Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mama's Got a Brand New Blog

So some exciting news in my cyberworld - I have a brand new website, and a brand new blog to go along with it. Well, not really a brand new blog, as I'll be doing the same Ask Allison stuff, but just from a different address.

So, if you get here via blogspot, please know that in the future, you'll find this blog at:

If you've so generously added my blog to your blog roll, please take a teeny, tiny second from your day and update it. (I know it's a pain, and I thank you in advance!) Also, I believe that all of you who have subscribed to the RSS feed will be transferred over to the RSS feed on my new site, but if not, I apologize, and you just have to sign up again. I'll keep you posted on that one. Regardless, wherever you find me and however you get here, thanks for coming!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Are You Made of Win?

Question of the day: Although part of me gets inspired from reading all the "stories of success" of various authors, I can't help but feel totally defeated and discouraged at the thought of just how MANY people there are out there scrambling towards the same goal, where there's really only standing room for a few of us in the genre particularly, but in the market as a whole. How do you stay confident and inspired? Or more importanly, motivated?

Yes, well, this is the conundrum of being an aspiring writer. Not only that there are so many people out there trying to do the same thing, but also not knowing if a) you're good enough to rise to the top and b) whether or not being good enough really matters. Because let's face it: there are plenty of good authors out there whose work will never see the light of day. Not all of them, probably not even a ton of them, as I do believe that most truly talented writers get a break at some point, but yeah, not everyone, which is what makes this whole venture truly damn scary.

I've often said on this blog, and I can never repeat it often enough, that it takes a certain temperament to endure this career, and I stand by that. Years, YEARS can go by without success, and the rejection can diminish even the most confident among us. The only way that you will endure is to surround your ego and your confidence with steel armor, armor that might get occasionally nicked in the face of defeat but is basically impenetrable. I think you likely either have this disposition or you don't. But I also believe that you can at least learn to shrug it off, to get knocked down but stand up and face it all over again.

I was probably born overconfident. This has not always worked to my benefit (trust me - ending relationships was never my strong suit, as I always believed I could find a way to work things out), but in this career, yes, it has been. I simply never doubted that I could succeed. Which I know sounds ridiculous, but that is truly how my brain functions. I remember once, many years ago, when I was still finding my freelancing sea legs, my husband gently suggested that if I didn't start to get more work, I should perhaps start looking for a JOB job. I scoffed, literally scoffed at him, because I couldn't believe that he didn't KNOW, as I did, that I'd get 'er done. To paraphrase Captain Kirk: I don't believe in no-win situations.

And surely, when defeaning silences amassed from freelance editors or when my first agent and I agreed to part ways (UGH!), this way of thinking buffered me from what might have been an impulse to spin on my heels and bolt the other direction. Look, this is a tough, tough, tough business. Other than acting, I can't think of one that might be as difficult. So you either have to resolve that you're going to do your best and stick with it, or you get out. Because if you take rejection to heart and let it diminish you, your confidence will suffer, your writing will weaken, you'll present yourself as less of a package than you are.

And what should you do if you're not born with natural armor? I'd remind you to not take any of this personally. Ever. Rejection of your idea or your novel often has nothing to do with you. Agents, for example, are looking for whatever fits their specific criteria; magazine editors aren't dwelling on whether or not they think your query was poorly written. They have a product to push and sell, and they're looking at whether or not you add (or don't) to their business. This is a business. Period. Don't ever forget that. Another tip? While you're waiting to get published, keep writing. In my opinion, writing is the best way that you are going to get better. My first manuscript wasn't published and looking back, it didn't deserve to be. My second one was better, and resulted in my debut novel. My third was even better (IMO), and it's a New York Times Best Seller. There's no shame in putting something aside and recognizing that it was a learning experience, the end.

I hope this post doesn't come off as making me sound like I'm some narcissistic ego-maniac. :) I'm actually not! LOL. But, just to give you some perspective as to why I promise that I'm not, when I was a kid, whenever I had some sort of competitive activity, my dad used to sit me down and say, "What's your last name?" I'd roll my eyes about a dozen times, and finally, after much prodding, would say, "Winn." (Get the play on words?) Looking back on it now, I'm grateful that he did this. It wasn't that he turned me into a competitive freak, it's that he let me know that I always held that win inside of myself, that I was always capable of coming out on top. Even if your last name is Brown, Smith or Weinberg, the same theory can hold true for you...and I think it's a critical one for success as a writer.

Wow, long post. Anyone want to chime in on how you keep your confidence afloat?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Getting to Know You

Question of the day: I'd be interested to know the type of 'relationship' you develop with a character before weaving them into a story. I have read about authors literally becoming obsessed with a character. To be honest, as far as I'm concerned, my characters are really just the tools allowing me to do the job - and while I feel a growing interest in them, I haven't felt the need to list their likes/dislikes/food allergies in any level of detail. Should this too be something that develops organically during the writing rather than the planning process - or am I missing a trick here?

This is a very good question, not least because I'm still learning A LOT about character development. I recently read a book, Hyatt Bass's, The Embers, which I'll discuss more once it hits bookstores in two weeks, that had the most in-depth, fleshed out characters I think I might have ever read. I mean, I was reading it, and I was so just impressed because truly, I don't know that I'm capable of going that deep. Well, maybe that's not fair; maybe I'm entirely capable, but I'll be frank in saying that I felt like her analysis of her characters blew mine out of the water.

But. To be honest, I guess maybe I'm okay with that. :) At least for the books I've written thus far. I finished her book and thought, "Wow, someday I'd like to write like that," but for now, what I've done with my characters has really worked for my writing process and for my books. My process is this: I primarily start with an emotional connection with these characters, which maybe sounds a little pretentious if you haven't written fiction before, but
for me, at least is the most important ingredient in my writing. I've stopped and started several manuscripts because I just didn't GET these characters, and when I don't GET them, I can't figure out all of their other little choices: their likes/dislikes/food allergies, etc. :)

So I start there. Once I'm inside their brains - and to be honest, one of the reasons the first part of book #3 took so long was that I really had to wrench myself into my protagonist much more so than in my other books - the rest of it falls into place when I'm writing. Maybe my characters could stand for some deeper probing, I'm not saying they couldn't. Again, I was truly so in awe of the Bass's character development. But for me, I sort of just connect with them, understand who they are, and then inform their choices as I go.

But as I said, I'm still learning a lot of about this - so how do you guys deal with character development? Anyone have a handy habit chart that you want to share?