Skip to content

Tag: The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

Posted in Uncategorized

Q: My fiance is finishing up his first book, which has been kicking around his head for roughly 15 years. He’s into the initial editing phase, before he starts looking for an agent, and has asked for my help editing by reading through it. I enjoy the book and editing, but as I get closer to the end of the book, he gets more and more nervous. He is also hypercritical of his own writing and sometimes doesn’t believe that I actually like the book. What were some helpful ways people supported you during moments you were down on yourself about writing? What were some helpful things people did for you during editing to either help you edit or to take your mind off of freaking out about editing/the future?

A: I hate to be the one to break this to you, but your fiance is a writer. There is nothing you or anyone else will ever be able to tell him that will make him feel less nervous or critical about his work. And that’s partially a blessing; writers who believe they’re super awesome writers are goofy, intolerable people, anyway. Out of every writer I’ve ever met, I think a total of ten of them have really believed that they’re amazing writers. They were all super boring and not great writers. I have the same philosophy on this as I do on parenting: If you think you’re doing amazing, you’re probably not. If you think you’re doing awful, then you’re probably doing okay.

The best way you can be supportive is to give him honest feedback. If you spend too much time going, “No, this is really, really good, you’re not giving yourself enough credit, you’re a great writer, etc.” it’s just going to sound like you’re patronizing him, or that you really don’t like it but you’re pretending to because you love him. Whether or not that’s true, he’s going to think it anyway. The nerves, self-criticism, lack of confidence, and generally fatalistic attitude are all part of the writing process. Being straightforward and direct about the material as you’re reading it will go a lot further than trying to build up his confidence through other means. You sound like you already have passion and enthusiasm for helping him see this through, and even though he has moments of self-doubt, I promise that your willingness to participate in his dream with him is the most helpful thing you can do.

 

Q: Do your stories change a lot due to the conditions of the houses where they were published? I’m concerned that I might have to make unnecessary changes in order to fit into a certain mold, but I don’t know for sure and I’d really like to hear what you have to say about that. Thank you very much.

A: So, this is a question writers hear a lot. How much is a publisher going to change my work? And I don’t really have the answer to that because every writer/publisher relationship is different. But usually, an editor will be upfront about whether or not the book is going to need major changes, and probably won’t buy a book if it doesn’t fit their line already. Publishing houses aren’t going to buy a book they’re not looking for with the intent of making the author change it into something they are. They get enough submissions that if your book won’t fit their mold, they just won’t buy it.

When I originally submitted my first book to Harlequin’s Bombshell line, I got a revision letter saying, hey, this would work better for Harlequin Luna. Here are the changes you need to make for it to fit in with the Luna line. And it was a huge rewrite, so they didn’t want to take a chance and give me a contract with the intent of asking me to rewrite the whole book. I could have walked away at that point and went, “No, that’s too much work, it changes my book too much.” So, there was definitely a stage before a contract was offered where they were upfront that the book would not be picked up in the form I’d shown them and that major changes would have to be made.

But after you sell the book, there are still going to be things they’ll want to change, and that’s where I’m seeing a red flag word in your question. “Unnecessary.” That’s a subjective word. What you believe is necessary and what your publisher believes is necessary might not be the same, and if you’ve signed that contract, you’re not the one who decides what “unnecessary” means. I’ve known writers who’ve lost contracts because they balked at fairly minor revisions, and this is almost always because they’re so enamored with their artistic vision that they convinced themselves any changes would ruin their book. If an editor is asking for a change there’s a reason, and a good editor will be able to articulate that reason. It would be very rare for that reason to be “this makes it more like the other books we publish,” because if your book was so far outside of the style their readers expect, they probably wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. Remember that an editor isn’t there to steal or ruin your work and they don’t want to make it their own or put their own stamp on it. They’re the bridge between your work and your audience, and any changes they make are to facilitate and enhance your readers’ engagement with the story.

 

Bonus question: What software do you use to write your novels? What are the pros and cons of that program?

A: For my drafts, I use a website called Novlr.org. It’s a subscription-based, stripped down version of Scrivener that stores all of your work online (and syncs copies of your drafts to Dropbox and Google Drive daily). This is a super important feature for me because I don’t have to worry about which version of which file is which when going from my desktop to my laptop or vice versa. After the first draft is done, it gets exported to Word for revisions.

