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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: blood lessons

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I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

                                                                                                             ~Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune

 

Writers are assailed by fears every day and from every angle, regardless where we are in our career. Fear we won’t endure. Fear of finding an agent or even the right agent. Fear of failure and even, strangely, fear of success. If left unchecked, these anxieties can sabotage our creativity and even our dreams.

The last couple of Warrior Writer blogs have addressed the emotionally volatile subject of critique, generating more comments and feedback than any other blog posted. That says something to me. Why do we take critique to heart the way we do? I mean, my mother always told me that opinions are like noses, everyone has one—ok, maybe she used a slightly less socially acceptable body part, but you get the idea. On an intellectual level, we do understand that everyone has the right to his opinion. But, deep down, criticism can feel like a sucking chest wound, so too often we avoid it if we can.

In his Warrior Writer Workshop, Bob Mayer spends a lion’s share of the time getting writers to locate and identify 1) weaknesses 2) fears 3) blind spots. Now one might think this is a waste of time. There are so many other useful topics this NY Times Best-Selling Author could teach. Give us some characterization mojo, or plot juju. So why would Bob spend so much time on identifying fear?

…because most of us don’t want to.

Ignorance is bliss. Right. The problem is that fear is like that mole you’ve had since childhood that suddenly gets a little sore and changes color. You don’t go to the doctor for fear it might be cancer, but it ends up being cancer because you didn’t go to the doctor…and then it goes metastatic and turns into a killing machine.

Fear does that to a writer. We avoid attending a really (good) brutal critique group, because they are like the doctor who could give us bad news. We focus on the scalpel (red pen), and forget they are healers. Forget they possess all sorts of ways to cure the ailment. All we see is that they (critics) have to power to give us bad news.

I’m sorry, but your protagonist is brain dead.

We’ve done all we can, but this plot needs to be taken off life support.

Your POV is violently schizophrenic and a danger to the characters in your novel. Putting it down is the humane thing to do.

Fear’s reach often extends beyond the critique group. We are terrified to ask family to cut us a break and give us quiet time, or afraid we won’t finish that novel. Or worse, we fear we will finish, but that our work will end up a tall pile of unpublished nothing only suitable for lining a bird cage. We fear asking agents the tough questions about the industry or how to handle the financial hassles like self-employment taxes. We fear asking about the details in a contract, fear asking for what is rightfully ours (rights, advances, etc.). We avoid all these things that might have helped our success because we fear being seen as weak, or foolish, or plain stupid. Yet the ironic part is we can end up being seen as far worse by failing to act.

All of us have fears, but not all of us are self-aware. Trust me; what we don’t know will hurt us. Fear, like that mole, if left unchecked will grow tentacles guaranteed to reach into our work, our attitude, and even our destiny. The symptoms are clear.

Symptom 1: Writer’s Block

I had several e-mails this week asking for tips to overcoming writer’s block. One big tip? Ask yourself what is making you afraid. Fear is a big reason most writers hit a point and then it is as if an invisible wall has landed in front of them.

I’m going through that right now. I’m in the process of writing a thriller. While it is my favorite genre to read, I’m finding it has been by far the hardest for me to write. Why? Because I was never in combat. I’m not an expert. Even though I have researched and researched and researched, I still fear that I won’t get the details correct, that I’ll be viewed as a fraud or as someone too lazy to get the facts straight. I fear I am a far better editor than writer (even though I’ve won multiple awards that indicate otherwise).

I am just blessed to have friends who give me regular swift kicks in the derrière and help diffuse my anxieties.  Granted, every page has been like pulling teeth, but no one ever said facing fear would be easy, ;).

Symptom 2: Avoiding Rewrite

We already discussed the generalized anxiety we all have for critique. In this case, fear can make new writers avoid critique altogether—almost sealing their fate to never be published. But I’ve also seen writers with a finished manuscript keep shopping the same work even though it has been rejected time after time after time, and often for the same reasons. They fear going in and fixing the problems. The irony is they might have saved time had they just taken it on the chin.

Symptom 3: Changing Genres like They’re Socks

I have been guilty of this one. We get some really great momentum going then hit that wall. Instead of facing what the real problem is? We chalk it up to the fact that we just haven’t found the “right” genre for us. While that might very well be the case, be wary. Examine and, again, ask yourself the tough questions. Why are you really making the shift? Is your desire to stop writing romance because you really, really want to write articles about yoga? Or does writing romance make you have to face some dark parts about your own personality? Remember writing is therapy. Maybe your writing is unearthing some things that are making you feel vulnerable and, therefore, uncomfortable. Thus, switching genres has less to do with preferred subject matter and more to do with self-preservation.

