Writing Process

Michelle D. Argyle shares her knowledge about the writing process, how to outline a novel, how to write a book, the difficulties of publishing, finding editors, agents, publishers, and how to make your writing better.

Too Many Cooks In Your Kitchen?

Too many cooks spoil the broth. It’s an age-old proverb, but it’s as true now as it has always been. The sad thing is that it has taken me all 37 years of my life to figure out how important it is to keep cooks out of my kitchen, so to speak. I can track a lot of my issues in writing, publishing, parenting, friendships, etc., back to too much input from others and not enough listening to myself. I’ve done a great job at learning to ignore my instincts and relying on other people telling me what they think I should do. 

So where does that leave me? This year I’ve made a conscious effort to get back to discovering me. What are my values? Not what everyone says I should value. No. What do value, and what choices will get me closest to those values? This is much more difficult to determine than I thought it would be, but once I truly made a commitment to figure it out, things have been falling into place. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s not that I don’t value other people’s experience and opinions. I do! And they are absolutely essential, but only to a certain extent. This is where the “too many cooks” idea comes into play. I’m learning how to cull my circle of influence, and it’s not easy. Social media makes it especially difficult. I’m sure you can see why. So many voices, ideas, opinions, ads all the time. I think this is why some people find themselves a lot happier when they decide to cut down on social media. Less cooks.

As far as writing goes, I’m in a much happier place lately as I’ve made some tough decisions on who sees my work before it’s published, who I want feedback from, and when I want and need it. I’ve already noticed a big difference in how quickly I’m writing and how many ideas I’m allowing myself to entertain because I don’t feel as much pressure to second-guess those ideas.

So here’s my question. How many cooks do you let in your kitchen? Have you had experiences that slowed you down or steered you in the wrong direction because you were trying to listen to, and please, everyone at the same time?

 

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, Working With Other Writers, Writing Process, 1 comment

Expectations

There is something to be said about the enthusiasm of others for things you are working on. For many years, I think I thrived on this enthusiasm. I think I lived and breathed it and let it fuel pretty much everything I was doing. For instance, if I started a new book, I simply couldn’t hold it inside. I had to tell someone about the idea because if I didn’t, there would be no fuel to keep that project going until the end. So, eventually, by the time I finished any novel, I had leaked the idea pretty much everywhere. People knew I was writing a book about a tone-deaf wannabe country music star, for instance. But I think all that enthusiasm can actually be a killer in the end. Because, while people may show excitement and interest and enthusiasm for a project, that only means their expectations and ideas of how it will turn out have time to grow and blossom and turn into something that will never, ever live up to what they imagined. So you lose in the end, I think, if you build something up too much.

To me, the perfect reading experience has always been one in which I pick up a book with little or no particular expectations beyond a general desire to read something engaging, and then find myself blown away by the story or the writing or both. I’m pretty sure that any book I have ever picked up (outside of classics, which have withstood the test of time) with high expectations has always proven a disappointment in one way or another. So, while I read a lot of books these days, I try not to talk too much about them with other people, especially ones on my to-read list. And, while I’m not writing at the moment, I have a feeling that when I do start writing again, it’s going to be a more private affair than it has ever been in the past. I’m not sure why this change has come about, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I’ve published enough writing to finally realize — deep down into my bones — that my writing will never 100% please anyone but myself. And that really is okay.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, Writing Process

Never Underestimate A 10-Year Idea …

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I’ve known Janci for several years. When I first met her, I had no idea she was a writer, and then when I was informed of the fact by other people around me, I was quite pleased. Not many people top the cool charts the way she does! Like me, Janci writes in several different genres, and what I’ve read of hers so far, I love. She and her husband both do what they love for careers — at home. They are an example to me of following your heart and dreams. Today, I’ve invited Janci here to my blog to talk about her new book, EVERYTHING’S FINE, and how it has stuck around for over 10 years. I know this feeling well, since THE BREAKAWAY was one such similar book for me. Read on! Janci has some great things to say here!

Janci Patterson writes fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary young adult novels. Her first book, CHASING THE SKIP, will be published by Henry Holt in 2012. Janci lives in Orem, Utah, with her husband, Drew Olds. When she’s not writing, she manages Drew’s painting business, and plays geek games of all kinds.

