Reading and Writing Is Living

I used to wonder how I would react to true tragedy.

As a Type A creative with a Gemini star sign and enough anxiety to power the grid at least for a day, I wondered this probably more than I should. But the answer was always the same–I would read my way through. I would write my way out.

It turns out, I was right. In these strange and confusing times, I turn to my stories for both escape and understanding. I create worlds in which I wish to live, events which I want to happen, and experiences which do not include isolation and fear and uncertainty on such a large and global scale.  

The week following my grandfather’s passing last fall, I read about a half-dozen Sophie Jordan historical romance novels in about three days. I consumed them like I would stop breathing if I stopped reading. They were the only way to manage my grief and my confusion and myself. When I emerged, I was stronger and more equipped to handle what needed to be handled. Those books gave me a lifeline when I needed it most. 

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It is far from the only time I have found solace in a book, far from the only time I have escaped stress or sadness or confusion over the state of the world. I read to educate myself, I read to have adventures I will never get, to visit time periods already passed, to find a way to handle our current political and social environment sustainably and without losing my head. Books have been there for me during breakups, during long good-byes, during new moves and during those little moments in the day to day that just feel too hard to handle alone. To me, there is little difference between reading and living. Reading is merely another way to live. Now, more than ever, that is a truth I believe. 

woman-1852907_960_720And writing is simply how I make sense of the world. When tragedy or victory or oddity strikes, the only way to figure out how I’m truly feeling, what to do next, how to act, and think, is to write. I take in the world through the lens of a writer and there’s no turning it off. I listen to strangers’ conversations. I save ironic moments for the next story, I pocket beautiful gardens and I Ziploc public fights. I take solace in the idea that if I were to face something truly terrible one day, I would have at least one tool to help me compartmentalize, understand and respond to the moment and all those that would follow. If I cannot do anything else during these difficult days, I can record them. 

Reading, writing or living is a false dichotomy. To live is to read and write. To write is to read, to read is to write. I recently heard a quote from Pam Allyn that I’ll carry with me.

“Reading is breathing is, writing is breathing out.”

Reading and writing are not two different things. They are part of the very same system–a system that keeps us hopeful. A system that helps to write the future. 

What Would You Do With An Extra Hour?

An MFRW Author Post – and check out the other blogs on the hop! 

 

Okay, I know we lost an hour, but it didn’t fit the song. I will say, my determination to beat the daylight savings time blues meant that I actually got up a lot earlier than usual, made it to the gym and got two articles written before eleven am. I consider this a great success.

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Do I love daylight savings? I certainly don’t appreciate an extra wrench in the works when it comes to going to bed earlier, which my partner and I have been trying, rather unsuccessfully to do, but I will say that there’s nothing quite like that late evening sunlight which tells us that even though it’s not quite warm out, spring is still on the way. My little wildflowers straining toward the window seem to think so. 

As it stands, I could take or leave the spring forward situation, but don’t you dare try to pull that extra hour of fall sleep away from me. The dark days of late autumn are difficult enough to reconcile without having to lose that precious extra hour. And since time is really just a construct anyway, I don’t see why we need to worry overmuch about me staying cozy in bed with my cute cat and cute boyfriend when the opportunity presents itself. 

Honestly, I think the whole thing comes down to mindset. It was a very productive weekend, both workwise and homewise. I did some early spring planting and pruning, we did laundry and cleaned (which we’ve been doing a lot of with the virus, since my partner works in a hotel), and I marked several things off the to-do list. All of that put me into the headspace of wanting to get more done, so when my alarm went off this morning and it was still dark out, I didn’t linger in bed overlong, I got on my gym clothes and I did the thing. 

daylight-saving-time-3382879_1920When we have to self-discipline, through work or school or writing, motivation can feel like a zero-sum game. If you missed one deadline or you didn’t complete the task, why even bother with the rest?

It’s not true, of course, but it can certainly feel like that. On the flip side of things, when we are productive, when we do beat the dark morning sky and we do get to the gym and we do write and we do mark things off the to-do list, we can feel powerful and capable, and ready to take on the next challenge. No matter how dark it is outside. 

To spring forward, I say, bring it on. 

