New Year’s Resolutions—2018

Happy New Year’s Eve! It’s been a couple years since I’ve made official New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m inspired to make some goals for the next 365 days. These are goals I hope to accomplish and principles I’ll aspire to abide by, but no pressure and no punishment for failure will be administered.

I hope to complete one novel and make significant progress on another (at minimum). I also want to continue to hone my craft so that each book is better than the last.

I plan to experiment more with cooking. Stomach issues have basically changed my life and made it really frustrating for me to go out to eat—one of my favorite pastimes. I aim to continue to learn more about what ingredients and combinations of food will/won’t trigger discomfort so that eating in restaurants will be fun again. I’d also like to broaden my menu at home. I’ve never enjoyed cooking—eating is much more my style—but I’m proud of how far I’ve come already. Maybe I’ll even host a dinner party in 2018 (but probably not…)

I will attend as many “writerly” events as possible, whether it be book signings, author panels, writers’ conferences, happy hours, etc. I enjoy spending time with other writers so much, so why not do it as often as possible? First up, my annual trip to California with my writing tribe is in less than two weeks!

I vow to nurture my friendships with those people who make me happy, accept me for who I am, and truly add joy to my life. I want the most important people in my life to know how much I love them and am there for them, and I am grateful to have friends and family who are there for me as well.

I do not want to waste time on relationships that require me to work too hard, walk on eggshells, or second-guess my own value/worth.

I will try to let go of the past, meaning I will hold hard to the good memories and try to learn from my mistakes, but also realize that change is inevitable and often meant to be.

I aim to truly open myself up to the possibility of meeting someone to share/spend my life with.

I plan to appreciate the quality time I spend with my family, my parents in particular.

I hope to stress the small stuff a lot less. I am definitely getting better at this one. I think it might be related to my entrance into middle age. Some things do get better with age, and letting go of needless worrying is one of them!

And there you have them. Wish me luck!

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions? If so, feel free to share some of them in the comments.

 

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Reading for research

Until recently, I thought of reading as strictly for entertainment value. I’m a self-proclaimed book nerd. I love getting lost in stories, and use every available moment, even while on a street corner waiting to meet a friend, to power up my Kindle. I read on the subway, in line at the grocery store, while blow drying my hair. My friends have been known to mock me over it (out of love, course).

Over the last couple years, I’ve discovered that reading is not only fun, but educational. Studying great writers and noting what works so well in their novels motivates me to up my own game. I’ve recently started writing a new book—the first in what I hope will be a three-book standalone series. This book will focus more on the romance aspect than my others, but I intend for it to be funny—very funny. I’m counting on inspiration from some masters of true romantic comedy to keep me on my path. In that vein, I’ve stocked my Kindle with some of the best and will be reading back-to-back romantic comedies beginning…now!

Some authors don’t like to read books in the same genre they write, but I’m the opposite. Some of these authors write books with a little more steam (read: sex) than what I have planned. Some of the romances are a bit mushier than my style of writing. I don’t plan to change my own writing style/voice, but I do hope the funniest of the bunch will remind me not to waste even a line of dialogue or opportunity for conflict, the deepest of the crew will serve as a lesson to add depth to my couples’ connection, and the quirkiest of them will implore me to keep my voice and characters as distinctive as possible. By reading these authors, I will work harder to be funnier, to create fleshed out characters, and to make sure my couples have the chemistry required to keep readers turning the pages of my book just as I am flipping the pages of theirs.

Curious what books are on my TBR for the coming months. Here you go:

MY ONE AND ONLY – Kristan Higgins (Just Finished. LOVED.)

