Advice, Marketing, My Books, Publish, Social Media, Writing

Just say no more!

Publishing The Brevity of Roses was the fulfillment of a dream … and then it became a nightmare. It’s been nine months since publication day, so I’ve had time to gain a new perspective on what I did wrong. One thing I’ve learned is that marketing advice—like writing advice—should never be swallowed whole.

Those of you still looking forward to publication are probably working to “establish an online presence” because that’s usually #1 on the advice lists. If you, like me, are not a social butterfly, you’ve probably discovered that being a social media butterfly is no easier. Well, maybe a little easier because you don’t have to worry about your hair and clothes—unless you go all out and do video interviews. In any case, it takes a lot of your time.

While I should have been putting all my time and energy into writing another book, I spent gobs of it on Twitter. Gobs. What did I accomplish? I amassed almost 1,700 followers! YAY—um, no. Most of those followers are other authors hoping to sell me their books. Yes, I have a few friends there. That’s good. That’s also maybe 2% of my “followers”. I don’t think Twitter has helped me sell many books.

I also created a Facebook Author Page. I’ve never really done anything with it. Who am I supposed to connect with there? My target readers? Nope. Haven’t seen any. Mostly it’s authors supporting other authors. That’s wonderful, of course, but I already have that here on my blog.

And I joined SheWrites, Women On the Verge, Google+ and LinkedIn because I was advised to get my name out there. Be visible is the command. And what about Tumblr? Hey, there must be a way to use Pinterest as an author. What next? What next? What next?

How much of the last nine months did I spend writing my next book? Not a lot. Here’s what I’ve learned: I put the cart before the horse. Maybe when I have three or four or five books published (and another nearly ready) THEN I should spend a big chunk of my time “socializing” as an author.

Until then, I’ve picked the single online place where I’m comfortable, which is right here, and I’m letting the rest languish. I’m the real me here. And just being me feels great.

If you’re an author, have you found significant time spent on social media to be a benefit or a drain?

Advice, Editor, Writing

The spirit of giving to writers

Since this is the season for giving, I’d like to give my thoughts on something you can give to writers. A couple of days ago, someone sent me an email in which she wrote some lovely things about my writing. This person is a published author whose writing I admire, and her comments on specific elements of my writing that she liked gave me a much-needed lift.

I’ve heard there are writers who have abundant confidence in their work, but I don’t know any personally. At least at times, I think we all doubt our ability and need a boost. We need kind words about our writing. Think of them as vitamins for writers.

If you have a way to contact a writer whose work you’ve read, let them know you still think about a character, or a scene, or a line. Or tell them you’re looking forward to their next work. Give them a gift of a kind word for their writing. It might just be the boost they need to inspire some great writing.

Advice, Fiction, Novel, Opinion, Reader, Short story, Writing

It has to end somehow

If you’re a writer, I’m asking you to forget all the writing rules you know, and think like a reader for a few minutes. How do you like stories and novels to end? I realize your answer will probably depend on the genre of the read, so feel free to give me multiple responses.

I know if the book is one of a series the ending will wrap up parts of the story, but leave something open-ended. I expect there are other factors, besides genre, that influence types of endings.

When I write, it’s almost impossible for me to end on a truly negative note. As a reader, I don’t need a happily-ever-after ending, but a miserable-ever-after ending is likely to leave me wishing I hadn’t bothered to read the book or story. Also, in my writing, I have a tendency to want to wrap things up—most things. And I suppose I have those same preferences I when I read. I’ll be frustrated if I’m left asking, “but what about …” too many times.

That’s not to say I don’t like to wonder what might have happened a day, or months, or years after The End. Sometimes, as with the ending of my novel The Brevity of Roses, one might assume things will go smoothly, but one could be wrong. I don’t mind entertaining the possibilities of future story after the last page, but I expect the author to have finished the story they’ve just told me.

