The Writing Process – and Avoiding Yeast Infections

This year at the RT Booklovers Convention, Meg Tilly emceed the Reviewers Choice Awards ceremony. Yeah, the Meg Tilly of The Bill Chill fame, among others. I know she’s done other stuff, but I always think of her as Chloe, doing her serene stretching out, while William Hurt videos her, asking questions. He asks if Alex had been happy, and she looks in the camera and says, “I haven’t known many happy people – how do they act?” Sure, it’s a character line, but that’s always stuck with me, the soulfulness of that moment. Normally we don’t get celebrity emcees (other than authors, who are celebrities mostly only within the community), but Meg recently wrote a romance novel, Solace Island, under the name Sara Flynn

I understand it’s really good, too – she’s gotten excellent reviews from substantial sources, not ones given to pandering.

A number of people asked me what Meg was like. (Other than that everyone seems to give universal thumbs up to her gorgeous dress, which was even more beautiful and shimmery in real life.) In short, she was just great. No huge ego, seemed really grounded and glad to be there. I confess I tend to be cynical about celejbrities who decide to write books, but she’s reinvented herself several times and seems to really love writing romance. 

Most of RT for me, of course, involved hanging out in the bar – a whole lot of that with Grace Draven, who I never seem to tire of. We had a lot of conversations, some ranging far into the night, and lots of other wonderful writers and industry folks joined in. 

One thing on Grace’s mind is her upcoming shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, and the physical therapy she’s enduring to free up her frozen shoulder before she can have the surgery. For writers, losing our ability to type – easily, fast, and for long periods at a time – is a scary prospect. She was talking about telling the doctor how her sling would have to allow her to sneak a hand out of it to reach the keyboard. The table full of writers all nodded sympathetically, making glum faces. 

Now, I know what you’re about to suggest – and someone at the table brought it up, though not as an actual suggestion, because she knows better.

She said, “I don’t suppose you’d want to try something like Dragon to dictate your books?”

And we all did a collective shudder, everyone noting that it wouldn’t be the same.

The thing is…. Yes, some authors use voice recognition software to write their books. Maisey Yates went to it, after suffering crippling carpal tunnel syndrome. She really loves it.

But I totally shudder even contemplating doing something like that. I will if I’m ever forced into it, but I’m with Grace in that I’ll go to great lengths to avoid that eventuality. Just like that table full of authors. 

As I said to Grace, it’s because the writing process is a delicate thing.

She immediately protested and said, “Oh no! Don’t make us sound like delicate artists.”

And I said, “No, no – it’s more like we do everything to avoid getting a yeast infection.”

Forgive the analogy, gentlemen, but even if you’ve never experienced a vaginal yeast infection, surely you know a woman who has. They’re painful, itchy, disgusting – and sometimes nearly impossible to get rid of. Once you get one, they’re more likely to recur. I’ve known women who had them for years and had to go to lengths like eliminating all sources of yeast from their diet and microwaving their underwear. If a woman gets one, then her sexual partner is likely to get it, too, which means it gets passed back and forth ad infinitum. The cures range from inconvenient to downright awful.

Even the most minor yeast infection can affect everything in your life, sometimes for a really long time.

Thus, the easiest solution is to avoid contracting them!

I won’t go into all of those essential habits, because my point is: the writing process can feel much the same. The mechanics of writing are as much a part of the developed habit as writing every day, or other rituals that allow the words to flow. 

Once an author has her process working well, then it’s best to leave it be. If it’s not working – hey, change it up, do whatever. But if it IS working, then we’ll go to great lengths to avoid impacting that. We know too well that a bump too far in one direction can create a cascade of effects. 

I suppose it all comes down to respecting our own process. I always advise newbie writers to discover what their process is and own it.

And then, once someone does, know that they’ll do anything to protect that process. 


Almost New Year PARTAY

The Talon of the HawkAs the year draws to a close, we’re in the final round of The Hottest Heroine Cover contest. We all know Ursula is the hottest – and not because she has a big-ass sword. And she’s running second to a drowning girl. We can’t have that! You can vote and enter the giveaway or not, as you please.

Tonight – December 30 – from 7-9 pm Eastern Time (6-8 CT/5-7 MT/4-6 PT, for those of you who hate math), I’ll be hanging with some of my favorite naughty authors on Facebook for a Not Quite New Year’s Eve/Saved The Best For Last Facebook Party. The party crew includes Anne Calhoun, Tessa Dare, Megan Mulry, Miranda Neville and Maisey Yates. Expect lots of wordswag, great giveaways and plenty of saucy conversation. Stop on by and have some pre-New Year’s Eve fun!


