Sunday, March 31, 2013

On writing the first draft

I'm currently about two-thirds of the way through  writing the first (very rough) draft of my New Adult paranormal romance, Kissing Midnight, and I've done a bunch of thinking lately about what exactly a first draft is for. Once upon a time, when I had just started writing, I used to expect the first draft to do everything. I was a perfectionist about it and easily discouraged. Now a days, however, I'm starting to understand that draft one only has to do its own job and all the other stuff can come in later drafts. So what exactly is that job? I think it's easier to talk about what writing draft one feels like:

In the beginning, writing a first draft feels like hacking your way through dense undergrowth with a machete, following the sporadic tracks of some animal called "story" - an animal that most people don't even believe exists, which sometimes only leaves you snapped twigs and day old scat to follow.

In the middle, writing the first draft feels like hand-weaving a loose and holey net and knowing that it will someday be the only safety net that lets you perform the death-defying trapeze act that will be the second draft.

In the end, writing the first draft feels like learning a dance routine that you only know well enough to "mark" it, rather than dance it full out, while your body is aching to stop conserving your energy and start doing the leaps and lifts and reaching all the way through your finger tips, and injuries be damned.

I still have a third of a book left to write, but I have it all mapped out and the end is in sight. I'm excited to get to draft two and start truly digging in and pushing this book to the places I know it can go.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Boston Here We Come!

Today is all about getting ready for the Boston Author Event! I leave bright and early tomorrow morning for New Hampshire, where I'll be staying with author Jessica Park and her family, and then Saturday morning we're off to the Omni Parker House hotel in Boston where we'll be signing books alongside amazing authors like Colleen Hoover, Tina Reeber, Liz Reinhardt, and Steph Campbell. I am extremely excited to meet in person some of the writers who have become my long-distance friends and family via the magic of the internet, and to finally lay eyes on some of the readers who have been so supportive and sweet. If you're coming to Boston, please stop by my table and say hi (and eat a few of the chocolate kisses so I don't have to lug them home!) I would love to meet you! I'll be off line most of the weekend, but I'll try to post pics from the event here and on the Darkride fan page when I get back on Monday. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you in Beantown!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Thoughts for my fellow authors on swimming naked

I read this thing in Nylon magazine (March 2013) about an eccentric Scottish baron named Lord Glenconner. He’s this guy who started an elite resort community on the Caribbean island of Mustique back in the 1950’s. If you can get past the imperialist stuff – he actually forced the folks indigenous to the island to move their whole village to make way for a hotel – it’s a fascinating story, because he took this remote land that most people had never heard of and convinced everyone that it was a highly desirable place to be. And how did he do this, you ask? Well, it wasn’t by conventional advertising and salesmanship as we usually know it. For one thing, he gave a prime tract of land away for free to royal Princess Margaret. But when asked how he convinced the likes of Mick Jagger and Robert Mapplethorpe to invest, he said, “We’d drink chilled white wine and maybe I’d sing songs. Then I would undress and plunge into the sea. They’d be swept up in the whole idea of living on Mustique, and that was when I’d sell them land.”

Which got me thinking. Not about moving to the Caribbean (although that would be nice). About selling books.

See, I know from experience that convincing readers to take a chance on an indie book is a lot like trying to talk them into moving to an uncharted island. It’s hard. Like most authors, I spend a crapload of my time on social media with other authors, and I can tell you that it is a Tower of Babel out there. People are constantly trying to sell their books, posting sale prices and giveaways and whatnot, and for the most part it feels to  me like we’re all just shouting into the void, talking to ourselves and each other and somehow missing a chance to really connect with readers.

To remedy this, I think we could all learn something from the crazy Scottish guy’s sales technique. Not the drinking wine part, because I think we’ve got that down. Not even the “giving away a prime tract of land to someone important” part, because I think most of us understand the importance of giving ARC copies to taste-making bloggers and free sample chapters to readers. I think the part we’re missing is the “plunging naked into the sea”. See, Glenconner knew that, if you want to convince someone to join you somewhere, you have to share the complete and utter joy you feel being there yourself. Not just tell them about it, either – you have to live it.  

