Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How to Break Out of a Writing Slump

Since this is the end of the year, I want to tie my year-in-review to some actual writing advice. I titled this blog "How to break out of a writing slump" and I have a clear answer. Before you get too excited, I will warn you that it is the same advice you've heard again and again from other authors in the past and it is hard work, but I think it needs repeated. I'll get to that advice in a moment, but first you have to read through the rest of my drivel. (Or skip to the end, I suppose.)

This year has been a great year for me in my writing career while a tough year for my actual writing production. I saw 2012 bring me not one but two book releases from my publisher, Rhemalda Publishing.

In January, Rhemalda released my werewolf tale with a twist, Tamed. I celebrated the release of Tamed with a television interview on NBC4 in Columbus, Ohio. You can watch the interview on the left side of this blog. That was by far my most visual exposure yet.
Next, I had a successful book launch at Barnes and Noble in Pickerington, Ohio, with Tamed. Its release also led to a request from a California production company to shop Tamed around for movie rights interest, and I granted that request, of course. That process is still active, though I am not sure how it will pan out.

In May, Rhemalda and I decided to offer Tamed as a free giveaway as part of Amazon's KDP program and proceeded to give away 22,000 copies of the eBook in only five days. Coming off that giveaway, Tamed continued to sell fairly well for the next couple of months. My biggest surprise with Tamed was that I initially thought the book was a good fit for young adults and older, but I have been pleased to learn that Tamed has gained a pretty steady following from the youngest teens who are looking for something a little different from the Twilight saga.

In August, Rhemalda released the second installment of my Epertase trilogy, which I feel is my best writing yet.

With three published books under my wing, I attended the Mid Ohio Comic Con. The president and vice president of Rhemalda traveled to Ohio to support me at the show. With their help and the help of the fantastic artist of my Epertase covers, Steve Murphy, we sold and signed over 100 books. Unfortunately, I sold out of Tamed at the show and had to turn potential readers away. Here's my booth.

Despite all of my successes this year, I have struggled with the actual art of writing. I don't know if you could call it writer's block, but it definitely resulted in a lack of production. I've heard of writer's block before and have even experienced it briefly on occasion, but usually I have been able to push through it without too much pain.

However, this year has been a different story.

My first major slump came during my initial draft of Epertase 3; I struck a wall at the halfway point. I spent several months (yes, I said months) struggling with how to make a crucial transition that was imperative to the story. Every idea I came up with didn't seem to work. If this wasn't the last book in my trilogy, with everything in the first two stories tied to this finale, I could have scratched the idea altogether and changed how the story went, but I was in a bit of a box. It was killing me and putting me way behind schedule. I have deadlines, after all.

BTW, I am in love with how Epertase 3 finally turns out and I think fans of the series will be as well, but I think the fight with Epertase 3 took something out of me.

My second slump is in full gear now. Over the last two years I have been working sporadically on a new dystopian fantasy that I am really excited about finishing. But even with my breakthrough and subsequent finishing of Epertase 3, I realized I still wasn't writing with as much inspiration as usual. Heck, just look at the number of blogs I've churned out lately (none)-- my lack of production should be evident.

Here's the problem: I know what I need to do in order to break this slump, just like I had to do to break the Epertase 3 slump, but I'm having trouble doing it with any consistency.
How do you break your writing slump? It sounds easy. You have to write.

You have to write today. You have to write tomorrow. Don't feel like writing on Friday? Too bad, you have to write on Friday, too. It's just like going to the gym. If you miss a few days, it becomes easier to simply miss a few more. But, when writing becomes habit, it's harder not to do. Just like working out. I am by far not the first author to say this. In fact, I have read this very advice several times by major authors. It's easier said than done.

"Wait a minute," you might say. "That doesn't help me through my block." Well, yeah, it actually does. By making yourself sit down and write, you will write through that block. It might not turn out just how you want that section to be, but that's what revisions are for. After you plow through that part of the story, you will fall into the flow again.

When you force yourself to write every day, even if it is only for a couple hours, you are lifting the weights . . . I mean, you are writing . . . and that's the important part. Does that make sense? Every slump I have ever gotten into (big or small) has been broken by simply sitting down and writing. And as I look back, I see that the slumps that lasted the longest were because they frustrated me to the point of not writing at all.

Now, I know sometimes it seems impossible to push through that block (like it was for me in Epertase 3), so here's another way to get through it. My initial advice still stands that you have to write, but you can cheat a little. Skip that part and work on another section of your story. It will trigger your creativity again and get you moving. You will be surprised at how well this will help you to actually fix the section you were stuck on without even working on it. Yeah, it's like magic.

These two suggestions are my best advice on breaking your slump. Sure, many other more famous authors than me have recommended the same actions, but I believe the advice is worth repeating. Now, why are you sitting here reading my blog? Go write!

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Contest winner

Congratulations to Melissa Hayden for winning my Amazon $50 gift card contest. As many of you know, I held a contest through in which entrants were able to increase their chances of winning by various tasks. After the contest ended last week, rafflecopter randomly selected a winner and chose Ms. Hayden. Melissa, I hope you enjoy the gift card and copy of Tamed. You should be receiving them any day now.
Thank you to everyone who entered.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How's your voice?

