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What would you risk in order to get the one thing you truly desire?

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Susan at Ross Lake. Looking for a metaphor.

Seriously, what would you risk?

When I was an emerging writer in my 20s, trying to sell my first book, I risked a lot. I had a great life–wonderful teaching career, adorable baby, cute dogs, a house in the ‘burbs, good family and friends. Why would I take on the stress and struggle and uncertainty of a career as a novelist? It was a massive risk on many levels.

In practical terms, I was subjecting my daughter and myself to financial risk, because writing is about as stable as betting on horses. I also gave up social time with friends. I had to forego my book-a-day reading habit, entire series on TV (okay, not a huge sacrifice there) and forget sleep. There was at least one night when I stayed up all night working on my novel. I looked out to see the sun coming up, so I combed my hair, put on my lipstick, took the baby to pre-school and staggered off to work that day. (You can do stuff like this when you’re in your 20s.)

There’s something more than financial solvency at risk when you decide to publish a novel. The emotional risk is huge in writing. Even in a made-up story, you’re showing people your hidden self. Will readers think I’m Faith, the struggling single mom in Starlight on Willow Lake? The cheated-on wife in Just Breathe? Will they get a glimpse of me in the brash, emotionally distant Tess, or the the so-shy-you-want-to-slap-her Isabel? Or am I Annie Rush, the passionate, ambitious wronged woman whose world comes crashing down on her?

I’m a fan and friend of acclaimed writing coach, Michael Hauge, who is fond of issuing this challenge to writers. Brace yourself. It might be the toughest statement you’ll ever make in your writing career:

FILL IN THIS STATEMENT FOR YOURSELF:

“I’ll do whatever it takes to be a

successful writer;

but don’t ask me to ___________________,

because that’s just not me.” 

Common responses to “…just don’t ask me to…” might be:

  • -quit my day job

    -walk away from a bad deal from a publisher

  • -tell my family to give me space
  • -follow somebody’s writing formula
  • -abandon somebody’s writing formula
  • -take a writing class
  • -reveal my innermost thoughts on paper
  • -write about deeply personal matters
  • -write about people who might recognize themselves in my book
  • -subject myself to criticism and rejection
  • -set a work schedule and stick to it
  • -learn to type
  • -YOUR OWN BLOCK OR DEMON GOES HERE: ____________

Your answer will reveal what you’re avoiding in order to protect yourself.

Some of you might be thinking, “Oh, it’s easy for you, an established author, to deal with these fears. You’ve already cleared the hurdles.” All right, you be the judge. Here are a few steps I had to take on my writer’s journey, and believe me, they were not easy. One year, I had to hock my beloved Juzek cello for money to live on. Another time, I failed to enter my book for the RITA Award because I used the entry fee for groceries. I had so many rejection letters from agents and publishers that I quit counting after 100, and actually papered the walls of a bathroom with the rejection slips. I endured skepticism, sleepless nights, people wondering why I was wasting my time writing stories instead of ________________. <–insert what your judgmental friends and associates would add here. You have to care more about your writing dream than you do about people’s opinions. Do you? Can you?

I dare you. Go!

 

 

I hear it from emerging writers all the time. I’ve got a great idea for a novel. I’m going to sit down and write it as soon as I…

  • …get my day job under control
  • …get my final kid into kindergarten
  • …into college …out of jail
  • …get my finances in order
  • …fix my marriage
  • …finish painting the house
  • …pay off the car
  • …clean the can opener
  • …clean the rain gutters
  • …get the puppy housebroken
  • …retire from my job
  • …finish watching the third season of “Weeds”
  • …get my Bachelor’s…Master’s…PhD…LLB…MD
  • …pay off my student loans
  • …read all the Outlander books
  • …check in with my nineteen thousand Facebook friends
  • …upgrade my computer
  • …make tenure
  • …landscape the yard
  • …take a vacation
  • …host my book group
  • …teach my teenager to drive
  • …finish knitting this sweater
  • …forgive my parents …forgive myself
  • …get over my fear of failure …get over my fear of success
  • …get permission from my parents/spouse/children/therapist
  • …hire an agent
  • …learn to use the subjunctive case
  • …quit worrying about what my family will think of my story, especially the dirty parts
  • …stop smoking/drinking/playing online games
  • …figure out the business of publishing
  • …lose 20 pounds so I look good in my author photo…

You name it, and a procrastinating writer has said it. Here’s a dirty little secret. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the cruel reality is this. There will never be a good time to write. Life will always intrude. That’s what life is. Be glad for that. If you have no life, you have nothing to write about.

