writing tips

Guest Author Lisa Kessler

Hi everyone –

Thank you to Sarah for inviting me to blog today!

I met Sarah a few months ago when we formed an online critique group. There are four of us on our “Almost Fabulous” crit crew, and since we created the group all of us have been contracted or published! YAY!

Our group has been supportive and informative about everything from self-publishing, marketing, pitching, and even what it’s like working with an editor to hone a book.

But now that we’re contracted, do we still need a critique group?

My answer is yes.

Even though we’ve sold a book or a series, we will still be writing new material, and the group we’ve got has eagle eyes lemme tell ya! LOL

For example, my new self-published release, Across the Veil

It’s only 26 pages long. It was too long to submit for most short story anthologies, and too short for most ePub novellas. But it was a good story.

I wanted to send it into the world.

I decided to release it myself as an eBook, but before formatting and uploading it, I ran it through our critique group. I’m so glad I did! Even though I had edited the story numerous times, my group found a few things I missed that really cleaned up the book. I’m grateful to every one of them! 🙂

With self-publishing becoming a more common practice, I think critique groups grow in importance. As a reader, there is nothing worse than paying for a poorly edited book. It’s frustrating. Didn’t the author care enough to correct typos and be sure they tied up all the loose plot lines in their story?

A great critique group can save you from putting out work that’s not quite ready yet. After I’ve edited a story a few times, I stop noticing missing words, etc. It’s frustrating! You need a fresh pair of eyes that you trust to tell you if a character isn’t working, or their motivations seem a little off.

I’d rather have my critique group find weaknesses instead of a reviewer, right?

So with every good review I see for Across the Veil, I feel like hugging my critique group for helping me polish it until it shined.

If you’re thinking about self-publishing or even if you’re under contract for a book, a good critique group is one of the best tools you can add to your writer’s tool kit.

Thank you to Sarah and the rest of our Almost Fabulous crew for all the feedback! And I hope we can keep helping each other on the path to being full-time writers… 🙂

What about you? Do you have a critique group? Are you looking for one?

Where to find Lisa on the Web:
Across the Veil – Available now! http://amzn.to/e98xZo

Experimenting with Genres

Okay, so it’s kind of a given, and it’s good to do in all aspects of life. How does skydiving sound? How about taking a pottery class? Having hobbies and exploring things you haven’t tried before can bring new excitement and happiness. How does this relate to writing?
Well, I recently delved into the genre of cyberpunk romance. It’s new for me, and something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. In January, I jumped right in and loved it. Last November for National Novel Writing Month, I tried my hand at writing post-apocalyptic paranormal romance. I’ve done paranormal romance, but the post-apoc part made it feel like such an experiment. That novel was lots of fun to write too. It gave me a chance to try something new and exciting.
Of course, I’ve heard that people should stick with one genre and go-go-go. Practice your craft and hone your skills. I agree. I’ve completed 2.5 urban fantasy novels, 4 paranormal romances (and 1 novella), a sweet contemporary, and a cyberpunk romance novella. I can definitely say that sweet contemporary isn’t my best genre, or one I’d likely retry in the future. I’ve gained enough experience with urban fantasy and paranormal romance to know that I love it, but it’s good to try new things, especially if you’re starting to feel blah.

Maybe you’ll find a new favorite genre, or maybe you’ll be able to say you’ve tried it and it’s not for you. People shouldn’t go chasing the newest trend, but who knows? There’s always something to learn, and maybe you and the genre will just click.

So have you tried a new genre or different kind of project that has really excited you recently? Are you planning on it?

A New Way to Plot… The Slow Simmer

(Repost from Castles & Guns)

First things first, this isn’t a blog about the fabulousness of plotting. Don’t worry, pantsers! I don’t plot all of my books. So I’m not really a plotter, but I don’t write by the seat of my pants every book either. Sometimes I do a rough outline of major plot points, and sometimes the book just flows from my head to my fingertips. I guess my style of creating is something in between. Plotser, perhaps.

Recently, as many of you probably know, I’ve been working on plotting a historical urban fantasy type novel. But I’ve been doing something different than I have with other projects I’ve worked on. Letting the ideas simmer and reveal themselves to me a little at a time has been quite an experience.  I love letting them brew in my mind and play over and over, trying to figure out just the right way the events should happen before making a note about the scenes. I’m really in no rush since I won’t be working on it until November 1st and the fun onslaught of National Novel Writing Month.

