Posts Tagged ‘writing life’

My Top Writing Tips 2021

Photo by Anil Xavier on Unsplash

It’s almost winter, so here once again are my top 10 writing tips. Except different. Every year I post my latest distillation of best fiction strategies. Why do I change my mind from year to year? Because I’m still learning–often from great novels I read–or workshops. Life-long learning is one of the joys of the writing life. You can always tell a more compelling story!


Kay’s top ten, sure-fire, fiction writing tips:

1. Work harder on an original premise: The Napoleonic wars with air power from dragons; a murdered girl relates her story from heaven; forbidden love between a modern witch and a powerful vampire. Respect your ideas, but deepen them. Read More…

Turn, turn, turn

Stuff is changing. The world, politics, social media, entertainment, society . . . and publishing. Is this a good thing? Should I be scared? Become a survivalist? Buck up and keep slogging?

Maybe you haven’t sat alone with all the changes and asked yourself how you feel about change. Maybe you’re carrying around a weight of anxiety on that topic that is helped now and then by comfort TV and a glass of Chardonnay. But it’s always best to bring the truth into the light. This is our life, let’s look it in the eyes.

And the truth is that stuff is changing (turn, turn, turn) and change is stressful. To keep to the subject of publishing, consider how ebooks are transforming our choices. I think these changes are largely in the author’s favor, but it’s still change. Many of us over forty grew up with the idealized story of publishing success: being discovered by an editor who takes time to develop an author’s talent and shepherds books lovingly through the forest of books . . . paper books . . . sold in “real” bookstores. And so on, through all the descriptors of how publishing used to be.

Truth telling

One great resource for looking at the new world of publishing is here, from Ninc (Novelists Inc.), a great little free binder on what that new world is and the new choices we’re facing.

So, to answer my question in paragraph #1, of whether all this change is a good thing: It doesn’t matter. This is what the new world is like. Pining for the old ways is irrational and cranky and undermines of our creativity.

Oddly, many of us are behaving as though this is still the old world. We are still lavishing years of work on first (or current) novels without thought for how to market it or what readers expect in their relationships with books and how we will build a platform to establish our writing identity. We are still enrolling in creative writing programs taught by teachers who aren’t publishing and who turn out writers who aren’t working writers.

And we’re doing this while pretending to join the real world. We have a blog, a website, and a secret plan to e-publish our novel “if it doesn’t sell.” We’re in the game, we think. But in truth, we’re still grabbing at comfort.


Did you see the TV special about survivalists? The ones who believe that society will soon collapse due to various plots, global warming and pick-your-global-disaster? (Turn, turn, turn.)

This is probably an excessive response to change. (Ya think?) But there’s a parallel in publishing, and that’s deciding we don’t need an agent, and paper books are just killing trees anyway, and we’ll do it all ourselves. (It may be true that this approach works well for the highly established writer, or a rare innovator. Just not for most of us.)

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s not make things worse by having a fear response. Survivalists may have their AK47s and their stores of brown rice, and I realize they’re trying to be proactive, but they are afraid. Hell, maybe they’re right, but I don’t think so.

One of the best ways to survive the new world (of publishing) is to understand it. We need knowledge, and of course we need to spend time acquiring that knowledge.  As I’ve said before on this blog, there’s no excuse for not understanding the industry you plan on making your own. Start with the Ninc binder. Read the best author blogs. Vow this year to remove head from sand and take a good look around, without over-reacting.


That will take courage. Most people don’t think of the writing life as one that takes courage. It’s not like you’re a marine, after all. You write nice little stories and the most impressive conflicts you encounter are made up.

So it would seem. But there’s a reason your fellow writers call this “the trenches.” Staring at the page until the forehead bleeds. Sitting down to write even though you’ve just opened up another rejection from a publisher. Failing to ever sell to that one magazine. Watching “lesser” writers win prizes. The times when your publisher slaps a generic and awful cover on your book. Discovering that the life you wanted as an author actually vanished in about 1923.

This isn’t rising sea levels, but it’s challenging stuff. Because it can drive you out of the writing life. Or, if you’re not the quitting type, it can pile up and cause all sorts of anxiety, not to mention conspiracy theories and facial tics.

