Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Home Stretch: Finishing Your Manuscript Under a Deadline

Over the last four weeks, I’ve been completing an erotic romance story for an upcoming call for submission. The deadline is July 1 and I’m nearly finished. The journey has been exhausting and rewarding.

For one thing, most of my free time has been spent writing this story. Enjoyable, yes, but for someone like me, who isn’t accustomed to writing for a specific purpose, the knowledge that I needed to get to the computer and write every day was a burden. No longer could I swagger into the study with an idea and all of the time in the world to follow it through, taking frequent breaks throughout, and hitting the delete key as many times as I wanted.

I was writing for a reason. A purpose. I was starting to feel like a “real writer”.

Writing under a deadline produces a sense of accomplishment. Even though I knew that the deadline was the publisher’s, it was also mine. I didn’t have to submit a story for this call for submissions. I could have spent my time aiming for a later call or just decide that I wanted to submit the story as a stand alone. I could have cut myself a lot of slack. But, mentally, I kept the pressure on.

Of course, I’m one of those people who works well under stress. A looming deadline gives me that shot of adrenaline to get the job done. I don’t miss deadlines. That’s just the kind of person I am. Besides, in my day job, a missed deadline can cost someone dearly.

As I get ready to finish up polishing my manuscript and sending that all important email to the publisher, I wanted to share some of my tips for completing a writing project under a strict deadline.

Keep the pressure on: Set up a reminder on your computer or phone every day to tell you how many days are left until the deadline. Schedule ahead of time what hours of each day you can dedicate to writing.

Let your friends and family know that you’re trying meet a deadline and will be unavailable for some period of time everyday. Trust me, they will remind you, even if you’re dragging your feet about writing.

Take the pressure off: I know, this sounds contradictory, but there is reason to my madness. What I mean is this: give yourself a break occasionally. Planning to write every day for the next thirty days may be unrealistic. Aim for five or six days a week. Use one or two days a week to rest and not think about your writing or the looming deadline. Your brain and your creativity will benefit from the break. I know that whenever I take a day off of my writing, I come up with great new ideas or bits of dialogue for my story. You will too.

Find the time: The last few days before the deadline are crucial. Block off these days and don’t schedule in any other activities. Before the deadline approaches, set up some processes to make those final days run more smoothly. Alert your family as to which of your tasks they will have to take over (of course, you will promise to make up for it after the deadline is over). Have meals ready to go and simply reheat. Keep your pantry stocked with coffee and energy drinks. Set yourself up for success.

If, as the deadline approaches, you suspect that you won’t make it, take an extreme step. Take a day or two off of work. Write, write, write. Don’t use that chunk of your precious vacation time to laze in front of the television and procrastinate. You won’t get it back.

If all else fails, work through the night and get that story done. Just remember to spend the morning revising with a fresh eye. Ideally, you should have some tapped and ready to go to review the draft once you’ve completed it. Use their advice and make your final edits and revisions.

Hopefully, these will help you to consider submitting a piece of writing to a publisher or writing contest. What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are You Still a Real Writer if You Haven’t Published?

All of my life, I’ve considered myself a writer. Heck, aren’t we all? We all churn out book reviews for middle school English classes and history essays for high school. We all do some writing at work, if only to tot up our hours worked every week. In a sense, we’re all writers.

But creative writing is a different animal. Most of those people who’ve written essays and book reviews don’t choose to write another document once they’ve graduated. Most of them wouldn’t pay attention to word count or run spell check unless they’re getting paid to do it. Most people don’t choose to write.

That’s what makes writers great. Every writer, at some point, has written a story or a novel for nothing. Zilch. Nada. As the industry politely calls it, “on spec”.

I’ve spent my entire career writing on spec and I’m not sure that that situation will change in the near future. Yet I keep churning out the manuscripts (I’ve produced more than twenty completed romance manuscripts to date – everything from historicals to alternate realities to contemporary series-style). Why? Am I crazy?

Yeah, crazy like a writer. An unpublished writer.

So, back to our central issue: are you still a “real” writer when you haven’t published a word?

On one level, we’re all real writers because we spend time and energy on our craft and produce stories and manuscripts that our families and friends love to read, even if forced to do so.

But there are real negatives to being unpublished.

First of all, you belong to the great unwashed hordes of aspiring writers who are hungrily seeking: a literary agent, a book deal, a few cents. The conundrum that most unpublished writers experience is that many publishers won’t look at your work without an agent and many agents won’t represent you without a publishing history or a contract in hand. Yikes.

Second, you can’t belong to certain professional organizations without a publishing credit behind your name. Organizations can be a great way to network and learn the inside tricks and tips of experienced writers. Unfortunately, some of them don’t want to hear from you unless you’re already one of them. Another conundrum for the aspiring writer.

No one takes you seriously, least of all your family and friends. Aside from the industry, who has turned its collective back on you, your friends and family tend not to take your years’ long toiling at the computer too seriously unless you’ve produced a publication during that time. They want to push you aside so they can play computer games and surf the internet. The nerve! Don’t they know that you’re working?

When you’re writing, the word “working” can often end up in quotation marks. People may see it as a harmless but time consuming hobby. You get paid to do work, right? So you can’t be working. Not really.

Acquaintances want to ask uncomfortable questions of you if you’re brave or foolhardy enough to announce that you’re a writer (instead of identifying yourself by the much easier day job title of lawyer or IT tech). The inevitable question is “what you have written?”, followed by “where have you been published?” “Nowhere” is such an unsatisfactory answer.

These are the pitfalls of being a real writer. But does that mean you stop calling yourself one?

Ask yourself this: if a doctor stops on the side of the road to administer emergency medical attention, is she no longer a doctor because she isn’t getting paid for it? If a musician plays a free concert with a bunch of other amateurs in the park, is he not a real musician? NO! He does it for love or she does it because it’s what she feels she has to do. Both are valid motivations and neither is money-based.

Fame and success can happen overnight. Ask any YouTube sensation. Paradoxically, such overnight success often takes years of hard work.

So remember this: you’re a real writer. Tell yourself that a hundred times a day in front of the mirror. If you stick with it, one day you will be a published one too.

Photo courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to be a Successful Introvert

Creative writing and introversion - these are often linked in popular culture. The shy, bookish nerd who writes dark poetry. There’s one of these in every television show or movie about high school. If you write, you might even be one of them.

I’ll confess: I was a shy, bookish nerd in high school. I wrote dark but socially conscious poetry. For variety, I also wrote dark but socially conscious stories. I did well in school so my academic success often pushed me (unwillingly) into the spotlight. So did my writing, when I won a city-wide competition for my poems and essay. I had the shortest acceptance speech out of all of the award recipients and my brevity was awarded with a compliment and quote in the local newspaper.

The strange thing was that whenever I was called upon to perform in public, I enjoyed that role. I was no longer focused on the intimate conversational requirements of school but could disappear, in a way, in front of the crowd. I don’t see faces when I speak in public, I see a mass of faces that blur into none. For that reason, I am more confident public speaking than, say, meeting new people.

In recent years, I have been told that I am a very friendly and sociable person. Inside, I still feel like the shy nerd. I still describe myself as shy. If I can blend into the background and do my own thing, I will. But this is often impossible.

So how did I overcome my shyness and introversion?

Learn: Use your writer’s eye for detail to see what makes other people appear sociable, likeable and friendly. Start thinking about extroversion as a learnable skill. Yes, you may be naturally inclined to introversion but that’s no reason you have to feel awkward or ill equipped to handle social interactions. And for most of us, every day is jam packed with a multitude of social interactions, from dealing with coworkers to making purchases from a store. Think of these as learning opportunities.

Most extroverts fall into patterns. They greet people warmly every day. They make eye contact. They inquire about the other person’s weekend. They listen and respond to the other person’s replies. They engage that person completely. Attention to another person can’t be faked. You either are focused on that person and that conversation or you’re not. So don’t try to chat with a colleague during the busiest part of your day (or theirs!).

