Why I Write

I write because I finally believe I can.

That may sound a little strange. I definitely write because I have stories to tell. And I write because it’s exciting to create something from my own imagination. It’s satisfying to watch the thread of an idea weave into a complex world filled with characters I’ve invented and adventures of my own making. I write because I love to, even when it’s hard and feels like work.

When I was a little girl, if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say writer, then astronaut, then writer, then archeologist, then writer again. It was there all along, this desire to create something with words. I wrote poetry, horse stories, and adventure tales. Later, I wrote research papers for school, documents for work, blog posts, and sometimes more poetry.

But, somewhere along the line, I got it into my head that I couldn’t write a whole book, that I couldn’t possibly carry a story arc from start to finish, that I didn’t have the required skills or the discipline to do it.

Then several years ago, I took on a year-long writing project for work, and I issued myself a challenge. Since I had to establish a daily writing habit around this project, could I also write something creative every day? Could I actually finish a manuscript?

At the end of nine-months, I had a quality report for my job, and I had a finished draft of my first novel. It was a very rough draft, pretty terrible in fact, but it was enough for me to finally believe I could be a writer.

Maybe we ought to challenge our own assumptions. Who knows what we can accomplish when we believe we can?

Handle with Care – Author Inside

When I began writing several years ago, the idea of pursuing my passion felt like an exciting adventure. But when it came time to share my work with the world, other emotions joined the party, including vulnerability who showed up as an unexpected, uninvited guest! Besides my husband, the first group I felt safe talking about this with was my female tribe, many of them artists and writers themselves. But recently, when I wrote about it in my newsletter, the overwhelming response came from male writer and artist friends. I think this theme of feeling vulnerable crosses gender, age, and orientation. I think as artists we often feel exposed. We all know the sting of rejection. We’ve all questioned our own talent. My experience with the writing  community, especially the sci-fi/fantasy crew, has been one of support and encouragement. I’m inspired by all of you who dare to bare your souls to the world and create your art. Even if we’ve never met, I feel like we are walking this path together. 

Something unusual has happened to me since I started writing. I find myself feeling rather vulnerable, and with some regularity. I had a different career before this – one where I was confident in my abilities and proficient in my day-to-day work. Of course I made mistakes, and I grew and learned from those mistakes, but this isn’t the same thing. This vulnerability is raw and unsettling.

And, to my great discomfort, it’s been creeping into other areas of my life. I’m more emotionally fragile with my husband. I’m less secure in a crowd of new people. I’m sometimes hesitant to talk about my work. I barely recognize myself. My own sense of identity has been completely challenged. And yet…

I can’t imagine doing anything else. The artist side of me is someone I haven’t recognized or honored in a long time. She feels like a different version of the person I knew so well and worked hard to cultivate – but she’s been in there all along. Now I have to acknowledge her, and I have to find a way to balance the discomfort of vulnerability with the joy of creativity.

During a recent yoga class, my teacher and friend played us a portion of a TED talk given by Brene Brown. It was titled: The Power of Vulnerability, and I highly recommend listening to the whole thing. The one piece that serendipitously resonated with me was about people Brene called “whole-hearted.” These were the people from her study who had a strong sense of worthiness, love, and belonging. And all of them had a few things in common – they had the courage to be imperfect, they had compassion for themselves and for others, they created connections by being authentic, and they fully embraced their own vulnerability. I’ve been really sitting with this last one for a while. The healthiest, most well adjusted people in the study were those who fully embraced their own vulnerability. Huh.

My older kids are choosing careers in the arts. One is pursuing film acting and the other screenwriting. We’re all storytellers in our own way I guess. We’ve had thoughtful conversations about what it means to be true to your voice, but appreciate constructive criticism; how to be confident in your talent, yet constantly seek to improve your craft. In some ways they have an advantage – they’ve been putting themselves out there all along. They’ve learned to deal with the critics, the naysayers, and the failures with good grace. They’ve learned to embrace their vulnerability.

My husband is a singer and songwriter. A while ago he said to me, “Honey, it’s time to stop singing in the basement and get booed on stage.” This was around the time I’d finished an exhausting round of edits for my first manuscript and needed to send my book-baby into the world. I was terrified. As a musician, he understood my fear right away, but that didn’t stop him from giving me a gentle shove. After all, he doesn’t sing in the shower or in the basement – he sings on a stage. He shares his love of music with anyone who wants to listen, and risks getting booed.

In the face of self-doubt, failure, and sometimes-callous criticism, why do we push on? Why do we continue to create? Perhaps because it is immensely satisfying to touch another person’s soul with something we’ve made. Perhaps because the world needs its painters, storytellers, sculptors, photographers, musicians, dancers, and actors. We need them not just to entertain us, but because the mere fact that they exist at all says something powerful about being human. Perhaps because it is uniquely human to create art, and we’re willing to open ourselves up to the world to do it.

