The Great Debate

One of the greatest debates among authors involves setting up a novel. Do you start with an outline or do you simply sit down and write; flying by the seat of your pants. These two sides – commonly referred to as “Outliners” and “Pantsers” -each insist that their method is the only way to write a book! Stephen King famously swears that he never outlines, instead letting it all fall together as he writes. In his book, On Writing: A Memoir to the Craft, he encourages other writers to skip the outlining step and jump right into the story. He has a general idea of where the story is going, so he knows how to build up tension to the defining moment, but he doesn’t plan scene by scene. Another famous “Pantser” is Meg Cabot, who passionately hates to outline, but admits that it might work for other writers.

If, like me, you haunt Pottermore, you know that J.K. Rowling is a diligent outliner. She maps her books out scene by scene, so she knows exactly when to insert that little detail about book seven into the second act of book one. She has pages of handwritten outlines on Pottermore, and it’s fascinating and awe-inspiring to see all of her little maps. In her case, I don’t think she could have achieved the depth of writing and world building that she did if she had not outlined her novels first. Same goes for George R. R. Martin, who’s mammoth tomes follow dozens of characters in many different lands. Hell, I almost need an outline to read Game of Thrones! If you look at his original outlines, featured here you can see that The Song of Fire and Ice series was planned as a trilogy and was very different from what we read today. It’s a wonderful example of how outlines can be organic and change.

I describe myself as an “Organic Outliner.” That’s a phrase I made up to describe my process. It means that I start with an outline, but am very open to (in fact expect) that my outline will change as my story pans out. Most of the novels I write require a lot of research; either historical fiction or fantasy, I build new worlds or need a lot of detail to put my readers in the time that we are visiting. As I research I start my outline. I’ve found that if I don’t outline, I tend to write in circles because I don’t have a clear idea of my goal. I might know how the book will end, but not the path it needs to take to get there. If I don’t have a plan, I repeat myself.

As I’m writing, my characters come to life and tend to start talking to me. I often find that once I’m in the story, they have a story of their own that needs to come out. So, my outline changes. But I still have a clear idea of where I’m going. And now that I’m working on a character driven novel, I’ve found that I need character goals and arcs mapped out for each chapter.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter how you write. Start with an outline, jump right in, or somewhere in between. Learn what works for you and stick with it. Here are some awesome sites that help you learn how to outline your novel, and also ones who give you “Pantsers” tips. Happy writing!

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/7-steps-to-creating-a-flexible-outline-for-any-story

https://litreactor.com/columns/8-ways-to-outline-a-novel

http://www.well-storied.com/blog/finding-the-novel-outlining-process-that-works-for-you

http://joancurtis.com/6-tips-from-a-confessed-pantser/

https://www.nownovel.com/blog/plotter-even-youre-pantser/

https://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2014/07/28/a-cautionary-note-for-pantsers/

Inspiration

 

 

Today I feel inspired. I don’t know if it’s the storms outside or a change in attitude, but I woke up ready to write. That doesn’t happen very often. As much as I love to write, sometimes I just don’t want to. It’s hard to get into that head space with everything else going on in my life. Kids, husbands, school, jobs, laundry – how do you reconcile normal life with the creative zone where the writer lives?

Most successful writers would tell you that they rarely feel inspired to write. In order to be a writer, you have to write even when you don’t feel inspired – especially when you don’t feel inspired! Writing has to become a habit. And I’ve found that once I start writing, I can typically get into the swing of things. Even if it’s just a journal entry or free association or cluster outlines; anything to get you into that head space where words flow.

But sometimes, I sit in front of the computer and type and type, and it just doesn’t work. I’ll slam the laptop shut, frustrated and dejected, and the next time I have a chance to write, I don’t feel like it because I don’t want to feel frustrated again. I’ve learned that’s its okay to have off days. Some days the writing just flows, and it’s magic. Some days the well is dry and you’ve either hit a wall or everything you write sounds like an eight year old wrote it. The important part is to push past the frustration and remember why you’re writing.

It’s for you.

Try to find what inspires you. For me it’s rain and music. Pinterest helps me visualize my story and set up story boards. Keeping a journal helps too. I probably write in it once or twice a month; but it’s that place where I dump all the excess crap that’s blocking my mind and keeping me from writing.