Just think about it.

There are, of course, more than three symptoms of fear, so feel free to comment and expound on some others.

I began this blog with the Bene Gesserit Litany against Fear for a reason. Fear most definitely is the mind-killer. There has probably been no better moniker assigned to this emotion. Fear has the power to cripple, maim, paralyze, and kill your writing and your career. The good news, though, is that fear, like any other emotion, is energy. Energy, when harnessed, loses its destructive properties. A lightning bolt that burns down a forest becomes electricity that powers the modern world and its conveniences. Fear, too, is an immense reservoir of potential energy that can be channeled and redirected…

…you just have to have the courage to stand in a storm with a kite and a key.

 

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Recommended reading  “Who Dares Wins–The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear and Succeed” by Bob Mayer (Simon & Schuster 2009)

Go to www.bobmayer.org to order a copy or to sign up for a Warrior Writer Workshop in you area. Bob also posts wonderful blogs for dealing with fear, so make sure to check those out as well.

Meet "The Critique Partner"Critique is a vital part of writing. The ability to take critique well is the mark of a professional author, regardless whether one has been published yet or not.

Do not take critique personally, but DO take it seriously.

Writing may be a solitary business, but it is never a solitary endeavor. The purpose of writing should hopefully be to connect with others and to evoke a desired emotional response. Anything other than that is verbal self-gratification. Critique is the litmus test by which we writers can be assured of this vital connection to the readership. It’s nothing personal. If readers don’t understand, or are confused, or left to feel like they want to cut their wrists with a plastic lunchroom fork…the writer needs to know it. That is important information, because odds are an agent or editor (or book critic) will have the same reaction.

I love to watch Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and have used his show as a parallel for the world of writing in numerous blogs. Every episode begins the same. A new restaurateur sits eagerly awaiting the great Chef Ramsay. Keep in mind that this restaurateur is only on the show in the first place because he sits on the verge of losing everything—business, house, car, kidneys, etc. Most restaurant owners who participate have waited until the situation is so dire that Vinnie the Crowbar is only kept at bay because of the presence of Gordon’s camera crew. Yet every last one of these entrepreneurs has the exact same first interview.

I think Chef Ramsay is really going to like the food. Well, I hope he does.

We have a really unique menu. The customers love it.

The restaurant’s design is truly innovative. I know Gordon will be impressed.

All of them boast about the menu, the food, the location, the theme, etc. And the first third of the show is almost always some pissed off restaurant owner trying to toss Chef Ramsay and his camera crew out on their collective ears because Ramsay has insulted them with—GASP—the truth. Yet, it never seems to occur to any of these folk what they are saying they want. They have a stack of bills and are afraid to answer the phone. The business is FAILING. Yet none of them seem to appreciate that if Chef Ramsay walks in and loves the food, thinks everything is perfect—location, theme, staff—they are DOOMED! Chef Ramsay is giving them the greatest gift of all…honest feedback. And, like anyone who is skilled at critique, he follows up with ways to cure the problems.

Yet how many writers behave the same way as these business owners when faced with critique? All of us, on a gut level, react emotionally to criticism. Unless you are a masochist, no one likes hearing the bad news. We love compliments and kudos, but are they enough to make us into the best writers we can be? I believe this is where one can see the defining line between the Wanna-Be Writer and the Professional Author.

The Wanna-Be Writer

  • Holds people hostage to listen to latest writing
  • Only joins writing critique groups because of the following:
    • Family no longer returning calls
    • Loves to hear the sound of her own voice
    • Is looking for acceptance, accolades, and adoration
    • Will only turn over work for critique after others fill out a signed affidavit promising not to plagiarize
    • Is the first to learn how to make the nifty little copyright symbol ©
    • Becomes hostile at any authentic criticism
    • Can be counted on to never return to a professional writing group—often will quickly form her own writing group at a nearby Denny’s in response to the “mean, nasty, cutthroat group”
    • Is always looking to master the query letter or the pitch—never occurs to him to change the writing (even after countless rejections)
    • Brings the same writing with the exact same errors week…after week… after God-awful week
    • Argues and defends
    • Never reads other published authors. Believes other writers are published due to luck and therefore offer nothing valuable
    • Wants something for nothing. The Wanna-Be is always hounding for “critique” but never has time for others. Only shows up to the writing group when she has something to read
    • Unwilling to pay for edit, workshops, books or other means of growing in the craft
    • Brings only the strongest, most refined sections of writing for critique
    • Blames others for failures
    • Generally negative and will backbite and stir strife (this is a person who has the power to poison even a good critique group)
    • Makes excuses

