An Encouraging Note to Mistake Makers

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” ― Oscar Wilde

Some people come to the table with all of their research done. They’ve outlined every subplot of their future novel, they’ve studied the market, they’ve researched every aspect of publishing, and they’ve networked the hell out of their blogs.

I love those people. I’m impressed by them … but I’m not one of them. Even when I really, really try.

Instead I seem to learn best by making mistakes and having adventures.

Some mistakes I’ve made in life: marrying with doubts, wasting my time at NYU and

not having my book professionally edited.

Yes, most people are forgiven (and sometimes celebrated) for marrying and divorcing multiple times. Many of us think little of wasted nights at university, but everyone despises those writers who don’t pay to have their books professionally edited.

For a while (until I could afford to have my growing library of book titles edited) I kind of despised myself now and then.

But this is where the encouragement comes in:

Publishing mistakes can be fixed and sometimes in the fixing we learn a lot.

I consider myself lucky that I wrote my first book before I knew anything about publishing or else I wouldn’t have started. If I was told that I’d have to figure out how to blog or format documents I would have curled up in a ball despising myself all the more.

I published when a trusted friend dared me.

I published so that my children would have something to remember me by (they think I’m ridiculous for thinking of death all the time, but it’s in my blood).

A Historical Novel Society Surprise

When I started getting random good reviews I was pretty shocked (though I loved my book). When I got a really good review from the HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY I hoped and prayed that my self-editing had been enough —  yet knew deep down that no one catches every typo or weird writing habit for themselves. I gave it a good try — and with each re-edit I learned a lot about editing.

The First Negative Review!

When the first negative review came in and mentioned that I randomly always used the verb “pat” when I meant “patted” the worries flooded in. This was just a weird glitch in my brain, but how many other glitches were hidden from me???

Honestly, I was thrilled that my self-edited early versions of THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD still managed to get mostly good reviews yet I knew I was selling myself  and my readers short and leaving myself open for the occasional vicious review about little typos and the word pat. I even felt some satisfaction when I found typos in traditionally published books. 🙂

Every writer comes to the point were they have to decide how devoted they are to their stories. After writing a six book series I knew — I  really, enthusiastically believed in my work (that’s fifteen years of my life right there!).

Having my series polished up by the great KEVIN BRENNAN at INDIE-SCRIBABLE EDITORIAL SERVICES this past year has been such an amazing experience and one that I’m not sure I would have appreciated as much had I handed over the books earlier because I was too insecure back then. Kevin is great at getting a feel for a writer’s work and stepped in with wonderful suggestions, comments and encouragement.

I won’t lie, I was incredibly relieved each time I opened one of his emails and read that he was enjoying the series and that the typos and occasional wonky wording were just that — occasional. On a professional level, the fixes were super important to me because I wanted all of my hard work to shine and flow. Fifteen years ago I didn’t even think I could write a short story and certainly didn’t believe  in myself enough to hire a REAL editor.

The point is, all those years ago I didn’t have the money, but more importantly I didn’t have the guts to consider myself a professional at anything. I did everything exactly how you’re not supposed to do it, but I’m still here. I’m more a writer now than ever. I’m more willing to defend my work and my life than ever.

I feel like things are working out just as they are supposed to.

I wrote a book.

I edited it myself and designed the first cover (more to come on that disaster).

My sister told me that writers had to blog. I didn’t even know what that was.

Through blogging I met Kevin and never even thought about his editing services — until the right time and then I knew without hesitation that it had to be him. It was all meant to be, in my humble opinion.  The thrill of sharing the series with a writer I admire who happens to be an excellent editor has been one of the highlights of my life.

How often are you afraid to begin things?

I get it. I really do. How often have you turned back after making painful mistakes? I get that too. But if you have a dream, don’t give up on yourself too early (and it’s probably always too early to give up). Your path is your path. Winding roads aren’t always a bad thing.

