The Panic

Do you get panicked about your writing or your writing career? Do you think you're the only one?

Most of us feel the panic from newbies to old veterans of the publishing business.

The panic particularly hits me and my friends when we're behind deadline, of course. Or at the end of a contract where the books haven't done particularly well and you know that series (or your career with the house) will be dropped.

Or if you're in the self-publishing business, when you lay out a large sum for advertising and wonder if you'll get any kind of return. Or on the release of your first piece of work. Or crafting your next story. Or behind on YOUR deadlines.

And, yeah, this includes me. I'm only slightly behind my schedule for Ghost Maker (due April 30), but I'm nervous. I'm also working on releasing my first self-published novella, and that seems like a climb up Long's Peak, complete with mis-steps, long drops and fatal falls. Recently a situation came up with Berkley that had me so scared and angry that I had disturbing dreams.

Now, I've given workshops on overcoming the panic, and at the Colorado Gold Conference. I HAVE the tools to work through it. Many tools.

But I delay in putting them to use because I'm locked into trying to pretend I can write like normal.

Yesterday, I finally got out of the house and took my travel computer elsewhere to work. And, yes, I got my daily wordcount done, a good amount of research stuck in my head, and a cup of good French onion soup. It helped.

Like I said, I have tools. So here are some of them for you, in no particular order:

If you don't know where the panic is coming from you might want to journal (handwritten!) Or freewrite until it spills out. Freewriting is pencil/pen to the page and write. Don't think, write, no going back, erasing, fixing spelling, nothing. Mind and emotion dump. If you're using standard 8 x 11 paper, a new freewriting person should get to the point about 1.5 pages in.

Or write down all your fears about the current work: the hero is wimpy, the heroine is unsympathetic, the writing is trite and full of cliches. Drain all that negativity out of yourself. Then destroy that paper. Rip it up (do not burn it on your desk full of papers).

Or, while we're on this topic, write out all the things you love about this story. Why you wanted to write it. (And YOU are ALWAYS the only one who can write this particular story). Reaffirm that it's an important-to-you piece of work.

Look at your office, is it too neat (ha, ha) or messy (bingo!). Remedy that.

Take a shower and linger. Or a bath, even, I've had friends say that submerging the whole body (yes, the HEAD that has the BRAIN) under water.

Exercise, get out and get walking and thinking.

Go further, get out of the house to write. Go to a coffee shop or other place where you know others will be working on computers, minimize distractions. Or, if you're writing about a local place (for me, Manitou Springs) and feeling flush, go spend a night there with your computer and write, write, write.

Can't face the blank white screen? Change the color of your document if you can on your PC, or if you use Scrivener, or pull out a piece of paper and start writing by hand.

Subliminals and sound waves. These work for me (or I've convinced myself they work for me). Apps and "music" that come over earphones at a certain frequency to change your brainwaves – some I have are labeled "Morning Espresso," "Concentration," "Creative Thinking," "Lateral Thinking."

Just Write. Put your butt in a chair, set a timer for a certain amount of time (I prefer a half hour) and write. Jot down phrases that come to you about the scene that you can work with, a bit of dialogue.

So those are ten techniques to take you out of your mind/emotion panic and act, but, really, if you know that going and sitting in a salt light cave will help, do that.

We can all do this. And if the panic seems to bad, call a friend, we've pretty much all been there. When I talk to my friends and we expose our panic, we always end the call or the chat session with, "YOU CAN DO IT!"

Yes, you can.

May all your writing dreams come true.

Of Software and Hardware, a personal story

Up until about two months ago, I was the last writer I knew still using the Word Perfect word processing program. I was also about three versions behind and Corel (the creator of Word Perfect) no longer supported my version. If I wanted the newest version, I'd have to pay hundreds of dollars for it. I'd also gotten a persistent glitch in the program that popped up a useless button every time I logged on (okay, I eventually fixed that). These factors made be decide to quit.

For years I'd heard how wonderful Scrivener was, and my friends thought it would fit my writing style (out of order pantser). I'd bought it at a discount (significantly under $100) after "winning" NaNoWriMo one year, since the makers of Scrivener sponsor that event.

I'd downloaded it and updated it and tried the tutorial a couple of times, but hadn't gotten the hang of it. One day a friend emailed me a free offer for a very expensive tutorial "Learning Scrivener Fast." Since I'd just been forced to realize I would not be having a novel out in my main series in 2016, I'd determined to write and put out two novellas. A novella sounded perfect for learning Scrivener.

