deborahjross: (Deb and Cleo)
Recently, I received this letter from Wendy, a fan with whom I’d been corresponding. It spoke deeply to me, and rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. If you’ve been there, too, I hope you’ll follow along and offer your own wisdom.

I've been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life. I've spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills. Mom passed away in October.
When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways. That foundation you always relied on -- even as an adult -- is gone for good. Whether you're ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence. One of the most difficult aspects of my mother's final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life. She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible.
I'm 54 years old. More than half of my life is over. Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood. My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don't want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing "career" never took off. I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams. I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well.
How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long?

Effie Seiberg: I hear you. Writing is such an inherently lonely business, spending that much time in your own head, that a good support group is critical. When I first started writing I went though wild mood swings ranging from "OMG this is the most hilarious thing ever" to "Why did I ever think I could English? This is total crap," and I began to fear that I wasn't emotionally stable enough to write. It was only after I found a community of supportive writers that I understood that this is just how writing works, and the only thing that improves is your ability to enjoy the highs and survive the lows. A good support group bolsters you through both.

Effie Seiberg is a fantasy and science fiction writer. Her stories can be found in the "Women Destroy Science Fiction!" special edition of Lightspeed Magazine (winner of the 2015 British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology), Galaxy's Edge, Analog, Fireside Fiction, and PodCastle, amongst others. She is a graduate of Taos Toolbox 2013, a member of SFWA and Codex, and a reader at She lives in San Francisco, recently and upcoming (but not presently) near a giant sculpture of a pink bunny head with a skull in its mouth. She likes to make sculpted cakes and bad puns. You can follow her on twitter at @effies, or read more of her work at

Barb Caffrey: For now, though...I can say this much to Wendy. It's never too late to do what you feel you must, as a creative artist. I have often felt like it's too late for me due to how my husband passed away suddenly; I'm now trying to carry on his work, and mine, and sometimes this seems like an overly heavy weight.

The important thing is that I'm doing it. No matter how long it takes, no matter what is up against me -- bad health or family health issues or foreclosures or anything -- I keep on working. Some days, all I can do is look at my works-in-progress and say, "Hmmm," and do a little fiddling but add nothing tangible. The next day, or maybe the day after that, the dam bursts and I have more new words again.Read more... )

The most important thing you can do -- and it unfortunately is also the hardest -- is to believe in yourself, and that what you are doing is valuable. No matter what anyone else says, no matter what anyone else does, you are going to do what you feel you must.
I wish I had a better answer, but persistence has mostly worked for me.

Barb Caffrey has written three novels, An Elfy On The Loose (2014), A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (2015), and Changing Faces (forthcoming), and is the co-writer of the Adventures of Joey Maverick series (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey) Previous stories and poems have appeared in Stars Of Darkover, First Contact Café, How Beer Saved The World, Bearing North, and Bedlam's Edge (with Michael B. Caffrey).

Alma Alexander: I'm roughly of an age with you, Wendy, and I think ours is now the generation which has to grapple with some of life's truths. I’m technically only "half" an orphan at this point - my dad left us three years ago, my mother is still around, in her eighties now, frailer and more fragile than she's ever been before, both physically and psychologically, and it's something that it's up to me to deal with, I am in full defend and protect mode with her, often, and it takes up a huge swathe of mental and physical resources. But there will come a time when she too is gone and at this point it will be as you say - the foundation is gone. Until that moment you can always "go home". Afterwards, that first home, the foundation home, is gone, forever, and it takes a shift of thinking to adjust to it. So before anything else is said... there's that. There's the acknoledgment, and the understanding. We've been here, or we're coming up on that milestone, and we can look into that shadow and know exactly where you're coming from.

