Blog by VONNIE DAVIS -- International, Award-Winning Romance Author: Adventurous...Humorous...Amorous.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Change Your Clock and Your Batteries by Vonnie Davis

In our part of the country, we move our clocks back an hour tonight. Sixty minutes of sleep gained for many of us. Safety experts use this time to remind us to also change our batteries in our smoke alarms. A great idea. Checking our batteries in other parts of our lives can be a good idea too--like in our writing lives.

What perfect timing for this reminder since November is NaNoWriMo and many of you are diligently producing word count daily. Not me. No, I'm still trying to work my way out of a writer's slump. I write a few hundred words and lose interest, so I hop over to another story and fiddle with it for a while. Yup, I'm in a funk...and the migraines aren't helping. So I thought I'd take some time to read books on craft, refresh my zeal for writing and maybe learn some things along the way. You see, I'm hoping to re-energize my writerly soul. So I'm sharing some facts I'm rediscovering.

I'm calling them Vonnie's Half-Dozen.

1. Think like a professional. Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. To present anything less than your best to an agent or editor is like shooting yourself in the foot. Editors are too busy to hold your hand and teach you. If you send them a manuscript that requires few edits on their end, your story looks more appealing to them than one with some technical or grammar issues. Learn your craft. Learn it so well it becomes second nature to you.

2. Begin writing and keep going until you're through the rough part. (Can I stop for a few minutes and sob here?) All beginnings are tough. The beginning of a novel...the beginning of a chapter...the beginning of each day's work are all tough. Accept that, grit your teeth and get past those beginnings.

3. Call writing what it is. WORK! Give your labor the dignity of a title. Tell yourself you have to work now, even if you can only carve out thirty minutes from the kids, the housework and the outside job to write. If you respect your craft with a title--work--it makes it easier for your family to eventually see it that way, too. Take this piece of advice from a person who has fifty years experience at finding excuses not to write. I started writing at the age of eleven, but there was homework, then dating, then marriage, babies, kids growing up, mom's taxi service, a full-time job, college...oh, the list was endless. Until I turned sixty-two and Calvin took me by the arm, led me into the little bedroom where my computer desk occupied a wall and pointed to the chair. "Sit. Write. Make magic happen."

4. Write for yourself, not the market. Write what you love to read. Because here's the thing, if you write what's in vogue now, by the time you edit it a couple times, have it beta-read, tweak it some more and send it off, more than likely the topic has faded in popularity or the market might simply be saturated with this particular trope. "Gee, I like your writing, but we just contracted a book about this very topic last week. We don't need another." Write what you like to read. Then your passion will shine through and make your story magical.

5. Don't ask whether you're good enough. I think this is the bane of most writers' existence. I know it is mine. I have a great deal of self-doubt. I'm beta-reading a book right now and am so pea-green with envy over her talent. I read it and am swept away. Why can't I write like this? Why aren't I this good? Why? But folks, self-doubt can be a crippler. It truly can. We have to stop comparing ourselves to other writers...and simply be ourselves. Write in our own voice with our own style of turning a phrase. And keep writing. The more we write, the better, the stronger, the more engaging we'll become. Write, dearhearts, write. Stop saying I want to write like her one day and start repeating a new mantra: I want to be the best writer I can be. Then work toward that goal.

6. Stop paralyzing your first draft by searching for the perfect word. In fact, give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft. (Let me pause again to take a deep breath because I don't do this at all and this might be part of my problem.) In books I'm reading, I'm seeing over and over your prime objective in writing a first draft should be to get the story down. As THE Nora says, "You can't edit a blank page." But my rebellious mind growls, "Sounds too much like a long outline to me. Then I'll have to go back and rewrite the entire darn thing. I won't be able to send my critique partners a chapter until the book is finished and edited." I know me. I won't do it.

But...but I can try to force my inner editor to take a hike while I write a chapter...okay, okay, a scene. I can start by striving for writing a crappy scene before I nudge my inner editor to take over. Lately she's been correcting every stinking sentence. She and I are at odds more often than not. Lawd, I hate a grumpy woman.

So these half-dozen truths are my goals to conquer. What are your goals? Do you have any writing tips to add to the list?


20 comments:

Mary Ricksen said...

Vonnie you are so insightful. Now if I can only get myself back into the groove. I seem to be floating off in nowhereville, wondering what is stopping me from finishing that last third of a story. I am floundering...But, I'll get there!

Joanne Stewart said...

I would agree with all of these. I can't entirely call this work, though, except maybe to my husband and kids. That sucks the fun out of it for me, puts my head in a head space that's not very conducive to creative writing. Though, I do treat it like a job. I get up every morning and sit down at my computer.

#5 and 6 are the banes of my existence. My self doubt can be a killer. I have to tell myself every single time I hear my doubt start to creep in that it's only my fear, or that fear cripples me. My inner editor is a harsh witch and shutting her up is difficult. I tend to need to be in the mood to write or I sit there staring at a blank page. The words refuse to come. But sometimes, getting into the game is as simple as forcing myself to start writing crap.