So I applied and got the free training program and went step-by-step through it. Scrivener was originally written for Mac systems only, but had put out a PC version. I watched the videos on how to do this and that if you had a PC instead of a Mac.

I loved it, LOVED, Scrivener. It made my writing so much easier, moving around scenes, outlining, jotting down notes, keeping a place for research, just letting me write! And I wrote that novella (which turned out too long as usual), in record time.

But I became dissatisfied. The Scrivener program on the Mac had more bells and whistles, particularly with regard to setting deadlines (vital for me). I wanted it.

And the epublisher I'd been expecting to put out the novella was closing its doors, which meant I needed to self-publish. Again, I'd heard for years about Vellum, an expensive but very easy and very beautiful formatting program. Again, only for the Mac.

I also got tired of the "Get Windows 10 NOW!" icon living in my taskbar, the idea that I'd have to rent, yearly, Microsoft Word (which my publishers insist on using for revisions and copy edits). I could only see money drain out of my pocket.

So I took the holiday money I'd received and shopped around on ebay as I do and got a good deal on an excellent shape, not too old, Macbook Air.

How exciting. I bought accessories, two cases, two keyboard skins. This would be my new dedicated writing machine, lightweight and easy to travel with, take with me while I did housesitting, research trips, family trips, writing retreats and even if I went to a local coffee shop.

I got it and spent an extremely long day and a half re-setting passwords and users (which I completely screwed up), reinstalling the operating system, then downloading and installing the new OS.

The first piece of software I bought was Scrivener for the Mac. Over two days I worked through the seminar again, reached the end of it, and felt puzzled. Somehow I'd missed the instructions for customizing the Format bar (you know, where cut/copy/paste/undo live), and the keyboard.

I'd done both of these things in Scrivener for Windows. I had to customize the F8 function key because for over two decades I'd used this key in Word Perfect for underline/italics. I write fantasy with Familiar Animal companions, major sidekick characters. These sidekick characters speak telepathically (like my ghosts in the ghost series) in italics! I have pages of italics in my books.

I went back through the training program, found the customization module for the Mac. It said nothing about the format bar. Or the keyboard.

Shock hit me, zipped through my nerves until I trembled in my chair. This wasn't right. Scrivener Mac was supposed to be the one with all the good stuff, Scrivener Windows was supposed to be the lesser (and, with regard to deadline targets and some other options, it is).

Not one of my many friends with Scrivener for Mac and Macs told me about these differences beforehand, not one mention, no one even seemed to know about them.

Luckily I was in an online chat with a person who works for Apple and one who supplied IT for Macs for years. And with other people who were using Scrivener for Mac (all writers).

We figured out how to set the F8 key for italics through the system. I was out of luck with regard to customizing the Format toolbar.

Oh, and, yes, the Macbook Air has a small screen, but Scrivener has a lot of options to zoom up the text. At least on Scrivener Windows. It has significantly less options of doing that (increments of 25% instead of 5%) on Scrivener for Mac.

I had already realized that I had no clue of the document structure of the machine. I'd have to use the "Finder" to locate my files because I couldn't see a nice tree structure like on my windows.

Then came the worst. I began typing on my new, beautiful Macbook Air with the backlit keys (I had to put away the keyboard skin because it interfered with my typing). I found the F8 key to be too tiny to use. I reached for Backspace-Delete, which I also use a lot, and it wasn't there. Also, there seemed to be a problem with my trackpad. It didn't turn off when a mouse was plugged in like my regular laptop and the previous (tiny memory and cheap) travel computer. I found no way in the system to turn off the trackpad when a mouse was present.

By this time I'd put four and a half long days into the machine and the training program and my fingers hit keys that were too small or not there, my thumbs brushed over the trackpad and my cursor jumped to strange and unpleasant places. I got gibberish.

Despite the settings, when I opened Scrivener for Mac, it opened my current document and a "set up a new project window" every time. I didn't/don't know how to change that since I believe it is set correctly (and I tried several times with different settings). I think I'll have to uninstall (and lose all my personalization) and reinstall the program.

And on the Macbook, I wasn't/am not sure where my "home" files were/are.

I am a personalization queen. Different colored windows, menu bars, cursors – my main cursor is a fountain pen –, icons for folders on my PC, huge theme personalization. With Mac I am stuck on a blue theme (they say it is blue, I think it is just a different shade of the other option, gray).