You haven't said if you've pursued your writing before in any focused way other than it having been a dream of yours - you use air quotes around your "career" so I don't know if you tried, and didn't meet with immediate success, and that was why you took the hiatus, or if your fears of not succeeding have prevented you from trying at all. But the first thing that needs to be said is something I've been telling people for a long time. If you want to be a writer, nobody can stop you. If you don't, then nobody can help you. The first impetus, the first urge, the first passion, the first demand, must come from within. If this is your dream, then even if you cannot lay aside your fears you must learn to write while juggling them with your other hand. Do you have stories whispering in your ear as you fall asleep at night, stories that desperately want to be told? Then tell them. At this point, pursuing your dream to the point of a "career" (and now I am using the air quotes) starts with the first step of actually sitting down, and writing. Something. Anything. Starting with an audience of one, yourself. THEN, you build out.

Alma Alexander is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. Born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, she has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), and the story of her life so far has included climbing mountains, diving in coral reefs, flying small planes, swimming with dolphins, touching two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon.

Pat Rice: After thirty plus years of publication, I’m here to tell you that doubt and negativity never go away. First, we have to accept that self-doubt is part of our process, decide our goals are more important than our fears, and push on to the next step. For most of us, the next step is to write. Write and write some more. Throw out the first efforts and start over, because we all have to learn somehow, and it’s fine not to be perfect.

Support groups can be useful, but they’re only what you make of them. You can go to meetings and talk about your goals and expectations and brainstorm your plots. You can listen to others speak of their failures and successes. The camaraderie and support is often necessary -- but it won’t get you to your goal unless you take that energy back to your computer and WRITE.

Thirty years ago when I was lost in the wilderness of doubt, I turned to Writers Market magazine for advice. These days, advice, critique groups, support groups, and everything you might need are all online. You can check Romance Writers of America’s website for the nearest chapter if you need to meet in person. The greater risk is that you’ll get lost in the mass of voices.

So my advice would be to support yourself first. Make the choice to write, find a time of day or grab whatever free minutes are available and scribble down your stories. Do it every day. Feel free to throw it out every night. You are building a habit that will build a career. When you are finally ready to invest in yourself, then look for others who can read what you’ve written and encourage you. And if they try to discourage you, go back and read what you have and decide for yourself whether they're right or not.

It takes a spine of steel and the perseverance of a saint to be a writer. It’s never too late to exercise and put those muscles into shape.

With several million books in print and New York Times and USA Today’s bestseller lists under her belt, former CPA Patricia Rice writes romance, mystery, and urban fantasy. Her books have won numerous awards, including the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice and Career Achievement Awards. She has also been honored as a Romance Writers of America RITA® finalist in the historical, regency and contemporary categories.
deborahjross: (Fall of Neskaya)
One of the most common questions I get asked is how I schedule my writing time. Non-writers often think we either write only when the muse strikes (and then, accompanied by quantities of alcohol, swathed in tobacco or other botanical smoke, and living in the most depressing garret imaginable, surrounded by the wreckage of countless relationships) – or we get up at 7, sit down at the computer/typewriter at 9, take a one-hour lunch break at noon, and work steadily until 5. I am quite sure there are writers who do follow those schedules, but I’m not one of them.

Some writers need long stretches of time to dig deep into their stories. I’m not one of them, either. I’m a slow-and-steady plodder. There’s nothing right or wrong about either way; each writer discovers what’s right for them. So the following comes from my own experience.
If I’m going to write a novel and a couple of short stories every year (or two novels in 18 months), I need to write consistently when I’m in the early drafting stages. All bets are off when I’m writing proposals, rewriting, or revising to editorial order. Most of the time, I find daily goals helpful, so long as they are achievable. I don’t find it at all supportive to post my progress in terms of words of pages. One writer of my acquaintance used to post not only words written but anti-words; words the writer had deleted. I like that the writer acknowledged that not all progress can be measured by the total number of words.

A better goal for me is to write well.Read more... )
deborahjross: (Default)
I wrote this essay in 1997, when the world of publishing was very different from what it is today. Back then, who could have anticipated the revolution in epublishing and the way it has given rise to self-publishing and independent publishers. Upon reflection, however, I think it's worth considering. Let me know what you think!

Many recent articles in newsletters, magazines and websites describe the dire state of publishing and the difficulties which writers face in order to break in, let alone survive or flourish. Conventional wisdom resonates with images of loss and scarcity:

"The midlist is dead!"

