Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Recently there’s been much talk online about what writers like and don’t like about the writing process. One answer that cropped up is how much we like “having written.” Makes so much sense. The writing part is the work, while “having written” is a chance to stand back and admire your handiwork.

Many writers are surprised but also encouraged that I find the going hard sometimes, despite having written so much.

Writing isn’t like a trade you can learn and then graduate. Unlike building a house where you lay the foundations a certain way, frame up the walls and lay the bricks or add timber cladding, there’s no blueprint for writing a book.

Even deciding where to start is a challenge. Frequently you’ll start too far back and have to lop off the first pages or even chapters, before instinct tells you where the book really starts.

Judging contests like RWA’s Valerie Parv Award, this is the most common problem I see. Imagine if our mythical builder lays a nice set of foundations only to discover that the house really starts on the upper floor?

Sometimes I’ll know where my story starts and it’s usually in the middle of a major change for a lead character: a new job, reunion, a death of a person, a relationship or a planned future. These changes are key right now as the global pandemic affects everyone’s plans. Even if the story has nothing to do with a pandemic, the hopes, fears and challenges are the same.

You may not share your character’s exact experiences, but chances are you’ll share the emotional upheaval and connect with your readers on this level.

Currently many of us are expected to pivot – change career directions – and writing is no different. Just as our mythical builder must deal with change, but still build a structure with bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and living rooms, our stories are changing into ebooks, audio books, online reading, streaming and other formats.

As attention spans shrink, readers don’t want screens filled with solid text. I’m now writing shorter paragraphs and chapters – 2,000 words tops, where I once wrote 5,000. Less detail and more getting on with it, as one reader put it.

Here are three things to keep in mind for writing in 2021:

1. As the real world changes, characters must change, too, living on their phones and devices, bumping elbows in greeting, and shuddering at being enveloped in a hug. We don’t have to write about a pandemic, but we do need to be aware of how story worlds are changing, and will continue to change to reflect our new reality.

2. Equality and diversity must be taken into account. Even historical settings may need tweaking for contemporary readers – Bridgerton, anyone? Keep reading across your genre, whatever it may be. Heroes who were acceptably pushy and macho not so long ago, must take account of their heroine’s feelings. For me, no has always meant no, but now it must be very clear that any relationship is consensual.

This doesn’t mean being inaccurate, even in historical settings, but be aware that the entire historical world wasn’t white as well. Create characters of different ethnicities and backgrounds, not as curiosities, but as reflecting reality.

Right from when I started writing romances, whenever I had a doctor, lawyer or the like in my book, I’d make them female, to make the point that the authority world doesn’t have to be exclusively white or male. I’ve always written characters of different ethnic backgrounds and physical abilities because that’s how I see the world. Do your research, of course. Don’t write stereotypes. But be aware of your choices and chance to influence particularly younger readers.

3. Accept that the blessings of being a writer are also its curse – there will always be more to learn. Study new writings and trends without being imitative. Your voice is exclusively yours and deserves to be heard. The worst of the pandemic has also created opportunities. There’s an explosion of indie publishing that smashes boundaries and opens doors. Your book can be out there more quickly than you ever dreamed possible.

If not for the chaotic state of traditional publishing, I doubt I would have indie-published 34 Million Books, Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips. Part memoir and part writing guide, it’s a book I’m immensely proud of. I followed it with Her Royal Secret Santa, a Carramer Christmas story. Who knows what will come next? Blessing or curse, the choice is up to you.

How are you handling the new normal of writing and publishing in 2021? Please add your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” to subscribe here. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy pivoting and writing,


Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

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OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title: 34 Million Books,

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

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Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

Comments on: "First Monday Feb 2021 – Writing’s blessing and its curse" (5)

  1. Marion Laird said:

    Great post, Valerie! Once again, I’m time-traveling to Monday while still living in Sunday east of the International Dateline. Isn’t the internet fun?
    Last November, during NaNoWriMo, I started another story in what I hope will be a semi-cosy paranormal private investigator series, even though I have yet to complete the first novel. Thinking about how the pandemic affects everyone in California (where I no longer live, but still have friends and family and access to news reports), not just “normal” people but shapeshifters and vampires… my PI working from home instead of her office, and out of touch with the Scottish Fae she met and started falling in love with in the first story… whatever will she do next? 😀 Which reminds me, as soon as I finish the synopsis for the traditionally published (I hope) target novel, I need to get back to my PI story. I have no idea whether it will EVER be traditionally published, but in today’s market, as you have so gallantly stated, it isn’t quite as necessary to have a big market publisher as it used to be.
    Thanks for the insights, and for reminding us that every writing day doesn’t have to be easy!

  2. Thanks Marion. I hope you have fun with your crossover PI character. Yes, it’s probably true that even shapeshifters and vampires have their struggles, and I don’t know any writer who sails through every day. Glad it’s helpful to know this.

  3. kathi Harris said:

    All of the arts have the same blessings and curse. We are compelled to create and know that there willbe those who will try to tear us down. The blessing is that we know we had something to say and we said it in the way that suited us best. We can be proud of that.
    I read a note once that was quoted on Johnny Carson Show when he had James Redfield on.
    “Only 1 percent of people who want to write a book will even begin. Only 1 percent of those will ever finish. Only 1percent of those will be published.” But it does happen all the time. be proud if you begin. Be proud if you finish and be proud if you submit. When your story is told, you can be proud of being able to share your vision with each person who reads what you wrote.

    It is also true of painters and singers and dancers. We are powered by something that the other kinds of people never understand. We do it because it is part of us.

    * note this was long before online and self pub. Now there is no excuse for not trying. However I do suggest that you either hire an editor or read your writng aloud to a group of fellow authors. Reading aloud you will find every single little error.

    • Thank you Kathi, that is an excellent quote and would encourage many writers and artists. I also believe story tellers are born.The craft is the part to be learned..Your suggestion about reading aloud to a writing group is sound and stops the writer seeing what they expect to see, rather than what is there. Hiring an editor is also good advice if indie publishing.

    • Marion Laird said:

      That is so true, Kathi! Since I started reading my mss aloud, I’ve found all kinds of things my eye skipped over when trying to edit. The same holds true when reading library books aloud to my mother. If the authors had taken that advice, some real howlers wouldn’t have escaped their notice (or their editors)! 😀

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