So I packed up the Mac and put it in the closet. I'd always thought I'd be a Mac girl, and here I'd made the plunge, and it simply didn't work for me.

Eventually I will probably get a larger Mac with a full-sized keyboard. I will train myself not to use the backspace delete key (or key map another key on the keyboard for that). It will still lack the personalization I like, but I will not feel a hostage to Microsoft for software and operating systems.

But for now, I'm a PC girl.

Writing Space

It's January and goal-making time, and most of us have determined what we want to accomplish this year with regard to our writing. It might also be time to take a look at our office or writing work space to see that it's set up right.

By that, I mean that it is right for you. I know what I need for my office, and some things might apply to all of us, but make sure you have your space set up the way you prefer and need it. Anything that keeps you from writing should be corrected.

First, consider lighting. It's also winter. I suffer on gray days, so I've put full-spectrum light bulbs in both my desk lamp and the overhead fixture. My office faces south so I usually get sunlight during some of the day, too, which keeps me working. That said, the sunlight can hit shiny materials that set up a glare when I look beyond my monitor, so my blinds are angled to minimize this. Lighting can also be a subconscious cue. When the overhead lights are on, I'm usually looking for something, or checking out my bookcases. When the desk lamp is on, it's time to write, and my brain (and fingers) know this.

Currently I have a full office set up, including separate keyboard, large monitor, computer stand and a u-shaped desk with bookcases on two sides. Computers being so small and portable now, also consider where you'd like to work and what peripherals will help you most. You may prefer a notebook on a table in a sunroom rather than an actual office.

But do think about those peripherals. My separate keyboard has a numeric keypad which I find useful and is more ergonomic than a laptop keyboard, and with larger keys. It also on a pole that can be raised, lowered and angled. That works for me. Are you happy with your keyboard?

My monitor is a full 22 inches and excellent to compare documents side to side, particularly during the copy edit and galley stage. Or for two versions of a document. I do have a tiny 11 inch travel computer and have found comparing documents on that difficult. Are you happy with your monitor?

I have my most used research books in hard copy and within reach, since if I look on the internet for a quick answer I can be distracted. I also have an engagement calendar where I write down my progress at my elbow. At a glance I can see how much I've written during the week and if I've made my daily goals. These help me.

What are you sitting in? I recently met with a friend who has a reclining chair with a tray that I lusted after, one that cradles her bad back. I tend to use a covered exercise ball. And make sure you have the room to stop and stretch in between (I hope) bouts of inspiration.

Consider the tidiness of your office. Do you look in and cringe at how sterile the place is? Or shudder at the stacks of stuff on your desk that you think you should take care of before you write? You are the best judge of the ambiance of clutter you like, but make sure it isn't keeping you away from your workspace. And, I admit, that's why I wanted to write this article. I do have a stack of papers – okay, two stacks – that are bothering me right now. Time to clean them up and get going on meeting my deadlines.

May you create your perfect space for writing and find pleasure in your craft every day.

Robin

The Company of Other Writers

This time of year, the schedule is full of holiday parties. One I don't miss is the RMFW party (and, yes, it has taken place this year). I also try to make my critique group critique-and-party, and that was yesterday. January in critique will be having me taking in the beautiful-art self-care cards that I hand out everywhere (retreats, all my seminars), before we talk about our yearly goals.

For me, these are important gatherings of my tribe.

Now, I am a full time writer, and I am in the company of other writers every day online. But I still cherish the in-person get-togethers and the conversation.

First, because my online writing-sprint group is mostly fantasy writers and we talk about that genre: multi-book story arcs and world-building and suchlike. I like talking about romance, and mystery, and thrillers and how those genres have specific demands that readers expect their authors to fulfill. How they differ – the emphasis of the story, the pacing. I get a broader appreciation for how others in my craft handle their projects.

Second, I am a long-time volunteer with RMFW and I like to talk with old buddies and make new ones.

But I also remember when I was a writer who had little to do with others, who belonged to RMFW but didn't attend the parties. I'd go to some of the seminars and sit in the corner and take notes. I'd be at conference. But the less structured social occasions I'd usually skip.

Until the first RMFW holiday party I was coerced into attending mumbledy-mumble years ago. It was a revelation. The standard questions that people asked then still works. "What do you write?" and "Tell me about your current manuscript." I'd listen and smile at the intensity of my fellow writers and feel like I belonged.

