Tag Archives: the writing life

The One True Constant in Publishing … by Kristi Helvig

Kristi Helvig It’s a busy time for me as I gear up for the release of my sequel STRANGE SKIES at the end of April. I’m writing a slew of guest posts and doing interviews for my blog tour, planning the launch at my favorite local indie bookstore, Tattered Cover, and trying to manage the various giveaways going on right now for both my books. All of these things are similar to what I did one year ago for the release of my debut BURN OUT.

The biggest difference this time around? No, it’s not that I’m so much wiser and more time efficient (I wish). It’s that right after my book was sent for the hardcover printing, my editor at Egmont USA found out that my publishing house—not a tiny publisher either— was closing down. As in, less than a week after we spoke on the phone and celebrated finishing all the final edits, my editor said she wouldn’t have a job after the end of the week. Many authors found out that their books were cancelled.

I got lucky in that they decided to bump up my release date several months so that my book would still be published. I felt this weird mix of sadness for the awesome people of Egmont and my fellow Egmont authors, along with happiness that my book would still make it out into the world.

book-burnoutPeople asked me if I was okay, and what was I going to do after this book. My honest answer was that I was fine and that I trusted the right thing would happen for all my future books. I’d already had my first editor move publishing houses while BURN OUT was still in copyedits, and then my agent moved agencies within the same few weeks—though she took me with her, it meant that these two books had to stay with my original agency. After we got the news about Egmont closing, I spoke with my agent and we talked about my self-publishing the third book in the trilogy, which was a prospect that really excited me. And then, two weeks later, something else happened, seemingly out of the blue.

Lerner Publishing had acquired Egmont’s Spring 2015 list and just like that, I have a new publisher. I’ve already had a marketing call with them and am really impressed so far.

Helvig_strange skiesSo, what’s the lesson here? That the biggest constant in publishing is change. If you follow the publishing industry news, you’ll see a plethora of articles on publishers merging, publishers closing, editors moving to different houses, etc. The great thing is that the majority of the people who work in publishing are awesome and are in the industry because they love books.

What’s a writer to do? Keep writing, keep improving, keep seeking any and all means of publication and continue to support your fellow writers however you can. I believe it’s a great time to be an author—we have more choices than ever and if we focus on what is within our control, we’re going to be just fine.

GIVEAWAY: Enter the Goodreads giveaway through April 3rd for a chance to win one of 10 Advanced Copies of STRANGE SKIES!

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Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. Her first novel, BURN OUT (Egmont USA), which Kirkus Reviews called “a scorching series opener not to be missed,” follows 17-year-old Tora Reynolds, one of Earth’s last survivors, when our sun burns out early.

In the sequel, STRANGE SKIES, coming 4/28/2015, Tora makes it to a new planet only to discover a whole new host of problems—and the same people who still want her dead.

Order Kristi’s books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local retailer. Kristi muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog at www.kristihelvig.com and Twitter (@KristiHelvig). You can also find her on Facebook. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.

Writing Undercover … by Tina Ann Forkner

Recently I was cleaning out some electronic files and noticed an old draft of a novel I’d abandoned in favor of another manuscript. My hand hovered over the delete key. I was about to send it to the trash bin when I decided to give it a quick read. I’m glad I did. The draft was pretty long and was I surprised to find myself newly intrigued with the story. It was a good idea! I decided not to delete the draft, but instead to resurrect the story and work on it on the side.

Do you have a story idea, or a secret manuscript that you go to when you are stuck on your current Work in Progress? If not, then you might consider creating a file that you can go to when nothing else is working. Let it be a story that would surprise the socks off your friends. Let it be so “you” that at first, you would never dream of showing it to anyone. Let it be a place for your writing soul to escape.

In the past I had a private manuscript that nobody else knew about. It was just for fun and I wrote on it when I had so-called writer’s block or when I was bored with my current project. Even when I was writing under contract, I worked on that story. In most ways, the manuscript I escaped to was a lot different than what I was writing under contract for Random House. It had a completely different setting, a bigger cast of characters, and the best part was that I didn’t feel a need to censor myself in any way. Nobody was ever going to see it, right? In the end, I wrote a novel called Waking Up Joy that ultimately put me back in the driver’s seat of my writing career, but more importantly than that, writing it undercover gave me my mojo back.