I cannot, however, no matter how hard I try, write in a noisy house. Which is what I'm currently trying to do. I'm having so much trouble finishing this bleeping chapter, because everybody got up for the day. lol

Oh, #5. You know what's funny about that, Vonnie? I do the same thing every single time I read one of yours. ;)

Great advice, my friend. Great advice.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Mary, I am so with you. I'm wondering what's wrong with my drive. I used to turn out a book every 3-4 months. I haven't finished anything in 5 months. I'm writing...kinda. But can't get in the groove again. I need discipline. I truly do.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Joanne, I like either quiet or the low drone of sporting events while I write. Turn the TV volume down to wear I can almost hear it and I can slip into the zone. Calvin, though, likes to blare the stereo in the den, in the garage and the CD player in the kitchen--all on different CD's and all at the same time. Drives me bonkers!!! I slip in earplugs. LOL

I think our insecurities are part and parcel of our creative souls. We feel things deeper and in a different way than non-writers. On one hand, it's a blessing for it takes us deep into our craft. On the other hand, it can be crippling for it ramps up the self-doubt. Working through the maze of not feeling good enough can often have us teetering on the line of reason.

RE Mullins said...

This is so me. I stare out the window trying to capture that elusive but perfect word. I will take your advice to heart and try to power through.

R.E. Mullins

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

R.E. there's much to be said for the perfect word, the more powerful word, but the time for pulling it out is during edits once the complete story is penned or on the computer. This is an issue I struggle with, too. I think a chapter has to be perfect before I can move onto the next one. Sometimes I find I edit the spirit right out of the story. Thanks for stopping by.

LaVerne Clark said...

Oh, that crippling self-doubt. I've been struggling ever since my last book went through its final edits. You know - that horrible feeling of, 'am I capable of writing another?' and 'was it just a fluke?' I KNOW it is that evil internal editor clucking her tongue and shaking her head at me. She is truly evil and must be destroyed. So I'm taking part in NaNoWriMo again this year to do just that, and so far, its working.

Oh, and I'm SO with you on number 5. Every time I read a new book, I sigh and wail, 'this writer is so good! Why can't I write like that?' I'm going to work on overcoming your half-dozen too, shrug off the doubts and just write, darn it all. I'm going to change those batteries right now! :)

Good luck to us all!

Susan Macatee said...

Going through a slump myself, Vonnie. And it is all because I hadn't started something new before I finished up with my latest book. I do have a premise for a new series, but have to kick myself in the butt to get to work on it. Thanks for the inspiration!

Alison Henderson said...

I love every one of these. Even if I've heard them before, they bear repeating. I always need a jump start at the beginning (of a book, of a chapter, of a writing session), and I spend WAY too much time searching for the perfect word. I've never been able to convince myself of the value of a shitty first draft no matter who recommends it. There's always so much to learn.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Oh,LaVerne, self-doubt can be a bitch, can't she? Every time I finish a book, she comes knocking at my door with a 3-pc. set of luggage, figuring to move in. You know what's wild? She asks me the same questions as yours does!! What if you can't write another? What if that contract was just a fluke? ACK! It doesn't matter if she hails from Virginia or New Zealand, Ms. Self-Doubt knows how to play on our weaknesses. I say kick her to the curb and keep on writing.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Susan, you must start developing this new series. Think how happy your readers will be to start reading it...hint, hint. I do love a good historical. *coughs and winks*

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Maybe if you can't allow yourself to write a complete crappy first drive, aim for a chapter. Then go back and tweak and polish and pick those stronger words. I'm aiming for a chapter, a crappy scene at a time. Maybe...maybe I'll eventually reach a complete book.

Sarah Grimm said...

Great advice, Vonnie! I have a problem with #2 - sometimes I just can't seem to get my butt in the chair! It doesn't help that I need silence when I write, and silence is rare in this house.

Oh, and the dreaded #5...yeah, that one gets me. Right now it's not whether I can write another, but whether my current hero will still have that 'something' that made readers love him when he was a just a secondary character in the previous book. ACK!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I understand, Sarah. Our characters don't always turn out the way we expect but, then again, sometimes they turn out better. Allow them to be who they are.

Dixie Lee Brown said...

Vonnie, I have huge problems with every one of these, and several more besides. But I'm learning...always learning, and that's what makes it all worthwhile for me. Listen to Calvin and make magic happen, my friend. You're so good at it!

Great post!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Sweet, talented Dixie, I think the learning curve of a GOOD writer is continual. There are so many nuances to our craft. So many things change like editors' preferences and readers' likes and dislikes. To keep from getting stagnant, we have to keep studying our craft.

AJ Nuest said...

I was just able to get over to read your post and I loved it, V! You've hit the nail on the head for so many of my writing foibles. The insecurities can be crippling, as can the excuses not to write and distractions of life. At the least, I try to get in 500 words a day, but I don't always reach my goal. Thank you for these great reminders and for supplying the ever needed kick in the pants I need to keep going. And I agree with many of the comments here. Yours is one of those voices I read and become so envious. Calvin is right. You do create magic. xo

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Awwl, thanks AJ. I don't feel I create magic. In fact I feel as if my writing is getting worse. Self-doubt? Oh yeah, I've got a ton of it...and I think I keep it around my hips. (snort) Let's keep pushing each other, shall we?

Maureen said...

Really nice post, Vonnie. Your page here is very impressive!
Maureen

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Thanks Maureen. I'm thrilled you like my revamped blog.