I kept coming. I could talk about problems and get a second, or third, take. Research talk would swirl around like the smoke of inspiration, just waiting for me to use it – or tuck it away to perhaps use some other time. Or, since I do write fantasy, figure out I could twist it and put it in an other-worldly story.

No one thought I was weird if I wanted to talk about herbs or poisons or how long rigor mortis lasts (yes, I often have suspense in my stories, too). Or, of late, how to make a knife out of a person's femur.

Then there's the networking. Priceless. Who's your editor? What's s/he buying? Get self-publishing tips...I've moved over to Scrivener finally after sticking with Word Perfect, it's better on a Mac. Should I get a Mac?

Here in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, we share. You need only ask.

If there's a seminar topic coming up – go. You'll meet people interested in the same thing you are, as well as learn something. If there's a social occasion, go.

Make it a priority to spend time with other writers, in person. So you can see the passion they have about writing, how they gesture, give them an outlet of a person who listens and whose eyes don't glaze over when they talk about character arc. Someone who cares about writing.

Let yourself go and follow your own passion, talk about motivation or dialogue or the research you've been doing.

We'll all be better for the company.

So, as they say in my books: Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again. May next year be your best writing year EVER.

Robin

Naming Your Characters

I'm sure every writer has stories about this. For some, naming characters aren't important, for others, it's vital. I'm in the latter category.

I write fantasy and fantasy romance and have wended my way (so far) through four series, two are finished, two are continuing.

In the "Heart" series (the "Heart" books because they all have "Heart" in the title – and, yes, I'll talk about the joys of that some other time), I have a rigid naming system. Those books are fantasy romance set on a planet colonized by psychic Earth people who formed a Celtic society. Most of them are based on plant names, either common names or scientific. The favorite Familiar animal companion, Zanth, is short for Zanthoxyl, for instance. I will throw in the occasional Gaelic and Welsh names for things other than people (and have real fun with geographical place names), but I stick close to my rules, and some of my readers would be horrified if I diverged from that.

In my other current series, the Ghost Seer series, I am writing about contemporary Denver and ghosts of the Old West. My heroine is Clare – spelled Clare instead of Claire deliberately. She's a rational accountant and does see clearly. But she inherits a fortune and a psychic gift for seeing ghosts and helping them pass on. So she sees clearly in that way, too. As for my hero, Zach, well, I wanted a name sounding close to "Jack" for the set up of the first meeting of the hero and heroine. And I like the name, it was time to have a Zach hero. As for his surname – Slade – it's the same as the gunslinger ghost in my first book, deliberately.

So I spend time, perhaps too much time, thinking about my character names, and there are considerations you, as a writer, should take into account.

For instance, I once had a hero named Race, then realized that a previous hero would have a large secondary role, Raz. Race and Raz. No.

Because no matter how interesting it is for you to have, say, identical twins with close names (Rica and Rona), you do NOT want to confuse your reader. The minute you have the reader thinking, wait, is that the medical doctor or the physical therapist? you've pulled your reader from the story. And when you pull the reader away from your story, it's easier for them to close the book.

About Race, as I recall, Race was the second or third name I'd tried for this guy. He's an adventurer and I wanted something that sounded "slick" and easy to the ear, and felt the ace sound did this (the standard advice for a romance hero is a short name with a hard consonant – like Zach). Race became Jace, and I was finally happy with the name, it fit the character.

I'm sure we've all run across the character who insists on a name, and that can be tough if it doesn't match reader expectations (like Wendell for a romance hero). The only advice I can give you on this is to put the story away (if you can) for a while until you detach from the character. That might work.

As for me, I wanted a heroine named Brandy, and was nixed by my editor on that one (this was the Summoning series), and after long thought she became Marian. But I think she'd have been a little more daring if she'd had the name Brandy.

So names do matter. To you, your readers, and, yes, they can hint at attributes of your characters.

May all your writing dreams come true,

Robin

The Artist’s Way, Still Relevant After All These Years

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is the best path I have found for learning to create more freely. Essentially, how to unblock your creativity and keep it clear. There are highly effective tools that will help you recover your creativity from a variety of blocks including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions and other inhibiting forces. Replacing such negative blocks with artistic confidence and productivity.

