So, I took my comfortable shoes…to the Romance Writers of America 2012 National Conference of course. They are ugly shoes, sandals that look like tennis shoes, grey with purple accents, truly ugly, but oh so comfortable…and I wore them all day Thursday.

Thursday was filled with workshops, beginning with the Pro Retreat where intellectual rights attorney, Jon Tandler, enlightened a room full of hopeful writers on the ins and outs of book contracts, pen names, publishers who file bankruptcy, and much, much more. He was followed by a panel of editors including Michelle Biddlespach of Grand Central, Mary Chen of Avon , Debra Dixon from Belle Books and Lindsey Faber of Samhain. These editors’ inboxes are filled with unsolicited manuscripts every week, but they request more from less than five percent of the writers that they hear from. Why do they reject manuscripts? They were overall in agreement. It wasn’t typos or lack of experience on the part of the writer that made them hit “send” on that rejection letter, it was about the story. The writer couldn’t tell a story from beginning to end, there was no conflict, the writer didn’t have a voice. I scribbled away in my spiral notebook, writing down everything they said…I was there to learn. Oh, and I won lunch with author, Susan Gee Heino in the Pro Retreat drawing. The conference was off to a wonderful start.

The Pro Retreat was followed by the Keynote Luncheon with speaker NYT Bestselling author Stephanie Laurens. After lunch my roommates Joyce, Julia (hi ladies! had so much fun!!) and I returned to our room to gather our things for the afternoon workshops…well, eventually, after we got lost, circled the Starbucks in the hotel looking for the elevator to our room, went back to the lobby, circled Starbucks again, stopped in the Goodie Room for lots of swag, circled Starbucks once more and… Finally found our elevator, we made it to our room, then repeated much the same process after gathering our things and heading to the workshops.

The number of workshops and publisher spotlights was overwhelming. How do you choose between hearing your favorite author speak or going to see a panel of editors from the publisher of your dreams? Session after session we had to make these choices. Do I see my favorite regency author speak or my favorite contemporary author? Do I go to a publisher spotlight or a book signing? How do I pick? Sometimes I picked just because I was swept up in the flow of ladies and ended up in the room with “this” speaker. Truly it didn’t matter, they were all amazing.

And did I mention the books? The books were EVERYWHERE!! Free books in the hallways, on your seat at lunch, in the Goodie Room and in the giant tote bag they gave you when you first registered for the conference. It was the fulfillment of a million childhood fantasies and many adult reveries where I met face-to-face with my favorite authors, learned how they wrote the stories I loved and was surrounded by books with beautiful covers that enticed you to read the beautiful stories within…only in my fantasies, I’m wearing a long flowing gown and gorgeous shoes that somehow manage to be comfortable…oh well, the most important parts of my fantasy were true…and real. Maybe next year I’ll wear the flowing dress and gorgeous shoes as well.

There is so much more to tell you, and I promise I will. Some of you were there and already know! I was lucky enough to get to meet Janet Nye *waves dramatically,* and Libby Mercer *waving more.* So if you were there, please share your stories. I’ll continue to share mine…it will take me weeks to tell you all that happened.

And by the way, according to my fabulous friend, author Louisa Bacio, in an informal survey she performed the average number of pairs of shoes attendees brought was five. Five pairs of shoes…some with pointy toes, some with stiletto heels…and always one pair of comfortable shoes no matter how ugly they are.

Tari

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Every writer deals with bad days and good days, bad weeks and good weeks, months. Sometimes short, sometimes long, these stretches make you question yourself. Your writing, your ability, probably sometimes even your sanity.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the process of writing for publication. Whether you’ve had zero rejections or hundreds (I’m sadly closer to the latter). Whether you’ve had no success or many, many published novels, I’m pretty sure we all have really bad writing days. Days of doubt, questioning, despair. Even days you (no matter how fleetingly) think you should just quit.

One of the things I try to do when I’m in one of these depressing spots is find words that give me comfort or inspiration. I have a spot in the notebook where I keep my goals and business plans to write inspiring quotes and my bookmarks bar is filled with posts that have made me remember myself.

So, today (and probably once a month or so in the future) I’ll be sharing with you some places that have offered me inspiration in those dark times.

Number One: This post (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/01/03/25-things-writers-should-stop-doing/). More than anything, I go back to number seven. I have to remind myself this writing thing is SUPPOSED to be hard. If it was easy, anybody could and would do it. So when it’s hard, I remind myself it’s supposed to be this way and at some point I’ll look back and thank God it was because something good came out of all that hard work.

