Writing 101 with Nalini
I’ve recently posted three writing videos answering some frequently asked writing questions. I hope you find them useful! I’ll be doing more videos when I have some time.
This video’s for those of you who are starting out writing, addressing the question: “How do you write a book? Can you teach me how to start?”
This video deals with the question of writing speed/how long it takes to write a book.
This is where I talk about plotting, pantsing (organic writing!), and your own method. 🙂
P.S. Taped on the same day as the two previous videos! I do have other clothes. I’ll wear them in the next set of videos.
Audiobook Narrator Chat – July 2020
AudioFile held a fun discussion with four narrators, including Angela Dawe, the amazing narrator of the Psy-Changeling series.
I often get asked writing related questions so I thought I’d make up a list of the most frequently asked.
These are my opinions alone. Nothing is written in stone – undertake your own research so you can make informed decisions and do what’s best for you.
Q: I’m just starting out writing – can you give me some advice?
A: My best advice is to write. Just write. Write with all your heart, with everything in you that hungers to tell this story. Finish a short story, a novella, a novel, whatever resonates most with you – but finish it. Then write some more. Exercise those writing muscles until they get itchy if you don’t use them every day.
I truly believe that the only way to get better is to practise. And be ready for the day when the magic happens and you get a story that grips you by the throat and refuses to let go.
Q: Can you tell me what publisher I should submit to?
A: One word: Research.
There is a ton of information on the internet alone about publishers. Find out who publishes work like yours, check their guidelines to see how they like to receive submissions, and go from there.
Also, make sure the publisher you choose is reputable. Again this involves research. One of the resources many writers use is the Preditors & Editors website.
Q: Will you read my manuscript and give me feedback?
No, I’m afraid not. (Please don’t send me any material as it’ll get deleted unread.)
I suggest finding a good writing group or critique partner if you want feedback on your work. Another option is to enter your work in reputable writing contests that offer detailed
feedback. (Some contests only give a numerical score, so if feedback is your goal, that’s something you should check beforehand.)
Q: Do you work with a critique partner?
A: No. I prefer to work on my own, though I do have people to bounce ideas off and/or do beta reads if necessary.
This doesn’t mean I don’t see the value of critique partners – friends who work with critique partners tell me a good one is worth his or her weight in gold. It’s simply something that doesn’t work for me.
Q: Did you have an agent when you sold your first book?
A: No. I sold Desert Warrior to Silhouette Desire through their normal submissions process, a.k.a. the slush pile. Not all publishers accept unagented submissions so check the submission guidelines for the one you want to submit to.
Q: Did you have a completed manuscript when you sold Slave to Sensation?
A: Yes. I couldn’t stop writing StS – I wanted to finish it before anything.
But in terms of selling StS, I really think it was a good idea to have a complete manuscript because though I was published, I was moving from short contemporary romances to single title paranormals, a big change.
Q: Did you get an agent then?
A: Yes. I signed with my agent after finishing Slave to Sensation.
Q: How did you get an agent?
A: I followed the guidelines on the agency’s website and sent in a query letter. They asked for the full manuscript and voila!
I will say that it probably helped that I had several sales under my belt when I submitted, but I was moving into a completely different sub-genre of romance, and Slave to Sensation was the book the agency looked at. So in the end, it comes down to the work.
Q: I have a great idea – will you write the book and then we’ll split the proceeds?
A: No, thanks, I’m happy writing my own books. But good luck with your idea!
Q: Do you give cover blurbs?
A: Because of the number of requests I receive to read books to see if I’ll blurb them, I only consider requests that come through either my editor or my agent.
The Religion of Backing Up
What do cd-r’s, usb/thumb drives, webmail accounts and external hard drives have in common?
They’re all ways to back up your work.
You should always, always, always back up whatever it is you’re working on. Turning on the back-up function on your computer is all well and good but what happens if, heaven forbid, your computer falls under a truck? There go your backup files. Which is why you should backup externally as well.
Each of the things you can use for backing up has pluses and minuses. Here’s a small sampling of thoughts on the positives and negatives of each.