Finding the Formula Machine

Sunrise 10_16_2014 Santa FeI had a Twitter conversation yesterday that went like this. Because these gals crack me up, I’m sharing a bunch of it. It, of course, started because I was being a smart ass. Though you can see that Maisey Yates was snarky first.

Then Lexi Ryan chimed in.


We riffed for a while, with various gripes on this theme, then dwindled off. Lexi came back a few hours later.

The thing is, if you know these authors – or follow the links I thoughtfully provided 🙂 – you’ll recognize them as highly regarded, very prolific and bestselling authors. I know these gals and they work amazingly hard and produce wonderful books that, not incidentally, sell very well. And that saw about Harlequin providing its authors with the Magic Formula that Maisey references has been making the rounds for-fucking-ever. I remember my mom saying something to me along those lines when I was much younger and she thought romance were trashy literature that I shouldn’t be reading. No, Harlequin does not tell us the characters should kiss on X page and have sex on Y page. Yes, editors do give direction on story structure. However, the guideline that the first act climax should occur somewhere around the first 25% of the story and all the stakes should be set at that point applies to pretty much every entertainment genre. Maybe books in the Literary Genre don’t do that, but they’re arguably going for something other than storytelling and entertainment.

There’s a pervasive idea that writing a book takes a REALLY long time. And, in truth, writing a first novel CAN take years. Because of the learning curve. I wrote a post the other day about trying to be creative on deadline and a big piece of that is building the craft and skills to do it. However, the belief persists that quality writing should be a long, slow process. With the reverse assumption being that quickly produced work is shallow, low-quality and – yes – written to a formula. I saw a blog post by a writer the other day who championed the many virtues of writing his novels by hand, with pen and paper. He proudly stated that he could draft an entire novel this way in “only” 14 months. I also saw a tweet yesterday from a writer advising that everyone has their own process and you don’t HAVE to “churn out” 2 books a year.

While I respect both of their perspectives, I’m bothered by the implicit lack of respect for my process. It took me 84 days to write the 91,000 word first draft of The Tears of the Rose, which just received a Top Pick GOLD review from RT Magazine. I take that to mean it’s a pretty decently written book. I worked really hard on it. Yes, I structured the story about major plot points, with major events occurring at the act climaxes. Nobody gave me a formula.

It surprises me still when people call me a prolific or fast writer. It doesn’t feel that way. At the same time, taking 14 months to write out a novel long hand sounds excruciatingly slow to me. I had (or will have) five books come out in 2014 and I don’t feel like I’ve “churned out” anything. Every one has taken long hours of concentrated work, extensive crafting and pieces of my soul. I realize this is an enviable place to be and I count my blessings that I’m able to write fast.

That said, I’ve also put in a lot of effort to make sure I can. I keep my brain as uncluttered as possible. I remove all distractions, rather ruthlessly. I put in long hours. So do these other gals. They also manage to take care of small children at the same time, which I can’t even fathom.

This turned into more of a rant than I intended. I think my point is that I’d really love to see the end of this concept of the anguished author who spends years writing his magnum opus. It feels fueled to me by the sort of person who wants to be seen as someone artsy and glamorous – the Writer – rather than putting in the time to get the work done. I don’t see anything admirable about not getting the book written. We like to fetishize artists, but other kinds of work don’t get this shiny gloss on what is, ultimately, not doing the job. The grocery store checker who never quite manages to get all the groceries in the bag loses his job. The stockbrocker who just can’t overcome her personal agony to sell those stocks won’t be a stockbroker for long.

I blame the artist for this, really. We’re incredibly good at spinning convincing stories from our pain. That symphony we never delivered? IT WAS THE VOICES OF DEMONS! That studio full of blank canvases? THE BLEAK DESERT OF MY SOUL! That novel I spent ten years writing while I hung out in coffee shops and debated the shivering joy of the sound of a fountain pen on good paper? STILL NOT WRITTEN BUT LOOK HOW PROFOUND I AM.

Eh. Okay. I guess what I’m getting at is, don’t buy the song and dance, people. A creator creates. Buckle down and do the work. Don’t throw stones at people who do it faster. Don’t succumb to the temptation to glamorize what’s bogging you down. Solve the problem, take the stone out of your shoe, get to work.

Which I’m going to do now.

Happy weekend, everyone!