Deep Prose and Clear Voice

(pulled from a note to a CP)

My main focus for vocal depth is finding places that need a boost to elevate the prose from (blocking and action) to “literature.”

Not just facts, but poetry.

The first layer is “What’s a cooler/more interesting way to X…?”

Second layer is “What’s a way to tie this description/phrase to the story theme/aesthetic/tone/plot?”

Third layer, and the only one that gets approval** for my own work into final drafts, is “How/what does X (description/phrase) mean to my narrator/speaker, and how would They frame X?”

**because no matter how awesome a phrase might be, if it doesn’t sound like it comes from my narrator’s voice, then it could throw the reader off at worst, but will weaken a reader’s connection to the narrator at best.

Page by page, I seek out a wide-angle thematic balance, and–when possible– book-wide character themes. Like, say romantic interest has a hard personality but a vulnerable ego, then I might craft their descriptions to relay that directly or indirectly by which devices I choose (maybe they’re compared to melons or maybe I just keep adjectives about their physical actions “crisp and brittle” while keeping descriptions of their voice “soft”).

I tend to go broad with these when it comes to characterization or repeat settings, sticking with things like seasons or basic elements (water, fire, +), so it doesn’t feel forced or too obvious.Also, the broader the theme, the greater span of sensory experiences and vocabulary range to use in expanding the character’s visceral reactions and word choice.

Random thing, but it’s best, for most readers apparently, to save the most intense descriptive language for moments when the narrator is first describing something (unless that scene is very active), or when it’s an emotional moment that the language can help bolster with “this is important” energy.

Hot tip: use your narrator’s zoom lens to spot concrete details, flaws, or specificity, rather than trying to describe everything anew or “completely.” Better to describe a character’s lone mismatched button than their entire outfit. Even when the narrative point is “excess,” attention can get lost easily in lists of facts, so the zoom is a writer’s best friend in that regard.


Character Connection Tools & Exercises

(that I depend on)

These tools work anywhere in a story, but I find they’re especially useful in early pages in forming a strong link between the MC and the reader, so that, by page 5+, the MC could just about do anything, and the reader will be like, “Of course they did that; that’s why I love them.”

Start the character with a clear goal and complication. I’m not talking about “Big Story Goal,” ie. Main Story Mission, I’m talking about a small scene goal that demonstrates who the character is and what they care about.

The bigger the conflict in the opening scenes,

the more personal that goal should be to balance it.

A quiet opening scene might get away with, “I just want to read this article and finish my coffee in peace without distractions.” A more active scene, with fighting, fleeing, and high stakes stuff, will need something much more personal to establish the reader’s link, like, “I can’t get caught/die NOW, just when I’m finally on the verge of X/personal goal.”

Some of the most common writing advice will seem to contradict this, things like “start in action” and “show don’t tell.”

But “start in action” actually means “start with conflict/tension” rather than, necessarily, high-stakes action. Without making us care about the character first, all that energy and action is likely to go right past the reader, who’s still trying to figure out why should keep reading *this* character’s story. Starting action-heavy makes that extra difficult for the reader to see, because we’ve got the “what” without a “who” or “why,” so leave readers as many clues as the prose can hold.

And “show don’t tell” is a racist construct for one, but it’s also totally unhelpful unless the character is fully established already and their motivations already made abundantly clear.

quick and dirty trick is

REGULARLY pair a show with a tell

to clue the reader into why and what XYZ means.

This is REALLY helpful if you’re ND like me, and your/your characters’ reasons for doing things aren’t the same as neurotypical people/characters expect.

When the narrator notices someone else gesturing a certain way, don’t just show the gesture, allow the narrator to interpret it for the reader. When the narrator makes a decision or reacts to something, tell why and what’s going through their head. It feels clunky at first, extra. But with practice, it can open up new avenues to connect with your characters and readers.

This especially matters when it comes to big character decisions; keep the reader close by making sure they know the narrator’s reasoning/logic train and sense the emotional complications that coincide.

For first chapters, and particularly first pages, no matter WHAT’S happening, keep the narrator in focus, front and center, because they’re the one responsible for ushering the reader into the world, situation, setting, scene, everything…

Start with them, even if it’s just a single line to establish POV and ensure that the MC is the reader’s first view of the story, and their narrative voice is the first heard.


