Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: writers

Kristen Lamb made the mistake of giving me admin privileges on her website.

So trusting.

So innocent.

So screwed.

La Revolucion

There’s a little more about me at caitreynolds.com – but, be aware that my website is under reconstruction because I got hacked by Bollywood porn spammers. Yeah. That’s the same face I made. However, I’ve posted my manifesto, and that should be a start!

 

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

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July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

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Description. Ah the crack for most writers. Many of us never met a modifier we did not love. Forget a BLUE sky. Why would you have a BLUE sky when you could have a cerulean sky?

*chops up line of metaphors with a razor and snorts*

Granted, there is also the other side of the writer coin; those who never use description or very sparse description.

Also known as…freaks.

I am KIDDING!

….kind of.

But even if you don’t use a lot of description, don’t fret. That’s just your voice. Readers like me who looooove description will probably gravitate to other books and that is OKAY. This doesn’t absolve y’all completely though. If you use very little description, then it is more important than EVER to use the right description.

Personally, I’m not a fan of austere modern houses with stainless steel everything and weird chairs no human could sit in and most cats would avoid, but? There are plenty of people who dig it. I also don’t like a lot of knick-knacks and clutter. Makes me want to start cleaning.

Same with books. Not too little or too much. Yeah, I’m Literary Goldilocks.

Plain fact? We can’t please everyone. Description (or lack thereof) is a component of an author’s voice. BUT, the blunt truth is it is almost impossible to tell a story with NO description. That is hard on the reader. She needs some kind of grounding. So, whether you use a little or you lay it on heavier than a Texan with hairspray? These tips will help you be a master at description…

Avoid “Police Sketch” Description 

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I assume most of you have watched TV. A witness is asked to give a description of the mugger, murderer, whatever. Well, he was tall, with dark hair and dark eyes. Very muscular.

She was short, blonde and fit.

The reason I (as an editor) don’t care for this kind of description is a good writer is a wordsmith and we should be able to describe characters better than someone who’s been at the wrong end of a purse-snatching. Is there anything wrong with this description? Nah. Just it’s something anyone can do. It isn’t anything unique.

Avoid the “Weather Report” or “Google Maps”Description

Weather can be vital and even its own character (which we will get to). But putting in weather just to tell us it’s a hot sunny day? Again, surface. Same with describing a location. Cities, streets, stores can come alive with the right description.

Avoid “Info-Dump” Description

I was really bad about this when I was new. I described everything in a room. I believed the reader needed to know all the positions of the furniture, what was on the bookshelves and end tables, the colors of the walls, just to “get” what I was talking about. They didn’t need all that and likely lost interest in the point I was trying to make anyway.

I didn’t give my readers enough credit and most of that information was for me anyway. Novels are for the reader not for us, which is important to remember and easy to forget.

Good description doesn’t automatically mean MORE description 😉 .

What Makes GOOD Description?

Again, this is subjective, but I read…a LOT. I need a 12 Step Program for the sheer number of books I buy. Since I dig description, I often highlight it when it’s done WELL (which is why I cannot check out books from the library or EVER yell at Spawn for coloring in books). The common denominator I see in great description is it delves beyond the surface and evokes some kind of feeling.

In this post, I’m merely giving some of MY favorite examples (from many different genres). I recommend that, if you want to use description, go to those stories that spoke to YOU. Those highlighted spots can be telling about your voice, preference and style. You don’t need to copy, but you can deconstruct how the author did something WELL. And likely, if you are a fan of that kind of writing, others are too and you might share the same kind of readers.

Characters

One of my favorite authors is Jonathan Maberry. He describes people in a way that instantly evokes a visceral resonse. Sure there is a tad of physical description, but not much. Most is left out and yet we SEE these people.

For instance, Rot and Ruin (which is a YA series about our world 12 years after the Zombie Apocalypse. A teenage boy is the protagonist and my entire family is now INHALING this series, too).

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This is a scene in the first book when the young protagonist Benny goes to hang out with his zombie-hunting hero, Charlie Matthias:

“It was a 1967 Pontiac LeMans Ragtop. Bloodred and so souped-up that she’d outrun any damn thing on the road. And I do mean damned thing.”