Number Two: This Youtube video (Jack White – Inspiration) of Jack White talking about inspiration. He’s talking about music but it can one hundred percent pertain to writing. Mainly that inspiration is hard work, and if you wait around for it to strike you’re never going to accomplish anything. You’ve got to force yourself to create sometimes.

Number Three: This quote comes from my absolute favorite book on writing Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. My copy of this book is wrinkled and falling apart, underlined to death, notes all over the margins, old post-its crinkled from wear sticking out everywhere. This is the book that told me I could do this, and I didn’t have to be perfect doing it.

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here–and by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you go into the weekend feeling a little inspired.

Nicole

The title is misleading. It’s not really “the rules” I’m struggling with. It’s the process. Plotter vs. Pantser. These two fools are always at war inside my head. When I started writing fiction, Miss Pantser reigned. She was carefree—giddy even—and never second guessed the twists and turns she put on paper…that is until she received her first rejection and her second and her third. (You get the idea.) That’s when Ms. Plotter came to the “rescue” with encouragement like this: Buck up. Buckle down. Take a workshop on plotting. Take a workshop on characterization. Take another workshop. Take one more. You’ll be fine.

What Ms. Plotter was really saying—and Miss Pantser was too naïve to hear—was change the way you’ve been writing. Change is hard. Still, Miss Pantser agreed to be “coached” by Ms. Plotter until plotting was the name of the game.

Plotting sucks. I’ve never questioned myself more than when I’m plotting. Should I go here? Should I take it there? Maybe I’ll start over again. Honestly, there are too many options!

I’m at the cusp of rewriting at least 10 chapters of this manuscript, and I have little more than an inkling of where I want this story to go. I’ve taken some notes, but I’m resisting plotting. I’ve given myself permission to “pants,” but I my poor pantser is broken. What the hell is going on?

Fear. Nicole comes after me every once in a while with that little word—fear. She sees through my excuses. She knows when I’m stalling because I’m afraid the effort I put forth won’t be good enough. She knows, because she’s been there.

So what am I afraid of?

I’m afraid of:

Doing it wrong.

Missing the great story in the mass of suck I’m assembling.

Being stuck in this literary limbo, where I’m writing, but I’m like a mouse on a wheel—round and round without any purpose or achievement, simply falling off when I get dizzy or sick.

Finding out I wasn’t good enough all along.

There’s a lot more to fear, I’m sure. But I had to pull the plug on that depressing thought stream. It’s painful to list my worries. It makes me want to escape…you know what’s funny? Writing is my escape. (There’s the purpose.)

So…Miss Pantser and Ms. Plotter can take their drama elsewhere. And rules be damned. I’d rather write than worry.

Elley

Last year (2011) I attended the Romantic Times Convention (RT 2011) in Los Angeles…well, I attended one day of the convention. After years of writing non-fiction, I had just begun to work on fiction. I hadn’t even joined RWA yet, From Fact to Fiction was only a few weeks old. I didn’t find out about RT 2011 until it was already in progress, which is why I was only there for one day. Even though RT was geared more toward the reader, there were special workshops for writers, and I was excited to attend even one day. In fact, I wrote about it here at From Fact to Fiction, and in a post titled Shoes, Underwear, Beard Stubble and Marcia Brady over at my blog, Tari’s Thread.

So, this week I’m preparing for the Romance Writers of America 2012 National Conference, which happens to be right here in Anaheim. Yay!! *happy dancing in my room* I’ve got my brand new business cards—a birthday gift from middle son, designed with some special inspiration from oldest son. I’ve been polishing my WIP (okay, I’ve spent about a year on this). I’m working on my pitch. My appointments are set, and my clothes are laid out on the bed in my office…this year I intend to pack spare underwear rather than to store them in a pant leg. (This explains part of the title to my previous RT blog…and in case you’re wondering, No, I DON’T have beard stubble…really, I don’t.)

So, my underwear is packed and going into a suitcase rather than a pant leg, and I am more excited than I can begin to tell you.

I’ve carefully planned my agenda. I have two appointments with editors and two with agents. I’ve planned an intensive schedule of workshops, primarily on craft. Although, Hunky Hubby says my writing is brilliant, and I could teach all of the workshops, the truth is that I’ve learned so much this year, that I realize how much more I need to learn, and I’m going to this conference to learn.