Webmail accounts are good because they’re free and functional. You can just email yourself a copy of your manuscript, but some of us don’t like the idea of our manuscripts being on the web, possibly vulnerable to hackers or viruses.
Cd-r’s are good because they can’t be written over, but they have to be stored. In most cases, people keep them in the same place as their computer, but if at all possible, take your cds to a different location–a friend’s house or a safe deposit box if you have it. Also, cds don’t last forever. If you think you’re going to use something old, write it onto a new cd every couple of years at least.
Thumb/USB drives are handy and portable so you can pop it in your purse and have it with you wherever you go, but they tend to have relatively low memory, so you can only usually have your current work in progress in them, which might be all you need.
External hard-drives have loads of memory but they’re bulky, so the same storage and portability issue apply.
If you’d like more opinions on the pluses and minues, have a look at the comments section of this blog post I did.
The Basics: Writers’ Glossary
I recently attended a romance writers conference and had a fantastic time. I also noticed something interesting – that just like in any other profession, experienced writers use a kind of shorthand about their work that speeds up communication. However it tends to leave some of the newer people floundering. Of course that’s not on purpose and most people are happy to explain, but who wants to ask, right? So here’s a list of some common terms used by writers.
The list is by no means exhaustive and the definitions are my own (use at your own risk! 🙂 ). If you think of something I haven’t covered, email it to me and I’ll have it added during the next set of updates. (Thanks to the Brainstorming Desirables for their suggestions on this article).
Advance: The payment made to a writer prior to the publication of a book. The full term is “Advance Against Royalties”, which means that a writer is only entitled to royalties once their book has sold enough copies to ‘pay for’ the advance.
ARC: Advanced Reader Copy/Advanced Review Copy. In other words the copy of a book sent out pre-publication to reviewers and booksellers.
Backstory: The histories and lives of the characters before the point at which a book begins.
Backlist: All the books that an author has written.
BIAW: When writers attempt to write a Book In A Week
BIAM: Book In a Month
BICHOK: Butt In Chair Hands On Keyboard ie. Get to work!
Category book: Also referred to as Series books, these are books that are released every month as part of a line (see below). Examples include Silhouette Desire and Mills & Boon Presents. A distinguishing feature of category books is that they have a similar cover look and promise the reader a certain type of experience (ie. Desire novels are passionate & provocative). Right now, only Harlequin publishes category novels, so a category writer is someone who writes for Harlequin.
Continuity: A series of books written by different authors but using the same continuing backstory. For example, the Ashtons continuity, for which I wrote Awaken the Senses.
Crit Partner/Group: Writers who come together to critique each other’s work.
Full: A complete manuscript.
Galleys: The final version of a book that an author gets to see and make changes to.
GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict
HEA: Happy Every After
Line: Denotes which category imprint a book belongs to (eg. Desire, Special Edition, Nocturne etc)
Partial: Usually the first three chapters of a manuscript (often asked for by agents or editors looking at new material).
POV: Point of View
Query: In most cases, this is the first point of contact with agents and editors. Details vary but in it’s most basic form it’s a short letter setting out: (1) why you’re querying this particular publisher, agent or line, (2) the précis of your book, and (3) any relevant details about yourself eg. contest wins.
R: Rejection Letters or Emails. These come in a number of types, from Form – where only the name is changed, to Personalized – where the editor tells the writer something about why they’re rejecting the work. If you get one of the latter, celebrate! Editors are busy people. If they took the time to personalize your letter, it probably means they see promise in your writing.
Royalties: The payments made to a writer after they’ve earned out their advance.
RS: Romantic Suspense
RWA: Romance Writers of America: The biggest professional organization out there for those of us who write in the romance genre.
Single Title/ST: ST’s are the books that fall outside category fiction. They don’t fit into any ‘line’ and tend to be the ‘bigger’ books. That’s a very basic generalization as some category books are close to ST length (eg. Silhouette Superromance).
ST: Can also mean Sexual Tension
Sub: A submission, either to an agent or a publisher
TBB: Books that are To Be Bought
TBR: Books that are To Be Read
Vanity Press: A publisher that charges money to publish work. This not normal practice! For more detailed discussions, simply type the subject into any search engine.
