Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Guest Blogger: Kylie Brant

It's cold today on the playground. There's ice on the slide, the merry-go-round has frozen in place and I double-dog dare you to lick the support posts on the swing set. But I understand it's balmy compared to where our guest blogger lives, so please give a warm Writing Playground welcome to Kylie Brant.

The Worst Writing Advice EVAH!

Thanks for the invite to the playground! I promise to play nice (mostly) and share my toys. And advice. I will dispense that freely, both good and bad. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.

I have been writing since the dawn of time. (By that I mean, pre-Internet, which is much the same thing.) So without going into my whole pathetic road to publishing story, suffice it to say when I started writing, information and networking weren’t as easily achieved as they are now. Especially since I belonged to no writing groups and knew no one else who was writing.

So if you’re picturing me stumbling around in the dark, archaic keyboard in one hand and blindfold in the other, you’re pretty close. Being absolutely ignorant of publishing and the writing process in general, I was a sponge when it came to soaking up whatever writing advice I did happen across. Trouble was, so much of it was bad.

1) Write what you know.

Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? And rather sage. How can you write what you don’t know? Start with what you’re most familiar with. There’s just one problem.

I don’t know anything.

At least nothing others would find interesting. Now if you’re looking for tidbits on how to make dinner for seven with a chicken breast, six carrots and a box of Cheerios, I’m your gal. Or if you’re wondering how long the dog can survive in the dryer when it’s turned on, I have some experience in that area. (Don’t worry, it was on air fluff. And the culprit got dog doo-doo duty for a month.) But something interesting enough to fill a book and catch the attention of an editor? Not so much.

So I started out writing my first manuscript with this huge albatross around my neck. I wasn’t writing about what I know. I must be doomed to failure. But a funny thing happened in the course of writing that book. And the next twenty-seven. I discovered that whoever came up with that clever maxim had it backward. What’s most important is knowing what you write. And luckily in this time of the Internet, research has never been easier.

I read a lot of research books for my stories, but my best information comes from experts in the area I’m writing about. Whatever the area of interest, chances are yahoogroups has a group for it. Add message boards, chat rooms, professional online organizations and you have a wide spectrum of places to ask for expertise in various areas. My current trilogy from Silhouette Romantic Suspense involves a SWAT squad. Other than experience with my kids (tactical techniques may differ only slightly) my knowledge in that area was zilch. So I sent an email to a closed group for hostage negotiators, explained to the moderator I only needed him to post my plea for help, and received four offers from SWAT personnel around the country to answer my questions. You just have to be creative.

2) First you need an agent.

(Insert rude noise here.) Wrong! It’s all about knowing your market. Can an agent get you read faster once your manuscript hits an editor’s desk? Perhaps. But is having an agent going to make the editor predisposed to buy your work? Not so much.

I sold twenty-five books to Silhouette without an agent. For category, agents are not necessary. And if you’re writing single title, there are many sources of information to discover whether the house you’re targeting limits material to agented authors only. Many of them do, but there are several that don’t. I received six invitations to submit my single title project before I signed with an agent. I needed her to negotiate my eventual contract. And I worship her for the lucrative deal she got me by selling my foreign rights to Germany. But I didn’t need an agent to get my manuscript in front of an editor.

3) You can’t do that in xxxx genre.

Most of those rules and regulations others tell you about don’t exist. Voice is important. Mechanics are a must. But take it from someone who has had heroines who are assassins, heroes who are criminals, foreign heroes, characters who are artists and musicians, a lot of the no-no’s you hear about for storyline are not true. As Silhouette’s Leslie Wainger is found of saying, it’s all in the execution. Now there are a few no-brainers. If it’s a romance, there has to be a happily-ever-after. You can’t throw your hero/heroine under a bus. Or if you do, they have to survive with most of their body parts intact.

4) You need (insert phrase of your choice) notecards, story boards, outlines, story maps, character charts—or else you’ll never get from point A to point B in your story.

The first writing conference I ever attended was the most terrifying experience of my life. I came out of every workshop feeling like a failure. Worse than that--a fraud. Somehow I’d managed to sell two books by fooling the editor into thinking I knew how to write an outline prior to beginning a story. What if they found out I didn’t have a clue? Surely they’d never buy anything from me again!

So I dutifully went home and started charting. And outlining. And I made some forms. Sometimes I even filled them out. The most liberating experience in my writing career was when I stopped trying to fool myself.

I am not a plotter.

I will never be a plotter. I no longer aspire to be a plotter, the way I no longer aspire to walk on five-inch heels. When something is painful for you, it feels great to give it up.

But don’t call me a pantser. I’m an ‘organic writer’. Don’t you love that term? It means--that’s right--I have no idea what’s going to happen between chapters four through eighteen and you know what? I’m okay with that.