Sometimes, when we are going through the publishing phase, or when we are busily writing and pitching proposals at writing conferences hoping to get published, we unwittingly start cheating ourselves by letting the business of writing pull us away from the writing zone. You know what I mean by ‘the writing zone’, right? It’s what happens when the world around you falls away and the writing flow pulls you down the river of inspiration. It’s hard to find the writing zone when you are trying to plan your story around current publishing trends or with the expectations of editors and agents judging it. So, my advice? Write something that nobody can touch. Write undercover. You might be surprised at how doing so frees the storyteller locked within.

The beauty of writing Waking Up Joy undercover was that 1) I remembered how to be true to myself no matter what I write, and 2) I gained the confidence to take greater chances in my manuscripts.

Additionally, the idea that I wasn’t going to pitch the novel to anyone, but was writing it for myself, allowed me to find the writing zone. At first I fully expected that I would never pitch the novel, and in all honesty that would have been okay. The whole point of writing undercover was to explore the craft and see what else I was capable of writing, but when I realized that my practice manuscript was a story I wanted to bring to my readers, I started showing the first fifty pages to agents and editors.

Now, even though I’m writing under contract for my new publisher, I know it’s time to go undercover again. I don’ t know if this secret manuscript will turn out to be something worth shopping, or if it will only be a manuscript that teaches me more about myself and writing, but I again feel a longing to go back to that secret place in my soul where I don’t write for anyone except Tina Ann Forkner.

If you find that like me, you sometimes freeze at the idea of writing something to show an editor or agent, let alone the world, start a secret manuscript and write something you’ve never written before. Write a story that flows out of your soul without the intention of ever showing it to anyone else, write a memoir, or write a story that might seem out of character to your friends, but that you know is all you. Whatever you do, start with the intention of writing it undercover.

It might end up that your secret manuscript is something you want to share, but don’t write it for that reason. Most likely your manuscript will be a learning tool that will give you a release from your regular writing projects, like going to the playground when you should be at work. Perhaps in the process you will reconnect with your muse and in the end become a better writer. This what I’m hoping will happen to me again as I dig back into that lost manuscript I unearthed when I was cleaning out my files. I’m going undercover. Ready?
Let’s go…

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Tina Ann ForknerTina Ann Forkner writes Women’s Fiction and is the author of Waking Up Joy, Rose House, and Ruby Among Us. A southern girl at heart, she writes in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she lives with her husband and their three teens.

Learn more at www.tinaannforkner.com

Dancing About Architecture

music-girl-wallpapers-headphones-hair

By Colleen Oakes

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

Having the right music while I'm writing is of the utmost importance.  In so many ways, it elevates the craft of writing, and it stimulates my brain in a way that nothing else can. Except for maybe, you know, writing.

When I wrote Elly in Bloom, the music I listened to had a lot of influence on the mood in my scenes.  For the happy, wedding-filled chapters, I listened to buzzy pop music, or bouncy-women-driven songs (Ingrid Michaelson,  Sia, Sara Evans, Carrie Underwood, Brooke Fraser).  When I had to take Elly down into her betrayal and the anger, it was all about Kelly Clarkson's "My December", a melodramatic and angry album that captured the depths of betrayal and the rage of a woman betrayed.

That album had everything I needed, and if I were to name "an album for Elly", that would be it. Towards the end of the book, I listened to Lifehouse's "Breathing" on repeat. There was just something sweet and lovely and old school about it, and I wanted to capture this new blossoming that was happening in Elly's life, and the hope that I wanted to carry into the sequel.

For Queen of Hearts, it was a totally different story. I could not write - well, anyway - to music with words. I needed grand and epic music, music that stimulated my imagination in the most direct way.  I didn't need Clarkson. I needed Zimmer and Williams and Elfman.