The good news is, there’s a simple solution. Make time for the things that are important to you. If writing your story is important, make time for it. Simple as that. Turn off the TV, leave the dishes undone, close your e-mail, grab a notebook and pen, and tell your family, “Don’t interrupt me unless your eyes are bleeding.” You’ll be surprised by the respect they give you.

The way you spend your day is the way you spend your life. So quit being your own worst enemy and start being your own best friend. Make time to write, even if you don’t have time.

I have procrastinated my way through the writing of many books. Somehow, the story emerges. The Beekeeper’s Ball hits the shelves next week. There’s a lot of love and food in that book. Let me know what you think.

Step one – open shitty first draft.
2 print out in word draft mode, light colored ink. 3 put on extra
strong glasses and lamp. rewrite every single page until it looks
like it’s bleeding. Be aware that you might need a lot of physical
space for laying out the pages. clothespins are key. 5. type in
handwritten edits. 6. go back to step 2 and do it all again. lather
rinse repeat.

Step one – open shitty first draft.

Step two –  print out in word draft mode, light colored ink.

Step three – put on extra strong glasses and bright lamp. Rewrite every single page until it looks like it’s bleeding. Be aware that you might need a lot of physical space for laying out the pages. Clothespins are key. So are Post-It notes.

ugly stuff

ugly stuff

Step five – type in handwritten edits.

smells fishy to Barkis

smells fishy to Barkis

Step six – go back to step 2 and do it all again.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

everyone's a critic

everyone’s a critic

Barkis is not too subtle when he wants to go for a walk….

The secret? See below:

torn between two lovers...

torn between two lovers...

Those of you who have been reading the Lakeshore Chronicles have met Daisy in every book, but her whole story hasn’t been told…until tomorrow, the official pub date of MARRYING DAISY BELLAMY. It’s a very cool story, if I do say so myself.

In Lakeshore Christmas (2009), her story progresses, but again it’s only a secondary plot, so we don’t get to dig too deep.

Daisy’s juggling single motherhood, school and career. And because this is a Wiggs book, she is looking for love. Her dilemma? Does she want to find it with Logan, the father of her child? Or with Julian, the sexy adrenalin junkie who first captivated her when they were in high school?

MY dilemma in Lakeshore Christmas was how far to take the storyline. I can’t reveal who she chooses, but I needed to play fair with the reader. It was tricky. What do you think? Should she choose Logan? Julian? Or what about Zach, the steadfast best friend? Or someone brand new and unexpected?

Well, Daisy made her choice, but it wasn’t easy. Early reviews are good, bless you reviewers, and most of them non-spoilerish.

Leave it to my friend Michael to show up with such a one-of-a-kind gift. Only a fellow writer understands the treasure of a 70-year-old magazine:

These are such fun to page through. And so eerily current: Be clear, clean and vivid. Put your heart on the page. Please the reader. Treat writing as your profession. Make time to write. God is in the details. It’s the bottom line in almost every article. And the ads are a hoot!

Sorry about that title. I have Jonathan, Ade, Kupono, Vitolio, etc. on my mind and I know you don’t blame me.

At first glance, this post has nothing to do with lithe, athletic dancers and in fact is about something at the opposite end of the spectrum–dumpy, sedentary, supremely klutzy writers. Yet it’s shocking how much we have in common.

(Plus I just stuck that in to get more traffic on the blog. My bad.)

painting by Degas

painting by Degas

Here’s an excerpt from your next purchase. Oh, did I neglect to tell you this post is about making you buy a book that will set a torch to your sleeping little brain? (My bad, again.) I happened to be reading The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass the other night while watching “So You Think You Can Dance.” A really compelling dance tells a story, and it’s all about detail and tension. You can’t look away because you have to know what’s coming next. An excerpt:

Holding a reader’s attention every word of the way is a function not of the type of novel you’re writing, a good premise, tight writing, quick pace, showing not telling or any of the other conventionally understood and frequently taught principles of storytelling.

