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Posts tagged ‘The Art of Romance Writing’

First Monday Mentoring for June – should you write a book you don’t love?

Welcome to First Monday when I open this blog to discuss what it’s really like to be a writer – not the glamour stuff but the inside track on the fears, the struggles and yes, the joys of writing.

This week a writer told me she’d sold “the book of her heart.” Naturally I was delighted but curious – what was meant by “the book of her heart?”

Turns out it’s a cross-genre book about characters who’d haunted her for years, not the kind usually sought by publishers but one she desperately wanted to write, even if no-one loved it but her. She’d come close to publishing the book herself but didn’t have the cash and time to invest in the work.

That led to me to asking if she would ever write a book she didn’t love. After a long pause she said, “Almost all the time,” adding that she’d started out reluctantly, but had fallen in love with the story along the way.

This suggests you can start writing with your head rather than your heart. “Exactly,” she agreed. “I can’t afford to wait for the muse to strike. Sometimes I have to write first and the love comes later.”

And if it doesn’t? “Something else will,” she said.

With 90 books written over many years, there have been stories I couldn’t wait to tell, when the words flowed like warm honey. Others were like pulling teeth, needing many rewrites to make them work. And then there was the book on plumbing.

I’ve always treated my writing as a business, proposing book ideas to publishers who contracted me to write quite a few. At other times an editor would like my proposal but have another book they wanted me to write instead. Hence how to do your own plumbing.

First of all, technically you need a qualified plumber even to change a tap washer. Plus I had zero interest in water hammer, grease traps and septic tanks. But I’d signed a contract and I researched and wrote the best book I could, having a plumber friend vet it before submission.

Pleased as I was to have delivered the book as promised, that project made me determined to find a way to write books that I could also put my heart into.

Without the plumbing book, I might not have discovered romance novels.

I’ve always been a romantic at heart, but the plumbing book empowered me to try something new. Fifty romance and romantic suspense novels later working with editors in London, Toronto and New York, I’d become known as Australian’s “queen of romance” with translations in dozens of languages including Icelandic and Manga – Japanese graphic novels. And the only how-to books I’ve written since are on the writing craft, such as The Art of Romance Writing with editions in print with Allen & Unwin since 1993.

My muse, the wonderful actor, writer and philanthropist, William Shatner, says he believes in saying “yes” to everything. This has led him to amazing opportunities from motivating the astronauts on the International Space Station, to designing his own futuristic motor cycle. At age eighty-six he’s still the busiest man on the planet.

William Shatner recommends saying “yes” to everything

Saying “yes” to everything sometimes means writing about plumbing, but can also mean creating a sci-fi series that gave me one of the best experiences of my writing life. Google “Parv Beacons” if you’re curious.

My next “yes” is to collaborate with the talented Dr. Anita Heiss on a novel, something neither of us has done before. Who knows where that will lead?

What will your next “yes” be?

Here are three ways you can learn to love any writing project:

  1. Take pride in stretching yourself creatively. Find something to love, even if it’s the income from doing the work. How might that fund a project you really want to tackle?
  2. Use all writing as a learning experience. From writing advertising copy, I learned how to inspire readers to act on my words. From scriptwriting – how to tell a story in dialogue and action. From my nonfiction books on writing – not only what works but why, broadening my own understanding of the craft.
  3. Be open to writing many different things. Some will be fun, others not so. Learn something new from every project, even if it’s that you don’t want to spend your life writing about plumbing.

What people or projects have inspired your writing? Have you loved some writing and not others? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

 

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First Monday mentoring for February – whose writing advice should you take?

It’s First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. Here’s a common question – who’s advice should writers take?

When I started writing, I soaked up how-to-write books by the dozen, but most didn’t make sense until after I discovered their truths through my own work. That’s why, when I wrote The Art of Romance Writing, I made it as clear and helpful as I could, putting into it everything I wish I’d known starting out. Staying in print since 1982 shows me it achieved my aim.

These days there’s more writing advice on and off line than anyone can absorb, and they often conflict. Write fast, 2,000 words a day minimum. Write slowly, polishing your work as you go. Start with characters. Start with plot. Write what you know. Or what you can find out.

There is some truth in all the advice, but not all the advice is true.

