Tag Archives: the writing life

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part II

As promised, we’re back with more great advice for conference-goers from a few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors

Liesa Malik

1) Remember that all people at the conference are approachable, but it’s best to have a few questions to ask. Things like “what do you like best about writing?” or “where do you see your publishing career a year/five years from now?” are a start. Just be sure you’re interested in finding out the answers.

2) Go to the sessions. Yes you get a lot out of the networking, but many of the sessions are absolute gold for information and training in your writing life.

3) Buy CDs and books. The CDs are helpful reminders (and the keynotes are almost ALWAYS motivational) and the books are generally by people attending the conference. How better to support the people who are sharing their gifts with you?

Pamela Nowak

1. Workshop sessions are valuable to every attendee–we can all learn something–but select carefully. Read the descriptions and choose those aimed for your craft level and step-in-the process. If you’re a new writer, stick with the basics and concentrate on where you are in the process so you are not overwhelmed. Advanced writers should focus on advanced craft or marketing or writing life sessions to complement their social recharging.

2. Take advantage of the FULL conference experience. Boost your knowledge by attending sessions. Energize by socializing with other writers. Charge up your commitment to writing by setting new goals.

Katriena Knights

1. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing it “right.” There are many ways to take in a con experience. You can go to the same con five, six, ten years in a row and never follow the same pattern.

2. Don’t be afraid to take a break. In the past, I’ve spent so much time trying to do everything I thought was important that I wore myself down. If you end up flat on your back from exhaustion, con crud, or whatever, even what you’re able to take home from the con isn’t going to do you as much good as is could have if you listened to your brain and your body.

3. But…don’t be afraid to try anything and everything. Don’t limit yourself because you think an individual workshop might be “too hard” or “too basic,” or not in your genre or whatever. If it looks interesting, or if something’s just tweaking your brain about that event, go. There’s so much to choose from that I’ve been known to close my eyes and point at the program to decide where to go. OTOH, I’ve been to conferences where I picked through the program and created a throughline for myself, following a specific topic from presenter to presenter.

I guess my basic advice is honor yourself even if you feel like you’re wimping out, because you’re probably not, and don’t think because you didn’t do what you think you should that you didn’t get what you could have gotten out of the con. I have no idea if that makes sense, but I know I started enjoying this kind of thing a lot more when I started honoring my need to just get the hell away from everything and everybody from time to time.

Jeanne Stein

1. I think the most important piece of advice I can offer is don’t be afraid to approach an author you’ve read and liked and tell them how much you enjoy their books. That’s a great ice breaker. After an intro like that, every author I know would be more than willing to answer a few questions and perhaps share a tip or two about succeeding in this crazy business. And where to find the authors? If not on a panel, the bar is always a good place to start!!

Again, feel free to add your own conference tips in the comment section. And if you’re attending Colorado Gold for the first time, have a wonderful time.

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part I

A few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors have submitted their best advice for an enjoyable and educational conference experience. These suggestions work for any conference, of course, but will be especially meaningful for those who plan to attend the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference September 5-7 at the Westin in Westminster.

Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section.

Kerry Schafer

1. Talking to writers at a conference is easier than talking to “normal” people, because you can drop the small talk. If you don’t know what to say, just ask, “So what are you writing?” Even shy writers are generally happy to start telling you about their latest project, and this helps to break the ice.

2. Have a business card or bookmark you can pass out with your name, email address, and social media contacts. This allows people you connect with at the con to find you again later. You can get inexpensive business cards at Moo.com or Vistaprint, or even make some yourself and print them on cardstock. Definitely worth the time.

3. Agents and editors are people. They don’t like to be spammed any more than you do, but they are looking for the next wonderful book and it might just be yours. Treat them with respect and let your enthusiasm shine through.

Kevin Paul Tracy

1. Don’t necessarily attend all the same workshops/classes as all your friends. Split up, then come together later and share notes.

2. The hospitality suite is great, but explore, there are all sorts of impromptu gatherings all over the place all weekend.