 

The Professional Author

  • Is always searching for ways to improve
  • Genuinely desires to know the weak points in her writing
  • Actively places himself in situations guaranteed to elicit feedback (both positive and negative)
  • Possesses discernment (all feedback is useful, but not all feedback is valuable)
  • Respects others’ time by listening to criticism and then fixing the problems
  • Faces the weakest aspects of her character with grace, then seeks ways to grow
  • Is often generous with his time when others request critique
  • Is a voracious reader of all kinds of books, whether in genre or not. She values the successes and failures of her fellow authors, and also understands that one day she will want others to read her books. Quid pro quo.
  • Knows sometimes it is necessary to pay for good edit, workshops, and other means of improving in the craft—sees this as a business investment.
  • Returns to critique sessions even when it stings
  • Brings the weakest sections of writing to critique
  • Takes responsibility for setbacks and failures
  • Keeps a positive attitude

Lately, there have been several blogs written about the value of critique. My 3 Favorites:

 http://www.bobmayer.org/blog/

 http://www.jenniholbrook-author.blogspot.com/

 http://jasonamyers.wordpress.com/

I think the problem with too many critique groups is they have a tendency to devolve into social coffee klatches that do anything but critique. In fact, that was a major impetus for my creating Warrior Writer Boot Camp in Fort Worth, TX. I wanted a place where a writer’s characters, outlines, ideas, everything could be tried and tested in the fires of hell before a single query letter was ever drafted. Are we mean? No. Are we brutal? Absolutely. It is like Chef Ramsay gutting you every single Saturday, thus is not the right group for every writer.

Social groups have a place. Writing is a lonely business. But whenever you are shopping for a critique group or partner, keep in mind the above lists. That will help steer you toward a group of motivated professionals who are dedicated to your success. The ability to take criticism is probably the quickest marker of a professional. The Warrior Writer understands that time is valuable. Pay attention and use knowledge to your advantage so you are spending your precious time in a way that will eventually reap dividends.

Likewise, pay constant attention to your own response to critique. Make sure to keep the attitude of a professional and remember that writing is fun, but it is also a multi-billion dollar business. So, when it comes to critique, the professional author knows that to survive and thrive, if you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen. Best of luck and happy writing!

Until next time….

 

Go to www.bobmayer.org to sign up for a Warrior Writer Workshop near you.

“Details are often the only difference between mediocre and magnificent.”

~Author Unknown

As a copy editor, I’ve developed a different set of eyes that detect details often unseen by the rest of the world. But let me clarify. Just because something is unseen, in no way means it has gone unnoticed. To the untrained, small mistakes can collect in the subconscious. A reader might put a book down and never know exactly why they couldn’t get engaged, or why he felt the text was too confusing, or why he simply just gave up.

Well, as they say, the Devil is in the details.

I love writing, and I love to make other writers’ work the absolute best it can be. I’ve worked with all skill levels, and after almost a decade of experience, enough writing has passed beneath my pen for me to see certain patterns emerge. I call these my Deadly Sins of Writing.  

The Deadly Sins are often among the first Blood Lessons for new writers. Why? Because formal English classes (high school and college), in my opinion, frequently:

  1. Permit bad writing habits.
  2. Encourage bad writing habits.

I’m in no way picking on teachers. It is incumbent upon any writer to learn her craft. To believe college English constitutes proper schooling for commercial fiction is like saying Home Economics is proper training for a chef. Yet, many new writers believe that because they made good grades in English, they know how to write (Yeah, I’ll confess. I was one of them).

So after a couple of years critiquing fiction, I began to notice a pattern of common errors. These flubs were so distracting that I often found I couldn’t even GET to critiquing plot, character, or voice. Thus, I wrote out my Deadly Sins as a reference. I believe that if a writer can eradicate most or all of these types of errors, then he will leave the reader with a clearer view of the story.

Today we are only going to go over three. Why? Because most of us haven’t had formal grammar since that awful experience with sentence diagramming back in the eighth grade. And while I could just list the Sins, I believe it will be more helpful if you understand WHY these errors can be so detrimental to even the best of stories.