The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s that time of the week, when I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.

Q: Writing a novel, especially for the first time, can take a long time. How would you suggest an aspiring author time-manage writing a novel? Should someone “quit their day job” and just start writing (extra question: how to manage finances while not working..?)? Or should an aspiring author try and write in whatever time they have and hope that it is enough time/effort spent to create a worthy final product?

A: When I wrote my first novel, I was a stay-at-home mom to an infant. I started writing the book when my son was four months old, and I did it basically when I could. If he was napping, I would write for that ten whole freaking minutes (the kid never slept) or what have you. It took me probably six months to write the first three chapters (then a panicked week to write the rest, but that’s a different story). Even after I got a contract, it wasn’t enough to live off, so I ended up getting a job, where I wrote here and there on my lunch breaks. I would never in a million years say, “You should quit your job with no financial plan whatsoever and just hope it will all work out!” If you’re a lucky person with disposable income and you can afford to put back like, six months worth of rent and bills and stick to that budget and you feel like you’re totally secure to take those six months off, sure. But that is not the advice I would give you.

The fact is, even if you get to the point where you can make a living on writing alone, you’re still going to have to make time to write. Mostly because the people in your life are not going to respect the fact that you’re working. And you’re not, either. When you don’t punch a clock, it’s really, really tempting to be like, “Ah, I can just Netflix and eat this popcorn today. I’ve done enough.” So what I would say to you now is, try to write in whatever time you have, hope that it’s enough time and effort spent to create a worthy final product, and then you’ve made good writing habits for the future. Because honestly, whenever you write a book, all you’re doing is hoping you’ve put in enough time and effort to create a worthy final product. That doesn’t change whether you’ve got ten minutes a day or ten uninterrupted hours a day.

 

Q: Do you think using an old personal relationship as part of the back story for the main characters in a fictional novel is a bad idea? The heroine of my novel is not meant to be an avatar of myself, even though we share one specific experience. How do you incorporate your own experiences into a character without making her a copy of yourself?

A: All of your characters are going to be coming from you, so it’s only natural that they’re going to have things in common with you. In my first book, my heroine had an ex-boyfriend who broke up with her because he thought she wouldn’t be a good mother to his hypothetical future children. It gave her a complex about motherhood, about whether or not she should even want to a mother, for the entire series. That was based on a real breakup I had, in which an ex told me, “I want to have children, and I can’t see you being a good mother.” But everything else about the character couldn’t have been more different from me. For my The Boss series, Sophie has an absentee father and that has shaped a lot of who she is, but otherwise we have nothing in common.

If I sat down and wrote a character who was a pot smoking chronic pain patient who writes books for a living, I’m going to just be writing about myself. And it’s difficult to write yourself as a fictional character and then make that character believable because what you’re going to end up doing is creating an idealized version of yourself that you’re not going to want to ascribe flaws to or put in harm’s way. Or, you’ll end up ascribing too many flaws and then when people go, “This was an unlikeable character,” you’ll be like, “I knew it! Everyone hates me!” I don’t think that would be a very fun feeling.

The very best characters feel real, and in order to write a real character, they need to be real people in your head. So there’s nothing wrong with putting experiences or traits that you empathize with or understand into their backgrounds. You just can’t limit yourself to those traits and experiences that are unique to you. Maybe include one or two things, at most, one or two things from people you admire (or can’t stand), and then spend the rest of your time getting to know the totally different person you’ve built.

 

Bonus Question: Will you read my questionable Twilight fanfic y/n?

A. I think I’ve read enough questionable Twilight fanfic, don’t you?

Dakota Johnson as Ana Steele in 50 Shades of Grey, right after she tells Christian there's nothing interesting about her or whatever Mary Sue nonsense the line was.

 

Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!

The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

Posted in Uncategorized

Welcome to the very first installment of the Big Damn Writer Advice Column, where I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.

Q: What are the best ways you know to combat writer’s block?

A: Recently, I’ve struggled with some pretty horrible writer’s block. I’ve spent days lamenting that I will never write another book again, that the well has run dry, that I should hang up my hat and quit trying. As scary as it is, I’ve just taken two weeks off from writing fiction. Even with books planned for the rest of the year, deadlines looming, I knew that if I didn’t have a chance to recharge my batteries, I was going to find myself in real trouble. Something had to change.

