The Lisa Shearin Group Bestselling Author: Momentum matters and persistence pays

As I discover every day, no daily writingsession stands alone, each hour of work, each day of work ties to the one before—and connects to the one to come after. Writing builds on itself.

With everything we all have going on in our daily lives, our minds can only be expected to hold on to a plotline for so long. Let’s face it, life gets in the way.  I’m a walking/talking example—I’m a month behind my personal schedule as a result of real life (and two colds) keeping me from writing. Life has an annoying tendency to take our minds away from our characters and make us talk to and interact with actual living, breathing people. When this happens and I get back to my writing, what momentum I’d built up has gone bye-bye.  Then I have to take valuable writing time to go back over what I’d done before to bring myself back up to speed.

It’s not just the words that we lose our grasp on when we don’t (or can’t) write every day. A particular character’s emotional state, emotions they had in the scene where you stopped were right there, bubbling on the surface of your consciousness, ready to be tapped again. If you lose a day or two, that bubbling has stopped.

To write every day takes discipline and persistence. Discipline to do it, and persistence to see it through to the end of the book, and beyond to getting an agent and publisher.  For those who want it badly enough, the dream of reaching that final goal is enough to keep us moving forward. There are plenty of roadblocks: life, family and friends who don’t understand (or worse yet, who don’t believe in you), and just the cold, hard truth that writing is hard work. It’s lonely work. If you want to be a published writer, you have to trudge on despite all of this.

I have a full-time job, so carving out time to write wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy; but I really wanted to be published, so I found the time. I started writing on a more regular schedule, and I could see the improvement. And when I saw the improvement, I wanted to write more. With that came confidence and a determination to reach my goal.

I’d still be writing even if I wasn’t published, because writing isn’t just what I do—writing is who I am. It’s like an addiction, you can’t stop, and you don’t want to. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. When I’m writing, I’m happy. When I’m between projects, I can get a little cranky. Just ask my amazingly patient and supportive husband.

Writing for publication is like any other goal worth working and fighting for.  You have to put your nose to the proverbial grindstone and just do the work. Believe me, after working for it for over twenty years, it is so worth it.

The Lisa Shearin Group Bestselling Author: Plots, plans, and party crashers

Most writers plot out their books to some degree. Some go with a loose sketch; others know exactly what happens from A to Z. I’m glad I’m not the former, I envy the later.  I fall somewhere in the middle.

For me, plotting a book is just like writing one—some parts are inspired and I can’t write fast enough, other times I’m completely and utterly stuck, and I wonder if pounding my head against the nearest wall will shake loose some ideas. Tempting to try, but I’ve always managed to resist that urge.  I’ve had a concussion before. Not fun.

My ideas come to me in bits and pieces, parts of dialogue and chunks of chapters. Then comes the “sitting/pondering/staring at the computer” part of the writing process.  Or what comes to me at 4 a.m., or in the shower, or driving home from work. The subconscious mind is a wonderful thing. It works 24/7. I don’t work 24/7 (though my husband would be the first to dispute that claim).  The human gray matter has to go through all kinds of contortions to determine how a book gets from beginning to end, where the main characters make their entrance, what turns a snooze-fest of a plot into a page-turner of a novel.

First there’s the struggle to get what’s in my head onto the screen. But mainly my problem is that I’m still working out the guts of the story while I’m writing it. I know the beginning, some scenes scattered throughout the book, and I know the ending. The trick is to come up with the story to link all of those together while staring down the barrel of a tight deadline.

But sometimes you end up tossing it all out the window.

Say you’re happily writing along, everything going according to plan. Character A is behaving perfectly. Then Character B—or even a character you’ve never met before—suddenly enters the scene. Everything changes. Dang it! So much for your plotline, right?

Wrong. It’s become my experience that this is a very good thing. It means that your story is taking on even more of a life of its own. It means that your muse is in residence, and she’s just vetoed your plan, staged an intervention, whatever you want to call it, to keep you from doing something stupid that you’ll regret later.

Whenever this happens to me, I’ve learned to run, don’t walk, after the interfering Character B. That character knows what they’re doing and why they’re there even if you don’t. The key here is to go with the flow. Some of my most fun characters have come into existence by crashing my plot party. In a book, party crashers are always welcome. For me, they’re either being pulled into a dark alley, or pushed out of a bar. I’ve learned to pay attention to these people. They’re worth watching and listening to—and they’ll keep your readers turning the pages.

