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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tips for Writers on Staying Sane


Impossible, you say? Well, some might agree. The writing world is an up and down rollercoaster ride that can daunt even the firmest of resolves. I can’t NOT write, but there are days when I ask myself - why am I doing this?
And of course, we all know the answer to that one.
Writing and staying on top of your game is an overwhelming chore at times. First of all, the Internet is both our salvation and our poison. There’s so much information to absorb, too many places to visit on the Web and fascinating research that leads to exotic places that eat up all of our time. So how to we find time to write? And more importantly, how do we stay alive in a business that can take a big bite out of your soul then spit you out, one rejection at a time?
After eighteen sales and some pretty tough hills climbed, I can let you in on the tricks and secrets that have helped me along the way.

STAY FOCUSED: You have to want this almost more than your next breath. Whether you are published, looking for that big single title sale or hitting the NY Times bestseller list, or you’re unpublished and hoping to make your first sale you have to set your goals and stick to them. Do your research, learn the genre you are targeting inside out, keep abreast of what editors like and dislike, what’s selling, what’s not. Don’t discount your rejection as the editor’s bad judgment. Take a hard look at your work and figure out what you’re doing wrong. Then try to fix it.
Keep your emotions at bay. Yes, I know, we write romances. We’re passionate beings, but this is a business – a big business. And it doesn’t matter how nice you are, or pretty, or smart, or even talented. Some of the best writing gets rejected too. Why? It’s not enough that you put words on a page with eloquence and great style; you need to be able to tell your story well, with proper plotting and pacing. You need compassionate characters and quality dialogue to set them off. So writing talent isn’t everything, but you can’t sell a book without it, either.
Grant yourself an hour a day to “play” on the Internet. Do your research efficiently, check in with your writer loops to stay abreast of current trends and new business and attend those online workshops if you’d like. But the bottom line is that if you don’t plant your butt down in the chair and work on your story, you’ll get caught up with everything else. Your story suffers.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve refused offers, for work and for play, because it would have taken too much time away from my allotted time for writing. Sounds like I’m a slave to the computer, doesn’t it? I’m not – I work less than four hours a day, giving myself that one hour in the morning, to check emails and network with friends. The rest of the morning I stick with my story.
Set your goals. Write them down if you have to. Reward yourself when you meet those goals and keep writing. I do silly things like, no coffee until I finish the scene. Finish the chapter and I get that chocolate chip cookie with my name on it. Figure out that next plot point and GO SHOPPING!
Basically do whatever it takes to get the words on the page.

STAY INSPIRED: Well, heck, how do you do that? You just got your fourth rejection from a story you were sure to sell. It’s bad news. Allow yourself a day or two to mourn that story. Then jump into something else. Something new, something exciting, something you really can get into in a big way. And if that doesn’t happen, if you don’t have your next big story percolating in your head, then take a breather – a short breather, from writing. And read.
Nothing is more inspiring than reading a good book or two. When I need inspiration, I don’t read outside my genre. There’s time for that when things are going well, but when I can’t seem to get motivated, I pick up a book from one of my favorite romance authors and simply enjoy. I try to let go of my worries and doubts about my writing career and get into the characters and storyline. It might take one book, or two or even three, but after reading something wonderful, ideas sprout and there’s a sense of renewal and rejuvenation. The thrill is back and you’re ready to try to put to paper what’s inside your head.
Another way to stay inspired is to take a little mini vacation to clear the mind. Sometimes, just being “away”, from the computer, the house, the day-to-day turmoil of suburban living, is enough to fuel our imagination and stimulate our dormant talent. On the last weekend trip I took, I remember feeling so free and open on the drive home. I picked up the small journal I always have with me, and began writing. So while my husband listened to his Oldies on headphones, I had completely plotted the sequel to my next Desire.
Just like that. The story came to me because I wasn’t stressing over it, wasn’t even thinking about it. I’d had my eyes closed, but my mind open. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.You know yourself better than anyone else. What inspires you? What would it take to get really excited about your writing again? My tips for inspiration may not help you, but there’s something out there that will. Find it. Use it. And do whatever it takes to get the words on the page.

STAY SANE: This is perhaps the hardest to accomplish, but I believe it’s most important. In this crazy, ever-changing publishing world, how do we keep from sinking into quicksand to never be seen again? Keeping up is difficult and believe me, there are times when I too, feel lost. There’s so much to this industry – chapter meetings, contests, workshops, online loops, organizations, romance websites, reviews. Who’s selling? What line’s new? I need an agent, I don’t need an agent. My editor left the company, my line’s failing. What to do, what to do?
Take a deep breath and tell yourself, you can’t do it all. This is life-saving advice. Staying sane means setting priorities. You can’t know it all, do it all, be it all, but you can decide what is most important to you and stay the course. Involve yourself in organizations that will most benefit you, attend conferences that fit your budget and your writing style. Join only those online groups that pertain to your own interests in a positive way. Your time is precious so don’t waste it on frivolous things.

Staying sane means keeping real. Success doesn’t come easy, at least not for most of us. Oh, you might hear the story of the new author hitting the bestseller list the first time out of the chute. But I relate those miracle stories to a first time mother delivering her baby in a two-hour labor – that just plain doesn’t happen often. With both, you pay your dues and when the long-awaited “baby” is finally born, it’s just as miraculous, just as profound.
There have been so many close calls in my career, demise of lines, change in editors, rejections and changes within publishing houses that directly affected me, but I kept plugging away, realizing that I had enough faith in myself to counteract any niggling self-doubt. Yes, we write love stories that are sweet and sexy and heartwarming all at the same time, but the business of writing romance isn’t any of those things. It’s a tough, bottom-line only business. So keep your expectations real and you’re bound to stay sane.
Next, diversify. Bankers will advise you of the same, diversify your finances as a safety net. Well, I say diversify your writing as well, for pretty much the same reasons. In this crazy business, where lines fold, new ones launch, you would be one step ahead if you could write for two lines, or better yet, two publishing houses. The demise of a line can haunt you for years if you don’t have a back up. This goes for unpublished authors as well. Show your range; show the editors you can write both, a funny contemporary or serious Regency novel. Keep your eye on what’s happening in the market and know that pretty much the only consistency in this business is inconsistency.

There’s a whole wide world of writing out there. You can accomplish your goals, realize your dreams and do whatever it takes to get the words on the page, when you learn to STAY SANE IN THIS CRAZY BUSINESS!

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