Like most of you, I've always wanted to write. But when I say "always," I'm talking about the early years of Elvis, the era when cowboy and dog shows--Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin--reigned on TV and no one baked a cake from a mix. Heck, the Beatles were just lads playing their instruments in their bedrooms. Yes, I am older than dirt--or just about.
Over the many years, I started and stopped writing more books than I care to admit. The timing just wasn't right for me. I had kids, an outside job and wasn't ready to make the sacrifice. And writing IS a sacrifice. My time didn't come until 5 years ago when I turned 61. The real fact was I'd run out of excuses. It was time for me to stop dreaming about being a writer and start doing something about it.
My first book was published by a small publisher a month after I turned 63. Now, 3 years later, I'm writing exclusively for Random House Loveswept and HarperImpulse, a division of HarperCollins. That's a big leap in 3 years, but it hasn't come without sacrifice--time with family, seeing the grandkids in events, lunch with the girls, sleep, shopping and reading. I've had to study the craft of writing and through writing and rewriting to find my voice, my pacing and my style.
In short, I live, eat, think and breathe writing.
So, what have I learned that I can pass on to younger or newer writers?
- Write. Even if it's crap. You can edit crap. Lord knows I have.
- Do your research into what publishers and literary agencies are looking for as far as word count. Don't think your 200,000 word manuscript will be snapped up. Many agents and publishers raise their eyebrows at anything over 100,000 words unless the storyline is compelling. Don't query your thriller to an agent or publisher who only handles romance, mysteries and young adult. Research. Read every word of their websites and follow their instructions. And never, ever say I've written the next best seller. Oh, puh-lease! You'll be their laugh of the day.
- Write. The more you write, the quicker you'll find your style, your rhythm.
- Find critique partners that write the same genre as you. Make sure they are better writers than you to help you learn while you write.
- Write, but don't fall in love with your sentences. An editor might tell you to take out a complete chapter.
- Do limit your query letter to 4 well written, error-FREE paragraphs. Use perfect grammar, punctuation, spelling, no slangs, no OMG's or #'s. Paragraph one should state what you've written. For example: I have for your consideration a complete and edited romance of 90,000 words. Race to Love is a contemporary romance centered around the world of NASCAR racing. It is written in third person with two points of view and has a spicy heat level. Paragraph two should list only the names of the hero and heroine and basically tell the basis of the story. Think back cover blurb and then shorten it. Paragraph three should tell why you are the person to write this story. What are your credentials? Have you majored in English or Journalism in college? Have you written for a magazine? Have any of your books won or finaled in contests? Do you help out at races and have first hand knowledge of the business? Paragraph four should thank them for their time in reading your query and that you look forward to working with them in the future. Tell also the best way to reach you--either by email or by phone after a certain time. This complete letter should be less than a page long. People are too busy to read long letters about how all your friends and relatives just love your story. Short with white space appeals, yet you can still give them all the information they need. Do NOT add any of your manuscript unless their website tells you to in their submission procedures.
- Write. The more you write, the better you'll get.
- Learn all you can about point of view. It contains real power and is more than whose head are you in. While older writers with a mega following can get away with head hopping, new writers cannot. Agents and editors will delete your submission in a hurry if you head hop.
- Write. Even if it's only two paragraphs a day. Keep your mind focused on one story.
- Learn to show and not tell. There are fine points of difference here. It's almost a continual learning process. I'm still finding places where I'm telling instead of showing. ACK!
- Write. Write until you dream about it or think of a paragraph you wrote wrong while you're in the shower.
- Read new authors on best seller lists so you can see how they're writing to get there. Learn tips from them.
- Write, dammit!!!
- Meet other writers online through clubs, yahoo groups, facebook groups. Support other writers in your facebook posts and tweets. Why? Because some day you'll have a book you'll have to promote--YES, you must promote yourself as a writer and push your book. By making friends with other writers, they will help. Writers read and they write reviews. Make friends with writers you might never meet face to face. Promote them and they'll promote you. Trust me on this. I've met writers online I dearly cherish, yet chances are I might never meet them.
- Write short stories so you learn to make every word count, to chose the word that creates the most powerful visual.
- Learn not to use dialog tags. You know..."I refuse to go there," Mary said. Use action beats instead. Action beats add vitality to your writing, show us the mood of the speaker and give us a hint of the speaker's appearance. Like this...Mary tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder, arched one finely waxed eyebrow and glared. "I refuse to go there." Now, which one gives your reader a better visual? Oh, and my biggest sore spot as a reader: adding a said tag after using a question mark. Think about it. A question mark only has one function. One. To indicate the previous string of words were spoken in a questioning manner. So when an author slaps on he/she asked after using a question mark, to me it's the same as their saying, "I know you're too dumb to know what a ? means so I'll tell you." Puts my undies in a twist every time. Action beats, people...Luc charged into the kitchen. "Was that Jason's truck I just saw leaving?" he asked. Doesn't this show you more of his mood? ... Luc stormed into the kitchen and tossed his keys on the counter, their clang making her insides quiver. He was clearly angry. His face was red and a vein stood out on his forehead. "Was that Jason's truck I just saw leaving?"
- Write and learn to look for words you tend to use over and over. This is one of my problem areas. I know I do it. On my third and fourth read-through I am specifically looking for those words I'm using twice in the same paragraph or on the same page. My eyes still miss a few of them.
- Write on...everyday!!!
A HIGHLANDER'S OBSESSION, book one of A Highlander's Beloved Trilogy, published by Randon House Loveswept.