Challenge yourself: Sometimes it’s hard to change your stripes once you’re locked into familiar patterns of your own. Try breaking out of your ordinary routine and try out learned social behaviours in a new environment where the pressure may be lower.

Take a course. Visit a museum or gallery. Join a club. Pick something you’re already interested in or enjoy. It will be easier to connect with others who have similar interests or hobbies.

By doing one of these activities, you will also be throwing yourself into the ‘deep end’. New environment. New activity. New faces. But keep in mind that the stakes are lower when you step out of your usual paths through life. If you mess up (or think you have), you don’t have to take that course again or go to another meeting of that particular club. Revamp and try again later in a different venue. If you live in the city like I do, you have a virtually unlimited field of people to alienate!

Practice, practice, practice: Watch what works for extroverts you admire and try to emulate parts of their modus operandi. Keep what feels natural and ditch what doesn’t. Keep in mind that most of what’s new to you won’t feel natural the first time. Only practice will make social interactions run smoothly.

In the real world, we all put our feet in our mouths sometimes. Don’t let that get you down. Part of it may be a learning curve but some gaffes are just natural. Every one makes them, even the most dedicated extroverts.

I am still introverted. By this, I mean that I am happy and comfortable with my own company and fulfilled in the lonely task of writing. I think that trait becomes a writer. But I also enjoy interacting with the people I see every day, even making small talk, a chore I hated growing up. A brief conversation with an acquaintance can brighten my day and that’s the best reward for my changed behaviour.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Writing Under a Deadline

Earlier this month, I took on the challenge of writing a short story/ novella for an upcoming romance publisher’s call for submissions. The theme is Angels and Demons. The subgenre is erotic romance.

Oh, did I mention that I haven’t written about either angels or demons before? And that I’ve never written an erotic romance story?

Yes, sir, that’s why it’s a challenge.

Pre-writing 

Think. Plan. Schedule.

This may seem counter-intuitive. Time’s a-wasting and you should just do something that’s not writing! Please.

Taking these steps ahead of jumping into the writing may save a lot of time down the road. If you’re writing in a new area, for instance, as I am, it will be important to remind yourself of the criteria set out in this new genre. Without such reminders, you may find your writing veering off onto the tried-and-true tracks.

Thinking means brainstorming. Get a few ideas on the page and see how far you can plot them. If the idea peters out early, this may not be the one for you. Not in these circumstances, with a deadline looming. File the idea away for another, more leisurely day.

Planning means running with the idea you’ve chosen. Jot down the important plot points, character traits, interesting tidbits of dialogue that have tickled your fancy. You’re building a file on this piece and quickly. Throw nothing out. If you don’t use it, that’s fine.

Scheduling means blocking out some parts of your day and the days to come until the deadline for writing and revising. Don’t forget revising. That’s just as important a process.

Writing

Write. Don’t interrupt, edit or research. You can do that later.

You spent the time making a schedule for your writing. Stick as closely as you can to this schedule. Time’s ticking and you can’t afford to slack off.

When you have free time and if you are as anal about this stuff as I am, you might want to crank out the figures every once in a while during your writing journey. Say you’re aiming for 50 pages for a short story, divide up those pages by the available days you have left to accomplish your task. Make sure you hit that number each day or even exceed it.

Post-writing

Revise, revise, revise. You’ve given yourself time in your schedule for this very necessary part of the writing process (and you’ve also given yourself the permission to make a fast-and-dirty first draft) so make sure you use your revision time now.

If you are seriously running out of time before your deadline, try multitasking. Print your manuscript out and go over the story with a pen while you’re on your lunch or riding the train home. Send your story to someone who’s willing to look at it for you within a short timeline and give you some constructive criticism (ask first!).

Make the corrections and changes to your manuscript during a good block of time as a change in one portion of the story may necessitate minor edits throughout.

Keeping in mind your short timeline, you may not be able to rewrite the entire story but you can fix the glaring errors. This should be the stage at which the pre-writing planning pays off.

Read over the last draft of your manuscript before you send it out. Do this word by word, line by line. You’d be surprised at how many gaffes make it through spelling and grammar check.

Cross your fingers, attach that file, and hit send.

Good luck!

Photo courtesy of Suat Eman at freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Day on the Links - Poetry Edition

Yesterday, I wrote about some of my favourite classic poems.  I grew up with all of these and despite having been forced to dissect a few of them for my high school English classes, I love them all still.

Despite my love for them, I don't get around to re-reading my favourite classic poems very often.  So, in the hopes that we can all find the time to enjoy the classics, I am using today's links to share some great sites for poetry.

Enjoy -- and be inspired.

Famous Poets and Poems: If you haven't spent a lot of time reading poems outside of the classroom, this is a good website to start.  It features some of the famous names everyone's probably heard of, like Emily Dickinson and Maya Angelou, and lets you roam around sampling from lists like "Top 50 Poems" or by themes such as Relationship Poems or Death Poems.

Poets.org: I can't say enough about this website.  It's an omnibus site with poems, poet biographies, recordings, essays, articles and more.  Everyone you wanted to know about poetry and were afraid to ask!  This is the perfect place to go after you've read a poem that grabs you by the throat (or the heartstrings) and you want to know more about the poet or the theme the poet was writing on.

Classic Poem Daily: I like this idea that if you forget to get a poetry fix every once in a while, a classic poem still arrives in your mailbox every day for you to enjoy.  I tend to amass many such emails and then read them all at once but the pleasure is still heady even when you gorge on poems.  A good way to get a daily reminder to write and appreciate great writing.

Poems are examples of writing at its most feral and most pure.  Explore them as I continue to do.  They will inspire you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fav 5 - Classic Poems

Poetry can inspire or depress your feelings almost instantly.  In a dozen or so lines, some poems pack a wallop that most novelists spend several hundred pages chasing.

Poetry can also stir the creative juices by forcing you to think about your writing differently.  "Writing poetically" is never a criticism but often a piece of praise.

My favourite poems are those I grew up with, even those I studied in school.  In fact, one of my prized possessions is a book of narrative verse that my father and grandfather both owned.

So, I thought I would share some of my favourite classic poems with you, in the hopes that you can be inspired as much as I have been.

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

"Then look for me by moonlight,
   Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way
."

Young love and adventure, what more can you want as a teenaged girl?  Even though the poem ends tragically, it's the kind of tragedy you can hug to your heart and sigh over.  And seeing Anne Shirley recite this poem in the Anne of Green Gables movie just makes it even better.

She walks in beauty by Lord Byron

"She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies
"

Lovely, romantic stuff -- the kind that makes you want to believe in love forever.  It doesn't matter that the woman he wrote it about is long gone, Byron has made her live forever in this famous piece.

Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge Taylor

"By woman wailing for her demon lover".  That line gives me shivers every time.  And tell me that that's not great inspiration for an urban fantasy or supernatural romance.  These old school guys knew what they were writing about and their poems remind us of how immortal these themes can be.

The Tyger by William Blake

"What the hand, dare seize the fire?"  Fear, courage, evil, good.  All of the themes seem thrown into relief in this poem.  It has all the hallmarks of the "classic" poem that anyone can use as a starter into poetry in general - it's short, it rhymes and it encompasses these huge themes.  It also repays greater study and deeper questioning.  Truly, a wonderful poem.

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

"But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near
"

Brave and defiant, this poem reminds me always of youth and love and time passing.  Though the humour in it makes me smile, the final sentiment -- that time is fleeting for love and life -- always makes me tear up.  Beautiful.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Romance IRL – Find Your Family’s Romantic Roots

Last weekend was Father’s Day and occasions like that one always get me thinking about my relationships with my family members.

One thing that I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is that family is about connections. It’s based on continuity. As a kid, I loved hearing about my parents as children. Every story—about the big scar they still sport, their escapades with their siblings and friends, about the community they enjoyed which has since vanished—was repeated over and over for my young ears until I knew each by heart.

Why did I love these stories so much?

Well, a part of it was because my parents had moved far from their family members and we only visited once in a while so they were maintaining a link to their respective families by recreating those childhood memories.