Any artist in any field understands that to share our work is to be vulnerable. We’ve risked opening our hearts to strangers – with words, in images, with a paintbrush, on a stage. We’ve put something of our private selves out into the world. Even my stories, full of spaceships and evil villains, myths and magic, have some of the real “me” in them. People who know me well will recognize those pieces. But it’s worth it to tell the story. And, finally, I’m learning to make peace with the discomfort.

Editing – from Soup to Nuts: An Indie Experience

If I had traditionally published my books, the publishing house would have assigned an editor to me and the whole process would have been mapped out, complete with details and deadlines. But as an indie, the editing ball was in my court just like every other aspect of bringing my books into the world, and I had quite a learning curve. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way about finding an editor, working successfully together, and navigating the multilayered, and sometimes intense, editorial process:

Understand what kind of editing you need.  

Good editing can make indie books look indistinguishable from traditionally published books. But if you’re new to the business, or working on your first project, you might not know that there are different types of editing, or understand what kind of editing your manuscript needs. When choosing an editor, understand what services that editor provides. This may mean hiring more than one person.

The first type of editing is developmental. I think of developmental edits as  big picture edits. I’m too close to my manuscript when the last word finally claws its way out of my overtired brain and onto the paper. I can’t see plot holes, character issues, places where the writing drags or where something doesn’t make sense. Skilled beta readers or a trusted critique partner can help with this, and so can an editor.

Once all the major issues have been solved and readers are responding to your story and characters in the way you’ve intended, it’s time to fine tune and hand over the manuscript for a copy edit. A copy editor will assure consistency throughout the manuscript. For example, I have a Jon in one of my books, and I would periodically spell his name John. A copyeditor will also catch overused words or phrases, correct grammar mistakes, and essentially polish the manuscript.

Finally, the manuscript will need a proofreader to give it a final look before publishing to find typos and small mistakes. I always proofread one last time after the proofreader, but that may just be my obsessive personality at work!

Use referrals to narrow the search for an editor.

Now you’ve got a handle on the different steps involved in the editorial process, and you know what your manuscript needs. How do go about finding the right editor? There are a ton of free-lance editors out there and it’s hard to sift through all the information.

I rave over my editor. I tell anyone who asks what a find she is and I regularly give out her contact information. When a writer loves their editor, you’ll know it, and an enthusiastic referral is a great place to start looking. Ask people in your writing community and on-line writing groups who they recommend, and then reach out.

Interview a few different people.

Ask these folks to edit sample pages of your manuscript to see what kind of feedback they give and how they deliver that information. Find out how they like to communicate and ask about their process. Does their style resonate with yours? Do they enjoy your genre of writing? What does their turnaround time look like?

When you hire an editor, due diligence upfront is important. Your work together will be a business arrangement certainly, but it will also become a trusted relationship, and you’ll want to make sure this partnership is a good fit.

Recognize that editing is different from drafting, and honor your process around it.

You’ve found someone to work with and you’re eager to get started. So, what’s all the fuss you’ve heard about editing? Why do writer’s lament this part of the process, wring their hands in angst, scream with frustration, cry into a bottle of wine?

Okay, so maybe all writers don’t do these things! But for me, and for many of my writer friends, editing is a different animal entirely from creating a first draft. And when I say this, I’m now referring mostly to the developmental editing phase. Drafting a novel fills me with creative energy. I lose myself in a world of my own creation and fall in love with my characters. Sure, I may get stuck in a plot tangle, but the overall writing experience is joyful.

Editing is different. On the one hand, the bones of my book are in place. I know where I’ve started, where I’ve ended up, and I have a lot worthwhile material in the middle. I know I have a good story and there’s relief and satisfaction in this. On the other hand, once I’ve turned in the draft of my manuscript after months of intensive work, I don’t even want to think about touching it again. I’m exhausted, and the idea of tearing it apart and reassembling it is daunting.

So, I have to honor my process and emotions around this. Here are some tips for making it through a developmental edit with your love of writing still intact:

