This week at Writing Through Brambles, we had a genuine conversation about our interactions with others. We recognized that our greatest writing blocks come from unresolved conflict. Our genuine successes come from others building us up in ways we can't do on our own. Stories that we share with our friends and family quickly become our favorites. In essence, writing is deeply connected to our interaction with humanity.
Sometimes we think that writing is closing a door and getting a word count in for the day. Yes, that's important, but if kept sterile and solitary--- writing dies. We NEED human interaction to inspire us and propel us forward. Otherwise we lose our flavor for life and it shows. Once we pass through the door of publication, it's absolutely necessary to rally others around you.
So, what kind of people do you need in your life? Who is going to help you achieve your dreams?
Here are some critical groups that I believe you should seek out as a writer.
Mothers are some of the most powerful people on the planet. They carry children within their own bodies for nine months and bring them into the world. They receive children they didn’t conceive into their homes and hearts with just as much love. They sacrifice. They teach by word and example, greatly influencing those in their care.
But mothers don’t often take a significant role in fiction. They sit on the sidelines, cheering on their children, and that’s only if they’re present in the first place. It’s as though society believes that once one becomes a parent they can no longer have adventures of their own, and no end goal to achieve. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Beyond Instinct is a collection of five short stories that show how mothers still have lessons to learn and stories to tell.
Each of the authors in the anthology included aspects they have seen in mothers in their own lives, or have experienced themselves. Read their responses below!
After wrapping up NaNoWriMo, you might be sitting on a brand new 50,000 words and wondering if this counts for anything. Are you an author now? Do you get to claim that title, or do you have to wait until you’ve reached publication? What if you didn’t complete NaNo, or if the book isn’t finished at 50k, or if it’s finished but pretty much SUCKS? Does that mean all your effort doesn’t count at all?
On the contrary, it counts for a good deal! Whether you wrote 10k or 60k or anything at all, words are words. Especially since you need to write at least a million words before you “become” an author.
A million words?
This concept is pretty widespread among writers, actually, as evidenced by the fact that no one can quite agree who first came up with such an arbitrary-sounding number.
You have David Eddings, fantasy author, who said:
“My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words - the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.”
Or, from science fiction author Jerry Pournelle:
“I’m sure it has been done with less, but you should be prepared to write and throw away a million words of finished material. By finished, I mean completed, done, ready to submit, and written as well as you know how at the time you wrote it. You may be ashamed of it later, but that’s another story.”
Alex Keegan is quoted earlier than the previous two as saying:
“It takes a minimum of three years’ full-time study or 7-10 years of part-time study to get a university degree. Becoming a writer is harder! I think it was Ray Bradbury who said we need to write at least a million words just ot make it to the foothills. Seems like a lot? Not really. 3,000 words a day for a year or 1,000 words a day for three years and you’re home free. What d’you mean it sounds tough? It IS tough!”
From Keegan’s quote we get that the most likely originator of the million words concept is Ray Bradbury, who said, simply:
“Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.”
That’s it. Super simple. A million of your best words and you’ll be a writer. Just do NaNoWriMo 20 times and you’re there.
It’s intimidating, isn’t it? The first time I heard this concept I almost wanted to give up, but writing was too much fun and the stories wouldn’t leave me alone. So I started. I drafted a single story several times over the course of seven years, completely re-writing it more than once in the process. I did NaNoWriMo once in high school and got over 30k. I pitched the finished story a few times but saw only rejections, so I started a new work, which took me three years to write and eventually became “Woven”.
In all of that writing, I calculated that I wrote just over a million words. I did it. I actually did it, and right before I published my first book. It was hard. I had a whole year in there where I hardly wrote at all. When I found my writing group, things got so much easier because of the support and accountability I had.
Do I believe you *must* write a million words before you get published? No. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. But neither do I think you should pick up the first thing you write and put it up on Amazon. I’ve read enough of those books to know that it does far more harm than good to your future career.
When you first publish, your author name, or pen name, becomes a brand. It’s critical that the brand you establish is quality, engaging stories that are worth reading. So, for the love of every amazing book out there, please revise, please hire an editor, and PLEASE put your best foot forward! Especially in today’s day of instant gratification self-publishing.