That’s how Charlie Matthias always described his car. Then, he’d give a big braying horselaugh, because no matter how many times he said it, he thought it was the funniest joke ever. People tended to laugh with him rather than at the actual joke, because Charlie had a 72-inch chest and 24-inch biceps, and his sweat was a soup of testosterone, anabolic steroids, and Jack Daniels… (Page, 24)

In this example, other than the size of Charlie’s muscles, we get very little literal description. Everything in this is “feeling oriented.” We get a real sense of who Charlie is and who he might be. As a zombie-hunter, he seems the epitome of who we’d want taking out the undead, but there is an undercurrent of tension that makes us (readers) uneasy.

To me, this is far more powerful than:

Zombie-Hunter Charlie Matthais was well over six-feet tall with bulging muscles and wild red hair. (Zzzzzzzzz. Btw, I have no idea what color C.M.’s hair is, but did I really need to know?)

For the Literary Folks: Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men:

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(Sheriff Bell) came across a hawk dead in the road. He saw the feathers move in the wind. He pulled over and got out and walked back and squatted on his boot heels and looked at it. He raised one dead wing and let it fall again. Cold yellow eye dead to the blue vault above them.

It was a big red tail. He picked it up by one wing and carried it to the bar ditch and laid it in the grass. They would hunt the blacktop, sitting on the high power poles and watching the highway in both direction for miles. Any small thing that might venture to cross. Closing in on their prey against the sun. Shadowless. Lost in the concentration of the hunter. He wouldn’t have the trucks running over it (Page 44-45).

In this story, a good lawman is after a soulless criminal who is nothing short of pure evil. This above description is important. The red tail hawk is a parallel of Bell. Bell is also a hunter who’s in danger of being so caught in the pursuit, it could get him killed. Even though the lawman is tracking a criminal, he takes time to honor a fallen hunter even though it’s “only” a bird, something the psychopathic antagonist, who has NO VALUE for any life, would ever do.

Part of that “Show, don’t tell” thing ;). We don’t get a description of what Bell looks like, but through action, we know who he IS.

If you are into the “Less-Is-More-Description” here’s an example from Daniel Suarez’s cyber-thriller Daemon:

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Merrit stopped short and turned to glare at the man—a federal bureaucrat type, late twenties. The kind of person you forgot even while you were looking at him (Page 242)

Short, sweet and we all know this kind of person. We fill in the blanks and it’s emotive (or rather non-emotive, which is the point).

Weather/Setting/Information Without Being Info-Dump

For the sake of time, we’ll bundle three into one. Depp does a fabulous job of weaving weather, setting, and information in a tight cord of emotion. This selection is from Daniel Depp’s Loser’s Town.

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The protagonist, Spandau, is a P.I. is following a Hollywood agent to a movie set to meet a client who’s being blackmailed:

Spandau smoked, and thought the city gliding past was much like an overexposed film, too much light, all depth burned away and sacrificed. All concrete and asphalt, a thousand square miles of man-made griddle on which to fry for our sins. Then, you turn a corner and there’s a burst of crimson bougainvillea redeeming an otherwise ugly chunk of concrete building. Or a line of tall palm trees, still majestic and still stubbornly refusing to die, stubbornly sprouting green at the tops of thick dying stalks, guarding a side street of bungalows constructed at a time when L.A. was still the Land of Milk and Honey….There was a beauty still there, sometimes, beneath all the corruption, like the face of an actress long past her prime, when the outline of an old loveliness can still be glimpsed through the desperate layers of pancake and eyeliner. (page 23)

In this description, we get more than a play-by-play of the L.A. streets he passes. Additionally, I feel the description is very telling about the character. Note the contrasting biblical references or even the tension inside the character. He hates this place, but can still see the loveliness that tears at him and keeps him there, keeps him coming back.

The description is an extension of the feel of the city—no depth, manmade, hardened, lost (but still something beautiful worth staying for).

Note the description is processed through the feelings and backstory of the character. Instead of sounding like a travel brochure, there is emotional flavor adding depth. We pretty much know the weather—bright and hot. We experience the place rather than just “seeing” it in a boring “and then he turned on this street and then that street” fashion.