Keeping readers constantly in your grip comes from the steady application of something else altogether: Micro-tension. That is the tension that constantly keeps your reader wondering what will happen-not in the story, but in the next few seconds.

Yes, I think you should buy this book. I’m a writing-craft-book junkie but like most authors, I only have a few favorites. Donald Maass has written several of my favorites. He understands the way fiction works, and the way a writer thinks.

get fired up

get fired up

I don’t usually recommend books on writing craft to readers. That’s kind of like telling sausage eaters to watch sausage being made. But like Stephen King’s On Writing, this one is interesting to anyone who loves fiction. It’ll have you heading to the library to check out some of the many fine works cited as examples. I think you’ll like this one.

What are some of your favorite books on writing?

This is one of my most-read posts. I can only conclude it’s because we writers fantasize about stuff like this. It originally ran several months back. And the link that gets the highest clicks? Irfanview

I Want an Intern

[With apologies to Judy Brady and her seminal “I Want a Wife” essay.]

I want an intern. Just a little, easy-to-work-with helper who will support my writing enterprise. I want an intern to take care of all the business-y stuff so I can focus on the book. It makes perfect sense for a busy writer to have an intern, because so much of publishing has little to do with the actual writing–the putting down of stories on paper.

You know you want them.

You know you want them.

Other professionals have interns to see to their needs–doctors, executives, literary agents, even the Authors Guild. So why can’t a writer have an intern, too? Aren’t I a professional? Don’t I have needs? Lawyers have paralegals. I hereby declare that writers deserve to have parawriters.

I want an intern to type up my handwritten manuscripts, never stumbling over an ambiguous squiggle in my penmanship. I want an intern with a double PhD in English Composition and Computer Science, who is a software engineer, a computer technician and a strict grammarian.

Who wears a loin cloth. Who actually looks good in that loin cloth.

It wouldn’t break my heart if this intern just happened to be mute from birth.

Another qualification my intern needs is the ability to organize my workspace according to the principles of feng shui. He will be on intimate terms with productivity websites like www.todoist.com and www.unclutterer.com.

I want him (of course it’s a him; this is my fantasy after all) to make all the airline reservations for all the trips on my schedule. I want him to use my miles to get upgrades and to schedule the flights so I don’t have to catch the 4:45am ferry. He will also search the Internet to find the most exciting, luxurious boutique hotels in the world, at the best possible rates. He will have www.farecast.com and www.yapta.com bookmarked in his browser. He’ll win double air miles for me with every single transaction he makes on my behalf.

My intern will catalogue my research library, clean my gutters and file my tax return. He will schedule my social luncheons, my teeth-cleaning appointments and my weekly massage. He will find Jay’s flannel shirt and trim Barkis’s toenails. My office supplies will be ordered with regularity and stocked neatly and in abundance, even the stupid inkjet cartridges that cost the same as truffle oil.

My intern will get all my mailing done, even if it means standing in line at the post office for forty-five minutes.

He will actually know how to print postage online. (http://www.usps.com/onlinepostage/welcome.htm)

He is going to be a master of databases, my intern, and a god of the laser printer. If I need a set of labels for a mailing to readers in Portland or Terre Haute or Maple Grove, Minnesota, he will produce them in seconds. With a click of the mouse, he can format a beautiful letter, flyer or postcard. He will create flawless PowerPoint presentations highlighting me at my best. He’ll write gracious thank-you notes on cream stock and send them out in a timely manner. He’ll order imprinted tchotchkes to give out at the BEA; he’ll create a lovely gift mailing for my publisher’s sales reps over the holidays.

I want him to answer my e-mail, explaining to HolierThanThou47@aol.com that yes, even though I realize the Almighty Himself gave me my writing talent, my characters are still going to swear, so she can just put her fucking Sharpie marker where the sun don’t shine because I’ll never change. He might put in the subject line, “Greetings from Hell.”