I’m told literary journals love ambiguous endings. What exactly does that mean? I don’t mind a twist or a bit of surprise at the end to make me think back through the story for clues I missed, but you leave me cold if you leave me screaming, “What the heck?!”

I’m reasonably intuitive. I like nuance. I don’t need everything spelled out for me, in fact that annoys me. But an author needs to respect my trust.  I’ve read stories that kept me guessing, a bit confused even, but I read along expecting it would all fall into place by the end. When it didn’t, that author made me one angry reader.

Of course, I’m asking about endings because I’m struggling with writing one. That’s why I’m asking you AS A READER, how do you like your endings served?

Advice, Books, Craft, Doubt, Fiction, Writing

Ray Bradbury wrote this just for me!

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard the terms plotter and pantser. For the non-writers: those terms refer to opposites in how much a writer prepares before he begins a work. Pantser comes from an aviation saying, “Fly by the seat of his pants.” meaning to fly on instinct alone, without instruments. (Finally looked that up.)

I’ve confessed to being a pantser, but the truth is, often my method is more like ultimate pantsing. I take the bare bones of a story idea and explore it—not before I write, but as I write. At first, I didn’t realize there was any other way to write. Then I decided to become a SERIOUS writer and bought book after book promising to teach me how to work like a real writer. Uh-oh.

I learned many useful things from these books, but some of the advice stymied my Muse. I hadn’t pre-written outlines, synopses, plot points charts, etc. for my many stories and one novel. And because I hadn’t followed those rules, I feared none of my work could possibly be any good. My hope for publication faded.

Then, a little over three years ago, I put my fingers to keyboard to elaborate on a dream I’d had and write it as a story. But the characters kept talking to me and the story grew. My dream turned into a novel. Some new writer friends thought it was a good novel. But I doubted their judgment because, again, I’d written mostly on instinct. In fact, most of the time, it felt as though I was only taking dictation. So how could it be good?

I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts that I was reading Ray Bradbury’s collection of essays on writing, Zen in the Art of Writing. I finally reached the last chapter and read something that, for me, surpassed all the bon mots I’d selected before. Mr. Bradbury didn’t know it, but he wrote the following part just for me:

The time will come when your characters will write your stories for you, when your emotions, free of literary cant and commercial bias, will blast the page and tell the truth.

Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.

So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.

Sha-zam! A celebrated writer had validated my method. It may not be every writer’s way, but it’s right for me. I no longer have to doubt the value of a story just because it seemed to write itself. Of course, not everything I write will work, but if it fails, it won’t be because I flew without instruments. It will be because I didn’t “stand aside” enough to let my “fingers, body, blood, and heart do”.

What say ye? Does Bradbury’s advice make your heart sing or shudder?


Photo credits: Anne Burgess – Creative Commons License

Advice, Author, Books, Craft, Fiction, Imagination, Inspiration, Life, Memory, Novel, Short story, Tips, Writing

As the twig is bent? Does your writing reflect your inner child?

I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, which is a collection of his essays. He mentions frequently the source of his story ideas, tracing them back to childhood loves and events. In that sense, he shows that he started writing his stories years, even decades, before he typed them out.

He writes:

“I was in love, then, with monsters and skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs and, at last, the red planet, Mars.

From these primitive bricks I have built a life and a career. By my staying in love with all of these amazing things, all of the good things in my existence have come about.”

And in another essay:

“Do not, for money, turn away from all the stuff you have collected in a lifetime.

Do not, for the vanity of intellectual publications, turn away from what you are—the material within you which makes you individual, and therefore indispensable to others.

To feed your Muse, then, you should always have been hungry about life since you were a child.”

With that in mind, this past week, I’ve thought a good bit about my childhood interests—my “primitive bricks”. At first glance, I don’t see evidence that I fed my Muse the seeds that grew into Brevity. Maybe I just need to look deeper into my first loves. Or maybe that novel was an aberration. Maybe my next novel should be completely different.

What do you think about Bradbury’s thoughts on childhood loves being the true well from which you draw your story ideas?