There’s nothing wrong with going to those workshops and learning about other writers’ processes, as long as you remember each process is individual to the writer. Feel free to take the ideas home. Try them on. Adapt them. See if they fit. And if they don’t, toss them aside. Keep trying until you find what works for you.

So let’s dish. What was the worst advice you ever received? Or the best? I’ll be giving away an autographed copy of Terms of Engagement, book two in my Alpha Squad trilogy to one lucky commenter today!

P.S. I forgot to include earlier that Kylie has a website and also blogs on the fabulous Riding with the Top Down blog.


Problem Child said...

From one pantser, ahem, Organic Writer, to another, Welcome to the Playground!

I've been really lucky, and I know it. I took my ignorant self to my chapter meeting about the time I started my book and I found many smart people to sort the good from the bad.

The worst advice I received, though, had to be "Enter lots of contests. You have to have lots of contest wins/finals in order for an editor to pay attention to you." Many dollars later (and only 1 win and 2 finals to show for it), I sold. And it had nothing to do with a contest. :-)

Smarty Pants said...

Welcome, Kylie. You'll find you're amongst plenty of other Organic Writers here, Angel and I aside. I think I'm pretty lucky. When I started writing, at first I got on the eHarlequin boards, then soon after, found my way to RWA. They got me on track. Most of the advice I've received has been pretty solid.

The funniest, and for some reason the only advice to come to mind at this moment, has to be "never kill a dog. The readers will never forgive you. You'll get hate mail." So I figure as long as I don't kill a dog, I'm good. :)

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the playground Kylie,
Love that name, my son's name is Kyle. Anywhos, I'm not a writer but a reader. However, I did find your thoughts really interesting on how you go about your writing process. Love your website.

Kylie said...

Problem Child, I feel your pain! Contests are expensive! I truly don't believe they help most people catch the eye of an editor, wins or not. Sure it's nice to have those on your writing resume, but let's face it--an unpublished author doesn't have a platform. It's the product that's going to sell the work.

I do encourage people to use contests for feedback. It's best to choose wisely among those that promise judging by published authors and editors, and include written comments on the manuscript and score sheets. By comparing similarities among the feedback, a writer can start noting trends, which may help pinpoint weaknesses in the story.

But being a contest slut just to pad the writing resume prior to publishing? Not a good use of anyone's money.

Kylie said...

Smarty Pants, I have to say that is one piece of advice that seems to be true! In my first published book I had a stalker killing the heroine's cat. I had to change it to a bird because my editor said they'd get outraged mail.

Universally, the feedback I hear says you can kill as many people as you want in the story, LOL, but don't kill something soft and furry!

Kylie said...

Welcome, Anonymous! We lurv readers!!!

Angel said...

Yep, I too got the old "Write What You Know" speech. Luckily, I had made contact with an historical author, who I asked her opinion of this advice. Her response? If she had to write what she knew, none of her books would exist. That's what imagination and research is for.

Frequently, I also find myself on the receiving end of an implied rule. Many times I've had the phrase said to me: "When your children are grown, you can..." Many writers didn't start writing until their children left the nest, and especially when I first started, I found them shocked that I was trying to be published while my children were young. I figure, by the time they are grown, I may be worn down from having No Life. If I pus now, I might actually be published by the time my daughter starts middle school. So I haven't let my children's ages stop me. I simply do my best to find balance in whatever stage of our lives we find ourselves (including the current '2 broken wrists' one) and continue to pursue my dreams along with caring for my family. Luckily I have 2 great examples right here: PC and Instigator!


Kathy said...

Hi, Kylie! Welcome to the playground. Thanks for coming to play, but don't slip on the ice! ;)

I think we've all met other writers with great processes and tried them on at one time or another to see if they fit. I know I have.

Beginning writers often open themselves up for disappointments that put barriers before the muse. What advice would you give writers who, for whatever reason, find it hard to get back into the chair?

Where would critique partners, and good or bad critiques that stun a writer's process, fall on your list? And how would you suggest a writer recover from a bad situation? :)

Instigator said...

Welcome to the Playground, Kylie!

And I love your evaluation of the 'rules' :-) I remember a period of time shortly after I joined RWA when I couldn't write because I was paralyzed by 'the rules'. They took every spark of creativity that I'd had. It took me awhile to realize that's what was wrong and to throw those pesky things out the window. Once I did I was fine :-)


Kylie said...

Angel, you are so right. I'm puzzled when people expect a parent to put any hopes/dreams on hold while raising kids. Some of those days, our dreams are all that save us, LOL.

When I started writing my kids were 12,11,7,4 and 4. And if I hadn't started writing when I did, and been fortunate enough to get published shortly thereafter, those five kids wouldn't have had their college paid for!