Part of it was also to relate back to my own contemporary antics. Many of the stories became about me as I grew up and, by these stories entering into the family’s oral history, I was enfolded into the family. Recently at a wedding, an uncle I hadn’t seen in years reminded me of an old incident that brought a smile to everyone’s faces, reconnecting us in an instant through the shorthand of a story only we could relate to.

So what does this have to do with romance and writing romance novels?

My contribution to romance IRL (in real life) is this suggestion: write down your family’s oral history. Make those stories you hear every so often at weddings and reunions into a written record of births, loves, and marriages, which future generations can enjoy.

Ask questions that you’ve been too lazy or busy to ask. Ask about first loves. Maybe your grandmother’s first love wasn’t actually your grandfather! There could be a great story there. Filling in these interesting blanks could give you a whole new perspective on your loved ones.

The time to do it is now. Every year, precious family members are lost or incapacitated. Capture their memories in their own words.

You may just find out something new about that well-known commodity: your family. Best of all, you will be preserving those familiar family stories that you love for the future.

Photo courtesy of posterize at freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How to Deal with Rejection

Rejection sucks.  It means, somehow, in some way, you weren't good enough.  And after you've invested time and energy in trying to accomplish a task, failing is the worst possible result.

I should know.  Earlier this week, I received the first response back on those submissions I sent out during my vacation.  The trouble is that I had already prepared myself to look forward to responses at the end of the summer.  You see, I believed the publishers' guidelines.  I was, in effect, trying not to get my hopes up for an earlier response.  Such things as reviewing someone's precious work take time.

Imagine my disappointment when not only did I receive a rejection on one of my romance manuscripts but that I received it in record time.  Ouch.

So, how to deal?

I've looked at a few ways rejection can be turned on its head and used as a positive instead of a negative.  Kinda hokey, I know, but what's the alternative?  Curl into a ball and let a few rejection slips stop me from pursuing my dreams?  No way!

Growth:

Rejection is how you evolve as a person.  Think back.  Did you get up and start running right after you took your first step?  Come to think of it, did you take your first step the very first time you tried?  No.  You wobbled and stumbled and fell down.  A lot.  Sometimes you fell hard enough to hurt, to even make you cry.  But you kept at it and you learned.  That's growth.  Personal, intimate, and often an involuntary part of life.

Take the rejection slip as a chance to grow within yourself.  The first rejection hurts bad.  It takes a long time to get over it.  The second one hurts almost as bad and it takes almost as long to recover.  The third is a little better.  And the fourth.  Soon, you will be taking each rejection in stride.  That day will come.  Trust me.

Opportunity:

Your writing is a process, not an endgame.  Every time you write a new manuscript, you learn a little from the old ones.  So too will you learn from what manuscripts get rejected, especially when the rejection letter is accompanied by some feedback.

A rejection letter with feedback is a learning opportunity.  These are people in the romance publishing industry who have taken the time to tell you what they think of your work.  Take this to heart and rejoice in the fact that you merited their attention, even for a brief moment.

But even without concrete advice or feedback, a rejection letter can be an opportunity to improve your writing.  If you've sent out a single manuscript to every romance publisher on your list and each one has come back with a form rejection letter, then take this as a sign that you should be moving on from this piece.  Start another manuscript.  Have a trusted friend or another writer review the rejected manuscript for feedback.  Take the criticism and see if you can improve your much-maligned piece or simply incorporate the advice into your new works.

Motivation:

"How dare so-and-so publisher reject my work?  I'll show them!"

Sometimes anger or frustration can be a good motivator, as long as you focus your attention on continuing to improve and submit your work and not on "getting back" at the publisher who rejected you.

Use your desire to show the publisher who rejected you that you can still succeed.  If you still have other potential target publishers on your research list, send out that manuscript again.  Improve what you can before you do so.  Take another read over the manuscript.  Revise your query letter and have someone you trust and admire look at it for you.

Keep trying to publish your work.  Rejection leads to acceptance and even success.  But remember: you can't be either accepted or rejected unless you submit your writing.

Photo courtesy of graur codrin at freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Faking It, or How to Write under a Pseudonym

I, Nan Comargue, write sweet or semi-sweet (bittersweet?) romance novels. Recently, however, I’ve been reading and dabbling in writing erotic romances. In fact, I currently have a manuscript for an erotic romance call for submission on the go and I am dead set on finishing it in time for the July 1st deadline.

The problem is, when someone sees the name Nan Comargue (or will see it in the future, when my books are someday accepted for publication), they will know me as a sweet/ semi-sweet romance writer. They will not be expecting hot and explosive erotic romance, which I also want to publish. For one thing, I don’t want to offend any of my mythical sweet romance readers but I also don’t want to “trick” an erotic romance reader into buying a sweet story.

So what to do?

The answer I’ve come up with is a pseudonym.

But…but…but…is this a valid case for creating and stepping into a whole new identity?

Well, let’s look at some of the reasons writers use pseudonyms.

Privacy:
You teach schoolchildren or preside over traffic court in your day job. You may not, for obvious reasons, want the parent of a child you teach or an offender who comes before you to know your innermost sexual desires…because, to some extent, that’s what romance writing conveys. It may just be a wicked fantasy in your mind but someone, somewhere, will think this is what you do outside of your work.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  But you may not want your erotic writing to be the first thing someone thinks of when they see you in your day job.

In another scenario, your name may identify your ethnic or religious origins, which you may have reason not to publicize.

In both cases, a pseudonym can help for you to eliminate the risk of notoriety.

Avoid confusion:
Your name may be very common or extremely unusual. In the first case, you may not want to be confused with that famous singer because no one who searches your real name on the internet will ever find your romance novels. In the latter instance, you may want to protect your privacy (see above) or that of your family and make it easier on a potential reader to spell or pronounce your name.

Another instance of confusion, which applies to me, is not knowing what you’re marketing. No reader wants to spend time scratching their heads wondering if they’re buying a sweet or erotic romance. According to the trusty internet, writing in multiple genres (or, in my case, subgenres) can be a valid reason to come up with a pseudonym. Yay!

Volume:
You write too many books and don’t want your readers to think you churn them out by rote (thus leading to the assumption that they can't be of very good quality). Multiple pseudonyms can hide this fact.

You’re Two People:
Collaborators can sometimes find it easier to write under a single name. Let’s face it, the vast majority of authors are a single individual, so you may not want to stand out with your cover page being littered with multiple names. Or, as well, one or more of the collaborators may wish to obscure their identities for one of the reasons mentioned above.

There are probably as many reasons for having pseudonyms as there are pseudonymous authors out there. At the end of the day, you have to feel comfortable with your decision. Think about it carefully, it may affect your writing career for many years down the road.

As for me, I’m still thinking it over. I’ll let you know what I decide.

Photo courtesy of m_bartosch at freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing Sexual Tension: The Devil in the Details

Sexual tension starts from the very beginning of a romance novel and builds steadily to a crescendo.  This culmination of tensions (i.e. sex) can happen near the beginning of the novel, as with erotic or steamy romances, or in the middle or end for "normal" heat levels, or not at all.

I'm not talking about the "not at all" category here.  I'm talking hot and steamy.  Sex on the page, in vivid detail or, in the case of erotic romances, sometimes graphic particulars.  The point is that we get to see the details in these types of romances.  That's what makes the ultimate sex scenes hot.  But it also adds to the build up.

Hypersensitivity

From the beginning of a good romance novel, the hero and heroine are focused on each other.  They may not like each other--in fact, they may even hate each other at their first encounter--but they are never indifferent.  This awareness appears on the page in a hypersensitivity to each other.  Tiny aspects of each others' looks or behaviours that the hero and heroine will completely ignore in the minor characters will be noted in each other and even take on an exaggerated importance.

For instance, we often read about the shifting sparks or lights in the heroine's gaze or the muscles working in the hero's jaw.  We don't notice such details in real life, not unless we are in love with someone.  And then we notice every little thing about our beloved.

