Pile of cookies with text:

As I mentioned last time, I’m gearing up for the release of the next novel in my Mythos Legacy series, Pure Sacrifice, coming out August 12th. In my previous post, I alluded to the fact that revisions for this book were difficult. Very difficult.

In truth, revisions are never easy. Unlike just plain edits, which might have us questioning a word, sentence, paragraph, or scene, revisions might have us questioning everything:

  • the characters and their arcs
  • the plot arc and specific events
  • the conflicts and stakes
  • the goals and motivations
  • the story and core premise
  • the themes and messages we’re sending, etc.

Those are big ideas. And big ideas might require big changes.

The Fine Line of Developmental Edits

We are likely to face those kinds of questions when we receive feedback, especially if our developmental editor or beta readers are good. And stress is a normal reaction if we get feedback about those big elements because the changes often seem daunting or require a lot of work.

(Or if we’re neurotic, we could stress even if we don’t get that feedback. I didn’t receive any big-picture suggestions on the third book in the series, which will release this fall, and I freaked out rather than celebrate because I knew—I just knew—something had to be wrong with the story. *smile* Second-opinion editor: Nope. It’s all good.)

As I’ve discussed before, it’s not enough to rely on just copy editing. Jefferson Smith’s Immerse or Die study of story openings found that only 25% of the “strikes” that get him to close a book fall under copy editing.

Readers are just as likely (if not more likely) to hate a story for a plot hole or a Too Stupid To Live character as for missing commas or repeated words. So we need to make sure those big-picture issues are being examined.

Yet sometimes the feedback we receive might cause us to wonder if the suggestions are a good idea for our story. If we’re indie published, we can make any decision we think best.

If we’re in the midst of the query process, we might receive a “revise and resubmit” letter. Then we’d have to decide how much work to put into a story the agent or editor might still reject.

Or if we’re traditionally published and under contract, we might face an awkward choice. Our development editor is usually our acquiring editor, so we might feel pressured to make changes we disagree with, and we might doubt ourselves, wondering why they even wanted our story.

Whatever the situation, we might struggle with figuring out when suggestions will actually make our story better or when they’ll only make our story different:

“I’ve seen editors who want to change the premise(!). I’ve seen editors who want to change the tone (from dark to slapstick!). I’ve seen beta readers who want to change the whole plot(!). *sigh*

In all cases, if those changes would make the story closer to the story we intended to write, great! But we shouldn’t change just for the sake of change.”

Sometimes suggestions just tell us how they’d write the book, and that’s not going to help us tell our story. How can we tell the difference? And how can we know which battles we might want to pick when debating our publisher’s editor?

Be Wary of “Baking Soda Changes”

I came across a great post by Ally Carter about the sort of changes stories often go through during a book-to-film adaptation. She compares story chemistry to baking chemistry:

“If a cookie recipe calls for pecans and all you have is walnuts? Fine! If it calls for M&Ms and you’ve got chocolate chips? Well, that might work.

But only a fool would substitute baking soda for baking powder.

Why? Because that changes the chemistry and will throw the whole thing off whack and out of balance.

Good book-to-film adaptations know the difference between Baking Soda Changes and Walnut Changes. They know better than to mess with the chemistry.”

She goes on to explain that what constitutes a Baking Soda Change will be different for each book. For some books, the setting is an essential part of the story, and for some, it’s not. For some stories, removing a subplot won’t affect the main plot, and in others, they’re intricately linked.

She suggests focusing on how the change will affect other aspects of the story and gives examples from Harry Potter:

“”We found a great young actress for Hermione but she doesn’t need braces.”
—Walnut Change

“We decided to set Hogwarts in Ireland instead of Scotland.”
—Walnut Change (an unnecessary change, but a Walnut Change nonetheless)

“We decided to give Harry a spunky kid brother because there was a kid brother in Jurassic World and everyone loves a kid brother.”
—Baking Soda Change”

“Baking Soda” Changes: Not Always Bad

At the very least, Baking Soda Changes are those that affect:

  • what makes a story work
  • the essence of what makes a story feel like ours
  • the character arcs we want to explore
  • the themes or messages that resonate with us

That doesn’t mean every suggestion for a Baking Soda Change is bad. Unlike Ally’s comparison between finished books and movies, our in-process stories might need their chemistry adjusted.

