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
on ebook universal link mybook.to/SecretSantaParv
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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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