I wrote the first draft of Everything’s Fine in 2004, so this book was ten years in the making. The idea started with this line: “So I stole Haylee’s journal.  We might as well get that out in the open right now.”  As soon as I had that line, I knew it was the beginning of a book. I experimented with it. Why does Kira take Haylee’s journal? What is it that she’s trying to hide?

Across years worth of drafts, a few things stayed the same, but more changed. It got sent out on rounds of submission several times, and always I discovered afterward that the book still wasn’t quite working. Many times I thought about giving up on this book — about just declaring it a trunk novel and leaving it alone. But inevitably as soon as I decided that, I’d have an idea for how to make the book better, and I’d rewrite it again.

Because of its long road to publication, Everything’s Fine is my most re-written novel to date, and anyone who knows me knows I’m not shy about rewriting novels. I started over from scratch at least three times, and heavily revised it dozens of times over. To give you an idea, here are a few of the more recent changes:

  • If you’ve read the book, you know that every other chapter is an in-scene flashback from a different point in Kira and Haylee’s friendship. Those chapters didn’t even make it into the book until January, when I pulled the book out and rewrote it yet again, this time with the intent of sending it to my editor. I was having a hard time getting the reader to connect to Haylee, since she’s already dead when the book begins.  Alaya Dawn Johnson suggested that I take all the flashbacks out of the book and put them in scene, and it turned out to be just what the book needed. So grateful for that critique. Without it, I think the book might have hung out in limbo forever.
  • Kira is now an only child, but from the first draft in 2004 to the first draft that my editor read back in February, she had an older sister who came for Christmas with her college boyfriend. I loved Lainie and Derek. They had a lot of awesome scenes. But in the end, Lainie’s scenes were taking away from the space I had to develop Kira’s relationship with her mother, which was much more important to the arc. So out of the book they went.
  • For a long time, Kira’s secret was that she had an eating disorder. Then I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, and realized I wasn’t doing any kind of justice to that concept. Then I had to give Kira a new secret … and I did, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.

I almost gave up on this book dozens of times, but now that it’s finished, I’m so glad I didn’t. I was ready to abandon it, Kira’s voice was never ready to abandon me. I think this is a book that wanted to be written. Who was I to stand in its way? It makes me giddy to see it finally done, and in a form that other people are getting to read. Kira’s character took a long journey with me, and getting to share her story is the best of all possible endings.

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Kira thought she knew everything about her best friend, Haylee. But when Haylee commits suicide immediately after her first date with her longtime crush, Bradley Johansen, Kira is left with nothing but questions, and a gaping hole in her life where Haylee used to be. 

Kira is sure that the answers to her questions must be written in Haylee’s journal, but she’s not the only one searching for it. The more Kira learns about Haylee’s past, the more certain she is that other people grieving for Haylee are keeping secrets—especially Bradley, and Haylee’s attractive older cousin Nick. Kira is desperate to get to Haylee’s journal before anyone else finds it—to discover the truth about what happened to Haylee— 

And to hide the things that Haylee wrote down about her. 

From the author of CHASING THE SKIP comes EVERYTHING’S FINE, a new contemporary YA novel about secrets and loss, and the winner of the 2007 Utah Arts Council award for Best Young Adult Novel.

Add Everything’s Fine to your Goodreads shelf.

Purchase Everything’s Fine on Amazon

Find Janci on jancipatterson.comFacebook, and Twitter.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, Guest Posts, Writing Process

How Light May Be Affecting Your Creativity

I had insomnia something fierce last week, probably because my stress levels were getting a little out of control. It was affecting everything, especially my writing. But what made the insomnia worse was something I had never considered.

I’ve always been aware that lower levels of light are better for me at night because the darker a room is, the easier it is for me to sleep. So I’ve always been careful about keeping lights off after a specific hour of the day so I can wind down. Last week, however, I found myself wide awake despite this routine. To try to make myself sleepy, I used some lavender oil and took some melatonin since my body didn’t seem to be wanting to produce much of it on its own. Didn’t work, even in the slightest. I started the worrying cycle. Maybe taking melatonin every once in awhile had screwed up my body’s natural production somehow, even though I rarely take it. Maybe I would never sleep again. I tend to get very dramatic late at night with no sleep.