  • If the character doesn’t have a natural goal in the opening scene, invent one. Or three. Play.
  • Write a bunch of sentences from the MC’s POV and voice, having them say who they are, what they want, and what they’re doing. I mean, a BUNCH. Push yourself outside the character’s comfort zone and experiment, in their voice, and play with how they’d explain their situation based on different moods. (My favorites– silly, regretful, angry, annoyed, sleepy, sad.)
  • Test it out.
  • Copy the first chapter into a new file and get to highlighting. Mark EVERY TIME the character makes a choice or reacts involuntarily. If the reason for the choice or reaction is undeniably clear, unmark it (ie. Character’s falling and they move somehow to protect themself).
  • If the reason ISN’T in the text, hit enter, and leave some spaces on the page to play with the question WHY? (The spaces actually help to carve out a breath for you as the writer.)
  • Insert an explanation. Doesn’t have to be perfect, just clear and in character.

Doing this sort of craft play often leads writers to identifying moments they rushed through, but remember you have complete control over the timing. A split second can equal a chapter’s worth of words as much as a short line can.

Usually these exercises open up a shitton of craft realizations, but YMMV.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that a story is never just about “what happened,” but “to whom it happened.” Readers care because they become invested in that Who, and character connection flows directly from your Who’s goal and what it means to them.

The Time It Takes

I’m talking about the time it takes to read and write. (Hahaha, you thought this was going to be about queries and subs, but no. I mean, not exactly, but also yes? Agents and editors are human beings, too, remember.)
Reading and writing, though… I keep dancing around posting something about this, because I think it’s a huge part of book-life we often breeze past, both in reading And writing.
Just because a book can be slurped down in one sitting doesn’t make that the measure of “best.” Yes, a book is a product, and making more product is how things get done, but there are factors here that are, for me, too important to overlook.
I’m hyperlexic, and I read faster than I can think, and I type faster than most people can talk. So why do my books take a year to draft, and why doesn’t my Goodreads challenge reflect my awesome speed?
BECAUSE I HAVE FEELINGS, Y’ALL. (Also a life, but mostly Feelings!!!!!)
We deal in emotions. Some emotions take time away from the page to let the words seep in. This isn’t just about triggers (though they are certainly a factor in my own mental preparations for reading), but about ALL emotional processing.
I spent 8 months reading SPACE OPERA. This is the longest it’s ever taken me to read a single book (note: I was listening to an audiobook, which is totally reading).
Rushing felt wrong. I wanted each delicious sentence to linger and gel in my head before moving on, because it was so rich. There was so much there to sit with and experience, and I had to pause and replay often because my laughter or surprise would make me miss the next lines (cue more laughter and surprise). I also read 40 other books during this time, all while continuing with SPACE OPERA. Sometimes a line or passage would spur me to write or make some other art, or even just squeeze my children and marvel at their singular wonderfulness that is both part of me and incredibly Not-Me.
And, like, hell yes, I wanted to, and could have, gulped THUG (THE HATE U GIVE) in one day, but OMG. I had to sit in some serious feelings awhile, and let the words seep in and do their work on my heart and my thoughts. There was a lot of work to do!!
The heavier and more intense the content is, the more I may need to step away. I may need to think and stew, or heal and cry and dream and read something else before coming back. 
Similarly, I read the whole Broken Earth trilogy in under a week (because N.K. Jemisin is a goddess AND a wizard, who dictated my thoughts for me onto the page and held my attention so thoroughly there was no time to look away), but I’ve reread each book thrice over, each reading going slower than the last, just to soak up all that goodness.
And if I LOVE a book, really, truly LOVE it, I might reread the same page or chapter 3 or 4 times before moving on, because the work is breathtaking and touches me on some level I won’t be able to revisit the same way again once the page turns.
This is not a flaw of story telling; this is its magic.
Some books take me foooooreeeeeveeer to read because I don’t want to fly through and miss nuance. OR THE HEALING. Healing isn’t streamlined and fast forwarded; it’s bumpy and scattered, and there’s a lot of looking backward to gain balance and clarity for the present. 
Books are the one medium that give me this power to truly pause and reflect, to become a new me by The End. I can’t be alone in this. I imagine people, like editors and agents, who’ve made books their business, came to this industry because of that same power. Product, yes and good, but still: POWER.
My irl bestie is still reading the project I’m querying, Moon Dust In My Hairnet. No lie, I was annoyed and hurt at first; I wanted feedback fast, to know if she “liked” it and if it resonated. Two months later, I’m still waiting for her to finish.
But, look, she’s STILL reading. Because it’s so personal and cathartic for her, she has to take time to approach the pages and let them Work, so she reads in sips. I’ve learned to take that as a compliment, now that I understand. (Just like it took time from me, sitting with my own feelings and working on how to share them in a way to help the story do exactly that for people with her experiences.) See, she lost her big sister at a critical age, so that’s a major personal issue she’s processing THROUGH my story. That’s colossal to me.
She says, “It’s changing my life,” and I can witness that happening for her. And I think, “This. This is why I write!”
But if she slurped this story of mine in one sitting, it could catapult her into feelings she can’t process that fast. Feelings that could set off her emotional balance in destructive ways. I GET IT. I didn’t write this story to do harm, but to help heal, and I’m not in charge of the dosage on the way; I simply deliver medicine.
So, to people who draft a story in a few weeks, good on you! I’m not in your race.
To those who pump out 10+ books a year, holy crap, you’re incredible! That could literally kill me.
And to those who read 100+ books a year, I’m in awe of you. Still not racing.
Books are my lifeline, my passion, and my heart’s food, but each takes the time it takes.
If I don’t finish your book in a day or even a week, this is not an insult to you or your craft but a testament to my appreciation. And if you’re writing about difficult emotional and social issues, please know I am ready for the whole ride you’re bringing me on, no matter how long that takes me, because I want that change to happen inside me en route. I need it like air, and I’ll love you forever unconditionally for providing it.
The point of all this is: let’s dowse the judgment from these conversations and from our expectations. It’s curiosity and our story addiction that drive the one-sitting read of any book. While that’s a marvelous, thrilling experience, it is not, by far, the only worthwhile reading experience to value or chase.
Books are magic, and writers are wizards, and some spells do their work over time and space and inside readers’ beings, and none of this is easily or tritely quantifiable.
I’d love to hear about your favorite books to reread! Please tell me in the comments?