So too does it have to be with the hero and heroine's attentions to each other.  They are going to fall in love at some point, whether they know it or not.  More importantly, the reader will have to fall in love with them and that's where such attention to detail pays off.

Intense responses

Just as the main characters notice every detail about each other, they are unusually affected by one another.  A slight movement of an eyebrow can send one or the other of them into paroxysms of guilt or ecstasy, just as a small accident touch can cause shivers and shudders.

The intense response is key to the characters fixating on each other.  Again, they may not know what they're feeling but the reader is going to anticipate the next step: sex.  And when it happens, because these are romance novels, we need to know that the sexual encounter didn't arise out of nowhere but was based on pre-existing and inevitable signs.

Sex on the page

When we finally get the main characters into the bedroom, the tactics used above should be employed here as well.  The characters are both overly sensitive to each other and feel intensely when touched by the other.  The key is to use these techniques without self-parody.

The characters don't just magically doff their clothes.  The faint contact of skin-on-skin while undressing is treated with fine attention to detail.  This is part of the seduction.  If a sex scene was simply about genitalia then we wouldn't be writing romances, we'd be writing pornography.

Physical intimacy is also importantly about how the characters are feeling.  Each physical action that moves the sex scene forward should be accompanied by the emotional reprecussions for the characters.  Reactions can say more than words here.  The heroine may not have declared her love for the hero as of yet but her responses to him can make her feelings clear.  By using these details, you can create a whole picture of fulfilling sexual passion.

Photo courtesy of Carlos Porto at freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

Is there any worse feeling than coming back to work after a long and enjoyable weekend? And is there any better feeling than having spent that weekend eating good food, spending time with family, and productively writing? My answer is “no”, on both counts.

This past weekend, I spent most of my free time engaging in that most pleasurable of activities…creative writing. I am in the middle of a short story/ novella for a call for submissions by a romance publisher. Unfortunately, when I noted down the deadline for this call for submissions, I gave myself two extra weeks, so a few weeks ago I realized the real deadline—which is the first day of July—and I set to work with a much reduced work schedule ahead of me. A daunting task.

On the good side, I started out writing my erotic romance story with considerable momentum and already had several thousand words written. Over this past weekend, I added another five thousand or so words (10 pages on Saturday and 5 pages on Sunday).

I’m now more than halfway through my story (8,500 words completed, with a guideline of 15,000 to 20,000 words to work with). I am psyched! And most of all, even with the tight deadline, I’m wholeheartedly enjoying the writing process. Maybe it’s the new subgenre or the theme of the submission itself: Angels and Demons. Who doesn’t like a great topic like that to write about?

My plan for the next few weeks is as follows: This week (including the weekend), I intend to finish my first draft. I will be editing, revising and polishing next week. The deadline is July 1st, which is a national holiday (Canada Day). I intend to have my story traveling through cyberspace on that morning. Happy Canada Day to me!

Photo courtesy of luigi diamanti at freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Day on the Links: Free Romance Reads Edition

Who doesn't like free books?  Well, publishers of romance novels certainly know what their readers like and that's a taste of what they sell every day.  So why not benefit from the freebies?  They can allow you to sample writers or even romance subgenres that you wouldn't ordinarily purchase.  And that's what the publishers are banking on.

So before you dive in, dip your toes a little in the water.  It feels good.

Check out free romance titles from these publishers:

Harlequin has free online reads that are updated periodically with new content.  Plus you can get videos and podcasts too!

HarperCollins Browse Inside feature allows you to sample significant portions of bestselling and other books before you purchase.  A great option to get you hooked quickly (or allow you discard a possible romance title instead of purchasing the real deal).

Ellora's Cave offers free short stories for from some of their most popular authors.  The heat level is on the higher end so be warned!  Ha, that probably just got you clicking a little faster, didn't it?

These are just a sampling of the offerings available from romance publishers who are trying to woo the large market of romance readers to their own particular titles and authors.  Take advantage of the offers and browse to your heart's content...all without spending a dime.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day Jobs for Writers

I'm not Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.  Sadly, I haven't even published a book.  But another huge difference between myself and the two authors I mentioned is that they can support themselves off of their writing (Rowling's story is particularly transformative) while most writers cannot.

The hard truth is that most writers who publish and even make money off of their writing do it out of sheer love of the creative craft.  The anecdotal evidence is that they don't make enough money to support themselves.  Very very few rise to the status of the Kings and the Rowlings to make fortunes from writing.

Recently, I found a funny link on Lewis Lapham's Lapham Quarterly website about writers in the past and their day jobs.  The range of their salaries, adjusted to modern dollars, is from $1,828(!) to $50,000 per year.  Poor Charlotte Bronte.  But even more profound is how many of these jobs were uncreative clerical or government jobs.  Hardly the stuff of imagination, you would think.  Yet these individuals, working at their modest jobs, created The Waste Land and Jane Eyre.  Perhaps the tedium of work enhances the fantasies building within the worker's minds.  We've all experienced how performing a repetitive task can sometimes set your mind free to wander and come up with ideas.

But, in the end, they probably didn't show up at their jobs every day because they wanted a chance to ponder over plots while filing papers.  They did it because they liked to eat.  And stay out of the rain.  And sleep in a warm bed.  All necessary parts of life.  But, to a writer, so too is writing.

So how do we balance the two?

I previously posted a series on how to balance your writing and your day job.  These tips can help you to make most of your time both during breaks at work, during your commute, and at home.  True, work gets in the way of writing but it shouldn't put an end to it.  Perish the thought.

And when you get down about juggling the two: remember that some of the greatest poets and authors in history have held down day jobs and still managed to create everlasting masterpieces.  So, look out, Stephen King!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Finding Your Inspiration – Take a Trip

“Had we but world enough, and time” – Andrew Marvell

Writing takes time. It takes time to think up of ideas, to mull them over in your head, to put them down on page, to revise and edit and revise.

We tend to look upon the first few steps in the creative process as time sinks. Unless I am actually sitting down in front of the computer, hammering away at the keyboard, I am not writing, right? Wrong.

An important part of the creative process is the concept, the inspirational spark, the kernel of an idea. But how are we to find ideas for our writing and the motivation to write when we clomp every day from home to work (or school) to grocery store or shopping mall and back again, with the occasional forays to the dentist’s office or the hair salon?

Yes, we need to find our creativity everywhere and anywhere. But how can that be easy when we stare at the same gray roads and beige walls day in and day out?

A change of scenery may be called for to get your creative juices flowing again. Aside from giving you the ideas you need to spin out another story or write another poem, a voyage may also offer you the quiet time you need (in the hotel, train, plane, what have you) to actually get down to the writing.

The benefits of taking a trip or vacation are obvious. You see somewhere new and perhaps experience a different culture, you get some sun (or snow, if that’s your preference), you’re more active or more relaxed, you minimize distractions from your job or other commitments, you have fun.

But try thinking about your trip from a creative standpoint. Even if you think or do nothing related to your writing while you’re away, you can come back feeling energized and motivated. Use that energy and motivation towards your writing.

That being said, it would be a sad trip if you haven’t seen or experienced something out of the ordinary, something you wouldn’t get to in the usual course of your home or work day. You can use your trip locale, the people you meet, the sights you see, the emotions you experience, in your next piece of writing to lend it authenticity.

Use your trip to stretch your creative muscles
. You might even want to write a travel piece about the place you visited. Or a humourous story about an encounter with a fellow passenger on the plane. Try writing a piece you wouldn’t ordinarily write, in a different style or genre, using your trip as a backdrop.

A trip or vacation doesn’t have to be an all-inclusive romp on a beachfront resort. And it certainly doesn’t have to cost as much. An inspirational trip can be a cheap weekend at an off-season hotel in your area or a day trip to a quaint little village an hour out of the city.

Take a tour of your own backyard – a part of your town you’ve never explored before. Most larger cities have a Chinatown, a Little India and a Greektown. Find out what they have to offer. Stroll along the streets and have lunch in a hole-in-the-wall the locals frequent. Your writing will thank you for it.