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After writing more than five million words for publication, I can assure you that there’s no one way to write. There’s only what works for you. Be wary of anyone telling you theirs is THE way. The advice may work if it suits your style. You can write fast if it’s your natural inclination, but not otherwise. I’ve had as many books spring from characters as from plot. Often it’s a mix. Let’s face it, if there was “a formula” to writing, every writer would use it and be successful. But writing is more like fishing. Sometimes you catch nothing, sometimes you pull out that elusive best-seller. There’s no predicting which.

So here’s my list of sources whose advice may be helpful.
– An editor who asks to see a revised version of this work, or more of your future writing. They’re prepared to put their company’s money where their mouth is.
– A consensus saying much the same things. If several editors or critique partners suggest that your characters are shallow or your pacing slow in your body of work, you’d do well to look at these aspects carefully.
– People whose opinions you respect, such as successful writers, editors, those making a living from publishing (but not those making money from assessing work).
– Your own instincts. If you’ve written several drafts and find yourself back at an earlier draft, you may need to listen more closely to your inner voice, telling you when you’re on track.

What sources may be less than helpful to you?
– People with their own agenda. Either those making money from commenting on your work, or those who want you to write like them. I repeat: you can only write your work your way.
– The green-eyed monsters. When you get encouragement from an editor, win a contest or place highly, be prepared for others in your writing circle to say nice things, while giving you advice that comes from their own jealousy. It doesn’t make them bad people. Jealousy is all too human. But it does make them poor advisors.

So what advice have you given or found useful? Comment using the box below. Comments are moderated to avoid spam. If you want your comment to appear right away, sign up using the button at lower right. I don’t share your email addresses with anyone.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s novel, Birthright, at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Why creative writing is a never-ending challenge

“For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that’s beyond attainment. He should always try for something that he’s never done, or that others have tried and failed then sometimes, with great good luck, he will succeed.”

Ernest Hemingway said this in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1954.

He was right then, he’s still right

Apart from the need to edit “he” into “they” to cover all genders, this is as true now as it was when Hemingway wrote the speech.

The joy of writing is in the challenge of finding out whether you can turn the bright, shiny vision in your head into something of beauty on the page or screen.

Will you succeed? Of course not. Writing is hard work. No matter how well published you are, no matter what prizes you win or how many millions of books you sell, you will never know everything about the craft. That’s what keeps it interesting.

Imagine going fishing and being sure that you would catch dinner every time you threw in a line. Where would be the challenge? Half the pleasure of fishing isn’t catching anything – it’s the joy of sitting by a riverbank, contemplating nature and your thoughts, and not really caring whether you catch something or not. I can’t tell you how often I’ve done that, knowing there was no bait left on my hook, but thinking I had the best excuse in the world to simply be.

These days I don’t fish. After volunteering in a zoo for eleven years, I came to know the fish and couldn’t put them through that. But the comparison holds true. If you bowl, would strikes be as much fun if you could score one every single time? What about cooking? Don’t the occasional failures make your successes all the sweeter?

Try something new

Writing should be an adventure. If you’re not stretching yourself by trying something new with each project, you’re missing one of the joys of the craft. In my book, The Art of Romance Writing, I say we write not because we know we can do it, but to find out IF we can do it. I’m sure that was part of the reason why J K Rowling wrote The Casual Vacancy. It certainly wasn’t for the money, with Harry Potter taking care of that side. So that leaves the challenge, and she admitted as much in an interview on ABC TV with Jennifer Byrne, that writing is something she (JK Rowling) needs to do. As I’ve said here before, writers write.

Experiment. Try a new genre. Write a short story if you usually write books. A book if you usually write short.

Play with the words. They’re not carved in stone. They can be changed. And you know what? If you get a thrill out of crafting your words, there’s a good chance your readers will too.

Happy writing.

Valerie

Friend of the National Year of Reading #NYR2012

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

A chip off the old writer’s block

I never thought I’d write this but after more than 70 books, countless short stories, articles and film scripts, and as my friends are only too well aware, many terrible limericks, I’ve hit a patch where it’s an uphill job to put words together. I can blog (obviously), tweet, post to Facebook and write to order if needed, and the limericks keep coming (sorry!) But when it comes to writing new creative work I have to drag myself to the computer, and I delete words as quickly as I put them down.

