Saturday, May 24, 2008

Authors and Their Work Habits

A couple of years ago, I interviewed a dozen award-winning romance authors about their work habits when writing. This was used to create an article for an RWA presentation at my local Minnesota RWA chapter, Midwest Fiction Writers.

They were candid about what worked for them and what doesn’t—and most of all, they happily shared what they thought were the most important things a new writer should know in order to succeed in the writing business.

I asked if they wrote an outline or synopsis before they started work on their stories. Here is what they said--most of the authors didn’t like writing an outline or synopsis. When they did write one, it was because they needed to sell their story or because someone like an editor made them do it. Most were only able to give an accurate synopsis if they wrote it after the final draft. If the synopsis was written before the story, very often it had only a vague resemblance to the final product. The few authors who did stay fairly close to the synopsis were those whose story relied heavily on research or had complex plots. Even then deviations occurred on minor levels.

One thing I wondered about was how easy it was for them to write the first draft verses revisions. The response was all over the board. Most authors tended to write and revise as they went along but many said that the first draft was the hardest to write and that revisions were much easier. A few found the first draft very easy but struggled with revisions.

The coolest responses though were the ones to my question, "What advice would you like to share with new writers?"

Below were their responses:

Michele Hauf - Write. Always.

Judy Mays - Never, never, never quit no matter how down you get.

Helen Brenna - It's all about perseverance.

Margaret L. Carter - Read widely, both inside and outside your chosen genre. Find a reliable critique group or partner to comment on your work. Never give up.

Jade Taylor - Read the books you're trying to write. You can't compare them with your own until you do. Your writing must progress. Don't do book planning and research for six months. Give it a few weeks then get busy with the story. Every day needs to be about how far you've come on your journey.

Tracy Cooper-Posey - Don’t get hung up on which commas go where. Get the story written. In the early stages, story is more important than getting the grammar right. And getting the first manuscript written, anyway you can, is more important than obsessing about if the story suits this market or that market. Think Nike, if you must.

Sally Painter - There are a lot of well-intentioned people who have inadvertently derailed good writers. It requires strength and a belief in self to stand up to to these people and decide to write your book your way. I think it is a kind of rite of passage in the learning process. So my advice is to trust your voice, your vision and don't write someone else's vision of you.

Heather Holland - The best advice anyone can give or get is to just WRITE. If you sit and think about writing, you’re a wannabe, if you sit down and WRITE, you are a writer. The more you write, the better you’ll get. Write a little everyday be it a paragraph or a whole chapter. Any progress is better than none, and above all else, just keep trying. Rejections are a part of the business, but if writing is really what you want to do, you can’t give up. Just keep plugging away at that keyboard, getting your words down, and keep submitting. Support from the family and friends are also very important. There’s been a few times where I’ve thought about just throwing in the towel, and my husband picked me up, dusted me off, and told me that I’d better not. Not only would I have been miserable, but he knew he would have been, too. Writing is a passion and it’s too strong to ignore. So, put those fingers to the keyboard, that pen or pencil to the paper and let those words fly.

Karen McCullough - Persistence, persistence, persistence. Keep writing even when the story doesn't seem to be flowing, even if every sentence you write seems like drivel to you. Give yourself permission to write crap. Bad writing can be fixed. Then keep writing and submitting when the rejections start to come back. It's all about persistence and refusing to give in to all the negative stuff.

Cait London - Get a regimen and stick with it. I talk a lot about this--scheduling, working with a growing family, making that space. Here are my three best tips:
1. Make time for writing, DON'T find it. That says you are assertively/actively preparing to work, not just wondering around hoping to "find" time. Block out at least 2 consecutive hours and hold that schedule.
2. The first time you think, "I don't feel like writing," sit your bottom down and write something, even if it's dreck.
3. Speaking of dreck: I've written columns on the importance of writing dreck and writing the clog. They serve their purpose, releasing the true story beneath, getting us in the creative mode, and they can always be corrected/edited later. *More Writers Tips at my first blog, Daily or Not, located at , including Using Fear as Motivation and what Solitaire Teaches Us. Two really good info-bits.

Shelley Munro - Read as much as you can, make a habit of writing every day even if it’s just a few hundred words. Although it might not be many words, over the course of the year they add up. And finally, make a habit of finishing writing the book. Writing lots of partials won’t help much when you need a full manuscript to have a chance at selling.

