The most difficult thing in the world for me is naming things. I blame this on my father – after all, he was going to name me Walter if I’d been a boy. Now, that’s not a bad name, per se, until you combine it with my last name. Walter Mellon – I’d have been the laughing stock of the playground! So, you see, I think I inherited the inability to be creative with naming things – people, places, pets – basically anything that needs a title.
As a reader, I always notice naming trends in books. You know what I mean – matching characters “Adam and Amanda” or “Chris and Christa” – even when siblings have the same letter to start their names (19 Kids and Counting, anyone?). I have to admit that I’m guilty of this as a writer. Sadly, I know real families who have done this to their kids. I guess that means that even if it sounds corny, people do this in real life.
My new series has a family of eight – yes, eight! – siblings, and they are all named for nature. It makes sense when you know more about the history of the story, so just hang tight and you’ll be able to read about it soon!
In the mean time, have a laugh at one of the most creative names I’ve run across in a while. This is a hotdog stand in East Nashville – I Dream of Weenie…a romance author’s sense of humor can be a little warped.
There are a lot of debates about writing styles. Are you a plotter or a pantser? This is one of those I hear most often. I think I’m a combination, depending on the book I’m writing. I come up with ideas from several places and my creative mind takes over. I can’t fully be a pantser, or my books would have no purpose or cohesiveness. They would wander from scene to scene without ever accomplishing a plot.
As I found out this week, I can’t fully be a plotter either. I generally start off by outlining a book – especially my mysteries. I need to have an idea of where the story is going. The evidence and innuendo needs to be set up so that it comes together at the end. I generally have an idea of who committed the crime before I start writing, though sometimes the characters talk back and let me know it wasn’t them.
Well, I’ve been writing book 4 in the Tip of the Spear series and I started with an idea for the occupation of one of the characters. I was determined that this character had to have this occupation. I researched what that would entail, how much money he would make, the restrictions he would face, etc. I’ve been working on this book for a few weeks, but over the last week, I’ve been stuck. No matter how I tried to tie the events together, it just didn’t work. I rewrote sections, I tried to mentally rearrange events to make them fit. I wore myself out trying to defend my decision that this character had to have this occupation. Finally, I put the book aside for a few days and let the ideas swirl – and came to the decision that he just couldn’t be what I wanted him to be. And you know what? The story started flowing furiously!
My conclusion: don’t stifle the Creative Genius!
Every writer is different. We all have our own system in place to be productive. For me, I start with a time limit on social media! Most days, I come home from work, eat dinner, and then start writing. My Saturday mornings consist of grocery shopping – followed by writing. Sunday mornings consist of laundry – while writing. Working full-time means I have fewer hours in the day to write. I sacrifice a lot to be able to give my characters a voice. For this system to work, here are five things I can’t do without.
1. My note pad. I’m old fashioned. I love to hand-write notes. This actually comes in handy when I’m at my day job. I can keep a notebook on the desk and when an idea strikes, I can write it down before I forget it. I also carry pen and paper with me to various appointments – like the doctor, or getting my oil changed. I use it to map out characters or plot lines. I’ve got a great new series being plotted right now. Of course, I’m keeping that on the back burner until I have all of the Tip of the Spear novels finished! I don’t think I can handle more than two series at a time! It’s very rare that you will find me without a means of writing something down.
2. Mac Book. I generally write on my Mac Book Air, though I also have an iMac in my home office. The screen on it is bigger, so I generally use it for edits and the more tedious aspects of writing. But usually you’ll find me in my recliner with my laptop propped up on a blanket, usually surrounded by at least two of my three dogs. Maybe I should have added the recliner and dog cuddles to this list….
3. Scrivener. I discovered this software on an author forum that I subscribe to. It has a unique layout that authors either love or hate. It’s not without its idiosyncrasies, but what it lacks in user-friendliness, it makes up for in formatting. This program has saved my life (or rather, the life of my computer) when formatting frustrations threaten to get the best of me. I don’t do well with electronics that don’t cooperate – just ask the last poor DVD player that malfunctioned on me!
