Saturday, June 23, 2007

Writer's League of Texas

I’d been hearing about the WLT even outside of Texas. People at the East of Eden conference in Salinas, CA last fall asked me if I belonged. I kept thinking I should join but never got around to it until last month.

I’ve been to two meetings now and listened to some very talented writers read from their work—contest winners and published authors. I talked to other writers sitting in the audience. One of them asked me why, if I have so many published books, I would need a writer’s organization at all.

Maybe it’s because I wrote my first 16 books in isolation. I didn’t know any other published authors. I sure as heck didn’t know anything about the business! I didn’t know anyone who would really understand when I talked about my characters arguing with me and refusing to do what they were told.

I learned so much when I joined Romance Writers of America in (I think) 1994. Got an agent for the very first time—the terrific Linda Kruger who retired a couple of years ago. (I have to admit I haven’t worked very hard to replace her yet but I know that I should.) I learned so much about the business that I had never known and I've made wonderful friends.

In the years since then, I’ve found myself speaking to non-romance writing groups as well—horror/sf writers, mystery writers, and general writing groups. What I’ve found is that each has its own distinctive feel. Each has a somewhat different perspective on the world of publishing. And yet ultimately we all share the same hopes and dreams and fears.

There are no magic short cuts. There are no secret handshakes. There are no 100% guarantees a given project will be bought by NY. I’ve heard it said that if we can stop writing we should. The problem is, of course, that we can’t. If we’re writers, we’re writers and we’ll write no matter what. If we’re writers, we have stories to tell, wisdom or ideas to share, a need to communicate through the written word. And the world needs those stories, that wisdom, those ideas.

All of which is my way of saying that I’m glad I finally joined the Writer’s League of Texas.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day 2007

I just finished reading Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It works on many levels—as all her books do. One aspect of it, though, struck me in light of this being Father’s Day.

One of the ideas in this book is that a family can love and believe in someone even if they act like jerks toward that person. I found myself thinking what a powerful idea that is.

Many of us had less than ideal families who treated us in less than ideal ways—including perhaps our fathers. And there is a part of each of us for whom that is true that wants to believe we are loved and that our families do believe in us—whatever the apparent evidence to the contrary.

And that’s what makes a book “work.” It’s the emotional points of connection, the moments when we feel as strong a tug to our heartstrings as the characters feel to theirs. It’s when we KNOW how the characters feel because a part of us feels the same.

This is true even of hard thrillers. The emotion may be less explicitly on the page but it’s there. It’s implicit in the: What if I could be the one who saves the world? What if my life was at stake? What if I had to choose between power and wealth and the principles I believe in?

When I read a book about a loving father, it always gets to me because I wish I’d had one. When I read about a father like mine, I find myself nodding with understanding over what the son or daughter feels. And it’s always a point of emotional connection for me.

One of the reasons I loved books growing up is that because in books I could see how fathers might be. And it let me believe that not all men would be like my father. I could find role models for how to love that I didn’t see at home. It’s why I think I became a writer—because I know how important the stories we tell might be to the right person who reads it. It’s why I celebrate the success of every writer—not just my own. All our stories matter.

Happy Father’s Day to everyone who has a reason to celebrate it today. A silent toast to those of us who do not.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Writer's Block

This is a topic I’m seeing on a couple of loops I’m on. And I think it’s important to talk about it.

Every writer I know worries, to some degree, with every book they write. We care about the stories we tell—sometimes too much. We worry that it won’t be good enough or that it won’t matter in the way that we want it to matter. If our last book didn’t have the numbers we want, we worry our books never will. If our books got great reviews or sales or nominated for an award, we may worry that we’ll never be able to do it again. If we worry enough, we get paralyzed and that’s writer’s block.

Writer’s block is one of the big things that can bring a writer to me for life coaching—that or the desire to have me evaluate a manuscript so they can know if they’re on target or not.

I give workshops on Book in a Week as a way to write better and faster, yes, but really as a way to out run the fear so many of us deal with at some point in our writing careers.

I believe that when we are having fun we do whatever we’re doing better and with less fear. Often when I coach someone I spend a fair amount of time on how to make writing more fun and how to build self-confidence. Some of the things I suggest for everyone:

1) Make a list of every success in your life. In a sense, this is your list of reasons to believe in yourself.
2) Make a list of things that make you smile and do at least three things from that list every day.
3) Make a list of why your writing matters to you—what you love about your work and what you value—so that you remember why you WANT to write.
4) Try writing in short burst where you don’t let yourself second guess what you write—that can come later when you’re doing revisions. Odds are your muse or subconscious knows things it isn’t telling you and it will be okay.
5) If you’re really stuck, stop and do something fun and creative. Odds are that will jump start your muse and you’ll see the solution to the problem or what to write next.
6) Play around with something you write just for yourself so that you can tap back into that joy that got you started writing in the first place.

And if all else fails, close your eyes and remember playing make believe as a child. That’s what we’re still doing as writers—we’re just putting it down on paper (or into the computer) too.