Allyson James and Jennifer Ashley - Keep going! Persistence is much, much more important than talent. Rejection means "we don't want this ms. RIGHT NOW," and has nothing to do with your talent or skills. It just means it doesn't match what the publisher think it can sell at that moment. Another editor might disagree.
Writers get published when an opportunity matches what ms. you have on hand. To increase your luck, research the market thoroughly, don't just believe what everyone says is the "trend," really research! There's more to it than "paranormal is hot" and "hot books are hot". Figure out WHY they are popular and how you can incorporate that into stories that will be sellable at any time. And then write, write, write! Don't get stuck thinking one book is your "masterpiece" and lavish all your attention on it. Finish it, send it out, move on to the next book.
As for writing methods: Find the way that works best for you and stick with it. Don't let anyone tell you you're wrong! There is no one "right" way to write. The editor is interested only in the finished product, not how you got there.

I appreciated very much the wisdom these authors imparted to me and it seems to me all of this still holds true years later as I continue writing. I'd love to hear from other authors what they've learned works for them and what advice they'd love to share.

Hugs and have a great Memorial Day weekend!


Monday, May 19, 2008

A Day late and a brain short. . .

I just got home from a trip to my sister's for the weekend. I went alone (without the husband and children) and had a great time, but boy am I paying for it. I'm not 20 anymore. . .

Saturday night my sister threw a huge retirement party for herself. There were close to a 100 people there and nearly that many cases of beer. The music was great, the company was fantastic, and I crawled into bed around 3 am.

Ten (okay, more like twenty) years ago, getting up to clean up the yard after four hours of sleep and far too much to drink would have been painful, but no big deal. Unfortunately, it's not twenty years ago and I'm a hurting unit. My legs and back ache from dancing all night, my head and stomach ache from drinking all night, and I'm so tired I need to prop my eyes open with toothpicks. The only thing that makes me feel better is to see my 20 year old niece hurting almost as badly. The fact that she'll recover in half the time it takes me still bites, but at least she wasn't going for a jog when it was all I could do to clean up the yard.

A part of me wonders if getting that stupid the night before is a waste. The other part of me had such a good time, I don't mind the waste. I suppose I should be more mature now that I'm in my thirties, and maybe act my age, but isn't age just a number? I had someone ask me if I was in college recently. When I told them my age and that I had three kids, they were very surprised. I'm a little afraid that if I start acting "mature" I will start looking more mature too.

I'd rather have the hangover.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Romantic Times Convention 2008

Okay, here goes... I am about to talk about a dangerous subject...
*ducks behind cover and checks for incoming fire*
The Romantic Times Convention 2008.

So I've read a lot of the blogs and heard all the arguments surrounding the RT Convention this year and you know what? I don't really want to go over it all again and if you're anything like me I bet you don't want to hear it either. I do however want to share my experiences; the things that keep me travelling over 5000 miles across the ocean to attend every year.

Getting a chance to meet my favorite authors or hear them speak - especially if they give away spoilers, lol! - is wonderful but not the reason I keep coming back.
RT for me is a place where I can be among people who love the same thing I do - books. It is the one place I can go alone and know I won't be lonely. It's a place where I can sit down next to a stranger in the bar, bond over 'what are you reading?' and leave with a new friend. It's a place where you can wear pink bunny ears on your head, carry flashing doohickies, dress up as a slave girl or wear a mardi gras mask and talk about how hot vampires and shapeshifters are and no one thinks you're weird. It gives me a chance to meet face to face with friends I talk to all year online and make new friends whom I look forward to seeing again next year.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your favorite RT experiences and if you have a link to share your favorite photos please feel free to share those too. In the spirit of the immortal phrase 'a picture is worth a thousand words' here are mine:

I for one can't wait to go to Orlando next year for another Romantic Times Convention and I hope to see you there!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

What’s The Story On Storyboarding?

Although I’m sometimes a fly-by-the-seat writer, I’m also one to need structure and organization in a lot of things in my life. I make lists and cross tasks off as I go, I record all sorts of things on the calendar, and I slap Post-It notes up all over the house to help me remember things.

So given my obsession with Post-Its, it was with great interest that I learned of storyboarding a year or so back.

What is storyboarding, you ask? I define it as a sort of visual, colorful way of organizing ideas, scenes, action, and plot elements, or a different way of writing a synopsis or an outline if you choose. Now, let me reiterate I’m sometimes a fly-by-the-seat writer—but at times I’m not. So the use of storyboarding allows me the flexibility to build my books as the mood strikes me. Yet I can also organize, reorganize, shuffle around, delete, insert, or just leave the whole shebang alone if I want, and all at a glance without having a gazillion documents open at once on my puter.

