Writing and Basic Human Needs

By: Kathleen Pickering

A shudder ran up my spine when Clare Langley-Hawthorne asked in her last blog, “When is it time to stop writing if you haven’t sold a book?” I could not imagine never writing again.

That, of course, got me thinking, well why not? Not writing wouldn’t kill me. I’d feel less pressure to perform, my days would free up and I could enjoy all those characters in my head as imaginary playmates. But, then I realized why I reacted so uncomfortably to Clare’s question. Simply put, we all have basic human needs. For me, writing fulfills all six of the basic human needs Anthony Robbins says every person craves for personal happiness. No wonder we authors are addicted to the craft!

Here are the needs as Tony Robbins lists them. I’ve shown how they fulfill my need to write:

1. Certainty – We all want to feel safe in our world. As a writer, I know the world I create is my own, no one can hurt it, change it, take it. I feel safe in my writing cocoon.

2. Uncertainty – We all crave variety, surprise and spontaneity or we’d get bored. Well, heck, do we or do we not get uncertainty and surprise from our characters? They always take us somewhere we don’t expect. Also, the uncertainty of the publishing industry and reader/editor opinion offers no small adrenaline rush in working towards success.

3. Significance – We all need to feel important in our world and often carry a fear of “not being enough.” Writing offers me a sense of significance, in that I feel unique in my craft and how I tell my stories. Being an author gives me a sense of worth.

4. Growth – If we don’t grow, we die. The richness of every book experience, from creating the work to selling, to networking, to celebrating and sharing, all contribute to my personal growth as an author. I feel an internal shift upwards with every book I write.

5. Connection/Love – We all need to bond and feel grounded with others. We all understand this. A perfect example for me was at this year’s Sleuthfest conference. I asked Dennis Lehane what inspired him to write Shutter Island and how he conducted his research. I was rewarded with a smile, an in-depth and heartfelt explanation that ended with, “this book describes me the best.” We all need connection and welcome the recognition in others.

6. Contribution – We act to make the world a better place. I’m not alone when I say I am an author with more than just a story to tell. (My brand.) Every book I write has a purpose, a theme, and mine is redemption. My world view is that we were born perfect onto a perfect planet, and somewhere along the line we lost that understanding. I write hoping my stories will get folks thinking towards shifting our perceptions back to a place of dancing and joy and connection with ourselves, each other and our precious world. I tell you, writing rocks!

My urban fantasy, Mythological Sam – The Call, embodies all six basic human needs of which Robbins speaks. That’s why I love writing and could never stop. Who else gets the opportunity to get their message across with a hilarious, demon-busting call to adventure while meeting their own human needs?

So, I ask you, as an author and a reader . . . how does writing/reading meet your human needs? And which two are most important?

Dueling Manuscripts

by Michelle Gagnon

So I’m currently working on two writing projects at the same time. One of the novels I’m actually getting paid for, the other is a passion project that I started last year and have yet to finish. The goal is to complete both novels in the next six months.

These days, dueling manuscripts aren’t a rarity–in fact, most of the writers I know are doing the same, publishing multiple books a year just to stay afloat.

But a few weeks into this multitasking adventure, I can’t for the life of me figure out how they’re managing it. I feel like I’m trying to nudge two balls up a mountain simultaneously: I manage to move one a few feet, only to discover that the other has slipped down and I have to race back to it.

In the past I’ve worked on short stories while writing a novel, or tackled a screenplay while editing a book. But this is the first time I’ve confronted the challenge of working on two completely separate series simultaneously. Better yet, one is geared toward a Young Adult audience, and I’m still somewhat confused about what limitations that places on it (I don’t generally have much sex in my books, but my characters do tend to have filthy mouths. Is that okay? Do teens say “like” anymore? And what kind of music are the kids listening to these days anyway? You see the problem.)

My agent expressed concern when we first discussed the possibility of signing a new book contract. After all, we’d agreed that I would take my time with the passion project (which will henceforth be referred to as MOPWW, or “My Own Personal White Whale”), working on it without deadline pressure.
“So you’re sure you can write both in that timeframe?” she asked (sounding, in all honesty, a little dubious).
“Oh, absolutely,” I said with confidence. “In fact, I’ll probably have them both done early.”