I've followed The Artist's Way about 3-4 times over my writing career, both before and after I sold. I've also done about the same number of workshops on the material.

The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron
The first time I worked through The Artist's Way, a "Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self," as the book called itself, about one week in a month over a period of approximately three years. This is a twelve week course. So, I didn't think I'd been that diligent. Then I hauled out my book.

It's lower right corners are ratty, some pages have suspicious brown (tea/chocolate) and red (papercut blood/spaghetti) stains. The thing is highlighted in pink, orange, yellow, green and purple (I don't know where my blue was). There are Robin-made tabs for such pages as: Basic Principals, Rules Of The Road, Creative Affirmation, An Artist's Prayer, and my personal favorite, Dealing With Criticism. Scribbled notes and the occasional terrible drawing (requested by chapter "tasks"), sprawl all over the pages with asterisks and arrows and brackets.

I looked at the book, and just the state it was in showed that I had worked through the course and it had made a difference. Most importantly, at the beginning of the course, I was writing books I enjoyed and thought I could market. In the end, I had found my true voice and was writing books of my heart.

Elements of The Artist's Way: Morning Pages
I hated the idea of morning pages, writing three full 8 ½ x 11 pages every day, freewriting, scribbling words, any words, across the paper and keeping the pen moving. IN THE MORNING. Three pages, because Cameron believes that whatever is really on your mind won't dribble out until after 1 ½ and it takes another 1 ½ to deal with it. True for me, in the beginning, later I got so I spilled my guts from line one. Nobody reads your morning pages, not even you, until week 9.

I don't do any scheduled task (except feed cats, which is simple self-defense) in the morning. So, they became evening pages or lunch pages for me the first time around. When I became a full time writer, they became true Morning Pages. And they worked. They cleaned out my brain of all my petty (or huge) concerns of the day so I could write. They cut down on my whining to friends. They observed the seasons. True, sometimes in my pages I filled up three lines with: "Love, love, love...." But that's not so bad either, is it?

Since I dreaded doing the pages so much, as I went along, I marked the other reasons Cameron gave for consistent daily pages (paraphrases and direct quotes):

  1. Morning pages help us stop taking our negative Censor (Inner Critic) as the voice of reason and learn to hear it for the blocking device that it is.
  2.  Morning pages get us to the other side of our fear, negativity, moods.
  3.  Other writing seems to suddenly be far more free and expansive and easier.
  4. Processes extreme emotions and leads to clarity (sometimes painful).
  5. We identify ourselves. We learn what we want and ultimately become willing to make the changes needed to get it.
  6. Points the way to reality: this is how you're feeling; what do you make of that?
  7. Loosens our hold on fixed opinions and short-sighted views. We see that our moods, views, and insights are transitory. We acquire a sense of movement, a current of change in our lives.
  8. We treat ourselves more gently. Feeling less desperate, we are less harsh with ourselves and with others.
  9. Morning pages end dry spells, doing the pages means we have not collapsed to the floor of our despair and refused to move on. We have doubted, yes, but we have moved on.
  10. Morning pages are meditation, a practice that brings us to our creativity and our Creator.

Artist's Date: The artist's date can be summed up in one word: Play. Or two: Pamper Yourself. Your artist is a creative child, so spend an hour once a week to fulfill it: roll down a hill, take a train ride, dance, swing, color in a book or arrange stickers, doodle. And do it BY YOURSELF.

I must admit, this was the portion of the course that I followed the least. When I started the Artist's Way I lived by myself and was used to pleasing myself. The date became more important when I had a roommate, but I rarely formalized it. On the other hand, now that I think about it, I currently have this daily journal...and developed a passion for stickers...and I've bought 4 sets of those new metallic ink pens (the ink is archive quality, but one set was a gift for my 5 year old niece)....

Tasks: Chapter exercises. These are what hooked me. One in the first chapter blew my mind open. I wrote one of the creative affirmations: "I am allowed to nurture my artist," 10 times. Sure enough, my Censor popped up while doing this: "You have so many other things to do. Your house isn't clean, your bills aren't paid. You aren't a responsible person." I listened and analyzed. Where did this come from? And found out that Censor sounded like my parents (particularly my father) and the basic idea that the critic was getting across to me, and which I truly believed, was: "You can't do what you want to do; you must do what we want you to do." With a corollary: "What you want to do is foolish and stupid and a waste of time and will never amount to anything. What others want you to do is always more important." Wow! Hooked. Try it for yourself.

