Research for Writers: The Joys and The Frustrations

I am currently working on the sequel to “The Lady Bornekova“. In fact, I am away on a long weekend to get some serious work done on the manuscript. A place where I am free from my normal distractions of life. And I am LOVING it. But this book is requiring a LOT of research. I may be the odd ball, or maybe I’m like every other Historical Fiction writer, I have a love-hate relationship with research. Here’s why:

LOVE IT:

beta readerThe Learning. You learn so many cool things when you research. Plot lines, story lines, and interesting characters come to light when you do your research. Believe me, truth is stranger than fiction sometimes (and can be far more interesting). ESPECIALLY when these interesting tidbits are woven into fiction. Then you’ve got the potential for something amazing!

The Depth of Knowledge. One of the things that most Historical Fiction writers who really know how to research well (I do not count myself among them – I’m still new at this, I’m just sharing my knowledge), will encourage you to look for books on your subject. As opposed to simply research for that one tidbit of information that you need. Why? Because you don’t know what you don’t know. What do I mean by that? Well, there are those interesting twists, plots, and characters that you may not know about that happened/existed during that time period that would be pure gold in your story that you wouldn’t think to look up. And you’ll never know about them unless you read up about that time period or subject.

bunny trailsThe Bunny Trails. Piggy backing on my previous point, bunny trails can lead you to a gold mine of information if you are prudent with your time and focus. Otherwise, they can be a time drain.

HATE IT:

hourglass1The Time Drain. Right now I would just love to sit down and crank out this book, but that’s not possible. There is a lot of research between me and the rest of this manuscript. Research I did before hand, and I decided, in this case, to research as I’m writing. This is not a negative thing. Research sparks your storyline, but as you write, it can spark a direction to your research as well. But, no matter how you slice it, research takes time and effort. And it’s time and effort, I would rather put into writing sometimes.

bunny trailsThe Bunny Trails. I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, that’s not right! You put this in both categories!” That’s because it belongs in both categories. Remember how I said bunny trails can be a time drain? They can be. And they can lead you no where. That’s the down side.

boringSometimes…and I’m just going to say it…it can be boring. Can’t believe I said it, can you? Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE history. And I love learning new things. But I am not one for learning more about the nuances of battles and war. Well, this sequel takes place during the first part of the Hussite WARS. So, guess what I’m doing a ton of research on? You got it – battles, war, and the like. Not the most interesting thing I’ve ever researched. But there are gems to be found. The fact that this misfit army made up of farmers and working class laborers overcame such odds against well-trained armies. Amazing. And it really happened.

So, all in all, there are ups and downs on the research trail. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Happy writing!

 

Setbacks

We all have setbacks in our lives…whether they be connected to our crafts or our daily lives. These things creep into our existence and rear their ugly heads, taking our lives over, it seems, and distracting us from our goals, our purpose, our plans.

physical setbackPhysical Setbacks.  This is where I am right now. I am struggling with some health issues that have all but taken me out. I feel as if I am down for the count. But the minute I start to believe that, is the minute it becomes true. The old adage “mind over matter” is so frequently quoted because there is truth to it.

mental setbackMental Setbacks. I have a healthy dose of this going on too. One of my medications causes me to feel really, really tired. This makes concentration and focus very difficult. Writer’s block, here I come. But, again, when I start to allow that to become the truth for me, it becomes my state of being. And perpetuates itself. So, I contacted my doctor, resolved the issue as best we could (I know this is not always possible). Now I am working toward living and working in this “new normal”.

External Setbacks. Believe you me, I have seen setbacks of many size, shape, and color. And I know how devastating some of them can be. Not all of them can be worked through. And I’ve seen my share of depression…I know that some of these setbacks can get you down. But I feel confident in saying that, even in struggling with a setback like depression, you have to strive for recovery goals. Goals like getting out of bed, showering, brushing your teeth, etc. The stronger you are in the midst of what you are going through, the higher you set that bar.

baby-steps2How do we overcome setbacks? Work through them. Set smaller goals (baby steps if you have to) and focus on them. It’s not going to be all sunshine and roses. By that, I mean it’s not going to be easy, but with your support system in place and your own determination driving you, I have no doubt that you will push through, you will overcome.

A Whole New World

I would say that I’m still fairly new to this writing journey. I have been writing for most of my life, but as far as actively working to hone my skills through courses and conferences and workshops, it’s only been the last couple of years or so. Still, even for a newbie, some things are becoming apparent to me. One thing is for certain, becoming a writer changes the way you look at the world around you.

inspirationYou find INSPIRATION in unexpected places. Stories come alive to you in a way they never did before. And the most mundane objects can spark an idea or even a storyline in your mind. This is something that has always been true for me, but has reached a whole new level since taking my craft more seriously.

beta readerYou can’t just READ a book anymore. You find yourself annoyed by the inconsistencies and the places where the story or the writing fell short. Not necessarily because you are a judgmental person, but because you have learned to be super discerning in editing your own work that something about it just strikes you, like someone hitting a dissonant chord. It just doesn’t sit well.

cat watching movieYou can’t just WATCH a movie anymore. You find yourself constantly analyzing storylines. The same goes for television shows. You are tuned in (pun intended) to the writing. Your desire to better your own skill had wired you to note the most minute things – character arcs, themes, conflict, scene structure, and so and and so forth. You just can’t help it.