I ended up posting about my insomnia on Facebook, and a friend of mine told me she installed an application on her computer that changes the colors of light on her computer screen and that this has helped her immensely. Interested, I went over to the site and tried the program (you can find it here — f.lux). Immediately, the more yellow/reddish colored screen decreased the tension behind my eyes. I spent another thirty minutes on my computer that night, and eventually closed it down and went to sleep. And I slept. I slept. It was fantastic.

So it wasn’t only the AMOUNT of light, I realized. It was also the COLOR of light that was affecting me.

I’m not saying that changing the colors of light on my computer screen have cured my insomnia, but it sure has helped being aware of such a thing. I was interested as to why, and went online to find some articles about light and how it affects our brains. I found this one, in particular — What’s In a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light — that really made it clear why we should be more careful about how we expose ourselves to light, if we can help it.

BLUE LIGHT SUPPRESSES MELATONIN

So all those times I couldn’t sleep and I’d open up my computer or my iPad to wile away the hours in an attempt to make myself sleepy … all that blue light was actually working against me in a very physical way, by suppressing melatonin, the very chemical that helps you sleep.

I also use a blue wavelength light during the day. It has quite literally helped my depression levels during the winter, and it helps me write better during the day, but I’ve noticed if I keep that light on past 5:00 p.m., I’m more likely to have trouble falling asleep that night.

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WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR WRITERS?

I know a lot of we writers write at night, so if you find yourself having trouble sleeping after you write, it might not be because your brain is filled with all those words and scenes. It might be because you’re using a computer emitting blue light, and you’re messing up your body’s natural rhythms. It’s something to consider.

On the opposite end, if you have trouble writing during the day, staying focused, etc., you may want to try a blue light. I have a Verilux Happy Light light I use at my desk during the day.

We all work better creatively when we are properly rested, so you may want to take into consideration the kind of light you’re exposed to during different times of the day if you’re having trouble with sleep or staying awake during the daytime. A blue light can improve your focus during the day, which is why I keep one at my writing desk.

It’s nice to know these things so you can plan and understand how your body is working.

I’M NO DOCTOR OR SCIENTIST

This post is only to share what I’ve discovered and how it has helped me, so don’t use any of it as actual medical advice, please. I wish you luck on your own sleep and writing schedules!

Have you had any experience with this or have any other thoughts than what I’ve expressed here? Please share in the comments!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process

The Day I Quit Writing

I remember the day I quit writing. It was the day I graduated college with my creative writing degree. A few weeks later I got married. My life completely changed, and in all honesty, I was so burned out from four years straight of school that I decided I was truly finished. I didn’t have any desire to write, any desire to read, any desire to do anything but move on with my life and figure other stuff out — like how to be married.

For the next five years, I wrote three mediocre poems and read one set of books (the Harry Potter series). FIVE YEARS. I really had given up. Completely. My lifelong dream of becoming a published novelist had been flushed down the toilet because the desire … it was gone. My muse? She’d packed up and left. But I did keep creating. I learned photography. I bought expensive camera equipment. I bought expensive software. I learned how to use it really well.

And get this. I was happy.

Yes, I was happy with not writing. I had a child. I had a husband. I was creating artistic things with my photography. I was fulfilled. I didn’t need writing to make me whole at that point in my life … and that was a valuable lesson, probably the most valuable lesson I will ever learn as a writer.

When my daughter was eight months old, we moved into a new place, and I realized that I had been in a bit of a rut the past few years. My photography didn’t seem “special” anymore. It wasn’t fulfilling me in the ways I needed. I started to look backwards at a time I had shoved far, far away — college, high school, days when the only thing that made me feel alive was writing. Since photography wasn’t fulfilling me anymore, I wondered if that old dream of mine might give me what I need …

I pulled up an old manuscript, one I’d shoved so far into the dark that I thought it could never possibly resurface. It was 30,000 words. It was the most horrible piece of fiction ever. A friend of mine read it and told me it had potential. It was like riding a bike all over again. It was painful and I fell over countless times, but eventually that desire to write came back full force. Like a freaking freight train barreling into my life. My poor husband. He’d never known me as a writer. He had no idea who this Crazy Obsessed Person was living in his house. She never slept. She kept talking about stories and girls being kidnapped. She made him read poorly written prose. My poor husband.

