For the Love of It–Words of Wisdom

Back in 2016 when I was working on the first two novels in the Empowered series and taking a self-study crash course in indie publishing, “writing to market” was the topic d’jour in indie author circles and on self-publishing podcasts. Chris Fox’s Write To Market laid out how to do this. I have indie author friends who were adroit at figuring out the tropes and trends in their particular sub-genre and successfully hit their particular market’ bull’s-eye.

Contrast that with advice I’d read years before, from agents and editors, to be aware of the market, but not chase it, since you’ll always be behind. Instead write the story that you most want to tell, which still seems like very sound advice. Another way of putting it is to know the reader expectations of your particular genre, but first and foremost, write what you love. Finding the place on the publishing Venn diagram where those expectations and what you love intersect can connect you with readers.

Today’s Words of Wisdom looks at the importance of writing “for the love of it.” Rather than the usual trio of excerpts we have a quartet of briefer ones on writing what you love, the different kinds of love you need, how writing what you love can rejuvenate and power your writing, and how love for a project can be a vital factor in your success. Two are from JSB, since they build nicely off each other. Even more than usual, given the short length of the excerpts, it is worth checking out the full versions, which are linked at the bottom of their respective enteries here.

I thought I’d follow on from Jim’s terrific post yesterday about writing with heart, and discuss an issue that is just as important in my view – writing what you love and not what you think the market will love. It drives me crazy when people say “you should write a romance – you’d make more money that way” or (even weirder) “You should write erotica – it’s really hot (no pun intended) right now.” For some reason there always seem to people wanting to make ‘helpful suggestions’ on what you should write – usually by pointing out the ‘hot’ genre on the current bestseller list, as if that is all it takes. Hey, if you just added a paranormal element to your mystery, shazam, you’d have it made.

If only it was that easy…For many wannabe writers the thought of becoming the next J K Rowling or Stephenie Meyers is enticement enough, as is the belief that somehow if you write to what you think the market wants, your future will be secure. Wrong.

Setting aside the obvious (that by the time you’ve written what the market loves now, the market has already shifted to something else) there is something more fundamental at stake. As my agent always says, you must write what you love. Why? Because it shows.

It shows if you are writing a romance when you think it’s ‘easy money’. It shows if you write a YA fantasy when you really want to write contemporary thrillers…If your heart isn’t in it, the readers will know you’re faking it.

Clare Langley-Hawthrone–June 14, 2010

The world is full of entertaining distractions, and many of them would give me more pleasure than writing my novel would, at least in the short term. Yet I convince myself that this isn’t true. I put down my newspaper and tell myself, “You know what? My novel is more interesting than the CIA director’s scandalous affair. So what, the guy fooled around with a fawning younger woman, what’s so interesting about that? Come on, stop searching the Internet for lubricious details. Stop exchanging snarky e-mails with your friends. Get back to work!”

And this brings me to the second lie I tell myself. At some point in the process of writing a novel I become convinced that this book is the best thing I’ve ever written. No — the best thing ever written by anybody. Crazy, right? The lie is so absurd I can’t seriously entertain it for very long. But it’s a useful delusion to have, especially when I’m struggling with the book and the deadline is approaching and I have to devote practically every waking moment to finishing the damn thing. Why put in all the effort if the novel isn’t fantastic?

Then I finish the first draft and stop telling myself the lies. They’ve served their purpose, so I don’t have to believe them anymore. I wait a few weeks, and then I’m ready to look at the manuscript again and confront the truth: the book is a mess. Some parts don’t make sense, other parts are boring. I don’t love the book anymore. But I don’t hate it either. Now it’s time for some tough love. An intervention. I have to whip the manuscript into shape.

And then, after all the revisions are done and the final changes sent to the copy editor and the advance reading copies distributed to the reviewers, then I’m ready to fall in love with the book again. But this time it’s not a blind, self-deluding infatuation. I’ve done my best to fix the novel’s flaws, but I know it’ll never be perfect. I love the book despite its imperfections and infelicities. I’m at this stage now with my next novel, which will be published in February. I’m still collecting blurbs and composing the jacket copy, but I can’t make any major changes to the book. This stage is the literary equivalent of zipping up your lover’s dress and clasping the pearls around her neck, getting her ready for her big night on the town.

