The Business and Passion of Writing

This week’s thought-provoking question is by Ruth:

We all know that the publishing world is changing.  The big New York publishers are fading fast and electronic books are the future.   An author must become an expert in social media and spend endless hours on self promotion. Writing has become a small business. My question is: Why bother?  What drives you to keep on writing? 

PAM: I write because when words flow from my fingertips and a brand new world appears across a white page–little black symbols that trigger images in the minds of others, so close to the visions those squiggly lines created in my own head that we all enter the same world–it completes me.

I write because it’s my God-given talent.

I write because I don’t want to take Prozac and drinking makes me puke. (www.pamelafoster.blogspot.com)

RUTH: To conjure a character from the shadows of my mind, to breathe life into him/her or even it, to gaze in wonder as my fingers fly across the keyboard typing out their thoughts, hopes, and fears, to empathize with their faults, to excuse their behavior, to know they trust and have chosen me to bring their story to life to share with all mankind, is not only a great honor but creative magic at its best.

Thousands of people say writing a novel is on their bucket list but very few realize that dream.  Storytelling is easy.  Writing is hard work.  It’s commitment.  Dedication.  Endless hours of agonizing over the exact word or phrase that expresses my characters’ emotions and actions.  But the reward, the feeling of accomplishment, the thrill of holding that published book in my hand with my name as author in bold font, to be able to say, “I did it!” and to know I made a dream come true. These are some of the greatest feelings in the world.

And that’s why I bother. (www.truthsbyruth.blogspot.com)

JAN:  For me, writing is both a selfish act and a giving act. Anyone who knows me knows that I am kind of reserved by nature. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the same feelings that someone who’s more demonstrative and gregarious might have. Love, hate, passion, evil, temptation, regret, envy . . . every human emotion. Writing is and always has been, my way of expressing myself.

I used to write in journals, until they were discovered and read. Now, I write fiction. It is a way for me to create characters who are tiny parts of my innermost feelings, fully-developed on paper. The creation sometimes is and sometimes is not, my sharing a piece of who I am. The reader can decide which it is. Even in my writing, I sometimes hesitate to express a feeling through my characters. But, when I do, and when someone thinks, “I understand,” or “I’ve been there,” it’s like my soul has connected with another.

It’s true that writing is a small business, and it’s terribly distracting because I love the building a platform via social networking. Honestly, I’d social network even if I didn’t have to build a platform–that’s the problem. It takes me away from my writing. But today, this is one of the challenges any writer who wants to “get her work out there” must face. (I discuss this challenge more in my blog post, “My New Writer Space.”)

A writer must not only be creative, but disciplined. It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh: “No mud, no lotus.”

LINDA: There are several reasons I bother with writing. First, because it is cathartic to create worlds that contain the same frustrations and disappointments as I feel, and then give solutions. Being an inspirational writer, it is my hope that somehow I can connect with my readers and perhaps encourage them, maybe even give an idea for solutions to help them in “their real world.”

Secondly, I love social networking! I love people. And it is also great research. I note how different people think and express themselves. So I consider it a part of my creative process. Some in the social networking world may wind up in my novels.

Finally, it is a small business. But it is that for everyone. Even Steve Berry. I spent time with him and his wife Elizabeth. They are constantly working the business and the social networking world. STEVE BERRY! One would think his publisher would do it all, and of course Ballantine Books does a lot. But Liz and Steve do too. So if they do, how much more should I?  (www.daydreamonpaper.wordpress.com)

CLAIRE: That Dixie comes up with some hard-hitting questions. Why bother with social media? What drives you to keep on writing? I have a contemporary romance (Redneck Ex by Claire Croxton—The Wild Rose Press) on the market at the moment and another, Santorini Sunset coming out in May. I can’t tell you how frustrated I was when I started working on my third romance. It seemed like every time I started to write, I’d get sidetracked by social media—Facebook posts, blog entries, Twitter feeds, etc. I cursed all technology and vowed to go back to writing with a chisel and stone tablets. Then, I started watching my sales ranking on Amazon. That really opened my eyes.

When my book was released, the sales were pretty good. After a couple of weeks, sales started slacking off. One of the wonderful authors at The Wild Rose Press asked me to do an interview for her blog. The day that interview came out, my sales ranking rose. Sure, it wasn’t in the top 100 in romance sales, but it was pretty high. I was thrilled and my loathing of social media lessened. Sure, it’s tedious and time consuming, but it really does make a difference in sales and getting your name out there so new readers can discover you.

