As writers, we're all acutely familiar with the difficulties involved with overcoming our sometimes crippling self-doubt. It's often a hard-fought battle. In my case, the battle is occasionally won, but never the war. It's hard to remember that self-doubt is all in your own head. Especially when life kicks you in the shins, steals your cupcakes, and pushes you down on your ass like the big bully it can be.
That's where I am right now. Wondering how best to get back at the bully.
The good fight isn't going so well. Recently I had to move cross country. I made the decision to leave my safety net (job of 11 years) and do this thinking that I had a safety net waiting for me. Someone slashed my net right out from under me. My resulting job hunt has left me shaken in my abilities/skills.
I'm at a crossroads. I have literally everything I've worked so hard for the last 11 years to lose, my savings, new home, car, and now no safety net. Do I continue to crawl through the slush piles looking for a job I'm going to hate doing something I'd rather not be doing? Or do I bite the bullet and actually try to write?
I've always tried to approach my writing in a very practical way. I never thought I'd be able to really give it the time or attention I wanted, much less be able to do it professionally. Can I even get past my own self-doubt to try to make a go of it?
I just don't know. I really hate not knowing.
Sometimes one of the most frustrating parts of writing is simply starting your story. Periodically I do alpha and beta reading for fellow authors on this site, and one of the number one concerns I've run across seems to be how or where to start the story. A good bit of this depends on the type of story you're planning to write. Is it a novel opening, a short story? If it's a novel, what kind? The same goes for short stories.
Unfortunately, there is no specific how to write a good opening or magic wand we can wave over our work to say, YES! This is perfect. But there are a few things we can do to make our openings and the rest of our work as good as we possibly can.
1. Know what you want to write. This means knowing the type of story, the genre, and doing your homework. (Uh! I know... homework!?!!) Most successful authors though do their homework. They know what works, or doesn't for their audience and genre.
2. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on, but specifically, in the genre or story style you want to write in. Why? because if you want to write in those places you need to (yes I'm saying it) do your homework and know what types of things are acceptable for the genre or style you want to write in. Does that mean you have to follow all the rules and tropes of the genre, NO. But it will give you a great baseline for how to proceed with your own work. Study how a few different authors write their openings, and descriptions can help strengthen your own work.
3. Hook your reader! It doesn't matter if you're writing a short story or a novel, the most important thing you can hope to do as a writer is hooking your reader into your piece early. If you can hook your reader, you can take them on all sorts of fantastical journeys, and not only will they stick with you until the end (hopefully you've added lots of conflicts to make sure that happens, but hey that's another post) but they will also love you for it, and seek out more of your work.
I know you're probably thinking, ok all of those things sound great, but how do I do them, and what do some of them have to do with my opening? Simple, good openings have those three things in common. The Author took the time to cultivate knowledge for their audience while expanding on the scene, characters, and the world in their openings. Not only do good authors do that, but they hook you into their stories and make you want to know more about this world that you're about to peek into.
Let's play a little dissection game, shall we? (By the way, I'm no expert at this and I'm going to mess quite a few things up, but bear with me here.) Below I have the openings for two stories that I've read recently. I'll briefly go over each before diving into them and detailing why I believe they make for good openings.
I just finished reading a novel by Kim Harrison called A Perfect Blood. So I'll use it as a novel example. It reads as follows:
The woman across from me barely sniffed when I slammed the pen down on the counter. She didn't care that I was furious, that I'd been standing in this stupid line for over an hour, that I couldn't get my license renewed or my car registered in my name. I was tired of doing everything through Jenks or Ivy, but DEMON wasn't a species option on the form. Friday morning at the DMV office. God! What had I been thinking?
*First and foremost this paragraph tells us a lot of information about the world, even if you've never read the writers other work you can tell that this is an Urban Fantasy novel right off the bat from the use of Demon, and DMV. But it also gives a lot of information about the character as well. How she feels, what she thinks, and that she's got issues both in a mundane task like going to the DMV and with the fact that she's a demon. That's a lot of information in a few lines.
I have a friend who writes in the next town over (Ryan McSwain), and he writes short stories. The last one he sent out in his monthly newsletter I found hilarious. It was called: Stop This Rocket, I want to Get Off! His started like this:
The intercom clicked to life. "Two minutes until launch."
Evelyn tightened her seatbelt. "I can't believe these new Gernsbeck rockets don't use gravity restraints. I hate chasing things around in zero-G."
Her handsome companion returned his tray table to the full upright position. It made a difference, considering the cramped nature of their accommodations, but her elbow still poked into his forearm. "True, but at least the time compressor has four-star reviews. I don't mind a tight squeeze if I get back to Earth before everyone I know is dead."