The point is that for Walnut Changes, especially from an acquiring editor, it might not be worth it to argue. Those generally aren’t hills we need to die on. But again, what constitutes a Walnut Change will be different for each story.

On the other hand, with Baking Soda Changes, we want to look closer at whether those changes would bring us closer or further away from the story we want to tell. In other words, when we have to pick our battles, these are the changes to focus on.

Even as an indie author, I make myself justify every suggestion I ignore. So I have these debates in my head to make sure I’ve really analyzed the suggestions versus the affects on the story.

In short, understanding what the Baking Soda Changes are for our story helps us dig into the essence of our story’s elements. And with that understanding, we’ll be better able to make our case about whether the changes make sense for our story.

Case Study: Pure Sacrifice

One of my developmental editors (Jessa Slade of Red Circle Ink) made several Baking Soda Change suggestions for Pure Sacrifice. I wasn’t surprised, as pieces of the story had felt off to me as well.

Her suggestions included major changes to:

  • the worldbuilding,
  • the heroine’s arc, goals, and motivations,
  • the hero’s internal conflict and motivations,
  • the premise of the scenes leading up to the Climax,
  • a few plot events, and
  • the themes.

Huge, right? But…

When I stepped back from the suggestions that I knew wouldn’t work for the story I was trying to tell, I found several ideas among her examples that—although seemingly huge changes—would get me closer to that story essence in my head.

By skimming through each scene, I came up with a two-page list of questions to help me seamlessly patch the changes. The questions focused on what Ally mentioned above—how the changes affected the rest of the story—such as:

  • Why can’t she ABC?
  • How is XYZ supposed to work?
  • Why is he avoiding ABC?
  • What does XYZ mean for ABC?

In short, lots of whys, hows, and what does it means. *smile*

With that list in front of my keyboard, I was able to fix every aspect of the story (and maintain continuity) in one pass. Even better, by really understanding the baking soda elements at play, the changes turned out to be not so huge.

I didn’t delete or add any scenes. I didn’t rewrite any big sections. I didn’t change the main plot events or any turning points.

I changed some dialogue. I changed a lot of motivations and internal thoughts. I changed a few details about the questionable plot events. And I changed a few word choices to focus on different themes and messages.

By no means am I saying this revision was easy. I started out the post (and my last post) admitting that it was difficult.

But this key of understanding the underlying chemistry of the story, along with the two pages of questions to maintain story flow, helped me see how the pieces and parts fit together. In other words, the thinking about how to fix it and all the questions to answer took at least as long as making the actual changes.

After all that, the story is so much better. I addressed every single issue Jessa brought up. And more importantly, it’s so much closer to the story I wanted to tell. The changes didn’t break the chemistry—they fixed it.

There are many ways to approach revisions (one of my guest posters last month even shared a worksheet for her method), and there are many reasons why suggestions may or may not work for us or our story. Perhaps this idea of Baking Soda Changes will help us separate what we want to do from what we don’t and give us guidelines on how to get closer to the story of our imagination. *smile*

Have you ever received revision suggestions that felt wrong? Were you able to point to how it would break your story? How did you handle the situation? Does the analogy of Baking Soda Changes help your understanding? Have you been able to make any Baking Soda Changes work?

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Shining a Light on Diversity Issues

by Jami Gold on July 28, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Cartoon of people looking up at light with text: Shining a Light on Diversity Issues

I’m gearing up for the release of my second full-length novel, Pure Sacrifice, on August 12th. This book was difficult for me in many ways, mostly because of the revision process, but one frustrating aspect was beyond my control.

I’ve written before about how we shouldn’t assume our characters belong to a straight, white, middle-class default because that’s lazy writing:

“The fastest, easiest way to create more diverse stories is to start with a blank slateDon’t have a “default” character.”

I never force anything in my stories, and I don’t believe in quotas. Yet my stories contain diverse characters because I take the extra step of asking just one question to avoid the problem of my brain sending me Mr. Generic from Central Casting:

“Whenever a character—from my protagonists to the nameless, just-above-a-spear-carrier minor characters—appears on the page, I stop and listen.