The description also shows us Spandau is likely an excellent detective—he sees more than the surface and instinctively searches deeper.

Again, description–how to do it, how much, how little—is subjective.

But, I believe that good description can make the difference in a caricature verses a “person” or “place” so real we’re sad to say good-bye when the book ends. Also, I hope I’ve given examples of how we can describe a character or a place without “describing” it.

Are we describing with the same depth as any literate person with a laptop could do? Or are we digging below skin and into marrow?

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself skimming description and didn’t know why? Do you highlight great description, too? Or are you a minimalist? There aren’t any wrong answers, btw. Who are some of your favorite authors who ROCKS description? What are maybe some tips/thoughts you have that takes description from blasé to beautiful?

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Today’s post is a repeat because I am scrambling to get ready to fly to L.A. for the Writers’ Digest Conference, but I think this is a truly fun post that is perfect for Halloween and also get get you guys fired up for NaNoWriMo. Writers really are a strange breed and just so y’all know? The normal ship sailed without you a long time ago so relax. Your family or friends might not “get” you but we do.

I love being a writer. It’s a world like no other and it’s interesting how non-writers are simultaneously fascinated and terrified of us. While on the surface, people seem to think that what we do is easy, deep down? There is a part that knows they’re wrong. That being a writer, a good writer, is a very dark place most fear to tread.

In fact, I think somewhere at the BAU, there’s a caveat somewhere. If you think you profiled a serial killer, double check to make sure you didn’t just find an author.

Hint: Check for empty Starbuck’s cups.

Writers, if you are NOT on a government watch list? You’re doing it wrong.

Seriously. I once spent an entire afternoon googling Fort Worth hotels to find the right one with a balcony to toss someone off of. I was like the Goldilocks of murder.

Nope doesn’t face a street.

Not high enough to be fatal.

Don’t want them landing in a pool.

Apparently “normal” people do not do this, which is why being normal is totally boring and for losers.

So before friends and family turn you into the FBI, here is a handy list of ways we writers are often mistaken for serial killers.

#1 Serial Killers Writers Need Alone Time

Generally, dealing with the public is only for a purpose (like making others think we are normal). To truly recharge and immerse in the art of what we do, we need to pull back and simply “get away.” Many writers can be found in basements, dark corners of libraries or lurking behind a desk surrounded with bear traps.

#2 Serial Killers Writers Often Hold Down a “Normal” Job

Many writers are also teachers, engineers (or likely married to an engineer—What is WITH that?), lawyers, doctors, or even librarians. We are friendly, polite and on-time and hold down gainful employment. This is what makes writers SO terrifying. You probably work with one.

You might even be married to one.

#3 Serial Killers Writers Can Look Just like YOU

When our book comes out, neighbors will say, “But she seemed so nice and normal. Really polite. Always thought something was off, but writing? Really? Who can ever know these things.”

#4 Serial Killers Writers Understand Law Enforcement

And probably dated it 😀 ….until they married an engineer.

When planning any murder or series of murders, we have to know our enemy. The cops. What are ways we can confuse them? Can we kill in multiple jurisdictions knowing the law agencies will never properly communicate and thus we can kill as many people as our plot requires? Can we run the police down a rabbit hole of distraction?

Can we evade them altogether? Get rid of ALL the evidence?

Image via Creepy Freaky House of horror (Facebook)
Image via Creepy Freaky House of horror (Facebook)

#5 Serial Killers Writers Use Terms Like T.O.D.

Throw T.O.D. around a writers’ group and no problemo. But using this term at Thanksgiving with the family? Meh. We writers know the best time of year to kill and dump the body and which season a shallow grave is an acceptable option. No writer ever sees just a freezer. Or just a car trunk. 

Trust me, we are thinking how many people we can fit in that sucker and if we’ll have to saw apart the body first.

#6 Serial Killers Writers Hear Voices That Tell Them Who to Kill

And often talk to those voices. We might be driving to Costco when the Voice visits and tells us that we really shouldn’t kill that asshat who stood us up for prom. No, the slutty cheerleader he dumped us for is a way better choice. Then, so enraptured with talking to the Voice, we find we missed the last fifty exits and have to hope there’s a Costco in the neighboring state.