Amazing Author Alert: Liselle Sambury

If you don’t love Liselle Sambury, I don’t think we can be friends.

Liselle’s a hugely talented author who writes young adult speculative and an overall lovely and driven creative. Today, I’m really excited, because she just launched her Authortube channel, and I got to see locations from her novel VOYA CALLING.



Check her out, then support and adore her brilliance with me!

Critique Partner Horror Stories: Red Flags & Relationship Ruins

I apologize to readers who’ve been waiting patiently for me to follow up on my last blog about critiquing. Full disclosure, doing research into “red flags” and how many things can go wrong unearthed a metric crap ton of unresolved issues for me. I’ve been stewing all this time, allowing my thoughts to gel and my wounds to knit (closer to) closed.

Black and white image of a cracked heart-shaped stone.

Things can go very, very wrong in critique relationships.

Take what lessons you will from my experiences, and feel free to share any wisdom you’ve gained from your own journey in the comments below. These are things that have happened to me, presented here with minimal detail and fake names to maintain others’ anonymity.

Not What Some Think

The worst that can happen is usually not the problem most writers new to critique fear. Newer writers tend to share a worry about their words and ideas being stolen. Rumors abound about plagiarizing folks who wander the authorscape stealing precious work from the unwitting. To be fair, that may happen from time to time (though in a decade of meeting writers, I’ve never encountered one it’s happened to). Still, copyrights are easier to prove than ever if it comes to that.

Muted image of a beheaded statue of a woman with twinkling lights in the background.

Words and ideas are, generally, safe. Hearts and minds are much more vulnerable.


These folks just straight up disappear. They’ve asked to read, then *poof*; they never respond. It takes time to get used to this happening, but some portion of volunteer readers vanish once they get work. Whatever their reasons don’t really matter. No one can learn anything from silence, so let it go.

Being ghosted by a potential CP feels like any disappointment or rejection, but it’s a dull ache, like reading bad news regarding a place you’ve never been. It’s concerning but distant. Unanswerable.

Blurry, muted image of a young woman’s back as she walks past moving boxes.

But what if it’s a long-time critique partner who ghosts? It’s soul-crushing, confusing, and—in cases where the relationship was virtual only—frustrating as hell. Worse than unanswered, this feels like grief.

I worked with an amazing author woman, RED, for two years, through her first novel’s first draft and two of my own. We talked online every day about craft and process, spending hours on the phone (the actual phone, you guys!) discussing our stories and plans. We had the dream CP relationship, for me, at least.

Black and white image of a bald person standing in front of a window and reaching forward.

She became my best friend. [RED FLAG: *ting ting* Here’s where I should’ve checked my boundaries, made sure both of ours were safe for each other.] Our friendship grew beyond stories, and we kept each other up to date on everything—family stuff, personal stuff. I thought of her as a sister, included her in my heart. Then Red stopped returning messages, stopped picking up the phone, stopped posting new work. My dream became a nightmare in an instant, and I was helpless to stop it.