3. Listen more than you speak. You’ll overhear so much more that way and learn all sorts of interesting things.

4. Don’t go to bed early – stay up past your bed time. Some of the best conversations come after 1am and everyone is well lubricated.

5. When you make a new friend, get their “deets” right away, so you can stay in touch. You will forget later.

Robin D. Owens

1. There is no “one true way” to do things. What the seminar speaker is telling you works for him/her. Take what works for YOU from the workshop and use that.

2. Sometimes you have to hear a concept several times or phrased in different ways before it sinks in and is useful for you.

3. Stop when you get overwhelmed.

Susan Spann

1. Set specific, and reachable, personal goals. When I go to a conference, I try to meet (and remember) three new people every day. I used to feel shy about approaching strangers and introducing myself, but that became much easier when I replaced “Meet lots of people” with “Meet three new authors every day of the conference.” I usually end up meeting many more, but focusing on initiating three conversations made the goal more personal and reachable.

Jeffe Kennedy

Don’t over-schedule in advance, particularly regarding panels and workshops. Leave room to talk to people and go to panels and workshops as the opportunities arise. Connecting with other people is the one part of the conference you won’t be able to replicate some other way.

Please come back on Friday for Part II of Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers, featuring Liesa Malik, Pam Nowak, and Katriena Knights, and Jeanne Stein.

Series or Standalone or The Problems of Estimating When You Don’t Outline

By Carol Berg

Carol Berg PhotoIn my published writing career, I’ve started six projects. Three of them, I intended to be standalone novels. Only one of those three stayed that way. One project I sold as a three book series and it turned out to be four. Clearly I’m not great at estimating.

My problem is that I am an organic story developer. I hate the word pantser, because to me that implies the writer doesn’t know where he or she is going. I always know where I need to start, and I always know where I’m going. My problem is, I don’t always know how many events or scenes or words it’s going to take me to get there. Nope, I don’t outline individual books or a series as a whole. I generate events and scenes as I write, because, for me, story ideas blossom as I get to know my characters and see what kind of challenges and personal interactions will drive them toward the climactic events that I want to happen.

Berg_ThreeCoversOne example: My novel Transformation was intended and sold as a standalone. I brought it to a very satisfactory ending. A true completion of the story is very important to me. Only, just about the time I sent the book off to my editor, I realized something critical about my demonic villains. The story I had told was only a piece of a much larger story arc that dealt with the identity of those demons and how that related to the identity of my hero’s people, their religion, and their single-minded pursuit of a war that took place in the physical landscape of human souls. That realization delighted me, but it also generated two additional novels that became the Books of the Rai-kirah. The single fantasy story became epic.

Three of my five “not-standalone” projects are this same kind of series. In these three series, the individual novels are separated by as little as a single day, or as many as four years. Each volume is a complete story in itself, but also a piece of a larger, continuing (epic!) story arc involving the same core of characters. Sometimes the books will have the same point of view character (like the Rai-kirah books) sometimes different ones (like the novels of the Collegia Magica).

I envisioned my Bridge of D’Arnath series as three books – and proposed and sold them on a three-page synopsis. The story centered around a disgraced noblewoman, a sorcerer/warrior who happened to have a displaced soul in his body, and the search for a kidnapped child – a child who had been brought up to believe he was evil. The third book ended when the boy was sixteen. But once I got there, the ending wasn’t right. Having sons myself, I knew that no kid, especially one who had undergone the traumatic childhood of this one, was “finished” at age sixteen. That’s where book four came from – Daughter of Ancients (NAL/Roc 2005) my first Colorado Book Award finalist. Oops!

Another project I mis-estimated was the novel Flesh and Spirit. I sold it as a standalone. But I also sold it on the basis of a single paragraph . When I was about halfway through writing it, I realized that there was no way this story would fit inside one book. I had to go back to my publisher and say, “You know this book I’m writing? It’s really two.” That is not a happy thing to say to a publisher. Fortunately, they liked it well enough to buy the second book! This became the Lighthouse Duet, a slightly different kind of epic series because it is really one big story split into two volumes. The resolution at the end of the first volume is really more of a turning point. Hey, I’m in good company. Lord of the Rings is really one big story split into three volumes, right?