#7 Serial Killers Writers Choose Victims Carefully

Generally our victims will include anyone who picked on us in high school or ever broke up with us via Facebook or text message. Victims can also include anyone who ever worked in HR or customer service for AT&T.

#8 Serial Killers Writers Plan Their Kills Methodically

Sure you might get the fantasy or sci-fi author who just exterminates an entire race, but for the rest of us? No, we thought those kills out. We can’t just kill anyone lest we be left with a pacing and plot problem.

Duh.

#9 Serial Killers Writers Have a Timeline for Their Kills

Sure the body count will rise, but during revisions? We just go back and spend quality time with the souvenirs we took off our victims. We might even take breaks between books because we can’t murder characters without a plan. Helloooo?

#10 Serial Killers Writers are Narcissists 

Seriously, we have to be. Who else can write hundreds of thousands of words just knowing the world will love every bit of what you put down? And PAY MONEY to consume it? Narcissists have a God-complex but unlike serial killers who pretend to be God?

We writers actually ARE.

#11 Serial Killers Writers Take People Apart

We crawl in your head, but don’t get too freaked out. We crawl in everyone’s head. We think like you. We become you. 

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Image via Creepy Freaky House of Horror (Facebook)

What???? Don’t judge me. You do this too! 😛

Okay so when ACTORS do this it is OKAY but a writer does this and it’s creepy? We need to know how people think, what makes them tick, what sets them off. What are the right pain points and speaking of pain…

#12 Serial Killers Writers Are Also Sadists

Excellent fiction is the path of greatest resistance which means good writers are all about exacting pain. Doling it out bit by bit. Upping the heat and making that victim and all who love him squirm, then panic, then question the very meaning of their existence. We push our victims until just before that spark of hope in their eyes extinguishes completely.

And then we give them a bone and rescue them so there. We aren’t completely heartless. Sheesh, these people are imaginary. Why so freaked out?

#13 Serial Killers Writers Struggle with Addiction/Compulsion

Drugs and alcohol? Maybe. Books and cute bookmarks we never use because we lost them and so have to use the receipt from purchasing the freaking bookmark as a bookmark? Definitely. Female serial killers writers can often be spotted wandering around a craft store talking to the yarn. Males? Computer stores.

Angels and Devils

Yeah yeah writers could be mistaken for serial killers but in the end, everything we do is for the ultimate good. We actually have to write in mistakes lest our villain remain free and that is bad fiction.

Speaking of which, have you ever created a villain so good you had to go BACK and write in some oopses? Like, “Wow, this guy’s good. Nope, they’d never catch him. Ah sh#!.”

Okay so some of you by now are either laughing and nodding…or you’re dialing an FBI hotline ready to link them to my blog. Fine, when they haul me away in cuffs, trust me I am taking notes so when I write a similar scene? I know how cuffs FEEL.

So there 😛 .

What are your thoughts? Have you ever had strangers overhear you talking about how to kill someone and you had to stop and say, “It’s okay. I’m a writer.” Do you love Discovery ID just a bit more than is probably healthy? Do you freak out friends and family because autopsies make you giddy? Are you more than a little weirded out that we all seemed to marry engineers?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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In my tenure in this profession it is sad how many truly talented writers I’ve seen who never made it. The reason? Talent is useless without mental toughness. It takes true grit to make it in this business.

Too many writers are simply not going to make it because they don’t have the sticking power. And while this is an easy observation to make, I am here to do more than point out the obvious. I’m here to give some practical ways to improve psychological toughness, get better at being disciplined, and eat goals and deadlines for breakfast (they have ZERO calories, btw).

Relax and enjoy the holidays. Refueling is vital. Bookmark this. Let it soak in and then be ready to act come January 1st. These tips work for anything you want to accomplish, btw.

So…

Seven Tips for True Grit

One—Set Goals

No really and don’t roll your eyes at me 😛 . Set them. I know you hear this all the time but it’s true. Write them down and make them real. How can you map a course if you don’t know were you are going?