Go out there, beautiful. Knock ’em dead.

Mark Alpert—November 17, 2012

 

We have to have that in our writing if we’re going to keep doing this for the long term. You’ve only got so much time. Give that time to the stories you’re burning to tell. Do that first, and the money will follow. How much, no one can say. But joy tips the balance in your favor. For example, in addition to my novels and novellas, I’m writing short stories about a boxer in 1950s Los Angeles. I make some scratch every month on these. But more than that, I love writing them. It’s a different voice and genre than I normally write in, which has the added benefit of keeping my writing chops sharp.

If you love what you do you’ll do more of it, and  you’ll do it better, and that will increase the odds of making a decent buck at this—either through self-publishing or finding a traditional publisher who believes in your voice and vision. Or some combination of the two.

So my question for you today is, do you love what you’re writing? If not, why not?

James Scott Bell—September 29, 2013 

  1. Love

An inner fire to make it as a writer will get you through years of cold reality. I suspect that the majority of writers who make it to full-time status love what they do. Writing is a part of them, a calling as well as a vocation.

It’s certainly possible to write out of sheer business-mindedness (I think, however, that this is much easier when you write non-fiction). Yet there’s a certain something that gets translated to the page by the writer who loves the work. I believe you can write what you love and, if you do so with the other characteristics listed below, earn a fair return.

  1. Discipline

“One of the big lessons of sports for dedicated individuals and teams is that it shows us how hard work, and I mean hard work, does pay dividends.” – John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach

Love is not enough. Ask anyone who’s married.

Work puts legs on the dream.

  1. Perseverance 

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” – Randy Pausch, “The Last Lecture”

The true writer puts this thought in mind: I am going to write and never stop because that’s what I want to do. I will keep learning and growing and producing the words. I’ll keep carving out time to write, even if it means giving some things up. And it will always be too soon to quit. 

James Scott Bell—November 2, 2014

***

  1. Where are you on the spectrum of writing for love – writing to market? Does writing to market work for you?
  2. Do you maintain your love for a project throughout the process of writing it? Any tips?
  3. Has love for a particular story or novel rejuvenated your writing?
  4. How important is it to you to write what you love?

Macro-Level Jump Cut Scene

Full Disclosure: Jump cut may not be the correct term for the advice that follows. Years ago, the late great John Yeoman, beloved writing coach and friend, called the cinematic technique a jump cut during one of our lengthy craft discussions. Thus, it’s the term I’ve always used. Then I reread JSB’s 2018 article to prepare for this post. Jim’s correct use of the term is more widely known. Nowhere could I find the description of what I call a jump cut. Nonetheless, the two techniques are basically the same. When I use the term, I’m referring to the macro-level. Jim’s post focused on the micro-level.

Clear as mud? Okie doke, moving on…

The macro-level jump cut is a technique where the writer drops the reader into a harrowing situation—in media res—conflict builds, tensions rise, all without the reader knowing what proceeded this scene (aside from a few hints). The scene ends at a pivotal moment. Next scene rewinds the clock to the days or hours leading up to the opener. We’ve all seen this play out in movies and net-streaming series. Novelists use it to ensure readers will stick around to find out how the protagonist wound up there. Inducing curiosity and/or fear in the opener strangleholds the reader, forcing them to keep flipping pages.

The payoff that follows must live up to the hook. All my Grafton County Series novels (except the first book) open with the first half of the jump cut scene. Chapter One rewinds the story. It isn’t necessary to label this scene as a prologue. I do, but it could also be the first chapter. If you choose to include it as a prologue, Chapter One still needs its own hook.

Remember the pivotal moment where we left the reader? No matter where the payoff is—first plot point, midpoint, or climax—continue the jump cut scene from there. Newer writers may be tempted to copy/paste the first half of the scene. Resist that urge. Trust the reader to connect the dots. They’ll recognize the setting and situation.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Prologue of Pressure Points by Larry Brooks opens like this…

It was the echo of gunfire that kept him running. His body had long ago abandoned hope, pushing on faith alone through a fog of pain and fatigue. Logic screamed that this was pointless, while another voice whispered it was all a lie. Both were old friends that had served him well, and like Jesus on his fortieth desert night, he was tempted.