I teach full time in addition to writing and am here to tell you, you can do it all. Just don't expect to have much of a mind left, LOL, but I don't miss it that much anyway!

Smarty Pants said...

5 children, a full time teaching job and 25 books under your belt? Bless your heart. :)

Kathy said...

Wow!!! Now I really feel like a loser. ;)

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Hi, Kylie! Wow, I'm feeling like an underachiever! Here I was whining on my blog about how I had to go to Starbucks and disconnect from the internet to get work done, and you did it with 5 kids and teaching full time! Whoa!

Yep, the rules pretty much stopped me in my tracks at one time too. It was horrible not to be able to write and to think I was doing it all wrong.

Oh, and one thing I kept getting told by critique partners (who, it turned out, weren't all that knowledgeable after all) was to tone done my heroes. I write intense alpha males -- and I got complaints about it.

Well, fast forward a few years, and I sold to Harlequin Presents -- and I think it's *because* I write that kind of alpha male. You can get away with nearly anything so long as the reader understands why. Let your characters be who they are and don't try to fit them into some mold that you think (or have been told) romance heroes and heroines are supposed to conform to. :)

Sherry Werth said...

Hi Kylie! Thanks for coming to the Playground and sharing your experiences and knowledge.

As a newbie I'm still spending a lot of time in the "dressing room" to see what fits. (LOL)

Kathy posted the same questions I was going to ask so I won't post it again. : )

7 in your household and a full time job. I think we should just call you "Superwoman"!

Kylie said...

Good questions, Kathy. I promise not to slip on the ice. As my second son is fond of telling me, I could break a hip. I so appreciate his exaggerations of my age!

Having a critique partner is a very personal decision, depending on how you work, your personality, the fit, etc. I am not one who would do well with a critique partner. I don't like anyone to see my work before it's finished. And it takes a great deal of trust, built over years, to discover a person whose writing advice you value and can trust.

Others find critique partners invaluable. But I've seen some aspiring writers be crippled by well-meaning (or not!) advice that conflicts their process and slows them down. So choosing a partner wisely is imperative.

The trick is how do you know you're a good fit until you start together? I'd start very slowly when I showed my work and I'd begin with something other than the manuscript I was currently working on. That way if the advice has you doubting the work, it doesn't slow down your writing process on the wip.

If a bad critique stunts the process, I'd suggest removing yourself from the situation. We've all been there. Personally I stopped subscribing to RT magazine years ago because it made me feel bad about myself, LOL. Not that I wasn't getting good reviews. I was. But when I read better reviews for others or big write ups for other projects it sort of depressed me. Right or wrong, it affected my process so I had to cut it so I could continue to write.

To recover from a bad situation or start to motivate yourself again, I'd suggest an compliment board. I'd write all the good things that had been said or written about my work, and post it on the computer or nearby. And focus on those until your attitude lightens.

We all do it. Multi-published authors routinely hang their awards or good reviews near the computer to motivate themselves. I think because writing is such an intensely personal process, criticism can be especially discouraging. The trick is to focus on the good stuff while learning to leave the bad behind.

Kylie said...

You're so right, Instigator! As someone who doesn't like rules anyway, I'm glad I was too ignorant to know about them before I started writing!

Kylie said...

Smarty Pants and Kathy, you should consider that five kids were the reason I wrote. Gave me an excuse to lock myself in a room alone, LOL!

And I'm currently on my 28th book. Due in five weeks and I'm on page 125. Yeehaw. Gotta love procrastination!

Kylie said...

Lynne, congrats on your sales! And you've nailed one problem with critique partners. First they must know much more than you, or they aren't doing any good!

Everyone just needs to be very careful about listening to rules and what can/can't be done. Editors regularly shake their heads about it and wonder where this misinformation comes from.

It's so much more helpful for a critique partner to say, the hero didn't work for me and here's why then to say he's too alpha or not alpha enough, or you can't have a hero who's a computer nerd, or such nonsense.

And yours is a perfect example of knowing your market. Alpha males are the mainstay of Presents!

Kylie said...

Sherry, that 'dressing room' process is important as you discover what works for you. Who knows, you may discover a new hybrid process you can share with us all!

My kids are all out of the house now, which had a curious effect on my writing. Because I learned to write amidst chaos and constant interruptions, I found myself bothered by the quiet, LOL. I'd self-distract a lot (still do, actually).

I set daily writing goals to stay on schedule, but those pages seemed to come easier when there was more noise around, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever!

Playground Monitor said...

Sorry I'm late to the party. Would you believe my bedroom door was frozen shut? No? How about I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep for 4 hours and just woke back up. Ugh.