4. Dragon Dictate. I heard so many complaints about dictating software that I was hesitant to purchase any. Then I flipped out of my hammock in the back yard and injured my wrist. For an author, not being able to type is a death sentence. My solution? Dragon Dictate. It took me a while to admit that I liked it. In fact, it wasn’t until I started using the transcription functions on it, instead of dictating, that I found it was worth the cost. The “How to Train Your Dragon” facebook group has also been a lifesaver. I doubt I would have come so far without the support and encouragement.
5. Books. Yes, you read that right. Books play an important part in an author’s life. To be a good author, you have to love to read. For me, reading is a way to escape, to live another life – even if only for a few hours. I usually take a week to binge read the books that I’m saving up during my deadlines. It serves as a reset button on my brain to enjoy someone else’s words instead of my own.
So, there you have it – just a small peek into my world. I’m sure if I put my mind to it, I would have no problems coming up with another 20 items I could list here…
My friend, Michelle, and I sat down three years ago and had a conversation about where we wanted to go with our careers. Both of us were in jobs that didn’t really call to us. They paid the bills and paid the bills and provided health benefits – you know, the things people want and need to feel secure. But the long-term prospects for those jobs just weren’t satisfying. Instead of letting this conversation become a ‘woe is me’ pity party, we decided to set goals – with time limits and action steps. My goal for that first year was to write and publish one book. Looking back, that was a very naïve and uninformed decision – good thing I’m adaptable.
During the first year, I went to two conferences, signed up for many courses on self-publishing, and started researching the success of some of my favorite authors. Not only did I learn how much more was involved in being a self-published author, I finished not one, but four books. I had headshots taken, got a website up and running, joined several social media platforms, and, yes, published my first book.
Year two brought some major changes to my personal life. I spent several months in transition between day jobs and finally ended up with a job that is perfect for accommodating my second career. I can now leave work at work and go home to spend my evenings and weekends writing.
The third year is coming to a close with my 40th birthday in June. My original goal wasn’t to become a successful, self-supporting author. It was to see if my books had gained traction and, more importantly, if I still enjoyed the process. I’ve worked in the professional world for over 20 years, and the last thing I want is to be pursuing something that doesn’t bring me joy. So, what have I decided, you ask? I love writing! It still fulfills me every time I sit down at a computer. I love dreaming up new stories. I’ve discovered that even something that I do for fun can strike a chord with a reader. Putting in humor has become easier. And, I’m almost over the embarrassment when my parents read an intimate scene that I’ve written…not sure that will ever go away completely!
What about my friend Michelle? Well, she too has made adjustments to her day job. She’s expanded her art to several retail spaces around town, started her own social media campaign (in addition to running mine…), and sold several paintings/mixed media art pieces. If you’d like to see her talent, take a look at the photo attached to this blog – it’s one of many of her pieces I’ve purchased.
We might not be successful by society’s definition, but we made it! We’ve set out to do what we outlined. And we’re going to continue to grow and expand and adapt and learn. Most importantly, we’re going to keep creating. Because that’s what brings joy.
Ever wonder where certain phrases come from? I often wonder this, and this past week I’ve had more time than normal to think of such random things. I’ve been down with Strep throat and a sinus infection and had to take a few days off from my day job. It’s rare that I get sick, but when I do, it wipes me out. I spent three whole days doing nothing but sitting in my recliner, snuggling with my dogs. Not a bad way to spend a few days – if only I hadn’t felt so miserable.
To me, the worst possible form of being sick is having a stuffy nose. I can handle chills, fever, sore throat – but not being able to breathe has got to be the worst feeling in the world. So there I was, swaddled in my recliner, a dog on each side of me, and too exhausted to hold a book. I tried to prop my e-reader up on it little stand, but then my eyes revolted. My eyeballs hurt and my eyelids refused to stay open. I ended up having a tv marathon – Pitch Perfect, Magic Mike, Fast and Furious. It’s a very rare thing for me to spend so much time watching television – and so little time reading.