I decided to stir up ideas and think about who my characters are before the big move, which has now been completed. I’m now in the aftermaths effect of unpacking. Anyways, I browsed Holly Lisle’s website to reread one of her articles on plotting, and what I found very useful was her “Novel Pre-Writing Workshop: Asking the Right Questions.” I even decided to try out bubble mapping, which I’d never really done before, effectively at least.

Maybe some of what has helped me has just been the fact that I’m trying something new, but I guess that since I still have the rest of September and the entirety of October to figure out this novel (without burning myself out of it) that I can sit around and tinker with this new system to figure out a way to incorporate to what I usually do. That being said, when it comes to writing with me, “usually” is an abstract word. This way of preparing though makes me feel more at ease since my last few novels had their ideas thrown together at the last minute before I began writing them. Clear procrastination in action. Maybe I can kick my procrastination habit. Who knows?

So how do you prepare yourself before starting a new writing project? Do you have an outline? A vague idea?

Capture Your Idea

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I hope you have a great day filled with romance. =)

I don’t have a steady rhythm where I figure out my characters first or my plot first, but there’s always that idea that pops into my head that makes my eyes widen and my heart race. The thing I start daydreaming about to try to see how I can build upon it. Usually it’s a small clip I play in my head. It’s the beginning excitement of a new journey through the sometimes overwhelming process of a new book.

It’s important to capture that idea when you have it. Writing it down is great, but I don’t always do that when I get the new shiny idea. Sometimes the idea doesn’t feel ready enough for that. Like I mentioned in my post, The Slow Simmer, I tend to think things through first over and over. Of course, there are the exceptions when I don’t think the idea is shiny enough to hold my attention like that for a manuscript, but good enough to fit into something else.

Recently, I had an idea for either an urban fantasy or paranormal romance, I’m not sure which it is yet, and I went into The Sims 3 and created a couple of characters to get a better feel for them. It helped me to solidify the people I saw in my head. Now that I know those things, I’ll be able to write them down during character creation. It helped to capture the idea for me.

Now that I’ve done that, I’m free to delve deeper now that I’ve pinpointed the main aspects of the idea to further build upon. Then that allows me to figure out what in the world was going on between the characters! *grins*

Anyways, what ways do you have for capturing your ideas? How do they come to you? As characters, plot, or random scenes?

Research… It’s not just for Historicals

When I first started reading, I read historical romances. I’d double majored in Creative Writing and History for two years in college before realizing that I wanted to get out of school faster than would be possible with a double major, so I dropped History and went with Creative Writing. With that being said, why then do I write urban fantasies and paranormal romances?
I thought they’d require no research. I knew in my reading that so much goes into historicals that I didn’t think I could pull off that caliber for creating novels as a new writer. I wanted to, of course, but it never occurred to me to even try. Now I feel ready to try all these years later. I’m currently plotting my first historical urban or dark fantasy.
That aside, I know the importance of research for contemporary novels now, too. The manuscript I’m currently editing has had several things I’ve had to look up. Pistol-whipping, car accidents, and city locations to name a few things. My next urban fantasy will be mostly placed in a foreign country, which I’ve visited. I have the benefit of having been there, but of course research comes in handy when I need to refresh my memory.
Google and Wikipedia are usually my starting points when I set about to research, from there, I try to find legit websites and glean information from them. I end up learning more than I initially sought after and have to close my web browser to get back to work. In the past, I’ve researched things in honest-to-God books, but with the internet being so handy, sometimes it’s hard to get up the motivation to do so if I can find something quicker and easier on the web, unless the internet doesn’t have what I need. I’ve thought about asking experts, but so far, I’ve just been a bit too timid.
How do you go about researching? What are your starting points? Do you use books or the internet?

Oh, The Ways to Revise…

So, I seem to have made it a habit to blog on Mondays. I think I’ll keep with that! =) And today’s topic comes from what I’ve been doing since January 18, err… give or take. Revising!

When I work on books, I haven’t really had a set thing of plotting or pantsing or doing a little of both. I don’t have a set way of building characters, they come to me in different ways. Sometimes they just float into my head, and sometimes I actively make them. (Although, on that note, this past time with my cyberpunk romance novella, I did actively build my hero using Holly Lisle’s The Character Workshop — Designing A Life article, and it worked wonderfully! So I’ll definitely have to try that again in the future.) But, I digress. The point is, I don’t have a set way of doing things.