  1. I first ask myself if this character that popped into my head feels three-dimensional, like they’re real and natural, or does the character feel like a “stock” or “default” character?
    (In my talk-to-myself brain, the latter often comes out as me asking, “Hi, welcome to my story. Who are you?” and I get a zombie-like “Uhhh” in response.)
  2. If it’s the latter, I shove them away, and I listen more until I hear a voice that feels real.
  3. Then I let them tell me who they are. *smile*

Note: There is no wrong answer because there’s no quota.”

Because of that step of not assuming, of waiting until I hear a voice that resonates, I knew my paranormal character for this book wouldn’t be white skinned. Great! Except…

The Ugly Side of Cover Design

The branding for my Mythos Legacy series depicts the paranormal character (whether hero or heroine) on my covers. So the cover of Pure Sacrifice needed to depict Markos, my shapeshifting unicorn hero. The character who is not white skinned.

(Note: He’s not African-American either. He’s a unicorn—and like all those of his race, his humanoid shapeshifted form could “pass” for black on Earth. However, by no means do I claim or label this book to be an interracial romance or anything to do with the black experience. The dichotomy of mythological unicorns being “white and pure” and their humanoid form being darker skinned is just how the character came to me.)

In the traditional publishing world, it wouldn’t be unheard of for the publisher to whitewash the cover and choose a model that “wouldn’t affect sales.” In fact, I’ve heard of several books with whitewashed covers along those lines.

Maybe having a non-white model on the cover does affect sales. Maybe it doesn’t.

(So far, my preorder sales says it doesn’t. Take that publisher assumptions! *smile*)

But one of the benefits of indie publishing is ensuring that our books meet our expectations. And I refused to whitewash this cover.

Diversity Is Needed Everywhere

While I was drafting the story, the visual inspiration for Markos was the actor Jason Momoa, who is known for Stargate: Atlantis, Conan the Barbarian, Game of Thrones, and DC’s new Aquaman.

Jason Momoa

Um, yeah, dark-ish skin and dreadlocks? There’s no whitewashing that. *smile* (And I feel compelled to ask: Besides, who would want to whitewash him away?)

However, then I ran into another problem: stock photo sites. Searching on “dreadlocks” brought up a bunch of white-skinned hipster types, while most of the dark-skinned models were posed and shot to look like drug users. Yeah, no racist assumptions there. *rolls eyes*

I searched every stock photo site. I asked a few models I’ve befriended this past year if they knew anyone. I even put out a call for a custom shoot that never came together. In short, I spent months upon months looking for an intense, sexy, non-drugged-out appearing, dark-skinned man with dreadlocks.

Nothing…until I searched “dreads” instead of “dreadlocks” on one of the sites. (And boy, is that ever a lesson on the importance of tags for our work.) There, I found one new model. Luckily, that model was perfect. *smile*

Pure Sacrifice cover

The Many Diversity Issues around Us

This problem of non-diverse cover stock is nothing new. Courtney Milan wrote about her struggles with the issue over a year ago.

One of the panels at the just-completed RWA conference poked fun at the limited stock by using one of the few interracial couple shots on the cover of their workshop handout: Celebrating the MOST used stock couple in any one genre!

(The rest of the handout by Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, K. M. Jackson, and Falguni Kothari is great for sharing some do’s and don’ts for multicultural stories. They also include links to helpful resources, such as diverse stock photo sites. Much appreciation to them for sharing their handout with everyone!)

Sometimes we don’t see the problems around us until we stumble over them or they’re pointed out to us. That’s why it’s so important to listen to marginalized voices. It’s far easier to see what is around us (active racism, etc.) than to see what isn’t (lack of opportunities, etc.).

Yes, we need diverse books. But—as I discovered with this story—we also need diverse cover models and diverse everything else. Plus, there’s a difference between diverse characters and diverse authors.

White authors like myself can research and add diversity to our stories, but in a perfect (or perhaps, fair) world, the voices of diverse authors would be louder when it comes to diversity so they can direct their own stories. Yet too often, that isn’t what happens.

In following the #RWA15 tweets last week, I was horrified to learn how poorly some of my fellow authors are treated within the industry just because of the color of their skin. Many of the tweets about the Diversity in Romance: Why it Matters workshop were captured in a Storify by Alisha Rai, one of the panelists.

Too often, traditional publishers see black romance authors and think their books would appeal only to black women. No matter how mainstream their stories, they’re shunted to the “diverse” imprint in many publishing houses.