I needed movie soundtracks, and lots of them. I needed dramatic music to inspire scenes that were so big that I could only write them in a deconstructing way and then put them back together.  I needed music that made me feel angry, deceitful, rushed, panicked, terrified, betrayed, elated and devastated - all at once.

I needed music to burn a city down and to lift up a field of magical flowers.

For two years, this is what Queen of Hearts looked like: me, hunched over my little netbook at a Starbucks wishing I was at a Caribou, typing and frowning, typing and frowning, checking Pinterest, typing and frowning.  All during that time, I was graced with GIANT headphones that my husband bought me.  This let me get lost in the music, which enabled me to get lost in the book. I can truly say that without the music, Queen of Hearts would not have happened.

I would start out every writing session with the same song, something I highly recommend. Take a few hours and find that perfect piece of music, and let it lead you where you want to go. Let it be a marker that you are departing from your present reality.  My song was  A Kaleidoscope of Mathematics by James Horner: There is no other song I know that really gets my brain focused and working like this one. The quick pace of the song, and the way it climbs the scales, through quick, intense almost frantic piano notes...I can't perfectly explain it without seeming a bit unhinged, but when I close my eyes and listened to this song before I started writing Queen each time, it was like I was seeing a thousand doors unlock, one after another.  Then I saw a tree unfurling its branches and the branches became a forest, the forest a world.  My world. There is something about this song that prepares and bares my mind to consuming imagination. All the pressures of daily life fell at my feet. Yeah, it's that good.

When I begin writing a novel, I usually find a piece of music to power the climax of the novel as well. When I was writing, I would listen to the song at the end of every writing session, a bookmark, and something to look forward to. I would think "Soon, I'll get to write this amazing scene, this amazing ending."  My musical bookends. Everyone writes different, but for me, it's very important that when I write the first chapter that the last chapter is completely in my mind.  The song for the end of Queen was "Now we are Free" by Lisa Gerrad.   I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in that scene, and it sounded like this song; free, uplifting and dramatic. I listened to it leading up to the epilogue, letting it guide my writing to that spot.  It has a finality and resolution to it that resonated just right with that scene. It's so beautiful, it makes me so weepy and when i finished Queen of Hearts, I did indeed weep.

Did I ever listen to music with words?  Occasionally.  It just didn't suit this book. There is something about picking the right kind of music that rearranges the brain in a way that it's ready to write. It's ready to get lost in something, to dip its toes into the creative side of your life, your education and your passion.

My advice? It's worth the time to find the right soundtrack to your book.

I'm happy to report that even though my writing looks the same - Hunched over, typing, frowning, typing - but in my ears the cheerful beats of a new book are sounding.

A story of new beginnings and fresh words.

Writers, sing along with me… the heart and soul of dreams

by Janet Lane

These are the times that try writer’s souls. Are your writer’s dreams getting battered in the maelstrom of the current publishing world?

I have experienced the many frustrations of writing fiction, and I understand my fellow RMFW members’ struggles with rejections, disappointing sales, the daunting task of getting reviews or an editor or agent’s attention. It’s easy to become overwhelmed in a market that demands more and more from us.

We turn to each other for support, and our friendships with fellow writers, gifted people who share our dreams, help us right ourselves after our personal defeats and challenges. And many find solace in music. My dear friend, Robin Owens, shared some of the music that she uses for inspiration during her writing sessions, and I’ve found it beautiful and helpful.

This weekend, I got a boost of inspiration and hope from music in an unexpected place.
My daughter and her significant other gave us tickets to one of the nine Garth Brooks concerts! We’ve enjoyed his unique brand of country/crossover pop music over the years, but I would have never gone without the special enticement. At the concert, Brooks sang a song I didn’t remember ever hearing. How could I have missed this gem? It was released in April, 1992, and I was busy with my toddling daughters. I hadn’t started writing fiction then, and likely my world was too busy to hear it.

But it’s never too late! The song is “The River.” It’s about precious dreams, and our commitments to them.

