Saturday, August 16, 2014

Feeding the Dreamers

Responsibility often shows up in the most unlikely places.
It's one thing to be at a book signing and have readers ask you questions about how to be an author (as if I know) and quite another to be at your niece's birthday party or in the parking lot of the grocery store . At the book signing you're on. You have your writer's hat on. But when you're eyeballing birthday cake and hollering at your kids to stop snapping each other with towels, well, it's different. I was in mom mode and I couldn't quite articulate my experience as an indie author.

I try to impress upon anyone who happens (on the very off-chance) to hear that I write books that I am not a traditional author and that I have only sold (for actual cash) somewhere between a thousand and two thousand books. For all the good it's done me, I've given away nearly ten thousand.
The question they (typically being bookworm teenage girls) always ask me is, "How do I become an author?"
It's silly but my mind actually seizes up at this question. But I gave it some thought and jotted it down.

Obviously, you have to write.
And write a lot.
Really you should write something every day.
I am not good at following this advice. Typically I blame the children but there are authors out there who also have children and still manage to get some writing done every day.
In this case, do as I say and not as I do.

All the time. Read different genres. Read poetry. Read the newspapers.

Accept that you're going to write crap.
Just get it in your head that the first draft will always be a junker. With each story you write you are a beginning potter and you are only just figuring out the shape of it what it is you're creating. The first attempt will be all misshapen and kind of leaning too far one the fourth or fifth time you work that story-clay, you'll know what you're doing.

Allow a trusted friend to read your work.
By trusted I don't mean the friend who will tell you it's great even when it's lumpy and misshapen. I've had the same BFF for 20+ years. She tells me how it is and she does it out of love, for my own good. Typically she is the only person who sees my raw manuscripts. Find someone you trust like this and talk it out. Sometimes these conversations will lead you to places you never knew your story should go.

Notice things. Smell the seasons. Feel the thirsty grass crunch beneath your feet. Notice the filtered light of the late afternoon sun. Be still and drink it all in, store it away.

And the old adage: write what you know.
Of course this means you're supposed to write from your own experience. But how boring would that be for most of us!? And what a travesty for readers! There would be no time-travel, no spaceships, no vampires. View it this way instead: write from your own emotional experience. Has your heart been broken by someone who has no clue they even held such power? Have you been lost in a mall and unable to find who you were supposed to be with? Has that particularly brutish wannabe-debutante at your school ever gotten nose-to-nose with you? Did you tremble with anger? Have you watched as the life flowed out of someone you loved?
Setting can be made up, easy as pie.
Use the heartache, the loneliness, the anger and panic you have felt to create those emotions in your characters, to impart those bits of your soul into your readers. Writing is often mentally exhausting for me because I often draw up bitter memories to create scenes and I find myself weeping not just for the story but for what I have gone through in my life. ("Why aren't you working on the next von Strassenberg book?!" BECAUSE IT STRESSES ME OUT!....whew, needed to say that)

Before you send off or upload anything, set it aside, write something else, and then go back and edit your first manuscript. This is where a lot of indie authors trip themselves up. We write, write, write, write, and we do a couple edits, we take notes from our friends, do some more edits, and then we upload. I have learned that this is a huge mistake. Set it aside, give yourself some emotional distance from it, and then go back.

I can offer no more advice than that. It was never my intent to be traditionally published. It was only after I figured out what an uphill battle indie publishing is that I finally sent off letters to agents. The one response I got back was, "We like your polish and tenacity but suggest you scrap your series in progress and send us something fresh." Being loyal to my readers, I opted not to scrap my series but plow ahead on my own.

In a nutshell, to be an author:
Be well-read. Be disciplined. Be determined. You only get better if you keep writing.

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