So, I’m planning on taking workshops on dialogue, plotting (yes, I am a pantster, but maybe I’m teachable…who knows…) setting, and one of the things I find most challenging, synopsis writing. Although I live about 30 miles from the convention, I’m staying in the hotel so I can be there early and stay late. I don’t plan on missing a minute, I’ll sleep next week! Don’t worry, Hunky Hubby and Middle Son won’t starve. I’ve made them dinners and put them in the freezer, so they’ll be sure to go out and get tacos or have pizza delivered.

Are you sick of hearing my talk about RWA 2012 yet? If you’re going, drop me a line. Maybe we can meet up! If you have attended a conference please pass along your best tips here! If you have any questions, ask away. I’ll try to get answers while I’m there.

And, if I don’t get to see you at conference, I’ll see you all right back here next week with news from RWA 2012! For all of you flying, driving, or taking a train in (Elley and Nicole, it’s not too late) have a safe trip, and hope to see you there.

Tari

Conflict, angst, scars, they’re all a part of romance. Stories of two people falling happily in love without a bump in the road don’t get published, and even if they did, they’d probably end up being pretty boring to read.

Romance readers typically want some heart-wrenching stuff to happen to the fictional characters they’re investing in. Thus it becomes common for the hero or heroine or both to have some pretty horrible pasts that have scarred them deeply enough to be suspect of love.

Earlier this week, I tweeted:

Image

After these two tweets and the conversation that ensued, I tried to think about romance novels where parents, dead or evil, weren’t used as background for conflict.

After looking through my entire Goodreads collection, I could only come up with Shannon Stacey’s Exclusively Yours. I know the heroes parents were alive, nice people. The heroine’s parents don’t make an appearance, but if I remember correctly they are alive and left her with no lingering scars.

So, out of the 100+ books I have in my list, that’s it. (There is a Sarah Mayberry book I read that has both sets of parents being alive and moderately non-scar-inducing, but a major plot point in the book is the father’s early onset Alzheimers, so I’m weary about adding it to the list. There are a couple others where I couldn’t remember the parental background, so maybe there are more than I think).

Can you think of a romance novel you enjoyed that didn’t suffer from the Disney syndrome (dead or evil parents)? Did you like it? Would you recommend it?

Because, I swear, one of these days a lucky hero and heroine will have normal, living parents!

Nicole

Holy crap! To say I learn something every day about the writing process is a gross understatement. Most days, I learn something every minute. It’s daunting, because when there’s that much to learn there’s a very real feeling that I’ll never learn it all, and if I never learn it all, then how the hell can I expect to be published. (Of course, people get published every day who are greener around the gills than I am, so I know it can be done.)

Yesterday, I read through some old journals, and I came across an entry detailing the first time I ever submitted my work. On July 19, 2010 (two years ago tomorrow), I submitted a query letter for a single-title contemporary that took me nearly 10 years to write. (Thank God I’m faster now.) Sending off that query, and as proved by the blind hopefulness behind the words in my journal, I knew I was “on my way.” How could I be anything but a breath away from my dream come true, especially after the agent, whom I highly regard, requested a partial of the manuscript? I was almost there. Sitting on the porch swing with Hubby, I talked about pennames, website design and book tours, certain I’d be making critical career decisions very soon. But when the agent’s response came back a rejection, I had to tuck those big plans away.

I kept writing.

Over the next two years, I submitted a handful (a pathetically low number for writing seriously over two years!) of other works (manuscripts I completed after that first go-round). I won a contest. I received personal , helpful feedback. I had more partial requests. But not until recently did I engage in a writer/editor relationship that set me up for such welcomed disappointment. It was in the process of rewriting three chapters (massacring is more like it), that I began to learn the difference between revising and editing.

No matter how many times I’d heard the writer-favorite phrase kill your darlings, I never fully understood the meaning until the query-turned-partial-request-turned-revision-request-turned-full-request-turned-rejection process knocked me on my ass…in a good way. I learned that my vision for a story isn’t complete until I’ve revised, and revision is a little like kicking three-fourths of the Lego tower down and starting all over again. Revision isn’t checking for spelling. It’s not fixing a comma splice. It’s not changing a few words around so they pack more punch. It’s not even reassembling a couple sentences. (Although, we’re getting closer there.) Revision is destruction. It’s as though the story, despite being all there, is buried in a big fat blob of clay and it’s now time to unearth it, trim the fat, and strengthen the core. It’s backbreaking, doubt-producing work. It’s filled with second guesses and heart filled curses. Revision mocks editing.

And even after all that, the story might not be right. Revision may be needed again. And again.