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Write More – Keep a Tidy Office

You’ve heard the saying a hundred times: “tidy desk, tidy mind”. It makes sense in terms of outward appearances. Yes, your coworkers and, gasp, boss are more inclined to find you productive and efficient based on the state of your desk or office space. Stereotypical? Probably. We’ve all seen chaotic workplaces that are inhabited by efficient and effective employees but that, according to the stereotype, is the exception rather than the rule.

Closer to home, I operate better with a clean workspace—both at my day job and at home. You might even say that I’m anal about it. My coffee mug must have a paper towel or a coaster beneath it (although the rings on my wood desk suggest that I have occasionally been remiss). My keyboard and screen have to be properly aligned. The space unoccupied by a necessary piece of electronic equipment must be clear (except for the coffee mug). No, I repeat NO, eating in the study.

Okay, so I am anal. But I’m also productive. Sitting at a clean desk without any distractions in front of me have lead to the creative of dozens of novel manuscripts and three times that many short stories. Now, to just find a publisher for these babies…but that’s another story.

Here are my tips for keeping a tidy desk or office.

Don’t store anything on your workspace: Your desk is for working or writing. Don’t keep boxes or piles of papers on it. Don’t stack your file folders of research on it, except for the research you need for the project at hand. Store what you’re not working on in the desk drawer or filing cabinet. Opening the drawer or getting up out of your seat will be a mental break between tasks.

Keep only what you need in front of you: What you’re working on at the moment takes precedence over everything else. Keep those files or papers out on your desk for ease of reference. If you have to get up more than once to retrieve an item you need for your current work project, you’re more likely to be distracted. This habit also eliminates the chances of misplacing or misfiling a document.

Don’t print!: Much of what we do at work or at home is completed on computer yet the paper seems to still abound. So much of what we print isn’t the “final” product but a draft. With more than one printed draft in hand, it can be difficult to know which is the latest and which we’ve already looked over. Decrease the chances of re-doing your revisions by printing only what is necessary and shredding what is no longer needed. Before you print: try asking yourself if you need a hard copy of the document at that moment. If not, don’t print it.

Take a minute: At the end of the day or the end of a project, take a minute or two to re-file your work and tidy up your desk. Make it a habit to leave your desk clear at the end of the day. So much the better to start the next day off!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Making the (Tentative) Move from Sweet to Erotic Romance

Let it never be said that I won’t try something new…once.

For the past decade, I’ve been writing (but not publishing) romance novels. I’ve written about a dozen contemporaries and a half dozen historicals. The level of heat in all of these has consistently ranged from sweet to average/ normal. I have never ventured out into the realm of hot or erotic. Until now.

Recently, I saw a call for submissions for Total-E-Bound publishing. But before that, I went onto their website and browsed through the titles there. Let me just say, wow! Hot stuff. So I was already intrigued with the area. I’ll be honest: erotic romance has never been my preferred reading choice, which is probably why I haven’t attempted writing any. But after looking through the titles, excerpts and free stories offered by several of the erotic romance publishers, I was hooked. “Total-e” enthralled, you might say.

So, two weeks ago, I set out to write a story, between 15,000 and 20,000 words long, about angels. Hot, sexy, angels. I have (had) a month and a half to complete it. What could possibly go wrong?

All I had to tell myself was “think sexy thoughts”. Instead of leaving the more graphic parts of the sex scenes up to the imagination, I would now have to spell them out. Using the kind of language my mother would never approve of. Yay!

Well, I am pleased to report that my first few pages of writing went well. I brainstormed my story in a morning and I wrote the first three pages of it that same afternoon. Only 57 pages left to go.

Unfortunately, I started the story on the last day of my vacation so the next week was hectic. But, sure enough, another weekend came upon us and I spent another Sunday writing blasphemous activities for angels (and demons). I started out aiming for five pages that day. I was not, as you can see, doing the math. I had a little over one month to complete my story and I was supposed to be writing about 14 pages a week. I was nowhere near that.

But…on that lazy Sunday, I managed to write a whopping nine pages. Better yet, the words flowed well and the story fleshed itself out. And, I am pleased to report, it was HOT!

Now, of course, I am facing another 48 pages. I’m not worried. If the first 12 pages were any indication, I am loving writing erotic romances. Bring it on!

Photo courtesy of luigi diamanti at freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fav 5 - Romantic Heroes from Literature

Before I ever opened a romance novel, I fell in love with those classic romantic men penned by such women as Emily Bronte and Baroness Orczy.  After I started reading romances, I saw many similarities between those incredible men and the ones who graced the pages of my contemporary novels.

But seriously, who can compete with the classics?  That's why we loved them so much as young people and why we still love them.

So, without further adieu, here are my favourite romance heroes from classic literature.  Enjoy.

The Scarlet Pimpernel:
Okay, I won't give his identity away in case you haven't read the book yet but let's just say that this British aristocrat masquerading as a hero to the French elite during the Terror is a man for all occasions--and a great actor.  He's brave, dashing and captures the heart of every young women in England as he performs his daring deeds.  But his heart belongs to one woman alone.  Sigh.

Prince Andrei:
If you've struggled through War and Peace more than once then it might be because of this Russian prince, an intellectual widower who still kicks butt on the battlefield and wins the heart of the young heroine Natasha.  What is amazing about Tolstoy's character is that we first see the Prince at his worst, suffering in a loveless marriage, and later come to love him as his inner strength and beauty is revealed.  Truly, a great man.

Rhett Butler:
He's a jerk, I know, but you fall for him right from the start--after you finish gasping with indignation.  Poor Scarlett.  She never stood a chance.  Rhett had both the brains and wiles to survive in high style during a disastrous war (for his side) and he soon gains what is often essential for a romantic hero: power and position.  And he uses it to woo his woman.  While their relationship is fiery and tempestuous, Rhett holds his own against our girl and when he walks out at the end, we all know that they will somehow end up together again.

Romeo:
Come on, dying for love?  Is there anything better than that?

Heathcliff:
Oh wait, how about living in spite of your loved one's death?  Going around cursing the gods and your beloved to walk the earth until you can meet her in death?  Yes, that's Heathcliff.  Uncivilized, untamed, and wildly attractive.  He drives himself--and everyone around him--mad out of love.  And when his love turns into hatred for almost everything else in the world, we ache even more for him.  I cry every time he gives his speech, begging Cathy to haunt him.  Oh no, here I go again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Quick and Dirty, or How I Like My First Drafts

I have a problem: I strive for perfection. In many areas of my life, including my day job, this is a good trait. My employer, not to mention my colleagues, appreciates well-researched, grammatically correct and error-free documents. But family, not so much. They could care less if the grocery list reads “potatos” or “veg”. It gets the job done.

So, in some ways, it all depends on the context. Sometimes we need to be perfect or as close to it as we can get. Other times, we just need to get the job done. Perfection can come afterwards (or, in the case of the grocery list, not at all).

What’s that got to do with fiction writing, you say? Everything.

When I write a story, I start out with a first page that I read and re-read perhaps a thousand times by the time I have completed the manuscript. That’s because every time I open up that file, I see that first line, that first paragraph, that first page, and I can’t resist titivating with it a little. Take out a word. Add a semi-colon. Before you know it, I have a perfect first page. But such initial perfection can often come at the cost of the whole.

There have been times when I’ve spent so much effort and energy on that first page that I’ve neglected to finish the story at all. Oops. By the time I got around to the last page, where I left off last time I was actually writing and not just adjusting the first sentence, the story has grown stale. I no longer care about the characters or plot I was so excited to put down on paper just a few days or weeks ago.

That’s because I wanted to the first draft to be perfect. Yet that’s not the job of a first draft.

A first draft is meant to put the skeleton of a story into black and white. No more, no less.

The flesh and blood of the story comes later during the process of editing and revising and, yes, rewriting. It is because of the desire to save ourselves this draining and occasionally tedious part of the process that we concentrate on creating a perfect first draft. But there is no short cut to perfection. Perfection comes with revision and rewriting. Period.

