Pursuing The Reader’s Standard

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

Earlier this month I completed the final line edit for my fourth novel and this week I’m working my way through the final line edit for my fifth. It’s slow-going and I find myself mulling over the same paragraph for almost an hour or tweaking sentences until they don’t even read like English anymore. The fact is, my brain is exhausted but I still have two hundred pages left to go before it will truly, finally, once and for all be finished. Editing and revisions are always difficult but there is something about that FINAL line edit that is so painstakingly sluggish, I practically feel like I’m moving backwards. Probably, because in many ways, I am.

The library I work at hosted an author event this past Saturday and I got the chance to catch part of the Q&A session. Someone in the audience asked the author when she knows a book is truly finished and after responding the way that most authors do and admitting that she could work on a WIP until the end of time, she said something else that surprised me. This particular author did not have a degree in Creative Writing, nor did she study it in school, but by being a voracious reader first she came to realize something about writing and the way books are consumed by the general public.

When it comes to good writing, she spoke of it as if it were a wide canal and as if the outer banks represented the threshold or standard by which readers judge that writing. The more narrow the canal, the more limited the audience, and the wider the canal, the more versatile the book’s appeal. The author explained that readers will always have a personal standard when it comes to books but that pursuing that reader standard is not the same as pursuing perfection. In fact, the author might still be tweaking her upcoming release if she hadn’t abandoned the pursuit of perfection and instead simply focused on doing her best. That’s all readers really want. At one point she even told the audience point-blank that if she had spent a hundred more hours perfecting her latest novel, the reader wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. Why? Because readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for a good story. They’re looking for a strong voice. A unique and authentic voice. And all of those things can be accomplished simply by doing our best.

I needed to hear those words now more than ever. I have a lot of anxiety built up over the potential success or failure of my next release and its a ball and chain so literal that I can barely make any progress on this manuscript. My production has slowed down on every WIP in my queue and even as I’m nearing the end of certain projects I’m still second guessing every single decision.

Even though it’s pointless.

I know that I’ve done my best. In fact, it’s the only thing I do know for sure, and maybe it’s the only thing I need to know in order to declare that I’m finished. Truly finished. I’ve done my best and that’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can ever do. But the good news, or more accurately, the GREAT news is that our best is good enough. We are good enough. For the people who matter most, readers, our best is good enough.

The Chronicles of Lumatere

Motivation & Inspiration

Melina Marchetta is a goddess. She is one of my favorite authors in the ENTIRE world and one of the greatest in the YA genre. Even though I like to keep the recommendations on this blog to a minimum, mostly because it’s very rare for me to gush this hardcore, for all of my fellow authors and all of my fellow readers I just had to tell everyone about this series. The Chronicles of Lumatere is a fantasy series but like all of Marchetta’s novels, it’s a story about identity and finding your place in the world. So many people have fallen for Marchetta’s contemporary pieces but I still don’t think she’s ever received the recognition she truly deserves. Every single one of her books is so poignant and breathtakingly real and every time I finish reading one I learn so much, not only about the human spirit, but about myself. Jellicoe Road changed my life and Saving Francesca saved it. Growing up reading her novels served as a foundation for me, not only as a writer, but as a person and when I spotted my own flaws in her characters it helped me learn to accept them and more importantly love them. She is the pinnacle for me of everything I want to be and do and say as a writer and I think if every person on the planet read her books the world would be a more beautiful place.

I’d dabbled in reading the fantasy genre before but had never found anything that really grabbed me. I’ve always loved reading series and loved the idea of some epic journey of self-discovery but Marchetta’s mastery of contemporary fiction, combined with her foray into this new genre really put her in a league of her own. Because she’s fearless. She takes the most unworthy characters and turns them into heroes and she builds relationships where they don’t belong between people who seem too broken to be capable of such a thing. The Chronicles of Lumatere is pure magic and I guarantee that if you have a soul it will speak to it.

Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive.

Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance . . . and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.

But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin’s faith in her . . . but in himself.



Coping Mechanisms For Writers

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

I’ve been in hiding lately in an attempt to finally finish this YA book series which started out as a standalone and then became a trilogy and is now a total of four books. I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster, something I know all of my fellow writers can relate to and even though some of my “coping mechanisms” for stress and writer’s block and just fear in general may be a bit unorthodox or maybe even to some of you downright insane at least they work. Well…most of the time. Okay sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, hence the extreme variety. But for any of my fellows writers who are stuck or blocked or just downright terrified I’d definitely recommend giving some of these methods a try.

