Lions and Tigers and Bears…Oh, My!

Everybody has seen The Wizard of Oz. At least once. Probably a dozen times or more. And everybody probably recognizes at once those words:

Lions and tigers and bears…oh, my!

Writers have new fears to worry about!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I sat down to write this post, those words and that familiar rhythmic melody began pounding through my head. But the words soon changed. I wasn’t worrying about lions, tigers, or bears, but thinking instead of brands, concepts, and bios!  Oh, my!

Writers today have an overwhelming array of things to worry about. We can’t write one book then move on to the next. We need to promote our work, make the rounds on social media sites, and actively participate in author and reader loops.

It’s frightening.

Almost every day it seems that some new site is popping up forcing writers to learn new technologies, develop different marketing strategies, and spend more time on-line and less time doing what we do best: writing stories for readers to enjoy.

We need websites, Facebook pages, blogs, and Twitter. There’s Rafflecopter for giveaways, and Random.org for choosing winners. I haven’t figured out Triberr, I’m still a bit confused about Tumblr, and why would anybody really care where I am with Four Square? And what about blog radio? Yikes!

We need swag — stuff we all get, or stuff we all give.  I’m not really sure what it means, but it translates into business cards, bookmarks, tote bags, and other promotional items, which, of course, means more money out of our pockets, but it’s worth it, isn’t it, if it helps us gain visibility and get our names “out there” — wherever “out there” is.

There are dozens of helpful “coaches” who — for a fee — will tell us exactly how to handle book promotions, how to develop our online image, how to create a ‘brand”. We’re not writers, really. We’re products to be packaged, marketed, and hopefully, sold to consumers eager to figuratively eat us up.

Amidst all this clamor and confusion, there is a little common sense to be found. While much of the advice touted on the internet is redundant, ridiculous, impractical, or worthless, some does have value.

  • Read what you can; accept what makes sense to you.
  • Don’t try being everywhere, doing everything.
  • Make writing your first priority. If you have nothing to offer, there’s no need to promote yourself.
  • Ask for help when you need it.

The most important aspect, I think — and this applies whether we’re talking about writing, socializing, promoting, or anything else in life — is having a solid understanding of who we are and what we’re doing.

Every year, as November approaches, I prepare for the annual writing event known as “National Novel Writing Month” — NaNo for short. Chris Baty, the founder of the event, wrote a handy little guidebook for participants. In No Plot? No Problem, he suggests making a Magna Carta for writing. I do this religiously each year.

  • List 10 things you like in books you read.
  • List 10 things you hate in books you read.

By doing this, you can get a good look at who you are as a reader, which is, ultimately, who you need to be as a writer. Makes sense, don’t you think?

It’s only when we figure out who we are and what stories we have to tell that we can successfully maneuver our way through the online forests and overcome the fears of our own “lions and tigers and bears”.   Oh, my!

 

 

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Write Who You Are!

Do you share yourself in your writing?

The internet is filled with advice for writers, some good, some helpful, some practical , some thought-provoking, some ridiculous, some amusing, and most of it very familiar.

One of the most popular is the old adage to write what you know, or maybe you should write what you don’t know, as other sages suggest. Or maybe the best approach is to write what you like.

I’ve heard all of these variations on the theme, but my favorite is this:

  WRITE WHO YOU ARE

Earlier today while browsing through email, I came across one of those questions writers hear often: Do you write about your own life experiences?

Whenever I’m asked that question, I tend to shake my head. No, I don’t write about myself or my life.  I am not my characters. In fact, as often as not, my characters are very different from me.  One of the things I most enjoy in writing and in reading, too, is the opportunity to get out of myself into somebody else’s head.

For me, it’s always important, too, that my friends and family feel comfortable around me, knowing that their personal experiences aren’t going to show up in my next steamy romance. Of course, some of them might enjoy that sort of thing!

All joking aside, for me, it’s important to set boundaries between my life and my writing. At the same time, I must admit that I do draw upon personal experience each time I sit down to write. All writers do. We must.

Writing comes from within ourselves, from the same place inside of us where all of our thoughts and feelings reside. It’s made up of memories, ideas, wishes, dreams, fears, and failures. What goes into our characters’ heads has to come from our hearts, otherwise, our characters are going to be dull and lifeless.

Although I rarely recount an actual personal experience in a story, I do turn to my life for inspiration and especially for emotions.  I consider people I’ve known and what they’ve given me to use: witty sayings, good advice, quirky personalities, off-the-wall ideas. I think, too, of places I’ve visited, and I try to connect with my memories — not simply what I’ve seen or heard, but what I’ve felt inside.

Even if our stories are fantasies set in times and places — even worlds — that don’t exist, and even if our characters are strange creatures who shift from one form to another, at some level, there has to be a real, honest, human connection between our words and our readers.  That connection comes from who we are. Who we are is the bridge between the stories we tell and the readers who turn the pages.

What are your thoughts?

The Hardest Part of Being a Writer

“What’s the hardest part of being a writer?” someone asked me recently.

I didn’t need to even stop to think about it. My answer was immediate.

“The chair.”

Writing isn’t easy in a hard-backed chair, but I learned a lot from mine.

When I first began writing for publication, I had a dreadful, heavy, wooden chair. Solid. Unmovable. It didn’t roll around the room. It didn’t lean, tilt, or offer even the slightest comfort. Sitting in that chair required a great deal of endurance.

I no longer have that chair, but I learned a lot about writing from it.

  • I learned that it’s easy to make excuses and avoid sitting down, but I learned, too, that nothing gets accomplished that way.
  • I learned patience. I learned persistence.
  • I learned that writer’s block exists only in our heads. We can always write something if we’ll just sit down and do it.
  • I learned that a solid foundation will always support us. In life. In writing. In whatever we do.
  • I learned that pillows can always bring a bit of comfort.

Actually, I’m joking about the last one. I never used a pillow while sitting in that chair. I didn’t need to, because after a while, I got accustomed to the feel of the hard wooden back and seat. As I sat writing, getting lost in my stories, I reached a point where I no longer gave a thought to comfort.  So caught up was I in the lives of my characters, I no longer felt my own body.

At one time, I sat in that chair for twelve hours straight, with only the occasional “necessary” break. How did I do it? I just did. Why did I do it? Because I love writing, and doing what we love is always worth a little discomfort.

I soon began to notice one interesting phenomenon. Each morning when I said “All right, it’s time to write,” I would sit down, and then immediately get up again.  It was sort of like Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the sound of the bell. Sit down. Get up. Immediately.

I worried a bit. Was I really not wanting to write? Was I looking for a way to avoid it? Nope. When I took a closer look and realized why I got up from the chair, it made sense.

  • I got up to attend to any “necessary” business.
  • I got up to grab a bite to eat.
  • I got up to fix a cup of tea.
  • I got up to take care of any pressing chores on my to-do list.
  • I got up to see that everything was settled around me.

I got up, knowing that once I returned to that miserable, hard-backed chair, I wouldn’t be getting up again for a long, long time. Once assured that I could write without interruption, I sat down, and I stayed there.

Everyone who’s ever said “I want to be a writer” has heard those words of wisdom: Sit down in the chair…and then, stay there.

Maybe in some ways it is the hardest part of being a writer, but there are lots of lovely pillows to grab. So pick a pretty one, make yourself comfortable, and get busy.