I forgot to put Kylie's website and blog URL's in the original post. I added them. She's on a terrific blog with nine other women and I love to visit there every day. And whether she remembers it, I met her in Atlanta at lunch with Cindy Gerard and Kristi Gold.

On to advice -- I heard all the "rules" too and that paralyzed me too. It took me forever to toss them out the window and just write. I still have to beat my internal editor with a whip every day and beat her into submission.

This is such great advice, and despite the plotting board I showed at our chapter meeting last Saturday, the more I write, the more I'm becoming an organic writer.


Kylie said...

Playground Monitor, I'm so glad you mentioned Atlanta! Because I didn't remember everyone's name, but I knew yours was familiar! How cool that we've met.

Re the internal editor. Boy do I hear you. Mine is counterproductive on a good day. Downright mean on others! You definitely have to get that internal editor in line and get the upper hand or all you do is spin your wheels.

It helps me to reread what I wrote the day before, when the internal editor was whispering that everything I was writing was *crap* and notice that it wasn't so bad after all, LOL. That helps give me the strength to shut that bad boy up and get some writing done!

Virginia said...

Hi Kylie, welcome to the playground. Another romantic suspense writer. I just love to read a good romantic suspense so I am looking forward to reading one of yours.

I am a reader not a writer so I can't think of any bad advice to me. Now I have people recommend certain books to me and it was very good advice, but no bad advice.

Kylie said...

Virginia, how lucky you are to get recommendations that fit your reading taste! Someone knows you well!

Angel said...

Kylie, I so agree that writing with children keeps you sane. I regularly call it "therapy". :)


Stefanie said...

The worst advice I ever got, has to be this:
My parent were constantly arguing and shouting at eachother. I told one of my friends that it was very difficult to me and she just answer: Don't care so much about it.

Yeah, that really helped. Euhm, not!

Kylie said...

Angel, I live in hope that I can devote the rest of my years being a problem for my children, LOL!

Stefanie--that is terrible advice. And ridiculous. It's the kind of advice I get from my dh. 'Just forget it.' Or 'don't let it bother you'.

Don't care so much. How does one *do* that, exactly???

Playground Monitor said...

I forgot to comment on the "write what you know" advice. For two years I've been writing short stories for True Confessions and True Romance. If I'd been writing what I know, the pages would be blank or dull at the very least. But I can make things up and the composite me based on the stories I've sold would have me as a widowed egg donor running for public office after being stranded in an airport on Christmas Eve after my husband committed suicide and I'd had cybersex with my best friend's son. LOL!

I started TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT the other night. I love that opening scene with the barechested Santa who is also a detective.

Kylie said...

LOL, Marilyn. Which leads to the endless questions of 'is all that in your books based on true life????' They are always talking about the love scenes. Apparently they don't care about the murder scenes!

I sent your stripping Santa to my editor because it reminded me of the opening scene in this book.

Playground Monitor said...

OMG! I hadn't thought about stripping Santa being like your book. But now I'm going to think of him as I read every word about Jack Langley.

Kathy said...

Thanks for all the great advice, Kylie! Words of wisdom we all need to take to heart.

I've got 4 kids, but I've been a stay-at-home mom most of that time, if you discount my volunteer work, and without a job, I don't have 28 books written. You put me to shame. :)

As an aside, if I shut myself up in a room, my kids would've constructed a battering ram and knocked it down. LOL!

Kylie said...

Kathy, I had a rule that they weren't to disturb me except for fire or blood. Lots of it! But it wasn't like I couldn't keep track of what was going on. The house isn't that big!

My kids just told this story at Christmas: the two oldest sons wanted to ask to go to the swimming pool. But I'd said not to disturb me except for fire or they pushed the youngest son off the porch!

Ah yes, one of many trips to the emergency room for stitches! My kids were savages!

Playground Monitor said...

That story is funny now, but I'm sure the trip to the ER wasn't fun then. Kids can be SO "creative."

Christine said...

Due to endless admonitions about the "ly" words, I eliminated them from most of my ms's -- but why? I read books with them in there all the time--it's the "words not to use lists" that kill me as a writer. But I think the trick is to write them sparingly (I use the "ly" word with great trepidation).

Contests: I entered a lot of them with the third book, but then got bogged down on the first 25 or so pages. I lost site of the entire story. Now I am focused on finishing the revision. However, contests have their place in my life: they give me mini-goals and I love having deadlines because I am not published and need a stick. But I only enter contests with Hqn editors, or where tons of feedback is involved.

Critique Partners: learned a lot, lost a lot, now on my own.

Write What You Know? Heck I don't know how to decorate a cake, play a tune on a guitar, or sleep with Viggo Mortensen but my imagination takes me places I love to visit and the internet is fabulous.

I love the suggestion about going to "closed websites/groups" with ques. re: research topics. I will use that in the future!