Just the other day I got the following review for THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD:

“I saw that this book was close to 600 pages. That didn’t daunt me, but I wondered if I would be engaged in such a long book? I was. For 3 full days. I really enjoyed The House on Tenafly Road. It is an interesting story with well written characters I came to care about. The Civil War history is well researched and accurate. There were many eye opening and fascinating facets of the Civil War, and the military in general, that I found interesting. I liked how the character of Katherine became a major one, and following her domestic life as a military wife in a then-remote outpost (Arizona) was excellent. I commiserated with her in the awful heat; pregnant, lonely and struggling in a barely livable hut. The all too real issues of war crimes, Native American relations, pain, family stress and addiction were woven seamlessly throughout this enjoyable read. One thing I will say; unlike almost all Kindle books I have read, this one had hardly ANY typos. There are some books that are so badly transcribed that they are almost unreadable…thoroughly frustrating and annoying. Not this book. Flawless and that made reading it truly enjoyable.”

So it took a while but I did it and you can too. No matter how off track you get. No matter what you don’t know yet. Just love what you do. Love yourself too –even when you make mistakes. They are often hidden gifts.

P.S. I obviously HIGHLY recommend INDIE-SCRIBABLE EDITORIAL SERVICES

 

Adrienne Morris is the author of

The Tenafly Road Series

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

5 Great Writing Quotes to Get You Motivated

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou

Yes, the agony of not writing! I’ve tried it. I played that game for thirty years. Don’t do it unless you enjoy feeling like a worthless and envious slug. Pick up your pen. Tap away on the computer. Do something with those half-baked stories in your head. It won’t hurt anybody.

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“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
― Toni Morrison

Done. There is nothing like a life transformed by allowing the voice God gave you to speak out on paper. No need to look left or right to see how others are doing it. Your voice is just fine, in fact your voice is exactly what YOU need.

Once an agent dismissively told me U.S. historical fiction was dead. Well, I’m not dead, I still wrote the stories I wanted to read, and, as a bonus, a bunch of other people continue to read and enjoy them. Did I mention THE LATEST ONE is out today and you might enjoy it??

Stop listening to decrees for the moment. Stop searching for how-to rules online. After you have a first draft you can go back and beat yourself up for not following some semi-famous author’s guidebook – but you probably won’t want to beat yourself up by then because you will have finally realized that this is YOUR UNIQUE LIFE and IT HAS UNIQUE VALUE. You will be so in love with the discoveries you’ve made, the new people you’ve created, the very pens you’ve used that there will be no turning back.

When you finally seek advice it will be from a place of self-love and not self-protective fear.

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“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia Plath

Even if it’s awful. Even if it’s insane. Even if you find that you have creepier thoughts than you like to admit to the ever-present failure police in your head. One of my characters develops an obsession with eating pie – I thought it a bit gross for her because she’s usually so prim and proper, but realized finally that we all deal with grief and despair differently.

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“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
― Henry David Thoreau

In first grade I wrote about a kitten who liked to drink tea and take showers. Since I was six I hadn’t lived much. Don’t take Thoreau too seriously here. Don’t wait for permission like I did. Don’t listen to parents or teachers or agents who say you’re vain to think your story about kittens needs to be written.

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Writing what you know is bullshit advice. Write what you want to discover:

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Don’t wait! Jump. Right now! Your first hundred pages will feel like weights keeping you from flying but it’s an illusion.

About The Tenafly Road Series:

Buy THE ONE MY HEART LOVES (book 5 of the series) today!

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

The Tenafly Road Series

5 Easy Tips for Creating an Imaginary World

Building a paracosm is the scholarly way of referring to the act of building a fictional world. I imagined, before writing my novels set in a fictionalized version of Bergen County, New Jersey, that the task would be quite daunting, but it turns out I’d been preparing for this creative endeavor my whole life!