Don’t spend time polishing the bones of your skeleton. Write that first draft quick and dirty. Get it all on the page. Finish your story.

You can add detail and characterization in the second draft. You can correct plot points and inconsistencies in the third draft. Breathe life into your story bit by bit, with a careful hand on the bellows, and it will live forever.

Photo courtesy of luigi diamanti at freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Day on the Links: Writing Prompts Edition

Let's face it: everyone gets stuck sometimes with their writing.  Maybe you're having a bad day at work and the last thing you want to do when you get home (on top of the chores and family obligations) is sit down in front of a computer and work on your novel.  Because, at those times, it's work, just like anything you do at your day job.

Other times, you've got the time and the energy but you find yourself floundering for ideas or unsure of where to start with the idea you've been wanting to write.  You freeze.  You panic.  If you sit in front of the blank computer screen any longer, you'll go crazy.

Relax.

I subscribe to the belief that a little creative writing goes a long way.  Even if you've got a few minutes only or you're stuck in front of a blank page, you can write something.  Here are some writing prompt links that will get some words on that page.

Writing Prompts: Writer's Digest is the only writing magazine a subscribe to and I have been a subscriber for many years.  It has something for everyone, including writing prompts every month in their print magazine.  But if you're stuck for quick inspiration right now, check out their paragraph-long writing prompts which ask for a short response (750 words or less).  Not a ton of writing, by any means.  And it gets that stupid cursor to stop blinking at you. (From Writer's Digest website)

Prompt Generator: Who doesn't like pushing a button?  Especially when it says "random" on it.  This is a fun and easy prompt generator from an American school district that's aimed at school children but can work for anyone who is a child at heart.  Prompts can be as simple as asking you to write about a past event in your life to writing a story about taking a shortcut through a cemetery.  They may not add up to great literary writing but once you've created a paragraph or two, you may find it easy to switch to one of your manuscripts and add a page there as well.

Random Logline Generator:  Stuck for an idea for your next story?  Try one of these pre-made taglines (or loglines, as the site calls them).  Write a short short story (under 250 words) for one of the topics suggested.  Just remember that if you get it published, the website's author requests that you give him a shout out.  Some are just plain funny while others have some real potential.  So click away.

Bonus link:

Random Romance Novel Title Generator: Okay, so romance novel titles are pretty funny.  This site will give you a bunch of titles to play around with.  Try writing the hook to the story suggested by the title, or just a few opening lines.  Let your imagination run wild!  If nothing else, the titles suggested will give you a giggle.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Following up on your Query Letter (Without Nagging)

Right now I'm in the exciting and nerve wracking position of having a half dozen queries and manuscript submissions out there in the cold hard world.  I sent the oldest of these out about a month and a half ago.  So, the question becomes, when do I start worrying about getting a response to this manuscript query?  In other words, when do I start panicking?

The Waiting Game

Most publishers or literary agents state right in their submission guidelines when you should expect a response...if you are successful.  If you're not successful, the assumption is that you pick a date in the future, after the estimated timeline they've suggested, to haul out your pending submissions spreadsheet, put a strike through their name, and sob into your keyboard.

But, wait a second, is this always the case?

Some publishers or agents will tell you that you should re-query or inquire about your submission if you haven't received a response within a certain time.  DO IT.  You shouldn't delay on following up with a submission.  The longer you wait, the harder it will be.  Don't procrastinate on this.

Even if the submission guidelines don't specifically tell you to follow up on a query that falls outside of their estimated timeline for a response, you can still follow up if that time has expired.  Be polite in your second letter.  Don't point fingers or try to guilt them.  The timelines set out in submission guidelines are just an estimate.  As with any estimate, it may be off the mark in your particular case.  Don't freak out.

Don't Call Me, I'll Call You

Just because an agent or editor lists a phone number on their website (or you've managed to track it down through internet stalking) doesn't mean you have permission to use it.

Don't pick up the phone and reach out to someone just because you're upset that their review of your query has taken longer than expected.  Everyone is busy and publishers or agents more so.

Follow Up in Writing

I would suggest you send a polite professional letter in the same tone as your original query.  Mention that you sent your query on such-and-such date and that you are inquiring as to the status of it.  You can then include the information in your original query for ease of reference.  Hey, I'm all about ease of reference.

Rather than have to search through their entire inbox for your original email, it may make the publisher or agent's life easier if you just reproduce the information you first sent.  They will appreciate the thoughtfulness.

And yes, that means including the blurb, the biography, the whole shebang.  Just copy and paste the original query text below your first paragraph.  You can even mention that you're doing this for their ease of reference.

So, what now?

Your query may still be in a long queue, waiting for someone to look at it, but you may find out what the new estimated timelines are for a response.  Make a note of it and send out a third query at the end of that time.

Or the response may simply be "oh, we forgot to tell you, your writing sucked and we sent the original query into space to save the world from it".  Oh well, at least you know.  But seriously, move on to the next publisher or agent on your list.  Send out a new query.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  But always repeat.

Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, June 10, 2011

Finding Your Inspiration – Write a Poem

Got you, didn’t I? I’ll bet you expected me to trumpet reading poetry as a source of creative inspiration. I can (and do) but today I’m not going to; instead, I’m going to suggest that you write a poem. Even better, right?

Before you think you’ve traveled back in time and landed in Ms. Miller’s Grade 9 English class, stop and think about this for a minute.

If you write creatively, you may be writing exclusively short stories and novels. In fact, you may not have even attempted to write a piece of poetry since Ms. Miller’s class (okay, so Ms. Miller was one of my English teachers, but you can feel free to substitute the name of one of yours). That doesn’t mean you don’t make use of poetic turns of phrases but writing a poem is an act in and of itself. It’s a discrete activity, only distantly related to writing prose.

Try it. Pick up a pen and pull out a piece of paper. I would recommend these exact objects, not just for the tactile stimulation but because you may spend most of your days in front of the computer screen and need a distinct process to mark this distinct action. You aren’t just putting the final touches onto your next chapter. You are WRITING A POEM.

So what do you write about?

Anything. I mean it, really. Ms. Miller would have assigned you a piece about nature or love. Those are fine topics. But you can write a poem about zombies if you want, or sitting in a cubicle, or the creative process itself.

None of Ms. Miller’s rules apply this time. And no one is going to assign you a mark at the end. To rhyme or not to rhyme, that’s up to you.

Write a couplet about your cat. It will get you thinking about a creature you see every day in a new way. It will get you to think about language, and the image you are creating on the page.

Writing a poem will get your creative juices flowing and put your muse through a new set of exercises. And isn’t that the whole point?

Photo courtesy of Pixomar at freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Partial (or Full) Ecstasy!

Today, I received my first request for a full manuscript, after having submitted a half dozen partials over the weekend to various romance publishers.  I am thrilled!  And only this morning, I posted an article about having spent much of my two-week annual vacation time researching publishers and sending out submissions.

All of my hard work is starting to pay off!

I know, I know, a request for a full manuscript is in no way a guarantee that the full manuscript will pass muster, be accepted for publication or eventually make its way to any of the scores of voracious romance novel readers out there.  Yes, I realize that none of these things may happen for this manuscript or even for me.  But I still can't help but see this as the possible first step on the road to my dreams.



This is a milestone in my quest to reach my writing goals, both short term and long term, and that is very exciting!

I have promised myself that I will savour these small victories and, right now, this seems like a pretty big victory to me.

So, no matter what happens with this or any other submission I have put out into the world, I will remember this feeling and hug it close.  I may need it.

Stay tuned...

Photo courtesy of pakorn at freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Submissions, Submissions, Submissions

Just having come off of two weeks of vacation, I can honestly tell you that I used my time off to its maximum.  I was able to write a few dozen pages of fiction, edit several of my drafts, and, most importantly, send off a half dozen of my completed manuscripts to romance publishers.

How did I accomplish so much?  Well, I was able to follow some of the rules I established for myself to balance my work life and my writing.

