Monday, 27 May 2013

How I killed my muse

Something horrible happened to me recently. Really, truly horrible... I killed my muse. More like murdered her actually. At least that's what I think you call it when you callously work something to death, deprive it of all nourishment until it keels over and dies...

Honestly, this is true. It's what I did.  Let me take you back a month or so, to when I had my first writing deadline. I needed to have something done in a really short time. So I took out my muse and told her to give me all she had. She did. I wrote forty-thousand words (good words) in two weeks. It was dirty though, so I shoved my overworked muse back into my pocket and got to revising. I revised, edited, recieved critique, revised again, got more get the picture.

I have to admit, I did suspect my muse was a little hungry. After all I deprived her of all the things she likes to eat—I abstained from almost all television, music, even reading. In a month I managed to only successfully read two books. Two steamy contemporary romances. Two fleeting gorge fests of candy to my starving muse, but nowhere near enough to sustain her.

But still I pushed her. You know that rule 'writers must write every day'? Yeah that one, so even though she was fatigued I set her to a new concept. She was so scatterbrained she couldn't focus, flitting from one idea to another, a new concept every day and unable to commit to any. That should have been a warning sign, should have signalled me to give her a little TLC. Instead I made her do more, write my blog posts, write guest posts for others, I even started an editing course and made her work harder on assignments. Then it happened, I killed her.

I sat down one night after the kids were in bed, even though I was exhausted and just wanted to go to sleep early, and tried to crack my whip over the battered back of my broken muse. But she didn't stir. I stared at the blank screen in panic. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I couldn't think of a single word. Not one. No words, no pictures, no story images tumbling through my mind. Nothing, just complete and utter blankness. But it was okay, obviously my muse had just fallen asleep. The next day it would be better for sure.

The next day wasn't better. Or the next. All my words were gone. I couldn't deny it anymore, my muse was dead. And that's when I really panicked. This was more than the writer's block I had imagined.  It wasn't getting stuck on a storyline. It wasn't something I could brainstorm my way out of, and it wasn't something going for a walk could fix. It was the death of my creativity. It was the absence of that place inside me that imagines. I started to question if I would ever be able to write again, if I have ever really been cut out for it, if I had ever really had it at all.

Then my kids got sick, I got sick. All I wanted to do was curl up with a good book, watch a good show, and not do anything. So that's what I did. I gave myself nine days (Saturday to the following Sunday) to recover. I broke rules, all kinds of rules. That rule that you must write every day, that rule that you must maintain your blog X many days per week. I only monitored my close Twitter friends and didn't obsess over my feed, I abandoned Facebook altogether.

I read, and read. Not just romance but other things I also love, Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary fantasy. I watched movies, like actually went and borrowed things I wanted to see. I watched whole seasons of shows like Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time, True blood, all those juicy, creative, magical shows. A few times I stayed up almost all night because I wanted to see one more episode, and then just one more. I even joined Pintrest—and oh the ART! Pictures of magical things, unbelievable places, faces to inspire whole new characters, and images to inspire new stories.

I still did the things I had to. I still worked on my course homework. I still worked on things for my CP's. But I didn't write. I just gave myself all the things my muse had wanted but I had withheld from her. And guess what? It turns out muses have magical powers of regeneration. She came back to life.

By the second-last night of my writing fast I was waking up with dreams of my WIP. Fresh ideas I couldn't wait to paint into my story.  On the last day the hour long car trip to my grandparents was filled with scenes, dialogue, and new plot twists, bursting to get free.  The last night I couldn't sleep at all, my mind was racing with too much. So when I woke on my first day of freedom, writing was not a chore. I was so excited, and once again it all flowed effortlessly.

But now I have learned the most important thing I ever have as a writer. My muse is precious and should be cherished. I still need her to work, and I will often have to push her hard. But never again will I deny her rest when she demands it or forget to feed her. I'll make sure she gets days off and I'll make sure she gets regular big, delicious meals. 

Never again will I follow rules that stifle my creativity because that's what people say you 'must' do. Writing and writing frequently is important, and that writing muscle needs its exercise, but everything balanced is better. Writing four days a week instead of six when you're run down is not going to prevent you from ever being published; it might just ensure that you are.   

Monday, 20 May 2013

Writing for money

In the week that's been of author rants and tantrums, the inter-waves have been spitting with contention  and outrage. I'm not going to weigh in as far as behavior goes, but it did bring up something I have perspective on. That is this idea that writing for money is selling out. You see during the day I'm a graphic artist—a commercial graphic artist. Holy crap, I just identified myself as the very definition of a sell-out! I get paid to do art!