As a result, their books are sold on a separate shelf in bookstores and labeled African-American Romance. Panelist Farrah Rochon calls this is the most blatant form of segregation still in existence.

To add insult to injury, those imprints are often priced higher. Gee, not marketed to mainstream readers and priced higher? Yet publishers blame the authors and not themselves for “disappointing” sales. *shakes head*

So What Can We Do?

  • We can make sure we’re not lazily defaulting to stock characters. As I’ve said before, “If it takes reading a diverse book from a white-bread author to show people that, yes, they can relate to stories with diverse protagonists, I say bring on the diverse books from any author who wants to take on the challenge.” And as the panelists said in answer to the question, “Who should be writing diverse books?” “Everyone.”
  • We can research to ensure we’re not defaulting to stereotypes when we write any kind of character.
  • We can ask a member of the appropriate community to check our work for problematic elements (and if they point something out, we should listen).
  • We can boost the voices of diverse authors: link to them, retweet them, share their words, etc.
  • We can watch out for assumptions about not being able to relate to stories with diverse characters or written by diverse authors. After all, we can all relate to the human experience.
  • When we find books we like by diverse authors, we can support them: buy their books, promote their work, etc.
  • We can support diverse resources. (For example, I participated in Mosiac Stock‘s Kickstarter several months back.)

Most of all, we want to ensure that we see past any defensiveness caused by guilt, quota assumptions, or political correctness. “Diversity” isn’t a genre, so this isn’t about trying to change our storytelling as writers or our reading habits as readers.

Most stories with diverse characters aren’t (or shouldn’t be) about the diversity issue. Readers simply want a good story, and the “specs” of the characters shouldn’t affect that. As someone who writes shapeshifting unicorn heroes, I should be able to handle characters who aren’t like me. *smile*

Do you write diverse characters? Have you seen areas like the stock photo issue where more diversity would be helpful? Have you run into any problems with including diverse characters? Do you have other suggestions for what we can do to help? Are there books you’ve loved by diverse authors that you want to promote in the comments?

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Why Is Our Journey So Hard?

by Jami Gold on July 23, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Person hiking on a mountainside in the snow with text: Why Is Our Journey So Hard?

Sometimes the posts I write are like challenges for us to do better or try harder. But as I’ve talked about before, we don’t always need the same kind of advice.

Some days, we might need pushy advice, and some days, we might need sympathetic advice. Both can work, and both can be harmful depending on our situation, our mindset, or our mental health. (And I’ve written both kinds of posts here. *smile*)

Others can’t know what we need from day to day, so it’s on us to understand ourselves enough to know what we need—and ignore the unhelpful-to-us advice. We need to be kind to ourselves and only let in the helpful-to-us advice, even if that changes from one day to the next.

This reminder to be kind to ourselves is important in the context of my last post, where I asked what actions we were taking to achieve our dreams. Depending on our mindset, we might feel ashamed for not having reached our dream yet.

But as I mentioned in my post about advice:

“We can push ourselves and yet have compassion for falling short. We can strive for success and yet forgive our failures.”

As I pointed out last time, we will fall short and we will have failures. No one can live a perfect life 100% of the time. (Says the perfectionist who’s an expert at knowing that truth. *nods sagely*)

What Does “Life Is a Journey” Mean?

One of the things I mentioned last time to soften the frustration or shame or impatience we might feel for not reaching our goal yet is that life is a journey. There is no finish line.

Once we get a good contest score, we want a contest win. Once we publish one book, we want to publish more. Once our writing skills are solid, we want to make them great.

That constant striving is part of life. In a way, humans are like sharks—if we stop moving, a part of us can die inside.

Among the older people I know, those still interested in learning about computers or email or whatever seem younger than those who have declared themselves “done.” The step between being “done with learning and growing” and “done with life” can be short.

So if we’re constantly comparing where we are now with where we want to be for our goals or dreams—and being frustrated with that gap—our life will feel lacking. Always.

That’s not the fault of our goals or dreams, but rather of how we’re viewing our life. We’re thinking of our goals as the finish line and thinking that we’ll be happy when we get there…

…and yet as soon as we get there, we’ll have new goals.

The finish line will move. So it’s better to not think of our goals or dreams as a finish line or destination. Instead, they’re mile markers or milestones along our journey.

Happiness Is an Attitude

In other words, our frustrations are often not about our goals or dreams but about something inside us. How we’re thinking about our life, or how we expect our life to suddenly change or improve once we have X.

Happiness is never about the “stuff” we have or don’t have. Happiness is a choice.

That said, I can’t simply command myself to be happy. *smile* What I’ve found that works better is making sure that I’m “framing” my emotions properly.

I suspect part of the reason that we struggle to see ourselves as happy is that—thanks to our society—we often have a screwed up version of reality. And because of that, our expectations might be off-kilter.

What Do We Expect?

The gap between lust and love has been well-documented recently, but there are still some who expect love to feel like that initial fluttery feelings of a new relationship. And when that fades, they think their “love” has faded (when really it was never love at all).

Similarly, too many in our culture seem to expect happiness to feel like giddiness. They think they’re unhappy if they don’t have that bubbly, joyful feeling in their gut.

However, happiness actually feels closer to satisfaction, contentment, or a warm hug. When we allow that mismatch to take hold in our attitude, it can lead to problems like divorces just as much as the lust-love gap, as people assume they’re much unhappier than they really are.

Ugh—Is This What It Means to Be an Adult?

I have a couple of cousins who practically throw an emotional temper tantrum at the idea that life isn’t a super-energized, giddy, exciting, fun, joyous, whatever experience—all the time. On some level, I don’t blame them.

Reality can be a downer if we have unrealistic expectations. Yet the problem isn’t with reality but with the expectations.

I’ve lost count of how many people I know who have divorced, thinking that will solve all their problems, only to discover too late that one of the biggest problems in their marriage was within them. And their problems followed them into their single life.

Life in general is like that too. Many problems in our life come down to our internal thoughts.

Commenter after commenter on my last post brought up how fixing our internal perspective can fix what we think of as external problems. (Sounds like our characters and their false beliefs, doesn’t it? *smile*)

What are our expectations for our journey? Remember that happiness doesn’t come from a thing but from an attitude.

Our Journey Can Be Hard…and Fun

Yes, we’re going to occasionally have those giddy moments along our writing journey. The first good feedback or review on our writing. Getting an agent or a contract offer. Holding our book in our hands for the first time.

But the vast majority of our journey will be hard. We have to learn writing craft, struggle with self-doubt, market our story to a distracted public, etc.

Can our journey also be fun? It depends on our definition of fun. *smile*

If we expect fun to feel like satisfaction or doing what we love, then yes, our journey is fun. We are doing what we love. (Even though we might hate it sometimes because such-and-such character isn’t talking to us, or our release date was moved, or revisions are driving us crazy. Love-hate attitudes are acceptable here.)

On the other hand, if we expect fun to be a happy-happy-joy-joy feeling in our chest… Well, no. The vast—vast—majority of our journey won’t feel like that.

The journey often is hard. The romance genre’s mega-author Nora Roberts has railed on authors for whining about it being hard.

At a speech she gave in 2010, she said something along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing from memory here):

“You want to talk about hard? I started writing before computers, and every page had to be retyped by hand with every change I made. It’s supposed to be hard, or else everyone would do it.”

That’s not to say we have to be satisfied with the ratio of fun-to-hard. We can always hope for more fun. *smile*

But we do have to be careful. For some, “fun” might be too strong a word and lead to disappointment from too-high expectations.

If we find ourselves being constantly frustrated with the normal elements of a journey, that’s a good clue that our expectations are off. (And unfortunately, many negative things—rejections, deadline stress, aspects out of our control, bad reviews, etc.—are all part of the normal elements of the publishing business.)

Most of the time, the good parts of our journey are far more likely to feel like satisfaction. We can be satisfied with our word count, with what we’re learning about our craft, with how the revisions are making our story better, or with our sales. Not necessarily thrilled or joyous or excited—but satisfied. And not necessarily satisfied with where we are—but satisfied with our efforts or our progress.

In other words, like I mentioned last time, most of our journey will consist of little slow-but-steady steps that add up to progress. We can be satisfied with the progress of our journey (even if it’s slower than we want and we vow to improve), or we can be frustrated for not reaching that non-existent finish line yet.

It’s up to our attitude and expectations to determine if that satisfaction is good enough for us, as well as whether we focus only on the destination rather than the journey. But reaching that point of acceptance is hard as well.

Some never reach that point in their life. They want the superficial “rush” all the time, or they don’t want to hear that fixing their problems is within their grasp but requires work to change themselves. Many reach it only with the maturity that may or may not come with age or experience, or they reach it by recognizing the power they have to change themselves.

Just because I’m pointing out that we have this power within ourselves doesn’t mean I’m implying that it’s easy to reach this point, or that those who struggle must not be trying hard enough. It’s never easy, just as life, a relationship, or our writing journey is never easy.

Heck, I still suffer from all the normal frustrations and wishes for more fun. So there’s no shame in still being in the throes of this struggle.

However, I think I’ve reached the point where I’m more satisfied than not, and that feels close enough to happiness that I’m usually pretty zen about setbacks. So maybe that’s proof that it is possible? *smile*

Do you disagree with my perspective? Do you see life as a journey, or do you want to cross a finish line? Does your attitude embrace happiness, or are you tempted to think that X, Y, or Z will bring happiness? Do you ever struggle with disappointment from too-high expectations? What’s been your writing journey’s hard-to-fun ratio? Does that cause frustration for you?

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Are You Dreaming or Doing?

by Jami Gold on July 21, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Woman daydreaming with text: Are We Dreaming or Doing?

Schools around the U.S. recently let out for summer, and that means the clichés of graduation speeches were echoing across the land. Variations of “this is only the beginning,” “seize your future,” “be true to yourself,” etc. resonate because they’re all true.

However, every time we start a new journey, whether that’s graduating or starting a new job or project, we’re likely full of dreams based on the potential of that new phase. We imagine how awesome our life might become, now that we’ve taken this next step.

There’s nothing wrong with those dreams, but they are—themselves—just the first step. And that’s where many rah-rah graduation speeches fall short.

Potential Is just the Beginning

A harsh truth is that most people won’t reach their dreams. For an unfortunate few, they’ll fall short through no fault of their own. Life happens, circumstances can be insurmountable, or tragedy can strike too close to home.

But for many others—probably for most others—they won’t reach their dreams because there’s such a gap between wanting something and making it happen. Just because the potential exists doesn’t make it so.

It takes work to make our dreams happen. It often requires us to change, and change is hard.

We might have to take risks, do things we don’t want to do (but that are required for the journey), or get over self-doubt and other fears. Plus, as I mentioned last time, just because we love what we’re doing doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s still work.

Work Toward Our Dreams

Back when I was of the age to be at the receiving end of graduation speeches, I heard the advice to “not rest on your laurels”—and I had absolutely no idea what that phrase meant.

I probably even thought that was a stupid piece of advice. What was the point of working hard if you never got to enjoy it, right? *smile*

But that’s the difference between thinking of life as a destination and as a journey. When we’re young, we might think that we’ll suddenly reach a point where we’re an adult. Where we’re done growing and striving. Where we’ve reached our goal.

We eventually realize that we can be 30, 40, or 50 (or more) and still feel like we’re merely impersonating an adult. *raises hand* At the same time, goals keep us young because to strive is to live.

In fact, if we reach a goal of publishing a book, we might expand that goal to publish five books. There’s no finish line when we can proclaim ourselves done other than death itself.

Time and experience has helped me understand the laurels phrase, but I prefer the Will Rogers version:

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." ~ Will Rogers

We might be in the right place at the right time, but if we’re not grabbing opportunities and taking chances, if we’re not learning and improving, we can still lose.

Working for Our Dreams Will Lead to Failures

Wait…what? Chasing our dreams will lead to failures? Yep.

Pursuing our dreams often means that we need to take risks. Will we spend money to attend that workshop that might help our craft? Will we quit our unfulfilling job to work toward our dream full-time? Will we submit our work to an agent or editor?

Every one of those actions (or any other steps we might need to take) comes with risk. The workshop might be a waste of time or money, we might struggle to pay the bills without a day job, and we might be rejected.

So yes, unless our life goes perfectly 100% of the time (in which case, let me go in on a lottery ticket with you *grin*), some of the risks we take will lead to failures. The point isn’t that we failed, it’s that we tried.

Most mistakes we make won’t be fatal. We can learn from them and improve our chances next time. In other words, even failure leads to growth that avoids the “just sitting there” problem.

Taking action to pursue our dreams is the opposite of just sitting there. If we don’t take any action, we definitely won’t make progress. For as unlikely as it is that our life will go perfectly 100% of the time, it’s even more unlikely that our dreams will be handed to us through no effort on our part.

It could be easy to get discouraged. The world is scary. Taking risks is scary. Things often go wrong, and we can fail horribly.

When we push ourselves, we’ll make mistakes. But if we don’t even try, we will lose.

What Actions Are We Taking to Reach Our Dreams?

So if we don’t want to get run over by just sitting there thinking about our dreams, we have to do something. This is why goals and plans and self-imposed deadlines (with flexibility built in) are so important.

We need a plan for what steps we’ll take to get from our current Point A to the Point B of our dreams. Those steps can be almost anything:

  • Make Decisions:
    • What genre appeals to us?
    • Which agents do we want to query?
    • What publishing path will we follow?
    • Will we accept a contract offer?
    • What cover artist do we want?
  • Seek Help:
    • Find a mentor and/or supportive friends
    • Attend a workshop
    • Search for beta readers or critique partners
    • Gather feedback
    • Build an indie publishing team
  • Pursue Self-Improvement:
    • Change our attitude
    • Identify what skills we’re missing
    • Understand our options
    • Study what we need to know
    • Learn from feedback

Most of those aren’t big steps, and that’s okay. As I talked about last time, the slow and steady can add up over time.

The point isn’t that we’re reaching our goal within a certain time frame or that everything will go smoothly. The point is that we’re making some kind of progress every day we can. And that’s how we can turn our dreams into reality. *smile*

Do you know others who have dreams but never follow through? Have you ever struggled with that issue? What do you find hardest about moving forward or making progress? What advice would you give to someone who seems “stuck” and needs to take action? Do you have suggestions for other ways we can make progress?

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Chalkboard with text: Lessons from 5 Years of Blogging

This past weekend, I passed five years of blogging. That’s about four years more than I ever thought possible way back when. *smile*

People tend to like nice round numbers like 5s and 10s, so reaching this five-year point feels like a major milestone. As I’m still deep into vacation and sickness-brain, I figured now might be a good time to look back at what I’ve learned over those five years, and share what those lessons might tell us about the rest of our writing career…

How Our Careers Grow

  • Everyone Starts as a Newbie

My blog didn’t start off with a million hits or a thousand-plus visitors a day. I started off at ground zero, just like anyone else.

For the first couple of months, I was lucky to get views in the double digits each day. If you’ve blogged and celebrated over getting one comment? Yeah, been there, got the T-shirt.

  • Slow and Steady Growth Adds Up

It took about 3 1/2 years to reach the point where my readership growth started accelerating, and I can’t point to a single factor that created the change. There wasn’t one post that went more viral than others. My worksheets had existed for over a year by that point. I wasn’t suddenly being recommended by a big name in the industry. Etc.

I think my blog just finally reached a tipping point. The more people know we exist, the more others will hear about us too.

  • Patience & Consistency Work

However, I doubt that tipping point would have occurred at all if I hadn’t been consistently writing posts that whole time. About two-thirds of my daily traffic comes from search engines.

In other words, much of my traffic comes here because I have content people want. It takes time—and obviously writing that content—to reach that point.

I have 525 published posts here. That’s 525 chances for someone to stumble over my blog via a search or social media share.

How Our Fiction-Writing Careers Grow

Obviously, those same lessons can apply to our fiction writing as well. We all start with zero knowledge, zero platform or community, and zero readers.

Yes, we might get a big splash with a release push from a publisher, a well-known reviewer, or a write-up in a Best Of list. But we might not.

Even if we don’t have that viral or buzz-worthy push, our career isn’t doomed. Slow and steady growth works for fiction writing too.

We need to create content, and that takes time. But each book we release is another chance that readers will stumble over our work. And when they discover us, they might read our other work or tell their friends, and that adds up to success.

How We Find Ourselves and Our Passion

  • It Takes Time to Discover Ourselves

One reason I couldn’t conceive of myself still blogging five years down the road back when I first started is because I hadn’t discovered how much I loved it yet. I didn’t go into blogging knowing that I’d love sharing knowledge or tips.

I started just because it seemed the thing to do. And I certainly didn’t think I had over 500 ideas for posts.

Even if someone had put a gun to my head at the beginning, I’d have had a hard time coming up with more than 20 ideas. Most weeks, I still have no ideas. *smile*

  • It Helps to Be Passionate about What We Do

It’s only been very gradually that I realized how much I love blogging for all of you. At first, I loved it for the ability to relate to other writers and form a community, but that’s grown into a passion for helping other writers reach their potential.

Sometimes that means I share my knowledge, and sometimes that means I share my struggles. Either way, we know we’re not alone, and that’s the feeling that drives me to write a post when I’m not in the mood.

  • Writing Consistently Is Hard

Even so, it would have been much easier to not write a blog post all those times. As I said, at least half the time, I have no ideas for a post when I force myself to sit down and write.

If I waited for inspiration to hit, I’d have about a quarter of that number of posts. Just because we love what we’re doing doesn’t mean it’s easy.

RockyWaters Quote

(Like this quote?  )

  • Practice Makes Better

The usual phrase, of course, is “practice makes perfect,” but this perfectionist knows all too well that perfect doesn’t exist. Instead, practice leads to improvement. (Hat tip to a toddler speak-o I once heard for the more accurate phrase in the heading.)

Have you ever heard the claim that it takes a million words before we’re good at writing? (That goes along with the idea that it takes so many hours to be skilled at something.) Blogging helps those words add up quickly. *smile*

How We Find Our Fiction-Writing Passion

Just as I didn’t know how much I would love blogging until I tried it (for a long while), we might not know the right fiction-writing fit for us until we experiment. We might struggle to find the right fit for our genre, point-of-view, themes, or voice.

Yet with enough experimenting, we’ll eventually find a style that we’re passionate about. Or maybe we’ll know the right approach because it feels comfortable. Or we’ll discover our voice as we learn more about ourselves.

The point is that it often takes time. And while we’re on that journey of discovery, we might not get a sense of when we’re close. It might only be after we’ve been doing something for a while that we even realize how well it’s been working for us.

Even so, writing will still be hard. There will still be days when nothing feels right or comfortable. The words will feel like they belong to a foreign language, or the story will feel forced, or our characters won’t talk to us.

We all know. We’ve all been there. We’re not alone.

But if we keep at it, if we push to learn more about ourselves and what does or doesn’t work for us or fit right, we’ll improve. We’ll always need editing. We’ll always struggle with some aspect of our work. But we will get better. *smile*

Do you blog? If so, what aspects do you struggle with? What lessons have you learned from blogging? Have you learned about yourself by writing? Do you have lessons or insights to share?

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Blogiversary Winners & Writing Flexibility

July 14, 2015 News
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Some writers can find themselves paralyzed by the thought of needing to get their first draft “right.” That’s crazy-making, however. A draft—a first draft especially—is a tool to help us discover the story we want to tell, the characters we want to meet, and the themes we want to explore. That’s it.

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Audiobooks: Getting Started with ACX — Guest: Amy Patrick

July 9, 2015 Writing Stuff
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One way slow writers can succeed is to create more income streams for each book, such as releasing an audio version. But we might not have experience with audio publishing. Luckily, today’s post is by a narrator for Amazon’s ACX service who will tell us how to get started with ACX, especially how to audition and work with a narrator.

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7 Tips for Adding Humor — Guest: Rhoda Baxter

July 7, 2015 Writing Stuff
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Most genres benefit from including touches of humor here or there—even the dark and angsty stories. But I’m not naturally a funny person, so I jumped at the chance to host an expert on comedy writing. Rhoda Baxter is here to share her tips that will help us add humor to any genre.

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Planning a Book Launch Party (Online or Off!) — Guest: Tamar Hela

July 2, 2015 Random Musings
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When we first start writing, we might want to celebrate becoming an Author. One way we can appreciate our accomplishments is to hold a book launch party. Today’s guest poster is an expert at knowing our options, and she’s sharing her tips, advice, and to-do lists for all types of launch parties.

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Revising without Tears — Guest: Rachel Funk Heller

June 30, 2015 Writing Stuff
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If you’re anything like me, you might have a love/hate relationship with revisions. I love seeing my story strengthen and improve, but I hate the struggle. Today my guest poster is sharing a worksheet to help us find the important aspects of each scene so we can revise without tears.

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