Writing a book is a work of love. However, things get in the way, i.e. work. We all dream of the day when we can make enough money to survive by writing. Until that day comes (if it ever does), we need to keep our full time jobs. We wrote and published our first five books working full time.
When do you write? This is a common question people always ask us. And it all comes down to time management and what you can do working around your family and work schedule.
Both of us use to go into work 1-2 hours early each morning just to write. We brought our lap tops and clicked away until it was time to start work. Egg timers are great for working an hour at a time. Don’t forget to bring your breakfast. Some people prefer to stay later at work which may work better for you. Be sure to plan at least an hour or more at a time.
Look for gaps in your day, including breaks, waiting for the mail, or meetings. Basically anytime you may have a few minutes, i.e., typing, or writing a note for characterization, dialogue or sub plot in a writing notebook, on a napkin/piece or scrap paper/paper towel and pocket it. You never know when inspiration will hit. Nothing is more frustrating than coming up with a fantastic idea, telling yourself you’ll remember and when it comes down to writing…forgetting.
Keep up the good writing.
Published authors Will Zeilinger and Janet Lynn had been writing individually until they got together and wrote the Skylar Drake Mystery Series. These hard-boiled tales are based in old Hollywood of 1955. Janet has published seven mystery novels, and Will has three plus a couple of short stories. Their world travels have sparked several ideas for murder and crime stories. This creative couple is married and lives in Southern California.
In the oceans of writing instruction and advice available to anyone with a search engine I look for everything publishers have to say about current trends. Since you can’t really access publisher’s marketing info — and certainly not Amazon’s sales data — that’s as close to the horse’s mouth as I can get to learn about sales trends. That’s info that helps me help my clients. One offering stands out about contemporary fiction: keep the narrative fast paced. This digital world of FX, Twitter, flash fiction, etc. has our brains wired for lightening fast action. There’s not a lot of room for ruminating on superfluous details of landscape, the nature of family bonds or the sounds of church bells. The story has to gallop from the starting gate to capture and compel a reader. I think we all get that. What’s interesting to me are the narrative techniques an author can use to set and maintain that just-right pace.
Voice and tense are formidable tools to heighten tension, move action and hook and hold the reader. I don’t know what goes into an author’s decisions about what tense and voice to use but I’ll venture to guess it most often comes organically. When a protagonist begins to take shape in the creative sphere of the brain the author hears 3rd Person or 1st Person (which is tricky to write but such fun to read when done well) and the story grows in the mind in the present or past tense. Past tense is most common in fiction (and has been for eons) and is almost always 3rd Person. Present tense is more commonly used with 1st P voice; it creates an immediacy and intimacy that’s very engaging.
I’d never given a thought to 3rd Person present tense. Then I discovered the who-dun-it series of British writer Bruce Beckham. He’s amazing! Set in Britain’s Lake District his detective, Skelgill, is an irresistible mixture of irascible, self-centered, scruffy, generous and intuitive. Every character is roundly drawn and intriguing, the setting is as integral a character as the murderer and the pace never lags. Beckham accomplishes all of this in 3rd Person (omniscient) voice, present tense. It’s an unusual combination but in the hands of this author it is riveting.
It’s how he uses this tool to set and maintain a perfect pace and to draw the reader so fully into his world that amazed me. Reading a narrative described to you by an unknown, unseen, non-judgmental voice as the action unfolds just shouldn’t work. But it does. It’s like having your eyes covered at the movies while a very erudite friend describes what is happening on-screen.
Beckham is a master wordsmith and so uses dialog to show characterization and plot points but the present tense and 3rd P voice puts the reader in a front row seat as the action scenes unfold before our eyes. I didn’t feel as though I was right there — I was right there.
A writer’s choice of voice and tense would have to be dependent, in some part, on the story they are telling. Not every tale will fit just any combination. But it is amazing what a powerful difference the choice can make.
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.
I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 25 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.
Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
Last night all I could think about was the deadline for this blog post. I had put it off all month. At the last minute I was hoping to write something inspirational for both readers and writers. While hope springs eternal, I found myself pondering – and pondering – what that perfect message should be.
If I’m going to be honest, I knew I wouldn’t come up with anything substantial because I have been distracted. When I’m distracted I usually sit down with a friend at a coffee shop and hash out whatever is on my mind until I’m back on track. Since I can’t do that you’re ‘it’, my friends in a virtual coffee shop. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing while I’ve been locked down and pondering this post. We’ll start with the garden and move on from there.
Tomato plants. I haven’t actually thought about the tomatoes as much as I have been checking on them. Going outside every fifteen minutes is a nice break from staring at my blank computer screen or at my husband napping on the couch. No matter how often I check, though, the tomatoes still have not turned red and my husband still has not gone back to work.
My fabric stash. Over the last eight weeks I have knocked it down some. Here’s the count: five blouses, a quilt top, a fully-lined summer suit (1 dress that would have fit 15 years ago when I was 25 pounds lighter), and ten face masks. Here’s my question: is sewing my stash like a tree falling in the forest or is it like ‘build it and they will come’? I think it’s the latter. When the day comes to have dinner in a restaurant I will have lots to wear.
Work. Honestly, my brain has been mush when it comes to writing a new book. I have an idea but I couldn’t get it to gel, so I looked through my files and reread some of my early work. I had so much fun that I edited and published five novels from the 90s. I also published The Death of Me, a novella I wrote that morphed into a novel (Before Her Eyes). These two works are as different as they are similar. Some times pondering one thing will lead to another. The trick is not to ignore the ‘other’. Productivity: mission accomplished.
