Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Forward...never Backward

This time of year, people start making New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not sure why. Countless studies reveal most resolutions die by February (if they last even that long). About four years ago, I decided not to fall into the resolution kick, but rather to set goals for the year. The key to setting these goals is not to be too ambitious, but also not something that would take a week. For starters, I set out to lose ten pounds. I think I lost twenty that year, but my starting number was low enough to achieve. Setting goals for my writing life is a bit harder. For instance, I could set the goal to find a publisher. This goal is a little unfair considering it is not entirely within my control. I could submit to fifty publishers next year and may still be with the one I currently have. I try to stay small with my writing goals, keeping to things I can control: how often I write, what programs I want to apply for, how many bookstores/fairs I am going to sign at. I think specific goals are important. Not just that I want to do those things, but to set an actual number. 

This time of year, people also start reflecting on their past. Again, for my writing life, this gets a little depressing. I was a teenager dreaming to be a New York Times Bestseller by now. I know this is not a realistic dream, but I have had to reassess my pursuits often, comparing them to reality whenever I set up a five-year plan. I think I can sit down and trash myself pretty easy and I don’t think I am unique in this aspect. Therefore, I have decided this year not to look back. Rather, I want to look forward. I want to set out goals and continue my plough through this foggy business. I want to watch my writing grow and pursue opportunities when they present themselves. But I am also starting to realize that I may need to create my own opportunities. As long as I am moving forward, that’s all that really matters.

This world is not as nice as it was when I was a teenager. I never used to think I’d say that, considering I was not one of the popular crowd. My teenage years were spent in hiding, wishing for the day when high school was over. Now, I find myself wishing things were simple once again. Teaching, I look at my students and laugh at what things they consider an important crisis. So, no, the world is not as nice as I used to believe. But, I think all we can ask for is to continue to move forward. Don’t live in the past, but look forward to what awaits on the horizon. That’s the only way to live. I hope all of you have a spectacular New Year. Here’s hoping that all of our dreams materialize in 2013.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Never Happy...but Content

This week I read in a blog post that writers are never happy. I found myself nodding at the statement. For me, it started when my sixth grade teacher was doing a “writer’s workshop” to teach us the process of writing. I fell in love with storytelling. Being a true writer, I didn’t want to keep it to myself. So I shared it with my mom. That wasn’t enough, I wanted readers. I gained a few “followers” before I decided that middle school kids and a writer just don’t mix well. I hid my writing from my peers, but I still had that drive.

In the seventh grade, I announced to my mother that I was ready to publish (mind you my stories were only 50 pages by that time). She, being the sweetest mother ever, said maybe I should get my work critiqued first; her way of telling me my work was not ready. I think if she had come out and said my work was not publishable, my heart would have broken and I would have quit. But she encouraged me to talk with my English teacher; again, a teacher guiding me toward my dream. This pushed me even more. So, right after high school, The Curse of Atlantis was published. I was not happy. I needed readers and people kept talking about building a platform. So, I sold my books and counted my sales. Not enough. I wanted more. The Lord of Nightmares was published and I entered it for a competition. It didn’t win anything, but I did submit to Writer’s Digest, which probably is a little too big of a prize to win, but I have never dreamed small.

Next came the need to reach Kindle and e-book readers. That was an easy pursuit once talking with my publisher. This year, I focused on building my platform. I entered the online market. Set up facebook, twitter pages. I joined reading groups. I started this blog and my character blog. All in the effort to build a platform. I believe it has started to grow nicely. But it’s not enough. I want more. I’m not doing enough. Deep down, I know I’m working hard, trying to learn the crazy, ever-changing business of selling books. It’s funny how things cycle because now I believe I need to write more to have more books to sell to help build my platform, on and on and on.

