Am I Good At This — Or Not?

Self-doubt is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it pushes us to strive for our best rather than settle for something less. But on the negative side, it can drive us to question our talents and abilities.

image credit: Microsoft clip art

I love writing fiction. I wouldn’t have two novels drafted if I didn’t. I wouldn’t be writing short stories on a blog if I didn’t. But a stretch of dark, dreary, damp days has unleashed my self-doubt, and it’s off and running like Maisy and Chess through a field (a reference to my current Meghan Bode short story if you’re wondering who I’m talking about). I’m fighting back and continuing with the revisions to Summer at the Crossroads, trying to get that WIP ready for a new round of beta readers by early February.

This was my first novel. It’s near and dear to my heart. I think it’s a different and good story idea. Readers enjoyed the earlier version. I also made changes based on my manuscript editor’s wonderful insights. But no agents bit during my initial querying efforts.

Self-doubt once again has me questioning the novel and my writing. Self-doubt whispers in the night, “This is a bottom of the drawer book.” It jabs during the day job, “The idea’s good, but you can’t execute.

January doesn’t help. It’s the toughest month for me with long nights and often cold and cloudy days. I’m sure I have some level of Seasonal Affective Disorder. And while I know my spirits will improve when the days lengthen in February, I have to trudge through this longest month first.

I thought about not uploading this post, about leaving only a brief note saying I’d be back Tuesday. But one of my blogging resolutions was to talk about my writing journey. And that includes the lows. Most writers suffer from an overabundance of self-doubt, and sometimes it helps just to hear others say they do, too.

I’ll see what happens with the upcoming round of beta reading. Fresh, objective eyes will give me a better idea of what I have. Spring will be with us and my outlook—improved. And I’ll be moving forward with the WIPs.

How is your winter going? Are you ready for spring? Or are you one of those hardy souls who flourishes even in the cold and dark?

Are You With Me?

Well, the holidays are behind us and most of 2013 lies ahead. If you’ve made resolutions for the year, my best wishes to you for carrying them through. For me, there is one goal for 2013—complete one of my WIPs and have it on track for publication.

Image credit: Microsoft clip art

How are the WIPs going? Why, thank you for asking. Let’s see…. Continue reading

A Challenging Look At The Next Big Thing And One Lovely Blog

The title of this post is one big giveaway as to the content. Yep, I’ve been tagged in a couple of challenges and nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award. Let’s start with the award.

The One Lovely Blog Award was presented by inspired2ignite. Thank you so much, Denise! If you haven’t visited her blog yet, please take some time to do so. You won’t be disappointed.

Now here’s an interesting twist. When I first received this award, there were NO rules for how to accept or pass it on. But this current nomination says to acknowledge who nominated me, tell 7 things about myself, and nominate 15 other bloggers. Hmm, guess which option I’m choosing? That’s only because a lot of information will be presented in the two challenges, and I don’t want this post to take on epic proportions. So let’s move on to: Continue reading

I Had My Characters Do What?!

A bit of fun today with some friendly writerly advice sprinkled on top.

We writers are sometimes caught up in our stories and gloss over the exact details of what we’ve written for our characters’ actions. If we’re lucky, readers skim over those details without stopping to think about the literal meaning of our words. But more likely, they’ll see them and have an unintended reaction. We don’t want that.

Good agents and editors should highlight these potential gaffs and ensure we fix them. But with so many writers going the indie route, the lack of serious quality control can be glaring. Good writers should identify and correct these problems before querying their manuscripts or directly publishing the books.

Thank heaven I caught these no-nos before I ask anyone to beta read the revised Summer at the Crossroads. Continue reading

Back From A Break

Hey everyone—as you may have noticed from recent likes and comments on some posts, I’m back home and into the daily routine and grind after a great vacation. My husband and I took a trip back to Illinois and Wisconsin to see family and friends and had a wonderful time. We drove rather than flew, so we broke up the trip by first visiting this place.

They don’t let you take many photos indoors, so we’ll have to settle for an outdoor shot.

This is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. We spent a fun day wandering through the exhibits and enjoyed them. We did think we would have set up the exhibits differently, though. They seemed to be a hodgepodge of items thrown together without much logic behind the groupings.

Then it was off to Chicago for a couple of days of sightseeing and visiting some of my family. There are so many photo opportunities in this city, it was hard to choose a single shot for this post. But I decided on this one.

This is a skyline view from the Magnificent Mile

And since one photo isn’t enough to do the city justice, here’s one more.

The Sears Tower rises in the background. Okay, it’s not called that anymore. But to Midwesterners, it will always be the Sears Tower.

Then it was up to Wisconsin to see my husband’s family for a few days, including a stop in Milwaukee.

A view of downtown Milwaukee from the harbor

While I’m fond of my old Midwestern cities, nothing beats nearby Washington, DC, for me. There are no skyscrapers in DC (since no building can be taller than the Washington Monument), but that provides a distinctive feel I really enjoy.

After wrapping up the trip back in Illinois to see more of my family, we headed home to Maryland. Amazingly, there were few traffic delays from road construction. My US readers know that’s rare during the summer for most of us!

What’s more surprising to me is that my blog withdrawal symptoms weren’t too bad. We lost internet access for some of the trip when my husband’s computer decided to take its own internet vacation on the third day into the trip. Fixing that one is turning into an adventure that might result in a new computer for him. Still, seeing so few views on some days for this blog was a bit of a shock. But the breakdown also meant I just couldn’t keep up with many of your blogs. And while I admire those of you who can go back and catch up on every single post, I’m afraid I’m not that talented. So I’ll be picking up from here.

