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Monday
Jun022014

Must Read Monday: Finally, a Writing Book for Pantsers!

 

*I put a sticky tab on any page with a point I wanted to type into my notes. Look at that rainbow, people.

I know I usually tackle fiction when doing a Must Read Monday, but I read a writing craft book this weekend that was just so fabulous that I wanted to pass it along to those of you who are writers.

As most of you know, I'm a bit addicted to reading books about the craft of writing. (Yes, I'm an unrepentant nerd.) But most of the time, those books are all about different ways to plot your book. And I like learning those techniques because I'm a pantser with plotter envy. Writing without an outline can be an anxiety-ridden process, writer's block can pop up often, and the unknown is freaking scary (especially when you're writing under a deadline.) But no matter how hard I've tried to alter my process, I can't seem to get away from my pantsing (writing by the seat of my pants) ways.

And a little part of me has always been afraid that if I was successful at plotting ahead and outlining that I would lose some of the "magic" of my writing process. Like two weeks ago, this happened when I was happily writing a story. I had a general direction in mind and then got hit with a big twist that I had never ever considered or planned. It changes what the rest of the book will look like, but I think it's the correct (and much more interesting) way to go. If I had been writing to an outline, would that had ever come to me? And if it had, would I have been willing to ditch the whole second half of the outline to go in this new direction?

That kind of "a-ha" discovery happens with every book. The big twist in Crash Into You that most people have told me they never saw coming? That was because *I* didn't know it was coming until I was 70% of the way through writing the book. The big thing that happens in Kade's backstory in Need You Tonight that explains so much about who he is now? I didn't know about it until I was halfway through the book and it hit me--wait, THAT'S what happened!

So let me tell you, it was hella refreshing to finally come across a book that doesn't just tolerate pantsing as a way for people to write but actually recommends it. AND gives tips on how to overcome some of the struggles, anxieties and pitfalls of writing without an outline. Because, Lord, I would love to be less neurotic during my writing process.

So here's the book and my review from Goodreads. Pantsers, go forth and enjoy!

Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James

 

My Review from Goodreads:

Finally, a book for pantsers! And not just one that mentions pantsing but validates the process as a legitimate (he even ventures to say superior) process of writing. I have long been a pantser with plotter envy because it seems like every book on writing I read talks about "organic" writing as the immature/impatient process and plotting as the panacea, the "professional" way. Of course, that always makes plotting sound like this lovely method that is going to take away the constant anxiety of working in the unknown and the pitfalls that come along with that (writer's block, chasing bunny trails, rereading your previous pages constantly to get back into the mindset, etc.). But after reading this, I feel like I can take a deep breath and find a place of acceptance with my pantsing ways. Yes, my method causes me anxiety, but it's also been a successful one for me, so why am I always trying to change it?

And with this book, there are methods that may even help with the anxiety involved in "flying into the mist" when writing. There are questions to ask when you get stuck or come across a plot problem. There are guidelines on what needs to be clear in each scene and how to keep the tension up. There are pointers on how to include twists. And some of the character stuff--questions to ask about their secrets, shame, fears, etc--was brilliant.

I have five pages of notes from the book and put sticky flags on way too many pages because there was too much great stuff to hold in my head all at once. I'm kind of a junkie when it comes to book on writing and can be hard to please, but I have no qualms giving this one five stars. I know I'll be referencing it often.


*I was not asked to give this review. I bought this book on my own.

Monday
Nov182013

My Promise When I Review or Recommend Books

Photo via chicagogeek (Flickr CC)Mondays are usually reserved for Must-Read Mondays, but today I wanted to talk a little bit about a related topic. There was a post last week on Dear Author called When the Personal Becomes the Professional and was about how authors approach giving negative reviews of other books. Some argue that it's professional courtesy not to tear down another author's book. Others feel that authors should be able to review like readers do and that the author on the receiving end of the feedback shouldn't get personally offended.

I'm of the school that anyone has the right to review my book and have an opinion about it. If another author posts a negative review about my book, I'm not going to think that author is being unprofessional. I can take it. However, having said that, I don't post negative reviews or talk bad about books publicly. Why? Well, frankly, it's not worth the drama--having an author take it personally, seeing them at the next conference and it being awkward, looking like you're being jealous or spiteful by panning a book in your genre, or offending readers who thought that book was the best book ever.