Chaos Theory:

chloe goatThe first and most important thing to do is to find the motivation to create this world. Some people are naturally motivated while others, like my foster daughter, want to escape  traumatic personal histories, but the quickest way to enhance your desire for escape is by inviting–no–seeking a certain level of chaos in your real world. This will build the desire to escape it.

Keep plenty of pets, date ne’er-do-well boyfriends and carry your money and credit cards loosely in your back pocket. What with pet bills, nights bailing out boyfriends at the county jail and creditors hounding you the desire to escape should follow.

Explore the Real World and Different Time Periods:

goat noraOne day you will wake up with a restless desire to see new things. Load your pets in the car and  drop them off at your mother’s house (along with any children you may have had with the ne’er-do-well)  before journeying to research different time periods and/or travel to different places.

Some of these adventures will end up being in books you write (only because my children and I spent a summer on a free-love, organic farm run sort of like a cult was I able to send BUCK CRENSHAW to a 19th century utopian society with such ease).

The need to escape the real life you’ve created will fuel the obsession to learn how others lived. Obscure libraries, old houses with dead people’s spirits and travel brochures will stir the part of your soul you’ve starved for so many years. You will no longer have time for those “friends” who really just loved helping make things chaotic.

It is now that you create your first adult, imaginary friend.

Mapping the World:

Soon after you must find a home for this imaginary friend. Luckily you’ve researched your own escape and the imaginary (let’s say, new friend) amicably agrees to be your muse. You begin to make maps. These may come in the form of outlines or just maps. You realize that you can shrink time and space with this new friend. Englewood, New Jersey doesn’t really have to be the exact Englewood you walked the streets of last week.

Dress the Part:

IMG_2152If you are truly lucky you do have one or two good friends or children who enjoy make-believe as much as you do. You all decide to dress funny for research. Something about this exercise really sets the imagination on fire. I can’t quite figure out why wearing a corset and hoop skirt and flirting with grown men in costume transformed how I think about women, but it did.

Be an Empath:

The other day I was told by a social worker that I was an empath. Maybe you are too:

“They are sensitive to the visible as well as the invisible and pick up on body language, tone of voice, body movements, the words people choose when they speak, the words they avoid, the logic they use; and the hidden things that only an empath can sense inside another person. It is not uncommon for an empath to “freak out” for no apparent reason, only to discover later that a friend or family member went through some sort of trauma at that exact moment. So essentially an empath is someone whose feeling sensory is extraordinarily heightened, meaning they receive the majority of their psychic input from what they feel.

Since they’re being assaulted constantly by emotions which do not originate internally, they can’t figure out why they feel the way that they do, and therefore can’t address the core issues. Since empathy isn’t something you can really ditch it’s sometimes difficult to sort out what the Empath truly feels in a given situation or what they are taking on from someone else. This can prove to be very confusing!

Emotional empaths are so sensitive that they can absorb the negative emotions of others in their body, and actually take it on. So when an empath is around somebody who is anxious, they can actually absorb that energy into their body, when it isn’t even their own anxiety.” Empathguide.com

Being able to communicate with spirits, trees and animals and to feel the various mood swings of the people around you can be exhausting, but also a gift. You are not limited by your own mind and heart. The lines between you and I are blurred, sometimes dangerously so, but still you can use this in creating a world full of people you are not–or are you?

A question for readers: What is your favorite fictional world?

A question for writers: What’s your favorite thing about creating fictional worlds? Your biggest challenge?

Related:

HOW TO BUILD FICTIONAL WORLDS by KATE MESSLER

FOUR WAYS TO BRING SETTINGS TO LIFE

WORLD BUILDING

COMING SOON: THE NEXT BOOK IN THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES!

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Top 5 Reasons Not to Write a Fiction Series (or get married)

IMG_4177Ah, the first heady, rose-tinted days of marrying yourself to . . . a series. Commitment-phobic writers have already run to greener fields and there you are left with a few scribbled notes, a racing heart and a hazy idea that all will be well in . . . ten years.