I took a complete break from the two WIPs while I was gone, and I should be able to attack them both with a fresh eye now. Draft 3 of Death Out of Time is again with a beta reader, so I’m working on Summer at the Crossroads while I await comments. Some significant revisions are in store for Crossroads, and I hope the characters are ready to tackle them. (Katarina O’Donnell, I’m talking to you.)

The break is also a good way to change my blogging habits. Except for posting days and Sunday, you’ll only see me commenting during my evening hours. I need to save my most creative times for writing and revising. Since later evening isn’t good for those tasks, that’s when I’ll be reading blogs and commenting. The WIPs must come first. I’ve told that to more than a few fellow bloggers, and I need to follow my own advice.

It’s great to be back, and I hope you all haven’t forgotten me during my absence!

Writers—What Do Your Characters Say About You?

This post has its roots in character Madeleine O’Brien’s guest post last Saturday. I mentioned in a reply to 4amWriter’s comment that character insights into an author could be an interesting exercise. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

For me, this isn’t difficult. My characters insisted on the chance to write posts for the blog. If I was going to write about them, they were determined to write about me and their views on the books. I didn’t argue. I know better. It’s probably obvious from this paragraph that I’m in the school of thought that the characters really exist “out there,” somewhere. If you’re one of my classmates, you might already have a good idea what your characters think of you. Continue reading

Learning From A Book I Didn’t Enjoy

I read novels for entertainment and escape from everyday life. Since I started writing in 2009, I read them differently. Now, I also look for what works—and what doesn’t—for my tastes. And I’ve made a discovery.

I learn more about writing from books I don’t like than from those I enjoy. And the book I just finished reading taught me a lot about my own drafts. I won’t say which one I read, but it was science fiction about time travel. Yes, I was checking out the competition.

Problem 1

Writers are told to begin with action. I was dropped into the action, all right. People hurriedly preparing for assignments, running into colleagues, but never the ones they sought. Changes in plans were everywhere and everyone was complaining. And me? I was floundering. Hey, author—slow down. Who are these people? Why are they time traveling? Can we meet fewer main characters first? It’s the 21st century. Don’t they have cell phones? Shouldn’t someone ask what’s going on with all these changes? Those are just some of my questions from the first two chapters.

What did my test readers say about my initial drafts of Death Out of Time?Who are these time travelers and what are they up to? You’re jumping around so much at the beginning, I can’t get a handle on the main characters. Hmm.

Writers have to provide enough information for readers to connect with the characters and story. Yes, I’ve revised my opening chapters.

Problem 2

I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters. Using my Kindle’s x-ray feature, I learned there were 120 characters or people mentioned. No wonder I couldn’t keep anyone straight. And some characters popped up in the middle of the book with point of view status. But I don’t think I met them before. I didn’t recognize them as “undercover versions” of the previously identified Main Characters. Then they disappeared. I’m still not sure who they were or what their purpose was.

What else did my test readers say? — You’ve got a lot of characters. I had to keep going back to remind myself who they were. Too many have POV status, including some that don’t appear until late in the book.

I had 61 characters originally. So far, 19 have been cut, leaving 42. Fourteen had POV status. We’re down to six. This is far more manageable. Some minor characters are now unnamed, letting the reader know they aren’t important to the larger story. They’re clearly “potted plants” in the room.

Problem 3

Much of this book is set in a particular historic time. And the author goes into excruciating details. Hey, some detail is needed. And I don’t begrudge an author a chance to showcase his research skills. But don’t overdo it. I was skimming sections in no time to find some action. I’m someone who doesn’t mind more details than the average reader. If you lose me, you’ve lost a lot of readers. If the author had cut half of this information, a “sequel” wouldn’t be needed.

So guess what test readers pointed out in my work — You dump a lot of information in some sections. Some dialogue provides information to the reader, but the speakers already know it. They shouldn’t be talking this way. The story slows down when you present big chunks of history or details.

You bet I’m working on this.

Problem 4

Finally, authors are told to put Main Characters through hell, and then send them back for more. This provides tension to keep the reader engaged. How will the Mains pull through? This is good storytelling. However, I wish I’d see more “expert advice” that warns writers — don’t overdo it.

Everything these characters tried to do was derailed. And I mean everything. Yes, Robin, I mean tried. Nothing went as planned. Was the writer making a point that Time will keep you from changing the past? Possibly. But I’d been hit over the head so many times with all these failures that my brain hurt. Cut some of these scenes, too, and two books wouldn’t be needed to tell the tale.

I haven’t overdone the tension in my drafts. In fact, I’ve been told I need to add more. But I refuse to make Job’s life look easy by comparison.

Off My Soapbox

Okay, enough ranting. But this book reinforced the importance of reading to become a better writer. Many writers in the audience already know this, although a refresher doesn’t hurt. And I hope non-writers enjoy a peek into the behind-the-scenes-work that goes into your favorite books. Few good writers spend their days sipping cocktails on a beach with the Muse. Instead, they’re hard at work, writing your new favorite story.

How about you, writers? Has reading a book you like or didn’t like been more helpful?

Readers—what do writers do that make you toss their books aside in boredom or frustration?