"IDs (Independent [Book] Distributors) have imploded!"

"If a single book fails, your entire career is finished unless you change your name!"

"Media tie-ins and franchised universe fiction are squeezing out original work on bookstore shelves!"

The background to these declarations is grim. Approximately 50% of all novels marketed as first novels are in fact written by established writers seeking to escape from poor sales figures. This situation benefits publishers because they then need pay only first-novel level advances for solid, midlist‑level books. The average advance has not increased in a decade, while those for a few, more highly promoted books have skyrocketed, further fueling the "boom or bust" polarization. Bookstore chains occupy an increasingly large share of the market and their computerized ordering practices base advance orders on the author's previous sales. Some critically‑acclaimed books sell so poorly that their authors have difficulty finding a publisher for their next work. In this age of micro-management by distant multiglomerate corporations, the success of a book can be determined before it appears on the shelves. Publishers hold "autopsy" conferences to discuss why a book which they believed would do well "failed" in terms of sales.

Advice is easily given in an atmosphere of unspoken desperation. Sometimes the suggested tactics succeed: a byline change or a switch to a more commercial form of fiction may rejuvenate an author's sales or at least subsidize more serious writing. Too often, however, such changes are proposed and undertaken without consideration of their emotional implications. Well‑meaning advice gives special privilege to forces which are inherently beyond a writer's control and which have to do with merchandising, not creativity. The writer who follows such advice unsuccessfully is particularly vulnerable to feelings of guilt, regret, loss of artistic identity, and betrayal ("having sold out.")Read more... )
deborahjross: (Default)

Last night I sent off the revisions for The Heir of Khored , the final book of The Seven-Petaled Shield trilogy. Am feeling very pleased with it. That wonderful feeling of reading your own work and thinking, "Wow, I really nailed that scene!" So, elation but also exhaustion. As you can tell from my (well, partly deliberate) sentence fragments.

What do you do when you've been working on a project for what seems like forever (7 years) and it's finally done. Out of your hands. Fini. (I still have to do page proofs, but the essential work is done.) Some writers go on vacation. Kick back, get a massage or twelve, watch all the seasons of Eureka, go out to dinner, etc. Others sit around and mope, wondering what to do with themselves. One very fine writer of my acquaintance gets depressed until she starts the next project. 

Me, I have a list of things I've put on hold during the crash and burn deadline period. I've written out a few things, pinned the paper to my bulletin board. I stare at it, my mind bereft of ideas as to how to accomplish the tasks. I think that state of blankness is about par for the course. The thing is, when we pour ourselves into a project, particularly one with a a deadline so it's not only all-encompassing creatively but in terms of how many hours it eats up every day, and then it's over, it's as if we've been pushing a very large, very very heavy object and it suddenly slides out from under us. Falls off a cliff. Disappears into another dimension (aha! PublisherLand!) I feel like a cartoon character staring into the void where my book used to be.

As much as I want to dive into the creative projects I set aside because of the deadline, I also need to take care of the void inside of me. Read more... )

deborahjross: (Default)

I've put together a collection of essays on writing - craft, survival, inspiration, career, and many other topics. Here it is, new from Book View Cafe! If you've enjoyed my blogs here, check it out!



A cup of inspiration, a dash of understanding, and a generous serving of wisdom for writers new and old. From the desk of writer and editor Deborah J. Ross comes a collection of warm, insightful essays on the writing life: including getting started, negotiating with the Idea Fairy and creating memorable characters, writing queries, surviving bad reviews, dealing with life’s interruptions, confronting creative jealousy, and nourishing yourself and your creative muse.


It's available in epub and mobi versions (so you can read it on your Kindle or Nook, as well as other ereaders) and you can download a sample chapter. Only $2.99.

deborahjross: (Default)
For the last seven weeks, I’ve been away from home, helping to take care of my best friend and her family during the end of her life. I had no idea how hard it would be, but we did well by her and her passing was peaceful, attended by great tenderness and forgiveness. I stayed on for another ten days to organize the memorial and transition for her family.