Deadly Sin #1

Was Clusters— There is nothing wrong with using being verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, —Remember them?). But, they do tend to have a nasty habit of flocking together. A couple of being verbs are all right. But, if there are 42 on one page? You might have a problem…or an infestation.

Was often acts as a screaming beacon directing me, the editor, to places where the writing could be tightened.  Was can also lead you, the writer, into dangerous passive voice waters so beware.

The door was kicked in by the officers. (Passive)

The officers kicked in the door. (Active)

Deadly Sin #2

Overuse of “ing” Whether as Gerunds or Participles—First, a quick review for those of us who have slept since our last grammar class. A gerund is a verb used as a noun—i.e. reading glasses. Participles are often used with a helping verb to show progression (also called progressive verbs)—i.e. I am walking to the car.

***I have left Point A and have not quite reached Point B. Therefore the action is in progress, ergo the term progressive.

There is nothing wrong with using either, but like was, these critters also tend to cluster together. When they do so, they tend to:

a. Create a monotonous pattern

b. Signal places the writing could be made more active.

Joe was walking to the car while smoking a cigarette and thinking about his day. He was wondering if it was all worth the effort. Tired, he pulled out a set of reading glasses. He was scanning the Dear John letter one last time before driving home when a car came barreling out of nowhere heading straight for him.

Don’t laugh. I have seen more than my fair share of similar passages. Technically, nothing is incorrect. Yet, the pattern of ing ing ing ing ing creates a monotony that can diminish the literary effect.

Deadly Sin #3

Modifier overload.  Ever heard the term less is more? The same holds true in writing. Why? When you modify everything, you modify nothing. The reader can get so bogged down in lovely similes and metaphors that he forgets the original point of the story, and that is bad.

Have you ever been to a lecture where the speaker’s voice is flat, and nothing is emphasized? Think of Ben Stein, the guy who does the eye drop commercials.

Monotone.

Now think of that lunatic Billy Mays who does all of the Oxy Clean commercials. HE STRESSES ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING!!!! By the end of the commercial, the audience needs a nap…or a drink.

Again, monotone.

Modifiers can make beautiful writing that transports us and makes us part of an entirely different world.

Or…

It can make us feel like we’re trapped in that nightmare where we never really graduated high school, and have been forced to repeat Sophomore-Level English if we want our college degree to be valid. Jane Eyre. Enough said.

Just remember some simple rules of thumb. Adverbs are almost always a no-no. Why use window dressing on an inferior verb if there is a superior verb that can take its place?

He walked quickly across the room.

He strode across the room.

As far as adjectives, similes, and metaphors? Use good judgment. Don’t be the Oxy Clean guy. Have a fellow writer look at your work and see which ones might be weakening your story. Or, take a highlighter and strike through all the modifiers, and see how many there are, and how many can go. Heck, if they are really good, you can use them later. I promise.

Grammar is not a whole lot of fun for most people, but it is necessary to understand it as part of understanding the craft. And you are going to make mistakes. Blood Lessons are a critical part of learning. Good writing comes from wisdom, and wisdom comes from experience. Experience comes from writing some real crap. But as NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer constantly hammers into his writing protégés:

The Number One Rule of Rule-Breaking is ‘Know the rules.’ If you break rules without knowing the rules, you are not clever, you are ignorant.

Sloppy technique, bad grammar, and poor sentence construction can cling to your writing like a dirty film that obscures story and characters. Clean up your writing so your stories can shine.

Until next time…

There are many times throughout the day that I simply pause and think how incredibly blessed I am.  Almost ten years ago I made the fateful decision to become a writer. It has been an amazing journey, and the most humbling experience of my life. I have toyed with blogging on different subjects, but often found it difficult to stay focused very long. Why? Three reasons:

  1. For those who love to write, they often have so many stories to tell it seems one lifetime is not enough. There is so much commentary bubbling inside that we can find it depressing to have to light on one subject.
  2. Discipline is a character trait that, sadly, is not just encoded in one’s DNA. Like getting in the gym or saying “no” to that next slice of pizza, writing anything (blogs included) takes focus, willpower, and work. (Yeah…I was kind of bummed about that, too).
  3. I think many new writers (and even some of us seasoned ones) struggle with feeling legitimate. I know well-published authors who still find it tough to think of themselves as writers, let alone “experts” with anything noteworthy to say.