Losing contact with her was like losing a limb, and it still aches to think of her after two years of silence. I don’t know if I did something to hurt Red, or if her life just couldn’t contain “me” anymore, but all I can do is hope she’s all right and wish her well from afar. It hurts every day, y’all. Not just the Red-sized hole in my life but knowing that I must have harmed her horribly somehow.

Shallow Readers

All critique is valuable, even shallow critique, but it can be super annoying to deal with in a long-term partnership. By shallow I mean these readers skim so fast, nitpicking at minor things that catch their attention but not reading closely enough to absorb any story. The questions these CPs ask are usually answered in-text, often on the same page, and it can be extremely aggravating going through to triple-check that each detail they worried over was, in fact, already on the page. [RED FLAG: If your readers are more concerned about comma placement than character or plot progress, they may just be a bad fit.]

Blurry black and white image of a toy car on asphalt.

In my experience, this specific disconnect between critique partners is hard to address. Being skimmed by the shallow readers feels like drifting in a void, untethered. Swapping chapters or stories with them can also feel like blowing into a busted balloon. Maybe these readers just aren’t into the genre or style they’ve offered to read, or maybe it’s just the way they read. In any case, if the reading is too shallow and unhelpful, it’s best to move on to deeper waters.


Please don’t get me wrong here: I LOVE REVISING AND READING REVISIONS. To me, this is the most important part of being a critique partner. But… there can be hiccups. A revision is a story overhaul, not a quick-shine polish. Don’t promise a full revision and deliver a meager, incomplete edit. It feels like ordering chocolate cake but receiving a stinky, wet slipper.

I read a book for a guy I’ll call GRAY (super guy, positive, and a joy to talk to), chapter by chapter, critiquing his story in-depth—making notes on character, grammar, phrasing, plot, worldbuilding, style, formatting—the works, really. It took ages and a lot of energy. My investment in seeing his special idea become a published reality was huge. I rooted hard for Gray.

Black and white sketch of loose puzzle piece next to a puzzle.

Then many months later I was asked to betaread. I got so excited to see how he’d addressed the problems we’d discussed, how the world came together, how the characters had deepened and grown. [RED FLAG: I should’ve checked myself when my excitement flared here. I had Expectations, see, which means I had some fd up assumption that my and his other CPs’ advice was gold and Gray had fixed Everything. My hopes let me down!] Except… the “revision” repeated all the same problems as the original draft, and only about 100 lines out of 300 pages had changed in any noticeable way. The problems were still problems, and I felt used up, stalled out. I respected him too much, cared too much about his story, to stay invested. It’s one thing to ignore critique partners because of solid story and style reasons, another thing entirely to ignore prevalent craft issues and glaze over the work.

There’s no right way to handle this, and I’m not sure my way was even good enough for me. All I could think to do was say, “I’m afraid I have nothing new to offer” and hope he utilized the dozens of hours of work I’d already invested in his story. Needless to say, with him being a shallow reader of my own work, that partnership fizzled out, despite the years we’d both given to each other. It’s a shame, but it happens.

Self-hatred and/or Misogyny

I’m going to assume for the sake of this blog that the words above make you as sad and upset as it does me. Women writers hating on themselves, men writers hating on women—it’s just gross, and yet at least half the writers I’ve read for in the last five years have put this yuck down page after page.

Black and white image of a young white woman’s back as she hangs her head sadly.

I try to point it out carefully when I come across it. “This may be problematic,” I comment in my notes. Invariably the response I get from men is, “I didn’t realize that,” then they make no changes to address it. From women, the typical response is, “I don’t think so,” or “That’s the problem she has to learn to deal with better by the end.” And I think, “Oh boy, what self-respecting woman will read to the end to find that out?”

But that’s me, and I’m really sensitive because reasons. A polite “I may not be the best reader for this work” usually ends the partnership quickly. EXCEPT WHEN IT DOESN’T, which leads to the next red flag.

[RED FLAG: My life has sucked a hundred different sick and sad ways that I prefer not to repeat. Any story that plays similar experiences like they’re funny or “no big deal” are gonna rub me the wrong way into a DNF (did-not-finish)]


Sometimes these folks are obvious right away, if you know a draft is crappy and they have nothing but praise. But what if you’ve spent hours refining that draft and really do expect some positive comments to be genuine?