During this entire time, one of my personal anchors was writing. I loaded up my netbook with current projects and took the folders with checklists for various Book View Café projects I was working on. In this way, I created a portable office, albeit one that lacked all the resources I had at home. For example, although I had access to the internet through my carrier’s website, I didn’t have my address book files. I learned to “work around” these limitations, focusing instead on what I could do, delegating and asking for help with things I couldn’t, and postponing other tasks. As a result, I was productive with some projects but “on hold” in others.

Now I’m back in my own office, resources at hand. I’m facing a dual challenge: coming “up to speed” and getting back into balance. What do I mean by balance? I mean reapportioning (or rather, un-deapportioning) my time and focus. Rarely have I been so aware of the many activities involved in my life as a writer. These include, to name a few, original fiction writing (drafting, revision, revision-to-editorial-request), other aspects of book production (proofreading); editing anthologies; beta-reading and editing books, often for other Book View Café members; writing blog posts like this one; keeping up with professional communications (reading and responding to email from fellow writers, fans, and editors, not to mention news of the publishing world).
Read more... )
deborahjross: (sabertooth)
Autism is my worst writing enemy, and my best writing friend.

Writing characters is a challenge in my fiction writing because I am autistic. I have great difficulty writing believable, consistently inconsistent characters. These are the kind of characters that say one thing but do something opposite, whose motivations and actions do not match; in other words, who act like real people. 

What does my autism have to do with my character writing problems?

Conventional writing wisdom says that characters need arcs; they must change over some way. This makes no sense to me. Why does a character need to change? I don’t change.
I’m told to write believable, realistic characters—consistently inconsistent characters. Inconsistent? That’s not how my mind words. I’m a “Say what you mean, and mean what you say, please” person.
           What motivates your characters? What causes them to act, or react in a certain way? How do other characters respond to her? What motivates a character? I don’t know, in fact, what motivates people. People are strange; they make no sense.
Struggling to understand character’s motivations highlights how much I don’t understand people. How completely and totally mind-blind I really am; how I can never figure out what makes people tick. Although my mind-blindness hinders my ability to write effective characters, my autism gives me many writing advantages.

There are aspects of the autistic brain that are wired perfectly for effective writing.
Read more... )
deborahjross: (Deb and Cleo)
A lovely and impassioned blog post on what drives us, not to mention the ups and downs and temptations and distractions and why we are insane enough to keep at it because we are, after all, writers:

You cannot go to sleep at a reasonable hour for the same reason you cannot have a glass of wine and the idiot box: because you were a writer, you were born to be a writer, and you still want to be a writer—no, not yearn, just want, want—it’s a simple word and you have read enough crappy writing by now, including your own, to know that there is something to be said for the simple and direct and plain way of speaking; you are a writer and who is going to tell you that you are not?

Let’s say… | Leslie Stella
deborahjross: (Default)
Juliette Wade blogs on the necessity to safeguard one's writing time. This is so important, especially when we are surrounded by people who trivialize our aspirations - although why an author whose cover story in Analog was graced with a Michael Whelan cover has to justify her work baffles me completely. But we all need support at time, and reassurance that it's okay to do the work we love.

TalkToYoUniverse: When are you being selfish? Not when defending your writing!
deborahjross: (Default)
"If you don't tell me what your book is about, it's game over."

Janet Reid, Literary Agent: Every query letter must have this one thing

This seems self-evident, but Janet's blogged about a gazillion different ways writers can get it wrong. Some of that is undoubtedly due to not understanding the function of a query letter. It could also be due to the difficult of changing gears. Harry Turtledove once said that novels teach you what to put into a story, and short stories teach you what to take out. Well, query letters are like short stories all mixed up with novels and then put on diet pills (the kind that make you so jittery, you want to jump out of your skin). Here you've spent all this time developing and deepening and creating interwoven connections and layers of nuance...and then you ask your muse to encapsulate 100,000 words in ONE SENTENCE.