A friend of mine has been asking herself lately why she writes. She wonders why she tortures herself like this? My comment to her was to quit writing and find out, not that she should do that, of course, but it’s what I had to do. I quit. Completely. AND I WAS STILL HAPPY … (at that point in my life). But then I got to a point in my life where that happiness was waning. Right now I need to write, whether nobody reads my books when I put them out there or a lot of people read them when I put them out there. It doesn’t matter. I will share regardless of outcome. And I might get to a point in my life that I don’t need writing anymore. I have no idea. I can’t predict the future. But for now, writing fulfills me in ways no other creative endeavor can. The important thing to remember is that writing is not what makes me who I am. Who I am is what makes my writing.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, Writing Process

Why Writing Things Like Sex and Swear Words are So Taboo When You’re Mormon

So maybe putting sex and swear words in your stories is taboo for anyone in our society, but if you’re Mormon, I think it’s, like, triple taboo. Sex is sacred and saved until marriage, and swearing is just something nice Mormon people DON’T EVER DO. But this post isn’t about any of that in real life. It’s about fiction.

I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned here on my blog that I’m Mormon. If you haven’t figured it out by now, yeah, I am. I write pretty clean fiction, but yes, every novel I’ve ever put out there deals with sex in one form or another. It’s the actual fact that there is, like, REAL SEX mentioned, in any way, that is taboo. Describing it is even more taboo. This is how I grew up. Sex in books, sex in conversation, actual sex in relationships. Yeah, you avoided that stuff if you were a kid growing up Mormon in a tiny cowboy town like mine. I was very, very sheltered. I don’t blame my parents. I don’t blame my religion. It’s just how it was. I’m not sure if it’s still like that for kids now, but it’s how I grew up. I found out about sex — aside from “that’s how babies are made and you don’t do it until you’re married” — from reading adult thriller novels because back in the 90’s that was all there was to read — adult novels or middle grade that maybe bordered on what we now call young adult.

As far as swear words, there’s a few of those in my fiction too.

I’m not naive. I know for a fact that I’ve been judged for writing certain things. I’ve heard it through gossip, and even heard the judgment said directly to my face. It stings, yeah. I’m Mormon. I should be standing up for good LDS (Latter Day Saint) standards in everything I say, do, create, etc. Putting “dirty” stuff in my books is a bad example to everyone.

First of all, I don’t write Mormon/LDS fiction with Mormon/LDS characters in them. Actually, wait, the book I’m currently writing has Mormon characters in it, but the book is far from Mormon fiction. Some of the characters just happen to be Mormon, and they aren’t the main character. I’m okay with the fact that taboo stuff happens to pop up in my books (in surprisingly clean ways, in my opinion). In fact, I’m more than okay with it. I’m happy with it. Writing is how I explore the world around me, what I believe and stand for, and who I am. I don’t want my fiction stifled because I’m afraid of something. Just because one of my characters does things I would never do doesn’t make me a bad person or a bad Mormon.

So let it be taboo, I guess. Sex happens, and just because it’s outside of marriage doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing in my stories. Swearing happens, and I don’t make it a big deal every time it comes out of a character’s mouth. To all of you who are religious, whether you’re Mormon or some other religion, and you’ve ever felt like you can’t write certain things because you’ll be judged for it on so many complicated levels, I feel for you. My advice is to find a place where you’re comfortable and let yourself write in that place, even if other people aren’t okay with it. And believe it or not, there are a lot of Mormon and other religious readers and writers out there who will support you all the way. I’m one of them.

A good article on this subject is here.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, Writing Process

Your Hero Sucks

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I met Ed online awhile ago, and was excited when he announced that his thriller novel, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, was going to be published by Black Opal Books. I’ve already got the book on my TBR list because if anyone knows me at all, they know I love a good thriller with some depth to it — especially depth that has to do with family relationships. And that’s exactly what Ed’s book sounds like. But Ed says his hero might suck, so read on to find out more of what he’s talking about. Maybe your hero sucks too? Somehow, I have a feeling this might not be the worst thing ever.