One of the good things to come out of so much downtime was that I got to brainstorm on the next Katie Freeman book. I already had an idea of where this book was going, but I really got to put some ideas together. Now I have to make up for the lost writing time.
I ran across this article the other day:
My first thought was, “Great! Advice from ‘real’ authors.” Then I showed it to my friend and social media queen Michelle. Her first reaction to the opening paragraph derailed my train of thought and knocked some sense into me. After a bit of reflection, I can really see her point.
…having an artistic temperament doth not make one an artist.
What is an artist? It’s someone who writes, paints, draws, sings, or any other form of self-expression. True, not everyone can/will make a living with their art, but does that make them less worthy of the title of Artist? No. However, society has instilled in us an idea that in order to be successful, we must achieve a certain status, usually financially defined.
Well, I am here to say I AM AN ARTIST. I AM AN AUTHOR. I write because I love to do it. I love the entire process. Stressing over plot points. Arguing with characters when they don’t want to behave. Deadlines sneaking up on you. Formatting. Editing. Cover design. And the list goes on… I AM a REAL author.
So much of the various art forms are subjective. When you look at paintings, do you prefer realism, cubism, or abstract? I am sure several of you answered that differently than I did. There are a ton of famous artists whose work I wouldn’t want hanging in my house. I can appreciate them for their appeal – to someone else. The same can be said for different forms of writing. I detest horror and gore, but I love mysteries. I don’t enjoy historical romance, but love paranormal romance. And just as before, I am sure some of you disagree.
All of that being said, the advice in the post does give me food for thought. Here is my favorite of the list:
When I finished reading this, I reflected back on my post from a few weeks ago: Passion…or Happiness? Since I wrote that, I have been following Mark Manson’s blog and ran across a few more that have inspired me or made me think. The first was on life purpose (http://markmanson.net/life-purpose) and the second was on dreams (http://markmanson.net/dreams).
What is life purpose? That is an interesting question and one I think has a different meaning to different generations. One of the things that I have noticed over the past few years while working in higher education is that the newer generation doesn’t go into a career thinking in terms of forever. Stop and think about that for a second. Your grandparents and parents went to college or trained for a specific job with the full expectation that they would be doing that until they retired. Plumber, electrician, attorney, teacher, on and on and on. They wanted the security that came along with longevity. College students today have multiple ideas of what they want to do. And they aren’t afraid of thinking that ten years down the road they will be changing professions.
Our parents and the generations before had mid-life crises when they reached the point of burnout. But even then it wasn’t their job that they considered changing. Think about all the clichés you hear: affairs, divorce, sports cars, etc. The newer generations don’t put pressure on themselves to make life-long decisions at the age of 18. That can be scary, or it can be incredibly freeing.
I have seen a larger number of non-traditional students coming back for different degrees. These people are of my generation. Those of us that were raised with the idea that we needed to find a career and stick to it. But we have also grown up with technology and a world that has, and is, changing more than it ever has before. We are now reaching our mid-30s and 40s and realizing we are no longer happy doing what we chose to do at 18. But unlike our parents, we take inspiration from our children. We fall back on the idea that education can take you far and we use that to move forward. We take action to change what no longer makes us happy.
What most people don’t understand is that passion is
the result of action, not the cause of it.
Discovering what you’re passionate about in life
and what matters to you is a full-contact sport,
a trial-and-error process.
None of us know exactly how we feel about an activity
until we actually do the activity.
Do you see how passion and life-purpose go hand-in-hand? It’s impossible to reconceptualize (yes, David Ogilvy, I used the word you said not to use…) your purpose in life without knowing what you are passionate about.