Yep, it's the elevator pitch. Without the snazzy. But with the snazzy. A different kind of snazzy.

Even seasoned writers blanch at the prospect. But look at it this way: in today's publishing market, this is a necessary skill. That's true even if you're self-published - you still need to communicate that nugget of coolness-of-story-experience in very few words. The thing is, we think we can do this just because we can write a novel. It's a different skill. One that we can learn. One that we can practice. (And one that our friends can help us with, by feedback.)

So I remind myself (a) I wasn't born knowing how to do this; (b) having written umpteen novels does not in itself grant me the knowledge of how to do this; (c) just like learning to write said novels, I'm going to make a bunch of mistakes before I get better at it.

Mirrored from my blog.

Janet Reid, Literary Agent: Every query letter must have this one thing
deborahjross: (Northlight)
I'm definitely in the same club as Louise Marley, who writes about that stage in the middle of a novel when nothing works and all the bright optimism of the beginning looks like the worst sort of self-delusion. I think this is when we most need -- not false encouragement or cheer-leading, but understanding that this is a natural and widespread rite of passage. We may have no idea how we are going to get through this, only a reminder of the many others who have come this way on their own literary journeys and have done the necessary work, discovered what the story needed, and prevailed.

The writer may need her chops more in the middle of a novel than in any other part. If the story seems to languish, the stakes aren't high enough. Or the pressure on the characters isn't intense enough. The point of view may be wrong, or there may be too many POVs, thus diluting the emotional impact. There can be all sorts of things missing, either slowing down the pace or abbreviating the plot, which need to be assessed.

The rest is here: How I Write a Novel: Part Six | Louise Marley | Blog Post | Red Room
deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)
Many of Nathan Bransford's observations apply as well to a weekend off as to a lapse of several years or decades.

It can feel so incredibly intimidating to start again. You might not remember where you left off. You had gotten used to filling your time with episodes of Downton Abbey. ...

Remember, the first day back is just about getting back into it. It's not going to be your best day. It might not be fun. But you did it. You're back in the saddle, which is why it's so crucially important to...

How to Return to Writing After a Long Break | Nathan Bransford, Author
deborahjross: (Default)
I've been pondering this question as I shift my writing location. I do this every winter. My primary spot is my office, a little cubbyhole on the north side of the house. In the summer, it's glorious, with a view of lilac bushes and a beautiful old California oak. There's even a kestrel house on a pole, although in all the years since my husband put it up, it has not attracted a resident. Shaded as it is, and far from a heater vent, it's chilly in the winter. We've looked at increasing the insulation of the window (double-paned glass) and the possibility of a small space heater. In the end, though, my usual solution is to follow the example of birds -- and migrate to a warmer clime.

The warmer clime is just across the house. A sunny, south-facing bay window overlooks our garden. It's equipped with a cushy recliner and a bookshelf (upon which sit two cat baskets) with space for reference books, writing journals, and a CD player. The cats know this is a Good Place. I take my netbook there, or a hardcopy manuscript, and curl up in the sun. I also appreciate being able to shift my position -- first, sitting cross-legged, then reclining the chair and propping the netbook or clipboard on my legs. (And yes, I've been known to tilt the chair even further back and take a nap!)

I have trained myself not to noodle on the Internet on my netbook unless I'm traveling. That hasn't been hard, since the little excuse-for-a-mouse-pad is sufficiently awkward to sue. The habit helps minimize the distractions I face while at my desk/desktop. Winter inevitably means less time on the 'webs, or rather, more efficiently-spent time.

The major drawback of the setup is how hard it is to spring out of the chair at a moment's notice (as when the phone rings or the cats have abandoned their sun baths and are up to something naughty). I always go through this mad scramble to upright the chair and find a safe place to put the netbook down. I always think, I should bring the portable phone with me, but then I forget. It's probably just as well, as these occasions inspire me to break up my work sessions with bursts of acrobatic physical activity.

Now it's your turn. Where do you write, and why? What works for you? What poses a problem?

Mirrored from Deborah's blog.


deborahjross: (Default)
Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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