But, there's also this thought out there that if someone only does positive reviews, that their opinion is somehow not valid because they "like everything." But I disagree with that. I don't like everything--believe me. If I don't like something or have neutral feelings on it, you'll just never hear about. The books I recommend on Must-Read Monday or rate highly on Goodreads are books I honestly loved. I'm not going to "be nice" and give something a high rating or recommendation because I know the author or whatever. There are authors who I really like as people but I just don't connect with their writing. I'm not going to pretend I do just to be friendly.

So I'm saying all this because I want you to know that when you see me talking up a book, that means one thing--I, Roni the reader, loved the damn thing. I looked back at Must-Read Monday posts for this year. Almost all were books by authors I've never met or interacted with. None of them were given to me for review. They are just books I bought as a reader and enjoyed. Just because I don't post about the ones I didn't like doesn't make that any less valid. So you can feel confident in knowing I'm not blowing smoke or trying to sell you something on a friend's behalf. If I say I loved it, it means I loved it. : )

I'm curious, how do you view authors reviewing or recommending other authors' books? Do you assume they are just helping their friends if it's positive? If you're a writer, how do you feel about the debate on whether or not to post negative reviews?

 

Tuesday
Apr022013

The Writing Life: Knowing When to Say No and When to Say Yes

How can you resist saying yes? (photo via Dean Wissing - Flickr Creative Commons)First, a quick apology that I've been absent from the blog for the last few weeks. I hit one of those crazy stretches where I received copy edits on book 4, had to write teaser chapters for book 5, and got macro edits on the 8 parts of the e-serial all within a two week time period. And, of course, during that time, my kidlet got sick and had to stay home from school for three days. So needless to say, things got a little hairy over here. But I got it done (yay!) and it got me to thinking about what our personal limits are.

For all of us, no matter what we do for a living, there is a need to learn how to strike the right work and life balance. And one of the things that's most important to know in order to find this balance is when to say yes and when to say no. I'm notoriously bad for not knowing when to say no. Or knowing I should say no and saying yes anyway because I want to be nice/helpful/friendly. But if you keeping saying yes to things, it will crowd out the things you really need to be focusing on. And that helps no one.

But on the flip side, if you're too rigid and protective of your time, then you may miss out on opportunities that could've made a difference in your career or life in general. So how do you know when to say yes and when to say no?

Here are some things that help me decide.

How to Know When To Say No and When To Say Yes 

1. Is this request something that is purely for the benefit of someone else?

There are requests that you'll get that involve doing something for someone else and not getting any real benefit beyond feeling good that you helped out.

Examples: Can you critique my unpublished chapters? Can you donate a critique to this contest/charity/event? Can you hold a volunteer position in this writing group? Can you review my book? Can I do a guest post on your site even though I've never interacted with you before and you have no idea who I am?

How to answer: These are the requests that are lovely to say yes to IN MODERATION. It feels good to offer things in the spirit of giving and volunteering (and it can also build friendships and connections and community). However, say yes to too many of these and you'll be spending large chunks of your work time on someone else and losing valuable time you should be dedicating to your own writing and career. I've had to learn this the hard way. I said yes to too many things and ended up overwhelmed. Now I carefully evaluate each of these requests and the time it would take if I said yes.

 

2. Is this request something that could offer mutual benefit to both sides?

These are requests that may involve some of your time but could offer some opportunities or benefits (even if they aren't immediate ones.)

Examples: Can you teach a workshop at this conference? Can you do a guest post for this blog? Can you donate books to this contest? Can you offer a cover quote for my book? 

How to answer: These are ones that you can easily overwhelm yourself with because it's so tempting to say yes to it all. I *try* to say yes to as many of these as I can (and I used to say yes to all), but now I look at my schedule and time first. I almost always will say yes to doing a workshop at a conference because (a) I like giving workshops and teaching, (b) it exposes my books and blog to new people, and (c) I'm a whore for writers' conferences. But if I got too many requests, I'd have to reel myself in because these are big time suckers if you have to develop an entire workshop.

Being asked to provide cover quotes for books is super flattering. And it's often coming from writers who I already know online or have met, so I *really* want to say yes and help out. I know how hard it is to go out and ask other authors for quotes, and I've had some fantastic authors take time out of their schedules to be kind and read my books for quotes, so I want to pay it forward. But saying yes to too many of these can be an issue. You often have a due date to read the book by and inevitably, your own writing stuff will blow up right around the same time and then you're drowning. And it can get sticky if you end up not loving a book and not feeling comfortable quoting it. Hello, awkward. So I've learned to only say yes in a limited way and only for books that are solidly in my wheelhouse so that there's a high chance of me liking it.