Maybe you race through writing and can get more out of life and characters in ten minutes on your lunch break than the rest of us do in years. Maybe flings are your thing or serial monogamy, but for me long-term commitment is crucial, scary,  time consuming, but how I’m hard-wired to write.

Today I’ll confess the pitfalls of my seemingly happy marriage to The House on Tenafly Road Series which started as an idea for a novella fling about destroying Native American culture but quickly turned into a 19th century love story between a morphine-addicted soldier and a fragile girl-next-door type which then morphed into a lifetime commitment to the Crenshaw and Weldon families.

Many writers struggle with what to do after happily-ever-after stories. I live in the less than blissful world often hidden behind wedding rings, cute kids and a nice house.  The Weldons and Crenshaws have a ton of skeletons, passions and flaws. Basically they keep me getting up each morning.

So here are my reasons for not doing what I live to do:

IMG_4078Loyalty: the act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action.

This is where the trouble begins. You think you want the fling, but you can’t get your mind off the what ifs. What if this character gets married? What if this character hides their addiction? What if Buck Crenshaw was secretly abused by his mother as a child? What do survivors look like? How does Thankful Crenshaw let her own beauty bewitch and punish her?

It’s dreadfully like adopting a kid with reactive attachment disorder who has decided she loves living with you. You can’t send her back, can you?

There are times when the horrifying thought pops into your head: What if only I love Buck and Thankful Crenshaw? When marrying don’t we sometimes wonder if other people think our mate handsome? We want immediate reassurances that don’t often come.

I have one 80-year-old lady at church who begs for the next installments of my series and has written that Buck Crenshaw is her favorite dysfunctional character despite the scene where he watched his brother brutalize a prostitute and did nothing about it.  I cherish this woman and hope she doesn’t die anytime soon (although she says she’s ready for heaven).

Loss: the amount by which the cost of a business exceeds its revenue  OR: the experience of losing a loved one.

Both. You must make peace with both, and the sooner the better. The cost as a writer is in lost time with family, years and years of silence before your book is in print, cynical or condescending questions about your “career” as a writer (isn’t she really just a stay-at -home mother? Bet she didn’t even go to college). I did–and why do I care what the insurance salesman thinks, anyway?

And then there’s the COLOSSAL loss. The unexpected twist in the series that leads to the death of one of your favorite characters to write about. As in life, those you spend the most time with leave the biggest holes in your heart when they are called home (I like to believe I will meet them on the other side some day).

typewriterEvery time you go over your books for editing you must experience the grief yet again. Each time is sadder because the person seems that much further away from you. Every fiber of you misses them for weeks and it clouds your real-life encounters even on sunny spring days. Where’s the grief counselor on such days?

Length(y): diffuse, long, prolix, tedious, verbose, wordy

I ain’t gonna read a book that heavy, some say. The series writer must listen to his own muse. People who don’t like long books or marriages aren’t your problem–unless you’re a first time novelist looking to be traditionally published. I have a few kind notes from editors and agents who warned me of the danger in writing long books. I tried to please them at my own expense but discovered I preferred to write the books I wanted to read instead and have never looked back (and yes, I still thoroughly enjoy reading my own books :)).

Long shot: A venture that offers a great reward if successful but has very little chance of success.

Seriously. Life is a long shot. There are so many things that can go wrong every day. Focusing on this will make you crazy. I have experience here. Trust me. My family is slightly off-put when I tell them I pray that I may live until I finish writing my series. Sometimes I wonder about that advice thrown around that says something like: “You won’t be thinking about _________ on your deathbed.

I bet I will be thinking about my series as the lights go out (unless I’ve finished writing the series and then I’ll be thinking about how I could have marketed the series better).

Admittedly I am at peace with the family members I love in “real” life so if I died tomorrow I’d have no regrets about them.