Lanr_The River (Garth Brooks blog)I was far from alone in admiring this song. The Pepsi Center’s 20,000 fans roared with delight, then quieted to hear the beautiful lyrics. The Denver Post’s “Home” columnist, Francie Swidler, was there. Not a Garth Brooks fan, she was surprised to enjoy the songs and wished that she, like most of the happy fans, knew all the words. She had never heard “The River,” and to her surprise, when Garth sang it, she cried. Yes, it’s that good. She heard the heart and soul of the song.

At the time it was written (co-written by Garth and Victoria Shaw), Garth hadn’t yet found success. In fact, he worked as a bouncer in a bar to support his dream. He was seeking a new song, but the heart of the idea was just out of his reach. To get inspired, he and Victoria played some James Taylor songs. (We do this as writers when we re-charge our batteries by reading other’s novels, not to copy, but to gain inspiration). The idea came to him, and he said, “You know, a dream is like a river…”

The song is four minutes long, too long for a single release, and even after recording it, it didn’t make it on his next album. In an interview, Victoria Shaw said that might have been a good thing, because that album (minus “The River”) sold very well, and “he was so huge that people gave him the courtesy of listening. It was over four minutes. It was so different, and had it been any other artist, they would have thrown that song out.” They listened, and they loved it.

From the song ….
I’ll never reach my destination if I never try
So I will sail my vessel ‘til the river runs dry

If you’ve never heard it, you’re in for an inspirational treat, a gentle shot right to your writer’s heart. If you’ve heard it and forgotten it, listen again. It is, to this writer’s soul, heavenly.

Youtube link:

..and another great version with the beautiful lyrics on screen…

I hope you listen, and I hope it nourishes your dream like it did mine.

Even if you don’t have time for it, consider the story behind this song. The lyrics speak of dreams--you never know where they will take you. Because you dare to follow your dream, you will find many days a constant battle. We’ll never reach our destination if we never try. Letting the waters (of time) slip away jeopardizes our chances of achieving our dreams. Sometimes timing is everything. Garth has sold more than 100 million albums, and he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2011. But back when he wrote this song, he had a choice: stand aside and let the waters slip away - or follow the dream. Had Garth not kept pursuing his dream, we would never have been able to enjoy the messages in his songs--especially this one.

???????????????????????????????Sail your vessel ‘till the river runs dry.

Where do you get inspiration? Does music play a part in charging your creative batteries?

When Life Gets in the Way

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Ever heard the saying, When Life Gives You Lemons?

I’m sure sick of the bite of lemonade right now. Since January, and my stupid New Years’ resolution to write daily, the most I’ve written is 500 words and that was in the cafeteria of a hospital. My dad has been having some serious heart issues, and we’ve been in and out of hospitals for what seems like an eternity though it’s really only two months.

This isn’t a poor me post, though it probably sounds a lot like one (for which I apologize), so please read on as I do have a writerly point.

It’s hard to write when everything in your life is crazy. It’s also hard to write when everything is going as smooth as gravy (weirdly whenever I make gravy it comes out in clumps). It’s especially hard to write when you’ve in the throes of new love, like, or lust.

Okay, it’s hard to write is my point.

Anyway, even when it seems like an impossible task (like when I have an end of April deadline for my next book to be at the publisher) writing can be just what the doctor ordered, right after he orders a bunch of Xanax.

To lose yourself in your work is a healthy way of coping or so I’ve heard. So taking my own advice, I’m going to go write 2,000 words right now.

I’d love to know how you cope when life gives you lemons. Do you write more or less? How do you manage the real world and your isolated writerly one?

From a Dinosaur Publishing in a Digital World … by Chris Goff

Photo by Mark Stevens

Photo by Mark Stevens

Okay, I admit it, I got into this game long enough ago that my first words were scribbled on white tablets, with mistakes scratched out and arrows drawn to indicate where whole passages needed to be moved. Later, I typed stories on a manual typewriter, keeping copious amounts of Wite-Out on hand. Later, because an IBM Selectric typewriter was too expensive, I bought a Brother’s typewriter that could actually “delete” up to 300 characters using Wite-Out tape. Then, in 1987, when my mother died, I inherited her IBM PC. One of the first, it had 256K of RAM and a 1.2 MGB floppy disk drive.