 

Really get to know your characters by The Lisa Shearin Group Bestselling Author

For me, hitting a snag in a book usually happens like this: I’m writing, everything’s going great, I’m in the zone and the words are flowing.  Then I move on to the next scene or chapter and I hit a wall.  The writing slows to a trickle or stops dead in its tracks, and my characters refuse to cooperate.  And the only thing force-feeding words into their mouths is going to get me is more bogged down.

Most often the problem is that I don’t feel comfortable with the scene, and if I’m not comfortable, my characters aren’t comfortable. All this discomfort boils down to one of two things—either I’m writing the wrong scene for the wrong time in the book, or the scene doesn’t belong in the book. Period.

But what if I know it’s the right scene at the right time and the words still aren’t flowing? When I’m in the zone, it’s like I’m eavesdropping on my characters and typing what they’re saying as fast as I can. It’s like a “runner’s high” for writers. To get into the zone, I have to do two things: shut up and listen.

I’m a bit of a control freak and that control seeps onto the page or screen. Listening seems like such a simple thing, but it ain’t easy to do.  Writers on a deadline want to control the direction their book takes, the pace at which it is written, and the schedule that it should stick to. I’m on my fourth book and it’s just now starting to sink through my thick skull that I really don’t have much, if any, control over these things, and I never will. A book is a creative work, and creativity refuses to punch a time clock.

The only way I can get the words flowing again is to sit quietly and completely immerse myself in the scene.  I’ve been with my characters a long time and I know them well. But just like family and friends, my characters will occasionally throw me a curve ball.  Like real people, characters grow and change.  I learn more about them with each book.  Their personalities, physical mannerisms, and the way they talk and react in a given situation changes over time.

The key to good writing is to get to know your characters just as well as you know the real people in your life.  I should probably say “flesh-and-blood” people, because as most writers will tell you, their characters are like real people to them.

You know what your husband/wife/significant other/best friend would say or do in any given situation because you know them that well.  Though sometimes they will surprise you and do something completely different and unexpected.  It’s what keeps life interesting.  And when the same thing happens with your characters, and you capture it in your book, it’s what will keep your readers turning the pages.

Revisions & Rewrites by The Lisa Shearin Group Bestselling Author

Revisions and rewrites—they kind of sound the same, but they’re not.  Not by a long shot.  In my experience, revisions are just a step or two above tweaking.  Simple problem, easy fix.  A rewrite is just what it sounds like, taking the editing chainsaw to a manuscript to fix some serious issues (aka screw ups).  At least once, most writers experience that special moment when they realize that their precious project is a skanky, stinky pile of tripe.  Yep, I’ve been there and had to fix that.  It was a lot of work and it wasn’t pretty, but the results were intensely satisfying once the dust settled.

To avoid the embarrassment of having your critique group/beta reader/agent/editor witness your writer “duh moment,” it’s preferable to discover for yourself where your plot train derailed. The red flags for me should have been characters behaving uncharacteristically and more than a few chapters that didn’t propel my story forward.  They would have been red flags if I hadn’t been too close to the book to see them.  Fortunately my agent was there to tell me where my plot train had derailed—and crashed and burned.  In the instant when she pointed out the problem, I immediately saw how that problem had spawned a snafu, which had caused my first sub-plot to . . .well, you get the picture.  I metaphorically smacked myself in the forehead for being too dense not to have seen it all myself.  I knew I had a rewrite on my hands, not a revision.  At that point, there was nothing left to do but put on my hazmat suit and wade in.

I had a book contract and was on a deadline, so not fixing the book was not an option.  But if you’re what I like to call “pre-published,” you might be tempted to throw in the towel when faced with what you see as a book with insurmountable problems.  I’m here to tell you that it’s never as bad as you think.  If your core story is solid, everything else can be fixed.  The key is to fix one problem at a time.  And if your solution causes more problems further on in the book than it solves, you simply discard it and find another solution.  For me, the key was to keep my emotions out it, to look at my book from a dispassionate point of view, and to dissect it to find the best way to fix it—not the easiest way, but the best way—the way I knew would give me the best book possible.

And when the rewrite was done, the dust had settled, and the finished book was on my editor’s desk, I was proud of more than that book.  I was proud of myself for digging in, doing the work, and not giving up.

So who was my literary problem child?  My second book Armed & Magical, which went on to become my first nationalbestseller.