Not Getting Enough?
One of the reasons it took me so long to write Old Souls is that when I began
I had no idea what I was doing I focused on writing sentences instead of writing the story. Writing a beautifully perfect sentence can be an intoxicating idea. But, it’s those perfect sentences that can sometimes distract a reader (and a writer) from what’s actually supposed to be going on in the story. I remember sending a few opening paragraphs of my book to my sister and waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting for her to get back to me. (Our family isn’t known for punctuality.) And, when she finally texted me back, she was very polite.
At the time, the book opened with the main character laying on the floor of his apartment, suffering from a combination of withdrawal symptoms after giving up alcohol . . . and his particularly potent brew of antipsychotics. Every sentence was perfect (to me, anyway). I’d spent months writing a paragraph about the way the wind blew through the yellowed lace curtains of his cracked window. But, when those beautiful sentences were put together the story itself was murkier than the water in Winnipeg’s Red River.
In the writing world, some people identify as “pantsers” and others as “plotters,” and I was ready to make a switch, because pantsing was getting me nowhere. I had too many ideas to tame into my sentences. My story is a fairly complex contemporary fantasy, which means that pretty much anything can happen. Love? Sure. Cannibalism? Why not? How about a people who reincarnate over and over along the line of their own descendants? That is an EFFING GREAT IDEA.
I experimented with a few different outlines, including the Snowflake Method and Larry Brooks’ Story Structure. But, what worked best for this novel was Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. It’s an outline based on the “monomyth,” or the Hero’s Journey, by Joseph Campbell.
Some people say that using an outline is cheating, but in my humble, newbie author’s opinion, different tactics work for different writers. And, the sequence of the various stages of the Writer’s Journey outline can be shuffled at the author’s whim, so nothing is set in stone. I skipped one or two stages completely in Old Souls. If you think about it, without the monomyth movies like Star Wars, The Matrix, The Lion King, and Titanic would be a LOT different. And, probably not in a good way.
But, when I finally had the plot narrowed down, my characters began to run amok. Once again, I had too many ideas. Looking back, I imagine my confusion regarding who my characters were, and why they did things added another two years onto the completion of Old Souls.
Because my characters are immortal in their own way, I decided to pick a few ancient gods from different cultures to weave into the plot. Is this the “right” way to tackle character development? I’m not sure. But, it had a calming effect on me. Instead of feeling pressured to create people out of thin air, all I had to do was get to know the gods I chose to include in the story. Using gods as characters organically added another layer to my book, and I ran with the concept that many of the same gods appear in various cultures throughout the world because they are the same gods, reborn again and again into different civilizations.
The trick to writing my story has been to narrow the field of possibilities into what actually happens. This particular method for building characters won’t work in many other books, but, I’ll use a variation of it when the time comes. Many authors base their characters from real people, and there are a few characters in Old Souls who are loosely based on real people too. The “Heroes Journey” worked for me here, but it won’t work for every story. But, now that I have come to understand that I am a plotter, maybe my next book won’t take me six years to write.
How about you? Plotter or pantser?
In the space of only a few months, I have accrued well over five thousand Twitter followers. To be honest, I probably could have gathered another five thousand in that time, but the work on my upcoming book would have suffered (even more than it already has this summer). So, what’s my strategy? I followed all the advice of a good friend of mine who knows about Twitter. (And blogging, and writing . . . and a bunch of other neat stuff, too. You can follow his blog here: DanAlatorre.com.) YOU may be happy to hear that he and his authorey friend Allison Maruska are compiling all you need to know about building a successful author platform into a new book. Stay tuned. I will definitely have a blog post outlining my success with their strategies when the time comes.
That’s how I managed to build my Twitter following so quickly. Without revealing any of Dan and Allison’s trusted Twitter tactics and ruining the spoils of their upcoming book, I would like to address what I have learned about the social media phenomena that’s all about contracting whatever you want to say into 140 characters or less. And, that can be summed up in 35: Some Twitter peeps are . . . crazy.
Here are a few Twitter truths I’ve come across.
Taking the plunge into the Twittersphere has been an admittedly strange and (mostly) enjoyable ride. Before you jump in, know exactly what you’re getting into. Just like in real life people can be pretty crazy, and sometimes even a little more crazy as they cast their superior judgments from behind the security of their computer screens. Some people may yell at you for your DMs. Some might ask you to help them learn English. Some may follow that up with a query as to your Social Insurance Number . . . and general banking information. And, some people may show you their penis.
What have been some of YOUR unexpected Twittering experiences?
I am an aspiring author who is often plagued by doubt. Who doesn’t actually have time to write. I sometimes have a hard time recovering from criticism, and when I talk about my book to “real” people, I sometimes think I can hear crickets chirping in the background.Why does anyone bother? Many writers will TELL you they write merely for the love of writing. And, I love writing, too. I love that I created a world of people, and to me, they all seem real. Sometimes, while driving or washing the dishes, I even find myself wondering what my characters are up to. Okay, that sounds a little crazy, and it is, but generally writers can be pretty crazy, so clearly I’m on the right path.
But, Imma tell you right now, I don’t just write for the love of writing. I write with one goal in mind. I write to (eventually) get paid. I write with the hope that one day a maid will clean up the mess my kids have been making ever since I began to write. Is that aiming to high? Well, in a year I’ll let you know. When my alarm goes off at 4:45, I’m faced with a decision. Do I roll out of bed so my characters can finish their battle with the Stones of David in Nigeria, or do I continue to sleep in my nice warm blankets? I mean, who am I kidding? I don’t know how to write a book. I’m not going to be the next Leo Tolstoy, am I right?
There are a million published authors out there who have produced great novels despite doubts of their own because they found the motivation to keep on going. Recently, a fellow aspiring author asked me how I stay motivated. The truth is that while I face many challenges in my writing, keeping motivated is not one. When doubt creeps up, I surround myself with positivity. I collect positive quotes and videos like some people collect reasons not to try. That way, I can remind myself that people (me) can still be great writers even if they’re not “naturally gifted” because:
That little doozy is saved as a background to my phone. I also think EVERYONE should see Jim Carrey give this commencement speech. It has a ridiculous number of hits, so maybe you already have. If not, WATCH IT. If you can’t watch the whole thing, check out these highlights.
If you’re having trouble staying motivated, try watching Oprah’s Master Class on OWN, where the “masters” of various fields (mostly celebrities) explain how they got to where they are, and the lessons they learned along the way. My favorite show so far, not surprisingly, features the lovely Miss O herself, although Billy Bob Thornton, Sharon Stone and Susan Sarandon are very close runners up. These morsels of wisdom come from Oprah:
If that didn’t do it for you, I also love this inspirational video, and I LOVE this video, and after watching this video . . . I pretty much feel like I could take over the world.
Despite the story in my last blog where I threw The Secret in the bin at the airport in Montreal, I believe in the power of positive thinking. I wouldn’t take the time to write if I didn’t. Despite the (sometimes) glazed expressions that crop up when I explain my plot, I love my plot. I just need to find a way to explain it properly. When I get hit with doubt, I take a few days and wallow. But, I pick myself back up. Because that’s what writers do. My motivation comes from the knowledge that writers are people. They’re not superheroes. They have families, and doubts, and the same 24 hours in a day that I have. And, if I try hard enough, my book WILL be great.
Writing a book takes time. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. Aspiring authors give up every day. So, what’s the secret to finishing that novel?
How are YOU going to stay motivated?