Ha ha ha.

While contract negotiations were finalized, I did my utmost to finish MOPWW. Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed, and suddenly the “i’s” were dotted and “t’s” were crossed and the September 1st deadline for the YA novel became a reality. I was forced to admit that I’d have to work on both books at the same time.

Initially, I didn’t think it would be a problem. I figured I’d spend mornings on one, and then alternate after lunch. Easy, right?

The problem is, I end up becoming so engaged with one project, it’s hard to switch gears. I find myself really wanting to forge ahead with MOPWW, to the complete neglect of the other manuscript (you know, the one I’m actually getting paid for). Just one more day, I figure. If I can write just a few more scenes, and get within striking distance of the ending, I can set it aside and work on the YA in earnest…

Next thing I know, another week has passed and I’ve primarily made progress on the whale.

Meanwhile, that deadline clock is ticking away in the background, dishes are piling up in the sink, laundry is overflowing the hamper, bills are sitting on my desk unopened (and oh, the mess on my desk–I’m sure it puts Clare’s to shame).
So how do people do it? And is anyone willing to take care of these dishes for me?

Freedom from the Virtual Tether

by Michelle Gagnon

Hi. I’m Michelle, and I’m hooked on the internet. Sure, I make all sorts of excuses. I’m only doing it for the marketing. I need it for research. It’s the only social interaction I get, especially now that the UPS guy won’t be showing up daily with Christmas deliveries. I can stop whenever I want.
So here we are in a brand new year. I’m not usually one for making resolutions, but Clare’s post on Monday touched a nerve.
Clare discussed the merits of keeping a writing journal while working on a book. And all I could think was that there was no way I’d ever find the time- I’m barely getting enough fiction writing as it is.
Which then lead to musings on why that’s the case…
When I tabulate it, time spent dealing with emails, social networking groups, and listservs has crept up every year. Every writer knows that this is somewhat of a necessary evil- we’re constantly told that these days online marketing is key, and maintaining a presence in these different forums is critical to our success.
But is it true?

Sure, I’ve made sales via Facebook, Twitter, and some of the lists. But even skimming the group digest deluge that arrives in my inbox every day sucks up precious minutes. Responding to other peoples’ comments and feeds takes even more time. And at the end of the day, I discover that I’ve spent a fairly significant chunk of it on minutiae. It’s as if I spent an entire afternoon hanging out by the watercooler (and yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of posting this on a blog).

So here’s my resolution: I’m signing up for Freedom, a program that will lock me out of the internet for specific time periods. For months I’ve resisted doing this, since it would seem to imply an appalling lack of self-control. But there it is, the sad truth. I’ve tried cutting back on my own, turning off my Airport. And yet when I hit one of those writing lulls, my first thought is, “I wonder if that email came in?” or “What’s happening on Facebook?”

Here’s the companion issue: checking all of those nifty devices. I went to dinner with a friend last week who spent most of our evening together simultaneously checking email, texts, and God knows what else. And I’m not throwing stones–I’ve occasionally been guilty of the same. It’s tempting, after all, to constantly monitor that virtual tether. But it’s also an addiction that appears to be spiraling out of control worldwide.

Two resolutions, then: the Freedom program, and keeping my various devices tucked away the majority of the time. As with all addictions, I’ll be taking it one day at a time. So if I don’t respond to your comments immediately, don’t take it as an affront- rather, a sign that I’ve taken that first step. Wish me luck.

Bait and Switch Tactics

Bait and Switch Tactics are a means to keep your reader on the edge of her seat with gripping fear for your characters’ lives. What you’ll want to do is isolate your characters, then write scenes in each person’s viewpoint with a cliffhanger at the end of each sequence. This only applies if you are writing from two or more characters’ points of view.

In SILVER SERENADE, my current science fiction romance, Silver is an assassin whose assignment is to kill Tyrone Bluth, the leader of a ruthless band of terrorists. Jace, a hunted criminal, needs Bluth alive to prove his innocence. In addition, Bluth has kidnapped Jace’s sister and so Jace must learn her location from the man.