Jump forward 30 years and I’m typing this at 33K feet in the air on a Surface Pro 2, on a Southwest flight to Seattle, while hooked up to the internet. I could be watching a movie, but instead I’m blogging—and extolling and lamenting the direction publishing has taken with the advancement of technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology.

Now I can correct my mistakes, move passages around in my documents, delete unwanted text OR accidently save the new paragraph of my latest novel over the master file of the book due next week, with no backup and only the hope of piecing the book together from the pages I’ve sent the critique group over the past year or year and a half.

I can also research anything. With a few keystrokes, I can pull up the weather in Kazakhstan, a picture of Kiev in March OR I can get lost surfing the information highway and lose entire days to finding a plant that grows in the Amazon and smells like a zombie to make stinky car “air-fresheners” for my much younger brothers who love The Walking Dead.

But, while the benefits of technological advances are obvious, they come at a cost. Digital publishing has changed the face of the industry.

Goff_Dark WatersWhen I locked down my first publishing contract, a writer’s only options were through a traditional publishing house or a vanity press (the dinosaurs’ equivalent of self-publishing on the internet). And, just like today, there were some self-published who made it big. The difference—back then, if you didn’t hit, you ended up with a basement full of boxed books you couldn’t sell instead of being 2,996,254 out of three million on the Amazon list.

Today, the list of large traditional publishers has decreased to five. And while the number of small publishers has increased somewhat, the number of people digitally self-publishing has skyrocketed. The tendency of many of these authors is to put their books for sale online for $.99. No doubt many of these are quality books—well written, well edited, and well received. However, a large number of these books are not worth the pennies paid.

For that, the industry has suffered. Advances from traditional and small publishers have not increased. In fact, advances have for the most part have decreased, along with the value placed on writers.

Why? In my estimation, it’s due in large part to the sheer volume of material for sale out there; due in large part to the sheer number of “writers” whose primary interest is not to make a living writing, but simply a desire to see their work “published.”

Additionally, the digital world has become one in which a writer must not only find a venue for their work and have a dynamic website, but also requires a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Goodreads. It’s not enough just to write a good book, a writer must now master the art of social networking.

Does this sound the diatribe of a “dinosaur?” No doubt. But it’s the reality of the world anyone who still dreams of making a living writing is faced with.

So, what’s a dinosaur—er writer—to do?

1. Suck it up! This is the reality and it’s not going to go away. We must learn to master technology, learn to utilize the web, learn to social network. For my part, I asked my kids to help me. Who better to show me the ins and outs of Tweeting and Tumbling?

2. Write a great book! and don’t trust Wikipedia. Put your new found technological skills to work, and fact check. We may be fiction writers, but a truth runs through it.

3. Publish well! Not your choice if you go with a traditional publisher, but there are things a self-published writer can do. Invest in an editor. (Note to dinosaur: this is not the time to turn to your kids. Hire a professional.) Design a great cover. Solicit some great cover quotes. Value your work. Price it like it’s worth something. Sure, take advantage of the discounted promotions, but for the most part, don’t undercut the market. In the long run, that only drives down the value of the product.

4. Enjoy it! There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your book in print and having someone who's not related to you read your book and love it. Bask in the moment. Share the excitement! (Note: we’re back to social networking here).

5. Start the next book!

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Chris Goff is the award-winning author of five environmental novels and a new international thriller series. The bestselling Birdwatcher's Mystery series was nominated for two WILLA Literary Awards, a Colorado Author's League Award, and published in the UK and Japan. The backlist of the Birdwatcher's Mystery series was re-released by Astor+Blue Editions in November 2014 and a sixth book in the series A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS is scheduled for October 2015. DARK WATERS, her first international thriller, will be published by Crooked Lane Books on September 15, 2015. For more information, please visit Chris’s website.