For Stress:

  1. Candy-Some people smoke cigarettes, some people do shots of tequila, and I gorge on chocolate or anything within arm’s distance that is made of sugar and rainbows. Not only will it lighten your mood but by knocking back an m&m or a chewy caramel and creating a false sense of reward you will be able to trick your body into thinking it’s already accomplished something great and deserves a treat.
  2. Writing on a yoga ball-It’s bouncy, it’s good for your back, and it’s just plain fun. Let’s face it, sitting at a desk all day isn’t enjoyable, comfortable, or ideal for our health. And since nothing gets the creative juices flowing like exercise why not write and get a little physical at the same time. Not only that but it gives you a soft place to land when you feel like jumping off a cliff.
  3. A hot bath infused with vitamin e-This is to detox your body of all of that sugar. Not only are baths relaxing but I find that I do my best thinking when submerged in water. If you respond better to fear you could always water board yourself until you come up with the solution to that plot hole that’s been driving you mad or if you prefer a more playful approach you can turn your soap and shampoo bottles into characters from your story and act out crucial scenes right on the edge of the tub.
  4. Role play your Oprah interview-Nothing cheers me up more than pretending like I’m already rich and famous. Visualization is truly the secret to success, which means wishing will get you nowhere in this world. Dreams don’t come true because we wish for them. Dreams come true because we think them into existence. Remind yourself on a daily basis what your vision is and how you’re actively achieving it and one day you’ll be sitting with Oprah and talking about how amazing you are.
  5. Plan a “staycation”-Nothing induces more guilt in a writer than idle time, which is why we rarely take a day off for fear of wasting it on watching reality television and drinking wine when we could be adding three thousand more words to our WIP. But here’s the thing, we need breaks. Regular breaks. But if you’re like me and can’t stand to just lay around when you could be writing, here’s a tip. Schedule meaningful free time for yourself where you and your friends or family are actually doing something worthwhile. If you can’t go out plan a “staycation” complete with a really ambitious home-cooked meal with desert of course and eight hours catching up on House of Cards because you only like classy narratives.
  6. Disappear off the face of the earth-Or maybe just from social media. I’m one of those authors who still hasn’t figured out how to navigate social media and seamlessly incorporate it into my daily life. Blogging is a different story. I love blogging and I love connecting with other writers and readers but when I’m in the middle of a project, sometimes it’s just not possible. Sometimes it’s okay, actually it’s more than okay, to step away from your Twitter and your Facebook and your blog and just focus on what needs to get done.

For Writer’s Block:

  1. Candy-See above.
  2. Read all the books-This is going to sound strange but sometimes when I’m in the middle of a WIP I have this fear of books. Of reading them and sometimes just looking at them. I know as writers we should be reading as much, if not more, than we write, but sometimes I’m stopped by the fear that I might read something so amazing and so gut-wrenchingly perfect that my own work will look like a disaster in comparison. This fear hits me at some point during the writing of every project, usually when I’m stuck, but you know what? This frightening scenario has never actually happened to me. Do you want to know what has happened? Every time I’ve chosen to pick up a book when I was feeling stuck with my own I’ve had some kind of epiphany. Reading inspires. It unlocks things in us and it reveals things to us we couldn’t see before and it’s the fastest way through writer’s block that I know of.
  3. Harry Potter Move Marathon-Because there is nothing more magical or more inspiring than the story of an orphan who triumphs over evil or the story of the author who created him who just happened to be piss-ass broke and is now a billionaire. Not to mention once you come to the glaring realization around the end of the third movie that you will never write something as spectacularly world-changing you can stop trying to be perfect and just write.
  4. Read negative reviews-Not of your own work. That would be counterproductive. The thing is, writer’s block is often caused by our impossible pursuit of perfection and we spend hours analyzing and re-writing the same paragraph because for some reason it’s just not right and because we’re holding it to some standard that doesn’t exist. But there is no such thing as perfect and there is no pleasing everyone, which is evidenced by all of the negative reviews given to New York Time’s bestselling books. However few, I promise, even your favorite author has some unflattering reviews of their books out there. Take a stroll through Goodreads or Amazon and you’ll see what I mean and not only will you probably have a good laugh you’ll realize that it’s all relative and you might as well write for the only person whose opinion really matters–you.

Binge Reading

Self Publishing

We’re a generation of impatient consumers who want everything all at once–movies, music, television, and now books. Because we’re also a generation of people who love stories. We love to live in them and not just for an hour but for days. We love to curl up on the couch in front of the television indulging in a little (or a lot) of Netflix or with our tablet reading an entire series in one sitting.

It’s the ultimate and most immersive form of escapism and has become such a popular way of consuming media that television series are now being released all at once and publishing companies are looking to mimic that model by releasing books in a series closer together and demanding more than just one novel a year from their contracted authors. Something that indie authors have already been doing for years and yet with traditional publishers jumping on the bandwagon the pressure to produce a high quality product in half the time is no doubt going to change the every day life of writers everywhere.

