Friday, December 31, 2010

Welcome 2011 to a Happy New Year of Writing

It's impossible for me to believe 2011 is here already. I just blinked and another year flew by. But whether 2010 was ghastly with rejections and disappointment, or it provided you with pleasure and success, there's one thing for certain. 2011 can be a time for renewal--for wiping the slate clean. The publishing industry is a lot like 2010. Blink and it will change.

In honor of 2011, I'm doing just that. My friend, RITA nominee Therese Walsh and author of THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY and also co-founder of Writer Unboxed gave me permission to use the following article. The title may read THE UNPUBLISHED WRITER'S SEVEN DEADLY SINS. But look close, and I believe Therese's words speak to published authors equally.

I'm ankle deep in revisions on my 2007 Golden Heart finaling book that sold to Bell Bridge Books, so that's my main focus right now.

But I have some great interviews coming up with 2009 Golden Heart winner Darynda Jones and her highly touted, FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT, award-winning author, Kaki Warner, OPEN COUNTRY AND PIECES OF SKY and her new release CHASING THE SUN.

I can't wait to talk to these very talented ladies and see what makes their writing so successful.

Also, don't forget to check in on January 3rd, when Leslie Ann Sartor aka LA presents Award-winning Author Nancy Haddock. Nancy will talk to us about EMPOWERMENT and how to identify your own power for 2011 and every day beyond .

Big things in store, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, please read what Therese has to say, and see if, like me, they don't apply to you. On behalf of my fellow Scribes, here's to your writing, to following your dreams and a successful and healthy New Year.

Happy Writing. ~ Donnell

The Unpublished Writers Seven Deadly Sins

by Therese Walsh

1. A weak concept. Let’s write a book about a guy and a girl and a dog, and love and a peach pie. And maybe an eye patch. Or not. A STRONG concept will not only increase the likelihood that you’ll be successful in the end, but it can actually help you to finish your wip. How? It’ll inspire you to sit and work on it for hours at a time. Like a body, prone and needing CPR, your manuscript needs your help. If you love it–really, really love it–and see value in it, you will keep breathing life into it until it starts breathing on its own.

2. No deadline. My kids’ school has asked my hubby and me to write a song as their new anthem. Cool, eh? They asked two months ago, and we’ve yet to work on it. I was joking with the secretary about it recently. “You should give us a deadline,” I said. “It’s all right,” she said, “you can’t rush creativity.” I smiled, shook my head. “Oh, you’d be surprised.” As someone who’s had the benefit of the hot-iron push of deadline, I’m here to tell you that it’s a truly motivating factor. But how to impose a deadline on yourself when there isn’t anyone waiting for the script on the other end, prod in hand, check in the other? You just do. You entrust an editor-like authority to those who understand your desire to reach The End–like a critique partner or buggy sister–and then let them use a pseudo-prod to bother you regularly. You mark your calendar with your deadlines–”finish part 1″…”wrap up first draft”–and you reward yourself when you meet the mark. Push yourself, and let others push you too. Don’t let your wip become an unsung song.

3. A bad critique group. Having a bad critique group can set you back even further than having a bad agent, because a bad group might mean the script is never finished in the first place. What makes for a bad group? No one knows anything more than you do. Snark (not Miss) tops the agenda at every meeting. Advice flies faster than the Wicked Witch’s gaggle of monkeys on a bad day. You edit your manuscript to please three people and set off three more. You wind up feeling utterly depleted, confused and strangely addicted to the experience–because you’re writing, after all, maybe more than ever, and people seem to want to read what you’ve written and– Stop. Set yourself free. Find some writers who you can trust and who can truly teach you something. About how to tell a good story. About the craft. About the business. And then learn and grow so that you can be an asset to them as well.

4. Relying overmuch on anyone but yourself. Even the best critique group in the world cannot write your manuscript for you. They cannot get you an agent, an editor, a contract or a check. Don’t expect them to, even if they have connections. Your writerly friends cannot and should not be expected to pat your hand and soothe your ego every time you hit a snag; there will be lots of snags, and you will burn out your valuable allies if you burden them with every one. So you dig deep. You take what you’ve learned and you find a way to become your own toughest critic and best cheerleader. And when things are very rough or when you have some joy to share, then you reach out. Writing can be a lonely occupation, but it will be less so if you listen first and foremost to your inner voice and the many voices of all the characters sprung to life on your pages.

5. Flying blind. I wrote my first novel-length manuscript without doing any craft work. I had James Frey’s How to Write A Damn Good Novel, II (not I) on my bookshelf because I felt cool having it there. But I didn’t crack it. I had books on publishing children’s books on my shelf too, but I’d never done much with those either. What I had was ego. I thought I knew how a story would unfold, so I let the characters take me on a wild journey. I learned, through writers’ loops, that I was a pantser. Cool, I thought; that’s my style, it’s how I’ll succeed. Or not. Because even though the agents I sent my script to liked my voice and many of my story’s elements, the plot itself was about as holey as a nine-year-old-boy’s socks after a season of baseball. (You know what I’m talking about.)

I have craft books now–30+ books on novel writing and screenplay writing: books to inspire, to churn ideas; to help with editing and block; easy-breezy reads and bicep-straining tomes–and I’ve read all or some of most of them. I try not to overdo it. I try to reach for these books only when I know I need the help, because I’m fearful of overwhelming the creative side of my brain with Too Many Rules. But the thing is, you need to know the rules if you’re going to play the game to win. Sure you can play the game without rules–you can even have fun doing it. But don’t be surprised if, at the end of the day, you find yourself swinging that bat alone, the others up and quit on you, sick of saying, “No, no! Second base is THERE!”