These are just the most glaring examples for me. There are likely more that you could name for yourself. And, as much as I miss just sitting back with a book or movie and watching for fun, I wouldn’t trade my new career aspirations for anything. Happy writing!

The Social Media Beast – My Perspective

In my limited experience among other writers through groups and online classes and whatnot, the big thing seems to be how to tame the social media beast. Mostly because number one, we are first writers and that’s what we want to do – write. Not invest in the time drag that can be marketing. And secondly, because, by and large, authors tend to be of a more introverted nature. Reaching out through social media just does not suit our makeup in most cases. So, what’s my perspective on this? I can only share how I’ve managed to find some balance. I can only tell you what tricks I use to make social media and marketing a part of my rather busy life. But I am willing to do share what I can.

balanceBalance. This is a buzz word these days. Especially for your particular season of life (which, I think this word tends to apply to almost every season). But I am in the season of littles. I have three children (6, 4, and 2) with their own needs and challenges and schedules. It’s a full time job! I also have this passion for writing, having become a published author within the last year (having a book released in July 2015 and one in January 2016). So, critique groups, online courses, conferences, having a mentor, and the social media/marketing piece are important to me. And then the writing, of course, as well. Are there enough hours in the day? No.

balance beamThe Beam. So what is one to do? As a wife and mom, there are responsibilities that must get done. As a writer/author, I deeply desire to continue to grow and hone my skill. Well, I cannot (obviously) do everything. I have to learn to make sacrifices and delegate some things. I have in the past called this “on the beam” (the important stuff I need to keep doing) and “off the beam” (the stuff I delegate or stop doing altogether). Laundry, dishes, general housework – off the beam – delegated. Playing with my children – on the beam. Dinner each night – split on the beam/off the beam with my husband. You can begin to see how this works for your different responsibilities.

hootsuite2Managing Social Media. For me, the best tool I utilize is Hootsuite. This has been a God-send in my life. It means for me that I sit down once a day and do my posts/tweets at once and schedule them out across the day. You can do a whole week at once, but I just do one or two days at a time because I like my posts/tweets to be current to what’s happening with me.  I tweet and post to facebook and my facebook author page every day. I’m also on pinterest, but update that less frequently.

facebook postWhat do I post? Don’t think of your social media outlets as a place to do all your marketing. It is a place to make connections with people. So, post about what interests you. Encourage interactions with others. If you like gardening, for example, post and pin (on pinterest) about gardening. Those that like gardening will follow you and then discover your books as they learn more about you. Just be yourself, though. As the other point of social media is for those who follow you because they already like your books to get a little “peek behind the curtain”, a little insight into who you are.

marketingWhen/Where do I market? I do, on occasion use my facebook and twitter to market. I believe the statistics say to use those outlets for marketing about 20% of the time. I do much less than that. Perhaps I should ramp it up, but that’s where I’m comfortable right now. You can also market yourself at speaking engagements. Whether or not you are speaking about your books. Mention that you are an author, pass out swag, do a door prize give-away of an amazon gift card or one of your books. Easy ways to get the word out.

email_listE-mail list. Grow your e-mail list. Send out newsletters with some frequency. I get one out every month or every other month. I try to provide something for my followers (like a recipe) as well as information about my books and what’s going on with me. But you want to get that list going because that belongs to you. Facebook and twitter do not. They could be gone tomorrow. Not likely, but possible.

baby-steps2Baby Steps. All in all, social media seems like a time drag and maybe like a drag period. But, to steal an idea from the movie “What about Bob?”, you can’t think about the whole thing, take it one step at a time…baby steps. Think about implementing one thing this week. Maybe a blog. Do that for a couple of weeks. Then maybe add facebook. Then after a few weeks, twitter. Add things slowly an as you feel you can handle them. Measure out your time. I allow myself about 10-15 minutes for Hootsuite each day. That’s all it takes. Then, on Tuesdays and Fridays, I give myself an extra hour for a blog post. I have a goal of editing or writing 2 scenes each day. Small goals, manageable goals. If I do more – great! Icing on the cake.

So, with that, I will say good luck! Take a hard look at your responsibilities, see what can be delegated. Add something new to your schedule, and go with it! Happy marketing!!

 

The Fear of Failure

fearWe all have fears…fear of something happening to one of our kids, fear of death, fear of pain…I’m totally afraid of a minor outpatient surgical procedure I’ll be undergoing tomorrow morning. I would put forth that fear is a natural part of life. I would also like to propose that most of our adult fears are basically a fear of the unknown. My fear of spiders, however, doesn’t apply. That’s a known, very real danger. Watch out, people! They’re out to get us! (All joking aside, even I can appreciate what spiders do for our planet – bug population control.)