SUNSET IN CENTRAL PARK – Sarah Morgan

GOOD AT GAMES – Jill Mansell

UNTIL THERE WAS YOU – Kristan Higgins

MEET ME AT BEACHCOMBER BAY – Jill Mansell

NEW YORK, ACTUALLY – Sarah Morgan

YOU AND ME ALWAYS – Jill Mansell

AT THE HEART OF IT – Tawna Fenkse

BET ME – Jennifer Crusie

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE – Rachel Gibson

TRUST ME ON THIS – Jennifer Crusie

HOLIDAY IN THE HAMPTONS – Sarah Morgan

IRRESISTIBLE – Stephanie Bond

HOW I MET YOUR BROTHER – Janette Rallison

DAISY’S BACK IN TOWN – Rachel Gibson

NOTHING BUT TROUBLE – Rachel Gibson

AN EX FOR CHRISTMAS – Lauren Layne

DATING YOU, HATING YOU – Christina Lauren

HEAD OVER HEELS – Jill Mansell

TRUTH OR BEARD – Penny Reid

You’ve probably noticed several repeat authors. This is because they are tried-and-true masters of romantic comedy fiction and if I’m going to learn, I want it to be from the best. True confession: I’ve never actually read anything by Rachel Gibson, Christina Lauren, Lauren Lane, Janette Rallison, Stephanie Bond, or Tawne Fenske, but I’ve heard enough positive feedback to trust I will love them as much as I adore the others on the list.

But enough about me. Who are your go-to authors when you want a romantic yet hilarious story?

Advice I’d give to my college-aged self

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: “Youth is wasted on the young.” I often wish I could go back to my days as a college student at Suny Albany with the knowledge I have now and live those four years again. But what would I do differently?

Major

What I’d change: I didn’t discover my passion for writing until I was in my thirties. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” but it wasn’t a writer. I majored in criminal justice with a minor in sociology. Armed with the knowledge I have now, I’d go back and major in English with a minor in communications or journalism.

Why I wouldn’t: My interest in the law resulted in my career as a paralegal. Even though it’s not my passion, I am financially secure because of it. I’m extremely grateful for that. My day job at a law firm also brought people into my life I’d otherwise never have met, in particular my late boss, Alan. Over the course of eighteen years, Alan became my best friend, confidante, mentor, cheerleader, therapist, and comic relief. The thought of beginning my writing career right out of college and never experiencing a friendship I consider one of my greatest accomplishments makes my heart hurt. If given the chance to go back, I’d still sit through lectures in criminal justice if only to ensure I’d meet Alan again.

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My late, great best friend and boss of almost two-decades. I miss him every day!

Work
What I’d change: I didn’t come from a wealthy family. Most of my college tuition was paid for with financial aid. (For a lot of people, student loan debt is a big issue. Refinancing your student loans through a company like Earnest can be a great resource for graduates who didn’t get as much financial aid. Check out more information here.) I also worked summers as a camp counselor and was fortunate to have a small allowance from my grandmother for my spending money during the school year. Despite having to stretch every dollar as far as I could, it never occurred to me to get a job during the year. I wasn’t prepared to balance my school work, my social life, and a part-time job. In hindsight, I don’t know how I didn’t starve. Two of my roommates had jobs at the campus bookstore. If I went back in time, I’d try to get a job there, as well. I could spend hours at a bookstore. To get paid would be the chocolate sprinkles on my ice cream cone!

Why I wouldn’t: The fact that my impoverished self was able to manage financially without a job is something of a miracle. The post-graduate version has been working continuously since she was twenty-three, and retirement is about two decades away. Knowing there would be forty-plus years of work in my future, I’d probably skip the job again and enjoy the freedom while I had a chance!

Romance:

What I’d change: I never considered using college to get my M.R.S., i.e. to find a husband. I was way too young to think of getting married. I didn’t even have serious relationships in college. I’ve had them since, but none of them have led to marriage. I often wish I had spent less time partying in college and more time making meaningful connections with the opposite sex. Maybe I’d be married now with a house full of children (or an empty nester by now). If I could go back, I’d be more aware of how much harder it becomes to meet attractive, interesting, smart, kind, and available men as you get older.

Why I wouldn’t: While I sometimes give myself a hard time over the romantic choices I made in my younger days to explain my single status today, if I fell in love at university, I doubt we’d still be a good match today. I’ve changed so much since college—my priorities, interests, etc. I don’t think I was ready back then. Besides, I spent those years making countless memories with my four best girlfriends—Jesse, Laurie, Christine, and Gina. We’re still friends today, and I wouldn’t give up any of my time with them.

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In closing, I’ve shocked myself with this post because I’ve realized that if given the chance to go back to college, I probably wouldn’t do things much differently the second time around. For sure, I’d drink a little less, study a bit more, have more confidence in myself, and not worry about the minutiae. But it’s comforting to discover that the eighteen-to-twenty-two year old version of Meredith Schorr would make the forty-something version very proud simply by following her heart.

news from my editing cave

I’ve once again been lazy with my blogging, but I assure you I haven’t been lazy in general. I’ve been editing like a mad woman. I told an author friend how exhausted I was after revising three books in a row and she said that editing is so draining, it’s like being hit by a truck. Make it three trucks in my case. I’m not complaining though. Well, I’m grumbling about the exhaustion, but not what caused it.