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Write Drunk, Edit Sober (And Then Start Drinking)

An MFRW Author Post — And check out the author blogs on the hop! 

 

I should be editing right now. With three full-length novels coming out at the end of the summer and into the early fall, the phrase I should be editing right now is pretty much the only thing that comes out of my mouth. I should be editing right now. I should have been editing all day.

diary-968603_1920If you’ve ever even visited the world of writing and craft, you’ve heard the term write drunk, edit sober. The reason for this is that writing is a hell of a lot easier than editing. You don’t need your wits about you to write. I speak only for myself here, but writing is the easiest part of the whole process. You lay everything out on the table and then, later on, you can deal with all the issues.

Well, now it’s later on, and now I have to deal with the issues.

I’m not talking about line edits. Line edits are simple and straightforward. Sometimes they can even be fun. What I’m talking about when I mean edits isn’t simple and isn’t straightforward. It’s the mammoth overhauling of a character’s developmental arc, or making sure that the two chapter detour doesn’t create continuity issues. When I mean editing, I don’t mean facts– names, dates, commas, dialogue tags, I mean big ideas. I mean the book.

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Because chances are good, really good, that you will end up rewriting your book from the inside out. And let me tell you– I’d rather write the entire thing beginning to end than have to painstakingly go through and make sure that my additions, subtractions and redirections do their job, to ensure that the book ends up as good as it possibly can be.

Rewriting from the inside out is hard. It’s like the nightmare where you’re desperately trying to get somewhere, but you’re stuck in your own way. It’s pages and pages of notes with scribbles you hope you’ll know the meaning of when the time comes.

Editing the big picture elements of the book is, in my opinion, the dirty job of being a writer. There is nothing more down in the muck, hand wrapped around the lower intestine, your boots squishing in something you don’t want to know what, than editing the big picture elements of the book. There is nothing more filled with pressure, challenge and major potential for disaster.

This is, without a doubt, the hardest part of writing the novel. It’s the moment when you take a step back and sigh and say to yourself, yes, I really do need to write this character’s arc differently if I want this to be the best book it can be.

And that moment just sucks. It’s monumental and intimidating and difficult to conceptualize. For instance, in my current WIP I’m changing the entire Goal Motivation Conflict of two main characters in several scenes. There’s a reason I’ve been so incredibly productive at everything else today and I won’t pretend that I like this part, I don’t. I like the feeling after it’s done, though.

creative-108545_1920Because at some point, we need to wade into the muck. Maybe at first we go very, very slow, staying in the shallow end, editing a few lines of dialogue or the setting. Then we go a little deeper, exploring a character’s troubled past or their relationship with another character. Piece by piece, we chip away at the big picture until we see the book underneath.

How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.

Every author has their struggle. For instance, I’ve always been a very quick writer, which means first drafts are finished quickly and second drafts are finished very, very slowly. Of course, I’m sure there are many authors out there who enjoy slogging through this big picture editing, who consider writing or outlining the most difficult part of the writing process.

Regardless, it’s not going away. It’s here and difficult because it is important, and it’s something I’m just going to have to come to terms with. There are a lot of fun parts to being a writer, but there are challenging, complicated and dirty parts too. The trick that helps me through those parts is to remember why I started– I want to produce the best book I can, and if it requires these edits, then I’m going to dive right in. When it’s all said and done, I’m keeping the bottle of wine for myself. ♦

Eat Your Heart Out

An MFRW Author Post (Kinda) — And check out the other blogs on the hop! 

Feminism is nuanced. Not only does it change from day to day, but there are a thousand different angles from which to analyze the impact of media, politics, and science on the relationship – and subsequent privilege and oppression – between the sexes.

Sometimes they are large conversations – sexual assault, the wage gap, access to our own bodies, and sometimes they are small conversations – media portrayals of the ‘perfect female form,’ the impact of a stay-at-home dad in a Cheerios commercial, the micro-elements that add up over time to to create either a better or worser world for women, and subsequently men, who suffer at the same hand of gender inequality and expected norms.

Today, I want to discuss one of those smaller conversations. I often speak about the wage gap, fists in the air feminist issues, so let’s think a little smaller now and discuss an issue that, though subtle, though nuanced, is just as feminist and just as important.

Food shaming in romance novels.

The way I see it, romance novels have an extra burden to be feminist. Is that fair? Maybe not. But right now the rest of the publishing and media world need to focus on getting their shit together where female protagonists and healthy relationships are concerned, and I’d much rather that they did that first. Romance has that whole women-are-people thing figured out, and must now carry the mantle for the other elements of feminism that most mainstream media won’t even touch.

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And one of those things circles around food. Shocker, right? Women and food have always been deeply entangled, since the dawn of the hunter and gatherer to the 1950s housewife cooking in her pearls, to the ubiquitous conversations about fat-skinny-healthy-none of your business – perpetuated by mass media and advertising. It’s a multi-faceted issue, and at the end of the day comes down to a much larger topic – women’s autonomy over their own bodies and the right to look and eat a certain way.

And yet, despite the deeply feminist roots of women and food, many romance novels still appeal to the stereotypical oversimplification that women should be ashamed to like to eat. There are numerous references to “secret stashes,” “chocolate addictions” and “I know I shouldn’t, buts” that undermine the idea that eating is perfectly normal, safe and healthy as long as you apply self-control and otherwise take care of your body.

Why does this matter? After all, it’s a fairly innocuous detail in an otherwise progressive genre. And yes, it is. But it’s also very important. Women have been fighting for autonomy over their bodies for years – from the right to choose to the right to walk down a street at night without being harassed, or worse.

From the media to politicians to the inane catcallers, we are told time and again that our bodies do not belong to us, and that we must exercise and eat and dress a certain way to fit the standard of beauty that the rest of the world is looking for. Even the simplest mention of a “secret stash” or the idea that a heroine is guiltily eating ice cream late at night, feeds into that narrative, that we should feel bad for eating ice cream or pizza, that we shouldn’t enjoy simple treats, that candy bars or cookies are in some way forbidden.

macaron-2462247_1920Now, I understand that women think like this. As a woman who grew up in the age of the Internet, I’ll all too aware of the ubiquity of dangerous, deceitful images, that show the photoshopped versions of real women. I get that. But I also hate feeling guilty for eating too much, and it’s something I work hard to prevent myself from thinking. Sure, I could probably orient my diet to be healthier, but I eat home cooked meals for dinner nearly every night and include a healthy amount of fruits and veggies in that diet. So what if I want to binge Stranger Things with my boyfriend and share a bag of M&Ms? I’ll go for a walk tomorrow and that will be that. That doesn’t always stop me from feelings of guilt, but those thoughts are not my own and I am working to move past them.

book-2605690_1920The point is, we are so inundated with the ideal body, the perfect woman wearing the perfect clothes, that we often forget where these images originate. They are not yours and they are not mine. Biology does not dictate that thin is better – and make no mistake, body-shaming is body-shaming regardless of whether you speak of women considered too heavy or not heavy enough. The “ideal” female body type has changed a million times over history, and it will continue to change again and again.

It’s not always easy to march in the streets or to soapbox shout your feminist agenda. Some days, the issues of abortion, civil rights, fair wages and the rest simply seem too big to take on. That’s okay, self-care is fundamental to any fight. But this tiny detail, the idea of showing a female character who is at peace with her eating habits, of not pandering to the lowest common stereotype of sisterhood, that is easy. We deserve heroines who eat what they want to don’t want – as long as they are healthy – and don’t feel guilty about. We need to change the narrative that there is anything shameful or dirty about eating a candy bar.

Yes, it seems simple. But a thousand tiny details can make a mountain high enough to climb. Give your heroines a chance to break away from the rules that govern us each and every day. Let them eat chocolate without guilt. It’s one sweet way to make a hell of a difference. ♥

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Adding More Books

As writers, we’re told that it’s fundamental to read as many books as possible–and it’s true. Reading is what makes us better writers. It teaches us how to tell genuine stories, what pitfalls to avoid, what makes for strong characterization and how to hold a reader’s attention. But since we’re doing our best to get our stories down, amid the madness of work and home and school, it can be challenging to find enough time to read as well. In fact, it can feel impossible. So, how do you add more books to your day, your week, your month, your year?

 

Read What You Like

reading-1698771_960_720This may seem obvious, but a common reason for reading slumps is simply the material. It feels like we should be reading the classics or big, long-fiction stories, or modern sagas, but that’s far from the truth. We can learn from whatever books we read, whether you like YA stories, romance, science fiction, graphic novels or anything in between.

Don’t feel like reading only counts if it’s ‘smart person’ reading. You benefit from reading regardless, so allow yourself to enjoy the material without guilt and you’ll read a whole lot more of it.

Set Your Goals

Some readers get stressed out by reading goals, but I, personally, love them. Reading goals make me feel like I’m actually reading for a reason (which I am, but I like being able to record it). When I mark off my new reads, I get the sense of satisfaction associated with completing a task, which makes it feel less like procrastination and more intentional.

Procrastinate Intentionally

books-2241631_960_720With the way our world works today, it’s incredibly easy to get distracted by an app or a notification or an email. We give ourselves give minute breaks that turn into twenty-minute breaks without any actually rest or relaxation and we don’t really enjoy the time we spend not working. So commit to it. Allow yourself to take a longer break and read a chapter of your book. You’ll feel better about the break you took and you’ll actually get to read more often than you think.

Relax Before Bed

This may seem like an obvious one, but I find my instinct after a long day is to scroll through whichever feed holds my interest and then turn off the light. It’s a hard habit to break and I’m sure it disturbs my sleep patterns and bothers my eyes before bed. So work to move past your last internet search of the night and actually delve into a chapter or two. Once you get accustomed to the pattern, you’ll start to look forward to it and actually want to read more.

Audiobooks Are Your Friends

I’ve been an avid audiobook fan for more than a decade. I used to listen to them when I walked to work and to school and now I keep them on when I cook dinner or fold the laundry. It’s a brief reprieve from the day and I love the unique experience of the narrator’s take on the story. Plus, it makes doing the chores fun and allows you to get into an extra few minutes of a story every day.

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Find Your Crew

Setting reading goals helps with accountability, but finding a group of people can encourage you to get excited about new books. There’s nothing better than the feeling of sharing a favorite story with someone and having them love it as much as you do. Book groups, whether online or in real life, can give us juice and fuel the passion to read and read widely.

 

There are myriad ways to approach reading more in your life, but it’s more important to focus on reprioritizing and giving yourself permission to enjoy what you like. Make reading the focus of your downtime or find a way to integrate into the little moments of your life, and you’ll find that it’s actually far easier than it seems. And, since good reading leads to good writing, it’s sure to become one of your favorite steps on the road to telling your next story. The only question is–what book do you start with first? ♥

Valentine’s Day, A Family Tradition

It seems like an odd thing to say – that Valentine’s Day is a family tradition, but in my family, it’s true. Growing up, I never understood how anyone could dislike a day filled with chocolate and fun, but I realize now my family celebrates the holiday quite differently from most people.

My dad’s birthday is Valentine’s Day, which should give the day more than enough celebration and festiveness to knock out the regular love day woes, but it’s more than that. My parents have been married for nearly thirty years, and every year on Valentine’s Day, my dad gives my mom an epic Valentine.

They started small – popup cards in their tiny Manhattan apartment before we were born, and they’ve grown completely out of control in the years since. Using his considerable graphic design talent, dad has photoshopped mom’s face onto movie posts, book covers and newspaper articles, just to name a few. There’s a ten-foot billboard in our backyard, touting my mother’s Jersey Tomatoes (I didn’t realize until I was in my teenage years just how many breast jokes the gifts held…) four neon signs in the kitchen and two in the yard, and a tattoo of my mother as a cowgirl pinup on my dad’s arm.

12936596_10153292029256442_4435003766335397705_nIt is a remarkable tradition, and has garnered quite a following in friends and family. One of the most recent Valentine was a drive-in movie marquee, with block letters that spelled out Tommy Loves Holly. He finished it in April and set it up in June.

As someone who writes about love and tells the stories of those meetings of hearts and minds and souls, how could I not love Valentine’s Day, when this tradition that has been going on a quarter of century illuminates, yet again, how much my parents love each other? I have been in an amazing relationship for three wonderful years, but Valentine’s Day – single or in love – has always been a remarkable occasion in my household. It is where a display of passion and creativity are used to say the simplest and most complicated words in the language lexicon. I love you.

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My parents have had their ups and downs, two kids, two houses, too many dogs, cats and jobs to count. There have been financial and familial difficulties, and just as many successes. They have shown me what it means to work for a happy life with a person you love – and that it is work, but honest, important and rewarding work.

Because of them, I know what true love looks like. Because of them, I am able to see the truth of the love I feel for my boyfriend. These Valentines, silly and out of control as they are, are a symbol of so much love and devotion. There is a new one every year – and that’s why I love Valentine’s Day.

Super Smaht 

An MFRW Author Post — and check out the other blogs on the hop! 

I don’t usually watch sports. When you come from a car family, you go to car shows on the weekend, rather than sporting events, and since my home state of New Jersey has exactly one professional sports team (the Devils), I wasn’t likely to pick it up outside of the home in my formative years. That said, the Super Bowl comes with its own kind of energy that extends beyond sporting to something else entirely. And while I didn’t watch it in its entirety, I certainly enjoyed several forms of cheese, asked my patient boyfriend questions about the rules, called an off-sides play, and watched the commercials. 

While I’m no closer to buying a Hyundai than I was a week ago, my respect for the brand has certainly improved, given their Super Bowl ad, which I’ve watched no less than five times. I went to college in Boston, and while the accent is undoubtedly used to comedic point in films, ads, and television shows, there is a great amount of truth to the commercial featuring Chris Evans, Rachel Dratch, and John Krasinski. 

The whole commercial played out like an inside joke, with the three Massachusetts natives saying the words “smaht pak” (Smart Park) over and over, as they discuss the new Hyundai. (Which, incidentally, is still in Beta phase, as a co-worker pointed out to me. I was too focused on the whole smaht pak thing.) There are call outs to known spots in and around the city Dorchesta, Fauxborough, the Gaaden, to which John Krasnsinki always replies paked it and then paked it and then unpaked it. They use the word “Wicked” unironically, and David Ortiz, “Big Papi”, of the Red Sox makes a surprise appearance. (With a very contrived Boston accent, no less.)

Watching this commercial with my Boston-born boyfriend was the best part. But even though I found the commercial hilarious, I also think there’s a lot to be learned from it too. As writers, we strive to create those connections with our readers, blurring the lines between what we know to be true and what we know to be fiction. Do Rachel Dratch, Chris Evans, and John Krasinski hang out and chat on the sidewalk between Chinatown and Southie? (Boyfriend did some investigating on that point). No, likely not. And even if they do, it’s probably not to discuss parking techniques.

But for anyone who knows Boston, who knows that none of those actors has a Boston accent (Steve Rogers is from Brooklyn, Jim Halpert is considered to be from the Scranton area), who appreciates the in-jokes and the wink-winks, nudge-nudges, it’s funny. And it makes us feel like we’re in on the joke. 

Smart Park technology isn’t exactly sexy or enticing. Well, it wasn’t—until now. Automakers, take note. 

Not the Energizer-Bunny

 

Let’s face it, writing is not only difficult and frustrating, it’s also very lonely. While we do spend some time interacting with other writers about our process or our promotion, writing is a largely solitary activity and us authors spend a questionably-healthy amount of time communicating solely with the fictional characters we have created in our own heads.

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I won’t get into the myriad reasons why this is the greatest job in the world, but every once in awhile, it’s necessary to take a step back and get away from the lonely office and misbehaving imaginary friends to regroup and recharge.

For me, that could mean one of several things. Sometimes I’ll pick a different project or deadline and refocus my efforts to be productive elsewhere. With two pen names, freelance work and a start up company, there is never a lack of to-do and I am can always find someplace to put my energy. But sometimes it’s not the project, sometimes I just need to get out of the office and do something else, in that case, I tend to bake.

By strict order of my family, though, I’m not allowed to do this very often. I don’t hold back when I bake, and I’ll go full butter and sugar, so baking is fairly unsustainable way of managing my work and myself.

