Emotional Support

By Ottilia Scherschel

I recently attended the Romance Writers of America’s annual conference in San Diego, California. Those of you who attend industry events already know they involve both stimulating and exhausting days of listening, talking, sitting, and walking. They offer a veritable overload of the senses and are a physical stress test. As if all that weren’t enough, add to it emotional ups and downs.

The primary goal of any writer is to provide an emotional experience for her reader. At conference, I was on the receiving end of the emotional ride. I realized during workshops I attended that many presenters had a genuine desire to share their knowledge, so my days at the keyboard would be easier and my learning curve as a writer less steep. I sensed a contagious emotional high among the participants, a can do attitude, and a belief in their own successful futures.

My most significant emotional moment came on the night I had dinner with my critique group. I recognized how much they cared about my achieving writing success and how genuinely willing they were to help me reach my goals. These things are sometimes hard to remember in the heat of a critiquing session. Validation, emotional support, and friendship filled our evening, topped off with a few glasses of wine.

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My critique group with Michael Hague at RWA ’16. 

In the end, I was reminded of one of Winston Churchill’s remarks I have adapted: “If you are going through (writing) hell, keep going.” Why? Because you have a community of romance writers out there who will help you on your road to publication.

I look forward to next year’s RWA Conference for the same reinforcement I received this year. See you all at RWA ’17.

 

Stories From Under the Bed by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I was recently asked, what do I want readers to come away with after they read my book?

Well, first of all, I’m thrilled readers read my books.

That is the point, isn’t it? To write words, stories, and put them out in a place where people can read them?

I know people who write entire books only to tuck them away in neat little coffins under their beds, never to show them to another living soul. While I greatly admire their ability to actually create and FINISH an entire book, (something I struggled with for a long time), I don’t fully understand this impulse to Never Show Another Soul.  Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of writing something down? Isn’t the written word meant to be read? If not, then why write it?

I mean, I do understand that some people have a very deep fear of being ridiculed for the work they have poured their soul into. Fear can be very powerful.

And I also understand that writing is a learning process for the writer, and there are some books that should probably stay under the bed as far as” prime time” is concerned.

But writing is a learning process, so eventually, these things must see the light of day and actually be read- by someone, at some point. (Showing it to other writers is sometimes a good place to start). That is the only way to know how good, or how bad, they really are. And to create the opportunity to actually become a better writer- to learn what you could have done better, then try it.

I’ve written stories since I was a child. I knew that someday, I’d write a book. I tucked that dream under my bed and it nearly died in its neat little coffin, buried under the weight of daily life ticking away in years. Luckily it revived and reminded me it was there. One thing about this dream, though. It was always to write a book so people would read it.

Maybe it’s more natural for me to take this view of writing because I have a performer gene. I have a bit of musical talent, for both singing and playing an instrument, which I’ve gone to some trouble to cultivate. So the idea of getting up in front of an audience and displaying (exposing) my talent (or lack thereof) is something I’ve always accepted as part of the “artistic talent” deal.

And writing is a lot like music. Music must be played, it must be heard. Writing is meant to be read. It’s part of the definition of the thing itself.

When someone reads the words I write, the words become more than arbitrary ink marks on white paper. A whole world, a whole reality, springs to life in the reader’s mind. Directly from mine.

Stephen King talks about this kind of amazing connection between the writer and the reader that completes the circuit of telling the story. Like a live wire, always waiting to make contact. The reader can experience this shared reality regardless of the distance of space and time between them and the writer. The words are the notes, music waiting to be played.  Written to be heard.

I write so people can read what I wrote. I write for you, the reader.

And the answer to the original question is I hope you, my reader, come away with a combination of what I put into my book when I wrote it and what you bring to the book when you read it. That you find something that rings emotionally true to you in the story. I hope it makes you smile and I hope it makes you want to read another one!

Staying The Course

by Ottilia Scherschel

I read a statistic recently that said people finish reading ten per cent of the books they start. A friend of mine calls bookmarks his white flags of surrender since he leaves them in books he doesn’t finish. As a writer, I often ask myself when starting a project if I can stay the course.

The things that make me start a story will not help me finish. Stories carry a certain Ottilia Scherschelexcitement at the beginning—a sort of high. I have the opportunity to discover new ideas, create new characters and settings, and build a plot. The newness of every story sustains me for a while, but the novelty wears off when I start digging deeper and deeper into my creation. At some point, the end seems far away and the road to get there endless. I feel like I want to chuck everything I’ve put together.