I want an intern who will answer the phone, politely declining offers of aluminum siding, copy machines and magazine subscriptions. He’ll know which friends, family members and colleagues I’ll drop everything to talk to, and which ones to take messages from.

In every bookstore he enters, he will re-shelve the books so that “W” is now in the middle of the alphabet, at eye level instead of toe level.

Prior to any author appearance, he’ll call ahead to make sure all the details are taken care of, so I don’t schlep myself all the way to Puyallup Mall only to find they haven’t ordered enough books. I will no longer worry about booksignings because he will work hand-in-glove with my publisher’s PR firm. He’ll post each event on www.booktour.com and send out invitations to everyone on my mailing list within a fifty-mile radius. He’ll negotiate my speaking fees and take care of the paperwork. He’ll use Irfanview (free download at http://www.irfanview.com/) to convert my photos to the requested 300dpi format. He’ll update my bio and send in any and all requested speaker forms. He will also format and e-mail my workshop handouts for upcoming conferences. He will keep my profiles and posts up to date on Facebook, Shelfari, Gather, MySpace and Amazon blog, vetting the “friend” requests so I will be a dynamic presence in cyberspace. Conversely, he’ll make certain my personal information has been removed from www.zabasearch.com by following the procedure given here: http://www.surfingtheapocalypse.net/cgi-bin/archive.cgi?noframes;read=73180 .

He’ll take flattering digital photos of my events and send them in to Publishers Weekly for “Picture of the Day.” He’ll also post them with witty captions on my website. Regarding that web site, he’ll keep it scrupulously up to date. And speaking of photos, my intern will pick out the most flattering clothes for the photo shoot, and he’ll hire a stylist who will transform my author photo into a great work of fiction.

He will bring me Lady Grey tea in the “Perky” mug, with one level teaspoon of lavender honey stirred in.

He knows when and how to use the subjunctive voice. He understands the usage of aphetic forms and apostrophe placement. He has the ability to retrieve lost e-mails; he can uncorrupt files that have been corrupted, clean out my cache, defrag my disk, leap tall buildings and rectify past wrongs. He spits contemptuously upon spyware and removes it with ease. When a dreaded “cannot open the file” message creeps up, he will open it with TextMaker Viewer (free download here: http://www.softmaker.net/down/TMViewerSetup.exe) and save it as a Word document and I’ll be home free. If someone dares to send me something with the hated .docx suffix, he will convert it without complaint, probably using a tool like this: http://www.docx2doc.com/.

He will respect and honor my insistence on working in WordPerfect, come hell or high water. His research will be impeccable, his fact-checking skills without peer. He’ll create playlists for my iPod, and he’ll organize and label my digital photos so anyone can easily locate the shot of Barkis chasing the coyote on my beach.

My intern will read my page proofs with a ruler under every line, determined to ferret out everything from an apostrophe turned the wrong way to the exact location of the Pax River Naval Station. When he discovers a clueless query from a copy-editor, he will hide the page from me so I don’t waste two hours steaming about it, and when there is any question, he will e-mail Bill at www.theslot.com to settle all disputes. If he spots a snarky review online, he’ll bury it under five stars of praise from at least a half-dozen fake online personas. Just because it seems like a good thing to do, he will track my books’ appearances on bestseller lists, big and small, occasionally presenting me with the information displayed on meaningful graphs and charts.

My intern is happy to deal with the PR firm that asks me to take “just a few minutes” to brainstorm a PR campaign for my next book, including a search for the perfect lakeside resort with easy airport access. (My intern knows I would happily spend days in this pursuit, so he doesn’t even tell me about it.)

With unruffled efficiency, he will write that blurb a book club requested, along with reading-group questions. He’ll make sure I’m prepared to do the Amazon podcast, and a mini-interview for a book chain’s newsletter. He’ll create flashcards with “glaikit” and “blimbing” so I’ll dominate at the next charity spelling bee. He’s always on hand to brainstorm cover art, flap copy or ways to intensify the conflict in my novel. He’ll renew my subscriptions at the proper time, at the discounted group rate. He’ll take care of expense reports, contest entries and membership dues. He’ll find my late mother-in-law’s recipe for tamale pie.