As an author, understanding voice is critically important to the writing process. What's that mean, exactly? Let's start with an example. We'll use Stephen King since everyone knows who he is. If someone gave you a chapter or two from a Stephen King book, but didn't tell you who the author was, do you think you could tell? If you have read Stephen King in the past, I think you would be able to tell right away.

So why is that? The easy answer would be to say the chapters felt creepy and who is better known for being creepy than Mr. King. But, let's take away the storyline and just look at the writing, because the writing is as much Stephen King's voice as the story. The Gunslinger has a far different theme (fantasy) than Carrie (horror), but is still easily recognizable as a Stephen King book. Beyond the easy answer, it's more about how he describes things, the flow of his words, the turning of a big world into something smaller and more intimate to the reader. It's in the punch he gives at just the right instant. There's probably a thousand more subtle reasons that Mr. King's prose is uniquely his own, but these are what immediately come to mind.

It is the same for every author. There are so many intricacies in what makes each author's voice different that I could never list them all here. Sometimes, it's in their ability at sounding honest in their telling of the story, when you simply believe whatever fantastic tale you are reading. Other times, it's in their ability to bring you into the action, or make you fall in love with their characters. Like Stephen King, maybe they can make the biggest world seem so small and familiar. Or just the opposite. Maybe the author can make a small story seem immense and worldly. A small-town girl with a secret that will end all mankind.

I tell you this because I realize I have my own style, my own voice. Some might see aspects of my voice as weaknesses while others may see them as strengths. When I tell a story, I try to tell you what happens in an interesting way and then move onto the next scene. In doing so, I am relying on the reader loving the story more than the technical aspects of my prose. I hope when you finish you say, "That was an awesome read."
Again, some see that as a weakness, because I didn't describe a room down to an apple sitting precariously on a table. Yet, it is very common for some readers to compliment me on how fast my stories flow while other readers complain that I didn't give them enough little details for them to picture that room with the apple.

Hey, I get it, but my writing comes partly from how I like to read. Sometimes, while I'm enjoying a barn-burner of a book and I come to a paragraph that describes that apple on the table, regardless of how interestingly the author described that apple, I find myself skimming to the next paragraph. That's in no way to denigrate that author's description of the apple, because I actually admire how he or she can make describing a simple apple entertaining. I just personally want to keep moving along.

I've put widely acclaimed books down on the basis that I couldn't get into the author's voice. They were probably brilliant books, but they didn't reach me in how they sounded in my mind. Let me ask you, could you sit down and read an entire Shakespeare play? Maybe yes, maybe no. If not, does that mean Shakespeare was a poor writer? Obviously nobody would argue that. Shakespeare had a wonderful insight into the human state, the human psyche. Or take The Lord of the Rings. It is one of the greatest stories ever told, but it can be difficult to read and that turns some people off.

I bring up all of this voice stuff to show you how an author's voice isn't much different than how your own voice as a reader affects the story. Or, more specifically, how you prefer the voice to sound in your head when you read the book. You know, how a choppy, action-packed style might not mesh with your desire to take it slow and steady. Or if you want to know that a minor character's face is weathered from too much sun and the author doesn't tell you, instead glossing over that particular character's description to keep the story moving.

Well, you may feel shorted. It may make you feel like the author didn't bring you into his or her world enough and you may put down the book. Heck, it may even make you mad enough to give the book a negative review somewhere because the voice you wanted to hear didn't match the voice you actually heard. That doesn't make you wrong for not liking the book and it doesn't make the author wrong for writing the story how he or she wrote it. That author's story might be the best story of the century, but the story-telling didn't speak to you as a reader and, therefore, it failed in your eyes.

What I'm trying to convey is that every author has a unique way of telling a story, and every reader has a unique response to how that story was told. In my werewolf book, Tamed, some readers have criticized the speed in which my two main characters fell in love. Those readers are right in their criticism if that is what took them out of the story. But my characters' love story moved fast for a reason. The entire book, by design, moves at a frantic pace and, though I could have better fleshed out the love story aspect of it, I made a decision to not slow down the feel and pace of the book to do so. Other readers complimented how the story flowed and saw no issues with the love story. While writing, it sometimes feels like I am taking a crap-shoot on decisions that may or may not be liked by readers. That is why it is critically important that I tell the story how I see it and don't try to please every possible reader. My story would become watered down and bland if I did that, because it would kill my voice.

The better an author gets at evolving and refining his or her voice, the likelihood of readers walking away disappointed shrinks a bit and the more fans that author will gain. But as an author evolves, he or she has to be careful not to lose that personal expression--that unique voice--in the process. I would never tell an author to change his or her voice any more than I would tell a reader to simply try harder to like something. I can only hope that when you try my work one day, my voice speaks to your voice in a positive way. But if it doesn't, no story I tell can bridge that gap. But I promise I'll keep trying to evolve while keeping my voice at the same time. I hope you continue to give my work a try.

Let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to enter my $50 Amazon Gift Certificate giveaway below. It's easy to enter, so what are you waiting for?