I exchanged queries with a woman, VIOLET, a few years back. She was new to the online writing community and wanted to create a critique group. I must’ve been in an extremely generous-with-my-energy mood (or I hadn’t learned better yet), because I walked her step-by-step through the process of creating a FB group, identifying places to find new members, helping her set up discussions, etc. She sent dozens of messages over the course of a few days, treating me like her personal help line. Meanwhile, she read my query and doted on it with comments like, “I don’t see anything to fix” and “This is such a strong query!”

Until I said the magically-cursed words, “I don’t think we’re a good fit” (because of her work’s misogyny and I didn’t want to keep defining and explaining every craft-term I mentioned). [RED FLAG: Here’s where I should’ve tuned out, because any sort of defensive posturing after I offered an easy out was guaranteed to be nonconstructive.]

Suddenly, Violet flew off the handle, verbally assaulting me, telling me my work was indecipherable trash, and that I was trash for quitting her group of old white women. Her unactionable praise became insults, and I was caught in this whirlwind of her anger, wondering what went wrong. She then blocked me and badmouthed me to who-knows-how-many people I have yet to cross paths with, and now she’s an agency intern. Go figure.

Blue-toned underwater image of a light-skinned woman facing off with a shark. The shark is focused on her, but she is meditative and focused within.

This ordeal felt like having my fingers caught in a garbage disposal. For months after it was impossible to trust my other wonderful CPs, and it threw me into a tailspin of doubting myself, questioning my commitment to the writing community, fearing my judgment of people’s character was worse than I ever imagined.

Racism, Ableism, Homophobia

Again, like with misogyny, I’ll assume these words stir your bile and get you in a resistance kind of mood. These unchecked -isms do more than spoil stories; they poison relationships. Though I’ll only dig into one personal experience (with racism specifically), these each present a veritable land mine of issues to wade through when critiquing.

My first-ever critique partner BLUE and I spent four years working together. I was a nobody who knew nothing and needed a good knock around. He was gentle with me as I took my first steps into critique and craft. If it hadn’t been for his encouragement and guidance, I don’t know where or who I’d be. He taught me so many things about publishing and story I can’t help but be grateful.

Somehow, I assume because I’m cis-presenting and white (read: often oblivious) and mask my otherness pretty well, I had no idea how problematic he was. Until I saw it and couldn’t unsee it. That 2016 election really shook the trees, it seems. [RED FLAG: I got warning signs and ignored them.]

Black and white image of a white woman holding a sign that reads “Racism is not patriotism.”

I tried to carry on carefully with Blue after I found it he supported Trump by avoiding politics completely, but not only is that impossible, the toxicity in his stories kept bringing all that up. I tried to explain, to show how harmful things were, to give him a chance to be the “great guy” he’d always presented himself to be. Alas, sometimes it’s best to just call a racist a racist and move on.

It still freaking hurts to see a mentor and friend without the rose tint of my unchecked privilege. I feel complicit, guilty, and hyperaware of how my implicit biases keep blinding me over and over again.

Muted image of a person sitting on a jagged cliff ledge.

These were all critique relationships that ended, most badly. I hope reading this helps someone else learn how to dissolve poor CP fits amicably, or to recognize in themselves what might trigger a disastrous split and avoid them.

It’s emotionally risky, this writing business, so please respect your time, protect your energy, and cherish those CPs you hope to keep.

5 Things To Do Before You Beta Your Book #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I’ve been seeing a lot of resistance (negativity, misinformation, outright opposition) to the betareading process over the last few months, and . . . it upsets me.giphy4

I believe in the beta process the way toddlers believe in Bandaids. OK, so that’s a mediocre example. I believe in it like a good dog trusts its human.

Betas make books better, and better books make happier readers who will read more books. But what you get out of your beta, and where your story goes in revision, is up to you, not your readers.

If you’re worried a betaread will change your story, try following these five tips to run a successful beta to protect it (from others and yourself) while improving both the work and your craft.

1. State your vision for the work clearly, even if you don’t share the specifics with an audience.

This is the most important step, in my opinion. It can be as simple as “to entertain my readers with a fun adventure story” or as complex as “to inform readers about X and Y so that they walk away with a changed perspective on Z.”

Doing this will help you, as the writer, decide what feedback is most important to you and protect what matters most to you as feedback pours in. Not doing this step can be dangerous to your voice and confidence with your work.

2. Write down reader reactions you hope to receive.

I learned to do this after my first few betas, simply because it challenges me to think ahead to what I want to hear. For each major character or event, I jot down my hoped-for-responses. It looks a little like this for my most recent beta:

Main Character: “Poor __ tries so hard!” and “Yay! ___ figured it out!”