The opposite of this is also true. Please publish! Please be brave! If you have a story that you love, that you’ve revised and polished, that you’ve had others read and enjoy and that you’ve had professionally edited, publish it! Even if the industries you contact (agents and publishers) reject it, that doesn’t mean it’s not good, it’s just not what they’re looking for. You can build an entire career and a great income on things the industry isn’t looking for, and people have done it! You have to be willing to write and edit and market your pants off, and wear hats that most traditionally published authors don’t have to wear, but you’ll be published. You’ll have started.
The first step is the hardest, they say. In writing, that’s the equivalent of finishing a first draft. But I’ve found that the first step of each level is also the hardest. Starting the revision is hard. Staring at a page full of critiques and edits from an editor is hard. Getting proofreads back is hard. Hitting “publish” or “send” is hard every time. Doubt and insecurity can come like a plague that keeps you from moving forward, but it’s so worth it to overcome!
I’ve published two books and a short story (with a second short story coming out in the Beyond Instinct Anthology December 14th), I’ve written at least a million words, and I still suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Every time I meet or talk to another author, every time I compare what I’ve done to what someone else has done, every time someone gets double the wordcount I reach during NaNoWriMo or tells me they published 10 stories this year (and I *only* published three) that voice of doubt comes back.
Do you know the most effective antidote for Imposter Syndrome?
Turn your focus back to yourself and your own goals. It’s all right to have a critical eye or a new perspective as you get back to work. Maybe publishing 10 books next year is the kind of reasonable goal for your life that would push you into the next level of success that you’re seeking. Or maybe it’s just finishing the manuscript you have and submitting queries to publishers. Wherever you are in your writing journey, it’s best not to focus too long on what others are doing. It wastes valuable time that could be spent writing or editing and reaching the level of success that you’re aiming for.
So, wherever you are right now, whether it’s working on your first 50k or starting your next million, I just want to say this: you’re an author. Claim that title now and keep working to earn it. If it makes you feel better to say you’re “pre-published”, say that. But claim the title! As long as you’re making an effort to reach the next milestone for you, you’re an author.
Have you written your first million words? What do you think of the million words concept? Comment below, I want to hear from you!
Just over a year ago now, Rachel Huffmire came to writing group and said, “I have an idea, and I want it completed by February 2018.” Start to finish, drafted and edited, her goal was to pitch this story to an agent at LTUE, a large writing conference held in Provo, Utah every year. Fast-forward and Rachel not only accomplished her goal, but found her story a home at Immortal Works. The idea that became Shattered Snow will be making its way into the world on January 9, 2019
Exploring the space where Time Travel and Fairytale meets, Shattered Snow is about Keltson Grammar, a man who willingly breaks the “Observation Only” law restricting time travel in 2069 so he can orchestrate the rescue of the under-looked and the unfortunate. He hides his identity under the guise of a white-masked face in a mirror, never revealing to his clients or their rescues who he is. But when his mission catches the eye of Lillia, a woman who wants to escape her present more than anything, and consequently sucks in Margaretha, a young countess who is destined to die, his vigilante empire and his identity may just come crashing down.
Rachel’s novel is rich with historical details, utilizing them to both trap and uplift the characters inside. She has created a time travel experience that is fresh and enchanting. If you have ever wanted to time travel, this story will scratch the itch. If you have stuck up your nose at time travel in the past, this may have you re-thinking your prejudices.
One of my favorite parts of the novel are the chapter headings- documents, historical or otherwise that give you a glimpse into the depth of the consequences at hand. These are so well written that even those documents dated for 2069 read as if they are 100% real.
But the true page-turners of Rachel Huffmire’s novel are the characters. Without a hard eye on good and evil that exists in most fairytales, Rachel is able to build up even the villain as someone we want to succeed, though we know it would mean disaster. If there were ever a batch of characters I wished could get their happy ever after, these three would be it.
Until this books can make it into your hands, I’m bringing on Rachel to talk about the creation of Shattered Snow- the way the process has made her grow, the way she developed an intriguing spin on time travel, and the inside scoop on the characters that drive the story.
Amanda Hakes: Both historical fiction and science fiction takes an immense amount of research. Now, you have combined the two! Being the fantastic researcher you are, I know you’ve delved into all kinds of sources to get deep into the subject you're writing about. What are some of your favorite things you learned while researching for Shattered Snow?
Rachel Huffmire: I absolutely loved researching for Shattered Snow. Time travel is a perfect ingredient for the Snow White’s story... and plenty other fairy tales for that matter. Bringing in real-life historical facts was important to me, so I scoured the internet and library for any information I could get my hands on.