I’ve been writing long enough now to know my sustenance to carry on can only come through perspiration. It’s that old concept of put your butt in the chair and write. This is easier said than done. I tell myself that my strength as a writer will come from writing. I encourage myself with sayings I learned as a kid like to be good at something you have to practice. Relying on the misery loves company angle, I seek encouragement from my critique group whose members are dealing with the same feelings.

I struggle, but I continue sitting at my computer and working. I slog through my doubts, my fears, and my insecurities. I ask myself what is important about my writing. The same answer always echoes in my brain. What’s important is staying the course—finishing well. I don’t want to be a writer who only completes ten per cent of the books she starts.

How do you feel about staying the course with your projects?

 

 

Goals -In Writing and in Life

By Barb DeLong

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. C.S. Lewis

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a woman of a certain age. And at my age, I’ve occasionally wondered if I’m too old to handle the traditional publishing rat race, or to learn all the ins and outs of the self-publishing business, what with formatting, uploading, downloading, covers, editing, sales and marketing. It all seems so—complicated. Sigh.

But then I take inspiration from other authors who published later in life, or continued to write and publish into their senior years. Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her sixties when she first published. Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down, was in his forties and continued to write until he died at ninety. Romance author Charlotte Lobb w/a Charlotte Carter, wrote until she passed away at seventy-eight. There’s a prolific Texas author of erotic romance, Desiree Holt, who published her first romance in her seventies. Yee-haw! So, I will continue to set writing goals to achieve my dream of multi-publication.

A goal is a dream with a deadline. Napoleon Hill

But (why is there always a big but?), a goal means there’s a deadline somewhere in the equation. Whether it’s a contest deadline, critique group deadline, personal or editor deadline, there’s a date that must be met. Therein lies the stress, the fear of disappointment, the fear of failure. I thrive on deadlines. I need deadlines so I can at least attempt to order my life in hopes of meeting my goal. I entered a contest this year at 11:59 p.m. The deadline was midnight. Gulp! Just made it.

A goal without a plan is just a wish. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I mentioned ordering my life to meet a goal. I always create a detailed plan for my stories and a schedule for writing time. There are pantsers and plotters and those who are a bit of both. I’m definitely a plotter. I can’t write by the seat of my pants. In other words, I can’t just jump in and start typing away on a half-formed story to nowhere. I create character charts complete with goals, motivations and conflicts along with quirks and eccentricities. I use plotting processes such as the hero’s journey and three-act structure. I need to know what’s going to happen in each scene before I write it. Doesn’t mean I keep everything I write, but at least I have a PLAN.

All of this planning and writing takes time. Just because I’m retired, doesn’t mean every minute of the day is mine to do with as I please. Au contraire. I have a retired husband and nearby grandkids. ‘nuf said. I look at my deadlines and backtrack on the calendar to calculate how many words/pages I need to write and when in order to meet that deadline. Oh, life has a way of fouling the best-laid plans, but getting back on track and forging ahead is key to meeting goals.

Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another. John Dewey

Life is a series of goals, and so are writing goals. Yay! Finished the first draft of a short story. Next goal—edits. Next goal—submit to formatter. Next goal—choose a cover. Yay! I won a local contest. Next—submit to a national contest. Next—send out query letters to publishers. Next—write that next book.

The message here is to keep going. Don’t stagnate. Build on past achievements, or perceived failures. Go ahead, set another goal, set a deadline and create a plan. Dreams can come true.

SECRETS AND LIES

by Ottilia Scherschel

I grew up in an era without social media when privacy had high value. My grandmother had rules about privacy. She loved to say don’t air your dirty linen. That cliché translated into a reminder not to talk about personal/family matters outside the family. In reality, the unwritten rule translated into something akin to you can’t tell anyone, and if you can’t avoid saying something when asked, embroider the truth. In my writing life, my grandmother’s rules have come in handy.

Characters in a book have secrets—personal and family secrets—and tell lies. Imagine what I could do with Uncle Vinnie’s story. He and Aunt Hilda had a solid marriage, or so the family thought. Then one day, Uncle Vinnie came home from a business trip to find his house empty. grimace-1299164_640Stunned, he meandered around searching the kitchen cupboards for the pots and pans and Aunt Hilda’s closet for her personal belongings. He finally spotted an envelope taped to the back door. Inside was the deposit book for their joint bank account with the money withdrawn. Poor Uncle Vinnie was left with the house payment and his underwear. We later found out Aunt Hilda ran off with an old high school boyfriend and moved to Costa Rica. Did Uncle Vinnie ever embroider that one?