Now from what I understand, each author has their own way of doing it, but I combined a lot of methods and came up with my own recipe that I find works for me…


1) Post-It (or generic) notepads of at least 5 different distinguishable colors

2) One of the following: A dry-erase board, a chalkboard, the side of a wide shelf or file cabinet, a clear wall, or whatever flat surface is nearby your work area and easily seen and accessible

3) Dry-erase pens (good if you’re using a dry-erase board and like to jot ideas next to your Post-It notes)

4) Colored regular markers


In my storyboarding world, I can make each aspect of my story whatever color I like. (I often change the “key” to prevent boredom—LOL.) Some authors color-code the point of view only, or other elements in different ways. It’s whatever works for you. But for the sake of example, let’s do it like this…

Pink = romance and/or sex

Blue = main plot

Green = main subplot

Yellow = secondary plot

Orange = minor subplot

Now, let’s say you have a one-paragraph blurb or short synopsis already written up or in your head, but you need to expand on it. Using one sheet and color per scene, ask yourself what’s going on in the opening scene? Is it mostly sex and romance? Cool, I like getting right to the heat. (evil grin) So then grab that pink Post-It pad and jot down a sentence or two to describe the scene. What’s the major action and change that will occur in this scene? Got it figured out? Good. Now slap that pink baby up on the board. This represents your first scene of chapter 1. For more examples and details, read on…

Scene #1: Whose point of view will this first scene be in? The heroine’s? Okay, pick a colored regular marker to represent your heroine’s point of view and make a pretty little heart (or dot or X or whatever—it’s your creation!) up in one corner of that first pink Post-It paper. This allows you to later tell at a quick glance which character the scene’s POV is driven from, and overall how many POV scenes each character has throughout the book.

Scene #2: The villain bursts in and starts shooting the hero, you say? Ah, being the creator, only you know for sure, but I just bet that’s related to the main plot. Blue. Grab the blue note pad and jot down the plot’s action and change you plan for this scene. Stick it up on the board next to the pink note (scene #1). Oh, and it’s in the hero’s POV? Yep, pick a regular marker color (distinguishable from the heroine’s) to represent the hero’s POV and add a little symbol in the upper corner of this blue Post-It.

Scene #3: Whoa, in burst the heroine’s best friend. She has an entire past with the shooter, and you plan to eventually unravel and weave it into the h/h’s plot and conflict. Since you know it’s going to have a strong influence on the main plot, that’s probably green. Jot the best friend’s actions and scene changes/events on the green dude, and up it goes on the board next to the blue dude (scene #2). Wait, whose POV are we in? The friend’s? Then pick yet another colored regular marker and make yourself a little symbol in the corner of the little green sheet that will represent Miss Friend’s point of view from now on. Later on, you might see with just a quick count that she has 10 POV scenes to every 5 of the heroine’s. See how that works? Now you know you’ve got to either quit giving Miss Friend so much stage time and change some POVs in those scenes, or it needs to be her book instead of the heroine’s. LOL

Scene #4: And so on it goes as the plot deepens.

Hopefully, that all made sense. Once you’ve got the whole story on Post-Its and synopsed (I think that’s a new form of the word synopsis I just made up – grin), step back and take a look at your artwork. Now suppose that in one glimpse, you suddenly realize the whole damn board is freakin’ pink. WTF? Are they screwing like rabbits? Isn’t there any plot other than sex? Gee, it sure didn’t seem that way when you were writing the short blurb, did it? So here’s where you pull a Titania: You shuffle, move, reorganize scenes, delete or add scenes, rip up Post-Its, rewrite some of the notes…or start all over.

Another thing you can do is get out the dry-erase markers (if you’ve used a dry erase board, that is) and, next to or below/above each Post-It, identify the date, time, or location of that scene, or do extra little things like find your black moment and mark it with a special star so you can work up to that scene while keeping up your pacing.

There are many at-a-glance advantages to developing your own storyboarding methods such as “seeing” your pacing, being more aware of the number of POV scenes each character is allotted, getting a better feel for book length/time/day of the scene, where the focus is in that particular scene (i.e. the main plot, subplots, etc.), if you have too much or not enough of something such as too much romance and not enough plot, things in the wrong order, or whatever. You can begin combining scenes (and thus Post-Its) to tighten it up, or adding more to expand, or rewriting a scene in a different character’s POV, etc. Another advantage is that you can skip around easier than with a regular document and write your scenes in different orders, piece them together later, and yet not get confused because your visual board is keeping you on track with one sweeping glance.

Whoa, and believe me, I need all the help I can get to keep from getting confused!

So what do you think? Gonna give it a try? Have you ever used the storyboarding method to outline or plot a book? If so, how do you do it? If not, and if you plan to give it a try, please come back and let us know how it goes!

Titania Ladley (aka Roxana Blaze) is a multi-published erotic romance author writing for Ellora’s Cave, Red Sage Publishing, and Samhain. Please visit her websites for hot excerpts of her two new April releases, FIRES WITHIN and BREATHLESS.
Burning bedroom doors right off the hinges!