But neither voice was real. The gunshot had been real. The echo of it was real.

And so he ran. For his very life, and for those left behind. He knew that precious little time remained, and what was left was as critical as it was dwindling. Everything he had ever learned or believed or dreamed was at stake. He was out of options, down to a final chance that, win or lose, would be his statement to the universe.

It was his time. He had come full circle.

It is not paranoia when they are really out to get you. When they are right on your ass, downwind of the scent of your blood, closing fast.

Whoever the hell they are.

He ran all through the night’s relentless downpour. Low branches whipped his forehead and cheeks until they bled. He could feel his heart pounding in every extremity of his body, his vision clouded by sweat and rain. Both elbows were bloodied from a fall when his foot caught an exposed root, sending him skating wildly across a patch of decaying leaves. Leaping over a rotting log, he felt his right ankle turn impossibly inward, and the ensuing bolt of pain seized his leg like a pair of gigantic hands twisting with the enthusiasm of a gleeful sadist. But he had no time for this or any other distraction, not on this night, when, one way or the other, his past would finally and conclusively catch up with him.

Chapter One rewinds to 41 days earlier. I can’t show you the payoff scene without ruining the ending. Trust me, it’s amazing.

Please excuse my using an excerpt from one of my books. I searched my Kindle for other examples but couldn’t find any that jumped out at me.

The Prologue of RACKED opens with…

In the vast openness of the snowmobile trails, solar-powered Christmas lights danced across pine needles on the branches I separated while the lanky silhouette of the Serial Predator tossed shovelfuls of dirty snow on a mound. Was he digging a fresh grave? My calf muscles jumping-jacked beneath my skin, begging me to run. But I couldn’t. Not yet.

A row of thin birch trees bowed over the makeshift grave, thin branches curled like the skeletal fingers of a demon protecting its prey. The overcast sky blurred the hazy moon into non-compliance, its glow hastened by gathering storm clouds.

Who did he plan to bury here? My gloved hand clawed at my throat.

Please tell me Noah’s still with Mrs. Falanga. All the saliva in my mouth dried, my insides squirming, screaming for release. What if Childs left his post long enough for the Serial Predator to sneak past him? What if he murdered everyone in the house? What if he abducted my son after Mrs. Falanga tucked him in bed? She might not realize he’s missing till dawn.

Beyond the tree a flashlight balanced on its end, a smoldering yellow glow pointed toward the heavens. Cigarette smoke billowed through the haze. Hot ash tumbled into the darkness when he flicked the filter into the arctic December air.

I backed away from the tree.

Crunch.

My right heel froze on the pinecone.

The Serial Predator slung his portable spade over one shoulder and stalked toward me. “Hello?”

Male voice. Almost familiar. Where had I heard it before?

Holding my breath, cramps squeezed my calf muscles as I crouched behind the conifer, flames tunneling down my sciatic nerve to my partially raised foot, bent at such an angle mind-numbing pain riddled the whole right side of my leg.

The Serial Predator hustled back to the shallow grave, and I lowered my wet boot to the snow. The moment he turned his back, I nosedived toward the base of the tree trunk, slithering beneath the branches like a frightened garter snake. Snow piled around the bottom helped shield the top half of my body. I pulled my legs out of view. A glacial breeze swept across my wet hair, and I could not stop shivering, the icy snow soaking through my jeans and wool coat.

With one smooth motion, he swiped his flashlight off the snow and aimed the beam toward the pine tree. “Hello?”

After the blinding light struck my eyes, I would never be able to describe his face or any distinguishable features, the black hoodie masking his identity. He could be anyone. Or no one.

With both gloved hands covering my nose and mouth, I held back icy breath that threatened to reveal my hiding spot.

“Is someone there?”

A cylindrical sphere lasered through the pine needles, and I ducked, my bare cheek trembling against a clustered mass of icicles. Snow boots clomped around the tree, then stopped—inches from my face.

Dear God, don’t let him find me.

Chapter One rewinds to 26 hours earlier.

Have you used this technique in one of your novels? There’s nothing wrong with writing a linear storyline. This is just another option. Let’s discuss.