At my lowest point, I figured the amount of revision necessary to take my characters to the paradise of publication must mean I sucked as a writer. Surely other people with published works haven’t worked this hard for this long. Was I wasting my time? Should I have given up on this one—started over again? But then I read this blog post, and I knew I wasn’t alone. Not only wasn’t I alone, I was on the right track too!

I used to think of writing as a two-part process: write the story, and then edit the story. Now I know I was missing the most critical part. Revision isn’t pretty, but I’m learning to love the destruction. When the dust settles, I’m amazed at what I’ve created. Hopefully, one day, an editor will be amazed too.

Elley

I have two pairs of my favorite shoes. They aren’t my cutest shoes, they’re just the most comfortable…I wish I’d purchased five pairs. Hunky Hubby told me to go back and buy more, but I only bought the two. One pink and one purple, the only colors they had in my size. They’re sandals…sort of, almost tennis shoes, but a sandal, and I could walk in them for hours…maybe days. I’ll be wearing them all day each day at the RWA 2012 Conference in about a week in a half, so hopefully I can walk in them for at least four days.

Is that right? Is it just a week and a half until the conference? Wait…yes, ten days. JUST TEN DAYS, and the only thing I’ve picked out to take is my shoes! Okay, my netbook is going, my cell phone too, the business cards middle son made for my birthday…that are oh so cool, and believe me they are cool…are already packed. But I don’t know what I’m wearing besides my shoes.

I’ll take my black strappy sandals that I love, but they aren’t as comfortable. They may just stay in my suitcase the whole time…they do make me a little taller though, so maybe I’ll wear them anyway. I’ll take a nice pair of heels for Saturday night’s RITA awards, although I’m still not sure what dress I’m wearing. I hope I don’t have to stand too much…I’m really not very good at heels. I do know what suit Hunky Hubby is wearing, and I’ve picked his shirt and tie…just not my dress.

My manuscript is almost ready. I’m working on my pitches for editors and agents, but right now I’m going to go try on all of the dresses that I own, then I may end up at The Mall looking for something new, who knows. Oh, and I need a new sweater too, it can get cold in those hotel conference rooms.

Ah, well, I don’t want to think about what I’m wearing anymore. I’m going to get back to work on my manuscript…and my pitches. I’ve been practicing when I walk on the beach, grocery shop or clean the kitchen. So if you see me talking to myself around town…I’m not some crazy person talking to the voices in my head…oh wait, scratch that, I could be talking to the voices in my head, but if you’re a writer, you’ll understand that. And if you’re not…well, just smile and wave. I’m harmless. No really, I am.

So I’m taking my two pairs of comfortable shoes to the conference. When I ask veteran attendees what I should bring, that’s the one thing they all say. Comfortable shoes. Mine are packed. What are you taking? And if you’re not going, don’t worry; when I get back I’ll share it all. No really, I’m taking lots of notes!

Writing Under Pressure

July 13, 2012

When I was in school, I used to be really, really afraid to raise my hand and answer a question. Not because I might be wrong, but because someone might infer something about me based on my answer. What if they think I’m stupid? What if they think I’m too smart? What if I look weird when I talk?

Yeah, I was a big ole ball of insecurity, but luckily I made a lot of strides to go beyond that scared, insecure girl I was. Mainly, I’m not overly worried about how people perceive me, at least not enough that it determines how I act or the questions I might ask or the answers I might give. Hey, I send out my writing into the big bad world for scrutiny and rejection. Surely I’ve moved on.

But…

A little bit of that old fear cropped up recently as I worked on revisions for my upcoming Entangled book (that’s my sneaky way of bringing that up) [Elley’s chiming in here, saying Nicole shouldn’t be sneaking around, so go here and read the good news!] and the possible connected book. I started getting a little freaked out that my editor might think I’m stupid or a bad writer or foolish if I did x, y, or z. I started second-guessing every choice I was making in second book because there were two big rounds of full on revisions for the first.

I let the fear back in and, icky, not a good feeling.

I truly believe there is a rational and irrational part to every person’s brain. As we mature, we learn to listen more to the rational part, but the irrational part is still there whispering its little lies. It doesn’t go away, we just get better at realizing we are being irrational.

As I’m writing, if those fears crop up, I know I’m being irrational. Sometimes it takes a bit to move past it, but Rational Me eventually wins and I can move on. Some days it’s harder than others.

As a writer, one of the worst things you can do is listen to Irrational You because it undermines your writing along with your confidence.

Do you struggle with an Irrational and Rational You? Do you have any methods for dealing with the irrational part of your brain?