E.A. Aymar studied creative writing, earned a Masters degree in Literature and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and SinC. He and his wife live with a relatively benign animal menagerie just outside of Washington, D.C.

I have a problem with my hero, the protagonist of my debut thriller I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. He’s not very heroic. After his wife is murdered, he decides to seek revenge, and in doing so he places revenge over the importance of raising his daughter. This troubled me when I published the novel and, although the reviews have been largely cheerful, a few readers took issue with that aspect of his character. I understand their concern, even though it seems to me that any number of characters in literature and television choose duty (or perceived duty) over family. Still, though, I thought the critiques were valid, and considered them constructive – maybe the choice he made could have been presented differently, and that’s on me.

But it also touches another topic – heroes, and how they should be depicted. I wrote a thriller and, as a hopeful entrant to that genre, I had to take a long look at the typical hero of these books and what they tend to embody. The following excerpted review of the film Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s celebrated series, highlights some of the same issues I have with my genre’s typical protagonists. Note that I don’t share all of the author’s views; these are like my opinions, but on crack: 

Jack Reacher is the embodiment of a certain kind of narrow alpha fantasy. He is the best at all the things: the smartest detective, the best driver, the greatest fighter.… His mind works faster than anyone else’s; he sees patterns no one else sees. He is Batman without the silly costume. He is the entire A-Team rolled up in one, such that he can disappear like a ghost (though he somehow pulls his military pension each month), but will still walk into a room at the most dramatic moment, just after someone has said, “You don’t find this guy unless he wants to be found.

Naturally, being so exceptional isolates him in his noble loneliness…. In particular, he has no time for women, who only exist in his world as victims to save or to manfully mourn. For those who buy into the extremity of his excellence — for those whose suspension of disbelief rivals the suspension system of the Golden Gate Bridge — he’s a potent fantasy. But for everyone else, it can be tiring listening to subsidiary characters go on and on about him, or watching him stand three steps ahead of everyone else, waiting with annoyance for them to catch up.”

Like I said, I don’t agree with everything the author wrote, but she makes some good points. Genre writers rightfully bristle at the notion that their work isn’t comparable to literary fiction, especially with the assumption that plot twists and timing are more valued in thrillers than characterization and prose, but the archetype depicted above, when realized, doesn’t help. Still, though, it’s a bit of a quandary. We like James Bond movies, and find Bond fun, but the character depicted in the movie is decidedly not a complex person. And writing about a character without complexity is describing a corpse.

Happily, there are a number of writers in my field who create great protagonists: Meg Abbott, Chris F. Holm, Lawrence Block, Michael Sears, Lou Berney, Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and many more. And they don’t sacrifice prose or good storytelling to do it. If you want to learn how to write a good thriller or mystery, check out their work.

In the end, you want to make someone complex and believable without disappointing fans of your chosen genre. And you want to create someone compelling to you. The choices your character makes may trouble you, give you a sleepless night or two, and some readers or reviewers might find their actions disheartening. The trick is to keep the reader invested when that doubt surfaces, to keep them turning pages even faster when their devotion shakes. You know you won’t satisfy every reader, but that’s okay. You want to be a good writer. You want to create a good character. You want readers to believe.

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Tom Starks has spent the three years since his wife’s murder struggling to single-handedly raise their daughter, Julie, while haunted by memories of his dead spouse. When he learns that the man accused of her murder, Chris Taylor, has been released from prison, Tom hires a pair of hit men to get his revenge. But when the hit men botch the assassination of Chris Taylor, Tom is inadvertently pulled into their violent world. 

And now those hit men are after him and his daughter.

Add I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead to your Goodreads shelf.

E.A. Aymar’s debut thriller, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, was just published by Black Opal Books. To learn more about I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and to watch the animated trailer, visit www.eaymar.com/novel

Purchase I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead on Amazon, B&N, or Black Opal Books.

Find E.A. on eaymar.comFacebook, and Twitter.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Guest Posts, Writing Process

Collected Writerly Wisdom of 2013 and How Each One Changed My Life

A long time ago in a year far, far away (2013 to be exact), I started out filled with hope and wonder and enthusiasm. I was going to complete three novels and blow my publisher away with how much I’d grown. I’m glad to say that I did grow … but it certainly wasn’t the experience I’d imagined it would be. It was better and worse at the same time. It was … well, it was life, and that’s a pretty grand thing. I made some new friends, sadly allowed some old friends to fade into the background, lost a publisher, gained my own publishing company, learned a heck of a lot about self-reliance and confidence, and I can honestly say that this comic FINALLY made me feel like I was doing the right thing. I also discovered why Facebook and other social networks make me miserable 90% of the time, and why 2014 is probably going to be the year of me retreating even more into a smaller technological and social bubble than I already have (but I’m okay with that). A friend of mine beautifully pointed out the kind of people we should all strive to be, while I also found the perfect, straightforward guide to understanding The Introverted. And yes, I am proudly part of The Introverted.

As for writing … ah, writing. The beautiful world where you can give yourself writer’s block and basically make yourself a miserable mess, the world where a writer brilliantly describes what REALLY happens after you’re published, and also points out that One Big Realization we all should have remembered to begin with, and a world where it’s painfully essential to remember the absolute, true power of story for all of us. And you know, it REALLY IS OKAY TO SUCK AT WRITING, but most importantly, you must realize that doing what you love doesn’t mean you don’t work your ass off.

So, what the heck ARE average book sales? It’s probably not what you think. Also, sticking to your own uniqueness is vitally important if you want to feel truly successful. But one of the hardest things I learned this year is the danger of needing everyone to like you because, let’s face it, that has always been an issue for me. Since the day I was born. It’s something, that with the help of my lovely friend who wrote that post, I’m slowly learning how to eliminate.

Although 2013 wasn’t the first year I’ve been a published writer, I still learned that almost every published book is something not entirely immune to the seven stages of publishing grief (it happens to everyone who didn’t land in Magical Unicorn Publishing Land). Outside of publishing … dealing with the actual writing, here’s a piece of writing advice that saves me every time. Here’s the key to understanding why your books may be misunderstood, and why you’re doing it wrong if …

This is the best traditional vs. indie article I’ve ever read, and this is the best definition of writerly success I’ve ever read.

But probably the best thing I discovered in 2013 was Kristine Katherine Rusch’s blog. Okay, yes, she writes super long posts, but they are long for a reason, and they’re worth reading every single time. She’s so awesome that as soon as I have a little bit of extra money, I’ll be donating to her blog. Two of the most inspiring blog posts I read of hers this past year are highlighted below.

Like Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake and Robert B. Parker and oh so many others, I want to die with my boots on, facedown on my keyboard if possible, in the middle of a sentence. Which brings me back to this blog. I write from the perspective of a career writer, someone who started as a teenager and plan to finish when my heart stops pumping. I write about survival—long-term survival—in a business that discourages longevity. That’s my point, that’s always my point, in all of these blogs. ~ From Career Writers, Kristine Katherine Rusch
But most professional writers smile a little when they think about NaNoWriMo. Because we’re writing all the time. And improving our craft. And when our books don’t sell well, we wonder if we might be at fault—if we told a flawed story or if we chose a difficult subject matter. If we self-publish, we worry that we might have a bad cover (and we fix it). But mostly, we shrug off the unsuccessful novels and move on to the next novel. Because we’re not artists. We’re professionals. Most people don’t expect a gold star for showing up at their day job every day. They just expect a paycheck. The same with professional writers. Just because we wrote 50,000 words in a month doesn’t mean we get a gold star or a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Hell, it doesn’t even mean we get a paycheck. It means that we better get ready to write another book next month. Because that’s what we do. We write. Join the ranks of professional writers. Stop treating writing like an event, and make it a part of your daily life ~ From Reality Check, Kristine Katherine Rusch.