One of my favorite things I learned was about Margaretha von Waldeck and how she was likely the inspiration for the Grimm Tale. Getting to know a real person’s story brought the character to life. I took virtual tours of the castle she grew up in, read German research papers about her tie to the Grimms fairy tale, found oil paintings that still hang in the Waldeck Castle, studied her family tree, meandered through the forest around her home via google street view, learned about her religion, and everything else I could! The internet is an amazing resource.
I also conducted plenty of research on the time period. I was constantly faced with questions like “Would Lilia use a doorknob to exit a room? Could she lock the door?” As tedious as it might sound to stop and research doorknobs for fifteen minutes in order to get one small detail right, it was genuinely entertaining. Did you know that doorknobs weren’t patented until 1878 by a Mr. Dorsey? Tell me that’s not ironic.
Even after the work I put in, Immortal Works hired a proofreader to fact check all my research. I was amazed at how thorough my editor was. She found so many enriching details that made this story even more historically accurate.
AH: The trope most associated with time travel is someone goes back in time to fix a bad thing, but that fix changes so much of the present that they decide life was better the way it was, so they set out to straighten the mess they made. The downside of this trope is that none of the consequences have their intended impact because time travel can fix it. But Shattered Snow takes this trope, and its faults, and improves on it. If the timeline is changed, there will be legal consequences. If you go back too many time in the attempt to fix what went wrong, there are physical ramifications. What inspired you to write time travel this way? What are some of your thoughts on the way time travel is used in your favorite stories?
RH: When I was young, I played a game called the Journeyman Project. It had a big bad guy who messed up time and a government agent who had to restore it back to the way it was. I remember being so frustrated as my agent interacted with the past that I wasn’t allowed to help some of the smaller subplots I came across in the past. As I began thinking about time travel, those frustrations resurfaced, and I realized having a character who went beneath the law to make those changes as a good guy would make an exciting story, and one that I wanted to explore since I was young.
AH: The Pause, cold and isolated, is a place in between time that Keltson uses to keep control of his projects. I love that this place you created perfectly represents the collision in your story between magic and technology. Tell me how you came to the beautiful idea of all organic matter in The Pause visually splitting into everything it could become?
RH: Stopping time has always been interesting to people and is an idea found frequently in fiction. As I thought about how I could make this idea unique to my world, I realized that it’s an unnatural state; therefore it needed to feel unnatural to people who stepped into it. I figured if time paused, light would no longer move, thus, walking through space would create odd shadows in the air that wouldn’t fill back in. Also, frozen time demanded that it be cold, both in a literary and scientific sense.
Brandon Sanderson talks about demanding magical consequences. This is what makes the story interesting, or else they could just go back and fix things whenever they wanted. When I read about Snow White running through the forest where animals jumped out at her, and branches tugged at her dress, I needed the forest somehow growing and living despite it being paused. I actually pulled the idea of shattering from another book I had outlined, where a girl was able to see all the future versions of herself, depending on what path she took. The combination turned out to be really exciting.
AH: Lilia, Keltson, and Bianka have these captivating lives. Each of them is so unique, but I specifically love Lilia’s chop shop background. What was the process like discovering where Lilia worked, or the background that went into Keltson and his family?
RH: I don’t do a lot of character development before I write a story because the characters develop as the plot demands. I found Lilia had to be excellent at repurposing broken time travel equipment to fulfill her purpose in the plot, so putting her in a chop shop helped justify some of her expertise and make her more believable. She also had to be really desperate to stay in the past, so making her completely destitute in the future also became a necessary part of her.
For Keltson’s background, I originally wanted him to be an antihero, but he just came out with such a strong moral compass as I wrote him, that I let him do his own thing. He didn’t have a family in the first drafts. But one day during edits, his street rat brother showed up, and suddenly the Grammar family existed: a gambling father and two runaway sons. Surrounding Keltson in a life of crime, and to see him still care about morality made me love him even more. It suited Keltson’s role as The Mirror well, to be willing to break the law (because that’s all he’s known his whole life) but to do it for altruistic reasons.
AH: I know that when you began writing this book, you went back and forth on what to name Bianka. What led to the decision to meld the historically accurate name with the name you felt drawn to for the character?