Berg_DustandLightMy new series, the Sanctuary Duet is a parallel series to the Lighthouse books. I had the idea for Dust and Light (released just this month from NAL/ROC Books!) and wrote it up. Uh-oh, a paragraph! But I also wrote the first six chapters before I sent off the proposal. And this time, I told them it was going to be two books, even though I wasn’t sure the story was big enough. . . Indeed, when I reached the resolution mark of Dust and Light, there was an overarching mystery that had not yet been solved, and so I clobbered poor Lucian de Remini on the head and sailed into Book 2, Ash and Silver (NAL/Roc, August 2015). But I haven’t finished Ash and Silver yet, and there sure are lots of threads to resolve. Stay tuned…

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Carol Berg never expected to become an award-winning author. She chose to major in math at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado so she wouldn’t have to write papers, and ended up in a software engineering career. Now her fourteen epic fantasy novels have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. A starred review from Publishers Weekly uses words like captivating, impressive, and perceptive about her newest novel, Dust and Light. Learn more at http://www.carolberg.com

Ooooh, shiny! The Next Project Syndrome

By Robin D. Owens

There you are, drudging through your current project, convinced it is cat crap and an idea wiggles in. A beautiful, sparkling, WONDERFUL idea. Something so alluring, that will be so much more fun to write than the current story (especially if the current story has been bought and you’ve taken money for it and it is now late).

Oooh. Yes. There’s the hero, you get HIM. Different characteristics than the guy giving you fits right now.

There’s the hint of the plot, SO much more exciting than the murder you’ve gotten bogged down in, or the details you need to research of the cathedral you’re building, or the heroine who needs to be trained in knife fighting…

SO much easier to write on a story that shines with promise rather than dig into the guts of the work you have now, the one that was once shiny but currently is hard to write, a job, work.

Because all ideas become hard to write. Nothing stays shiny. But that initial POP of an idea, the brainstorming of some bits of the people or the plot, wow, that’s FUN.

Before I was published, I could be lured away. I must have six or seven manuscripts started that never made it more than 100 pages or so before something else caught my attention.

Now, with the selling of my stories, my work, I have to be more disciplined. Yes, the ideas come…it’s particularly bad if they come in a series I think I can sell….whispering their sweetness. But, for me, I must resist.

So this is what I do. I live only with cats which means I can wake up in the middle of the night and dictate wonderful (or stupid) ideas, so I keep my itouch handy. The voice memo button is on the toolbar so it stays available whether I was playing spider solitaire or looking at Word of the Day when I turned off my device. I can find the memo app with my thumb in the dark, if necessary. I can burble about the new and shiny idea. Then I can save it for a more appropriate time (i.e. when the present manuscript is finished).

If the story continues to hang around while I’m studying knife fighting or building a cathedral, or figuring out when my hero is going to say “I love you,” I might hit the computer and write down additional notes or prompts for it. The heroine is an adventuress. The hero is a gentle giant. He is an introvert [long notes about the story formerly here CUT].

When the previous manuscript is finished and I have a little time, I can rub my hands and delve into the New! Fun! Improved-Technique-Trust-Me-Baby! Shiny idea. And it stays fun for a while, depending on the publishing schedule, real life, and before I take the first chapter to critique group. :) Maybe even after that. Until I hit a snag, or need to deepen the character or realize that the plot does not work.

Then the mind wanders and . . . You understand? Sure, you know this cycle as well as I do.

Well, that’s what I do when the next sparkling concept hits my brain. I’m not sure what you might do, but this works for me so it might help you.

What is lovely is that it’s good to realize that you aren’t alone in this fascinating endeavor. That there are other people on this journey whose eyes WON’T glaze over when you talk to them about writing.