What about those of us who are artists? Who put ourselves out there through our work? Or who are preparing to do so? What about that fear?

That fear is real. I believe that just about every artist experiences some level of fear when putting their art out into the world. It’s so much a part of who we are. What if no one likes it? What if critics are harsh? What if it is rejected? It will be like they are rejecting us. Who we are at our very core.

That fear can get in the way.

“90% of people who have a one-on-one with an agent at a conference and are requested to send in their material, never do. There are many reasons for this, but the #1 barrier is fear.”
― Bob Mayer, Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author

That fear doesn’t give up. Let’s say you do submit to the agent. Let’s even say you publish. That fear becomes your companion. Maybe not constant and maybe not even at the forefront of your mind. But it’s there, lurking. Waiting for that negative review or that criticism to confirm for you what your worst fear tells you – that you don’t measure up.

SO, WHAT IS ONE TO DO WITH THAT FEAR?

teamHave your team. You need those people in your life who support you and can ground you. Both so your head doesn’t get up in the clouds and so that you don’t let a bad review or some off the wall comment about your work drag you down. My team is priceless. My friends and family make up this group of supporters, as well as my professional connections. My beta readers, critique group, and writing mentor are invaluable to me for so many reasons. Their support,

truthHave the truth. You need to know who you truly are and where your worth is found. As for me, my sense of value is founded in who God says I am. So, whatever happens on Amazon reviews does not affect that. I am doing what God has set before me to do. The truth is that I am learning my craft, doing the best I can, telling the story that is in me to tell. It is my art. And someone’s opinion is just that – their opinion.

Have the courage to stand up to the lie. The lie that fear wants to tell you is that you don’t measure up, that your work (and therefore you) have been rejected. The truth is that any negative thoughts are words coming forth are opinions. They don’t know you, or your heart, or the purpose of your story. If they are criticizing your art, it is possible they have totally missed the mark, or just don’t share your views. That’s all it means. This does not discount who you are as a person or as an artist.

believe in yourselfBelieve in yourself. You are your number one champion. Though you have your support group, you have to believe in yourself. You are the one who sets your goals, who accomplishes them. And the one who will choose to believe the truth and not the lies or the fear.

 

Self-Editing: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Hello! I don’t know if any of my fellow writers are anything like me, but I do not enjoy self-editing. It is, frankly, a time drag. It is time, I think, that could be better spent creating new work. Imagine if I didn’t have to do any editing? How much quicker could I produce work? Wow! But the fact of the matter is, we all have to self-edit. It is a vital part of getting the manuscript ready for an agent/publisher.

WHY SELF-EDIT?

strongerIt only makes your manuscript stronger. It helps you fill in the gaps and catch any mistakes you may have made. It basically presents the best of you to your publisher, a potential publisher, or a potential agent/editor (whomever is reading your work). Especially if you wrote the manuscript a while ago and it has been resting. Or you have learned more about your craft in the meantime through online courses, workshops, or conferences. Bring that back to your work – enhance and hone your art.

requiredIt is required by many publishers before they send it to editing. I know that my publisher at least requires that I do a round of self-editing with their criteria and my own skills before I submit it to them for the three rounds of editing that they utilize (content, line, and proofing). I have been surprised at how many things I have caught between my own self-editing and then self-editing with their criteria. And what they are asking me to look for is good stuff. It’s just stuff that a newbie like me wouldn’t have thought about.

HOW DO YOU SELF-EDIT?

grammarLook for Grammatical Errors. This one is a no-brainer. One of the things I have found is helpful is to run your document through a couple of word processors though. For example, I used to write in LibreOffice. Well, LibreOffice catches a certain set of things. Word will catch a set. Some of these things overlap, but some do not. Word will catch things that LibreOffice did not. So, it behoves me to put my document through Word also. And that’s only one example.

Check for flow. One of the things you can do that is great for checking the flow of the document is to read it out loud. You would be amazed at the number of things you can catch that way. I know, it doesn’t seem that it would make that big of a difference, but it does. As you go through, check to make sure you’re not repeating words. Make sure you’re varying sentence beginnings. These are things that help with flow.

inconsistentDouble check for inconsistencies or content flaws. Be watchful for things you may have missed when writing. You really have to have eyes like a hawk when it comes to this. You know in your head how all of it works out, but try to look at it as a reader. If it’s not clear in the document, it’s not clear. If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. A reader can’t ask you for explanations.

Tighten where you can. There needs to be some flow to your manuscript, but it also need not be extraneously wordy. Jerry Jenkins gives wonderful tips about tightening, especially dialogue. You can check out his blog here. Extra words are sometimes that – extra words.

There are more, but these are the biggies. I also strongly encourage you to get more eyes on the work. Be that a critique group or a critique partner. Someone else to look at it and give you honest feedback. And that, my friends, is my two cents worth on self-editing. Happy writing!