8 Writer Tips To Keep Your Butt in the Chair

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



I like to reexamine what tips I would give to aspiring authors, or even experienced authors, when I get a chance to speak to a group. Invariably the question comes up on advice and I’ve noticed that what helps me now is different than what I might have found useful when I started. Below are 8 tips I still find useful. Hope you do too, but please share your ideas. I’d love to hear from you.

1.) Plunge In & Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly  – Too many aspiring authors are daunted by the “I have to write perfectly” syndrome. If they do venture words onto a blank page, they don’t want to show anyone, for fear of being criticized. They are also afraid of letting anyone know they want to write. I joined writers organizations, took workshops, and read “how to” articles on different facets of the craft, but I also started in on a story.

2.) Write What You Are Passionate About – When I first started to write, I researched what was selling and found that to be romance. Romance still is a dominant force in the industry, but when I truly found my voice and my confidence came when I wrote what I loved to read, which was crime fiction and suspense. Look at what is on your reading shelves and start there.

3.) Finish What You Start –  Too many people give up halfway through and run out of gas and plot. Finish what you start. You will learn more from your mistakes and may even learn what it takes to get out of a dead end.

4.) Develop a Routine & Establish Discipline – Set up a routine for when you can write and set reasonable goals for your daily word count. I track my word counts on a spreadsheet. It helps me realize that I’m making progress on my overall project completion. Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, said that he wrote his non-fiction books doing it a page a day. Any progress is progress. It could also help you to stay offline and focused on your writing until you get your word count in. Don’t let emails and other distractions get you off track.
5.) Have an Outline – Even a pantser like me needs a guidepost for a story. If I don’t have a good idea of general plot movements, I hit the halfway wall and stall out. I push through it, but it can take time. I posted an article on TKZ about my plotting/storyboard method. This method has helped me write my proposals with ease and I have a clear idea on major turning points in my novels. When you have deadlines to meet, it helps to have a good notion about your plot going in.
6.) Have More Than One Idea – I have recently tried writing different genres and have done something I never thought I would, which is write more than one book at a time. Crazy, I know, but I found it easy to work on my stamina and write a word count goal for one story in the morning session, then write a different project and shoot for a word count there too. I got the idea from a young writer friend, but it worked for me. That allowed me to make progress on two projects at once. This year I have pushed out of my comfort zone and have more than one project proposal with my agent on submission. I create a proposal that my agent can submit (synopsis and writing sample) then go on to finish the book while she’s taking it out. I’m not waiting by my desk for a quick response. I keep writing and moving on to finish my books so I have more options if I choose.
7.) Keep An Open Mind to Feedback – There definitely is a benefit to having beta readers. My agent also shares her invaluable insight to improve my proposals. I’ve found, in general, that if someone takes the time to share what makes them stumble or question my story (pulling them out of the world I want them to remain in), they are probably right. But since it is my story, how I choose to take their advice is up to me. By staying open, I often surprise myself.
8.) Know When to Step Away – If you reach a stall spot—some people call this writer’s block, but I choose not to believe in that—walk away and do something else. Your brain will work the problem, even as you sleep, and the ideas will come eventually. Trust your talent to find a solution or kick brainstorming ideas around with someone else. Often you will come up with your own resolution just by talking and explaining to another person.
So TKZers – What keeps your butt in the chair? What drives you and what works to keep you motivated?


Blood Score now available in audio from Audible Studios.

A dangerous liaison ignites the bloodlust of a merciless killer
When a beautiful socialite is savagely murdered in Chicago’s Oz Park, Detectives Gabriel Cronan and Angel Ramirez find her last hours have a sinister tie to two lovers. One is a mystery and the other is a famous violin virtuoso. A child prodigy turned world class musician, Ethan Chandler is young, handsome – and blind. He’s surrounded by admirers with insatiable appetites for his undeniable talent and guileless charm. From doting society women to fanatical stalkers and brazen gold diggers, the reclusive violinist’s life is filled with an inner circle of mesmerized sycophants who are skilled at keeping secrets.

After Cronan and Ramirez expose a shadowy connection between Ethan and the victim with a private elite sex club, they discover intimate desires and dark passions aren’t the only things worth hiding at all cost. A vicious killer will stop at nothing to settle a blood score.