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How Exhaustion Helps Writing

By Trai Cartwright

How does exhaustion help writing?

It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t.

Writing through mental and physical exhaustion has always been a struggle of mine, and it seems in the past year or two, I’ve heard much the same from many of my writer friends. Whether it’s acute over-programming or serious health ailments, managing their lives drains away their precious creative time and energy.

It’s gotten to the degree that they don’t get any writing done.

Does being a writer attract a heightened level of affliction? Is that how we know we’re writers—not because we’re sicker than everyone else but because we feel the terrible intensity of our failings all the more for their negative impact on our art?

Are we as a tribe, too tired to do our jobs? Did the writers who came before us suffer these same maladies to the same extent, and if so, how did they manage to get their work done?

How do we, as an afflicted body of scribes, manage to get it done regardless? Or do we?

I read “Z” not too long ago, a book from Zelda Fitzgerald’s point of view (genius, by the way), and not only was her own mental health eroding, but she had to rely on a husband who’s proximity to drink determined his own daily output.

Scott wrote dozens of short stories because it was all he could manage around his alcoholism.

Stephen King, on the other hand, used his prolific drug habit as a production tool for his writing. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can tell when King’s addiction began impacting his writing negatively—there are a couple dozen books that, well, suck. But his habit never impeded his output.

The tales of mental illness among writers and artists in general is prodigious. Their careers seem to go in two directions: one, they waited for bouts of sanity to work; or two, their affliction seemed to drive them to produce.

Myself, I was a chronic insomniac. The longer a person goes without the required sleep (seven hours uninterrupted), the worse their brain, organ, and nervous system function. A fugue state takes over and soon cognizant thinking becomes impossible, much less creative thinking. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is a torture technique.

We all have our afflictions, don’t we?

But does the human condition make writing impossible? And what a terrible joke that would be, with so many of us with something to say.

And now that our lives are so overly complex with 24/7 jobs, family schedules that require herculean efforts to maintain, and increasing health issues across all ages, is there any way our artistic pursuits won’t suffer?

How do we compensate?

Or do we give in?

A friend of mine, Amy Kathleen Ryan, had triplets a few years ago. She still wrote two books around their tyrannical infant demands. You might have read them.

Another friend of mine has been diagnosed with MS, making it impossible to type some days. Many days. He still finished his most recent mystery novel.

Another woman I know has worked full time, pursued two advanced degrees, and raised her kid for the past five years, and is inches from finishing an epic fantasy we all know will publish the second she finishes.

Another has taken over the care of both her invalid parents while raising her own family. She’s learned to write in doctor’s offices.

A man who attends most of my library creative writing classes tells me he’s on the road three out of four weeks a month, but he’s taught himself to write on airplanes and in hotels.

A woman in my MFA program walks with two canes and is in constant, chronic pain from a back injury. She still got her degree and recently published her first short story.

There are lots of examples of life becoming what really ought to be written off as unmanageable, crushing our creative selves, making writing laughably impossible. But even these people find ways to write.

They all tell me the same thing: writing is their life’s blood. They’ve learned to stop making attachments to the outcomes and just be glad for the days they get some words on the page.

Is that enough?

As more and more novels are written under the pressures of our modern, debilitating lives, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Exhaustion may not help our writing, but it doesn’t have to stop it entirely.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

RMFW Spotlight on Judy Matheny, Volunteer Coordinator

The first Monday of the month on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog we spotlight a board member or volunteer to help you get to know our leaders and members a little better. Today’s Q and A is with Judy Matheny, the person you’ll want to contact when you’re ready to jump in and help keep this wonderful organization humming.