YA: Young Adult
‘Believe’ is the title of one of my unpublished manuscripts which placed in the Clendon Award and got requested by several editors but didn’t sell. Why am I telling you this? Not because I love talking about myself but because it illustrates two things: (1) That I’ve never lacked faith in my work; and (2) That I have the ability to bounce back from rejection.
These two factors are vitally important tools in any writer’s arsenal. They may seem obvious but the simple truth is, many writers don’t have these tools in their possession. How many of you have disparaged your own work, whether to yourself or to others? Perhaps you told your critique partner that this week’s chapter isn’t very good because you had to write around the kids being home for the holidays. Perhaps you shelved a manuscript because it wasn’t up to submission standard. Perhaps you missed a deadline to enter a contest because you were just too busy.
All of those examples could be perfectly true. They could also be the most subtle of lies, damaging your soul as a writer, as a creator. Do you know deep down that the chapter is good, despite or because of, what you had to go through to write it? Are you scared to send out that manuscript because you’re certain it’ll be rejected? Did you miss that deadline because ‘everyone else’ is ‘way better’ than you?
The reasons I’ve listed are fed by fear. And fear is one of the most negative emotions that can hit a writer. Fear sucks away your faith in your work, makes you question the words that you’ve poured out onto that page minute after minute, hour after hour, and stops you from progressing.
That’s not to say that you have to be Superwoman and feel no fear. Fear can be healthy, so long as it doesn’t stifle you, so long as it motivates you to write the best book you can. But when it gets a grip on you to the extent that you put roadblocks in your own path, when you start sabotaging your progress, then it’s time to fight it. The fight may begin with a small scuffle, when you tell your critique partner something good about that week’s chapter, something that makes you proud. Maybe it’s only a line, but it’s a line you have faith in. The scuffle might escalate to a fistfight, when you push yourself to meet the deadline for a contest, not allowing lack of confidence in your work to get in your way. And it might end up in all out war when you post that manuscript to an editor.
Each time you put a roadblock up, ask yourself whether an impartial observer would also see it. Is that manuscript really bad? And yes, sometimes they are. But if you’re not at the point where you can see so clearly, when you’re still too emotionally bound to your work, don’t let fear drive you into making decisions that will halt your growth as a writer. Believe . In yourself. In your work.
What if you have that belief, that faith, but rejection just destroys you? We all know writers who gave up writing after a particularly brutal rejection, completely shattered. I can understand their reactions. A rejection hits you in the most vulnerable part of your psyche, bruising and bloodying your ego. And a really bad rejection has the impact of a bomb, silencing our voices.
I’m no tower of strength. I’ve cried, screamed and sulked after getting a rejection. And then I’ve picked myself back up, dusted myself off and started again. That, more than anything, is what makes me a writer. Giving up is easy. Sticking to this writing gig when every other day you seem to be hit with a rejection, is hard. Incredibly, terribly hard. My motivation comes from the fact that I can’t not write. I can’t not create. Writing is who I am and I’m blessed to be allowed to live my dream.
What’s your dream? Is it to write? Or is it to make millions? If it’s the latter, I have some bad news for you–making millions might take the average writer that many years. The second piece of bad news is that in this business, money isn’t a good enough motivator (especially when you’re not earning any yet), to make you go out there over and over, and lay yourself open to rejection.
Sit down and ask yourself this question–why are you doing this? And then look at your answer and see if it’s a strong enough reason. Strong enough to armour-plate you against rejection. Strong enough to have you skipping lunch and dinner to find time to write. Strong enough to face down the ‘friends’ who constantly ask you when you’re going to get a real job.
Because the truth is, the ability to bounce back from rejection comes from within you. Sure, after a few rejection letters, you might start becoming used to rejection, but that’s not good enough. You need to be more than simply accepting of it as a part of the writing process. Acceptance of rejection is a kind of apathy. You need to be able to deal with it proactively, to bolster yourself back up, and then to send your work out again wrapped by your belief, your faith, in the worth of your voice.
You need to believe.