Silver promises to help Jace before she kills the monster who destroyed her family. Whether or not she will hold to this promise is the basis of the romantic conflict. Silver and Jace are both after the same target but for different reasons.

In one scene, Silver and Jace confront the terrorist leader in his lair. The purpose of this scene is to deliver important information and propel the action forward. To rachet up the suspense, I’ve isolated my heroes. Here is how the scene breaks down [Spoiler Alert!]. It shows how this technique can work for genres other than mystery/suspense/thriller.

1. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace and Silver, in disguise, present themselves as new recruits for Bluth’s terrorist network. They look for their contact, Gruber, at a saloon on the planet Al’ron. While sitting at the bar, Silver shrugs off a roughneck patron who makes a play for her. The fellow insults Jace, who kills him. After this display, their contact approaches and introduces them to the bandit leader. Impressed by Jace’s quick response, Bluth says they passed the first test. He’ll take Silver with him to his headquarters, but Jace must follow them alone in his ship. Jace fears for Silver’s safety. Or worse, will she use this opportunity to assassinate Bluth and leave him behind?

2. Silver’s viewpoint. She is on a firing range at headquarters for Tyrone’s Marauders, being tested for her skills as a sharpshooter. She passes the test. Her supervisor marches her to the detention center where the evil Bluth snatches a captive child from his mother’s arms and demands Silver shoot him. Tempted to aim her laser rifle at Bluth instead, Silver manages to demonstrate her skill in a less lethal manner. During their dialogue, she learns a piece of important information. Bluth leads her away, while she wonders what’s happened to Jace who has failed to show up. Has he been caught?

3. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace’s cover has been blown, and Bluth arrives to torture him in his prison cell. Bluth questions him about his contact, Gruber. Was Gruber duped by Jace, or is he a willing accomplice? Jace turns the interrogation around when he learns where his sister is being held and also gains news on urgent political issues. What chills him more is Bluth’s boast that Silver waits for him in his chamber, unaware the pirate knows her true identity.

4. Silver’s viewpoint: Silver seeks to rescue Jace. In the hallway, she hears approaching footsteps. She opens the nearest unlocked door and slips inside a stranger’s quarters. He turns out to be a financial officer for Bluth. After rendering him unconscious, Silver copies data from his computer. This information may help prove Jace’s innocence and may also help them cut off Bluth’s funding at its source. But this data will only be useful if she can escape the complex. How can she reach the detention center and free Jace?

5. Jace’s viewpoint: Guards arrive to march him from his cell, and he figures he’s marked for execution.

And so on. You get the idea? When I began this scene, I had no idea how it would play out. The sequences developed as I wrote, but each time I was in one character’s head, I left them at a critical juncture. Hopefully this will induce you, the reader, to keep turning pages to see what happens next.

In summary, to increase suspense, isolate your main characters and leave each one in jeopardy or fearing for the other’s safety at the end of each sequence. Switch back and forth, until they meet again. This technique has been used successfully in many thrillers, and you can deploy it for your story as well. Hook your readers and reel them in!

For more info on Silver Serenade, go to http://www.thewildrosepress.com/nancy‑j‑cohen‑m‑831.html

A New Challenge

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I was envious when I read John’s post on Saturday about how easy he found writing a short story because I had just the opposite experience – I found it incredibly challenging. My main difficulty? Stopping myself from turning it into chapter one of a new novel.

I view a short story as having a single transformative story arc – one told in the most concise and most powerful terms possible. All fine and dandy in theory but no sooner do I start than I fall prey to an overabundance of backstory and plot complications – and these little buggers have an annoying habit of multiplying, so by the time I reach around 4,000 words I realize what I really have is, you guessed it, chapter one of a new novel. Characters have already started taking control, offering me a range of complexities that I can’t help but want to explore, the setting demands detailed description which I cannot resist providing and the story arc takes on a much grander scale that will inevitably fail as a short story.

With this particular short story (which I’m hoping will pass muster and be published in the Kill Zone collection you’ll be hearing much more about) this dilemma created both opportunities as well as challenges. I had to rise to the challenge of paring everything down so it would succeed as a short story and I realized I had the seeds for a new series set in Australia which was quite exciting (oddly enough I’ve never written anything actually set in the land I grew up in).

