WIP progress update, and growing as a writer:

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”Stephen King (On Writing)

So, I hit 64,000 words in my WIP this morning, which means I’m roughly two-thirds of the way through the second draft (me thinks). This manuscript is teaching me a lot about myself as a writer. The meetings I’ve attended of Virginia Romance Writers have given me some insights not only into the genre, but also in writing in general. I’m making progress, exercising my writing muscles, which is always exciting.

So what am I learning as I go? Well, my strengths and weaknesses, for one thing. My strengths (I think): Description. Dialogue. And, most of all, character development, which connects to my greatness weakness. Action. I sometimes get stuck in someone’s head; sometimes, as crit partner Kathleen Foucart once put it, “The world is about to end, and they’re sitting around talking about it.” (paraphrase) She was right, too. (She usually is.) My plot had gotten stuck and was spinning its wheels in “Let’s just think this through,” Land, a place where stories go when the writer doesn’t know where to go next. When no one goes anywhere, the tension starts to fade. How will the reader connect if we’re just sitting in the living room? We need the escalation of tension, whether it’s sexual chemistry between two characters, or a ticking bomb (figurative or literal), or someone’s increasing desperation because what he or she has longed for is slipping further and further away. Fortunately, my story has a solid foundation for some serious tension and action. I just sometimes have to chip away at those excess scenes to get where I’m going.

Now, how is that good news? Because once we identify our weaknesses, we can work on them. I’m not going to send this manuscript out into the world to agents or editors or whomever when it has obvious problems that I can spot and fix. If I see a scene that’s too heavy on the internal and not enough on the external tension, I can revise. I can hype up the tension. I can get things moving again. Sometimes I write a scene and realize that I wrote it just for me. Now I know what motivates this character. I know what’s in her closet, skeletons or stilettos. I know what she dreams about, what she’s thinking when she stares out the window. My reader might need to know some of these things. He or she might need to know about them sooner or later. When I revise, I can foreshadow, although sometimes the foreshadowing happens without me knowing. Such is the writing life—that our stories and our characters hold secrets even the author can’t detect.

And I look forward to revising this story. Some writers say they dread revision. But I actually enjoy this process, however frustrating it might be. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I do a lot of editing already, though usually of others’ work, so I’m keeping those muscles in shape. I’m also editing this draft as I go, revising scenes before I send them off for critique, so hopefully my next round of revisions aren’t as extensive as this second draft, essentially a rewrite.

I am moving more slowly than I had hoped, but the story is getting there. I have faith in it. One day, I hope it will be a story that the world needs, a story to inspire people. I hope people connect with these characters and their trials. But crafting a polished, solid manuscript means taking it scene by scene with a careful eye. Yes, it’s getting a manuscript ready for the world that’s the trick.

Happy Writing!

Possibilities: The changing face of publishing in the 21st century

Writing in the 21st-century is bewildering, scary, amazing, and exhilarating all at the same time. Never have we had so many opportunities for sharing our stories, from e-publishers to the traditional NY route to self-publishing. Book trailers, audio books, and enhanced e-books offer new and exciting ways to engage potential readers and expand their experiences with our books.

But it’s terrifying in a sense to think that none of us really has any idea where all of this is going. We can quote statistics, such as the recent drop—make that an all-out nosedive—in mass-market paperback sales: 41.5% drop in sales in February. (See the Dear Author blog post here.) E-books, thanks to the number and affordability of e-book readers like the Nook, Kindle, and Sony E-reader, are becoming increasingly popular. And for romance authors, there’s more good news because romance novels are a fast-growing genre in e-book sales. (See the Romance Writers of America industry statistics.)

Despite all of the speculation, no one can predict the future (not even I, with my various tarot decks). Is the world of publishing changing? Without a doubt. But how is it changing? We can’t know, not fully, not for certain.

What is good is that people are buying books. At no time in our history can we claim, as a species, to have been so well read. Despite all of the many options in this world, from sporting events to concerts, from radio stations and television shows, from watching movies to walking in the park, people are still choosing to read books. That’s a good sign for those of us who feel called to a life in writing.

I’m not going to guess what the future holds or how the industry will change, but it has changed. And one of the great things about that change is how many more possibilities exist for authors.

We’ve never before had so many opportunities for self-promotion. From Twitter to Facebook, YouTube to Goodreads, writers have so many new avenues to reach out to potential readers. Readers have never had so many avenues to find and acquire books they like and share those books with friends and fellow book-lovers. Blogging and websites mean that readers can connect with authors whose work they might enjoy. We’re not just limited to what we find on the shelves in our local bookstore. Amazon, among many other venues, has leveled the playing field. To be sure, it’s a crowded playing field.

I’m reading Zoe Winters’ Smart Self-publishing: Becoming an Indie Writer, which offers a number of insights into writing and promotion. It’s useful regardless of whether you go the indie or traditional route, full of revelations and tips based on the author’s own experiences. From print on demand (POD) to audio books, Winters’ gives the aspiring writer a practical guide to understanding the field. She talks about the qualities that make a good indie writer. You have to be willing to take risks and to do your own promotion, for example. Now, if you’re a writer, you’re going to have to do both of those things regardless of your path. Even if you get a big contract with a big publishing house, you won’t be able to sit by and let your book sell itself—which is why I think this book is excellent reading for anyone.

I’m still not sure which path I will take, but I feel fortunate to have the options.

Self-publishing still has a stigma, and, to be honest, since part of my day job is reviewing books, I’ve seen plenty of reasons why. With no barriers, anyone can become a writer, and not everyone should. It’s not that I’m an elitist about art, but you have to be willing to be critiqued and edited, you have to be a damn-good self-editor, and you have to be willing to work hard to hone your craft and make plenty of mistakes and learn from them. These are not qualities everyone possesses. To be sure, many people have the interest and desire to write books. But modern life offers us plenty of choices, and writing isn’t an easy path. You basically work without getting paid for a few years (just a few, if you’re lucky) before you have the shot to become a published writer. It’s a long journey.

But the fact that there are successful indie writers out there is great news. There will always be self-published books out there that never should have been published. But there are plenty of good ones, too. The life of an indie writer certainly isn’t any easier than that of a published writer. It’s not an easy way out of revising, because if you don’t revise your story until it’s the best it can be, it simply won’t sell. Nor is it a way to avoid writing a query letter. (Seriously, if you can write a good novel, you can write a query letter. Going to all of the work of learning how to self-publish and doing it all yourself seems like a very complicated way of getting out of writing a letter.)

The number of avenues to publication is great news for all of us regardless of the path our writing journey will follow. Why? Because we have options. New doors are opening. We have new avenues for sharing our stories. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re trying to do? We’re businesspeople; we can’t lie about that. Writing is too much work and sacrifice to do it for free. Indie music has earned itself a reputation as being hip and edgy. I hope in time that indie writing can hold the same allure for new writers.

I don’t have a side. When it comes to NY publishing or indie, I think which one is better for you depends on who you are and what your personal goals are. Whether you’re fully print or fully e-book or a combination (I would speculate that the combo is where we’re heading, but that’s neither here nor there…), that’s your choice. And I think choice is a good thing. It’s a good thing for writers and for readers.

It will be scary and interesting to take this roller coaster ride that the industry is currently undergoing. Ups and downs, twists and hairpin turns, and a few loops thrown in, and we’ll see where we end up. And, like any industry, the world of writing and publishing will continue evolving.

One thing, I hope, we can predict. That the core of what we do will remain the same: We write because we love our stories and our characters and hope our readers will love them too. We read because books help us learn and grow as individuals. And writing will always be about that: the connection between people, writers bringing stories into being, and readers finding a sense of meaning and enjoyment in those works. Whatever our path, that’s the driving force behind what we do. Everything else is just a route for reaching that destination.

Confessions of a self-actualization junkie:

Some people want to climb the corporate ladder. Me? I just want to get to the top of Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs.

Maybe it all started in psych 101, the first time I saw that pyramid. The truth is that I’ve always wanted to become the best possible version of myself, ever since I was a little girl writing in her journal and sitting in the forest, pondering the meaning of life. I knew from a young age that I wanted something different out of my life, something that didn’t even seem like a possibility at the time. I couldn’t see what I wanted, but I knew it was out there.

I am introspective by default, critical by nature, and so analytical I’m surprised smoke doesn’t occasionally pour out of my ears. I assess, I reassess, and I take careful steps. Sure, I leave space in my life for play and spontaneity, but I am so goal-driven that it can be, quite frankly, detrimental. I’ve worked myself so hard, burnt the candle at both ends, that I’ve run myself into the ground before. And even that I analyzed until I’d seen each slide of my decisions under the microscope.

I meditate, do yoga, read Martha Beck articles on Oprah.com, do numerology, read up about my astrological sign, Feng Shui my home so often I’ve earned the right to use Feng Shui as a verb, and frequently peruse books by Deepak Chopra. I know my Myers-Briggs personality type (INFJ, the idealist or protector, and the rarest type). We’re dreamers, but we’re also hard-nosed. We love goals. Repeat: Love. Goals. Personalitypage.com writes of the INFJ:

INFJs place great importance on having things orderly and systematic in their outer world. They put a lot of energy into identifying the best system for getting things done and constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives. On the other hand, INFJs operate within themselves on an intuitive basis [that] is entirely spontaneous. They know things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand.

Do you know your Myers-Briggs type? How does your Myers-Briggs type influence your approach to your goals?

Read more about how I’m fumbling my way toward self-actualization…