Matheny at Stanley1. Judy, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I was drafted from my Capitol Hill Critique Group to seek “higher office”. When I joined the group in 2010 I just thought it was stocked with great people and wonderful writers, but I have since learned many of RMFW’s leaders have come from the Capitol Hill Critique Group. Scott Brendel got my name on the ballot for Secretary in this past election, hoping that I would lose and be able to take over his position as Volunteer Coordinator. I did lose, which has been a blessing and I am now the Volunteer Coordinator for RMFW. It’s a wonderful post because I learn the inner workings of this organization and its needs. I also connect with new members and those wanting to help out. I attend the Board meetings and witness first-hand the energy of this organization. I believe our membership would be surprised by the extent of operations, offerings and projects that are underway at any given point and the volunteer support that keeps them going. If you’re interested in volunteering please send me a note at volunteer@rmfw.org.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

Right this moment I am linking two mystery manuscripts written ages ago into a series that my agent, Cricket Freeman (The August Agency), will be advancing for me. Each came so close to publication over the years and had been gathering dust until I was inspired at last year’s Colorado Gold to seek a more modern publishing route. The titles are Need to Know and Signed Statement. A female FBI Agent is caught up in task force intrigue in New York City. I stole from past experiences since I was an agent with the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force in NYC for many years. More to come on this! I have a musical in development in Denver taken from The Princess in My Head, a story I wrote for my daughter when she was eleven. Several talented theater people I know wrote a wonderful score aimed at the middle and high school audience, and now we’re finalizing my script. My new novel is roughly titled The Sylvie Dyer Mystery and is a Colorado historical fiction set in 1892. I hope to finish it by Christmas!

3. We’ve all heard of bucket lists — you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish– what’s one of yours?

Making my living as a fiction writer is a primary one. In the meantime, I dream of taking month-long writing trips each year to France – picking a spot steeped with history and charm, propping my keyboard and concocting my stories. I learned French wines many years ago, so my destinations would be Provence…Beaune in Burgundy…the Loire Valley. I suppose learning to speak French beyond my current high school competency should also be in the bucket.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what’s yours?

I get distracted by life. Right now I am living in Frisco. I thought it would be a great move – I could tele-commute with my work as a financial investigator, and write during off hours inspired by our beautiful mountains. However since I ski and bike and participate in the great social activities up here, I’m struggling again for more time and focus. But it is a fun struggle and one that I am happy to have!

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I love getting lost in my story and my characters. Creating conversations and dialog among my characters and as they speak, getting to know them better. I also love other writers. I love to learn about their work, their inspiration and their individual disciplines. It helps me.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

My advice to me would be to seek out a critique group – one with thoughtful people whose feedback can be trusted. I was afraid of what might be said about my writing when I started out. I was afraid I’d be too crushed by critiques to continue. I refreshed my writing approach four years ago when I joined the Capitol Hill group after six years away from writing, and vowed to do it all better this time. So far, so good.

Matheny Desk7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I am seriously boring in this department, although I do like to have a nice, interesting lamp. And a clock. A Thesaurus is mandatory since I wordsmith just about everything.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I just finished The Voice is All – The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac by Joyce Johnson. It’s a biography that focuses on how he acquired his writing voice. It made me happy I’m not destined to be an important literary author. On the fiction side, one of my favorite things is reading books by RMFW writers. Ian Ballard was a Capitol Hill Critique Group member and his debut Total Victim Theory is powerful. I picked up The Big Bang by WOTY Linda Joffe Hull at last year’s conference and just sent it off to my mom – she’ll love it. Pam Nowak inspires me with her historical research. I am finishing Teresa Rizzo’s latest, He Belongs to Me. Great entertainment and great resources right here in my own backyard!

Thanks, Judy! We appreciate all you do and hope you always find all the volunteers you need so we can continue to grow.

Raising the Bar

By Shannon Baker
Photos by Mark Stevens

I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be named Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. See how many times Writer is used in that title? That means it’s an award for a writer voted on by writers. And for this one moment in time—well a whole freaking year!—I get to be The Writer of the Year. That probably sounds self-promoting and egotistical, but I’m throwing manners out the window and, in fact, might actually shout it out that same window. I get to be the Writer of the Year!