  • First, celebrate the accomplishment of finishing the first draft! Without a first draft you have nothing. But now the story is out. Good for you! I admit to popping a bottle of champagne in celebration within moments of typing the last word. Then, I send the draft off to my editor. While she’s working on the first round of developmental edits, the manuscript gets shelved while I gain some distance. I’ll actively work on another project during this time period, basking in the glow of my achievement.
  • Recognize that it’s really hard to have your work critiqued, even when the edits are spot on. Although I know what’s coming, I’m never quite prepared for the emotional stress I feel when I receive a five-page editorial document filled with commentary, and my own manuscript covered in red ink. To be honest, I want to cry – maybe into that bottle of wine! I want to call my editor on the phone immediately and beg her to tell me she loves me and that I’m not a horrid writer. I’m sure she’s pleased when I refrain from doing this.
  • Take time to process the critique. Once I read what she’s sent me thoroughly, I put the manuscript aside again for a few days, maybe a week. I let the ideas percolate. I begin to see that what she’s suggesting resonates with what I already knew. I take it seriously when she reacts to something in a way I didn’t intend. I recognize my own bad writing habits.
  • Allow the creative process to re-ignite. Once I dive back in to writing, creative ideas for how to fix things start to flow, in the same way they did when I wrote the draft. I scribble notes everywhere, from the backs of napkins to the little pad I keep by my bed for middle of the night inspiration. I form a plan of attack. Then I call my editor. We talk. We even laugh. And I get to work.
  • Recognize editing can take more than one go around. My editor and I will go back and forth, sometimes with a round of beta readers working on it in between, until we are both satisfied that content-wise this book is ready. Most of the work I do with my editor is developmental in nature, but she is very meticulous, so by the time the manuscript goes to the copy editor, it’s quite clean. We still both believe that extra set of eyes is important though, because at this point, we’ve both looked at it so many times we know we’ll have missed something.

My editor has become a trusted partner in my publishing journey. I know if something is bothering her, I need to pay attention. Likewise, I know that when she says my book is ready, it’s ready. She gives me confidence to move forward when it’s time, but also honesty when my work isn’t quite polished yet, and as an indie, that’s invaluable.

Editing is daunting, there’s no question. But understanding what the process entails, how you personally need to deal with it, and finding a trusted professional to work with makes all the difference.

Writers at a Comic Con: Make the Most of Your Time

If you are a comic book writer, you’re obviously in the right place, but what about science fiction and fantasy authors? Can you have success as a vendor at Comic Cons? My experience says yes. But purchasing a table and showing up won’t be enough for a successful weekend. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your Comic Con experience:

  • Create an eye-catching display. You’ll have a good-sized table, so be sure to make it appealing. Put out a bowl of candy. Give away bookmarks. Set up a banner behind you.
  • Interact with the crowd. I attended Cons before I was ever a vendor at one, so I love the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, and I’m a fan myself. It was easy to talk to the people who stopped by. But I didn’t just wait for them to stop, I stood behind my table, smiled, and said hello to just about everyone. I complimented costumes and asked people if they were having fun. Be approachable.
  • BUT, don’t annoy people with hard sell tactics. I engaged with people as they walked by. I didn’t talk about my books unless someone asked me directly.
  • Have a quick, enticing pitch ready when they do ask. My nineteen-year old son was my table buddy at Boston Comic Con last summer. When he heard me stumbling over my book description to the first few interested people, he said, “Mom, that was terrible. You have got to do better.” We practiced and refined for a few minutes until I had a couple of sentences that captured the essence of the story. Think log line but with a more conversational tone.
  • Use the opportunity to build your mailing list. Have a clipboard with a sign-up sheet for people to leave their names and email addresses. I send out a weekly, very brief communication to my mailing list called “Monday Musings.” Mailing lists are a powerful tool for an author and Cons are a great place to add names. I find that because I’ve met and spoken to these people, they are less likely to unsubscribe, and often will respond to my mailings with personal notes.
  • Be ready to make sales. Have a cash box with change, and make sure your credit card reader is functioning. Keep a supply of extra pens or markers easily accessible for signing your books.
  • Network! Selling books isn’t the only opportunity at Cons. Make new friends. I left every Con with at least one interview booked, stacks of business cards in my bag, and a nice bump in my social media following. And ‘BarCon’ is a thing! Find out where people are congregating after hours and join the fun.
  • Take care of yourself. Cons are fun, but exhausting. Have a bottle of water, some power bars and snacks with you. Wear comfortable shoes.
  • To cosplay or not to cosplay? I choose not to when I’m a vendor. Generally, I break out my Rebel Alliance or Starfleet Academy t-shirts, but I don’t wear a costume. A friend of mine is a fantasy author who writes about deadly mermaids. She rocks ‘aquatic chic’ like nobody’s business at Cons. It totally works for her. But my books don’t easily lend themselves to a costume, and I don’t want my attire to be the focus of conversations. Ask yourself if a costume will help or hinder you.
  • Take Monday off. If possible, give yourself some downtime after a Con. The days are long, and sometimes the nights are even longer! I’m a disaster after a weekend on my feet, and I plan an easy day when I come home.

As a sci-fi/fantasy writer, I feel right at home at Comic Cons, and I’m as excited to be there as any of the attendees. Enjoy the experience and energy, and most importantly have fun!