6. Not doing the hard edit. No one likes doing major edits. Wait. Can’t it work if X? Don’t you understand that his motivation is Y? Okay. It’s your story. You either see the need for work or you don’t. But if you have three people telling you they don’t understand your protagonist’s motivations, or that there’s no chemistry between a pair of would-be lovers, or that the plot skips like your dad’s old Star Wars album after you left it to bake on the dashboard of your car (oops), then you should really think about listening. And cracking one of those editing books. And doing a Hard Edit. You might not want to do it; in fact, you’d be a rare breed of writer if you did. You might even believe it would be easier just to quit and start another story all together–especially if this advice comes once you’ve finished a full draft. You might even be right. But if you love your story as you should (see rule 1), then you shouldn’t give up on it at the 11th hour. No one said this was going to be easy, and if they did you should go on and hit them with a cream pie or something. Right in the eyeball.

7. Quitting. I was torn about whether to list this one as “Not Believing” or “Quitting,” but really these vices go hand in hand. If you don’t believe in your story or your abilities as a writer, you will be more inclined to quit before you’ve finished your script or done the Hard Edit. If you feel you have compelling reasons not to believe in yourself–say you’ve received a rash of rejections lately, and none of them were favorable–you STILL can’t quit. Sorry; I’m not going to make this easy on you. It just means you’ve fallen victim to one of the deadly sins. Maybe you need more craft work or a new critique group or a better concept. Figure it out and keep going. Because EVERYthing you learn, EVERY critique you’re able to ingest without defense and grow from, EVERYtime you alone push yourself out of the dumps and carry on with your script, you become a better, stronger writer.

You cannot quit. You cannot. Not as long as you believe in your story and feel its pulse beneath your fingers. You cannot quit as long as you feel the drive in your gut to tell the tale. Because it will eat away at you if you do–until you dust off your notes and your keyboard, and try, try again.

I may not know much, but I know this.

Write on, all!

Thanks, Therese!

This article first appeared on Writer's Unboxed,


Laura said...

WOW! That's all i can say. I'm saving this post so I can look at it often and remind myself of what NOT to do!!
Thanks Donnell and Therese!

Liz Lipperman said...

I enjoyed this as much as I did when I read it the first time. And the funny thing is.. I related just as much too...maybe even more so.

So, kudos to you two for the encore and happy new year to all.

Liz who is typing with one hand.

Donnell said...

I'm so glad ya'll think so. This article gave me goosebumps, number one because Therese doesn't mince words. Number two because her words are so true. Whatever stage of your writing.

Liz, I've had my head buried. Contacting you off line to see about your hand!

Happy New Year!

Edie Ramer said...

Great deadly sins for a writer. I agree with all of them.

June said...

Just what I needed to the first day of the year! Thanks, Donnell, for posting this. Thanks, Therese, for writing them.

Vince said...

Hi Donnell:

Happy New Year 2011!

I agree with all seven of these sins. I would add one more for sure and that is not plotting the novel. Almost any story idea can sound good in the beginning. You can imagine a great ending. If you are good with creative visualization, you may even see the published book in your hand at the book store. But as you write the novel, each time you make a decision, you'll close several options you may need for that great ending. Keep this up without a proven path to the finish line and halfway through you’ll hit the ‘sagging middle’ and lose heart. Given the remaining open options, there may be no way you can make your original 'fuzzy' idea of a great novel work!

My view is: plan the whole plot to the end so you have proof you can pull it off: that it actually can be done!

Not plotting, I believe, kills more novels than anything else. Besides, if you know you have a really great story, that alone will motivate you every step of the way.

Loved this post! Thanks.


P.S. I can’t wait for Kaki to blog here. I meet her at Crested Butte and she is an amazing writer!

Donnell said...

Vince, great advice. I used to write in the mist, and they I turned to mysteries. It's very hard to be a pantser when you need to weave in hooks, turns and twists and point to a murderer. But, you have to be flexible, would you agree?

I argued with Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel when he said, if you know who your killer is, at the end of the book turn it. I thought, "Impossible."

But, at the end of my book I turned it, and my critique group took bets on who was the killer and very few were right. It was fun!

I'm looking forward to finishing Kaki's book so I can ask her about her writing life. That's the fun part of blogging for me.

Thanks for your insights!

Vince said...

Hi Donnell:

I heard Tony Hillerman say once that if he didn’t know what was going to happen next, the reader sure won’t. This was more an every step of the way, free style, method of writing. Of course, Tony also said in that same interview that he had a whole dresser full of half-finished manuscripts! Even Tony could paint himself into a corner.

There is a very high price to pay for Pantserism! But sometimes it works! (So does the loto. : ))


Donnell said...

LOL, yes, Vince, that's true. I heard bestselling historical romance author Jo Beverly speak once and she talked about how she'd plotted a book once, telling the hero and heroine that they would be a love match. As it turned out, however, the woman couldn't stand the hero, and the heroine didn't want a thing to do with the hero who was a cad. She kept going off plot and ending up with someone else ;) Which is why Jo Berverly, a woman who has written, too many novels to count claims she doesn't plot. She's in the mist and loves it that way.

I think you have to go with whatever works. As Colonel Jimmie Butler, Founder of the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference said to me one time, "My characters always do what I tell them."

Writers are as individual as their characters and whatever works.

And about that lottery, my husband buys a ticket every week. I just won't let him budget it into his retirement Thanks for writing.