For Newbie Writers

Performance Enhancers for Yet-to-be-Published Writers

(and They’re Legal)

By Jolyse Barnett

The following is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in RWA Chapter 160’s February 2013 SHORELINES, later reprinted with permission in Lone Star Galley, LARA Confidential, Write from the Heart, WISR Loop, Greater Vancouver, Toronto ROMANTICS, Heart of the West, and NOLA Stars Newsletters.

           Whenever I hear about a famous athlete’s alleged use of performance enhancers, I can’t help but wonder: Is the lure of gaining an edge in a competitive sport so powerful the person would risk losing his reputation? Does the athlete justify use of a banned substance as a short-term solution to recover more quickly from an injury and then become addicted, or does he fall prey to peer pressure and do it to level the playing field?

If you came here looking for the magic pill, I’m sorry to disappoint. Writing is about the joy of hard work. Luckily, there are tips to help serious writers along their way:

Immerse yourself in the craft: Read books about writing, attend workshops at conferences, chapter meetings, or online. Integrate strategies learned from other writers into your writing and discover what fits your style. The more you write, the better your craft and the clearer your voice. And voice is as critical to your success as a great story.

Celebrating a friend's book launch
Celebrating a friend’s book launch

Surround yourself with talent: Join a writing group in your area or online, and network with other writers online through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. You may worry at times this will steal from precious writing time. If so, put a time limit on the socializing or meet your daily writing goal before you focus on platform and networking. From my experience, the connections I’ve made online are part of what spur me on when I hit a dead-end in a story or save me from quitting my dream when self-doubt creeps in.

Get the creative juices flowing:  People-watch for character and dialogue inspiration, at the movies, the mall, restaurants—just about anywhere. Carry a journal at all times. Some of my best scenes have been gleaned from these notes, including a scene on an airplane, a jet skiing adventure, and another from a country wedding. In addition, hold periodic brainstorming sessions with your family, trusted friends, other writers, or your story’s characters. Imagination is key!

Mix it up: During my first year of serious writing, I focused on one story and worked in a linear fashion from beginning to end. The second year, the novelty of writing had worn off, and I had difficulty sustaining focus on the next story. That’s when I learned how to juggle. Perhaps some will disagree, but many writers say you’re on your way to becoming an accomplished writer once you’ve learned how to bounce between projects in various stages. You may be querying a novel, finishing another, writing a rough draft of a book, and plotting or brainstorming others. If you become bored or stuck for ideas on one, let that one percolate and hop over to another. You’ll still make progress toward your daily writing goals.

All these performance enhancers are part of what can turn your passion for writing into a career. With perseverance, you will succeed—without cutting corners.

“What’s A WIP?”

By Jolyse Barnett

The following is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in RWA Chapter 160’s May 2011 newsletter, SHORELINES, and reprinted in Wisconsin RWA’s July 2011 newsletter.

As a monolingual tourist visiting a foreign country relies on translation dictionaries, a new writer depends on experienced writer friends, articles, and books about writing to interpret her new world. Not only have I learned the little acronym, WIP, represents “Work in Progress,” during my journey into the world of writing, but I’m familiar with others now, like POV, MS, RWA, RT, and GMC. I’m not yet fluent in writer-speak, but I have a working knowledge after my first year of immersion.

A year ago, I decided it was high time I followed through on my dream to become a serious writer. April twenty-fifth wasn’t a particularly extraordinary day. The decision wasn’t special either, considering I had made similar resolutions over the past dozen years. Yet, every time before this I had quit, making the mistake of allowing excuses, such as a demanding day job and mothering a child with autism, to prevent me from making the commitment.

This time, however, I did more than daydream. I sat at my kitchen table and made a detailed plan. As a traveler researches the geography and culture of a new destination, a serious writer researches the craft of writing and writing trends. I planned short, intermediate, and long term goals to make it to the Land of Published Author.

As many people set goals for saving money to travel to exotic places, many new writers make fantasy writing goals. A few weeks later, the frustrated traveler is spending money at the local coffee shop instead of saving toward that dream trip to Australia, and the frustrated writer is finding that list of goals wedged between the seat cushions of the couch or using the backside of it to make the grocery list. I know, because that had happened to me.

This time, I put my short term goals into action. I began to imagine, research, and write–daily. I also did one other activity not on my list, but one I believe to be critical to achieving success as an aspiring author. I voiced my dreams.

Bermuda’s Famous Pink Beaches

If a woman promises her family a dream vacation to Bermuda, showing them all the brochures and giving them a date of departure, she’d better keep her word–at all costs! I found the same to be true with sharing my writing goals. After telling my family and friends, I couldn’t back out because I had made myself accountable. I had no choice but to move forward, not matter how depressed I became with the steep learning curve. The fantasy of publishing a book had transformed to an eventual reality for me.