The above article was originally written for the Diamonds and Pearls Column of Hearts Talk, the monthly newsletter of the Romance Writers of Australia.
Character Development: Being Mean
I’m a meanie and so should you be!
People who know me may disagree with the above. They might say that though I can occasionally blow my top, I’m generally a nice enough human being. They’d be wrong—I’m meaner than mean…to my characters.
When I started writing romance, I couldn’t make myself do terrible things to my characters. I just couldn’t. I wanted them to be happy. Unfortunately, that meant my books were finished by chapter three, with everyone being happy, happy and living in endless bliss. Nice for them but unfortunately, not very interesting for the average reader.
Despite figuring that out, I still had a hard time really throwing my characters into it and twisting their guts inside out. I mean, I got to the point where I could do it, but it was just so very hard. That was when I attended a RWNZ conference and heard someone very wise say something I’m about to repeat to you. I’d love to acknowledge that person’s brilliance but the name has long since disappeared from the Swiss cheese that doubles as my brain. However their words of wisdom have stayed with me, so whoever they were, wherever they are, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
The speaker said, “Write down a list of five things that your hero/heroine would HATE to happen to them.” Okay, easy enough. For example, my heroine in Craving Beauty would hate to be treated like chattel, to be valued for her beauty alone. That would be point one on my list.
Then the speaker delivered the stunning light-bulb-moment-inducing blow. She said, “After you make the list, have those things happen to your character.” Yikes! Now, that’s tough. It means you have to forget that these characters are your babies, your friends, your wonderful creations who must not be sullied and you have to start being mean.
I took that speaker’s advice and ran with it, figuring out what works for me. I generally do make up a list of ‘bad things which would completely destroy character’s equilibrium’ but whether it has five things on it or ten, depends on the story. Sometimes, I don’t have to do all those things to them (yay), I just have to hint that it might happen. So for example, if a heroine is scared of people leaving her, the hero might be a military man who could one day leave her forever. How’s that for instant conflict?
This technique works for both internal and external conflicts, but I use it mostly for internal, because I believe that twisting your characters’s emotions inside out gives real emotional punch to a story. A romance is all about emotion, and in the end you must deliver on that promise…even if you have to be mean.
Revisions & how to tackle them
It finally happens. You open that envelope with a feeling of intense disappointment, expecting yet another rejection but lo and behold, it’s something else. A revision letter!
Stage 1: You stare at the letter in shock, check that they sent it to the right person, stare at it some more and perhaps start to giggle a little hysterically.
Stage 2: Wild jubilation. You ring your writing friends (the only ones who understand the monumental importance of a revision letter), tell your mother, your dog and maybe even the postie who’s used to seeing you crumple into tears every time he hands you another envelope.
Stage 3: You’re calm and ready to begin work. You start to read the letter instead of just picking out the magic word revision.
If you’re super lucky, the letter requests only minor revisions e.g. Maybe the editor wants you to change the name of your hero, or asks that you add a scene to fill up a gap. In this case, you do it and all ends well.
But…in most cases that very first revision letter is likely to be a little bigger and require a lot more work. In which event…
Your heart thuds, your brain freezes and you gulp. Panic hits. The once magical two pages now appear to be an axe looming over your head. How do you do this? There’s so much! Lines and lines and even more lines. You go take a bath/have a margarita/bake a cake/insert own procrastination tool here.
Stage 4: You’re really ready to begin work—this is the time when the following tips may come in handy.
(I) Read the letter carefully, without letting your own beliefs about the stupendous wonderfulness of your manuscript as it is, get in the way.
(II) Make contact with your editor via email, phone or regular mail to thank them for their suggestions and to let them know that you’re beginning revisions. This is basic good manners. Make it polite and short.
(III) Make three lists (mental or on paper).
i. On one list, place all the ‘easy’ revisions. These should include things such as: overusage of particular words (all writers have their favorites), changes of character/place names, correction of any grammatical errors pointed out, expansion of scenes already in the manuscript, etc.
ii. On the second list, note all the stuff that looks impossible at first glance, including: changes to the motivations and personalities of the characters, fundamental changes to the storyline, addition and deletion of entire scenes and any changes that relate to the underlying conflict(s), etc.
iii. On the third list, make a note of any changes you feel compromise the manuscript or don’t work. This should be a fluid list that changes as you write.