Shannon Baker WOTY2It was such a thrill to be nominated with Christine Jorgenson and Terry Wright. Christine has penned two series and this year was nominated for the Colorado Book Awards. She also received the Writer of the Year honor in 1995. She’s not only an accomplished writer but is the nicest woman on the planet. Terry has his own publishing company and is a legend creating book trailers. Even his name is all about writing.

We writers can be a funny lot, or as the man I live with says, crazy. At least, I can. Among other issues, I have what I call Raising the Bar Syndrome. It goes something like this: I get a glimpse of something I want to achieve, I set a goal. I work really hard toward that goal. If I finally get there, I spend about 1.5 seconds of happiness and then see that I’m nowhere near successful because if I were a real writer, I’d be (points finger into the distance) there.

I came to my first Colorado Gold conference somewhere around 1994, toting my second completed manuscript, sure it was brilliant. It wasn’t. A very New York editor pointed out to me just how far from brilliant it was. I was smart enough to believe him. I needed to learn a ton just to know the basics of why it failed, let alone how to go about fixing it. At that conference, I sat at the banquet and watched as the contest winners were announced. Wow, I thought. If I could only win the contest, I’d know I was a real writer.

I set about the painful task of learning to write. I hate to say that for me, as it is for many, it’s a slow process and one that will never end. I can improve, and improve, and still, there is room for improvement. But after a couple of years, I did win the contest. Twice. That’s a thrill and a milestone and should be celebrated. It means a writer has reached a certain level and should be congratulated.

But self-congrats were soon replaced with a new goal. Look at those writers getting their Pen Awards, RMFW’s acknowledgement of a first sale. If I got one of those I’d be a real writer. I kept at my craft. I worked hard. I sent out hundreds of query letters. I tweaked and revised and rewrote. After a very long time, I finally joined the ranks of the traditionally published and took home my Pen Award.

But that contract wasn’t all I’d hoped and I wasn’t satisfied. I told my husband, “If I can get a contract for three books with a decent press, I’ll be happy. I can say I’m a real writer and will never have to write another book.” And guess what? After a few more years, that’s exactly what happened. Two books of that contract are on the shelves with the third due next spring.

But I’m a nobody in the grand scheme of publishing. I know some big deals in that world and I can tell you, I’m small potatoes. I’ve just finished the first book in a new series and maybe if I sell it and it takes off I’ll really be a writer. Raising the Bar Syndrome is in full flower.

Shannon Baker WOTY1But here’s a twist. This summer, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers honored me with Writer of the Year. That’s as high as the bar goes. For twenty years I’ve seen that title awarded to the creamiest crème de la crème. This is a rare time in my writerly journey when I will pause and let myself revel. For once I’ll make no excuses or justifications or downplay it. I’m going to be a big, fat, obnoxious self-centered peacock. Further, I’ll frame the certificate and display it proudly and go to it whenever I feel like a failure or a poseur. It is my proof that I AM a writer. My writer tribe told me so.

Thank you, RMFW. Thank you very much.

Please join 2013 Writer of the Year Linda Joffe Hull and this year’s nominees, Christine Jorgenson, Terry Wright, and me at the Tattered Cover on Colfax August 14th at 7:00 PM as we rev up for the Colorado Gold Conference. One free conference will be given away, as well as lunch with lunch with J. Ellen Smith, publisher of Champagne Book Group, lunch with Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher at Elora’s Cave and lunch with NYT Bestselling author William Kent Krueger.

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Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. Broken Trust, book two of the series, takes place in Boulder, CO and was released in March. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is nominated for 2104 Writer of the Year. She is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Writer’s Block? Surely you jest!

By Terri Benson

Terri Benson1Who’s Shirley? But seriously, folks (OK, not really seriously, but kinda), have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? I hear about it all the time, but I think I’m immune. Even if I wrote 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, I don’t think I could empty out the ideas and words writhing around in my head. And on top of that, every day I add more ideas and words. One of these days my head might explode (I can see it now – Exploding Head at Library: Story at eleven!).