So far, I’ve completed edits of Blogger Girl, Novelista Girl, and A State of Jane. I started How Do You Know? yesterday and Just Friends With Benefits with be last. If my books were days of the work week, it would be Thursday. Thursday morning, but Thursday all the same. I’m over the hump :).

For those of you who have read the books already, Blogger Girl and Novelista Girl are still the same novels post-edit as they were pre-edit but with more drama and development. Much of the drama revolves around antagonist Daneen and much of the development centers around Kim’s relationship with Nicholas. If you were fans of the series before, I’m positive you’ll still love it now. I consider the edits more enhancements than changes.

The modifications to A State of Jane are more significant. I changed A LOT while keeping the general story the same. I won’t spoil anything, but I can tell you that I removed the epilogue, added several new scenes, deleted a few that we didn’t feel moved the story forward, and tweaked almost all of the others. Jane is still “Jane” but a somewhat softer version of the original. I am so proud of the new and improved version and I adore my editor for knowing exactly what my second novel needed to truly make it shine.

As I head back into my editing cave, I keep my eyes focused on the end goal: a full-body massage, a bottle of champagne, a fattening steak dinner, and an expensive hair smoothing treatment, not necessarily in that order (the champagne will be first). Joking aside, I’ve always put my best effort into all steps of writing and marketing my books, but I’ve never been pushed this hard and I’m so grateful for Henery Press for inviting me into the Hen House and helping me turn stories that were very well received in their original conditions into even better versions of themselves. That, my friends, is the real end goal.

because I’m “middle aged”

I dreaded turning forty and the unofficial entrance into “middle age.” I think I started worrying about it around thirty-seven and remember going to bed on my thirty-ninth birthday vowing to take advantage of the next three hundred and sixty five days of my thirties. I’m not sure I really did. Honestly, there is only so much “taking advantage” one can do when they work a full-time job, have professional and personal responsibilities, and the days just go by so fast. I lived the year as best as I could. I enjoyed the good times, got through the bad ones, had fun, worked hard, traveled, paid my bills, blah, blah, blah. I handled my fortieth birthday well, but I will admit to anyone who asks that it was mainly because I was dating someone and hoped he would be “The One.”  My biggest fear was turning forty and being unattached romantically. Kind of shallow, I know. But it is what it is and I’m grateful for the timing of that relationship :).

It’s been a few years and I still struggle with aging often. A lot of it is because of how media makes women “of a certain age” feel irrelevant. I don’t want to feel that way, but I’m easily swayed, at least if I’m already feeling down about something. At the same time, I’m beginning to accept the whole “middle age” thing. I’m certainly at the beginning of it so that’s good, right? And, really, all it means to be “middle aged” is to not be “young” and not be “old.”

I’m even able to embrace some aspects of “middle age.” Sure, I have to go to more doctors for prevention than I used to, cover my greys more often than I did a decade ago, if I didn’t exercise regularly, it’s quite possible my slowing metabolism would not bode well for my stomach and thighs, and there is a group of men out there who might not consider me good on paper merely because of the year I was born (even men born five years earlier than me). But I’m not yet at the age where I need to get a colonoscopy (cheers!), I’m not even close to being fully grey, I don’t have many wrinkles yet, my shape is more or less the same as it was in my thirties, and any man who will only date younger women or who would dismiss me based on being over 40 is not a man I would want anyway.

I also see the world in a different way than I did in my twenties and thirties.

Because I’m “middle aged” and not “young,”  I’m able to appreciate how I look now knowing I’m going to keep changing. Even ten years ago, I’d probably take it for granted.

I’m also able to understand that if a man wouldn’t “swipe right” solely based on my age, it’s about his ego and I don’t let it shatter my own. I’m not so sure I’d have been so strong in this conviction even a few years ago.

Because I’m “middle aged” instead of “young,”  I’ve been around long enough to make mistakes, to recognize that they were mistakes, and to acknowledge that they were my fault. Although looking back often makes me want to turn back time and get a do-over (it really does), it also helps me from making the same mistakes in the future. I hope I get the opportunity to use these lessons while I’m still middle aged and not old.

