Tag Archives: indie author

What Not to Write

This is a blog post I wrote for the SC Writer’s Association, Cola II chapter. It was originally published on the chapter’s website May 20, 2018

It took me three years to write my first mystery novel, Murder in Madden. During that time, I worked with several wonderful writing instructors. They taught me how to make the shift from business writing to fiction, which wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Much of my previous work focused on instructing readers on how to do something, so step-by-step details were important. But writing fiction was a different animal, as I quickly discovered. I found myself having to unlearn many of my coveted business writing skills. While I knew how to construct a sentence, where to put the commas, and how to apply the grammar rules, I often stumbled, especially during my first attempts. And then, over time, word by word, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph, I learned how to write fiction.

When I began writing the second book, which only took eight months from the first word to a first draft, I realized I had to learn something else: what not to write. I’m not referring to merely avoiding ornate language or eliminating you-need-a-thesaurus words. Fortunately, my business background had taught me to write at an appropriate comprehension level and to stay within the maximum word count. But, on those occasions when I did get overly descriptive, I followed Elmore Leonard’s 10th Rule of Writing: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My form of overwriting came from something one of my instructors called “temporal linearity.” I tended to instruct the reader on how a character got from one place to another, in a linear fashion, just as I had provided comprehensive details in business writing. Of course, fiction readers need enough information to make logical assumptions, but they don’t need to be led by the hand.

For example, if one scene ends with “Sara” telling her boyfriend she’s going to the library, you can insert a break and begin the next scene in the library. Unless it’s germane to the story, the reader doesn’t need to know how she got in the car, backed out of the driveway, and drove down the street to get to the library where she had to drive around the block three times looking for a parking space. I wasn’t quite that bad, but I did overwrite some scene transitions in my first draft.

Mostly as a reminder to myself, I developed “Raegan’s Rules to Avoid Overwriting.”

  1. Trust your readers to figure out how Sara gets to the library.
  2. Practice writing six-word stories and other forms of micro fiction where you have to tell a story within a strict word limit: writers should spend words like gold.
  3. Read your work aloud. If it sounds boring, it is.
  4. Hire a good editor—listen and learn.
  5. Keep writing and eventually you’ll overcome inexperience.
  6. Continue to overwrite, and you risk arrogance.

Perhaps all I really needed to do was re-read Leonard’s 10th Rule of Writing.

I QUIT!

This is a blog post I wrote for the SC Writer’s Association, Cola II chapter. It was originally published on the chapter’s website March 4, 2018.

 

Several years ago, I participated in a writing workshop with the late Jerry Cleaver, author of Immediate Fiction. At that time, I had started and stopped writing a couple of different mystery novels. I was frustrated, and his feedback, though fair and accurate, frustrated me even more. I can still hear him saying, “More conflict. You need more conflict in your story.” When I confessed to him that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to write a decent manuscript, he gave me some of the most valuable advice I’ve ever gotten: “Quit writing.”

I was stunned. There I was paying him good money to encourage me, coach me, help me write that elusive book. Yet, he told me to quit. I wasn’t sure whether to be mad or ecstatic. Mostly I was confused. When I finally got the courage to challenge his advice, he said, “Writers quit all the time, including me. But if you’re a real writer, you’ll have to start again. You cannot not write.”

After letting his last comments sink in, I then became afraid. What if I quit and never wanted to write again? That would, according to Cleaver, mean I had never been a realwriter anyway. Nonetheless, I did quit. I mean, I totally quit with the intention of never writing fiction again. I avoided anything related to writing and went about my life. At first, I was giddy with the lightness of not being a writer. No more worries about plots and characters—or conflict. I could enjoy reading a book without analyzing it. The freedom of not being a writer was intoxicating.

After a couple months of not writing, the impact of Cleaver’s message finally hit me: I needed to reevaluate why I was writing. As simple as that sounds, I had been focused on outlining, story structure, and all the other nuts-and-bolts of the craft. Was my goal to write the perfectly structured novel, worthy of an MFA thesis? While I wanted to write a quality novel, what I really craved was to write a novel that readers could connect with.

When I eventually returned to writing, I wrote the story I really wanted to tell. While I didn’t ignore all the workshop advice and education I had acquired over the years, this time, however, I began writing from my heart, not my head. I wrote for my readers, not for other writers.

About three years later, I published my first novel, Murder in Madden, which recently received Honorable Mention in the Writers’ Digest Self-Published Book Awards. And my second novel in the series, The Last Sale, will soon be out.

During the past year, I have enjoyed the book signings, festivals, book clubs, and other interactions with readers. I’ve never had so much fun. And each time a reader tells me about her favorite character, or someone says, “I couldn’t put it down,” I thank the writing gods that I found the courage to quit.

This Indie Journey

Finally! After three long years, Murder in Madden, is being released in October. Once the links on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets are available, I’ll post them.

People talk about being on a “journey” so much that it’s become a cliche. Forgive me, but I have to tell you this experience has indeed been a journey. When I finished the first draft of my manuscript, I thought I was near the end. Wrong. Several revisions later, I thought I was almost finished. Wrong. When I finally produced the final draft, I thought surely this was the end. Wrong again—the journey continued.

As it turns out, writing the book was the fun, easy part, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Lately I have longed for those wonderful days when I was holed up in my office, cranking out pages of my story, and reveling in the joy of writing. I can’t wait to start book number two in the Enid Blackwell series so that I can relive that experience.

Publishing a book after it is written is way harder than writing. All along, I assumed I would follow the traditional path and submit my books to an agent and/or small presses, suffer through the inevitable rejections, and eventually find a publisher willing to take on a debut novel. However, I as I began to study the publishing landscape, my outlook changed. If you have any interest in the book world at all, you’re likely aware that the publishing world has been turned upside town. Jane Friedman said in her blog post, “Of all the ages of publishing that I’ve lived through, this is the one I’m happiest to be part of. The one that feels most exciting, most aglow with promise.” What she is referring to is he world of self-publishing. Inspired by Friedman and others who have voluntarily walked away from traditional publishers, I decided to become an “indie” author. I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors (Alli) and learned all I could from them. I knew it would be difficult, and that my learning curve was steep, but I made an informed decision to start my own publishing company, Pondhawk Press LLC.

Being an indie author doesn’t mean you take short-cuts. On the contrary, you still have to prove yourself as a serious author by producing the best quality of work possible. To that end, I hired a writing coach, a developmental editor, a proofreader, and a book designer. It’s been a LOT of work—and not cheap. One of my friends recently asked if I would do it again. Without hesitation, I replied, “Absolutely!”

I’m sure some of my author acquaintances will turn up their noses at self-publishing, but one of the things I’ve learned on this indie journey is that your true friends and supporters will shine through. Everyone else is just noise.