Nicole

My only currently-writing, truly auto-buy author is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. This woman—I know I’ve said it before, many times—is my romance rock star. She writes stories that make my heart sing. When I grow up—and no, people, I am not grown up. I’m not even 40 yet!—I want to be just like SEP.

Guess what? She has a new book out. *SQUEE!*

You’re probably thinking, “So the frick what. Big deal.” After all, in the digital world, authors have new books out every few months. Read it. Get over it. Move on.

But wait. It can take this woman, this paragon of the single-title romance, years to write a book. So this book, my friends, is a treat of epic proportion for lovers of SEP’s work.

Of course, when it takes years to write a book, sometimes your staunchest supporters forget about you—sorry, SEP!—but not for long. For instance, The Great Escape released yesterday, and I found out TODAY on Twitter. (Thank you, Twitter.) I pulled out my Kindle and hit the purchase button despite the $12.99 price tag. I can hear the chatter now. “That book is overpriced for the e-market.” Maybe, but I could care less. I’d pay twice that, because this woman delivers like no other writer of romance today.

I am fully aware that this is a subjective gush, and many of you will have a different opinion. Like the other day when I told my CP that dirty men don’t turn me on (and she gave a little virtual gasp), to each her own, right? 🙂

Anyhow, I’d planned to write today, BUT now that I have something precious downloaded to my Kindle, I’ll be reading. It’s been a long time since a book has excited me like this. Maybe there is something to the adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe three and four books a year isn’t something every writer should ascribe to. Maybe quicker isn’t always better.

Now, if the elusive Judith McNaught would publish something new, I’d be in my glory!

How about you? Who’s your ultimate auto-buy, the author whose e-book price point could be stratospheric and still get your dough?

E

Written in Stone?

July 9, 2012

Like most of the writers I know, I started writing when I was a little girl…okay, some of you were little boys, but the point really is that in general a passion for writing starts at an early age.  When I was young I would sharpen my pencils and write; poetry in steno book and short stories on yellow legal pads. I always wrote in pencil. If I wrote in pencil I could erase when I edited, and no one would see the mistakes. So my pages were smudged with all of my editing and rewriting, and I had a million half used pencils with erasers rubbed down to the metal rim. I was a perfectionist, and I wanted to look at my work as though it were perfect from the beginning.

But, as I got older, (well into my twenties!) I looked back on all of those pages…some fading and so greatly smudged they were hard to read, many the handwritten originals gone because I only kept my perfect (okay, sometimes not so perfect) typed versions…and I wished I’d used pen so that I could see the evolution of my work. I learned it was okay to cross things out, write between the lines and in the margins. I learned that I liked to see what I started with…sometimes what I started with was better, and I learned that I liked seeing what I was capable of doing with my raw work.

So I began to write with ten-cent blue pens, which were probably like two cents back then! I think I switched to spiral notebooks when the boys started school, and I would stock up on spiral notebooks at the beginning of the school year when they went on sale so cheap. I always had a good supply available or at least started with a good supply. There may have been times during the school year when a boy would look in the closet for a new notebook…and uh mom had used them all. (Sorry boys.)

Anyway, you all know that I write my draft by hand, but even after I type my work, I edit by hand on a hard copy that I’ve hole punched and put into a notebook, and keep plenty of lined notebook paper for adding new passages that get inserted into the notebook…which I save…then I retype my revisions and reprint (did I mention I save the new draft on the computer in an entirely different file so that I don’t lose my old draft?) I know, I’m killing a lot of trees (and using a lot of space on my hard drive) and writing a lot of run-on sentences this way, and  it wasn’t so bad with 2,000-word articles, but with a novel…. Maybe I’ll have to get rid of some of this paper, but I like seeing the evolution of my story.

I like it a lot.

So, I no longer write with a chisel in stone. I’ve graduated to blue pens and spiral notebooks, and I’m working my way up to computers…and even coffee houses, and I’m sure that when I learn to write comments and cross things out in Word…yes, I am aware that this is possible…technology will have advanced to a new level that I will initially resist, but maybe by then I’ll be drinking coffee and it won’t matter.

So how do you write? Do you save your original drafts? Do you like to see your edits? Do you use the computer, blue pens, or a chisel and stone? Heck I’d love to know… AM I THE ONLY ONE OUT THERE WHO STILL KEEPS HARD COPIES?

I apologize right now to Save the Trees, and I may lose my California citizenship for admitting to the environmental damage I’ve caused, but I promise to plant a tree for each book I sell…don’t let me forget.

Tari