My intern will crunch my numbers, reconcile my modifiers, stroke my ego and rub my neck. He’ll make sure all my pronouns agree with their antecedents. He will boost my creativity, flatter my vanity and pick up my drycleaning.

Wait. If the intern’s doing all that, then I’m stuck writing my novel. What a concept.

[Originally published in NINK, the newsletter of Novelists, Inc.]

Typed up the handwritten draft of my book. I now have 40,000 words of a novel-like substance: http://ping.fm/CcJJO

Confession time–I stole a book title from Nelson deMille. I didn’t mean to. When I titled my historical romance, I didn’t realize it had been used on Nelson’s thriller. Fortunately, it didn’t appear to create much confusion. But regarding titles, this is something I get asked about from time to time, including today’s question in my e-mail. Number one, can you get in trouble for stealing a title and number two, why would you knowingly do it?

Coming up with the same book title as someone else is nothing new. Especially with internet title searches, Google and Amazon, you can find out in an instant if your book’s title has been used before. Chances are, it has been. Look up “Fire and Ice” on Amazon. Or “Fire and Rain.” Or “Once More With Feeling.” Lots of great minds are thinking alike.

The fact is, a book title isn’t subject to copyright. It’s no crime to re-use a title; it’s really just a matter of judgment. Common sense will tell you not to title your book Gone With the Wind, Clan of the Cave Bear, The #1 Ladies Detective Agency or The Da Vinci Code. Those titles are simply too distinctive and you’d look foolish for using them.

It’s easy enough to re-use a title unknowingly. Long after Home Before Dark was published, I learned there was another book titled Home Before Dark–by another Susan. I bought the book, of course. It’s a memoir by Susan Cheever, nothing like my novel once you turn the title page. I believe there was another The Raven and the Rose published in addition to my 1991 title.

Finding a good book title is hard. Finding the perfect title is a gift from heaven. To my mind, the perfect title captures the essence of the book in a powerful, evocative phrase–Saving Juliet. The You I Never KnewThe Killer Angels. The Princess Diaries. Bastard Out of Carolina. Harriet the Spy. Practical Demonkeeping. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. All those titles promise a good read–and deliver.

There’s an interesting article about titles here. It’s both an art and a craft. http://www.articlesaboutbooks.com/Article/Tips-on-Choosing-a-Title-For-Your-Book/1588. It’s more focused on nonfiction but you might glean some insights into picking a title for a novel. http://www.articlealley.com/article_28586_50.html

If your books are related, they need to sound as if they’re in the same family. This can get tricky as the series evolves. The Lakeshore Chronicles are starting to challenge me. I really liked the simplicity of Summer at Willow Lake. My editor came up with The Winter Lodge. They other titles evolved amid much discussion. I’m really happy with The Summer Hideaway, which I’ve just begun working on. “Summer” is a great keyword that conveys the idea of a juicy, fast-paced beach read. My publisher loves the word summer. I’ve had A Summer Affair, That Summer Place, Summer by the Sea and Summer at Willow Lake! So hideaway is a nice addition, particularly since the word “hideaway” implies something intriguing and possibly dangerous, like a character in WITSEC (a witness protection program). Definitely a reason to hide. Away. In the summer. All summer long. See how this works?

It’s easy for a writer to be weird about her titles. I’ve pitched wonderful, glorious titles to publishers, only to have them changed, often for the most random of reasons. Sometimes I come up with a horrible title and it gets changed to a great one. Heavy Breathing became The Ocean Between Us, thanks to my friend Lois. It can work the other way, too. How cute is the title Twyla’s Ten-Year Reunion? That was changed to Husband for Hire. It was. Sometimes you just have to let go. 

Here are my contenders for Worst. Title. Ever. — and this one:  http://failblog.org/2009/04/02/book-title-fail-2/

I am about to change the titles of three already published books. Yep, three of my out-of-print historical novels are going out wearing new titles. And I am going to be wearing a flak jacket, because this is a practice that drives readers crazy. I feel your pain, readers!

What are some of your favorite titles?

Just so you know, I made my deadline. Page proofs for Lakeshore Christmas went in the mail tuh-DAY! Par-TAY!

I got my novel done in the nick of time.

I got my novel done in the nick of time.

what’s on my mind right now:

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