Because I’m “middle aged” and not “young,” I’ve seen a lot of people get sick and die. I hate this fact of getting older, but it also keeps me from taking the people in this world I love for granted.

Rather than look back and lament the ending of my “youth,” why not appreciate all the things I can still do now that I might not be able to do when I’m “old?” For example, today I run upwards of twenty miles a week. Who knows if I’ll be able to do this in a couple of decades?  I hold down a full-time job and just signed a seven-book publishing deal because my brain is intact and I’m healthy. This can change at any minute and I’m “middle” enough to know that. Today, I can go out with my girlfriends and still get hit on by men (“boys”)  in their twenties. I doubt this will happen when I’m in my seventies. God willing, I still have plenty of life in me and opportunities coming my way to make my life a great one.

A big pet peeve of mine of late is when people in my age group refer to themselves (and me by association) as “old.” We’re not old. We’re in the middle! And it’s a pretty great place to be. Let’s enjoy it before we’re old!

Editing (again)

In my last post, I announced that my five chick lit novels were picked up for republication by Henery Press, along with two future ones. I didn’t go into details about what would happen next, specifically editing. Several people were surprised that my new publisher wanted to edit five books that had previously sold well and received predominantly positive reviews, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. In fact, I would be wary of a publisher who re-released the books without first doing more quality control and making their mark—in my opinion editing is part of a good publisher’s job and a major way they earn their share of the royalties. While I love the stories I’ve created, including the characters, the troubles they get into, and their happy-ever-afters, there is always room for improvement at the hands of another skilled editor. I’ve also honed my own writing ability significantly since penning my first novels, and welcome the unexpected opportunity to make tweaks.

In truth, I’m both anxious and intimidated by the volume of revisions in my future. One of my concerns in signing with a new publisher was being asked to alter the original story lines or character’s personalities in a major way, but I was assured this was not the case and that all changes would involve developing and strengthening the novels. I’ve already received the revisions for Blogger Girl and spent most of the weekend and this afternoon working on them. My new editor, Erin, is fantastic. Existing fans of Blogger Girl might want to read the new version for some bonus scenes, including additional development of Kim and Nicholas’s relationship and more ammunition for Kim’s hatred of condescending Daneen. I had fun writing this new material and reacquainting myself with the characters.

Once I finish Blogger Girl, I’ll take a week off to work on my new book—editing is exhausting and I need a break in between books if time allows. After that, I’ll begin the edits of Novelista Girl, take another short break to make progress on my work-in-progress (again, if I have time), edit one of the standalones, work on the new book, and the cycle will continue until I’ve completed all five. The edits themselves will be hard, but equally challenging will be fitting them into my already busy life. I’m trying to focus on the end result: an even better product that will hopefully get into the hands of many more readers.

Are you tired yet? I am!

If you’ve read my books, how do you feel about these impending changes? Are you excited? Worried? If you’re an author, how would you feel about revising a previously published book for a new publisher? Would you embrace edits, like me, or would you prefer to leave well enough alone?

What are you afraid of?

 

THE ENEMY IS FEAR. WE THINK IT'S HATE; BUT, IT IS FEAR.GHANDI

I was pretty fearless when I was younger. I went on all of the roller coasters, even the ones that went upside down! I would try almost any food and, according to my mother, liked just about everything. I auditioned for (and landed) roles in school and camp plays. I collected caterpillars and let them crawl up my arm. I went to summer camp not knowing a soul and came out with great friends. At nine years old, I had a crush on a boy in camp and so did another girl in my group. Despite rumors that the boy liked my campmate, I expressed my interest and it turned out the boy liked me back! My first boyfriend 🙂 Basically, I was up for any challenge. There were a few exceptions. I went through a weird stage where I adopted other people’s fears as my own, and I spent a couple of months terrified of bridges. I stole the fear from Jennifer Davidson during our sixth grade trip to Washington D.C. and my mom still brings it up on occasion. But for the most part, fear wasn’t really part of my vocabulary.

As I hit my teens, I was not quite so courageous. I stopped going on the roller coasters for a few years, became too self-conscious to follow my passion for acting, and was too afraid of what other people might think of me to express my true feelings or stand up for myself.