RH: I put a lot of weight in the names of my characters. If you look up the meaning of each character’s name, they are kind of blatant descriptions of who they are. For example, Bianka means white, or pure. I feel like changing her name from Margaretha to Bianka as The Mirror interfered with her timeline showed how her path truly became different from the one fate intended for her. And without giving any spoilers, had significant weight to the ending of the plot. After you read it, we can talk. ;)
AH: This is your debut novel, and you're publishing traditionally with Immortal works, which means upon signing you had access to a crew of designers, editors and a publisher who all had your book's success in mind. What parts of this process surprised you? What are some of your biggest takeaways?
RH: I honestly love the family at Immortal Works. They are all genuine gems, and every interaction with them teaches me something new. I was surprised by how much I learned through the editing process. I’ve been writing every day for seven years and felt like I had a pretty good handle on what made good writing. But after receiving the self-edit packet, and applying their editing standards, I immediately felt like I was looking at an author who was publishable. It didn’t feel like me at all- mainly because I wasn’t using passive voice anymore.
Then, once I started working with my editor, she dropped some major truth bombs about who was the actual protagonist of my story and helped me know exactly where I needed to start the book. Her advice and corrections throughout taught me so much about using every single word to build images in the readers’ minds. It’s been a lot of hard work, but I definitely think the learning curve this year has shaped me to be better.
AH: It’s never too early to talk about the next thing! What other books are you working on right now?
RH: I am more than halfway done with the sequel, Spinning Briar, and hope to have the rough draft done for Nanowrimo. I have a short story I’m querying, and six other finished manuscripts on the backburner. I’m not giving up on them. They’ll be out someday.
AH: Tell me about some of the events that your readers can look forward to in the very short tim before the book is released?
RH: New things are happening every day! I’m currently arranging my book signing tour in California and Utah (locations will be given in my newsletter. I am also arranging a blog tour, some collaborative author giveaways, and a release party! If you want to see me somewhere, just send me a message. ;) I also have a book trailer in production, so keep your eyes out for that. I also have some pretty fantastic Advance Reader reviews of Shattered Snow from some big names that I can’t wait to share.
Thank you Rachel Huffmire for letting us in on your creative process. If you want to learn more about Rachel Huffmire and be included on the giveaways and events that will happen closer to the book launch you can find her at Rachelhuffmire.com. You can always find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, of course, but you can also read her articles here on Writing Through Brambles. Don't forget to pre-order your copy of Shattered Snow on Amazon. If you have any questions for Rachel, leave them in the comments below- she’s always happy to answer!
If you want something, it’s up to you to figure out how to get it.
This idea sounds overly simple, and yet, it took a mini life crisis at thirty for me to consider it. Up to that point, I’d been waiting for two specific things to happen before I dared even think about my dream of authoring a book. Those two things? Permission and ideal timing.
Let’s back up a bit. I grew up in a home full of expectations. Some were exerted by my family, some I created on my own. Those expectations included such things as being a good daughter, a good student and a good employee. After I got married, the idea that certain expectations must be upheld pushed me into pouring all my energy into being a good mom, spouse, and housekeeper. None of these expectations were well defined. I had no way of knowing if I was doing it “good” enough. I exhausted myself with worry, thinking I’d never get it right.
A week before my thirtieth birthday I was struck with the significance of another decade of my life slipping by. My dream of becoming an author hadn’t amounted to anything. The reality I had created for myself as a parent didn’t include me in it anywhere. I had invented this expectation that motherhood was an endless cycle of caring for everyone else first and my dreams could wait until the timing was better, until my first baby slept through the night, until the next baby slept through the night, until they napped at the same time, until they started school, until, until, until.
It’s November, everybody! This is one of my favorite months of all time. There’s plenty of candy leftover from Halloween, fall is in full swing, and Thanksgiving promises a whole day full of delicious food, warmth, and fun. In my family, while we’re all too full to get up, we have a tradition where we go around the table and take turns talking about what we’re grateful for.
For the longest time, I considered myself a hopeful hobby writer. This year, though, I’ve claimed writing as my official career! When people ask me if I have a job, I say, “Yes! I’m an author,” and I don’t feel like an imposter. I’m finally on the road to becoming the sort of writer I’ve wanted to be for as long as I can remember, and now there are so many more things to be grateful for! This month I want to talk about a few of those things. Beyond that, I want to encourage you to think about things that you’re grateful for. I hope you enjoy this list!:
Psychology is a powerful tool to use in fiction. Even if your characters aren’t human, giving them human traits and struggles will allow your readers to connect with them on a much deeper level. In this blog post I’ll discuss the value of using psychology in your writing, the best way to go about researching, and most importantly, what NOT to do when including mental illness in fiction.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert. I hold no degrees, wrote no thesis, and have limited life experience with many of the topics I mention here. I have done what any good writer does when confronted with the need to include something in a story that they aren’t familiar with: research.