Most often, I dive into revising by looking at page one, line one and working my way through. Reading each line, fixing each line. Rinse. Repeat. Honestly, the process overwhelms me sometimes. But that really isn’t the best way to see continuity issues and fix the big picture items that might be haunting the manuscript. I know this, and I’ve had my critique partner pick out those kinds of problems in a previous book.

Right now, I’m on a tight schedule with editing, so I don’t have the luxury of going through it three or four times to figure out those things. And geez, not like I’d want to!

There have been a couple of articles on revising, namely Rachel Caine’s Cruel to Be Kind method and there’s Lori Devoti’s Revision Checklist too, that I’ve always wanted to implement into my process, but I’ve been too in a hurry and stuck with the ol’ line-edit the manuscript to death trick. Ha! This time I decided to try them out. I’m basically using Rachel Caine’s process, but I’ll probably also do the Computer Search mentioned in Lori Devoti’s. All I can say so far is: WOW! I’ve made it through The Reading Pass, and I’ve found so many things that need fixed. Things I might’ve missed if I hadn’t been reading straight through.

This has shown me the ultimate importance of reading the book straight through a first time (and taking notes) before line-editing. I am so glad I’ve discovered these methods now. A really interesting article I found today by Jody Hedlund called Three Simple Stages of Self-Editing basically goes over the process Publishing Houses use when editing and how effective it’d be to utilize that system. That process is: Substantive, Line-Editing, and Copyediting. Basically, it follows, to an extent, the two methods above! And really, wouldn’t it be great to get into the habit of doing edits like publishing houses before getting contracted?

How do you revise? Do you have a set way, or are you still trying to figure out your process?

The Year in Review… and Looking forward to 2011

Happy New Year everyone!

Wow, I can’t believe that the year is almost over. So much has happened this year. I’ve made writer friends and critique buddies. Revised a few different WIPs. Read 26 books. Co-founded the awesome blog, Castles & Guns. And I wrote two books! I also finally delved fully into the world of querying agents. I’d queried in the past, but it hadn’t been anywhere close to the scale that I did in 2010. And okay, I haven’t found an agent yet, but I’m certain good things will be happening within the new year. So much awesome stuff has happened recently, things that have kind of been building blocks toward better and more.

Yes, years end brings optimism for a more successful upcoming year, but that’s great, especially when one acts and makes a plan to stick to what they want to accomplish in the new year. I’ve formed my New Years Resolutions more like goals and have tried to decide what I really want to achieve in the upcoming year. With my “goals list” for 2010, I wrote down quite a bit of stuff I didn’t get to. Maybe because I didn’t work as hard at the beginning of the year as I did at the end of it, but I also think I acted more like throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, and I decided later what I really wanted to pick out of it. The bad point is it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think I’m not getting much accomplished, even if I got a decent amount of stuff done.

Anyways, so what am I trying for in 2011? I’m going to read at least 24 books. I want to write and revise at least 3 novels, write and revise some novellas, query the novels and novellas that I write and revise, possibly attend a conference (I’m torn between it and a Caribbean family vacation cruise.), and keep up and get better with social networking.

So what are your goals?

The Easiest Part of Writing?

Today’s topic is rather challenging since while there are areas I’ve come a long way in, I still don’t really consider them easy. So, I’m not sure there’s really an “easiest” part in general. Ideas tend to be least difficult for me. Same goes for dialogue and plot…to an extent. Although, if there’s some kind of important “secret information” that needs to be shared and discussed, I tend to scratch my head and frown.

Someone once said “writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” I’m inclined to agree. I find I have so many ideas for novels and novellas, yet finishing the novel I’m currently working on has been a bit challenging. Why? It involves that large dose of perspiration. Some days I have to force myself to sit down and write, yet I can lean back and daydream for a moment and get the best idea for a new story I’ve ever had. And they all seem that way when I get them. =)

Okay, back to the subject at hand! Dialogue is enjoyable for me since it allows the characters to communicate and show their personalities through what they do, or don’t, say. I’ve heard many people say they’re not good with dialogue, but for me, it’s all about listening to the voices in my head. Plot works in the same way. I don’t struggle much with it, but I’m still learning what works for me in regards to pre-writing work (outlining, etc). Although, the actual concept and how a piece unfolds forms relatively (note the word relatively… lol!) smoothly in my head. Yet most of the time with outlining, I don’t like to know too, too much because it takes away some of the suspense.