When I was in sales we had a saying, Fail to plan. Plan to fail.

If you have a goal to eventually replace that day job with being a full-time writer? Write it down and then plan your escape. Studies have shown that we’re far more likely to reach goals once we have written them down and that isn’t shocking.

To write them down we have to name them, claim them and define them. We take them out of the “nebulous gray.” It is far easier to reach for concrete benchmarks than existentialism.

Forget Realistic—Realistic is For Wimps

Most of us underestimate what we can accomplish. When you write your goal, rewrite it just a little bigger. What’s the worse that can happen? You accomplish more than you thought you could?

 

Years ago I did this. I wrote down, In 2011 I am going to get an agent. Then I crossed it out and wrote In 2011 I am going to sign with one of the best agents in NYC.

See, we never know what is going to happen or what chain of events might open what door. In early 2011, I wrote a little book called Are You There, Blog? It’s Me Writer. I was still an unknown and this was also during the days that most people were unconvinced social media was fundamental shift in global civilization we all NOW know it to be.

When I wrote the book, I needed blurbs, so I made up a Hail Mary List. These were authors who I loved, who were SO BIG I doubted my e-mail would ever even get through.

On that Hail Mary List was NYTBSA James Rollins. Not only did I get through, he’d actually read  my first book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and was MY FAN *falls over dead*. He asked if it would be okay of he sent my book to HIS agent…who later that year signed me (who happened to be one of THE biggest agents in NYC). I not only got a blurb and a friend, I got an agent.

What if I’d limited my goal?

Visualize Process NOT Fantasy

A critical mistake I made when I first decided to become a writer was I spent far too much time “visualizing” the success. In my head I dreamed of sales, wealth, book tours and being able to travel the world to research and people lined out the door to meet me and seeing stacks of displays of my books.

Nothing per se wrong with that but just that is fantasy and can be unhealthy.

To reach any big dream, we must fall in love with the process. 

I am up almost every morning at 4:15 a.m. That seriously sucked in the beginning. I had to learn to fall in love with it. Blogging? SUCKED for the first 2 years. It was so hard week after week, month after month writing thousands of words to entertain CheapXanaxANDYoungCoeds.com.

But I knew I was honing my skills. I was learning to write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner. I was training myself to eat deadlines for breakfast. I was training out my perfectionism that held onto things instead of shipping. I was opening myself to public criticism, gaining fans, feedback and thicker skin.

Original Image courtesy of HeikoHartsuijker Flickr Creative Commons
Original Image courtesy of HeikoHartsuijker Flickr Creative Commons

Through a lot of really humbling lessons, I had to fall in love with all of it, not just the fantasy of what “one day” might be. Writers’ groups are all filled with people who never have pages to read, who never finish what they start. They don’t blog, don’t build a platform, but all have dreams that HBO will be replacing Game of Thrones with their series.

Nothing wrong with that goal, btw. Just don’t leave it at that. Do the WORK.

To the Pain—Set Accountability 

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In the New Year we all have goals. Maybe you want to finish the novel by a certain day or query by a certain day or publish by a certain day. I love pleasure but pain is good for the soul. Put some stakes on it. Go purchase something you really want. Preferably something a close friend (ideally a mean friend) also wants.

Maybe it is a $50 gift card. Maybe a new gaming system, spa package, or 90 minute massage. Whatever.

Put it in the pot and then, if you make your goal by the date it’s yours, if not? It goes to your accountability partner. Yes, rewards and treats are all fabulous but they are a tad too easy.

Often we are far more motivated when it will cost us something. The more it costs us, the more motivated we are to accomplish said goal.

So if a loved one gives you a fat gift card for Christmas, maybe throw that in the Goal Pot and take a gamble for a greater ROI. Use that $100 Amazon card for cool stuff you want to reward yourself with, but also as fuel to finish all revisions by February 15th 😉 .

Ditch Negative People, Whiners & Complainers

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Memekode.
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Memekode.

Seriously. You wouldn’t let someone bring their dog in your house and let it crap on your floor, would you?  Yes, if someone brings a pet over and once in a while there is an oops? OKAY. But that is very different than someone bringing over their dog and using your living room as a kennel floor.