Finally, I’ve been pondering important things: the individual versus the greater good, the constitution and ‘guidelines’ as our lockdown stretches into yet another week, another month, another century. My heart is sad for those who are sick and who have died; my heart is breaking for my relatives and friends who are losing their livelihood, home and, well, everything they have worked hard for. I won’t tell you which side I’m on when it comes to hunkering down or opening up. I will only say that I realize that what I have been pondering all along is something readers and writers have always been inspired by: story. No matter what road we choose there will be stories at the end of it. We are writing them now.
These will be tales of tragedy and triumph; there will be something to laugh at and something to cry over. We will all see these events – and each other – differently. Eventually there will come a time when we put pondering aside so that we can sit with friends at a coffee shop, tell our stories, and hug each other when all is said and done.
On the surface that may sound like an easy question, but when I was a new writer, I found it very challenging. Probably because I had a hard time knowing what I wanted for myself.
Never one to make decisions quickly, choosing what to wear or what I wanted to eat for dinner was not always simple. Deciding on what restaurant to go to or what movie to watch was a loaded question in our house, since my husband and I usually came from opposite ends and had to find a compromise. For some reason, as a younger me, I would discount my own desires or not really care. I even had a ex-boyfriend ask me what I wanted once, and even though I had basic goals and dreams, things I liked to do and be a part of, I was unsure how to answer specifically.
Maybe I was too afraid to be so definitive. Or I wanted to make sure I would be really happy with my decision. Or I liked to blend in with whomever I was hanging out with. Who knows. All that’s to say, asking “What does our Hero want? What does our Heroine want?” over and over made me realize I had to dig deeper in defining myself as well as my characters if I wanted to write a story.
I worked on five different techniques to help me dive deep:
I started paying deeper attention to the different nuances in my friends and family. Never wanting to judge, I purposely didn’t focus on differences or quirks, but as a writer, that’s what makes our characters unique and special. And it’s those quirks that we love in our friends and family, isn’t it?
Take a look and watch people’s faces for reactions and try and guess what they are thinking. My husband and I love to do our date nights at Disneyland. It’s a great place to people watch. There are so many different personalities to watch and observe and try and figure out a background story for them.
I don’t know why, but I love trucks. And when I see a vehicle I like I tend to look at who is driving it and what their story is. I probably could make up a lot of stories this way, but right now I’m focusing on time periods without vehicles, so I’m packing away these observances for a later time. But the exercise has helped me practice defining characters. If it’s not a vehicle, you could pick some other item such as a house, a pet, or clothes. What type of person would choose…
I don’t know why, but this has been difficult for me. I ask too many ‘what ifs’. Just pick one and write from that perspective. If you need to change it later, that’s okay. Decisiveness helps you move forward. Originally, I couldn’t decide on any particular personality and so my heroine was everything. There was no uniqueness that I could specifically use to forward her story. I had to go back and be more clear-cut and unambiguous. Which leads me to my last point.
In the beginning I was really vague with what I thought my characters wanted. It made it harder to write a scene. When I started my second book’s draft, I had defined my characters more before I wrote and had a stronger idea who they were and what they wanted. I found it was so much easier to write from their point of view that way. All those decisions made a difference!
So as you work on your first book or your twentieth, I hope this gives you some fresh perspective in helping you flush out your characters. I had jotted notes down about this blog topic early on in my writing journey. It was one of those aha moments that really helped me break through a hurdle I had in flushing out my story.
Since then I’ve learned more about myself, too.
The other day I was musing about muses. This was a rather convoluted process that went something like this:
I want to write but I don’t have an idea. I should write, but I’m bummed because I don’t have an idea. I could write if I had a great idea. I need to get one and until I do, I’ll watch TV. There’s a movie on TV called The Muse. I’ll watch The Muse and get inspired.
This is how the musing went after the movie.
The Muse is awful. She’s demanding, self-centered, and doesn’t care about the writer’s work. Still, the he sees something in her. What does he see in her? I want a muse. I just don’t want a muse like that.
I turned off the TV, obsessed with the idea of getting a muse. I just had to figure out where to get one. Since I’d never actually seen a muse, I decided I better find out exactly what I was looking for.
In the dictionary, the first definition of muse is to be thrown into a deep state of dreamy abstraction. The second is a noun, naming any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology that preside over song, poetry, the arts and sciences. The third definition is the one we think of most often, a human source of inspiration or a guiding genius.
With this information in hand, I analyzed my career and realized that a muse has guided me every step of the way. I have often found myself lost in a dream state inspired by another writer. Their work has more often than not sparked an idea for a book of my own or a shown me a new way of laying a story foundation or become a point of reference for an essential building block.
The second definition – the naming of the goddesses – is a matter of inspirational faith. I have always believed that there is ‘something’ hovering over artists that not only encourages the creative soul, but also gives it the courage needed to present its work to a critical public.
That brings us back to the movie and the third definition of muse: the source of inspiration that we can touch and talk to. For some people this is one person, for me it has been many. I don’t call them muses; I call them friends, lovers, family and colleagues. Each step of my career was inspired and moved forward by the muse of the moment, the one person I needed just then.
There was the high school teacher who told me I wrote well, my husband who rescued by early attempts from the trashcan, my children who proudly said their mom was a writer. As the years went on and the books piled up, there were editors who trained me and readers who cheered me on, inspiring me to be better at my craft. All these people were – as definition three would have us believe – guiding geniuses.
It doesn’t matter if they knew the roll they played in my writing. What matters is that I wrote because of them and never in spite of them. The truth is, all you have to do to find a muse is open your eyes, your mind, and your heart. That muse is there – sometimes where you least expect it.
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