You can follow Chris on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Curse of the First Pancake … by Shannon Baker

Shannon Baker 2015There’s a piece of writing wisdom that says to hone your craft, you must first write one million words. Back in my early years, I’d read somewhere that it takes, on average, twelve years from beginning writer to published author. If you’re writing every day, those might amount to roughly the same. If that’s the case, I’m a below average writer. I don’t remember when I became serious about writing but I started slowly, articles, essays, short stories, before I launched into novels.

I took a few years off here and there for life crises, and eventually published my first novel in 2010. Although I loved that book—as it lives in my head—I’m afraid it’s a First Pancake affair.

You know about the first pancake. For some reason, it never turns out right. Parts of it burn and others are doughy. That’s the one the dog gets. But after that, they rise up to a golden brown, all fluffy and perfect. I’ve learned not to get impatient and gobble that first one. I’m better off to save belly space for the really good pancakes that follow.

I didn’t apply the same wisdom to my First Pancake book. I worked on that poor story for far too long. I knew the characters from their DNA out, why they acted as they did, nearly every day of their childhood. I understood the issues at stake, the technology, the history. I researched and read, dreamed and created. Tore down, rewrote, revised, regurgitated.

My critique groups saw so many versions they grew to hate it. Oh, they never said so, but I knew their inner groaning when I’d cheerfully announce, “I fixed it!” and handed out pages. I queried agents in the hundreds. And in between rejections, I’d rewrite according to the last skill I learned or the latest critique.

Baker_Tattered Legacy (1)I buried myself in that book, refusing to give it up. By the time I finally got a nano-press to accept it, I couldn’t tell you what I’d translated onto the page and what only survived in my head. It was a goulash of partially rewritten scenes, action changed to meet so many others’ ideas, styles and timelines. When I started writing the book, data was stored on CDs and used in desktop computers. When I published it, thumb drives and cell phones were common.

I probably shouldn’t have turned it out for public consumption but publishing seemed the only way for me to let it go and move on.

I can’t say the next book was perfect, but it did rise and cook evenly all the way through. And to follow this analogy to the ridiculous, every book since then has been full of better quality ingredients that just weren’t available for that first pancake. And now I’m thinking of clever ways to incorporate butter and syrup metaphors, layering pancake on pancake to create a towering stack of literature, but I’ll go ahead and give you all a break.

I’ve got my rights back to that book. And I still believe in the story, even after the disaster execution. Every now and then, I get the notion I should pull it out and with my new skills, rework it. Again. The premise is great. The concept is still valid.

So far, my wiser side has prevailed. (That and my friends and family get a rabid gleam in their eyes when I mention it.) I’ll let the dog enjoy that First Pancake book and happily introduce the third book in the stack called the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, Tattered Legacy.

It’s set in the iconic red rocks of Moab, UT. Working to solve the murder of her best friend, Nora uncovers an unlikely intersection of ancient Hopi legends, a secret polygamist sect and one of the world’s richest men. Will Nora put all the pieces together in time to prevent disaster?

I have a friend who declares his oldest step-child is a Pancake Child. What is a Pancake in your life?

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Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink. A fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder. Shannon is an itinerant writer, which is a nice way of saying she’s confused. She never knows what time zone she’s in, Timbuck-Three, Nebraska, or Denver, or Tucson. Nora Abbott has picked up that location schizophrenia and travels from Flagstaff in Tainted Mountain, to Boulder in Broken Trust and then to Moab in Tattered Legacy. Shannon is proud to have been chosen Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2014 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at her website.

While Tattered Legacy is available from your favorite online or bookstore, if you’d like to support indie bookstores, you’re welcome to contact Who Else Books at Broadway Book Mall.  Ron and Nina are the best! And they might have a signed copy to send.

The Bloody, Gory, Awful Choices We Make To Write Books

By Aaron Ritchey

“Don't demand that your art supports your life. Instead, make a promise that your life will always support your art.
--Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, from her interview with Luc Berthelett

“Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.”
--Stephen King from On Writing

Okay, so which is it. Come on, Elizabeth and Stephen, you both have gobs of money and success and you both can’t be right. You need to decide. I demand it.