The last item in that list, I believe, is what has held me back the most in regards to blogging. I critique/edit hundreds of pages a month—fiction, non-fiction, marketing, etc, and have done so for going on a decade. I edit for some of the best authors in the business. On my desk are stacks of signed books from grateful writers, and a few of these books even has my name printed in the acknowledgements. And strangely, even though I possess quite a dossier of success in the writing world, I have a hard time believing I am an expert in my field. Silly, I know. But, part of growing as a writer is developing a greater degree of self-awareness.

Back to the why I am so blessed part, because that is really important and will help you understand why I have chosen to write this new series. I have the most amazing friends any person could ever wish for. Among those friends are some extremely talented writers (Candy Havens, Rosemary-Clements Moore, A. Lee Rodriguez, Britta Coleman, Nell Noonan, Dr. Mike Bumagin, Debbie Gillette…just to name a few). But, one of my closest friends is NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. This friendship has changed my life, my writing life in particular, more than anything else. Bob is not just a famous, talented, brilliant author; he is also a former Green Beret and leader of an A-Team. He teaches how to blend the warrior spirit into the craft of writing in his book “Who Dares Wins,” and in July he is launching the first all-day workshops called “Warrior Writer” to teach writers (published or unpublished) how to think like a best-selling author. I count myself fortunate to have had such a mentor.

This past weekend, I helped Bob run his “DFW Novel Writer’s Workshop.” I had the super important jobs like refilling ice chests of cold drinks, handing out workbooks, and rescuing attendees locked outside on the bottom floor. Hey, I’m not proud. If I have to make two hundred ham sandwiches and scrub smashed Doritos out of the carpet to listen to a best-selling author teach me how to write, you can bet I am so there.

Like all of the attendees, I walked away a changed writer and person. First, I saw another layer of fear that had been dictating a lot of my choices (like being afraid of blogging about writing even though I WORK as an editor—dumb. I know.) But I also learned some mind-blowing lessons about the craft that I intend on passing on to you, my loyal blog readers.

First…let’s point out the pink elephant in the room.

Yes. There are some people who write their first novel and—POOF—they are instantly a NY Times Best-Selling success. This is a reality that cannot be denied, just like there happen to be people who win a hundred million dollars playing the lottery. These individuals do exist, but I don’t think lottery tickets are a wise investment plan for the rest of us. Yet, how many writers (and I am so guilty of this, too) write our first book and think we are going to be the next (insert name of super mega best-selling author here)? For those writers who emotionally survive that first slap of reality (known as a tall stack of rejected queries for your 170,000 word romantic-comedy-historical fantasy-science fiction-suspense novel that your mother just LOVES), the road to publication is fraught with peril.

Most won’t make it.

The bitter reality is that the road to publishing success is littered with the corpses of rejected or unfinished manuscripts, soaked in the lost lifeblood of what used to be a writer’s ego. For those who dare to take this path, they will learn a lot of Blood Lessons along the way.  Those who are smart will learn, but those who are wise learn from others.

Blood Lessons come in many forms as you will read about in this blog. I will post lessons about writing, of course. But, most importantly, it will be my goal to post lessons of life, camaraderie, and character. As I stated earlier, I have been greatly blessed to be friends with caring, talented individuals. I always joke that Guantanamo Bay was using my first novel to break terrorists until the UN intervened (Water board me pleeeease! Just not another chapter of that BOOK!).

 

I still remember sitting in the Southwest Fort Worth Library parking lot crying after my first critique…and second…and third. When it finally sank in that I was not going to be living off my royalty checks in the French Riviera within the year, I became deeply depressed. In fact, I would have tossed myself off my apartment balcony, but the drop was only far enough to maim me. I would have tossed my computer off the balcony, but I had spent the last of my savings to buy it.

Despite the crushing blow to my ego and general sense of worth as a human, I kept at it—and I am so glad I did. I have won quite a few awards for my fiction, even though I am still trudging the road toward finishing/publishing a novel. I have been president of the Freelance Writers Network for going on five years, and I also sit on the board of directors for the DFW Writers’ Workshop. Through perseverance, I’ve earned my stripes as a critique/editor and I have managed to make a nice living doing what I love. It hasn’t been easy—the path of the Warrior Writer never is. And, though I’m sure all of you will learn your own Blood Lessons along the way, maybe I can help spare you a few…or at least inspire you.

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. — from Seven Pillars of Wisdom

 

 

 

I hope to pass some of this wisdom on to those of you who choose the path of the Warrior Writer.