As for the writing part, if I won the lottery and had enough money to buy that castle in Scotland I have my eye on, I’d still write. It’s what I do. Those stories are inside me and they have to get out. I’ve dabbled in writing my entire life. It took me way too long to get to the point where I actually pursued it seriously. Now that I’ve done that, there’s no turning back. I love it. It feeds my soul and I’m hooked.  (www.clairecroxtonromanceauthor.wordpress.com)

We’d love to read your comments about why you write, and how you balance the business side of writing with the passion of writing.

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The Birth of Our Characters

There are many different paths on the writerly journey, and perhaps we can all learn from the successes and failures of other writers. This post begins a weekly feature where one of the Sisters asks a question on writing for all to answer.

We’d love to hear your answers, too. Please feel free to leave a link to your own blogs or websites with your comments.

This week’s question is by Jan Morrill.

How does a character come to you? Does it come as a dream? A voice in your head? What methods do you use to develop your character? 

RUTH: Where does any writer’s character come from? Real life? Imagination? The dark place lurking deep in the soul? Each writer conjures characters from various places.  I’m lucky in that I don’t consciously develop mine. Charles Ely from The Soldiers From the Mist, for example, was a ghost of a Civil War soldier who haunted my house. The Rook from The Rook and The Raven came to me in a dream two years before I wrote the book. Dixie Dandelion was me in a previous lifetime. Charlie, Roark, and Dixie tell me everything I need to know to flesh them out. All that is required from me is an open mind, silence and patience. Perhaps subconsciously that’s the way it works for every writer. But no matter the process, creating an unknown character from a snip of an idea is truly magical. Learn more about Ruth’s writing adventures at http://www.truthsbyruth.blogspot.com/.

PAM: My characters come to me through alchemy.

Seriously.

Observations, emotions, needs and desires are heated in a magic kettle, spiced with imagination, and released through my fingertips on the keyboard. Let me give you an example. The protagonist of Redneck Goddess is Georgia Barr, better known as Goo Goo.  She’s an amalgamation of every self-confident, intelligent, beautiful young woman I’ve ever met or observed. Starting with this group.

Forty years ago, at a company picnic I watched a group of young women, most of them less than ten years my junior, playing co-ed volleyball. Not once did any of those women appear to moderate one single aspect of themselves in order to fit more closely into a mold of femininity that I, on the other hand, found so constraining. Those women, along with the brilliant red hair of my childhood best friend, Sandra Caudle, became Goo Goo Barr. http://www.authorpamelafoster.com/

Samantha Foster, the protagonists of Bigfoot Blues, is simply me as I exist in a parallel universe. http://pamelafosterspeakerwriter.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/are-you-a-believer-2/

Characters develop a mind of their own almost from the first stroke of the keyboard. Go over there and do that, I think. And they come over here and do the exact opposite. Once they draw that first inky breath, I simply do my best to herd them toward the plot line and get out of their way.

LINDA:  I draw from interesting people I’ve known. I have a rich heritage of diverse personalities who have crossed my path. As my story develops, I think about the people I’ve known or know now and think about what they would do, how they would respond or react.

Another thing I do is look at pictures. I Google actors and actresses and look through hundreds of photos. Inevitably some speak to me by their expression. I just had that happen. A very minor character in my novel, Daphne, came alive when I saw her picture, I knew her right away and now she has earned a secondary character role in my next novel!

Read more about Linda’s writing journey at http://daydreamingonpaper.blogspot.com/.

CLAIRE:  To be honest, the first thing that comes to me on any novel I’m writing is the names of the cats. For example, in Santorini Sunset (May 2012, The Wild Rose Press,) the cats are Sherlock and Mycroft. Then, I figure out what type of person would use those names for their pets.

One of these days I hope to develop into a writer who knows her characters before she starts writing. At the moment, I start with a name and a profession or a particular situation and go from there. It makes writing the story interesting since I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it also results in writing more than necessary. I tend to let my characters run free and wild. Once I figure out how the story will end, sometimes I have to rein those pesky free-thinkers in and make them do what I want.

Three things have held true in all the books I’ve written. The support, humor and frustration of the best friend in all the books is based on my best friend, Pearl. The bitchy, horrible woman who gets killed off in every book is based on a supposed friend who betrayed me and scarred me to my very core. And the hero. The hero is always my husband, Kevin. I didn’t even realize that until a friend pointed it out. Then, it was so obvious it was embarrassing.