Warning: Week 4, Reading Deprivation: No READING, no TV, movies, radio. This is horrible, but it works, too. It was several years ago (the week Jon Benet Ramsey was killed, and I never caught up), and was one of the most intensely creative times of my life. I was also more observant of the people and little dramas around me. The pressure to tell myself stories forced me to write and write and write. I still remember how incredible it felt -- like a dam breaking open and all this writing pouring out of me in a rush. Very heady.

Still, I only lasted 5 days, and congratulated myself that I made it that long. I got desperate. on the evening bus, I found myself looking over the shoulder of my seatmate who was reading an article called "The Guide to Effective Deworming." (This is a true story.) She must have been a vet student or something, and heroine material (I was supposed to be observant on the bus, Chapter 4 said so). Youngish -- mid-twenties -- red-brown hair, but not as dark as chestnut; creamy complexion with a sprinkling of freckles; small, straight nose. Very nice. Much more interesting than the pictures of horses with strange tubelike objects in their mouths. Ok, so I maybe glanced at the article. I didn't read it. I just looked at the pictures. After all, anyone would be interested in -- ah -- forget it. Anyway, my seatmate finished reading that particularly fascinating article and flipped onto the next. Did I mention that these were photocopied sheets, not a real magazine, and the print and photos were slightly fuzzy?

The next article. From "In the Barn." "Mounting Blocks." Temptation. Really. I was writing historical romance. I've even written about mounting blocks. I need to research them. Words jumped out at me: "old tree stump, overturned bucket," "new portable mounting blocks for easy transportation". There were pictures, too, but not as interesting as horses. My heroine wasn't riveted by the article. She scanned it and went to the next. "Metabolic Disease, Test Treatments." No pictures. I sighed with relief. I was saved.

I wanted to talk about keeping compliments, making an image of your Censor, doing a collage, or listing secret passions, but this article is now overlong. But it was fascinating to read some of the quotes in The Artist's Way, and look at the highlighted wisdom and my own words. Maybe it's time to start up again....

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Non-Human Characters

Birds and beasts, werewolves and vampires, fairies and trolls, rakshasas and dragons and inari okami (and did you think of a western European dragon or a Chinese dragon)? Aliens. Some or all of these can populate your work . . . for good or ill.

Liesa Malik and I will be talking about writing non-human characters at the Colorado Gold Conference, so this post is short because it's a teaser to come to that workshop and I want to invite you to come and talk to us about YOUR non-human characters and brainstorm with us.

I have spent my career writing non-human characters – everything from a mole (yes, a mole, the earth-digging-nearly-blind animal) to a planet (actually two planets, one of them Earth). My Heart series – futuristic/fantasy set in a Celtic pagan culture – features telepathic animal companions and has since the first book. In fact, I think the cat character in that book, Zanth, sold HeartMate.

Since then, I've written a slew of animal companions including (of course) a puppy and dogs, cats of various colors and attitudes, and have branched out to foxes, raccoons and most recently birds, a hawk and a raven.

I do my homework on the animals, how they live, their social structures, what they eat, how they might think. I want my readers to believe these animals are not just humans in disguise. And Liesa and I will talk about how to do that research, hands-on and otherwise.

Unlike many people writing urban fantasy and/or paranormal romance, I've only written one shapeshifter hero – a jaguar-man – and absolutely no vampires. Though since I write in those genres I've read a lot of books on both. I know what I, personally, like in a vampire and werewolf, and how the myths have been explored by various authors.

So, we'll add in shapeshifters and vampires as common characters – both as good guys and as monsters that can highlight your very human characters.

And Liesa, especially, has studied the market for writing animals, and the fantasy genre is full of variety, and in science fiction humans continue to interact with alien races.

Yes, we do have peeves about how animals and monsters are portrayed, don't you? Come share those with us.

And, yes, I also write ghosts, mostly of people of the Old West, but I consider those humans . . . except the evil one . . . oh, and the Labrador spirit guide. No, neither of those are human . . . .

So drop by and talk with us about your non-human characters and why you love them. And what makes them different. Or how you want to delve into a different psyche.

See you at the Colorado Gold!

Endings and Endings Problems:

By Robin D. Owens

Endings are extremely important. You want the reader to be satisfied, more, to remember that you gave them a good finish and look forward to your next book.