My first step to transforming my piece into a ‘proper’ short story was to think about structure. I focused on the four main elements I thought I needed:
  1. Establishment of setting
  2. A trigger for action
  3. A build up of suspense and conflict
  4. A critical choice
  5. Resolution

When I found I basically had all these elements (albeit muddied by too much dialogue, description and backstory!) I knew my main focus had to be on paring everything down to its essential elements. This included character, setting, as well as plot and once I started this process I also found that I could focus on what the story was really all about.

Last Friday I took my short story to my writing group for their critique and they helped me identify areas of improvement and further ‘pruning’ – hopefully I’m now close to the final product and, more importantly, I feel like I’ve grappled with a new challenge that has improved me as a writer.

I can’t say I like the short story as a medium – I am a novelist at heart – but I do appreciate the intensity and power it can bring. I may not have enjoyed the process but as compensation I do have a new (male) protagonist that intrigues me. So who knows, this particular challenge may spur me on to develop a whole new series of books!

My question for you all is what was the last challenge you tackled head-on in terms of your writing (or anything else for that matter). Did it yield any surprising results or have a silver lining? I confess for me, I didn’t love the process but in the end I think it’s made me a better writer (that or just a more delusional one!).

Confessions of an Editor

We’re thrilled to welcome editor Kristen Weber as our guest-blogger today. Kristen has worked as an in-house editor for her entire book publishing career (except for a brief stint as a subsidiary rights assistant) before relocating to Los Angeles for her husband’s job. She’s currently freelance editing in between relearning to drive and hanging out with her pug. You can learn more about her services here:
Tackling my first freelance editorial project, I learned something quickly. You can get a lot more done as a book editor when you’re not actually working as one.
I hardly ever edited or even read a submission at my desk when I was working in-house. I was attending meetings, answering emails (you could lose a whole day right there), checking cover copy, catalog copy, and cover proofs, reviewing contracts, chatting with authors and agents, and just basically making sure every aspect of every book I worked on was perfect and making sure my authors were happy and agents remembered me for every good submission that they had.
I had lunch with a film person here in Los Angeles, and he said, “I picture you editors sitting in dark rooms with only one light on buried under papers and having no human contact.”
That just isn’t the case. The majority of my actual editing and reading (and I know this was true for almost all of my colleagues as well) happened at home in my “free” time. Otherwise we all had to be very personable and present in the office as we worked on many different projects at once.
But my favorite part of the job was always the editor / writer interactions. I’ve heard a lot of people say editors just don’t edit anymore, but I never found that to be the case. My authors will all attest to my carefully worded 6-10 page single spaced editorial letters and my colleagues were always working on letters like those as well.
As an editor, I feel like my job is to help authors push their own words and ideas out even further. They already have the spark of something great…editors are just trying to help them make it explode. And I’m rediscovering my joy for this now, in the quiet of my home or by the pool.
I think the most important thing you can do as a writer is collaborate with your editor. Even if you don’t agree with their suggestions, take time to think about them. Walk around the block. Because you just might be too close to see that there’s a problem…and even if you don’t like whatever solution your editor is suggesting.
I’m also a big fan of writing groups. But I often see projects that have been workshopped essentially to death. The writer received too many different opinions and tried to incorporate all of them into their manuscript, losing their own voice and vision in the process. My feeling on that is writing groups are great for friendship and support. They also can give you great help with revisions – but you need to make sure any changes you make based on their suggestions are true heart. You’re the writer. You don’t have to change anything you don’t want to…although you should probably revisit that if you’re getting multiple agent or editor rejections and they all focus on the same plot point that your writer’s group couldn’t get behind either.
So far I am having a great time freelance editing. I love seeing how a writer runs with my comments on their book. And I can’t wait to see what shape these projects I am working on end up taking as many don’t even have agent representation yet. I am coming in way earlier on the process than I ever did before. And I guess I kind of am now editing alone (although it isn’t dark – coming from a tiny New York City apartment, there is more light than I know what to do with) surrounded by papers…but I certainly don’t miss all of the meetings!