Love:

1. A strong feeling of affection and concern toward another person, as that arising from kinship or close friendship.
2. A strong feeling of affection and concern for another person accompanied by sexual attraction.
The danger here is that real life pales so greatly before the world you’ve created and spent years in. You’ve watched that willow tree planted in your prequel fill out and reach maturity. You’ve saved a visually impaired baby from Indians, married her off and then . . . you have to scrub the floor because you forgot to feed the dog and she has an upset empty stomach.
That addict in your first book is so much more attractive than the one in your living room. The shadows of imagination cast real darkness on less than stellar mates.
If you’ve managed to stick with the series for years and have wiped the tears from many a character’s eye after a good cry you must one day reckon with leaving this family behind, closing the series, possibly finding a new family when you thought this family was forever.
There is nothing pleasant about finishing writing a series when you’ve grown up with your characters. When you’ve found life and love and laughter with them. Nothing good about it at all.
SEE THE SERIES HERE: ADRIENNEMORRIS.COM
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The Seven Deadly Sins and How to Use Them in Your Writing Life

019The number seven symbolizes perfection. Yet in writing it’s far better to dabble in the deadly seven.

Those cardinal sins we relish observing in others from our lofty, virtuous towers are the stuff of conflict and story.

Historical fiction writers have a host of real-life historical villains, but while sins are seen as relative these days, the following list is still quite helpful for the stuck writer.

Lust – to have an intense desire or need.

Some of us lust after five star reviews, don’t we? But let’s talk character. A morphine addict’s addiction is only one extreme example of the many lusts mortals grapple with or go for. John Weldon hides his addiction for over 700 pages. Some don’t like such long books. They lust after other things, but I need to dig deep into my characters. It’s why I write.

Gluttony – excess in eating and drinking.

Gluttony is one I rarely see used in fiction. Yes, we have the drunks who are often (but not always) seen as comic or tragic and unable to help themselves. How does gluttony move a story forward? If someone overeats aren’t they only hurting themselves? Do stolen cookies and late-night binges affect other family members? I wonder if acceptance and tolerance help the person in the grips of gluttony. For a brief period of time my character Katherine becomes a glutton. Some might say she was a glutton for punishment. What turns a person toward gluttony?
Greed – excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.

There’s a pattern here, isn’t there? Humanity is quite full of selfishness. This sin is one of my lesser frailties (I have enormous heaps of some of the others) but oh how fun it is to write about Buck Crenshaw’s greedy brother. Greed can be hidden in characters, too. Buck is greedy for control. He thinks he’s generous, and he is, but he’s often fooled by his lust for acceptance and desire for emotional safety.
Laziness – disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous.

Laziness is often a sign of deep fear and fatalism. Why bother starting something when it’s going to fail anyway? Lazy characters rarely become main characters because they don’t do much. Yet their passivity can lead to exciting tragedy, failed marriages and melancholy regrets.
Wrath – strong vengeful anger or indignation.

Wrath is the stuff of writing! We all love a good fight and the clever and biting remark that tears the seams from a book. We decry war in real life, but a book without war, even a war raging in our character’s heart, often doesn’t get to the heart of life. Families in conflict. That’s my thing. It’s what I love. Writing historical family saga novels makes me want to get up in the morning.
Envy– painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.

In writing family saga fiction envious siblings are gold. The Crenshaw family in The Tenafly Road Series would not exist without parents who motivate their children by setting them upon each other. The painful part is loving a friend or family member yet envying their success. Brutal–and great for writing.

Pride – quality or state of being proud – inordinate self esteem.

And here we get to the bottom of it. PRIDE. This one word is at the heart of great fiction and our sorry little lives as humans. I say this lovingly because as a writer I relish misplaced pride. We think of characters with pride as the braggarts, but they come in the mousy little men and women too who spend far too much time thinking of how inadequate they are.

 

The seven deadly sins are really just different versions of self-obsession. Self-obsession is what novels are all about. We read to see how we (as in humans) do and see and feel things. We are obsessed with our species. I am. It’s a big love/hate fest living with and writing about people. The sins (and the virtues) keep life interesting and writers writing.