Mostly, with the help of all I’ve shared in links today, 2013 was a time I reflected on what I really want and how I’m going to get it. I realized one very important thing: Writing a novel is not a goal. A writing career is not a goal. Writing is more of a system if it’s going to work in the long run. As long as I’m treating what I do professionally, seriously, and happily, it works. Books are not events. They should be part of a system, and sticking through the thick and thin, the ups and downs, over the long haul, is what matters most. I’m a pretty dang lucky person to be able to write whatever I want, when I want, and how I want. That’s the big awesomeness 2013 brought me. It’s more valuable than gold.

I hope you’ll take the time to check out some of the links above. I certainly didn’t choose them lightly! Happy 2014, everyone!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, Best Posts for Writers, Think Positive, Writing Process

Five Reasons Not to Do NaNoWriMo — If You’re on the Fence

National Novel Writing Month is a highly anticipated event every November. Hundreds of thousands of people join in, and let me tell you, it seems to take the world by storm! I did NaNoWriMo way, way, way back in 2008. I wrote Monarch, and it was later published by Rhemalda Publishing in 2011. I just recently republished it on my own. NaNo was a good experience for me while I was doing it, but not so great afterward — which explains why I’ve never done it again. About 85% of my writer acquaintances and friends are participating in NaNo this year, making me question yet again why I’m not doing it. But, if you know me at all, you know I usually shy away from doing what everyone else is doing, so that’s one reason right there. Some better reasoning might be needed, though, eh? That’s why I’ve made a list for all those even questioning if they want to do NaNo or not.

1. If you don’t work well under pressure.

If you normally don’t work well under pressure, chances are that NaNo is not for you. I only work well under pressure when I’m getting paid at the end of the project (and no, possible publication doesn’t count), so that’s why Monarch didn’t work out so well when I wrote it in one month and then had to rewrite it completely from scratch later because it totally sucked. Basically, what NaNo gave me was a ridiculously in-depth outline. If you do work well under pressure and NaNo doesn’t stress you out, heck, you have nothing to lose. Do it!

2. If important family members aren’t going to understand or support you — resulting in resentment on both ends.

I’ve heard on more than one occasion fights and resentment breaking out because of NaNo, especially if a writer does it every single year and things like Thanksgiving, family gatherings, etc. are either completely ignored or shoddily attended or planned by you. If you’re putting your writing above things that should be taking priority, that’s probably a good reason to do NaNo some other month where there’s no big holiday, or simply refrain altogether and write at a pace that doesn’t force you to make decisions between word count and visiting family you haven’t seen for a long time. If your family and friends support you all the way, go for it!

3. If you’re a seasoned writer already.

Back in 2008 I had a huge problem with word count, so NaNo was good for me in that way because Monarch was only my third novel and I needed to learn how to write 50,000 words in a month. These days, though, if I’m seriously drafting, 50,000 words in a month is something I do over and over and over. It’s not a huge hurdle for me anymore, so NaNo seems like a totally pointless thing for me to do. I could do it, sure, but knowing I have to get 50k in a month — making it feel like a competition of sorts — will completely and utterly kill my creativity and ultimately my productivity. I just don’t find that fun like many authors do. If you’re a new writer, NaNo can do wonders, so you might want to try it.

4. If you haven’t done the pre-work.

Yeah, I’m guilty of this one. I jumped into NaNo with NO planning on Monarch at all. No research. No mulling over or marinating the story for a few months. Nothing. I just jumped in and went for it. That’s why I ended up with one of the worst first drafts I’ve ever written. I don’t think this is the best way to write — at least for me and anyone who values good, solid research and planning before beginning a draft. If you have done all your pre-work, or you like the pure discovery method, maybe NaNo would be a great idea.

5. If you don’t need a kick in the pants to start and finish a novel.

Let’s face it. We all need a kick in the pants sometimes. But I feel like a lot of seasoned writers don’t actually need NaNo as a motivation to write. If you do need a kick in the pants, maybe NaNo is exactly what you need to finally get that novel written.