When people feel like they have no sense of direction, no purpose in their life, it’s because they don’t know what’s important to them, they don’t know what their values are. And when you don’t know what your values are, then you’re essentially taking on other people’s values and living other people’s priorities instead of your own. This is a one-way ticket to unhealthy relationships and eventual misery.
I have been dealing with this over the past several months as I reevaluate my career. I took a huge leap back in June and completely changed career paths. Last year, I also started publishing what I write. Whew! Do you know how nerve wracking that was? When I first started thinking of publishing, I thought I would use a pseudonym – something so no one would know I was the author. I don’t write erotica. I write mysteries and romantic suspense (and surprisingly paranormal romance). I don’t write anything that I would be embarrassed for my mother to read…though the first Tip of the Spear book did make me blush when she read it.
What I discovered was that I was embarrassed about what people would think – of me, of my books, of my beliefs and values, of everything. How would people I have known for years react to my books? Ultimately, having a built in network to start promoting my books is what swayed me to use my own name. Imagine what I felt when I read this:
But if your reasons are, “My parents would hate it,” or “My friends would make fun of me,” or “If I failed, I’d look like an idiot,” then chances are, you’re actually avoiding something you truly care about because caring about that thing is what scares the shit out of you, not what mom thinks or what Timmy next door says.
Embrace embarrassment. Feeling foolish is part of the path to achieving something important, something meaningful. The more a major life decision scares you, chances are the more you need to be doing it.
And every word of that is true. I am passionate about what I write. I still care what others think, but not enough to stop me from pursuing what I enjoy. I am doing what I love. This is my passion. This is my dream.
So when should you pursue your dreams? Again, I refer to Mark Manson:
Working in finance, I always jokingly tell people, “If your idea of saving for retirement is secretly hoping to win the lottery before you hit 65, there is a problem.” The same can be said for whatever dream you want to pursue. Writers always talk about the massive pile of rejection letters they received before ‘hitting it big’. And all of them will follow that by saying how it inspired them to push even harder. When you face obstacles, it is human nature to try harder – if you are truly passionate about what you are doing. It makes us appreciate what we have more than if it was just handed to us.
“When all of your wishes are granted,
many of your dreams will be destroyed.”
What does all of this mean to me? I love writing. I love being an author. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it draining? Yes. Is it rewarding? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. I’m proud of what I have accomplished so far and I plan to continue to do it as long as I’m able. I am not defining my success by how much money I am making. My success depends on how I feel about the finished product, the reaction of my readers, and the satisfaction I feel if even one person says they loved what I wrote. That makes me happy. That drives me to continue.
So here is my advice to you: If you want to be a writer, write – even if it’s just in your journal. If you want to be a painter, paint – even if it’s just a piece you hang on your wall. If you want to be a singer, sing – even if it’s just in the shower. And, if you are willing to put in the hard work and follow the process, give it a shot.
I have struggled this week with self-motivation. I have always been a procrastinator – the one who waited until the night before a paper was due to write it… the one who waited until the final deadline to submit a project. Honestly, it drives my mom nuts! Which, of course, is why I originally liked to do it. But there comes a time to break the habits formed in youth. Unfortunately, I am a creature of habit and I detest change. How do I manage to complete a book, you ask? Well, mostly through determination, bribery, external influences, and character persistence.
First, is my determination. I have always enjoyed writing. I have an overactive imagination and can easily get lost in a daydream for hours. Now, I make myself write down those daydreams. They become the stories that you will hopefully one day read.
Next is bribery. Sometimes, it’s a matter of ‘finish this chapter and you can have a brownie.’ Other days, like today, it’s ‘write 500 words and you can have a gummy bear.’ My bribes are not always food related. Sometimes it’s watching television, or going for a walk, or going out to dinner with friends. My goal today is 10,000 words. When I’m done, I get to have dinner and see The Martian at the movies (and let’s face it, Matt Damon is a reward all his own!). Great motivation, except that it’s taking the gummy bears to get me there.