Today I’m inspired by Fairy Tales; dark ones, spooky and creepy. Find what inspires you and keep putting words on the page. Inspiration will come.

Bonus Post

Wow! I appreciate the response guys. Because so many new users have joined, I have a little gift for you all! One of the biggest challenges I face is writing dialogue. The way I write and the way I speak are two distinct and very different patterns. And as I usually write historical or fantasy set the past, I have the added challenge of trying to write more formalized dialogue without losing readers due to boredom.

My best advice for this is to study the books that you love. Read over the dialogue scenes that feel most feel to you; the ones that are authentic and have unique and strong voices. Study the books that are like the ones you want to write. You want to write a hard hitting thriller – check out Stuart Woods; learn how his characters talk. You want historical fiction – no one beats Margaret George and Allison Ware. And once you’ve written your scene, remember, it’s always going to be a mess the first time around. That’s when you are telling yourself the story. Edit, smooth it out, read it out loud, and find your character’s voice. It will come.

This link will take you to a fabulous website called Lit Reactor and an article by Robbie Blair about common problems in dialogue.

https://litreactor.com/columns/6-ways-youre-botching-your-dialogue

If you want more information, there are lots of books out there with advice on tackling dialogue. One of my favorites is on Amazon.

You can buy it at Amazon, just $3.99 for the Kindle edition. Keep reading and keep writing. And let me know what you would like to see featured here!

Back and Better than Ever!

Hello writers! I’m sorry for abandoning you for a time, but I’m back and better than ever. I just completed my Masters in English Literature and am ready to get back to work on my own writing!

About two years ago, I felt stuck. I had plenty of ideas and felt like I had talent. But my writing lacked the polish it needed to rise to the next level. I worked with Writer’s Digest, taking classes and doing workshops; but that only took me so far. I was hesitant to go back to school – it was expensive and time consuming, and I felt it was unfair to take resources from my family when I probably wouldn’t work after I was finished anyway. But in the end I found a wonderful program through National University which allowed me to get my degree online.

It was not an easy process. I spent six weeks in the hospital in the middle of my schooling. Due to the medication I take for Crohn’s disease, I contracted Histoplasmosis and ended up in the ICU with a collapsed lung, multiple organ failure, and a severe and potentially fatal fungal infection. Thanks to my wonderful doctors and family, I got well; but it took about six months to get back to where I was before I got sick. I dropped one class that was in session while I was in the ICU; but finished my other classes from the hospital.

By July I was feeling like my old self again and taking a Seminar in Fiction class that I loved, when my father was suddenly diagnosed with seven Glioblastomas. Brain cancer is terminal, especially with so many tumors and we knew he didn’t have much time. Honestly, the next few months were some of the worst I’ve ever lived through. The surgery to remove four of the tumors took about 12 hours and felt him confused and in a great deal of pain. Chemo and radiation were hard on his body and made him sicker than ever; and in the end they did no good. His remaining tumors grew larger.

I have an amazing family and my sisters, my mother, and I took care of him together. My husband, my brother in law, and my in laws made sure that I could be with him as much as possible. But in the end, we lost him three months after his diagnosis. He died scared and in a lot of pain, and I’m still trying to understand it all. I miss him every day and I don’t think the hole his death left in my heart will ever heal.

He was so proud of my writing and he was a big part of why I went back to school. One of the first things he said after he was diagnosed was, “Don’t you dare quit now!” I finished my thesis while he was on hospice and turned it in two days after his funeral. I got an A on my paper and graduated with Honors on November 11, 2017.

Losing my father brought so much pain, but looking back, I can see the beauty in loss. His illness and death brought our family closer and showed me what a brave, strong, and resilient woman my mother is. It’s brought out a new side of both of my children; they comforted me when I was sad, were patient when I was angry, and held me when I was broken. As I watched my 12 year old daughter lie in the hospital bed with her papa, talking to him and praying with him, even though he could no longer open his eyes or speak, I realized what an amazing, compassionate daughter I had. Listening to my seven year old son tell me that I didn’t have to worry because Papa was with us always helped me to look at his death with child-like faith and innocence. And watching my mother hold Dad tight and surround him with love up to his last breath showed me what it means to truly love with all of your heart and soul. Sorrow makes joy so much sweeter, and loss makes those you love that much more precious.