If you find yourself stuck, and I think this applies to just about every fiction genre, go to the mall. Listen to the kids talk to each other—you’ll get YA ideas, sci-fi (you can’t get more alien than teenagers!), dialect, swear words, current clothing, technology, and lots more. Or how about wandering down Main Street and observing the architecture – don’t you wonder what went/goes on behind those covered windows on the upper floors over the stores? Who might be looking out at you right now, and why?

Unless, or even if, it creeps you out, wander through the cemetery – you’ll find tons of names to file away, see interesting art, and read some great epitaphs. Like that Masonic symbol over there. Was he one of the secret society who held the key to great riches or knowledge, or did his poor wife have to take the only headstone she could afford, one that had been “returned” by another wife who decided instead of a formal burial, she’d just flush her old hubby and call it good?

Once in a while the newspaper will run an article about some obscure crime, location, or person that you can use as inspiration in your story. The Nobel Laureate who recently died could be your character’s college roommate who invented time travel in the alternate universe your story is set in, or the little old lady found dead after begging on the streets for years who was worth millions – maybe she was a famous cat burglar, or the character’s long lost mother, sister, or even your character in later years.

Benson_monkey flowerTake a hike – literally. Check out the flora (that’s flowers and green stuff to most of us) – look close – you can see creepy faces in those things sometimes. I saw a story today on a vegetarian spider (REALLY!). I don’t think I could convince anyone spiders come with stripes of red, blue, yellow and checkerboard – unless they saw a photo of that spider. In an alternate world the spider could be the good guy for a change, up against human-eating, fluffy, sweet looking, killer gerbils.

Benson_spiderPay attention to the temperature and how it makes you feel. Remember the feeling of sweat rolling down your back and wetting your waistband – it could be blood. Goo squishing up between your toes on the riverbank? Maybe not mud.

TV, bane of our existence, can offer up a host of inspirations as well. With the History, Science, Discovery, Military and other specialty channels, you can get all kinds of ideas to research – just don’t let the research suck you down the Rabbit Hole (hey, I resemble that blog!).

Even the stupid shows might help. How about Bar Rescue? You see weird people screaming, crying, and insulting each other. Let’s see: a story about the owner of a bar being renovated who kills the reality host and tries to pin it on the sex offender posted on the city website that lives in the scary old mansion-turned-flophouse down the road, who is actually the father of the highest ranking senator in the state, and the murder weapon was a 3D printed candy cane sharpened to a point with an electric pencil sharpener located in the office of the local Clerk & Recorder under investigation for fraud and involved in an affair with the bar owner’s wife (and If I see this in print, I’d better be in the credits. Seriously. No, really!)

Writer’s Block? Not me, and not you, if you just get out there and let yourself be inspired.

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Benson_Unsinkable finalA life-long writer, Terri Benson is published in historic romance, has written award winning short stories and over a hundred newspaper, magazine and e-zine articles – many award winning.

She has been a member of RWA for decades, and RMFW for the last several years. She promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

An Unsinkable Love (with a gorgeous new cover), is available from Amazon.

Curing a Case of the Shoulds

By Kerry Schafer

Yesterday I relapsed with a bad case of The Shoulds.

For those of you who are not familiar with this disorder, it is pervasive, dangerous, and can be lethal to the creative process. Unfortunately, medical science has yet to come up with a vaccination and there is no known permanent cure. It’s one of those diseases you have to live with and manage – like diabetes.

I know I’m not alone with my affliction, because I see signs and symptoms that the rest of you have also caught this disease. My evidence? Posts on Facebook and Twitter that look a lot like this:

“I should be writing.”
“Oops, yeah you caught me. I should be working on that synopsis.”

See the word “should” in all of these examples? Yep. That’s a dead giveaway, one of the more blatant forms of a case of The Shoulds. Note the following more sneaky manifestations, again of the type often seen in social media:

“Ugh. I’m supposed to be working on my word count.”
“I’m meant to be writing. But you know. Talking cats. Hahaha.”

Note the clever use of “supposed to” and “meant to be,” which really mean the same thing as should.