Too often, we authors finish writing a book and we forget whatever it was that made us obsessed enough to write the book in the first place. We forget to let the reader in on the very real passion that sucked us into these characters, this setting.  We get focused on selling readers a product when what they are craving is the experience of being part of the process – being swept away by the story, yes, but also being swept away by our joy in creating it, the daring skinny dip that is writing a book. The reason readers follow authors on social media – and particularly the reason they follow indie authors, who are generally more accessible than trad published authors – is to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the story, at the real human who wrote it. They want to see you cry when a character dies, read snippets of that first kiss in progress, listen to the pounding punk music you’re listening to as you write the breakup scene. Most of all, they want to feel the excitement, the pure joy, you feel in this story, the love that lead you to write it in the first place. Sure, it can feel exposed and vulnerable to share process with strangers – what if you share and they don’t like it? What if they walk away? But the fact is, if you don’t share, they may never know how much it matters to you. Find ways to be more open, more honest and exposed, and you may find that readers are willing to leap into the sea along with you, and maybe even build their heart’s new home in your book.   

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You Get To: Having Some Gratitude in Your Attitude

My eight year old son Harrison is has been studying Suzuki piano since he was four. In the Suzuki method, you practice every day and, although Harrison is very good at piano, most days he hates to practice. Sometimes it is a little easier to get him to play if he has an audience to perform for, so, when our friend Kirsten stopped by the other day, we asked Harry if he would play for her. He looked at me and whined, “Do I have to?”

Kirsten’s response was immediate. “You don’t have to. You get to.”

That one word change made me think about my own attitude towards "practice."

Most days I am eager to write, but there are days when I’m a lot like Harry. Getting myself to sit down at the keyboard is a lot like getting myself to jump into a cold pool: once I’m in, I get used to it, but I always have to force myself to take that first step. Prying myself away from social media, putting down my magazine, even setting aside the housework feels like stepping off a diving board.   Often I look at a page of edits or a guest blog post that needs writing or a tough section of a chapter and ask myself, “Do I have to?”

 That’s when my friend’s words come in handy. They represent a fundamental shift in our way of looking at the work. Because the truth is, you don’t have to. No one is forcing you to write. No one is holding a knife to your back and telling you to pursue your dream. You could walk away from it right now and go back to some other job. You could watch Firefly reruns all night and go to Target all day and never write another word. You actually don’t have to.

But you get to. You have the privilege of having characters who have chosen you to tell their story as best you are able. You have the fun of having readers who are asking for more. In my case, I even have the privilege of writing for a stretch of time every day while my kids are at school – not because we are rich, but because our family has decided that me pursuing my writing is just as important to our family’s quality of life as the money from a day job could ever be. Now, maybe none of those things are perfect: The story isn’t flowing through you the way you wish it would. There aren’t enough readers, or there are too many to handle, or they don’t love your stuff the way you wish they would. You don’t write as much or as well or as often as you wish. But even in its imperfection, the writing life you are living right now is something that some other writer might kill for. Even you yourself, at some earlier point in your writing journey, wished and hoped and prayed for these circumstances that you are living now. And now you get to live them. You get to.

 It’s a perspective check I’m trying to apply to a lot of things in my life. Why do I have to get older? I don’t have to, I get to – many people don’t get that chance. Why do I have to get out of bed in the morning? I’m lucky to get the opportunity.

 When I was getting Crossfire ready for publication, I noticed something important: The acknowledgements were even longer than they were for Darkride. Although I felt like I had a lot of support writing my first book, by the time my second book came out my “village” had grown exponentially with the addition of enthusiastic book bloggers and readers and author friends I met online and in “real life.” And I decided that that should be my main goal with each new book: not to sell more or to collect more “likes” or even to write better, although all those things are important and good. But even more important is growing that supportive community and keeping that attitude of gratitude by keeping that one thing at the forefront of my mind:
Today I get to write.