Here are some problems I, as a reader and writer, find in endings:

I had a favorite author (male writing under a female pseudonym) whose work I loved . . . until the end. Many of his/her books felt like s/he just didn't care past a certain point, or had left this particular project until late (the romances) and had to rush. Deeply unsatisfying.

So rushing pace can be a problem.

Or abrupt endings. I have a writer friend who likes to read endings with an emotional wrap-up, even as she tends to write until the action is done and stops.

Or a slow and lingering pace. The hero and heroine have solved the crime, saved the world, fallen in love, and you spend two more extraneous chapters describing how happy they and their friends and everyone else is.

Point of view. I have had books with only hero's and heroine's point of view . . . then, rather like a long camera pan in a film, the point of view changes to omniscient. This bugs me.

For example, I read a treasure hunt romance about a lost pearl (object has been changed). The hero and heroine kiss and go off to bed. The last line went something like: And in the moonlight the pearl softly gleamed. (What?)

Cliffhangers and Setting Up a Series

I would say that unless your next book will is out or will be published within, say, a week, don't do this. It irritates folks that the protagonist remains in danger, or hasn't solved the crime, or the love interest has died/left/been dumped.

A critique buddy recently read a mystery-thriller that began a series that she hadn't realized was the first book in a series. She thought the (continuing characters) cops were stupid because they didn't investigate well and didn't solve the original crime at the end, and the main villain escaped. Though the romance in the book wrapped up well, the mystery was left hanging. She was quite annoyed and would not go on to the next book. I heard about this and we dissected the technique for about two hours.

So watch your set-ups and pay-offs. If you set up an action, especially a main problem in your book, you will have less readers upset with you if you solve that problem instead of leaving it dangling.

For myself, I tend to leave a few threads unresolved in my series, this is usually acceptable for readers and hopefully tantalizes them, and it gives me a longer arc to work on a particular story.

The romance wraps up, the character growth wraps up, but there is a continuing story thread that is not resolved.

For instance: Once a hero was disinherited and this caused major problems for his whole family over the course of 3-4 books. Lately I've introduced a violent and evil political group (heh, heh) and have whittled down some of its members from book to book, but have left one last person unknown . . . to be caught and punished in the next book. This will wrap up that particular thread that's run through three books.

A final note. What I think is most important is the emotional punch of an ending. If you make sure you get the emotion right, some lack of technique can be forgiven. Like the first line or paragraph of your story should hook the reader, so should the last paragraphs or lines evoke enough emotion to linger in your readers' memories.

I've written twenty-five books, four novellas and two short stories, and I've always worked hard at the endings – to tie things up right, leave a good punctuating emotional note that would echo after the reader finished. But I think I've done exceptional endings twice.

My most recently published book, Ghost Killer, has one of the best endings I've done. (And thus why I thought of this topic). That ending is second after HeartMate, published book #1 (which might have helped get me published in the first place).

And here's a fact about Ghost Killer's ending. It came strictly through the historical research as I was writing the book. I knew in general what I wanted, but the research supplied another couple of layers to the moment.

So look inside yourself for your ending, see if it can echo your beginning, perhaps leave a hint of the next story. And be open for the muse or fate or research or an odd comment you might hear to add that emotional note you need to make a reader smile and sigh and close the book, wishing it wasn't over.

May all your writing dreams come true,
Robin

Support

By Robin D. Owens

"My brain has decided that writing isn't a temporary job anymore," said Laila, a writer I've been sprinting alongside in the mornings lately.

"I'm rearranging my office this morning during our writing sprints. When I started working my day job from home and writing too, I assumed it was temporary. I thought I was going to join an MBA program. But after finishing this manuscript, I've realized that writing isn't a temporary job anymore."

"That's important." I typed back. I spend most of my days with an online group doing sprints. They are motivational and supportive (the people . . . though I suppose the sprints – wars – are supportive, too, and certainly motivational).

Everyone is invited. The ones who stay find this process works for them (it doesn't for everyone). We are published traditionally, published by small press, self-published, published through Kickstarter, and unpublished. Laila is unpublished.

Laila joined the war room (a specialized chat room) in March (yes, I asked her since I'm writing this with her in the war room) "one week into the draft of the manuscript."

The last couple of months have been intense in the war room, with three of us solidly working. I was late with Heart Legacy and turned it in May 8, then jumped on Ghost Talker, due at the end of this month. (Ha, ha, ha).