So why let people crap non-stop in your head? Sorry for the gross image but that’s what that is. Whining and complaining do nothing but increase stress levels which shrinks the size of the hippocampus leading to us being progressively more stupid.

Yes, science has proven that hanging out with whiners makes us stupid.

Everyone has a bad day and that isn’t what I’m talking about. Give them 60 seconds and then enough. Start talking about solutions. People who are chronically negative or addicted to whining? Bye.

I’ve learned to determine the ASKHOLES in my life and get rid of them. You know what an askhole is? That is a person who is always in a crisis, who always needs advice and after they have derailed your life and gotten your advice? Does whatever the hell stupid thing they are going to do anyway…often leading to the next crisis that you WARNED them would happen.

Turn them loose.

Surround Yourself With Accountability & Excellence

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

We are who we hang around. Character is contagious. When I was new as a writer I didn’t understand how important this was. I thought I could fight the inertia of mediocrity with sheer willpower. I also thought that if I was part of a group of people who said they wanted to be writers, well then they wanted to be writers. Right?

No.

Actions speak louder than words.

Writers write. Not all critique groups and writing groups are good for you. If you want to join a writing group, look to how many people in the group are published, multi-published, awarded, writing full-time, blogging, etc. If it’s just a bunch of people who meet and have coffee and talk about writing? Your time is better spent at home writing. Hanging out with that garbage is like hanging around radioactive material and thinking you are fine.

NO.

Negativity and mediocrity are invisible particles that punch your will and your dreams full of tiny holes until they collapse and die. Yes, you can try to ward it off and buffer from it but the best course of action? Stop growing strawberries writing dreams at Chernobyl crappy writing groups.

One of the things I’ve worked hard to do is to make myself available on W.A.N.A.Tribe. Back in November during Nanowrimo I introduced writing sprints in the Main Room IM field.

I rallied everyone at 8:45 a.m. CST and we did as many as 5 sprints. 30 minutes per sprint. Write as much as you could. Report back the numbers. Then we took a break and came back at 3:30 p.m. CST and did more sprints.

Everyone who participated finished Nano. I finished in 16 days WITH the flu while blogging.

Once Nano ended, I changed the plan. We now still meet every morning at 8:45 a.m. CST and we do what I call Blackouts. 40 minutes to do as much work as you can then report back to the group what you accomplished.

Writers now get to see MY operational tempo, since I’m almost always leading the team. We do as many as five Blackouts before lunchtime. Then, we rally back at 3:30 after I get Spawn for more Blackouts. I generally do about 3 more.

Writers get to see what I accomplish in that 40 minute block. What is my word count? How much did I get edited? How many Blackout sessions did it take to get my blog written and posted?

This doesn’t mean people need to copy me, but I tell you, it helped me TREMENDOUSLY when social media peeled back the curtain and I started seeing how authors I admired worked and got so much accomplished.

Also, this current system offers accountability and makes all of us push harder. There is a level of healthy competition and since we are a TEAM, it is far harder for me to say, “Eh, I think I will take today off.”

Up Your Operational Tempo

Believe it or not, I am not the strongest member of my team, merely the best looking #ITSACURSE. There are writers on our Blackout Team who blow ME away. Always look to surround yourself with people stronger than yourself and don’t buy your own excuses.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

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You may not be able to do this on your own. You may lack the discipline so come over to W.A.N.A.Tribe and join out Blackouts. Sometimes, you need guidance from a pro. Take one of the classes listed below. Or, feel free to e-mail me at kristen at wana intl dot com. I do consulting for social media, blogging and branding, but I also can help with your books. Instead of wasting another year revising or rewriting, a small investment in time with me might save you months or years of work.

This job is never easy, but it is always AWESOME.

What are your thoughts? Do you see some suggestions here that might improve your odds of reaching your goals? Do you try to go it alone too much? Do you give negative people too much permission to crap in your life? Do you think you might go a tad too easy on yourself? I hope to see y’all over at W.A.N.A. Tribe! No excuses this year that you have no system of support 😛 .

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image courtesy of Reuters.
Image courtesy of Reuters.