People either seem to have a completely cynical or totally romantic idea about this. Let me summarize the contentious views storming up the blog-asphere.

An author said something along the lines of; 'If you want to make money from writing you have to feed the machine and write whatever crap people are buying'

and the responses/antidotes to this from writers went something like; 'Writing is art. I never compromise my art by writing to make other people happy, I stay true to myself and only write what I believe in.'

In my humble opinion there is both a grain of wisdom and a bucket of ignorance in both statements. Writers must consider and respect readers! People who truly write for themselves do so in journals—they don't try to be published.

Now, now I hear that gun cocking, let me elaborate. What I mean is that very few people actually write so that they can pour over the brilliance of their 'masterpiece' alone. Most people want their writing to resonate with readers. Most writers if they are honest with themselves (even if they write because they need to, because they love it, not to make cash), ultimately crave a readers enjoyment and...sales. 

But does writing for a reader (or for a market) mean selling out? 

No, artists have a right to try to make a living. That means working for other people. Take Paul Rand the graphic designer I studied in art school. Was he a sellout because he designed for multinational companies? Should he have been sketching away in his basement? Created art that fulfilled only his own imagination? No way. He set a standard in commercial art. He gifted the industry with his designs. Designs that had purpose. But even though he designed for commercial business and not himself, his personal imprint is evident in each of his designs—he stayed true to himself. Never tried to be anybody else.  

A brilliant writer considers the reader in each line of prose. What to leave in, what to leave out, how to hook them, keep them, how to make every sentence thrill, intrigue, titillate.  What kind of writer does not strive for this? For any published writer to claim they write only for themselves would mean they don't do these things—and that's ludicrous!

The work is the writers gift to the reader. It's art with purpose. It's what I do when I design a logo, or a website for a client. The selling-out comes into it when a artist creates something they don't believe in or respect, for money. That's a problem and the one that's gotten under people's skin. The writer I mentioned created something she believed unworthy. Writing to a 'brief' or an 'audience' does not mean turning out something you feel is rubbish.

A 'masterpiece' literary or otherwise, is something that marries the desires of the consumer with the vision of the artistand resonates with both. Let me tell you I don't spit out soulless corporate websites so occasionally I can do an interesting one. I'm proud to put my name to everything I do. Because even when I fulfill a brief that centers around something I find mundane,  my mission is to give it my own creative vision. That's what a brilliant writer does, that's what a successful commercial writer does.  

Writing novels is a commercial art, not a self indulgence. It's not about jumping on the back of a trend, it's about looking at what you're writing and who you're writing for. I know some of you will find this offensive. I'm sorry. But when someone intends to accept money from a reader they must accept that they are working for them. Sometimes artists have to compromise parts of their precious babies because it doesn't meet the 'brief'. I do all the time. Sometimes we can push the envelope and bust open a convention. But no matter what an author does—they should be doing it for the reader.

Friday, 17 May 2013

How to write a blurb and rock it!

I recently did a post about how to strengthen your query by being direct and writing it with voice. A few people have asked me for more about writing query letters and blurbs. Whether it's for your query, or to prepare for a pitch or even if you are self publishing, burbling is an important skill. I have a few tips for writing rocking ones.

Blurb checklist
1. Who is your protagonist/s? How can you sum up who they are in a few lines?
2. What do they want?
3. What are the obstacles/challenges?
Most Importantly!
4. What are the STAKES? (What is at stake if they don't overcome the obstacle?)
Then include all that in as few words as possible with personality! 

Writing the blurb
  • If you don't know where to start try the 'When' approach. eg. When Ariel the mermaid bargains with the Sea Witch for human legs...
  • Identify your character by name and age group immediately.
  • Don't open with a rhetorical question. eg. "Have you ever wondered...?" You don't want this answer to be no!
  • NEVER write a blurb from the POV of your character. Most professionals agree this is creepy.
  • Keep it as concise as possible.
  • Don't include every sub-plot and twist, just the central plot elements.
  • Only talk about the primary characters; don't bombard the reader with secondary characters.
  • Finish with a hook! Examples; A question; Will she get there before the sun sets and break the spell?  OR re-iterate the stakes; If she fails it will mean the end of her kind.

Got any blurb tips?

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Always Remember Pre-Release Giveaway!

I'm excited to be part of the pre-release for Emma Hart's 'Always Remember'!

How long does it take for a long-distance relationship to break down? Sixteen months.
When Jen and Carl put their relationship to rest after Christmas, Jen’s biggest problem is going back to London ten days earlier than planned – and her ever-present attraction to Samuel ‘Bing’ Edwards.
Bing has no idea why Jen left Devon so fast. All he knows is that he wants her as much as he did the first day he laid eyes on her – so spending time with her while Lexy is still in Devon isn’t exactly a hardship for him. When he finds out she’s single, the only thing on his mind is finishing what they started at his dad’s fiftieth birthday party.
Feelings that have been a long time building between the two explode, and they both find themselves sucked into an easy yet passionate relationship, with Bing determined to prove to Jen that she’s it for him. That she is The One.
But in a city like London, the odds are stacked against them, and there’s always that one person ready to stir things up… And Jen doesn’t know how much of that she can take – even for the guy she loves more deeply than she ever imagined, and eventually she breaks.
Bing isn’t down with that. He wants Jen, and he wants her by his side for good.
Jennifer Mason must learn that Samuel Edwards doesn’t do giving up. Especially not when his forever girl is involved.

By day, New York Times and USA Today bestselling New Adult author Emma Hart dons a cape and calls herself Super Mum to a terrible two year old and growing bump, due September 2013. By night, she drops the cape, pours a glass of juice and writes books.
She likes to write about magic, kisses and whatever else she can fit into the story. Sarcastic, witty characters are a must. As are hot guys.

Emma is currently working too many books to even count - including Playing for Keeps, the companion book to New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel, The Love Game. She likes to be busy - unless busy involves doing the dishes, but that seems to when all the ideas come to life.

Find Emma online at:
Twitter: @EmmaHartAuthor

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Whips, Chains and Romance Writer Brains

Cover your eyes kiddies this blog is about to get steamy! I don't normally blog anything that requires an age restriction so I don't have one. But today we will be talking about sex! More specifically sex in romance, and sex and romance writers.
You see I have had a few awkward family functions lately... I mean extremely earth-shatteringly awkward, made me want to disappear or pass out uncomfortable functions.

The thing is now that I have gotten to the stage that everyone knows that I write (that my lovely parents feel motivated to brag about my writing) I get the questions... The really, really, fun to answer questions. As you can see I'm going to ease my discomfort with some Gifs, because this is painful to relay. The questions usually go a little something like this;

Relative/family friend, "So what do you write?"
Me, "Romance"
And then the fun begins! The array of completely non-awkward-at-all responses...

Morally superior older family friends, "Oh, so you write those books?"

Well-meaning Aunts, "Ooooohhh so it's like Fifty Shades is it?"

Creepy Uncles, "So I guess we're going to find out all your secrets?"

Female family friends, "It's totally auto-biographical isn't it?"

The collective sleazes, "So I bet you do a lot of research... want some help?"

Yes, I have been asked all of these questions - most more than once. My reaction to all this can pretty much be summed up with this...
So, while I have a feeling most of my audience is pretty well informed I'm going to go all serial killer on a few minor misconceptions.
Romance is NOT Erotic Romance > Erotic Romance is NOT Erotica > Erotica is NOT Porn
Okay, now listen here all you cheeky enquirers - I write romance! I'm not going to give a lesson on genre but let me simplify!
Romance is a bit like;

(the romantic journey towards happily ever after)

Erotic romance is a bit more;
(The sexy journey towards happily ever after)
And Erotica is kinda;

(the sexy journey)
Oh they are all quite nice in my opinion, and I read all. But I write romance. I only make the distinction because thanks to every woman on the planet having either read or heard of and chosen not to read, the one rather kinky erotic romance, the entire genre has now been stroked with the same crop; where-in my entire extended family now think I'm writing about neck-tie bondage and butt-plugs!

I plan to one day write something more erotic but sorry folks, today I am writing love stories with good-old vanilla sex. 

Romance is fiction!
Despite the rise in notoriety of some erotic memoirs by famous ex-escorts and self-confessed sex addicts, neither romance or erotica is autobiographical. It's fiction just like any other genre.

There is about as much likelihood that romance writers are having sex with pirates as there is that crime writers are going around murdering people. It's all fiction people, fiction...

So maybe we romance writers can sometimes be a little cheeky. So maybe our Pintrest boards and Tumblr accounts are rather pervy, but I ask you to please bare in mind that we are regular people writing regular fiction. Most of us are not crazy sex fiends - although I imagine that would be rather fun! 

Now, I would really, really love to hear some experiences!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Writing Muscle

We often hear about our brain being a muscle and how it needs to be fed, nurtured and exercised if we want it to function optimally. I tend to tune out when I hear people talk about things like that, because I'm hearing it constantly. Yeah, yeah, exercise, eat healthily, I get that message thank-you-very-much its sensible advice. But my exercise routine is all like...

I think we ALL get the message. Whether or not we can all subscribe to that healthy ideal is another issue entirely. Yes, eating salmon, going for a walk, doing a crossword, and making sure you get at least six hours of sleep is probably as good for your brain as it is for your health, but ... It won't transform you into a fabulous writer. It might help you focus, might help you write more efficiently, hell; it might even help you think of fresh ideas and overcome writers block! So I'm certainly all for it. But there is only one thing that can really improve your writing - and that's writing!

Most of us complete our first MS (that we have spent the better part of a year or more pouring our soul into) and our focus becomes the success of that MS. We dedicate ourselves to revising, getting critiques, entering contests, querying, and sometimes forget to keep writing new things. When we stop writing our skills become stagnant. If you are a new writer and have written one MS, it is going to be very difficult to hone your craft sufficiently through revision alone if you are not creating new and more refined words regularly.

If you have taken your MS as far as you can and it is not getting to the response you have been hoping for, starting something new might be just what you need. It's strengthening your writing muscle.

This reality has struck home recently. I began two more full novels in the same style as my first, and then tried two new ideas - just for fun. I tried a POV (third person) that had not tried before, and another (also in third) in a genre I had not previously dabbled in.

It was not surprising that each new MS would better than the first, but there was a big surprise... The ideas I tried just for fun? Well they turned out to be the ones that seem to be working out the best. The thing is, if I had not experimented I would never have evolved.

 Yes, our writing skill is like a muscle. Use it, practice it, and become a stronger writer. 

Monday, 6 May 2013

Mother's Day Giveaway

In a little more than a week it's Mother's Day - at least in Australia anyway! The last couple of weeks have been good ones for me. Had some happy things happen in my life and to people I care about. I have also had such a boost on my blog and on twitter and I don't know how to thank you all for your support and actually being interested in whatever ramblings I have to offer.

I feel like I have some good karma in my atmosphere and want to pay it forward. So this week instead of buying myself some soap and candles from my kids, I would like to offer a giveaway of my own favourite gift; books, books, books!  In the form of an Amazon gift voucher. This gift is in honour of Mother's Day and all my followers. So basically all that is required is that you be one of them and please say 'hello' in the comments!
Hope you enjoy.

P.S A few times I have won Amazon vouchers when I have been down and it gave me a lift because reading is what gets me through my slumps. So this comes with extra good vibes from me to you. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 3 May 2013

The almighty power of Critique

If there is one thing that has both helped and hindered me the most in my writing journey it has been critique. We are too close to our own writing to see its deficits. Our friends and family might be good at proof reading but how much do they know about craft?

Good critique is invaluable. Good critique has taught me more than anything I could read or study because it points out what I personally need to work on. When I first started I was desperate for advice and knew no one; so I resorted to online peer critiquing. Now I know this might work for some but for me it was a horrible nightmare.

It was a nightmare because I write romance, and the few people who bothered to comment were of the literary persuasion that thinks of romance not so fondly. Not saying this is the case for all literary types but it was for these. They were primarily older males that neither appreciated nor understood the genre, or the style, and so their critique was extremely disparaging and in truth; patronizing.

I have to tell you I even received Rhett Butler type lines from these men like 'Frankly, my dear' where they proceeded to educate poor little me on true literary technique - at least as they saw it, and in great long essay form.  This is not constructive, this is not helpful. It almost stopped my writing.

Critique can be helpful or it can be destroying. Going to the wrong place for it can have major adverse effects. Not everyone will make a good CP. Think carefully before putting your work up in a public forum where people of all types can bash you down. Not everyone is constructive, not everyone will get you or your writing.

Now I'm not saying a good critiquer is someone who only has nice things to say; personally I'm quiet tough and not everyone likes that. But, I try to be honest, point out what needs work, but be encouraging. Sometimes what I have to say could be taken the wrong way, but honestly I would not offer the critique if I didn't really see something in the work.

I very recently gained a new CP whose work I really connected with and who connected with mine. She pointed out a few things (some of which stung - mainly because any criticism of our writing feels like someone telling us our soul is ugly) but she was so spot on so on point, that her advice has pretty much single-handedly helped me smooth out those last niggly bits from my MS. And guess what? I think I might just be doing the same for her.

Other writers are for the most part our best resource and our best friends. The important thing is to find people who write what you write! Find people who connect with your writing at least on some level and show your writing to no one else. If you are connecting with other writers on forums and social media this is a great way to find CP's - People you connect with but who will be honest. Also if you're a romance writer like me, try RWA CP matching services. I know I have found a real gem of a CP that way. These people will help you, support you, and encourage you constructively.

Want to share some CP love or advice?