(IV) Begin revisions by completing the changes in list (i). This will not only get you started, it will make you feel like you’re accomplishing something (which you are).
(V) Once the changes in list (i) are complete, you should be more than ready to tackle the changes in list (ii). Now, you know you can do these revisions, because you’ve already managed to tick off several things in the list the editor sent you. Each writer is different so at this stage, you need to find what works for you. For the tougher changes, I prefer to do them one at a time. For example, if I had to change a character’s basic personality type, I would go through the entire manuscript and implement the change, then start all over again at the top for the second big revision. You might prefer to do several of the big changes simultaneously ie. change character motivations at the same time that you’re revising the plot. Choose what works best for you. This might involve some trial and error.
(VI) You now have a revised rough draft. If you can, set it aside for a few days and then come back and reread it with fresh eyes. Check things like whether any deletions have left crucial gaps in the story, whether scenes have become redundant and whether the story reads smoothly. At this stage, you have to rely to a large extent on your own knowledge of what the story should be—you may decide to add/delete things that aren’t in the revision letter. Put any such changes on list (iii).
(VII) If an editor has taken the time and effort to write you a revision letter, they want you to succeed. To this end, they’re not going to be mad if you ring/email them with any questions, though try and keep it short—editors are very busy people. I’d suggest contacting the editor at this stage because by now, you’ve almost finished the story. Therefore, your list (iii) should be fairly complete. In most cases, it shouldn’t be huge—if it is, ask yourself whether you’re truly revising at all or just trying to sell the same story that has already been responded to. Talk to your editor about any changes you feel uncomfortable with or are unsure about. This is your story but editors know what works in their marketplace, so this should be a dialogue. You may convince them, they might convince you, or you might reach a happy middle-ground. The important thing is to always, always, act like a professional.
(VIII) Go over your manuscript again in light of whatever your editor has said. Refine the revisions.
(IX) If you’re like me, then give yourself a couple of days off then read it one more time and check for simple spelling mistakes, etc.
(X) POST IT! Yes, really, you have to let go now. It’s tough but you gotta. I would suggest getting the manuscript back to the editor a month to six weeks after you receive the revision letter. This gives you enough time to do a good job but it also shows that you’re reliable and can work under pressure.
(XI) Start another manuscript if you haven’t already. Acceptance or rejection, you want to be able to present the editor with another story—once again, it’s all about professionalism.
(XII) Wait for the phone to ring…Okay, you shouldn’t really be doing this but who are we kidding?
Sunrises and Sunsets
Writers often send characters to places they, themselves, have never been. Occasionally, you need to know whether it’s light or dark in the city at the time the character is out of doors.
This is a great website for finding out that information: http://www.sunrisesunset.com/
As its name suggests, it gives you the sunrise and sunset times in a particular city. However, it also provides moonrise and moonset times, which can come in useful if you’re writing a werewolf story and need to know the date of the full moon!
How many of you know a perfect person? I’d say that the percentage is very low. And for those of you that do – does that perfect person make you want to grit your teeth? Or maybe they just put you to sleep?
Perfect people are boring. It’s our flaws that make us interesting. So give your characters flaws, make them real.
- A small flaw, a tiny thing that rounds out your character and makes them real.
- A heroine who is trying to lose weight but who has a secret stash of chocolate that she raids at night.
- A big flaw, one that deeply affects how you see that character.
- A hero who can’t see past his own preconceptions about the heroine because of something that happened in his past.
Those are just a couple of examples of the top of my head. There are thousands more out there so use the ones that work for your character.
Villains & Good Points
If you want to add a contextual layer to your story, give your villain a bit of niceness.
An interesting villain is as fun as a good hero or heroine. And if they have something that doesn’t fit, then it takes them beyond one dimension. Maybe they give religiously to charity or help old ladies cross the road? A small quirk can make a big impact.
Of course, sometimes you just want your villain to be deliciously bad, someone we love to hate. In that case, forget about the good points!