I’ve never recovered my bravery toward performing in public aside from Karaoke in groups, but I’m back to going on the “scary” rides (except for the REALLY frightening ones), learning to embrace speaking in public (kind of a necessity as an author), and I definitely do not cower away from defending myself when necessary. I care what some people think of me, but only the people whose opinions I actually respect. In short, I’m no longer afraid to be myself.

But I’m still afraid of a lot of things. For example:

My mother dying – She’s healthy, knock wood, and not exactly ancient, but whenever I think about it, I start to cry. I even had a panic attack in the shower the other morning. (I know you’re reading this, Mommy, and I’m sorry I brought it up. I love you and wish you the happiest of birthdays!!)

My sister dying – Apologies for the morbid trend here. I don’t worry about this on a regular basis at all, but when I do, it’s a doozy. I can’t imagine my life without her in it.

Driving – I had my driver’s license back in the day—only took me three tests—but I let it expire by accident. I was never comfortable behind the wheel and haven’t done it in close to twenty years. I probably should take lessons again, but I don’t want to. I have chronic nightmares about being behind the wheel and losing control.

Living without Alan – I’m panic-stricken over being forced to go my entire life without ever seeing, speaking to, or hugging my best friend/boss/mentor/cheerleader/shrink outside of my dreams. I miss him so much, it physically aches, so I can still only think short term—today, tomorrow, or the next day.

Never meeting “The One” – I’ve always assumed when the timing was (finally) right, I’d meet “The One” for the long haul at last—the man I want to spend the rest of my life with who feels the same way about me—but between the wrong guys and the unavailable ones, it’s like searching for cellphone service in 1979.

Meeting “The One” – As much as I want to commit fully to someone, I’m terrified I’ll feel smothered or find it difficult to balance the freedom and lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed with my new coupled life. I hope giving up some independence will be worth it for the right person.

Losing my ability to write – Whenever I’m going through a tough time, writing makes me feel better. It’s really the one thing I can do that is guaranteed to wash away stress from my “real life.” I don’t know what I would do if something happened that prevented me from writing. What if I went blind or suffered from permanent writer’s block, or some other brain malfunction?

Cancer – Getting it, my family getting, my friends getting it.

Getting old – I’d much prefer aging to the alternative, but I dread the aging process—wrinkly skin, sagging neck, losing muscle tone despite working out five-six times a week, inability to stand up straight, people treating me like I’m a non-entity or a sweet old lady, losing my faculties. My grandmother told me after the age of twenty, life moves really fast and she was so right. Although every Monday, I wish Friday will come quickly, I don’t want life to pass me by!

Becoming invisible to the opposite sex – I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy attention from men. I like being flirted with and checked out. I don’t know if I will ever get to a point where I don’t care what I look like or whether others find me attractive and so the aging process (see above) scares me.

Dying – I don’t want to! Maybe if I knew what happened after we left the physical world, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Experiences I’ve had in the last year have convinced me that there is something else, but I don’t know what it is and hope not to find out for a long, long time.

Those are the major things on my list. What are you most afraid of?

 

Jealousy

When I told a close author friend recently how much I hoped all the hard work she was putting into revising her suspense novel would result in a sale to a prestigious publisher, a lucrative advance, and a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, she expressed how much it meant to her that my wishes for her success were genuine because it was evidence of how much I truly loved her. This introduced a discussion about other authors who are not always as supportive because they are too jealous or bitter about their own journeys to embrace another writer’s success. While I am always happy for and supportive of my fellow authors, I admit it is sometimes too easy to compare their success to my own and come out lacking.

I’m friends with several authors on Facebook whose newest books were released this month by traditional New York City publishers to serious fanfare. The authors’ readings at local bookstores were packed with fans clamoring for a signed copy as well as other impressive guests such as well-known local authors, editors, publicists, etc. Reviews of their books were written up in popular magazines and newspapers, and their first week Amazon rankings hit bestseller lists in both ebook and print formats. As thrilled as I was for these authors, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy as I compared these releases with the publication of own last novel which did well by my own standards, but compared to the likes of these other novelists, not so much.

