mystery, I’ve listened to the characters in my head and discovered that I like writing Southern contemporary romance. And that is what I am writing.

As each of my four children walked in their own fashion, in their own time, in their own inimitable style, so too is every writing journey different. These five steps are the first five baby steps in what I hope will become a writing career. There are writers who will fashion their own books in a different manner. There are writers who can weave magic without ever having picked up a book about craft. These are just my first baby steps on my writing journey.

What about you? What baby steps did you take to get started with your hobby, livelihood or career? Let me know.

 

Writing Monday: Conferences

It’s really easy sometimes to lose yourself in the world of social media. “Oh, I’ll only stay on Facebook for five more minutes.” “Oh, I’ll just share this Ellen selfie with my followers on Twitter and then I’ll go to sleep.” “Oh, everybody’s talking about Pinterest, let me try that for a week.” And so on. And so on. It seems as though everyone loves to share his or her opinions with the world on social media sites, myself included. One question on a Facebook post asked when does a writer become a writer? I tore my fingers away from the keyboard when I read one person’s response that an author is only an author if he or she has published a book. I do try to stay positive on Facebook, and I feared my response would be less than nice. So I wrote nothing at all. Which is sort of a shame on me because I feel that an author can be an author even if he or she is “pre-published.” What’s important is capturing words on either paper or a computer screen to come up with a story. One word at a time. One paragraph at a time. One page at a time. To this extent, every person who has ever struggled to find the word that captures an action or an emotional response can call him or herself a writer. Some writers only write for themselves, others are pursuing publication. Those who are striving to someday get a call from an agent, editor or publishing company have different paths to try to work their manuscript into shape for that call. To that extent, I myself am working toward the goal of publication. Besides the actual writing, there are several ways I am working on my craft. This includes romance writing conferences.

I have now attended two major conferences other than all day workshops and seminars. The first was the national RWA conference in 2013 that was held in Atlanta, GA. This year’s national RWA Conference is taking place in San Antonio, TX. A confirmed introvert, conferences are a little overwhelming. Many people come to writing conferences: writers, editors, agents, publishers, speakers, and more. One wonderful part of a national conference is the different topics that are discussed. An author can attend classes about craft, career, the writing life, research and more. Even my local chapter’s conference that I attended last year had wonderful information by dynamic speakers. These conferences have helped me develop friendships, volunteer behind the scenes, and have afforded me access to information about writing that has been invaluable.

So the time came recently when I had to make a decision. Do I travel to this year’s national conference in hope of learning my craft and gaining pointers about preparing my manuscript for submission or do I not? Yes, I signed up to go. Ultimately, learning more about writing, learning more about submitting to publishers, and talking to other writers answered the question for me. It does mean some sacrifices. As a write-at-home mom, I worry about the time spent away from my kids, but I’m also teaching them the importance of reaching for a dream. I have a goal in mind, and I have to trust that the information and friendships from this conference will push me closer to my goal of publication.

This conference is only one way I’m trying to develop my craft so that I will eventually get that call. There’s no substitution for simply sitting down with my nose close to the computer screen writing the words of my novel, but there are many ways that I can explore to make my writing better. Conferences are only one of the many ways to do so, but I think they definitely have a place on my path.

What about you? In your profession, do you attend conferences? What’s your favorite part about the conferences? Let me know.