I think I can, I think I can…

By June, I had poured over seven books about the craft of writing. The most useful books to me were: A Writer’s Time by Kenneth Atchity, Dialogue by Lewis Turco, The Romance Writer’s Handbook by Rebecca Vinyard, and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. My analytical mind especially appreciated the first title. I organized my time and lassoed my imagination using Atchity’s strategies. My story outline and character sketches were complete, and I was naive enough to believe I was ready to write my book. I planned to finish in four months, just like the pros!

I soon realized I had no idea how to transfer my outline and notes to a story format. My dream of writing a Harlequin Superromance was a bigger undertaking than I’d anticipated. Desperate, I pulled out my goals list.

One of my intermediate goals was to attend a local RWA Chapter meeting. Everyone there was friendly and talented. I hadn’t even begun my first chapter yet, and the master class for that day was using random story element cards to plot a story idea. I froze, intimidated. Later that day I shared the sad news with my spouse–this group wasn’t a good fit. I was close to quitting. Instead of agreeing, he suggested I learn from the members and work hard to become one of them.

Where to start?

Heeding my loved one’s advice, I worked to finish my opening in time for the chapter’s August critique session. I printed those seven precious pages and placed them in the snazzy binder I had purchased in honor of my growing manuscript (MS). After I had shared, everyone was positivie, but honest. I had started my story in the wrong place. In fact, during that day’s master class, “Opening Hooks,” I learned my opening was the perfect example of what not to do. Squelching my desire to sink into the carpet, I was humbled by and grateful for the group’s honesty. These people took their craft seriously and weren’t going to lie by pretending my writing was to-die-for when it was just dead wrong.

As an official member at Chapter 160’s October meeting, I shared my reworked story beginning to a room full of people, many of whom I hadn’t met at either of the summer meetings. Everyone was quiet, at first. Then, the glowing comments came in, and I was actually asked to read more. I was floating on air, for I had learned the joy of being a writer: Strangers were interested in hearing my story.

I finished writing my WIP’s first four chapters by January, and in February I joined my writing group’s Book in a Month challenge. Writing almost 25,000 words in four weeks came as a thrilling shock to me. Before that, I had struggled to write 10K in a month. I also met other writers online interested in becoming critique partners. Connecting with other writers has been instrumental in sustaining my commitment and growth as a writer. As a result of my critique partner’s advice, I entered my book’s first chapter into a RWA contest and started the social networking part of my trip on WordPress and Facebook.

To be a writer you simply need to write.

After twelve busy months, I reached the required word count for my targeted line. What did I do on the anniversary of my writing career? I sat at my kitchen table, like I do every day for at least four hours, and I wrote. I made revisions on my first WIP, wrote new words for my second, and wrote the rough draft of this article. Two days later, I celebrated becoming a finalist in the contest I’d entered a month earlier.

My advice to beginning romance writers is this: As a traveler makes an itinerary, make your set of plans. Use their goals as a guide, but don’t be afraid to adjust them as you go, anticipating the ups-and-downs that come along with any new experience. Travelers will often say the most interesting part of any trip is meeting the people. I agree. Savor the journey!

8 comments on “For Newbie Writers

  1. This is a great “story” of how you got going Jolyse. Congratulations on becoming a finalist in a RWA contest. That’s amazing. We have a similar journey. Although: I want to read more craft books, join the RWA and find a writer’s group and critique partners.

    1. Hi Nicole!

      Like life, writing is a journey. Enjoy every moment you can. (Remember, the difficult moments help you appreciate the good ones and give your writing depth.)

      I’m here to cheer you on! :)

  2. I love this Jolyse! Thank you for the inspiration. My journey is taking longer than I expected it to, but I am hard at work on my second novel. This time, I won’t make the mistakes I did with my first. I know how daunting querying can be, but I still have the hope and the drive- and I love the people I’ve met along the way! :) Hurray for other writers

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Meredith, and I look forward to your future successes. Keep with it, girl! :)

  3. I write contemporary women’s fiction. But the work and the problems are the same no matter what the genre. You gave me goals to work on.

    1. Hi Kim! Thanks for stopping by. Always love chatting with a fellow writer and hope my experience can serve your goals in some way. Now that I’ve finished that first book, it’s like a whole new ball game. I’m doing final revisions on book 1, writing book 2 and 3 simultaneously, and outlining books 4 and 5. Feel free to email me at jolysebarnett@gmail.com or meet me on Twitter @jolysebarnett or FB/JolyseBarnett. Good luck, and I look forward to hearing about your journey as well.

  4. A great post :) I do believe that a would-be-published writer needs some sort of map/plan to go about her journey as successfully as possible. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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