Primary Antagonist: “I hate ___ so much,” and, “Ohhhh… I see why ___ is like that now.”

Major Plot Event: “I did NOT see that coming,” and “Holy $&#@, what have you done to me?”

If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll even plan ahead what I don’t want to hear.

Doing this step gives a metric to compare with actual feedback to, to better gauge how the story is meeting its goals.

3. Know your target audience.

This is the step I hear recommended most, and it bears repeating. Aside from age and genre category, though, I suggest going a few details further to identify your target.

Who is the reader who needs this story?

Where are they in life; where are they emotionally?

What is the obstacle they dream of overcoming?

Depending on which revision your story’s in, these answers could change. While it’s great to get positive responses from readers outside the target, it’s important to weigh that against negative or neutral responses within.

4. Decide on the one thing you would never change.

Ask yourself why you had to write this story.

Did an idyllic childhood memory spark the story in your heart, and you’ve poured yourself into reproducing that setting for others?

Are you an #ownvoices writer intent on sharing your personal struggle with young people so they can see themselves pulling through it, maybe even better than you managed?

Whatever your motivation for writing, pick the one thing that can’t change lest it become a different story — somebody else’s.

Then make a wish list of secondary items that are mildly more negotiable. This exercise helps to back up what you decided in #1 and keeps you flexible when receiving feedback.

If someone tears apart the thing you’ll never change, do you care? If three or more target readers take issue with a story issue of secondary importance to you, are you ready to address that item or remove it? What if it were a major publishing house suggesting the change? Would your reaction be different for different readers? (These are uncomfortable questions by nature.)

One of the most detrimental things a writer can do in revision is to lose sight of their “why,” their reason for this story, in an attempt to please every reader. Pick your battles and stand firm for them, so that you recognize the story you end up with as the one you aimed for in the first place.

5. Process your craft knowledge.

This is so tricky, because at any point in time, we know less than we knew before. So many of us, in love with our ideas or this or that string of beautiful words, lose sight of where we truly are.

When I finished my first novel, I had this euphoric rush of “Look what I did!” only for it to devolve into “Look at all I have to learn!”

I’m not suggesting anyone demote themselves in their mind or social media pages from “writer” to “aspiring writer,” but at least acknowledge how little or how much has been mastered. Learning never stops in this field.

Processing where your craft is right now will help when navigating feedback that hurts or cuts deepest at the author ego. Ask:

Are readers commenting about things being under or overwritten?

Are they recommending grammar or craft websites because of persistent weaknesses they’ve spotted that I haven’t seen?

Are they mentioning craft “rules” I’ve never heard of?

Before reacting with a slash and burn edit (or worse, lashing out at the reader), do some research and get up to speed on those craft concepts.

Not only will it improve your revision, but it will have you better prepared to tackle your next story.

I would love to hear what helps you prepare your mindset before you beta. What works best for you?

This blog post is a part of Raimey Gallant’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop. Find more handy tips by searching the hashtag on Twitter, or join us by clicking on the toolbox. Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

Review: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus

coverI was thrilled when I heard Ackerman and Puglisi had another thesaurus coming out, but—as much as I love the other installations—this is the one I’ve been waiting for, the one that I knew would take my writing the directions I want to go. Using this book will help writers, and thus readers, dig even deeper into the murky waters of the human experience.

How I approached my first read of TEWT:giphy

Reading a thesaurus is a unique undertaking, because the “cover to cover” approach is so dissimilar from the way I’d naturally use a resource like this. With that in mind, I made a list of some of the more obscure emotional wounds I have (for reference) and my characters have (for ideas). So, of course, plan in hand, I promptly lost myself in the opening pages instead, because just after the foreword comes a brief on “self-care for writers.”

If you get nothing else out of this review, go buy this book just to read this one page. If that doesn’t spike your curiosity, your Human may be malfunctioning. #sorrynotsorry

giphy2Fully hooked, I checked my list again. Tough choice: jump ahead and sate my curiosity, or see what else these amazing ladies have in store?

All right, I peeked a little, then I came back to the lessons and how-to. I’m no expert, but I have read the majority of my psychologist mother’s library, and nothing struck me as out of line with current psychological canon. Further, the lessons were accessible and easy to follow.

giphy3What I don’t recommend is *coughs* what I did, because I then read it cover to cover, just like I planned on not doing. I couldn’t help myself (refer to various emotional wounds which hamper self-control and addiction, lol).