A story like his creates a whirlwind in my brain. I see the seeds of a backstory for the life of a character peppered with Uncle Vinnie’s emotional ups and downs. Next time you read your favorite author, ask yourself whose dirty linen helped create the characters. I know I would have no stories to tell without airing someone’s secrets and lies.

Where do I get my characters?

by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I guarantee that if you ask one hundred writers this question, you will get one hundred different answers, all of them equally valid.

Here is mine.

Since writers write what they know, I’d have to say that my characters must come from what I know.  I know myself, and I know other people. So I think partly they come from inside of me, from who I am and what I feel, and partly they come from the experiences I’ve had with a lot of other people. People I’ve met, and people I’ve only seen. I carry around a whole database of memories, feelings, impressions and emotions that I don’t have to even think about. We all do, actually. Like it or not.

When I get a story idea, one of the first things I do is imagine my main character. I literally get a picture of them in my mind, maybe with just one or two physical characteristics- hair color, height, age.

I have a fuzzy idea of who they are, what kind of person. Are they bubbly and sweet? Reserved and observant? Booksmart or streetsmart? Spoiling for a fight? Not a lot of details, and I don’t plan them out, trying to figure out who they are.

Instead, I start writing them onto the page, putting them into a scene to see how they will react to it, I see their personality develop as I do this- but it is more like recognizing them as they reveal themselves, than making them into something.

I had this one heroine, early in a story development of a historical romance, who wore a hat in a scene. I first described the hat as a plain, brown hat. Very simple. I stopped in my literary tracks. I knew, without needing to examine why, that this heroine wouldn’t be caught dead in an ugly hat. I knew that about her, even though I’d never thought it through in any organized way.

Likely, I may base my character on someone I’ve known or seen. Like movies about dysfunctional families- we recognize all of those characters. We probably have some of those relatives. Heck, we may even be one of them.  We have all met certain “types” of people, that come with a basic sort of set of rules about how they interact with the world around them. These are fun frameworks to start with and explore, maybe even dig deeper into and blow up that careful façade the rest of the world sees.

Here’s where the internal component kicks in.  It’s kind of like Carl Jung’s theory of dream interpretation (sorry, psych major here): every person, every thing in your dream represents something of you. I think that is a little how I create emotional reality of my characters.

When I write my character into a situation, challenge them with difficult situations, new ideas, I stop and imagine how they feel. That’s the part that comes from inside. I have to feel that emotion with them, put that down on the page. Make them human. If I don’t, the reader won’t feel it, and they won’t care about what happens next for that character.  That part comes from me, for sure.

All in all, I try not to overthink it, and let it flow as organically as possible. When I have a story idea, there is already a perfect character for it. I just have to wait for them to show up.

TELLTALE HABITS

by Ottilia Scherschel

My father was a businessman who carried a small notepad in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He dutifully wrote down the names of people he met and things he wanted to remember. To this day, I carry a notepad in my purse. I know I could enter important information in my smart phone, but the habit I picked up from my Dad has stuck with me.

I recently jotted something in my pad while at a luncheon. A woman at my table said, “You must be a writer.” My taking notes confirmed in her mind I was a writer. Her statement made me think about what gives us away in life, those habits that tell others about who we might be.

I met a woman at a cocktail party recently who wore a silver lanyard with a small pen attached like a piece of jewelry around her neck. While we were getting acquainted, she wrote something on a napkin. I hoped it wasn’t her grocery list. “Are you taking notes?” I asked.

She chuckled. “It’s a bit of dialogue.”

“Something I said?”

“No, but you triggered an idea.”

“For what?”

“An article. You see I’m a columnist.”

I should have guessed she was some kind of writer. Why else would she need a pen around her neck? “Tell me about the article,” I said without revealing I too wrote.

When planning a novel, I spend considerable time choosing habits for my characters with the idea in mind that these should disclose something about them. I’ve even done the reverse by making a list of habits I wanted a character to have and then creating that character from the list.

Look around. Everyone has habits. What can you tell about the people you see? And what do your habits say about you?