As a consumer nothing sounds better than waiting three months rather than a year for the next book in a series I love to come out. But as a writer the whole idea of releasing three to four projects a year is no doubt a daunting one. I released three books in 2013 but I didn’t write three books in just twelve months and I’m not sure that I could. It takes me 6-8 months to write an entire novel, start to finish, revisions included but with the new model that’s emerging that might not be quick enough.

Quality is going to become a big issue of contention for a lot of authors out there feeling the pressure to be more prolific and one that might have some unfortunate effects on the landscape of literature. Not to mention, with even more books on the market, the competition for ideal release dates, attention on blogs and other media outlets, and reaching the consumer might only become even more fierce. And yet I can’t deny that there will also be some amazing benefits.

We as writers will have the opportunity to cut out the waiting game completely and release things when we’re ready rather than when our publisher is ready and because of this we’ll be able to reach out and connect to our readers even more. Stories will stay fresh in their minds and so will the anticipation of the next installment which means that finding an audience will not only become easier but more sustainable. We’ll also be able to let go of things more freely and in a more timely manner, moving on to whatever new projects happen to be exciting and inspiring us at that moment. Which might also inspire us to explore other genres or other topics resulting in more original stories that might not have been born otherwise. We’ll also have the amazing opportunity to earn a more sustainable living which means more of us will be able to make the transition to writing full time.

But despite all of these opportunities it will still be readers who benefit the most from this. They’ll have even more books at their disposal and the fact that they won’t have to wait as long for releases from their favorite authors will only increase their appetite. People will start devouring books the way we devour everything else and just like it’s done for television, it will create this trickle down effect, inspiring readers to discover other authors and give their books a chance.

It’s not just about writing books anymore, it’s about becoming a living, breathing part of our culture. And that means adapting to change. No doubt change is scary and this new way of writing won’t be ideal for everyone but there are ways to make the most of this next revolution of publishing, especially when we stop to consider that writing more in less time doesn’t have to restrict us. In fact, if we can learn to marry our own expectations with those of our readers, it might actually turn out to be quite liberating.

Here There Be Pirates

Self Publishing

A few days ago I found my first novel up on a free torrenting site. Initially I was…surprised. Part of me felt violated but another part felt a little proud that someone would actually want to steal it. Eventually the violated part (mostly my ego) won out and I sent the website administrator an email asking him to remove the book. I haven’t heard back yet but at this point I’ve sort of come to the realization that my email was probably sent in vain. Pirating has been around forever and now that everything’s gone digital there’s really no hope in trying to stop it now.

I’m going to be honest, when I was in middle school I used to download music off of a site called limewire. I’m not making excuses for my behavior but, at that time, I don’t think I really understood that it was stealing. I understood that I was getting something for free but not that I was getting it at someone else’s expense. Maybe because it felt too easy or too anonymous…I’m not really sure. Not to mention, all of the music I was downloading were top 40 pop hits by artists so rich I couldn’t imagine them possibly missing a dollar or two. In fact, why should they get any richer? They already had way more than they needed and I was sure they weren’t doing anything particularly productive with it like feeding the hungry or saving the world. I was the one who needed a break. Not them.

And so on…you get the point. Teenage me was a little self-righteous. Most teenager’s are. But the truth is, this is a toxic attitude to live by and it’s one that’s watered down the moral repercussions of piracy and made it the most socially acceptable crime of the 21st century. See, that’s the real problem. It’s accepted; even encouraged. Because in an economy where everyone is struggling, everyone thinks they deserve a break. From their responsibilities, from the law. And what’s easier to steal than something that already feels invisible?

No, you can’t hang a digital copy of a song or book above your mantle, you can’t even hold it in your hands, but just because it doesn’t exist in the physical world doesn’t mean that it has no value. It’s still art. It’s still the product of someone’s hard work and imagination. And it’s still a product that should be paid for by consumers.

This is my opinion when it comes to piracy–I don’t agree with it–but I’m not going to start some kind of crusade to try and wipe it from the face of the earth. Why? Because these days the moral issue of e-book piracy is not a writer’s issue, it’s a reader’s issue.

Even if every writer joined forces to try and end pirating, the impossibility of that task is so…impossible, that we’d never have time to do the one thing that actually matters–making art. But readers, they’re the ones who can really make a difference. Because all they have to do is say no. To stealing. To degrading art. And the good news is that most of them do. Someone who truly loves reading and appreciates authors believes in paying for books. They don’t need to be convinced that writing is our livelihood. They don’t need to be convinced that books matter. That writers matter. So as long as there are still book lovers out there, there will still be writer’s earning enough money to continue doing what they love, which is writing great books for the readers who support them.