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Do Over

I have been writing for most of my life. I started my first novel when I was fifteen. Obviously there has to be a learning curve when you’re starting out so young. It took several years to find my writer’s voice, but before that actually happened I had two books published traditionally with a small niche publisher. The books did well and were best sellers in their particular spheres, and I really doubt I would have continued to write if those first few stepping stones hadn’t been placed before me.

But I grew as an author, finally found my voice, my style, and worked on the craft. I took classes, attended conferences, and read books on writing books. I was picked up by a much larger publisher and my career became something respectable. The problem was that those first two fledgling attempts at novel writing were still out there. I’d grown. I was better than that original author, and I cringed when people told me they read one of my first two books.

It was a beautiful day when the books went out of print. It was like a phantom from my past had finally been excised, and I could rest easy. But then people began writing me–librarians who wanted their old, worn copies replaced, fans who wanted to let other people read their books but who were afraid to loan out their copies because they couldn’t get new ones.

So I decided to maybe have a do-over with the second book (the first is beyond repair and I am going to let it be). The second one, however, had good bones–not great bones–but good. It just needed a makeover. So I opened the old document for the first time in twelve years.

It was kind of like opening a crypt filled with horrors. I rolled my eyes at my past author self so much I became dizzy. I shouted at myself as I came across phrases that were so bad, I wanted to hide for the sheer shame of them. I wondered where the adverb police had been during the creation of that book.

I learned a lot about writing in comparing my present author self to my past author self. I saw where natural raw talent trumped actual skill and allowed me to get published in the first place. But I also saw the glaring mistakes, the repetition, the lack of character motivation, the fingernail thin plot.

It was a huge overhaul and a lot of work. I truly believe it would have been easier to write a new book than it was to resurrect an old one, but the book reemerged from the ashes to be something so much better than its humble beginnings. It’s still not the quality of my current writing ability (remember good bones, not great bones), but I’m not sorry I took the time to have a do over. The education was well worth it.

A wonderful, classy designer  by the name of Crystal Liechty reimagined my cover and did such an amazing job that I nearly wept with joy. My previous cover wasn’t exactly lame but close enough.

I guess the point of this rather long ramble is that it’s important to be stretching and improving–no matter what your “thing” is. My thing is writing. Yours might be music, photography, theater or science. Whatever your thing is, it’s nice to look back and see progression and growth. Take the classes, read the books, get the education necessary to thrive in that one thing that fills the measure of your joy. And when you look back, you’ll have a journey worth talking about.

Here is the new cover for Loved Like That. (I really love it!):

Loved Like That


Good Writers Use . . .

Good writers use pens. That’s the advice from my tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Cowden. I know I shred this man a lot due to the fact that he singlehandedly tried to put a stop to the writing career dreams of my youth. But I thought of something he’d said all those years ago that struck me as weird today while I edited over some of the new pages I’d written. He said something to the effect of: “Good writers always write in pen because it shows they have the confidence and education to know that they will get it right the first time.”

I wanted to be a confident and educated writer. I wanted to be a *good* writer most of all. I wrote with a pen from then on. My first three and a half books were written by hand and all in pen. I have a dozen notebooks filled with pen-scrawled words (and scratched out words and even scratched out pages). It’s been years since my handwritten manuscript days, years since a pen was used for anything more than signing a book.

The computer is my new pen. Bless the smart people who created word processing.

Today, I deleted a whole lot. The deletes made the dialogue smooth, the narrative stronger. And I thought back to that day with Mr. Cowden. I thought back to how on some level I must have respected him as a teacher–must have believed his declaration that good writers use pens. Why else would I write with such an instrument for so many years after his class?

I declare my independence from such bad advice.

Why use a pen when a pencil is so obviously superior? A pencil comes with an editing device called an ERASER. Good writers should use pencils. Because good writers know the importance of a good edit. It isn’t about the arrogance of putting an idea down right the first time. It’s about getting it right in the end.

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Awards and Writing

Stephanie Humphries and Rebecca Talley gave me a blogger award: 

which naturally just “made my day.” Thanks ladies.

I had a reader write me a fabulous fan mail the other day. It filled me with joy to receive.  How is it possible to walk the tightrope between the lands of egomania and manic depression without having any sign of a bipolar disorder?  I don’t know how it’s possible exactly, but authors do it every day–I do it every day . . . every hour sometimes.

I get fan mail and zoom into the clouds of egomania. I even giggle a little, though it isn’t really proper to admit such things. I am sure I am the best thing to happen to literature since Alphabet Soup.

I get a rejection, or someone else gets a book (that I just know stinks) published by the guy who just rejected me. I dive into the depths of despair. I go so deep even the Titanic can’t fathom my fathoms. I overeat. I wail like a paid mourner at a funeral, and I shout obscenities to the world (I tell people it’s turrets syndrome . . . but really I’m just an insane author).

Writing has its rewards, and it has its pain too. So why do we do it?

Because it’s who we are. Are we all going to be international best sellers? No. Are we all going to be media sensations? No. Are we all going to receive starred reviews that brim with confidence building phrases like “brilliant,” “perfect,” and Inspiring?” Well . . . no.

There is a little story of a man. God comes to this man and tells him to push against a boulder. Being obedient, every day the man goes and pushes against the same boulder. The devil comes along after a while and taunts the man. “Look how you do this every day,” the devil says. “But the boulder never moves. You’re wasting your time. You’re accomplishing nothing. You should stop.”

Frustrated, the man realizes the devil is right and he slumps down next to the boulder and starts to feel sorry for himself.

God comes back and asks why the man is feeling so sorry for himself. The man replies, “I did what you told me to do, but the boulder isn’t moved, not even a little. I haven’t accomplished anything.”

“How can you say you accomplished nothing?”

The man, feeling a little whiny and irritated that God is missing the point, says, “The boulder didn’t move!”

“I asked you to push against it that you would be made strong. Look how strong you’ve become. See how your muscles have developed? I told you to push with all your might; I didn’t ask you to move it.”

Sometimes I think writers push expecting mountains to move for us, when we should be thankful we are developing ourselves to be the best we can be. Nothing we write, whether published or not, whether acclaimed or not, is wasted. We flexed muscles and made ourselves stronger.  I’ve done a lot of editing for new writers over the last few months. I think most of them have made up voodoo dolls with my face and name on them because I have been decidedly honest in my edits. I hope they aren’t discouraged. I hope they push harder against the boulder, so that they grow as writers.

And if in the next little while I seem to be missing in action in the cyber world, it’s because I’m buried under stacks and stacks of edits and am slowly tunneling my way out.