I think it is good never to be satisfied. When I had to interview a friend of my mom’s for a school paper, she told me she never believed she could stop learning. I agree with her. I want to continue to learn and adapt. That makes life worth living. Otherwise it would be boring and stale. I guess I don’t want to be “happy” and “satisfied” with my life. If that day came, I might as well quit…or perhaps go into some other field. Maybe I’m just a masochist.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Writing Groups

One of the best pieces of advice I received was to get involved in writer’s groups. I ignored this advice for a long time. I think the reason is twofold. First, I grew up writing in seclusion. I didn’t want to be labeled as different amongst my teenage peers, so I told very few people of my ability. This is an avenue I would strongly discourage. Second, writing is a solitary profession. Yes, I may seek others to help generate ideas out of a block or to suggest ways to improve a piece, but ultimately the majority of my time is spent alone at a computer. The thought of branching out and joining a group seemed contradictory to the act of writing.

As in anything in life, joining a group has pro’s and con’s. There are, of course, those people who believe that their word is perfection and that they know everything about the business of writing. There are those people who believe they write better than any other writer in the world, but that people are too stupid to recognize it. Those of course are extremes. More often, the downside of writer’s group is that all discussions involve an issue that is close at heart. We love writing. Therefore, feelings tend to get hurt quicker when opinions clash. But, writers can gather a lot of valuable information from networking in groups.

I have learned about how to market books (although still feel lacking). I have learned about trends in marketplaces, how to build a platform, what publishers are looking for, and the new avenues of publication (to name a few). I have met people whose drive inspires me to do more. I live in the Southwest of the United States, which means most groups in my area are related to westerns, romance westerns, or mystery. I have found four groups (the online groups I frequent more often). One is southwest related, two mystery and one fantasy. The ones most active in offering opportunities for publication, contests, etc are related to mystery. I used to think I fit in this genre (I think an author can justify fitting in most any genre), but have come to accept the fact that I am not. The fantasy group is awesome, but mainly discusses the craft of writing and praising successes (which all is valuable as well).

I think it is like my job. I find I can relate better to teachers in my same field. We can “speak the language” and get excited about details others wouldn’t. I think I need to find that in my groups. I need the fantasy groups because it would offer more opportunities to expand and grow. YA groups are more difficult because I find myself surrounded by teens. I just need to find my place amongst a group that will accept me in my situation. Isn’t that just like everything else in life? We are all just searching for a place to belong.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Series Dilemma

Harry Potter was big when I reached High School. My friends are HUGE Potter fans. They pushed and pushed me to begin reading the series so I could join in their obsession (even before the movies). I am not proud to say to this day I have never read JK Rowling’s novels. Well, I read 50 pages of the first book. Back then, I told my friends I hated series—too much of a commitment. I felt pressure to read them all and lacked time. Now I ruined the experience by watching the movies. I love experiencing the ride; not knowing the twists and turns or how the author will end a piece. If this is gone, I just can’t finish. I don’t re-read books for the same reason. So, while I loved the first 50 pages and will forever envy Rowling’s ability, I cannot take on this series.

Like most things in my writing/reading life, I began writing a series before ever reading one. The Curse of Atlantis was written as a one-book saga. I, silly girl, thought the story finished. Until it came out in print and readers harassed me about the ending. Some even suggest I had left it on a cliff hanger.  I didn’t mind the idea of writing a sequel, but their insistence is what started the second book. Half way through, I finally understood the draw. I love these characters. I want to see their lives progress; watch them grow and develop. I want to see what types of situations they will face and how they can overcome it. So, now I am beginning the third of what I now have accepted is a series.  

The parallels of life evolve because I have begun reading series. As I dive into the world of reading/writing series, I have discovered the challenge. How does an author keep track of the details? The characters are easy. But what about the description of the house? What about the back story of a character who was secondary and now has become front and center to the plot? What about all of the little details. Was the scar across his left eye or right? Did she have brown eyes or green? Have I had someone change into a hawk before because powers are supposed to be unique? I have seen authors with twenty books in their series and I wonder how they do it. Do they have huge charts and graphs at home? Do they keep paragraphs of details in a file? Do they outline their books? How do they keep it straight? As I answer questions, I can’t blow any off. There will be that fan who remembers every word on any given page eager to point out inconsistencies…I actually love these people and keep them as my before-print readers. Organization is key, the question is how to proceed. 

As publishers push series, I am encouraged to solve these issues. After all, solving them is the joy of writing!