External influences help as well. I can tell myself, “You have to have this book done by Oct 15, or else.” But that doesn’t always work. So I usually make a reservation with my editor to have the book to her (or him…) by a certain date. Of course, it needs to go through the beta readers first, so I try to leave a little room for that – sometimes that gets close. Having someone else waiting on me keeps me motivated to hit that deadline.
Finally, my characters tend to be persistent. Once I have dreamed a character to life, they aren’t happy being left to languish in whatever state I previously left them. They like their HEA and are downright demanding that I get them there as quick as possible. Sometimes, I have dreamed several characters at once and I have to take a little time to write down the basics of one while I develop the other into a story. But I know if I don’t write it down, the character will pester me until I go slowly insane…
That’s pretty much how my books get written. Of course, I am supposed to be writing a story now, instead I’m writing this blog… do these 500 words count toward a gummy bear? I think so!
Have you ever done something stupid to injure yourself? Well, welcome to my world. Last week I woke up Monday morning and couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. Somehow, as I was sleeping, I managed to pull my neck. I couldn’t raise my left arm. I couldn’t lift with my right arm. I’m really not sure typing was a viable option when I couldn’t use my arms. So how do you fix this? Well, for me, I decided to get some dictation software.
Three days after I started the process of trying to download dictation software it was finally up and running. By this point I had more usage of my arms, but I’d already started this journey and I wanted to see it through. In my case you never know when it might actually need. I figured I’d be better off just seeing this through to completion.
So far I have gotten dictation to work with Scrivener, which is the program I used to write my books. However, Word is not cooperating. I can open Word; I can start speaking; my microphone is on; yet it doesn’t recognize that I’m actually saying anything. But I guess it doesn’t really matter if word recognizes what I’m saying, as long as Scrivener does.
This morning is the first day in a week that I’ve actually sat down and began writing something. I lost a whole week of writing due to injury and new software. But now I think I’m back on track and I’m jumping right in. Today I’ve already managed to write 1200 words and in a fourth of the time it would’ve taken me to type them. I think I might like this dictation stuff. As long as I can get used to speaking things out loud that are little uncomfortable.
I started January of this year evaluating the goals in my life. I am not a big fan of resolutions. That is really a recipe for disaster for me. I can count on one hand the number of resolutions I have made and kept in my life. About three years ago, I decided: NO MORE RESOLUTIONS. Instead, I set goals. They can be life goals, career goals, personal development goals, or just basically anything to improve where I am or where I want to go in my life. They cannot be things like: lose weight, join a gym, start a diet, etc. So, in the evaluation of my life for 2014, I decided that my career needed some evaluation. I have been doing the same thing for 15 years now. FIFTEEN YEARS! That seems like forever when I look back, but in reality, the years have flown by. I decided that it was time to let lose some of the ideas that have been circling in my head for so long. My goal: write one book and have it ready to publish by year end.
Well, I now have two and a half books under my belt and I feel I’m no more of an expert than the day I started. The first thing I learned: writing is HARD! I mean, seriously, it’s A LOT of work. All these characters are running around in my head screaming to get their voice on the page. My poor fingers can’t keep up with the speed at which my brain is thinking.
The second thing I have learned is to train my brain to only think about the book I am writing and not go off on tangents that will be developed in a subsequent book. This was especially difficult as I started writing The Academy: Book One (yet to be titled). There are several secondary characters in book one that will eventually get their own story before the series is over. As I started developing those characters, their stories started coming to life in my head. I even started dreaming of them! But…dreaming of future stories does nothing to help complete the one you are currently writing… FOCUS!!
Anyway, back on topic. J Book three is going to be finished by the end of November and I am very excited. AND…book one, Free to Kill, is going to be published December 9. I am very happy to say that my life goal is well on its way to being realized. I look forward to evaluating for 2015