I’m dedicating the next phase of my writing to my father. He always knew that my dreams would come true. I will continue to write novels and query to find an agent. But I am also dedicating my time to my honor society – Sigma Tau Delta and to critique groups in order to elevate my writing and help others with theirs. In addition to my fiction writing, I plan to continue my academic writing and hopefully someday, to finish my doctorate.

This blog will continue to offer writing support and tips and articles to help writers. Books I love and things that inspire me and interviews with other writers will all be featured. I welcome comments and questions and love to hear from other writers.

So welcome to Queen Author’s Quest, I hope you enjoy the ride.

“Maybe that is my superpower – I can inhale pain and breathe out poetry.”

– John Mark Green

New Year, New Book

Happy January!  This is the first year I have been happy to see Christmas go!  Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas.  But I also love order, cleanliness, and my alone time and that comes with my children back in school.  So, here I am, alone in my warm, clean house and finally my brain has clicked back on again.  It took long enough.

So, with a new year it’s time to set goals.  Here are my goals for 2016:  query Dark Visions until I find an agent, finish Dark Princess, outline Dark Waters, keep up with my blog, and network.   I was fortunate enough to be included in a podcast by literary agents for writer’s.  It’s call PubTalkTv and you can find it free on ITunes.  Through twitter, I was asked to talk a little about how my family reacts to my writing.  I talked about the difficulty involved in convincing family that writing is important and how writing has helped my depression.  I also talked about my daughter looks up to me as a writer and how important that is to me.  It was a wonderful networking opportunity and the podcast is brilliant.  You should check it out!

I start a new adventure tomorrow that is also related to writing.  I am teaching a Writing Workshop to my daughter’s fourth grade class.  Planning for this workshop helped pull me back into my writing world.  My ten year old is so proud of mommy’s writing and wants to be a writer herself.  On days when I receive rejections or feel down on myself, it fills my heart with joy and encouragement to hear my daughter and her friends call me a writer.  It helps me to identify as a writer.

Networking opportunities appear everyday and you just have to reach out and grab them.  In today’s market, networking is part of the game.  Sitting down and writing a book is the central point, but if you are looking to be published, you have to network and you must have a Writer’s Platform.  Reaching out and connecting with other writers is so gratifying and can help you to become a better writer.

Happy New Year to you all and as always, I love to hear from everyone.

 

Twitter and Other Such Things

Wow, it’s been awhile!  We’ve been swept up by October and all of it’s activities.  But even if I haven’t been blogging, I have been writing.  Editing actually.  And I’m proud to say that my third book is complete!

Dark Visions is an epic fantasy based on Slavic Mythology and I will begin querying it in November.  I moved up my timeline, hoping to finish it by December for the next Pitch Madness on Twitter. Luckily, I finished it even earlier.  What is Pitch Madness, you ask?  It’s a wonderful contest on twitter.  Using the hashtag pitmad, you pitch your book in 140 characters or less.  Various literary agents (hundreds participate) read tweets all day and “like” the ones they are interested in.  If you get a like, you send a query.  It’s fun, fast, and messy and it’s a different way to garner interest in your novel.  The next date is December 4th, so keep your eyes peeled and finish your manuscripts.

If you are a writer and you aren’t on twitter, well my friends it’s time to take that step.  It’s so much easier than facebook and probably ninety percent of the agents you are looking at are on twitter.  Following these agents and their publishing houses is a smart way to find out what they are looking for, their manuscript wishlists, and contests that are constantly going on.  It’s also a quick way to meet other writers and represent yourself as a writer.  For those of you already on twitter, good job!

Well, I’m wrapping this up for now because I still have a sequel to write.  What are your favorite twitter contests?  How do you use social media as a writer?  Please comment and let me know.  As always, thanks for reading!

 

Down in the Dumps

I started to write this post yesterday, but I was so down on myself that it sounded like a pity party.  Today I’m in a much better place.  Why do I get so down on myself?  Depression is a hard thing to come out of.  It seems like when I most need companionship and support, I shut down and shut people out of my life.  If you are dealing with depression or having thoughts of harming yourself, please seek help.  It’s so difficult to reach out when you feel like the world is collapsing on you or you’re drowning in self loathing.  But medication and therapy do work.  You just have to give them time.