I pulled a definition from Google, just for fun:

“Should: verb, used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.”

Criticizing is such a nifty word, isn’t it? And criticism of self or others is one of the debilitating effects of the Shoulds.

Still, the above examples are relatively harmless cases. Probably you won’t die from the disease in this form, although it is still likely to affect your creativity and productivity.

The Shoulds are much more dangerous when evidenced by the following types of statements:

I should be published by now.
I should have finished this book months ago.
I should be writing in a different genre.
I should write faster, better, bigger. I should be a best seller. I should be able to quit my day job. I should be a perfect parent, lover, house keeper and writer and manage a day job all simultaneously while smiling and having a good time and always being nice to everybody.

Let me ask you this – what good does this sort of talk do you? It smacks of guilt, self disparagement, hopelessness and helplessness.

Should is not an action word.

Now, take a statement like this, which was probably written in the recent past by me:

“I should be writing, but I’m hanging out here instead.”

Words carry a great deal of power. Should implies that I believe I’m doing something wrong, but am too weak willed to walk way from this social media screen that has somehow magically opened in front of me. That I’m too morally bankrupt to be able to go write the words that I say I want to write. It also carries an underlying message that there are others out there – my mother, society at large, maybe even God – looking over my shoulder and making sniffy noises at my lack of discipline.

But if I switch out the should construction with an action verb, something like choose, everything changes:

“I choose to write now,” is a statement of an entirely different flavor. Or, alternately, “I choose not to write now. I’m going to hang out on FB with my friends.”

This is a significant thought shift. Either I have just set myself up to go get some word count in, or I’ve made an active decision to keep doing what I’m doing – guilt free, and by choice.

One version is vaguely self critical, helpless, with a victim-of-fate sort of feel to it. The other is strong and leads to either a change of action, or an acknowledgement that the action you are already engaged in is undertaken by choice, not because somehow you drifted into it. This allows you to assume the responsibility for your own behavior.

The same sort of shift works for the more complicated should constructions as well, they just require a little more finesse with the reframe.

“I should have an agent by now” becomes, “I choose to start looking for an agent,” or “I choose to wait.” Maybe it gets refined into something like, “I will send out ten queries this week, and a replacement query for every rejection.”

“I should have finished that book by now,” becomes, “I will write 500 words a day, five days a week.” Or even the much simpler, “I’m going to spend the next hour working on my book.”

Speaking of which, I have frittered a lot of time this morning so far. It’s time to get some writing done. Not because I should, but because I choose to.

5 Things You Should NEVER Do in Fiction

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Writers are given a lot of rules when we first start writing: Don’t change tense, don’t head-hop, don’t plagiarize the Bible… After awhile, we learn to pick and choose what rules are right for us and our work. But there are still some NEVER to be broken rules like those below:

5)  Kill a dog. Just don’t do it. Other animals are questionable decisions at best, but whack Fluffy, and there’s no coming back.

4)  Dare the reader to hate it. Yes, that’s right. Never, ever, dare your reader to hate your book or to put it down. Guess what? I’m not 5 any longer and can see right through your lame ass attempt at reverse psychology.

3)  Stand on your pulpit. If your book calls for political and/or religious views, fine. That’s well and good. Fiction is about what the book needs. But if you’re writing a spy thriller and suddenly I’m forced to read a passage about your viewpoint on building a fence around illegal aliens and I’ll stop reading right then. Never write to hear your own voice.

2)  Add characters to fulfill a quota. Unless that one armed, Jewish, lesbian sidekick is vital to the story, please don’t throw her in. She has a hard enough time playing catcher in her softball league.

1)  Follow the rules. If you want to kill a one-pawed, Jewish, lesbian canine stuck behind a electric fence with the Taco Bell dog, go ahead. I dare you. There are no absolutes when it comes to writing. Good advice on what people hate, sure, but if you dare to write it, then get on it.

How do you feel about ‘the rules’? Any no-no’s you can think of?