As for guest posts, this is something that will come up quickly in your writing career. First, you're searching for people who will host you, then it flips and people are seeking you out. It's a good problem to have, but say yes to too many and that's all you'll be writing. Say yes as much as you can because exposure is great, but don't drown yourself in guest obligations.

 

3. Is this request going to directly impact your writing career?

These are usually the requests coming from your publisher or agent. 

Examples: Can you squeeze in a novella between this book and that one? Can you work under a shorter deadline? Can you try this experimental format? Can you change this element in your book? Would you be willing to write something in this genre?

How to answer: Yes, if at all possible (and in the case of changes, as long as it doesn't interfere with your vision for the book or your career.) I know this seems like a "duh" answer. Especially if you're not published yet, you're probably thinking, "Of course I'd say yes!". But when you get buried under deadlines and doing promo and trying to take care of your family and all of that, one more thing or project can make you feel like running. You may think, "I can only write a book every six months. If I take on this project, I'll be late on both and it will all be a mess." Well, maybe. BUT, have you really evaluated what your capabilities are? If I can give any advice, it would be this: Know your limits, then realize those are not static. 

When I first started writing, a book in six months was a feat. If my editor would have asked me when I sold my first book, hey can you write 3-4 books a year for us? I would've curled in a ball. How could I ever do that? But guess what? When I ended up with a tight deadline on books 3 and 4, I did it. And when my editor said, "Hey we have this new e-serial format we're trying. We'd like you to write one for us, but it means squeezing it into your already tight deadline schedule and there will be no wiggle room to be late." I said yes first and figured out how to do it later. And was it crazy and stressful? Yes. Did I have to say no to some other things from the first two categories to get it done? Yes. Did I do it? Yes.  Which means I was capable of more than I thought. But I had to say yes to force myself to find that out. And I'm so glad I did because now I have another great opportunity to get another story out there. If I had said no, the opportunity would have been passed to someone else. And if I had said yes to everything in category one and two, I wouldn't have had time to do this. 

So you need to protect your time like a big, burly bouncer standing at the door, but you also need to be flexible to take on those things that "move the needle" (as my hubs would say). Yes, doing things for nothing in return is wonderful and you should continue to do them, but no one should feel obligated to say yes all the time. Because oftentimes saying yes to others is saying no to yourself and your own goals (and family time for that matter.) Find the balance that works for you, and on the flip side, don't sell yourself short on what you're capable of.

Do you have trouble saying no? Have you found it hard to balance your own goals and career needs with the pull of others' needs? What have you said yes to that you're so happy you did? What have you said no or yes to that you regret?

Wednesday
Jan092013

Should You Write That Potentially Controversial Scene?

Photo by CarbonNYC (Flickr cc)Writing any story is a risk. You're putting your heart there on the page, and people may hate it. And, of course, we want everyone to love our stories, right? But here's the thing: it's an impossible task. There is no book that is going to resonate with everyone. Even the greatest works of fiction have their critics.

So when you sit down and are writing your story and you hit that scene where you think--should I go there? Will this offend/freak out/piss off this A/B/C group of people?--do not cower. If it's right for the story and those characters, then write it. 

Inevitably, in each of my books there is THAT scene--one scene that divides my readers between two camps. Some of my more traditional readers think the scene went a little too far, and then my more seasoned romance and erotic readers declare the scene their favorite. It never fails. What one side hates, the other adores. Though, I do get a lot of converts over from the traditional side with each book, lol. *evil grin* But regardless, there's always that scene. In STILL INTO YOU, it's the scene with my married couple and Ian. In MELT INTO YOU, it's the scene between Andre and Jace. And now with FALL INTO YOU, it's a scene involving a "make me" role play between the hero and heroine.

Do I know these scenes may push some buttons when I'm writing them? Yes. Do I still put them in? Yes. Because that's part of what makes the story interesting. It's not controversy for the sake of controversy, but it's those scenes that make the reader wonder in your next book and keeps them guessing. If I always wrote the safe way, then you'd know exactly what to expect in each book. Who wants that? That's why I love Tiffany Reisz's books so much because I know she's willing to go wherever the hell she wants, lol. So as a reader, it keeps me on my toes. And recently, I read Reflected In You by Sylvia Day. I'm not going to give away the ending, but what she did there at the end made me go all 0.0  I was like--oh, she WENT there. And I loved that. It made the book so much better because she didn't shy away from a truly risky move.

So when you come across that controversial scene in your own book, don't worry about what will so and so think. Put on your big girl (or boy) underoos and write what fits the characters and the story. That's your job. 