Jay had a book due to her small press on June 15. Both Laila and Jay finished their manuscripts on the same day last week.

We all celebrated with cheers and virtual champagne. Because we aren't in the same room, you know, or even in the same area.

We are worldwide. Sweden, England, Ireland, East Coast Canada, Central Time, Mountain Time and West Coast Time zones are all represented.

But we are a community, an extremely supportive and motivated bunch. And that's incredibly important to me. By now, I would say that daily support is necessary to me.

I've done the home-from-day-job-start-writing business. I did that for many years, writing alone in the dark every night, writing on weekends and holidays. At that time (and now) I had RMFW critique buddies, the monthly meetings and various get-togethers for support.

For me, the support of writing friends is vital.

I think it is vital for all writers. You aren't alone. There are others out there like you. People who hear characters speak to them or see a scene roll before their inner eyes. Or writers who struggle with character decisions, turning points and plot. Clunky words and learning technique. And if you hang around us, we will motivate you to write.

A caveat: Make sure you find the group that fits you. Ditch the ones that drag you down and suck out your energy and emotions (because, yes, some do).

But if RMFW fits you (and it boggles my mind that it wouldn't), stick with us, your friends in RMFW, your critique group buddies. Your Writing Groups. We will help you. We'll be there. You can count on us.

May you write wonderful words today.
Robin

(p.s. send me an email if you think you need the wordwars group -- robindowens (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll get back to you with the chat room url and password. Like I said we're open to everyone, but a lot of people come and go deciding whether or not we work for them. We tend to do days in the U.S. Sometimes evenings and nights. We do have a spec fic slant.)

Beta Readers

By Robin D. Owens

Beta Readers are those people who will read your manuscript after you're done, but before you submit it to your publisher.

I have a mentor (Kay Bergstrom) who always reads my work, and I have Beta Readers. Though I try and keep track of people who have read my manuscripts and help me, I tend to cycle through readers (fans) on my blog and facebook, looking for good beta readers.

But I have one guy named Joe (no, that's not his real name, but equally common). Joe started with my futuristic/fantasy romance series and has followed me through my fantasy and my paranormal romance. Joe is good. Since he's been reading my manuscripts, he's gotten better. I don't know whether that's because we've worked together or not. But I can trust Joe.

This morning, before I sent my two month and one week late book due (that's already scheduled for November and being pre-ordered), I wrote a new opening that Kay advised. I worked about three hours on this opening scene so it had enough set up but not too much info dump. Who did I send it to that I knew would get back to me quickly with an honest read? Joe.

Much as I love compliments – and we all need compliments – what we need most is an honest read if we want our manuscripts to be the best. We can get this from critique buddies, we will definitely get it from professional editors (whether we pay them or the publisher pays them), and we should try to find beta readers who do this.

During my recent quest for beta readers, I sent out five rough draft manuscripts to people I thought might be able to help me. Some were familiar with the series, some stated editorial or literary background. All of them said they read fast (because I tend to need a fast turn-around).

One of those never got back to me. This always happens. Often some get back to me too late.

I always ask for OVERALL comments on the story, places of confusion, slow pace, characters not acting reasonably or being stupid or jerks, plot holes, other problems.

I don't care about grammar and punctuation. My publisher's copy editor will take care of that, and I have a good friend I pay to copy edit, too. At this particular point, the rough draft, I need input on the story.

This time I got: Wonderful book, rest assured your fans will love it. Great, that felt great, but was of little help with the story.

I got punctuation, grammar and typo stuff. This also always happens.

Mostly I got continuity errors, which are important and I fix before I turn it in, but I didn't get any comments on characters or plot except from Kay and Joe. So this round wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped.

Especially since I lay in bed last night knowing something was definitely wrong with my secondary black moment, when the relationship breaks. Joe hadn't said anything about it, so it didn't bother him as a reader (like the lack of stated motivation for the villain had). Kay had a problem with it, and I cut pursuant to her suggestions, but it didn't still didn't work. So I had to go back and forth and around and around (like my ceiling fan), until I came up with the solution. I pretty much returned to the basics of character, craft, and the romance genre rules and figured it out. When I did, I knew it was right.

So, some points of this blog.
1) Beta readers can be extremely helpful.
2) You will have to look to find good ones, if you do, keep them. Be gracious to those who give you what you don't need.
3) The bottom line is that you must also trust yourself.