The bottom line is that some writers do NaNo just for fun, and sometimes to relax from other more stressful projects. Some writers do it because they haven’t been able to finish a novel yet. Some writers do it because writing 50k in a month is a breeze and they actually set a higher goal of 100k or something. Take your time in figuring out if NaNo will work with your style and personality. If you love it, awesome! If not, you can join me in my lonely little boat while I watch and cheer from afar. Woot!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process

How Taking Two Days Off a Week Has Helped Me Write Faster and Better

Clear back in January, I made a decision that has changed the way I work and play. By the time I graduated college almost 10 years ago, I was burned out. My second-to-last semester, I measured the stack of books I had to read … it was literally two feet tall. I never did make it through all of them (I cheated and used Cliffs Notes for some *cough*). So it’s no wonder I couldn’t bring myself to open any novels (aside from Harry Potter) for five full years. My creativity took a nosedive. I wrote two whole poems in that five years. Par-tayyy! Needless to say, I really did think my dream of becoming a writer had crashed and burned and died a fantastic, tragic death. Especially since I had gone to college so I could write. I was pretty depressed over it, so in 2008 I decided to pick up writing once again and began working on my old novel, The Breakaway, that I had completed in high school. Now, five years later, I have four novels published and I feel like I’m finally doing what I planned on doing all along. But … I realized last year in 2012 that I was quickly going to burn myself out again if I didn’t change something soon. That was when I made the decision to take every weekend and holiday off from writing. To me, that was a huge decision. The weekends were when I accomplished most of my work! They were when my husband was home (especially Sundays) and I could finally grab a few uninterrupted hours away from my child to work. So I didn’t make that decision lightly.

Surprised

I eased my way into this decision, starting in November 2012. By the time January 2013 rolled around, I was in full-swing of taking off two full days a week. Not only had I decided to take off Saturdays and Sundays, but I also decided to read a novel during those two days, as well. What happened blew my mind. I was not only reading one novel a weekend. Sometimes I was reading two. It was also a surprise to me that by the time spring hit, I was getting story ideas by the bucket loads. That has never happened to me! Only a few have stuck, but I certainly didn’t have to dig for them like I’ve had to dig in the past. It was like a creative switch was turned on inside the back of my mind. As of this past weekend, I have read 40 novels since January. I used to only read 15 novels a YEAR. Sometimes I don’t read a book on the weekend, but I don’t feel guilty about it. The weekends are to relax and refuel, whether that be through a novel or just playing.

The other thing that surprised me was that during the week, I was writing faster, better, and I didn’t feel nearly as drained as I used to. Even with deadlines, I have continued to take off Saturday and Sunday every single week. I also take off major holidays. I still hit all my deadlines and word counts. This still blows my mind.

Time to Help Others

The other thing I’ve noticed is that now I have some sort of schedule, when others ask me if I have time to beta-read their novel, I can tell them that I do, and not feel like it’s going to cut into my other work. At the most, it will take me two weekends to get through a novel for someone. It usually only takes me a weekend, though (if it’s free of other commitments). I also feel like I have time to host giveaways like full-novel critiques. I’ve done this once, and it was a fun success I plan to repeat.

Not Just Saturday and Sunday

Everyone’s schedule is different. For some friends of mine, their weekends are insanely busy with family stuff. For others, the weekend is the only break they have from their day job and it’s the only time they have to work on their writing, period. My schedule isn’t something I’d ever push on anyone. It works for me. What I do want to suggest is that no matter what your schedule, be aware of how hard you’re pushing yourself. Are you taking regular breaks? Are you taking time to read as well as write? I think both are essential for any writer. It was a difficult decision (and at the time, it felt like a sacrifice) to cut two entire days out of my work schedule, but I’m so happy I did it and that I’m still doing it. I’m now fitting more into my schedule. My writing time is more productive, and I’m happier overall.

In the end, what I’ve realized is that even if taking off two days a week ends up meaning I work a little more slowly in the long run (so far it hasn’t), it’s worth it. The biggest payoff has been how I feel overall. I feel ready to work again by Monday. If it takes me one month longer to finish a project, so be it. In the long run and the timeline of publishing, one or two months doesn’t make much of a difference. My happiness level does. 

Does two days a week sound like too much of a sacrifice to you? Have you felt burned out from working too long without breaks, like I did? I’m interested to know what other writers out there do when it comes to burnout and figuring out a schedule. 

 

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process