My interest in using psychology in fiction started when I wrote my first published novel, Woven. Without giving you too many spoilers, one of the characters has a magically-induced form of Dissociative Identity Disorder, known more commonly (but incorrectly) as Multiple Personality Disorder. People with this disorder show dramatic shifts in personality and identity, and every aspect of their being is affected: temperament, dialect, memory, physical ability, intellectual knowledge, and even gender.
Psychologists now believe that DID largely occurs in individuals that were abused as children, and the mind literally splinters, or dissociates, in order to keep from being damaged by living out the memory of the trauma. Re-integration of the personalities allows for the divided individual to acknowledge each split inside them and become one, if they choose, or at very least live more harmoniously. That’s DID in a nutshell. There are a lot of stigmas associated with the illness, plenty of ways to incorrectly portray it, and fortunately for me, plenty of real-life stories to sift through as I wrote this character in my book.
I even found out while writing Woven that a family member was diagnosed with this mental illness. She’s also a writer, and she agreed to read Woven once it was finished. To paraphrase her words, there were parts of the story that were so real they were difficult to read because she identified with the character so completely. In other words, I nailed it. She loved my book, and her response validated all the research and effort I had put into compiling it.
So what does knowing my experience do for you? Let’s start with talking about what adding or deepening the influence of human psychology can do for your story and those that read it.
Cover design by Ashley Literski
The cover for Shattered Snow has finally arrived! Last week, I held a facebook live event on my facebook author page revealing this beautiful piece of art by Ashley Literski. I can't believe that in just a few short weeks I'll be able to hold this book in my hands! Everything comes at me so quickly these days, (pre-sale starts this week) and the learning curve is steeper than ever. Immortal Works has been an amazing publisher, and I've appreciated every step of this journey with them.
Handing over the concept to a graphic designer and seeing her visually interpret my story is amazing. Ashley asked about my characters, common visual themes, preferences, etc. She took everything I gave her and compiled it into this beautiful cover that subtly represents all three of my POV characters. It's the kind of thing I expect people to turn back after the story and go "ooooh! It's even more meaningful now!". She did a wonderful job.
Next, I am working with the illustrator for interior art that is absolutely breathtaking. While I can't show you it yet---I can show you some of her concept art...
I wrote my first children's play in high school. It was about a little boy who found a watermelon and imagined it was a dinosaur egg. A nosy neighbor girl insisted it was a 'plain ol' melon' which caused the boy to doubt his sense of imagination. In a final climax, the two fought over the fruit and in the scuffle lost control as it rolled down a hill. The girl gave up on it, but when the boy finally found the cracked rind, he was able to find value in the 'ruined' melon by imagining the dinosaur inside had hatched and he resumed his game to find it.
My theater teacher chose my script to be performed in class. As I watched two actors portray the children, I realized the magic of script writing. The actors enhanced my story by adding vocal inflections, movement, and props. They used my creativity as a point to jump off from and created something all their own.
Now, I'm writing a full length musical. It's a bigger task, but the rewarding memory from high school keeps me chasing the dream. I've been working on this collaborative project for over a year now and I am amazed at how often script writing skills reflect on my career as a novelist. Here are a few reasons why I think you should try writing a stage play.
What do writing and a good workout have in common? More than you might think. Both can feel immensely rewarding. Both release positive endorphins and serve as fantastic coping mechanisms. Most of all, they can both be exhausting but need to be done often anyways to maintain progress.
Whether you are training for a marathon or preparing to write a novel, you have decided to settle in for the long run.
A friend of mine just ran a half marathon. She trained by running a set of miles daily: 3 miles the first week, 4 miles the second, and so on until she could run 13.5 miles, no sweat. Each Saturday she pushed a little harder by adding 3 extra miles to that day’s run. The idea was to beat complacency and force herself to improve by kicking it into high gear for a small amount of time. NaNoWriMo is like that Saturday run, right? Every day we train by writing a set amount, whether it’s 15 minutes or 1500 words. But NaNoWriMo comes around and we stock up on snacks, and sit our butts in the seat and write faster than we've ever written before.
NaNoWriMo looms just around the corner and like any training, the potential for fatigue will come with it. How can you prepare for the fatigue so that it will not hinder your progression?
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.