I confided my inferiority complex to a non-author friend who responded with these words of wisdom, paraphrased for the purposes of this blog: she assured me that I was every bit as much of an author as these writers regardless of the level of success achieved thus far. And she reminded me that no matter how many books I sold or how famous I might become, there would always be authors who were both more successful and less successful than I, and all I could do was keep writing. And she was right. In fact, several of my author friends have told me they wished they sold as many books as I did. One went as far as to say she wanted to be me when she grew up. The statement made me laugh, but it goes to show that the measure of success depends on the person doing the measuring.

I can’t say I won’t continue to experience pangs of jealousy from time to time, but I hope these feelings will inspire me to keep honing my writing skills so that each book I put out is better than the next. It’s unfortunate that some people, in any field, prefer to surround themselves only with people to whom they can feel superior. To the contrary, I love having role models I can look up to and learn from. And lucky for me, I have so many successful writer friends who are so very generous with their knowledge.

How do you turn potentially unhealthy feelings of inferiority into something constructive?

so good, they make me better

As I was reading The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell, I felt a sense of dread. I didn’t fear the fate of the characters because, even though the author put them in several formidable and embarrassing situations, I’m a fan of conflict and was confident she’d resolve everything to my satisfaction in good time. And it was also not because the plot was awful, the characters undeveloped, the pacing slow, or the dialogue stilted—exactly the opposite. The sense of alarm was a result of reading a fabulous book by an adept storyteller who, as far as I was concerned, did everything right. As an author, too, all I could think about was my own work in progress and how it was all wrong. Not all wrong, but not quite where it should be or where I wanted it to be. I spent the weekend modeling myself after Mansell—not imitating her style, copying her plot, or anything quite so nefarious, but spicing up the dialogue (Mansell is a master of dialogue), beefing up the humor, cutting out extra words, and fleshing out the characters as I’m sure she did painstakingly while writing The One You Really Love. I’m only on the first draft and my projects always improve with each revision, but even at this early stage, I know it is better and I owe it to Jill Mansell.

Theoneyoureallywant

This exercise got me thinking about other consummate authors who have unknowingly helped my writing.

 

For instance, Emily Giffin has taught me that even in light women’s fiction, characters don’t have to be all good or all bad. The main character, Rachel, in Giffin’s debut novel , Something Borrowed, managed to be likeable even while coveting (and sleeping with) her best friend’s fiancé. Giffin wrote the character in such a way that the reader experienced Rachel’s conflict right along with her. Rachel had loved Dex long before she basically threw him in Darcy’s lap. Giffin did the same thing with Ellen in Love The One You’re With (my favorite of her books). Ellen’s happily married to Andy, but is still drawn to Leo, the first man she truly loved (the one who broke her heart and whom she never quite forgot) when he comes back in the picture. Giffin does not encourage infidelity in the novel, but she creates a character many can relate to even if they are too ashamed to admit it. Ellen is human, not evil. Giffin strikes this human/flawed/likable balance with each and every novel she writes and it’s something I’ve kept in mind when writing my own novels where, as anyone who has read them knows, the characters are not perfect. Most specifically, my character Maggie in How Do You Know?  is in love with her long-term boyfriend Doug, but has her doubts he’s the one and desires time to figure things out before she makes a lifelong decision that will affect both of their lives. Maggie isn’t uncertain because she’s a selfish person, but because she can’t help it. Most human beings can’t control where their heart goes and I (along with Emily Giffin) don’t think fictional characters should have to either.

lovetheone

 

Another author I admire for her craft is Rainbow Rowell, who I consider to be my biggest author crush. I adore everything about Rainbow’s novels, from the quirkiness of her characters, to the swoony-worthy yet innocent romantic elements in her books, to the original worlds she creates. What stands out to me the most are the interactions between her characters, especially the ones who are romantically involved or at least want to be. Rowell has such a unique way of describing how the characters feel about each other, and it always feels very personal and intimate to me as a reader. In Landline, for instance, main character Georgie has this to say about her husband, Neal, in the first one percent of the novel: “When Neal smiled, he had dimples like parenthesis—stubbly parentheses. Georgie wanted to pull him over the breakfast bar and nose at his cheeks. That was her standard response to Neal smiling.” Reading that description, I knew instantly that Georgie loved Neal without being told. The characteristics that Georgie loves about Neal are very particular to him. Georgie loves Neal’s ears. Ears that were “a little too big, and they poked out at the top like wings. Georgie liked to hold his head by his ears. When he’d let her.” This description is specific to Neal and only Neal as opposed to a trait which could be used to describe just about anyone— he had beautiful eyes, full lips, a great butt, etc. Because it is so particular, it makes me believe the love Georgie feels for Neal runs deep. Rainbow Rowell does this consistently in her books and I love it! I squealed with delight when one of the teenage beta readers for my upcoming young adult novel, Kim vs. The Mean Girl, compared my book to Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. I can’t bring myself to agree, but this blog post has inspired me to be mindful to dig deep like Rainbow does.

landline

I’m sure there are others, but these three authors are currently at the top of my author-inspiration list. What about you? Whatever the activity, who inspires you to be better?