Have you ever worried about a scene being too controversial in any of your stories? How do you feel when you run across those scenes in the books of others and it pushes you out of your comfort zone?

Tuesday
Jan012013

Most Popular Posts of 2012 and Introducing Must-Read Mondays

Putting 2012 in our rearview mirror (kidlet does this with a cape)Happy New Year!

First, before I get to today's post, I want to say thank you to everyone who helped me celebrate FALL INTO YOU's release yesterday even when you were busy doing your own holiday thing. *hugs* I hope those of you who bought it, enjoy it, and those of you who didn't--come on, get to it. Don't let those book gift certificates waste away! ;)  But seriously, I'm always indebted to each and every one of you who read my books. You rock. Thank you.

Now, on to today's post..

It's that time of the year to look back and evaluate what has gone right and wrong so we can decide how we want to move forward in the bright, shiny new year. So I thought it'd be interesting to see which posts were the most popular here on the blog in 2012. And though I knew which one would be number 1, the rest were a bit surprising. So here's what the numbers look like and what I'm going to do about it. :)

 

Top Posts of 2012

 

1.  Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog - My Story - Yeah, this wasn't a fun situation, but the post went viral and seemed to resonate with a lot of people. So, though I'd prefer not to have gone through it, I'm very glad it helped all of us learn how to do the right thing with regards to pics on our blogs.

2.  What to Read If You've Read 50 Shades of Grey and Want More BDSM Romance - Not too surprising considering the 50 phenomenon, but I was surprised that people found their way here considering the glut of info about 50 out there.

3.  BDSM Romance: What To Read If You've Never Tried It Before - This one is probably here for the same reason as number 2.

4.  Want Private Inspiration Boards? Alternatives to Pinterest - I did this post before Pinterest implemented access to 3 private boards. Clearly, it was something a lot of people were looking for (especially after my photo debacle.)

5.  What Will Make An Agent Gong Your Pages - We all want to know, don't we? :)

6.  Zang...Best American Idol Performances Ever #atozchallenge - This one surprised me. It was kind of a random post.

7.  Readers Face the Slush Pile: A Few Hard Truths - This one talked about how readers are now going to have to sift through the slush since it's hard to tell what is good and what isn't now that the indie movement is so big. (I wrote this last May and since then, have read many indie books. I've discovered that how I sift through the slush is simple--I wait for recs from friends and reviewers I trust before I buy a book. And I read samples on occasion.)

8.  Author Websites: Layering Yours With Sticky Extras - I think this one was popular because sometimes we focus so much on our blogs that we forget that readers (especially non-blog-readers) might want a little more on your author website.

9.  Kink & BDSM 101 - What It Is & Why It's So Popular In Books  - I probably have to credit 50 Shades on this one too.

10.  Because Good Smut Should Be Shared...Book Recommendations

11.  The New Adult Genre: Here To Stay This Time? - This genre is on fire right now, so I'm not surprised a lot of people stopped by.

12.  Finding Your Novel's Theme and Your Universal Theme 

 

So what was pretty interesting to me in this list is how it's changed so much from years before. Usually, my writing posts have been the big winners each year. This year, after an effort to balance my site a bit more so that I could provide content to readers and not just writers, it seems to have shifted. I was surprised at how popular the book recommendation posts were. 

Therefore, since I love doing the book rec posts, and y'all seem to appreciate them, I'm going to continue those this year in a more structured way. I'm making Mondays - Must-Read Mondays. Now, if I don't have something to recommend, I won't do a post. But generally, I'm reading enough that I always have a good book to share. And this will NOT be a place for other authors to solicit me for reviews/guest posts/etc. I'm happy to host people on occasion on other days, but I don't accept books for review. Anything I review, I picked up on my own. Plus, I want y'all to know that if I'm recommending a book, it's with no ties or strings or author-is-my-buddy bias--it's just me loving a book as a reader and wanting to pass along the word.

Now for the rest of the days on the blog, I'm still going to cover writing and social media topics when I come across something I haven't covered before. And I'll continue Fill-Me-In Fridays where I round up all the best links. However, those round up posts may be spaced out instead of every Friday because I've been too busy with writing lately to surf the web and have enough links to share each week. Also, I'm not sure if people are still loving the round up, so let me know if it's something you want me to keep around. 

I'm still working on some other features, but that's what I'm changing for now.

Now, go buy FALL INTO YOU, and enjoy your New Year's holiday! ;)

Are you making any changes to your blog this year? What posts are you most likely to stop by for here?