*So this little snippet tells us that this is a sci-fi story (even if we haven't seen the title) and that Evelyn is a nervous flyer, and that there could be issues with this flight just from the shoddy parts alone used. It's not as much information as we get from the previous piece, but most of that is due to the fact that this story is a short story, and most of it's told through the conversation of Evelyn and her mysterious fellow passenger.
Both of these examples succeed because not only do they set the scenes (a busy suburban DMV, and a questionable rocket ship) but they also give us glimpses into the characters, and more importantly their problems which makes them both relatable, and as a reader we're more likely to sympathize with a relatable character that has problems like flying, or getting their license back, than one we can't understand.
Let me start this blog post by apologizing (yet again ) for not being more active as of late, and by saying how much I've missed being here. This forum has a very positive way of forcing me to look at my writing goals and work in a way that makes me more likely to finish it. That is something I sorely need.
Which in a roundabout way brings me to the meat, the good stuff, the actual subject of this post. Last Saturday, I completely fangirled out on not one, but four... yes... FOUR New York Times best-selling authors. (Yes I'm still burying my flaming cheeks beneath the brim of my baseball cap over this one.)
It all started at The Panhandle Professional Writers bimonthly meeting. I was thoroughly embarrassed from the get-go, because I hadn't been to a meeting in a few months, and as I walked in I heard a squeal. A very high pitched squeal, as the current President ran over and bear hugged me. I fought my inner voice as it screamed, no my bubble! And managed to hug her back. She proceeded to introduce me to some newcomers by name, and then added she's an indie author who writes urban fantasy and is currently writing a zombie western. This was a little embarrassing for me because I don't actually have anything published, but who wants to correct someone you haven't seen in six months, especially when they only read 500 words and still remember it?
The meeting progressed, and a member of a critique group that I participate in came over to talk to me, and the woman sitting behind me. I quickly found out that she is the writer in residence for the local college, and is a New York Times bestselling author of romance novels (Jody Thomas)- color me impressed! I mostly listened to this critique member wax on for thirty minutes, when Jody turned to me and said, "I heard you write Urban Fantasy and are working on an interesting zombie piece for indie publication. I'd love it if you'd come to lunch with us to talk."
I went, and not only did I get to pick Jody's brain, but I also got to hang at the cool kid table with three other Times best sellers. To say it was surreal is the understatement of my life. These wonderful, funny, awesome women have more collective writer-oomph in one little finger than I sometimes feel I've ever possessed, but more importantly, they have the credits to prove it. Those women who took pity on a poor newbie writer have more books published and on lists than I may ever complete. It was soo very inspiring, and something I won't soon forget.
So, the lesson I took from this experience is... don't be afraid to share your work, yourself, and branch out of your comfort zone more often. You never know who you might find in your local area, and more importantly you never know what kind of friends you might make!
I've thought a lot over the last few months about what I want to get out of my writing. Yes, I write to write, just like everyone else, but I do have an ultimate goal in mind as well. One day, I'd like to be able to support myself with my writing. I know most of us here would like to be able to do the same.
So, if writing to support oneself is the goal... what can we do to achieve that goal? Well, that question requires a good long look at what you as a writer are, or are not willing to do.
Some writers go the way of the blogger, some stick to social media to build platforms, some jump to indie publishing, and others plug away looking for more traditional ways to get their writing out there.
I've talked before about my writing groups, and a few members in one such group are striking into the world of online freelance work. with sites online such as Up work, and freelancer, there seems to be a whole host of places online for people to get themselves out there, and try to make their work .. well ... work for them. I've looked at several such sites and wondered what exactly is entailed in becoming a "freelancer".
For example, does it require near perfect grammar, (if so we all know I'm in big trouble..) being clever, or funny? Or is there some other secret formula for freelance success?
I have no idea, but I guess I'm about to find out as I've just bid on my first freelance project. It's for niche writing, articles about animals. I should be a good fit for this, after all, I've spent the last eleven years of my professional life working in a veterinary clinic as a lead technician, and I already write all of the social media posts for my office. I can do this, I got this. I just hope the person on the other end of the screen agrees. Wish me luck!
Someone much smarter than me once said, "Time heals everything."
Although, I'm sure this is true, sometimes it just doesn't seem that way. I've been absent as of late because I haven't been writing, and didn't feel like posting anything for fear it would come out like a pity party. I've spent the last few months wading through my own personal well of muck and excrement. It hasn't been fun, but hopefully I'm through the worst of it, and will soon start to feel more like myself again.
I know I've talked a good deal before here about how dealing with personal things can affect someones creativity. Sometimes just showing up to do the work isn't enough. Since October, I've only manages to finish one seriously crappy short about a cat destroying a Christmas tree for a rl writing group, and about two other paragraphs on a new short.
Again, not complaining, just hoping that I'll actually have something to post for critique and can be in a better mind set to do the same for others soon.
I hope that so far in 2017, the new year is treating everyone well.
Separate names with a comma.