Anyways! What about you? What part of writing feels like second nature? Let me know!

Nano is over… What next?

What next? Good question! I’ll share what I’m focusing on now.

1. First of all, I think we all know that with most novels these days (I think including most YAs) that 50,000 words isn’t long enough to submit and think about getting an agent or an editor. My genre for this book is post-apocalyptic paranormal romance, which has required quite a lot of world building in addition to getting the story off the ground and going. Which leads to, December calls for finishing that novel. 80,000 words up to 100,000 (maybe more depending on genre) is where a person should set their aim. I personally am going for 80,000 and then hopefully adding more during revisions.

2. Taking a break! I’m going on vacation for the holidays at the end of the month to see my in-laws in Europe (since that’s where they live). So I’ll be able to have a good two weeks or so off from writing related activities. Which is good since then a person can see their writing better without being so absorbed into the world and problems.

3. Reading, reading, reading. This is part of taking a break because a good book is definitely a nice way to unwind, don’t ya think? Besides, writers should read to help themselves with learning the craft and staying informed on what is currently being published. Plus, it’s fun!

4. Thinking about my goals for the New Year, which my critique partner, Kinley Baker, and I have already starting working on actually. Writing can be a hobby, but if you’re serious about getting published, it’s best to have goals

5. And lastly, I’ll jump into revisions at the beginning of the year for this novel. Since as great as someone thinks their novel is, they can always improve it. Boy, I can’t wait to begin. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so excited to start revising before.

Writing Through Good Times and Bad

November has been an interesting month so far. Good things have happened and some pretty annoying things as well. Since this month is National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been writing every day to try to stay at least somewhat on track with my goal to finish the post-apoc paranormal romance novel I’m working on by the end of November at best and mid-December at worst since for Christmas I’ll be going out of the country.

I’ve had positive news, namely a revise and resubmit request (hooray!), and as great as that is, it stressed the daylights out of me.  I didn’t want to mess up the revisions, so I put them off for a few days until finally the stress of having it dangling out there ate away at my ability to focus on writing my current novel. So, I decided to work on the revisions and then I still stressed about them, which made writing hard, but I told myself I would still get at least some words on page.

I’ve also had annoying stuff. Well, besides from the changing of season and feeling a little out of whack some days because of the move to an area with season change, as opposed to Florida. So! On to that example of a bad time. Long story short, Wednesday (yesterday) night at my house was very eventful. In between the billowing smoke coming from the fireplace, the frantic running around the house to all of the fans and almost all of the windows, the deafening noise of the smoke detector, and the herding of cats, I, with my blackened nostrils, very easily could’ve given myself permission to sit the night out from writing. But, I hadn’t written that day, and I didn’t want to fall behind with my word count goal.

Sometimes in life, it’s easy to say that we’re not going to write just because things either go well or don’t go well at all, and this isn’t to say that if you have a really sucky day that you should drop everything to plop down in front of the computer, because believe me, it wasn’t the first thought that came to my mind either. But there are a few reasons why opening your word document and getting at least a hundred words down on paper could be a good thing.

  • You stay connected with your story. You don’t go back in a couple days and scratch your head, having to think “What was I thinking the other day when I wrote this?” You have a better idea since there’s not a lot of time that is passing by.
  • You develop a habit with writing, just like washing the dishes after dinner or brushing your teeth before bed. It’s just something you do every day, which makes it easier to keep up because it becomes second nature. Sure, there are days when you don’t feel like doing a habit, but they tend to be fewer.
  • You have the feeling of accomplishment that you actually wrote instead of letting circumstances get the best of you. Looking back on a chart of how much you write each day, you’re not necessarily going to say “Oh, that’s the day I worked on my revisions. Or the other day when I had a super crazy evening.” Besides, you won’t feel as guilty (or be as far behind on your word count or page count goal) the next day. You’ll know that even though you might not have gotten to your word count goal, you still did something.

How about you? Do you write every day (or almost every day)? And what are things that you keep in mind to help you get in front of the computer regardless of circumstances?