I may never be surprised by another story line again, but I’m on fire to inflict my own characters with authentic emotional wounds now. This is my new go-to resource!

Four Ways to Write Through the Fog #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

When I get stuck on a writing project, it feels exactly like driving through fog—I can’t see far enough ahead to feel comfortable where I am, the clear road behind is as shrouded as the way forward, and there’s no telling when some swift insight will blow through so I can go back to “normal.” So, with the weather forcing my thoughts along this line, here are four ways I’ve found to write through the fog.

1. Wait It Out

I almost did this today when I saw the road, lol. “Ten more minutes,” I told myself, “then the sun will break this up.” Unfortunately, deadlines (this time imposed by my middle child’s early choral practice) don’t always like this option.

giphySimilarly, when I recently ran into a fog with a manuscript revision—I was too close, too attached, to see the “fix” around the corner—I chose this method. For me, “waiting” on a project does not mean putting off the work. Instead, I “wait” by recharging my creative batteries which usually breaks up the fog in a matter of hours. I daydream in nature, rest, and return to whatever original inspiration sparked the story in the first place. This often means rereading stories, rewatching Star Trek (because everything comes back to Star Trek for me), or returning to my story board.

2. Redirect

giphy2When the fog was at its worst on the highway, my GPS kept trying to push me toward side roads, where the traffic was lighter. In the same way, when I’m stuck on a project, I find my creative thoughts straying to new (and old) ideas.

I used to fight that process, but why bother? Why not cut out 10 minutes to brainstorm a new project or revisit an old idea? If that’s what gets the creative juices flowing easier, take that side road!

3. Lean on Support

I was nearly to my destination when the impenetrable fog got even thicker, and the only thing visible was the taillights ahead of me. Was it foolish to follow? Maybe, but it got me where I needed to go. Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed to get unstuck.

giphy3Times like that remind me why I’m so grateful for my writing community. Being able to turn to my critique partners and support groups for direction, motivation, clarity, or just to share an exasperated laugh-cry has made the biggest impact on how often I get stuck in a fog.  I used to be alone in those moments, but now I’m not. Now I have others’ passion, grit, and wisdom to follow when I can’t find my way. With them, I can bounce ideas, vent, or even learn about new resources and experts. And, while they may not be “my” community, leaning on those resources provided by experts (writing podcasts and videos, editors’ blogs, craft books) are the brightest lights to follow. Isn’t it better to spend an hour building craft, strengthening plot or diving deeper into character than merely “not writing?”

4. Inch Forward

In the end, if the other methods don’t do the trick and there’s no one left to follow, inching forward is ultimately all one can do. So, go on, inch forward at a snail’s pace and plunk one word after another on the page. So what if you delete it all in editing? Who cares if it didn’t feel like flow?

giphy4Once the pages are written, revised, and edited, nobody will know but you that those specific words felt like a root canal. Set yourself a short goal, like Shaunta Grimes’ 10 minute plan, and just write for that 10 minutes, if it’s all you’ve got to give today. Maybe the fog will clear as you go, or maybe it will tomorrow. Just don’t give up now!

What are some ways you’ve conquered the fog in your writing journey? Tell me in the comments–I’d love to learn from your experiences!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2For more about #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, search the # on Twitter or check out Raimey Gallant’s blog to get involved!

Personal Lessons from #Pitchwars 2017 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

giphy6Fair warning: Some of these lessons might be carryovers from 2016, while I was lurking and cheering on friends. And there are a gazillion great lessons to learn from a contest like Pitchwars, but these are mine for now (and counting!).

  1. Subjectivity in Story

I thought subjectivity was something I fully understood. I’ve even *gulp* blogged about it.

But I was wrong. My thinking was incomplete, flawed.

giphy5Subjectivity is more than how one person perceives in general, it’s how perception slants taste and attitude on a rolling basis. This brilliant thread was key to helping me see that.

So, as I prepare to query my complex and quirky time travel paradox space opera, it’s important for me to remember that many potential readers may not be in the mood for what’s on my pages. giphy4Even if they are, my early pages and query (or pitch) need to alert them to the tone of my story quickly, or else I’ll be facing a wall of not-what-I-expected reactions.

  1. Punctuation

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m a huge grammar and punctuation junkie. But just because I was using punctuation correctly in my manuscript doesn’t mean I wasn’t drawing all the wrong kinds of attention. After a particularly enlightening mentor comment, I took another look.