I hope everyone had a FABULOUS Christmas and is enjoying this wonderful time of the year. Holidays bring family and friends together and usually? This equals CONFLICT. Use it. Eavesdrop. Great writers make a MESS because that is what is the heart of the best stories. The uglier the better. You will one day be grateful for that seriously jacked up childhood.

Sally forth!

I think it’s fair to say that writing a novel is no easy task. There is a lot to balance at the same time—narrative, setting, dialogue, POV, plot points, turning points, scenes, sequels, character arc, etc. It can be very challenging for even the best of us. Yet, I believe the hardest part of writing fiction is that, for most of us who aren’t crazy, conflict is something we avoid at all costs during our daily lives.

In fiction? We must go for the guts.

Today, I’d like to offer you a simple way to make your stories and characters three-dimensional and grab hold of great fiction’s throbbing heart. I learned this from the fabulous Les Edgerton who cornered me with this same question:

What is your character’s true story problem?

I gave Les a rundown of my carefully researched mystery thriller and he pressed again.

That’s surface, Kristen. What is the real story problem?

Fortunately, I was able to answer the question. Aside from the embezzlement, fraud, gun-running and drug-dealing, my character’s problem is she longs to be accepted, yet doesn’t fit in anywhere.

She began as small town trailer trash and ran away from home to go to college and pursue a better life. She naively assumed a fancy college degree would be her keys to acceptance, her ticket to become part of the high-class society she’d always envied. Yet, once she “made it” she found herself worse off than before. No matter how hard she worked, she was still, in the eyes of high society, gold-digging trailer trash who didn’t know her place.

In one world (home) she’s regarded as an uppity b!#$@ too good to be blue-collar working class. Yet, once part of “society” her problem was just as bad. The rich assume she must have slept her way into her high-paying job and that her sole goal is to marry money. She soon finds she’s regarded with equal disdain.

The story problem (the mystery) is only there to answer my protagonist’s deep, driving personal questions: Where do I fit in? Why do I need to fit in? Who am I?

The plot problem—a major embezzlement (Enron-style) leaves her penniless and blackballed and she has to go home to the trailer park she thought she’d left for good. This is where the story begins.

Now she is forced back into the lion’s den of her soul. Now she is torn between worlds. To solve the mystery and find the missing money (and a murderer killing to keep the secret) she must take on the wealthy and powerful. But in order to succeed, she must rely on a crazy-dysfunctional family who resents her and feels betrayed and judged.

Eventually, the plot will force her to face her greatest weakness—the need to be accepted—and she will have to make the tough choices.

If we look to all the great stories, the questions are bigger than the story. Minority Report has all kinds of cool technology, but the big question is, “Are we predestined, bound by FATE, or do humans possess free will?” In The Joy Luck Club the question is, “Can generational curses be broken?” In Winter’s Bone “Is blood really thicker than water?” In Mystic River “What is the nature of good and evil? Are people really who they appear to be?”

Thus, I challenge you to pan back from your story and ask What is the BIG question here? What is my character REALLY after? What will my story problem CHANGE about this character? What will it answer? 

As you guys know, I run a regular contest for free edit of sample pages. One of the biggest issues I see in new writing is it is very surface (Hey, I’ve been there, too. It’s all part of the learning curve ;)). Yet, to take that writing to the next level, we have to dig into the dark and dirty places. I actually have a sticky note on my computer that reads GO FOR THE GUTS. 

Every scene, every bit of dialogue must be uncomfortable. Fiction is the opposite of our human nature. Human nature is to avoid conflict at all costs. To write fiction? We must dive into the Miserable Messy head-first. Create problems at every turn (not mere “bad situations” but conflict).

Conflict turns pages. We have to be careful that our dialogue isn’t so busy being clever that it loses it’s teeth. Pretty description and scene-setting doesn’t turn pages and hook readers. CONFLICT does. Humans have a need to avoid conflict, but when we are faced with it? We want it resolved. THAT is why readers will turn pages. We make them shift in their seats and squirm and seek resolution.

What are your thoughts? What movies can you think of that have amazing BIG questions? Do you find that you have to revise places you are being “too nice?”

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook