Writing Tips

10 Reasons Why You Should Write that Book

1. It engages your brain. How easy it is to sit and let others entertain you. If you’re like me, you want to sit on the couch and take the easy way out of writing: watch a movie or hours of reality TV. Because mama is tired. She’s so tired of the idiots fighting, the long hours, and oh me, I just need a break. I’m not saying that these are wrong, but they can keep you from getting back in the chair. So, let’s put down the Snickers and say, “Extended breaks and self-care are good. But it’s time to put my creative genius to work.” Hop to it!

2. Why not expound on your favorite topic? I really love cake. Someday, I’ll write a story about cake, but until then, I love reading about cake! May the gods bless cookbook authors and the chefs creating desserts on TV. I also love knitting, astronomy, jewelry, celebrities, romance, cooking shows, and serial killers–maybe even in the same story. I know exactly where to turn to get my fix: a writer like you. Show us readers something delicious–and dangerous!

3. That life is too short thing. My grandparents told me that watching TV was worthless. That said, they clocked at least four hours daily of Wild Kingdom, nightly news (aka The Murder Show), The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Search for Tomorrow (aka Search). At the end of the road, you may have a better story to tell than the ones parading in front of you. Think about it.

4. Don’t we have enough short form outrage right now? You know what I’m talking about. Believe me, I’m there, too. Twit/Face/Inst (short form) eats up whole days, months, and the more informed I am, the stupider I feel. Social media has a hold on me and I need to be plugged in at all times. There are so many better words we could be writing. Take your life back, writers!

5. If you’re reading this, you might identify yourself as a writer. I caught you red-handed! Don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret for now. In the meantime, show me I’m right and get yourself in that chair. I hear Nanowrimo is next week (wink wink). So, sure, you have your day job or whatever, but you’re a writer. You’re a writer. Say it over and over again, then stop and write. 

6. Writing a book is an actual accomplishment. It’s one of those empirical beliefs that finishing a book is a big deal. Not many people can write a book. But you can. Maybe you have. Or you just feel strongly that you can. Write one page, then another, etc… Eventually, if you keep pushing, you will get to the end. There will be MANY DISTRACTIONS. It’s okay because you’ve got support and talent and persistence in your DNA. Do the work and get to the end.

7. Living vicariously can be a whole lot of fun. I don’t know about you but sometimes I like to pretend that I could be a moviestar–like completely overhaul my wardrobe and makeup situation and try to act! Or that I’m a psychic 32-year-old shopgirl who heals people. Or a sweet middle-aged manager who plots a murder, then actually goes through with it. This is when I shut out the real world and start tapping furiously on my computer. Am I right to think you have an awesome life/story/character that you like to dream about? 

8. Because a world without creativity, well, let’s not even go there. The more we scroll for that quick fix, the more our attention spans and imaginations die. What would our lives be like without books? I’d be sitting on the couch. Oh, and unemployed. Think about that. An existence without those great classics, those romances, those writers conferences. Can you feel the emptiness? The world needs you.

9. Don’t you have something to say? Everyone I’ve ever met has something to say, even (especially) those who pass under our radars. So many stories out there! You may be that quiet person who thinks she’s nothing special. Or the opposite. At each end of the spectrum and everywhere in between, you have an experience, an imagination, and a message.

10. You will change someone. It’s unrealistic to think that you don’t affect someone else’s life. If you’re a writer—and I suspect you are—you know which writers have changed you. If I hadn’t read Mario Puzo’s Fools Die, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here writing this. Reading Emile Zola helped me understand that I never wanted to live as a drunk in 19th Century Paris. And Penny Jordan’s romances helped me find a better path (and a way not to fail my history exam). Just think of the good you can do for someone by the story you have inside you. It’s time. Don’t you think?

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Writing Tips

Stand Out with Some Expertise

I’ll come out and say it. It’s not enough to be a wonderful person anymore–in life or in literature. I mean, it’s still great, but these days, a person, a character, even an idea needs to be grounded in some sort of knowledge or expertise. You can see the dearth of knowledge all over Twitter–lots of personality but often not much behind it other than arguing and a link*. It doesn’t take much to become a ten-minute phenomenon. This is why more and more, the way to stand out with a book and, I guess, as a person, is to put one’s nose to the grindstone, work, and keep learning.

This is why I love books. Books elucidate, inspire, and elevate. Sometimes, they can send you into dark territory. Though I must admit, I love that. If you want me to read on, scare me to bits.

With each book, at the very least, I expand my horizons, even if it’s a stinker. After twenty years of editing, I understand why certain books are bad or what is needed to fix them (often more editing). When I pick up a book, I think of the usual things: Who is the author? Why do people love this book? Why should I even read it? What will I discover? The plot might hook me at first, but the characters keep me going. I want to care about them as people. And these days, I want to know what they do–aside from being awesome characters who deserve love. What talents do they have? What keeps them from being blah?

This is where a writer needs to research and find a way to infuse the character with some kind of expertise. Maybe it’s an unexpected skill she acquires: the writer and the character in her story.

Here’s sort of an example of what I mean. Recently, I was asked to give a talk on overseas marketing. Do I know anything about this? No. In fact, I’d say I was the worst person to send to do this. But after twenty-six years of standing in front of people, I could definitely fake it. I can talk to anyone now**, but faking a speech would be just lame.

The solution was simple: for me to seek out the experts in the marketing field and get a lot of help. It meant watching less news coverage of our imploding world and fewer Housewives gallivanting in the Hamptons. So much the better because the information turned out to be fascinating, like how we sell books to different territories and the surprises about what themes are successful and what aren’t. When you learn something new, your enthusiasm shows and your audience appreciates it.

The experience built my confidence. And now I can say interesting things to someone new.

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about expertise and how valuable it is to amass skills and information. It builds you as a person and, as a writer who researches myriad topics, your writing can’t help from benefit from this. When I read books, characters with skills win out over those who are bumps on a log. A heroine who is passionate about designing wedding dresses? Yes!  Especially winning is when the author does research and shows us in detail how the character creates her masterpieces. What about a medical examiner who has the truth about how a murder was committed? I’m so with her and want to understand science the way I didn’t bother to do in high school.

In romantic suspense, I learn a whole lot about law enforcement and how to hide one’s tracks (wear gloves, don’t leave hair behind). I also gravitate toward non-fiction to soak up new information, especially if about a skill/passion that I have (Joe Torre’s book on management, Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running). Then, there’s the book that shows off a writer’s research (Botany in Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things and gems and jewelry in Stoned by Aja Raden). Who knew I loved the plants I can’t help killing or that Japan created an empire of cultured pearls?  Not me!

In romance novels, you learn about the careers/backgrounds of two main characters (at least) and this brings the reader into a new world. I especially love books with military themes since that life is fascinating to me. I was speaking with an author recently who generally writes contemporary romance but loves to delve into historicals because the research is so much fun. Another author told me excitedly about her seminar with a forensic expert. I love writers and characters who know and can do things. They can perform surgeries, run ultra-marathons in bare feet, explore different time periods, serve in the military and write about it with knowledge and precision, just to name a few.

I get that it’s okay to read about a lovable person, too.

It helps us get in touch with the lovability in all of us. But it’s even more fun to become engrossed in someone whose pursuits may not always be inward focused. Your character is an investment for the reader. Do you want to read about someone who languishes on the couch and is generally nice? Or do you want to read about someone who is multi-faceted.

It is the difference between having a conversation with someone who talks about their feelings and someone who discusses their feelings and maybe also understand how a diamond goes from being carbon to rising to the earth’s crust.

For me, a story succeeds if your protagonist is more than just charming or a survivor of hardship. We all endure so much. Of course, a writer can bring out the unique elements of a universal experience. But it’s even more powerful if the main character has a gift of some kind: wacky intelligence, medical expertise, a legal mind, artistic genius, leadership, a caring nature that transforms others, deep knowledge of…something cool. This is more parallel to real life where we are all carrying around gifts in abundance.

*Did I mention I have a Twitter addiction and am endlessly scrolling and reading what everyone says. I really shouldn’t speak.

**Except for celebrities.