Look at this madness, y’all.

giphyEllipses = I had 195, but now 34 and falling

Seems I love ellipses. Cutting these was tricky, because there are some moments in speech or internal dialog when the thoughts cannot connect, when the character is reaching for, but failing to find, their answer. So, in order to trim 93% of these pesky, disruptive punctuations, I looked line by line at what effect the ellipses had on the scene’s pacing and flow. I kept a lot of them, I think. And 34 may still be too many, but I’m alert to the problem now, at least.

giphy1Semicolons= 9, now 4 (totally OK with this)

That’s not so bad, right? Well, I hope not, but, writing YA, I decided none of my semicolons were necessary unless they were used within a list. Two long lists in one book? I’m OK with that.

giphy2Emdashes= 314, now 134 and falling

Emdashes are definitely an issue I have. Why do I have all these broken thoughts, and, better yet, why do my characters? I trimmed 58% of these, but I’ll take another look in my next editing pass to see if I can cut further.

The tricky part with this count is that I also used dashes for some of the epistolary logs, but maybe I shouldn’t, and importing from Scrivener makes em-dashes into “double dashes” instead. (Also, maybe I should remove the dash key from my laptop, because my pinkie aches to reach for it so often.)

  1. Attitude

giphy3Anyway–Back to the list! In every contest I’ve participated in, I’ve seen the same hopeful soar and desperate crash mentality. There are so many giving pep talks and reminders of “This is how the industry works,” that nothing I have to add matters. Still, keeping my own attitude in check (this time, at least—I’m no angel) has made this the best contest yet for me.

giphy9Emotions happen. Acknowledge and understand them, but don’t let them dictate personal interactions or spill out as vitriol into public spaces. Sounds easier than it is.

giphy10Meanwhile, support each other! There’s room for all our stories, not in this one contest, but in the world.

Those are my most valuable lessons learned through this Pitchwars experience so far. I can’t wait to see what else I learn once mentees are picked and celebrated, and more lessons and trends from the slush pile emerge.

giphy7How about you? Has lightning struck to help you with your writing process? Have you learned anything about yourself, your writing, or the community recently? Comment below!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2**This post is part of the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop writing superhero Raimey Gallant. To find more monthly craft bloggers digging through writing craft, process, and life, visit her site or watch Twitter for our hashtag midmonth on Wednesdays, though I’m a few days late posting.**

When Losing Feels Like Winning #authortoolbox

I had my favorite kind of win this week, but it’s a strange one.

I submitted to #authormentormatch, provided my full MS and synopsis, *really* got my hopes up, and . . . wasn’t chosen. It happens. Usually, it’s no big deal.

I tried to hold my breath till I got feedback, but—this time—rejection slammed into me full forcegiphy.

(Read: the emotional impact of “losing” hit me Hard from all different angles).

Luckily, I knew feedback would come, and it was time to let the months of rejection process through tears.

Plus this. Because self care. chocolate-hazelnut-espresso-martini

I took time to recover, to open myself fully to what I could learn from losing. I wallowed and wept.

I troubled my poor husband way past his bed time.

The idea of quitting, or even taking a break, arose. Writing hurt so much, brought me so low.

But it was like that moment in Star Trek: First Contact, when Data is offered the choice to betray Starfleet to become human.

Lieutenant Commander Data: [about the Borg Queen] She brought me closer to humanity than I ever thought possible. And for a time, I was tempted by her offer.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: How long a time?

Lieutenant Commander Data: 0.68 seconds sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity.

–from IMDB

I considered it for 0.68 seconds. I’m no Data, but that’s all that thought needed.

I love writing too much. Even if I tried to quit or take a break, it would hurt too, plus I’d fail, because . . .

I love it too much.

Lesson: I knew exactly how much it means to me that I make my story WORK. 

So I turned my attention to another WIP, one I’m insanely excited about as well, and lost myself in the work.

When I received the feedback last night, it was a happy surprise. A full beta read+ a two-page critique/reader response. Something clicked. Then a lot of things clicked.

I learned something about my craft, not just my story. Because I was so open, so vulnerable, I was ready to see the bigger picture. And because this community is so wondrous and personal, with people giving and sharing with each other, I found my way forward.

Lightning struck; I built a plan, and today I’ll design the schedule to get it done.

I am so grateful to my newest reader, and to all the readers who’ve helped me grow as I have in the thing I love, as precious to me as air.

Y’all. Even the tears feel good in hindsight.

This is what 90% of “the writer’s life” will always be. We’ll write and share, edit and revise, listen and learn, because the rejections will mount forever. For every yes there may be a thousand nos.

Still, I love it.

I’d love to hear how other authors soldier on through rejection. What gets you through it?