I have to admit, I never really understood the Stephen King quote. What is a support system anyway? And for what? Huh? Come again? The expanded version of King’s quote talks about not going into your cave and forgetting about your family and friends and the outside world. That writing is fine, but don’t sacrifice everything to do it. Basically, what I get from good ol’ Mr. King is that write, write a lot, but don’t be an ass about it.

Easy for him to say. He’s Stephen frickin’ King.

In the end, though, I think the Elizabeth Gilbert interview is saying something similar. Basically it says “Don’t quit your day job. But find work that still allows you to write.”

The reality is, the writing life is one of crushing dedication and it takes time, mountains of time, oceans of minutes, a Mount Everest of seconds, years of slavery. Or maybe not. It sure seems like it does for most of us.

So do we write to live, or live to write, and what is the difference?

Again, I don’t understand the question. Do I choose to write? Or did writing choose me? How much freedom do I have?

I think it comes down to how I want to use my minutes. We’ll be dead soon. I mean, soonish, probably, but you never know. I could be eaten by rabid mutant Chihuahuas from outer space in the next ten minutes.

How do I want to use my minutes before I feel their teeth?

I love stories. I have always loved stories, and I like crafting them, and I like the pain of editing, the sorrow of marketing, and the whips of the reviewers. Call me sick and twisted, but I do. Or have I learned to love it?

The Muslim poetess Rabia wrote that she was born when she learned to love what she most feared.

At the end of the day, the dream I have of being the world-famous writer remains. But more and more, I’m seeing success is a big, huge open word and I have the power to choose if I’m successful or not. At every stage of the game. No matter what other people think.

So, to pursue this dream, how much should I sacrifice to write?

I think a better question is, what should I sacrifice to write? Friends? Family? My health? No. Mindless TV, video games, and pictures of kittens on the internet? Yes.

In the end, I need to choose what to sacrifice, and I have sacrificed to write the books I’ve written. I’ve had the same job for seventeen years. I’m still in the same house. Same wife and kids. I’ve chosen a stable life, dreary and dull, that gives me the time to write, because, again, it all comes down to minutes and how I want to use them.

Though I do love those internet kittens. Lord, I do.

That Fleeting Magic

By Colleen Oakes

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It happened last night, in the middle of a long day of writing, editing and brain-storming.  My writing buddy  and I had hunkered down for a five hour session of hammering out the problems in our respective novels. Seriously, it's such a perfect working relationship that it's a little scary.  This is how we do it: first, the good - then, the bad, which takes about five times longer than the good.  Peter's voice needs work. Damien needs feelings.  Comments range from "I LITERALLY hate your mountain range" to "I don't like or respect sexy aliens" Back and forth and back and forth it went.

At the end of our session, I was struggling with the ending of my current novel. It's a very complicated climax, with a lot of specific plot devices that have to happen just at the right time, in the right order and getting that order just right is terribly tripping me up at the moment.  I'm nowhere near the end, but I need to have my ducks in a row to proceed from this point on. I've arrived at a place in the story where I need to know origin stories - and the endgame.

So, we were at Udi's eating delicious pizza and humus when it happened.  At that point we had spent about 5 hours dissecting and editing and I was running over the plot for my novel out loud, in my head, and chasing down every thread that occurred.  To me sometimes, the best way to figure out where a story is going is just to push it down every possible dark alleyway and see what comes out. I was missing something from the climax.  I knew that something KEY was missing.  So we were running over scenarios, one by one and then I had it. A sliver of an idea.  A tiny sliver, a slip of a thing, a whisper of something big.

We discussed it.  Then, our voices rose, and started overlapping. We followed the string into the dark alley and kept following it. We started getting excited and then, we were yelling and high fiving and I'm pretty sure the table behind us thought we were totally drunk seeing how we were talking magic and pirates and musical instruments.

It was a moment, just a moment of pure creation.