In direct contrast to baking, my go-to, author pick me up is something simple and much better for my health. I walk and I listen to audiobooks.

victorian-home-1606836_1920This helps enormously for several reasons. One, writing is sedentary and I stress eat, so walking is one great way to keep my body active nearly every day. My neighborhood is a beautiful amalgam of old houses, dating back to the 1700s and filling in every era since. It is peaceful and lovely and I have garnered much writing inspiration from simply looking at trim and balconies and gardens and putting my feet to the pavement.

young-woman-2622732_1920And then there are the books. Audiobooks have become one of my all time favorite things, as I’ve written about in the past, and they are fundamental to any career or artistic success I might have. Sometimes the very best way to crack through writer’s block or lack of motivation is to take a step back and read, or rather, listen, to watch some of the genre’s best play with syntax and character arc, to come away from a well-loved book understanding– or perhaps not understanding– why it is so well-loved.

These books have become a staple in my life, and I’ve gone through hundreds of audiobooks over the years. They offer entertainment and inspiration and remind me exactly why I love writing the genre so damn much. Combine that with fresh air and a jaunt around my beautiful neighborhood on a beautiful summer’s day and I am one happy camper.

In the movies, they always show a writer shooting back whiskey and watching the rain, or sitting in a coffee shop waiting for refill after refill. While I’m all aboard the coffee train, I can’t work in cafes and I’d like to think I’m too much of a professional to drink on the job. But though it’s not as sexy or as moving, I’d prefer my technique any day. Because most of the time, a good walk and a good book is just the cure for what ails ya.♦

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My Mary, My Muse

An MFRW Author Post – And check out the other blogs on the hop!

 

The first romance story I ever wrote was a gift. At the time, I had been writing fanfiction for years, and I had actually completed a full-length romance novel my freshman year of college that Harlequin had rejected so kindly I actually wanted to keep writing. But the first real romance story, the first one that would be The First One was a combination of those things, a real romance, featuring real people as a Christmas gift to Mary.

notebook-3297317_960_720If you have been following my blog, you’ve probably seen Mary’s name pop up. Mary is the friend that every writer should have.

She is the one not only willing to listen to you rant about plot but offering killer ideas, better character development and suggestions for improving sexual tension in this scene or that relationship. She is one of the funniest, most brilliant, driven and important people in my life and I can honestly say that I would not be the writer I am today without her.

For many reasons – this Christmas story is one of them.

I won’t say it was bad. It wasn’t bad. It was simply untested – more like fanfiction, with characters behaving in a way they never would, a complete lack of continuity, a whole lot of very convenient things happening and a happy bow tied on at the end. This was the first story I ever published when I first started self-publishing and it sent me on the path to truly becoming a professional writer.

Because the next year, for Christmas, I wrote Mary another story. In this, she was the runaway daughter of an English lord, come to stay with her cousin (me, obviously,) at an infamous house party held by another famous lord with whom she falls wildly in love and lives happily ever after. This would go on to become one of three stories in my series, originally self-published and then ultimately picked up by a publishing house. Mary, as my muse, continued to bring me good luck in the world of writing. She is the ultimate in romantic inspiration, a striking redhead with style, sass, and a brilliant mind, and I look forward to writing her again.

But she is not the only one of my friends to land on the pages of my books.

Armand was one of my best friends in college. From orientation to graduation, we shared parties and study rooms and he remains an important presence in my life, no matter the distance between us. One afternoon, as we were goofing off instead of using the shared study space for its intended goals, he asked me why there weren’t more Indian heroes in romance novels.

Now, this is a big question. With the latest issues in romance and diversity rising to the fore, I’m not going to delve into it here, but suffice to say, there aren’t and weren’t a lot of Indian heroes, and the ones that existed were often there for the western white savior aesthetic that never seems to die. But at the time, I just shrugged and said, “I’ll write you one.” 

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Did I write it all the way right? No, I don’t think so. Historically diverse romance novels need to be handled with care, and there’s much I would change with the knowledge I have now, but my hero in the story is for Armand and in my mind will always be him. And because of that, I am the best friend in the world. How many people can say they got their friend laid by writing them as the hero in a historical romance novel?

I sent Armand an early copy of the book. A woman at the bar was intrigued by the historical hero and asked to see it. Suffice to say, I am the best friend in the world.