I spent much of those two weeks engaging in hobbies that usually get shoved aside in favor of writing. Knitting, coloring, making soap, and–gasp!–actually sitting down and reading some god damn books. There seems to be a common thread among writers I know who suffer from writer’s block. If you ask them when the last time was that they got to actually sit down and read for more than ten minutes on the toilet, they probably won’t have a very encouraging answer. I fully believe that reading in a long, uninterrupted block helps rejuvenate you for writing. You don’t have to read an entire book but read for a full thirty minutes, at least. I swear, it does something to your brain. Reading a good book can make you feel excited to write your own thing. Reading helps focus your attention, so when you do sit down, words will come easier and without the temptation to get on social media.

But above all, don’t try to force yourself. And if you do feel like you have to give yourself a little tough love, do it with a small goal. “Today I’m going to write five-hundred words.” And if you don’t make that goal? Don’t beat yourself up. Just say, “Tomorrow, I’ll do better.” And if you start making those 500 word goals, up it to 600 or 700 for a few days. Part of writing is habit and focus, and those are the first two things to fall by the wayside with writer’s block. And always, always remind yourself that you can always fix your first draft. Nobody is judging what you’re putting down on the first try.

And if all else fails, you could turn to New Age spirituality:

A prayer candle with Lin-Manuel Miranda dressed as Alexander Hamilton, surrounded by amethyst and quartz crystals of varying sizes, all arranged in front of my computer screen.

 

Q: Do you find that writing fanfic strengthens your skills in original fiction? Have you ever used an original character from a fanfic in an original story? What are your ethics on that? 

A: One of the best tools a beginning writer has at their disposal is fanfiction. Not just writing it, but reading it, reading thoughtful critical reviews, engaging with other writers, all of that will strengthen your skill. You just have to be willing to listen without getting defensive. Fanfiction can teach you how to be a great writer, but only if you don’t close yourself off from criticism from more skilled writers in your fandom.

Do not latch on to the “hot” fandom of the time if you don’t really care about it. It will show in your writing, and with the recent P2P trend, other fans are going to suspect your intentions are to steal from the creators of the thing they love. You don’t have to be in a big fandom to forge connections with other readers. In fact, some of the most engagement I’ve gotten has been in communities with small, close-knit fandoms. They tend to be more enthusiastic in my experience.

As for the use of an original character from a fanfiction in an original story, I have done that before. The book never ended up published, but I used an original character from a Les Miserables fic I wrote years ago in a historical romance I was kicking around. But when I realized that I intended to someday publish the story with the character from my fic, I took the story down from the site it was on. I also never used any of Hugo’s characters in my novel (though if you wanted to do so, his work is public domain. Just remember how poorly received Cosette was). As long as you separate your character out, don’t borrow plot or other characters, and don’t use the fandom or your fic as a way of advertising your original work, I don’t see anything ethically dodgy with keeping a character you created.

BONUS QUESTION:

Q: This is off topic, but I wanted to anonymously submit this to you because you’ve call out fakes and hoaxes and I love that about you. Max Monroe, the NYT bestselling secret pen name, marketed themselves from day ones as two NYT bestselling authors who secretly came together to write under the pen name, Max Monroe. It’s what brought them their fame–that story of who they might be. Turns out, it’s complete fiction, including their titles. Max Monroe is Laurel Ulen Curtis and Natalie Alcorn (https://www.bizapedia.com/ky/max-monroe-limited-liability-company.html). Amazon caught them first, and therefore, their bio on Amazon had to change. There’s nothing wrong with using pen names, even secret ones, but to lie about your accreditation? How many other authors are doing this? The new “Anonymous Girls XOXO” email going around seems like another copycat of both that and Erin Watts/Gossip Girls stories. It’s all so….sneaky. So many authors work really hard and now everyone’s afraid to call out these two, Laurel and Natalie, for lying because it could jeopardize their own careers. I may just be a blogger, but I think that’s wrong. If this interests you, please write about it. If not, please consider passing it along to someone who would. Thanks. Signed, Dream Crushed Blogger

B: I’m just posting this here so someone else can call them out and I can bitchily say that I loved the scene in their first book where the virgin heroine took the hero to sneak into the One UN hotel pool. It was really great and I wonder what inspired them.

giphy (2)

 

Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!