JAN: My characters in Broken Dolls are all tiny parts of me. I took an emotion, a thought, or a person who made an impact on me and developed characters. Sachi is the emotional child in me who was always told to behave, but who lets her feelings show, whether outwardly or through internalization. Nobu is the duty-bound part of me, who does what’s expected of him, and who represses all his feelings. Mama is a fictionalized version of my maternal grandmother, who I never really knew, though I did hear stories about her. Jubie was based on the beautiful, free-spirited black girl who lived across the street from me when I was growing up.

Since these characters are a part of me, they were often stubborn to tell me their secrets. Sometimes I actually traveled to places they would have lived, such as the internment camp at Rohwer. There, Sachi whispered a secret to me that changed the course of the book. http://jansthoughtsovercoffee.blogspot.com/2010/02/rohwer-whispers.html

As you might guess, Nobu was the most stubborn, as he would not tell me anything he “shouldn’t” say. But, all it took to get him to open up was a few drinks over an interview at happy hour to expose his secrets, too. http://jansthoughtsovercoffee.blogspot.com/2011/08/happy-hour-with-nobu.html

Leave us a comment and let us know how you bring your characters to life!

 

The Sisterhood’s Premiere

The following post is by Pamela Foster and originally appeared on her blog, Pamela Foster Secrets and Vices.
     Writing is a solitary addiction.
     Because of my craving for writing time and solitude, I’ve never been a person to have many friends.  I held people at a distance, my emotional force field protected the real me. Like any addict, my addiction was my life.
     So, imagine my surprise when I found, not one, but four women to share my writing journey.  From agonizing over plot, through the publication process and the challenge of marketing, these four ‘sisters’ have eased my pain, sharpened my skills and just generally made my life more joyful.
     A few months back, we officially became The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. Our first speaking engagement was Saturday, March 10, 2012 at the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop Conference.  Our hope was to get our message across AND to entertain.  I think we accomplished our goal.
     Ruth Weeks started us off by acting the part of a humble, frightened writer trying to pitch her work to a snooty agent, played by Linda Apple. Thirty seconds in, Ruth flung off her jacket and revealed more bling than Liberace.  And cowboy boots.  Hot damn, those boots of hers.  Ruth strutted a demonstration of stepping out, believing in yourself, and making the magic happen in your writing career.  I mean, the woman showed us how it was done.
     Once Ruth had folks fired up, it was my turn.
     I pointed to my tiara. Yes, you read that right–my tiara. I touched the giant, gold star hanging around my neck, whirled my feathery pink boa.  I held my book over my head danced and yelled, “I’ve been published!”
     My sisters yelled and stamped their feet and threw confetti. The celebration lasted approximately thirty seconds when Ruth, holding a sign that said “Reality Check,” stepped up and, foot tapping, demanded my lovely glittery crown and my adorable star. The bitch even took back my lovely pink boa.
     Then, I spoke on the reality of having a book published and likened the experience to running a small business.
     Next, Jan Morrill acted out a skit she’d written about how, while the rest of The Sisters took that fork in the road marked Small Press and skipped happily to publication, she choose the road to New York Publication and spent a year waiting for the phone to ring.  This presentation came complete with the song Let it please be him. It must be him.  It must be him bursting forth into the conference room , while demonstrating her reaction each time the phone rang as she waited and waited to hear from her agent.  My favorite part was when she skipped down the path to stardom in her sunglasses, the frames of which were in the shape of glittery gold stars.
     In stained chenille robe, pajama bottoms and soft, fluffy slippers one of her dogs may have chewed, Patty Stith, aka Claire Croxton demonstrated what happens when you sit down to write, AFTER, just for a minute, you check your email, Facebook, Twitter and of course, your favorite blogs.  Social Networking is vital to building a platform after all!  As Ruth moved the hands of a giant clock, Claire tapped on her laptop, commented on blogs and networked her little heart out until the clock showed eight hours had passed and she hadn’t written a word on her new novel.  Claire spoke on managing your time.
     Linda Apple stepped up with a rubber snake around her neck and, like Marlin Perkins with the giant Anaconda, she successfully wrestled into submission.  Her opening line was “Most people would rather wrestle a poisonous snake than speak in public.” She then beautifully demonstrated how to speak in front of an audience with ease and grace.  Linda spoke on the importance of building your platform as a writer.
     Lord, did we have fun.  Who’d have thought that a lifetime of living in my own solitary little world, mainlining words and struggling to reveal the truth through fiction–who would have even suspected that this would bring me into the glorious company of a sisterhood like this?