But I digress. Mary and Armand are extreme examples, but you’ll find influences from the most important people in my life in all of my books. I haven’t written my partner as a hero because that’s my story and I want to keep it as such, but so much of who he is comprises the perfect hero, and you will find traits from him and other members of my immediate family woven in and highlighted in most of my stories. We are fundamentally influenced by the world around us and the people we both love and dislike. After all, you know what they say, if you want to live forever, love a writer. ♦

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Fly By the Seat of Your Pants

An MFRW Author Post–and check out the other blogs on the hop! 

 

While there are a thousand shades of writing processes, from researchers to outliners to storyboarders to free ballers, the fundamentals can be narrowed down to two–plotter vs. pantser. 

You maybe be familiar with these terms, but if not, the meaning can be easily discerned. Plotters plot and pansters fly by the seat of their pants. I have done both in many genres of writing, including both fiction and nonfiction, and let me tell you–I will never be a pantser. 

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Make no mistake, this is not a judgment against authors with alternative writing styles from my own. Every writer will approach every story differently and we benefit from such myriad of styles, voices, skills, and perspectives. This post simply delves into why plotting works for me.

Words That Count

As I have addressed in previous posts, I am an overwriter. I can eat up word count easily and jot off first drafts with little fanfare, leaving the real challenge for the editor version of myself, when I have to get to the nitty-gritty of discerning the good words from the fluff.

This particular skill can be quite useful or quite a lot of extra work. If I have the roadmap for my story, a knowledge of even the most basic direction the manuscript is supposed to head, I can utilize my word count goals for good. If I don’t have a destination in mind, the next scene or element of character development, I can still write two or four thousand words, it’s just going to be a lot of fluff, wasted space and wasted time. Organizing a plot outline, even if it changes, which it might and it has, saves me time on both ends.

Series Continuity

I keep trying to write standalone books, but the truth is that series are a lot easier to write–the setting and characters are established and stories two, three and four tend to come naturally from story one. The problem is that I often reach story four and forget some of the details at the beginning of the series. In fact, with the length of time it might take to write a book, I have forgotten major plot points or the order of story elements.

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Knowing I have an outline to return to gives me a safety net to continue writing deeper into the series without worrying over the specifics. It streamlines the process and everything after book one runs much more smoothly.

Cover Letter/Blurb/Synopsis

These are arguably some of the hardest elements of a story to write. Condensing a 50,000 or 80,000-word book into less than a page or one hundred words routinely proves itself a remarkable challenge. With an outline, the book is already down to its most skeletal form, a bare-bones version of the beast. Looking to that highlights the most important elements of the plot and character development and makes the narrowing down process a lot less intimidating.

Note To Self

Stories don’t show up in order. Though I’ve never been a writer who skipped scenes or wrote backyards–not out of some disapproval of the process, it’s just never been part of mine–elements still come before their time. It could be a major breakthrough in the plot or a simple line of dialogue between two characters in the final scene, but having an outline gives me a place to put my notes so they’re safe and accessible and I know I’ll find them later. A simple note at the end of the outline might make all the difference in my book. 

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Keeping it Straight

Writing is kind of a messy process, and I’m often working on several books or series at the same time. Outlines and storyboards are a really simple way for me to get back into the headspace of one book over another, especially if I have to switch between genres. I might go a week or so before working on the next scene in one book because of a deadline on another, and going back to my outline as a reference provides a compass for navigating all these different stories.

I’m Terrified

The honest to God truth is that pantsing scares me. I have bulletin boards, whiteboards, notebooks and Google docs of story preparation and development, much of which comes before any writing begins on the book. I have gone into one book without an outline and though I believe it turned out well, looking back I recognize many places where an outline would have benefited the characters and me as the writer. Going into a story without preparation feels like jumping off the edge of a cliff without a parachute and hoping I land in a pillow factory. But that’s just me.

Every writer brings their own process to each book. And it will vary from book to book, editor to editor. That’s just how the writing process works. The trick is simply to accept what your book is telling you and work from there. Because the book will tell you. It might come naturally or it might demand sacrifice, it might flow as planned or hit a bump in the road. The nice thing about an outline is that it’s not set in stone, but it moves with the tide of the story, like sails in wind.

So, whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, point your book where you think the story’s headed and see where the winds and waters take you. If you learn a few tricks along the way, share them. After all, no matter how much planning and preparation an author does, we can still only move forward on the book one wave at a time. ♦

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