Discussing this with a writer friend recently, she said my brain was taking long service leave. Is this the explanation? If so, it’s an extended vacation. In the last four years I’ve written four books, two of those anthologies where I was contributing editor. Now if the other two were War & Peace or even Twilight, I’d be more than happy. But they’re not. I’m glad I wrote my Superromance, With a Little Help, so I know I can still write romance, yet I feel no inclination to keep going.

This feels more like a time of cocooning, of waiting to see what writer I might turn into next. I’m not even sure if “writer’s block” is the right term. Writer’s pause? Writer’s drift? This last seems to fit, but drifting where? Toward what?

Last week I watched an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Starship Enterprise’s resident counsellor, Deanna Troi, lost the empathic ability that made her a success at her job. As a Betazoid she can sense the emotions of others. She advises the captain if she senses deception or evil intent from the different species they encounter. Losing her empathic sense was like a human losing their sight, hearing or perhaps a limb. She also felt adrift, angry at the loss, and had to find new ways to operate.

Without being overly dramatic, I feel a similar sense of loss. I’ve made stories since I was a child, been published in some form from the age of 14, and collectively written about four million words for publication. Finding myself sitting at the keyboard with no words there feels as if a key part of me has gone missing.

Deanna Troi’s empathic sense does come back, but not until she discovers new aspects of herself beyond those she’d come to rely on. I’m still waiting. Don’t get me wrong, stories aplenty still crowd my brain and I’ve written volumes of notes for characters and plots. So the words are there in the background, but not yet willing to let me shape them into something I can share.  Yet I know all the tips and tricks there are. I’ve written about them in The Art of Romance Writing and my other books on the craft, and taught them at workshops. I’m qualified as a counsellor, yet like Deanna Troi, the physician isn’t making much headway healing herself. All I can do is keep trying. When I figure out what this strange fallow time is all about, I’ll blog about it – then we’ll both know.

Have you experienced writer’s block? What was it about for you and what eventually broke the drought, if it did break? Your comments are very welcome below. As a writer, what do you do when the writing isn’t happening?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Books in my head, inside a writer’s brain

Many years ago a dear friend, Pat Kerry, gave me a poem she’d written called Books in My Head. The last lines have stayed with me because they’re so true –  “books in my head will never get read/ unless I get up and write them.” She was talking about those dreamy times straight after waking, when our heads are full of thoughts and ideas.  Unless we get up and write them down somewhere, these precious words are likely to vanish forever. All we’ll remember is that we had a great idea, but not what it was.  Whether you record your ideas on a laptop, tablet, cellphone or a notebook kept by the bedside – and I recommend you keep something handy for this purpose – doesn’t matter as long as you capture your thoughts. You can edit and develop them later. The main thing is to get them down somewhere.  Our brains aren’t wired to make memories out of the thoughts we have in the time between sleep and waking. That’s when the slower brainwave cycles called alpha and theta waves occur and we’re most likely to have great insights and inspirations. Frustrating when you think it’s also when we’re least able to remember them.

There’s another way of looking at the lines from the poem, too. It’s that wanting to write a book, intending to write one and talking about your wonderful ideas to your friends won’t produce one page of words  unless you actually “get up and write them.” It’s probably why so many people dream of writing a book but the majority never actually do. Writing is hard work. And news flash, it doesn’t get easier with practice. As I’ve found writing 25 nonfiction books and over 50 romance novels, you get better at  putting words down in a readable order and seeing where the work can be improved. But every book is a first book. As one would-be writer asked me, “How do you know when you sit down to write, that you can do it?” The answer is, you don’t. You write to find out IF you can do it this time, with these characters, telling this story. When I sat down to write this first blog, I had no idea how it was going to turn out. All writing is a voyage of discovery. That’s the fun part. And it’s the part which keeps me writing even when the going gets tough. We writers are very lucky, we get paid for doing the very thing that got us into trouble as kids, making things up. Like my next book. And this blog. It’s no coincidence that I chose to write my first post about what’s going on in a writer’s brain. My two great loves are human psychology – what makes us tick, and how we turn books in our heads into worlds for readers to come play in. Whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, I hope you’ll come play here again soon.

Valerie

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