Thursday, March 31, 2011

Balance Life and Writing with Kristi Holl

We writers tend to look at our work and our process as the most important thing in our lives. We read books about writing, about specific techniques that will help us write better. We buy software to help us write faster and more effectively. We look for ways to wring out every last second of the day that we can spend on our writing. In other words, we frequently overlook our lives themselves. At best this leaves us crippled in our writing.

Our lives shape our experiences, which shapes our writing. Most of us realize this. But do we stop to think about how the quality of our lives shapes the quality of our writing? Stressed lives produce stressed writing. But how can we escape the emotions and stresses that complicate our day-to-day lives? It seems as if it would be great to live in a safe, supportive writers' retreat year-round. But realistically, even the most imaginative writer I know realizes that's not going to happen. And it wouldn't be good for us if we could do it, anyway.

We share with fellow writers stories of writing through stress and dealing with writing issues like procrastination or writer's block, but when we're not with our writers group or enjoying daily coffee breaks or visits with writing friends, what do we do? I have a suggestion: we should all go to Kristi Holl's website and download her More Writers First Aid in pdf form or for your Kindle. It is one of the few practical how-to books on dealing with the emotions, stress and issues in our personal life that prevent us from doing our best writing and enjoying the process more than ever.

Kristi (I'm delighted to disclose that she is a longtime writing friend of mine) also offers practical how-to-write booklets at her site, such as Writing Mysteries for Young People and 50 Tension Techniques. Her years of experience and teaching allow her to give her readers simple, direct, easy-to-follow writing tips in these booklets. But the best writing tips are useless if you're strung so tight, or such a perfectionist, or a perpetual procrastinator, or someone who clings unknowingly to poor writing habits. Kristi's More Writers First Aid helps the writer, whether that writer has published many books or is only just getting started, recognize how she's sabotaging herself and shows her how to make wiser decisions about balancing life and writing.

I admit, I was predisposed to like this book because of the teddy bear on the cover - I know I write better when I've got a teddy bear for company. But I wasn't prepared to love it until I began dipping into the book and recognized so many of my own problems in her practical advice in dealing with burn-out, rejections, facing fears, writing in pain, and derailing our own writing. What is so helpful about the book is that Kristi doesn't write from way above us lowly mortals, telling us how to solve our problems; she generously writes as if she has experienced every problem we face, and shares how she has lived through it, or triumphed over it. Reading this book is like having a terrific visit with a friend. Even if all your friends are busy, you know that Kristi isn't too busy to spend some time with you, and help you through that rough spot so you can balance the ups and downs of life with your writing to give yourself write better than you ever thought you could, and to be happier doing it than you've ever been.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jumping into the ebook market

When ebooks became the new trend, I wasn't really sure how they'd go. Would teens and middle graders really want to read books on their computers? Would they be willing to invest in ebook readers?

It turns out that they are. And I can't blame them. I bought a Kindle two years ago and fell in love with being able to carry my library of favorite books around with me so easily. Last year my wonderful husband got me an iPad, and now I carry around even more books on it, as well as music, movies and the web. Now I wonder, would any of my readers actually want to read my books on their ebook readers?

Several of my publishers have brought out some of my YA titles in ebook format, and I've been thrilled to see the books available, but with the delays in the length of time it takes publishers to inform authors of subsidiary sales and the royalties they've earned, I still have no idea whether anyone is buying them.

So I decided to take one of my early ghost stories, Tournament of Time, and do a little experiment. I controlled ebook rights to it, so I formatted it for Smashwords (much easier than I expected, using their helpful style guide) and uploaded it there at $2.99. I'm also in the process of getting it approved for the iBookstore, since I love reading on my iPad, and I'm sure other iPad readers feel the same way - if given the opportunity to buy an ebook in a variety of formats, most of us would go for the iBook version that could be read on our iPad or iPhone. If you enjoy ebooks, mysteries, and English history, check out my take on the murder of the Princes in the Tower in Tournament of Time. Decide whether you're Team Richard or Team Henry, then find out whodunnit.

I've already had several downloads since the book came out this morning, so I'm thinking it's off to a good start! And I hope you enjoy ghostly history mysteries, and ebooks, as much as I do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Second Draft

Writers like to talk about the first draft, and then the excitement (or the torture) of revision. But for me there's a pretty major step in between those two parts of the process. That's the second draft.

For me, the second draft isn't a revision, or a re-envisioning of the book I set out to write. The second draft is when I read through my first draft and add in details that I realize I left out in my rush to complete the first draft (the phase I like to think of as taking a roller coaster ride with my characters.) There's no time for pausing to consider the perfect word or the small, descriptive details that accompany the main action while you, as the writer, are riding the roller coaster. The second draft is the time to consider those.

The second draft is also the time when I look at what I've written and recognize the subtle threads that are woven through the story as a whole. These threads may only peek through here and there in the first draft, because they may be so subtle that I didn't recognize their significance while I was on the roller coaster. Now they spring out at me in vivid relief, and as I work on the second draft I can pull those threads through, so they find their proper place in the book as a whole.

The second draft is also the opportunity for adding in facts. I do a great deal of research before I get on that first draft roller coaster, but once I've taken off I always run up against questions that I discover I need to answer before the manuscript is ready to be revised. Interrupting the roller coaster ride in order to look up these facts can upset the flow of the writing,
so I leave notes or gaps in the first draft to remind me to find out about this or that, and the second draft is my chance to look up those facts and fit them in correctly. These can't be big facts that will alter the way your characters behave, or course, or how your plot turns out - those have to be answered before I climb on the roller coaster. But the second draft is my chance to research those little facts I didn't know I needed to discover when I first started writing.

Sometimes I don't even realize when my first draft turns into my second draft. This evening my husband asked how close I was to the end of the book. As I tried to explain that I'd already written the end, I realized what I've been doing these last couple of days was pulling threads through and adding in those descriptive details and those additional facts. I realized I've completed my first draft, and I'm partway through my second draft. That means my new book should be ready to give my critique group soon, and then read to revise and send to my agent. I've got to admit, I'm thrilled to realize I'm well into my second draft!