If you stay with the writing life for very long, you will experience these slings and arrows. The only question is, how will you handle them?

I’m not going to harangue you about not whining and complaining (try to keep a lid on that) but instead ask you to consider what your internal response is. Are you worrying or confronting? Worrying is a killer. It erodes our happiness and teaches us to be timid. Nor is it enough to keep working no matter what (although this is good and necessary.)

So how do we keep from worrying? How do we mentally confront obstacles?

  • Start with truth telling. Seeing the world as it is.
  • Avoid fearful judgments about whether the world is awful, going to hell, or unfair.  Decide to survive by gathering knowledge.
  • Finally, adopt an attitude of courage.

Whether we feel it or not, we act as if we are confidant. Not only act it, but think it. Train our minds to look at obstacles fearlessly. Whatever is happening right now is what is. (Turn, turn, turn.) Stop hating change and failure. The obstacle you see before you may provide a lesson. It may help us develop the right muscle. It may teach us the thing we most need to learn. It may give us a chance to show grace under pressure or even to find our true selves or our true story.

Life is a proving ground. Life itself is a school. I said in my blog What I Believe: “the writing life is the most rigorous program in the world for self-knowledge, inspiration and personal growth.” I meant it. How we react to the circumstances given us will hone our skills and bring us closer to perfection. That’s either true or life is really evil!

So we take a deep breath, throw our shoulders back, and grasp that little locket around our necks (if your find talismans helpful) and stare at the door that has just opened in front of us. There is a dragon guarding it. And it hates whiners.

Every time you feel worry encroaching, you take your AK47–I mean your most true statement of purpose–and calmly enunciate it. Preferably silently, so that your family won’t think you’re stranger than they already know you are. It might help to take that expression of doubt off your face. Smile. Breathe deeply. Walk through the door. Or just face the dragon and acknowledge him. He may be your teacher. Ugly, moldy breath and all. Sometimes wisdom comes from the muck.

This is an exciting time (turn, turn, turn.) Whether we see it as worse than yesterday, impenetrable, scary, unfair–or an opportunity for growth will determine if we last in this business.

Because, like I said. Stuff is changing.



Facing the Fear

This past weekend Chelsea Cain gave a little gem of a talk at Write on the River. Hers was an inspirational review of her climb to fame. She said that perhaps someone in the audience would have a million-dollar idea for a novel. Hearing her personal story, many of us left that auditorium feeling that we just might be the one to have the next big success.

Mining your life

One of the things Chelsea Cain did to find her million dollar story (Sweetheart, Heartsick, Evil at Heart) was to pay attention to the things she was afraid of. She talked about the Green River serial killer, and how she grew up knowing that death came to young women in horrible ways right here in the Pacific Northwest. She was able to mine her own childhood to find the emotional depth to tell her serial killer stories partly because she was always afraid of one. Read More…

Thing I wish I’d Known

This is an update to my post “Things I Wish I’d Known” from December 2008 (Live Journal). Every now and then my perspective changes on the subject of Why in hell I didn’t figure this stuff out earlier. Here are my latest thoughts on the subject:


It’s been twelve years since I published my first novel, The Seeds of Time. Since then, I’ve published nine novels and a bunch of short stories. Below are a few things I wish someone had told me when I began.

  • Not selling your first novel is no predictor of how you’ll do in the industry. Many first novels are trunk books. You can—and likely will—go on to successes if you keep writing.
  • Second novels are often undertaken in giddy recklessness. I’ve sold my first novel, the second one is bound to be lovely. Think very carefully about that second one. Read More…

On Flexibility

I’m heading to the gym in an hour, part of my quest to develop flexibility. You know you gotta have it, or your body gets soft and doesn’t work as well. But lately I’ve been thinking about how important it is to stay flexible in our writing lives.

Flexibility entails things like:

  • acknowledging the changes in publishing and adapting to them
  • practicing a variety of writing formats such as blogs, and out-of-genre pieces
  • learning deeper writing lessons such as structure and tone or whatever it is you’ve been winging all these years
  • abandoning romantic myths of the writing life Read More…