Writing helps with depression, but yesterday no words would come.  Writing can be cathartic, but it can also be lonely.  There’s not much reward or feedback and the constant rejection hurts.  I know that rejections are not personal and I should take it as a chance to grow and learn.  But knowing and doing are two different things.  Not much else to add today.  Just a reminder to add balance to your life.  Write, but also go out in the sunshine and interact with the real people.  The ones in your head don’t always make for the best company.

Back in the Saddle

Sorry for the hiatus, it’s been a bad few weeks.  My Crohn’s is acting up again, but I think that I’ve about got it under control.  When I’m able, I’ve done a lot of editing.  I’ve sent out about 20 or 30 query letters on WITHIN and have yet to hear anything except form rejections.  I’ve grown a tougher skin for rejections these days, but it gets very discouraging to not  ever get any feedback.

I believe the problem stems from my query letter.  That is the first thing agents look at and if it is not well written, concise, and does not summarize your story and make it sound interesting, you’re going straight into the slush pile.  This past February I was able to attend a Writing Conference in Seattle.  Chuck Sambuchino was the speaker and I felt like I got a lot out of it.  I often read his blogs on Writer’s Digest, and recently noticed that he was editing query letters.  I contacted him and sent him my letter.  I was very pleased with his edits.  Now my letter is tighter and less vague.

There are so many wonderful resources for writers these days.  Writer’s Digest has answers to almost any question about writing that you might have.  They list new agents looking for queries.  There are also quite a few apps and programs that help you to research, outline, and write your work.  Hemingway is an editing app that helps make your writing more concise.  Spice is a wonderful thesaurus app that gives you access not only different words, but tells shows literary quotes using the word you are looking up.  Werdsmith sets alarms to remind you to write and is nice for notes when you are out and about and have an idea.   There are so many more, but these are my favorite.

What apps or technology do you use in your writing?  I’d love to hear!

 

How to Write a Book

School is starting – hurray!  Back to writing every day.  Time to research, time to query, time to blog – can you tell I’m excited?  I got a few things done this summer, but not much real writing.  This year both kids will be in school, so I have five days a week to devote to writing.  And I will.  At least four hours a day, because I have decided that this is what I want to do with my life.  If I want to be a writer, to publish a book, then the most important thing I can do is write.  Everyday and all the time.

How much do you write?  Do you wait until inspiration strikes?  Do you wait until you have a free day?  Or are you one of those who says, “I should write a book.  If I only had time, I could do that.”  I used to be all three.  But the further I have gone on this journey, the more I have realized that the time is now and that you have to fight for time to write.  I spent my youth thinking, “I’ll write a book one day.”  Well, a few months before my 30th birthday, I lost a friend in a car accident.  It made me think.  I always say one day, but how many days do we really get?  Dealing with a chronic illness, I have definitely had times in my life where I thought I wouldn’t make it to my next birthday.

Seeing a friend die so young, with so much unfinished, made me realize that some day is now.  We shouldn’t put off the things that are important to us.  If you want to be a writer, write!  That’s the only way to write a book, one word at a time.  Writing a book isn’t nearly as hard as deciding to write a book.  So pick up a computer, or a pen, or even a crayon.  Start writing and let your someday be today.

An apology and some ramblings . . .

Sorry for the lack of updates, our internet has been down all week!  Along with our cable, phones, and ac.  I think we finally have everything fixed, but man am I frazzled! Having two kids home for the summer with no TV, internet, or air is painful.

The most frustrating thing about the lack of internet is that my plan this week was to research.  That’s been a recurring problem for me this summer.  A few weeks ago, I hired a sitter and drove to a coffee shop to get in a few hours of writing.  Thirty minutes in, the juices were flowing and my computer shuts down.  Configuring.  Well, it configured for another thirty minutes and by the time I rebooted and pulled my work back up, it was time to get back home.  I wonder why when I’m most motivated and inspired, the world seems to conspire to keep me from writing?  Maybe it’s to remind me not to wait until I’m inspired to write.  Well, when the only time I have to write is when I have a sitter, it’s very frustrating to lose that time do to electronic failures.

Well, enough of my whining.  I’ll be back next week with a real blog post, I hope.