But I also set a game plan to send out my manuscripts, a task which was long overdue as I completed editing the last of these over a year ago.  Why did it take so long?  I could go into the usual song-and-dance about fear of failure/ fear of success but I can narrow it down to one culprit: inertia.  It was easier to keep on writing and writing and writing, and even editing, while never taking that final step of sending my completed work out into the world to find success (or failure) as it might.

So, I decided to use part of my vacation time this year to conquer that inertia.  Here is my game plan:

  1. Research:  Check out a list of romance publishers and make sure that your manuscript fits into the type of submissions that publisher accepts.  There's no point in sending out a steamy erotic romance to a publisher that only accepts sweet inspirational stories.  Also pay attention to themes being sought, manuscript lengths, etc.  If your manuscript doesn't fit the criteria set out in the submission guidelines, find another publisher.  If you can't find any publisher that seems to be seeking your type of romance novel, you start thinking about cutting it down or changing it.
  2. Formatting:  Publishers usually want a romance manuscript that fits specific parameters.  Why?  Because it's easier to read.  But even if your potential target publisher wants 3" margins and Old English font, do it.  Yours is not to reason why.  Just make sure you save your newly formatted manuscript in a separate computer file.  You may need to go back to the original format in the future.
  3. Query:  By now, you probably have the bare bones of a query letter created.  You will have to spend some time now customizing your query letter to fit the format set out in your potential publisher's website.  They may specify, for instance, that your query letter should cover: the
  4. Attach: Make sure you include in your email (or snail mail submission, if that floats your boat) the attachments the publisher requests.  That may be an entire manuscript or just three chapters.  Don't forget your synopsis.  And don't send attachments at all if the publisher doesn't accept them.
  5. Send.  Push the button.  You know you want to.
None of these steps took a short time.  That's why I worked on the process during my entire vacation, spending a few days researching, another formatting and drafting query letters and attachments, and finally, during the last two days of my vacation, I was able to send out my six manuscript submissions.  Yay!

Trust me, that final step is easy once you've covered off all of the previous ones.

Good luck with your submissions!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sex and Chocolate

Food and sex are often paired together.  Not surprisingly, since they both fulfill a primal urge.  But in romance novels, we don't often read about what the heroine is eating for breakfast or whether the hero is trying to start eating more healthily.

I've often heard some good advice about writing, which is that every major scene should satisfy every sense.  Touch, smell, sight, sound and taste.  Yet we so seldom get around to taste.  The salty tang of sweaty flesh.  Dark rich chocolate dribbled over...  No, sorry, I meant food.

In my own romance manuscripts, dramatic moments can take place in restaurants or parties where I try to describe a dish to demonstrate both the atmosphere of the restaurant -- seared ahi tuna conjures up linen napkins versus barbecue chicken wings, which screams brightly coloured paper ones -- and sets the tone for the characters.  A meat-and-potatoes man may be a wholesome cowboy while a rare steak and asparagus with hollandaise sauce gentleman might be a top notch businessman.

For my heroines, the decisions are a little trickier.  No heroine wants to diet on the page, so that means no salads as main courses or skipping out on dessert.  Mmm...dessert.

Nothing can ratchet up the tension growing between the main characters more than a sinfully decadent final course.  Chocolate.  Cherries.  Whipped cream.  They all evoke sensuality.  And they're all precursors for a night of passionate lovemaking.

So try bringing that fifth sense into your writing.  Salty, sweet, bitter or sour, our sense of taste should also be exercised while we read a toothsome romance novel, even if it's only to make us drool.  And beware the hero or heroine who declines dessert.  We won't be having them over for dinner again.

Photo courtesy of savit keawtavee at freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, June 06, 2011

Finding Your Inspiration – Read a Book…Any Book!

I didn’t decide to write fiction one day, right out of the blue. I fell in love with reading first. As with almost any creative profession, I was a fan before I became an aspiring player.

As a child, no one taught me to read. I learned to read by being read to and recognizing words, and later letters, on my own. I was fortunate. My parents read all of the time and they read to me as well, so my love affair began very young.

How do books inspire me?

Well, as I discussed before, they can lead you down a particular path that wasn’t where you expected to go. Sometimes, they leave you wanting more (or just something different). It took me some time to realize that I could right that “something more”. In this, I don’t mean writing the next sequel to Gone with the Wind, but a new and original story that goes in the direction you wanted the book you just read to go.

Maybe you wanted the saucy heroine in the book you just read to end up with the rogue rather than the gentleman. So why not create your own romance novel with that ending? The heroine might be rebellious rather than pert and the hero might be a highwayman rather than a pirate, but you take my point.

A good book can be a jumping off point for your own writing. Go on, take the plunge.

A book might not need you to “improve” on it. It might be a wholly satisfying read in every way. So why not try to write your own satisfying read? You might want to emulate (but NOT copy) the writer’s style, use of language, or imagery. You might not want to do any of that. You might just want to evoke the same satisfaction in your own work as you just experience. Whatever the motivation, a good book will stimulate you, even by just showing you how it can be done and what it looks like when it’s done right.

So, what about bad books? What about those books that you want to hurl across the room in a fit of disgust? How do you possibly find inspiration from those books?

Like my tip about good books, a bad book can provide a starting point for your own inspiration – in this case, to write the book how you think it should have been written.

Maybe the book you read dealt with a terminally ill family member who just couldn’t inspire sympathy, even though you know the writer wanted the character to do just that. Why don’t you write about a heroine whose parent went through a noble struggle with illness and who finally succumbed with dignity? The experience may have forever touched the heroine yet also lead to her insecurity about losing a loved one.

Sometimes, a piece misses the mark so widely that you just ache to correct it. Don’t rewrite the piece yourself (or else you might be facing a plagiarism allegation) but use the story to inspire your own work.

Good or bad, reading leads to writing. It’s a natural progression.

Photo courtesy of Felixco, Inc. at freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Day on the Links: Submissions Edition

So, you want to get published?

If you're like me, you have no idea about where to start shopping around your finished (and presumably polished) romance manuscript.  Many of the larger publishing houses want agented submissions, meaning you first have to snag a literary agent before you can even think of trying to sell your book to them.

How do you know which publishers will take romance, or unagented submissions, or unsolicited queries and manuscripts?

The good news is that you don't have to spend days on Google compiling this information.  Someone has already done it for you (and very well, I might add).  So, please see below for a couple of my recommendations for romance publisher compilations.  And, of course, a link to a great article by Brenda Hiatt called Show Me The Money!  Hint: it's about how much each publisher she's following pays out, on average, gathered from actual authors' information.  A truly amazing resource.

I hope you enjoy...A Day on the Links.

Romance Publishers: Karen Fox is a romance author with a good website (it's purple!) filled with links and other writing information.  She maintains a list of current romance publishers that is regularly updated (the last update was just over a month ago as I write this).  Her list links both to the publishers website and their submission guidelines.  (From Karen Fox website)

Romance Publishers: The Passionate Pen was actually created to list romance publishers and their guidelines so who could do it any better?  They separate their publishers into categories such as Large Publishers (warning: many of these want agented submissions only), Small Press, E-Publishers, Large Print/ Library and Christian presses.  A well-organized and thorough resource.  (From The Passionate Pen website)

Show Me the Money!: Brenda Hiatt is a romance writer...I've read some of her books and they're good.  For the last decade, she's been using information gleaned from actual romance authors to compile a list of how much various romance publishers advance, offer as royalties and usually pay out.  It's an amazing resource and a great wake up call for anyone expecting to make millions, very quickly, writing romance novels.  (From Brenda Hiatt website)

Good luck with your submissions!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

My Writing Goals

How do you know if you get off track if you don’t know where you’re going?

I’ve written about the need to have your writing goals defined so that you can both create a plan to achieve them and then set about implementing that plan. But what about my goals?

My writing goals have evolved over time from my first adolescent aspiration to become the female Stephen King – okay, stop giggling – to more recent (and sedate) dreams of publishing my stories and perhaps, one day, a novel.

These are my goals. Hold your laughter, please.