Afterwards, even on the drive home as I recapped it minute by minute to my VERY lucky husband, I was still buzzing, my skin feeling like it was on fire, my brain alive and awake and flooded with adrenaline.  When you write with that kind of inspirational heat that is as rare as an eclipse, the story flows out of you like water, the best kind of drowning.

Sometimes people ask me why I write.  Most of the time, it's because I like sipping on a hot beverage and simultaneously trying not to bang my head against a keyboard. But when it's magic like this, it's a job that is so much more than a job. It's creating a living and breathing thing that can surprise, delight and frustrate you.  Honestly, it's a lot like parenting.

And when that inspirational lightning strikes, and your story falls into place like an elaborate puzzle, it's one of the best moments that a writer can have.

It might only happen once or twice a book, but when it does, it's pure, unfiltered ecstasy.

Magic.

Is It Worth It?

By Lisa Brown Roberts

Lisa Brown RobertsLast fall, I participated on the RMFW First Sale Panel. We had a great time talking about our books, and taking questions from the audience. One question has stuck with me ever since. Someone asked, “Is it worth it?” Essentially, all the blood, sweat, and tears getting to this point of publication- is it really worth it?

My response was, if you can walk away and not miss writing, then it’s probably not worth it. But if you can’t stop writing, if this is your calling, your obsession, your neurosis and your passion, then, yes it’s worth it.

Now that I’ve gone through intense rounds of editing with an amazing editor who pushed me as an author, now that my book is “real,” now that early reviews are trickling in, now that I’ve nearly drowned in promo and marketing tasks, now that I’ve spent days feeling like I’m either going to puke and/or that I’m floating on clouds.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Even though I got my first one-star review (maybe more, by the time you read this). Even though lots of people want free books and don’t quite understand why I can’t oblige. Even though a creeper somehow tracked down my day job phone number and called me at work to say we apparently had a lot in common, based on my social media presence.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Roberts_How to FallBecause here’s the most amazing thing I’ve learned over this last year and a half from contract to book on the shelf: There is an amazing tribe of supporters out there. I knew this in part because of my fantastic SCBWI critique group. But then I met more of this tribe when I branched out from SCBWI to also join RWA and RMFW. Then I found even more of the tribe at my publisher and agency, and online. People I’ve never met in person have been some of the kindest and most supportive.

When I have bad days or freak-out panic attacks or “my books stink and should never be published” phobia…all of those typical neurotic writer issues…I’ve been tremendously grateful to know that support (and maybe a glass of wine) is just an email or tweet or phone call away.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Because the main reason I write, to connect with readers, to touch them emotionally, that’s finally happening. And when a blogger reached out to say how much she loved my book and fell in love with my characters, and that she’d be posting a great review? That made it all worthwhile.

I always told myself that if my book resonated with just one stranger, someone not obligated by familial or friendship ties to say they liked it, that I’d know I’d done my job, and that it would all be worth it. I’m sure my publisher is hoping my book connects with more than one reader (as do I), but from the perspective of outside validation that the story “worked,” of empowerment to keep writing, I’m learning that yes, it’s worth it in ways I only imagined before getting to this point.

None of my worries and doubts have decreased by getting published; in fact, I have new ones. Three years for neurotic writers! (A big tribe, that one…)

But for every anxiety about this whole journey that I confess in whispers to writing friends, I receive sympathy, commiseration, and encouragement times one-hundredfold.

So to the gentleman who asked that question last fall, I stick by my answer. If you can’t walk away from writing, don’t. I promise you, it’s worth it.

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Lisa’s debut novel, How (not) to Fall in Love, releases from Entangled Teen on February 3, 2015. She’s having a book signing and launch celebration at Hampden Hall/Englewood Library on Saturday, February 7th at 4:00 and would love to see you there.

Lisa Brown Roberts still hasn’t recovered from the teenage trauma of nearly tweezing off both of her eyebrows and having to pencil them in for an entire school year. This and other angst-filled memories inspire her to write and read YA books about navigating life's painful and funny dramas, and falling in love along the way. Catch up with Lisa at lisabrownroberts.com, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Instagram.