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-apr-2016

 

Why I love constructive criticism?

Can you -show- not -tell- her

 

Criticism is most often thought of as a negative. Who wants to hear that their outfit is unflattering, their singing voice is out of tune, they lack rhythm when they dance, are a horrible kisser—that in sum, they suck? As a person, I much prefer compliments to insults, and I really don’t like when people provide unsolicited opinions, especially when they are unfavorable. But there is a difference between flat-out insulting someone and offering them constructive criticism—insulting someone most often serves no purpose but to make the person who delivers the jab feel good, but constructive criticism is usually delivered with the hope and intention of helping someone get better at whatever it is they are doing.

I don’t like insults, but as a writer, I have learned to LOVE constructive criticism, so much so that I seek it out from people I know won’t hold back. It stings to receive negative reviews of my published novels, but I have learned to embrace negative feedback for my drafts. I didn’t always have such a lovefest with constructive criticism. I took it in stride and learned from it, but I credit loving it to one of my author friends who, when she asks me (or anyone) to provide feedback, she asks us to rip it apart and she means it. She never gets offended or hurt by it and, to the contrary, is excited about the hours or days of revising ahead of her because it means her finished product is going to be even better for it. At the end of the day, we all want to write a top-notch book and sometimes it takes (more than) a few tries to achieve it.

When I hand a manuscript off to my beta readers  and later my developmental editor, there is a small part of me that hopes they’ll come back and say, “This is perfect. It’s the best book I’ve ever read. Don’t change a thing.” But the fact that I choose extremely critical beta readers and ask them to be completely honest with me belies that desire. I know these readers will spot things in the manuscript that, as the author, I can’t see anymore because I’ve lost objectiveness or I’m too close to it, and they will bring all of them to my attention. They won’t stroke my ego for fear I won’t like them anymore. They point out pages where the story might drag. They might tell me that I’ve lost my characters voice on Page 43. They remind me that my character’s friends and families have lives too. They tell me when my character is being too bitchy even for her or when she’s uncharacteristically behaving like a doormat. My beta readers show me the places in the manuscript where I need to flesh out how a character is feeling or what is going on in the background. They remind me to use my five senses. What does it smell like on the school bus? Are they eating anything at the restaurant or just talking? They say, “Your characters blush too much” and “Stop using the word ‘beam’ so much!” “This character is supposed to be mean, she hasn’t really done anything to evidence that yet.” “This character seems kind of crazy. Is that your intention?”

I seek out these comments before the book is published because I’d so much rather hear it when it can still be fixed than after the book is up on various platforms, and readers are writing reviews that say “The characters blush too much,” “The story dragged in the middle,” “The main character never thought about anyone except herself.” I don’t always agree with my beta reader’s comments and I trust my instincts, but I’ve learned to see the difference between not wanting to make a change because I’m lazy and tired and not wanting to make a change because I truly believe the novel is better off without it. But either way, I would rather know how readers might react and be given the opportunity to fix things rather than be blindsided by a bunch of reviews that say the things my beta readers and editor were too bashful or afraid to bring to my attention.

In the same vain, I have a side business of conducting manuscript critiques for other authors and I am extremely critical in my work. I tell my potential clients this up front. I would never attack their work or provide feedback in a cruel manner, but they are paying me to help them write the best book they can and I can’t take their money without pointing out every potential weakness I find. What they do with it is up to them, but I like to assume other authors will want to hear everything negative a reader might say while they still have time to fix it.

One reason my later books have been stronger than my earlier books is because I have honed my writing skills and become a better writer, but another reason is that I have embraced negative feedback on my unfinished product and purposely relied on tough critics to tell it like it is.

And that, my friends, is why I love constructive criticism.