Short term goals

Most of my short term goals are simple enough: write a really good manuscript, find a literary agent willing to take a chance on my work, publish a few stories in a respected literary journal. Hopefully, within the next two or three years. That is all.

The problem is that some of these goals are more recognizable than others. For instance, I will know when a journal accepts one of my stories for publication because they will send me an acceptance of my story in writing. Later, I will have a copy of the journal in which my story appears to gloat over and show off to my friends. Similarly, an agreement for a literary agent to represent my work will be evidenced by a contract, an email, something in writing.

But how will I know when I’ve written a really good manuscript? Is it merely dependent on whether someone wants to represent or agrees to publish the book? Perhaps. I wish I believed that the best manuscripts were the ones you were really proud of but that’s not always the case. A story you think sucks hard might impress your readers and what you believe to be your best piece of writing might be panned by everyone you know and love (and who loves you). Face it, few of us are the best judges of our own work. So, in some ways, a good manuscript is evaluated based on who is willing to read, represent and publish it.

Long term goals

I dream big.  Tell me it’s impossible to achieve what I’ve set out for myself and I will look serious, nod in agreement, and go on thinking that I can do it. It’s human nature. Certainly, it’s my nature.

So what if I fall short of my Stephen King-like aspirations? I tried. Maybe I’ll go far enough that it won’t even matter. Success for me, realistically, would be to have one or two well-selling novels published. My dream is to live off of the avails of my writing. It’s a continuum, with success coming far far before my dream goal. I’m happy with success. Hey, I’m happy having tried. Too many writers give up on their dreams early and live to regret never having tried to reach them. I don’t ever want to do that.

I may never be able to live off of my writing. I’m fortunate enough to be respected, challenged and fulfilled in my day job. Plus, they pay me. That’s a big deal.

Every day I can, I work towards achieving my goals. I tweet and blog to connect to my online writing community. I attend writing courses and go to my writing group meetings. I research and read about the genre I write in, the agents who represent such writers, and publishers who might be interested in my work.

Most, and best of all, every day I write. It’s the only want to achieve my goals. And that’s what it’s all about, anyway, isn’t it? The writing. The thrill of putting pen to paper or fingers to keys and creating a new story, a new life, a new world. How many other people get to do that?

Good luck, all, and may your writing dreams come true!

Photo courtesy of pixtawan at freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, June 03, 2011

Patterns in Romance Fiction

People who don't read romance novels have been heard to say that the entire genre revolves around a handful of cliches.  The powerful Type A male and the woman who tames him, the experienced rake and the beautiful virgin, the kidnappings, the marriages of convenience, the secret babies...etc.

I say, not true!  Yes, these aspects still appear in many novels but they are not cliches any more than the suggestion than a novel about star-crossed lovers would necessarily be a re-working of Romeo and Juliet.  These are patterns and patterns persist because of their universality.  If, as some literary experts have it, there are only thirty-odd plots in literature and Shakespeare has done them all (and well too) then why is anyone bothering to write anymore?

Well, simply, because it hasn't all been done yet.  Every new novel has the potential to add a twist on the old thirty-odd plots.

Patterns are good.  They give readers a foundation of the familiar from which the writer can jump off with their own take or twist.  Done right, a pattern does not have to become a tired cliche.

Romance fiction itself relies on certain rules.  For one, the romantic element of the story takes precedence over all other aspects of the plot.  There is a difference between a mystery with a romantic subplot and a romance with a mysterious subplot.  Read any Agatha Christie mystery and you will almost invariably find a romance brewing between two of the characters but the mystery is always predominant.  While the romantic subplot may throw a twist into the works, the real purpose of the story is to find out whodunnit and why.  The romance adds a vital flavour to the mystery.  Similarly, the addition of a crime and the process of figuring out who committed it, in addition to adding danger into the lives of the main characters, can drive much of a romance novel.  However, the end purpose is to use the crime to bring the two characters together; the solution to the crime itself is incidental.

Another frequent romance pattern is the Happily Ever After (or HEA) ending.  While not all romance publishers or specific lines demand it, most still do.  In other words, the two main characters should end up together (often on the verge of marriage) when the last page in the book has been turned over.  They've worked out the differences that kept them apart throughout the book, have overcome many obstacles large and small, and have realized their love for each other.  They belong together and their coming together at the end of the book leaves us with a feeling of rightness.  All is warm and fuzzy in the world.

I have to admit that I enjoy the tried-and-true patterns.  I've even produced manuscripts using many of the patterns I noted above.  Hey, if it ain't broke...

Photo courtesy of Tina Phillips at freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, June 02, 2011

A Thousand First Pages, or How to Concentrate on One Piece of Writing at a Time

I'll be the first to admit it...I have a hard time concentrating on one story idea at a time.  Often, I am barely at the beginning of a novel or short story when I have a new direction to take it in (which completely changes the storyline I've already started following) or a brand new idea emerges which I want to write instead.

Don't get me wrong, I've finished more than a dozen romance manuscripts so I know it can be done and, more importantly, I know I can do it.  But I am constantly battling the desire to discard the known commodity -- my current creation -- to follow a novel idea.

So, how do I limit myself to a single piece of fiction at a time?  I did it by identifying the enemies of concentration.  Here they are, in no particular order.

Stress/ Anxiety

Often, I skip between various beginnings of stories because I am unable to relax enough to follow through on one train of thought at a time.  In other words, I haven't really put myself in the mindset to write and I end up getting my attention snagged on some other project than the one I sat down to tackle.  But, more than that, I'm not producing my best writing on either piece.

Last month, I posted some suggestions related to balancing your writing with your day job.  Part of that series included ideas for simplifying your life.  Stress and anxiety are an inevitable part of every modern life and managing it is a skill we all need to work on.

Sitting down to write when your mind isn't devoted to writing (you're thinking about work, the kids, the dirty dishes) can lead you to write little bits all over and never finish a thing.

Too Many Ideas

I am blessed/ cursed with a glut of ideas for future writing pieces.  So many of them are good ideas (I think) that I end up trying to write them all.  Hey, writing a first page for a novel or a part of a short story gets the idea monkey off of my back, right?  Wrong.

If you were meant to write a particular novel or story, it will persist.  It will keep coming back to the front of your thoughts, demanding attention, until you cannot resist any longer.  We should be spending our time writing these stories, the ones our minds and imaginations just cannot let go.

We do not have to write a story for every idea that pops into our brains.  That's what a writing journal is for: to park the idea until we do have time to give it the proper care and attention it deserves.  Until then, the book we are currently writing should grab all of our attention.  That is the only way I personally can ever finish a manuscript.

Lack of Time

It's funny, you would think a lack of time would require you to concentrate on one project at a time out of sheer necessity.  Not so.  Feeling that I lack time to write can sometimes cause me to skip between incomplete pieces -- the dreaded multitasking.  It doesn't work for my writing and I seriously doubt it works for many people.

Just because I'm crunched for time doesn't mean that I can get more out of my precious writing time by writing a page for five different stories instead of adding five pages to my most recent project.  Doing the math, you would realize that it takes five times longer to finish any one of the five simultaneous pieces than it would to expend all of your energy into completing one piece and then polishing it for submission.

Yes, there is often an inner desire to multitask to optimize my writing time.  I resist it by utilizing some simple strategies.

  • I open only one writing file at a time.
  • When I'm finished with a spurt of writing on that single project, I walk away from the computer while I take a break instead of sitting in front of it, where I may be tempted to open up another file just to say 'hi'.
  • I keep my file at the tip of my fingers for when I sit back down.  Often, my cursor is hovering right on the filename so that I can open it up quickly.
  • If I do want to check out my progress on another story or novel, I wait until the end of my writing session to do this.  That way, I am tired and less inclined to start writing again.
In our current world of multitasking, concentrating on a single writing project at a time can seem counterintuitive and worse, counterproductive.  However, I am convinced that my writing is better when I have one focus and one fictional vista opened up in my mind without switching between alternate worlds.

Photo courtesy of twobee at freedigitalphotos.net