reading

J. R. Ward, Writing Courses, and Mentorship

First, I must have a total fangirl moment. The incomparable J. R. Ward responded to one of my tweets with just the words I needed to hear to pull myself off the brink of panic and despair. Like, seriously. I’m printing these out and putting them on my laptop so I can remember this always. Because one of the things that makes writing difficult for me is that sense that I’m not good enough. Yes, it’s all tied to my inner demon bitch. But it can be paralyzing and cause anxiety attacks.

JRWARD tweets

J. R. Ward is one of my writing heroes. While I don’t want to be her, because I want to be myself, I would love to be able to write stories that are as emotionally compelling as her stories. And I get there’s no magic bullet or formula for writing. It’s hard work, y’all. Beautiful and sweaty and challenging and rewarding and soul crushing and spirit filling work. But it’s still work. And sometimes it’s lonely and more soul crushing than it is spirit filling. In those moments, words like J. R.’s, they matter. They matter a lot.

And it makes me want to be the kind of writer who is willing to pass on the love, you know? Even if I never publish. Even if my writing becomes something that is just for me. I want to be able to pass on hope and encouragement. And where it’s valid, my writing journey. You never know who may need that kind word while they are in their own dark place.

Speaking of writing journeys, I did something I told myself I wasn’t going to do. I purchased yet another writing course. I say “yet another” because I have purchased probably thousands of dollars worth of courses, books, conferences, etc., over the years. And most of the things I buy, except for the conferences, sit on my shelf or my computer and languish. It’s not that I don’t want to learn, I do. It’s that, well, let me start with the first course I purchased.

In 2008 I purchased the beta version of Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways writing course. It’s an excellent course that I never made past the first four months because my life imploded. Then I lost my job in a company downsize. Then I found a new job almost right away. Well, the why’s aren’t important, but this started a trend of purchasing writing courses and not actually finishing them.

I finally realized I’m a knowledge junky and use the act of learning and acquiring knowledge to procrastinate. I procrastinate because I’m afraid my writing will never measure up. Or that I can’t really spin a tale. My dream is safe as long as it’s simply a dream. It all comes back to that inner demon bitch, doesn’t it?

Last year a thread of an idea wove its way through my mind. It’s a good idea. There’s merit to the story, on the surface a simple story, but depths that round everything out and make it interesting. Life is full of deceptively simple stories. I think that’s why this one grabbed at me like it did. But I couldn’t write. I had snippets of scenes, a story idea, but nothing deeper. Nothing more. So I did what I never do. I grabbed a journal and starting writing all the information as it came to be. Nothing is ordered. The journal is a mess. But there are the bones of something there. I just need to excavate and put them together.

How does this lead back to purchasing another writing course? Well, this mad and haphazard way I have of slapping the story ideas together showed me I needed to try something new to capture the gist of the story while it’s in that embryonic stage. Pantsing things completely isn’t working for me anymore. But what to do? And where would I find the “expert” advice I felt I needed?

Enter the advertisement that has been hounding me online for the last six months. James Patterson is teaching his brand of writing over at www.masterclass.com. I’ve seen the ad on Facebook and popping up every damn where for a while. It looked interesting, but Mr. Patterson doesn’t write in the genre I write, and he’s like uber successful. What could I learn from him? Plus, yet ANOTHER course on writing.

Well, I caved. Why? Writing and social media for authors guru Kristen Lamb took his class and blogged about it. And I read and reread her post. Then went to check out the course information. And finally decided, what the hell. He’s uber successful. And success isn’t out of my reach. And mentorship comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Which brings me back full circle to my fangirl tweet to J. R. Ward. Did her tweet promise me mentorship? No, lord no!  We are so not BFFs because she took the time to reply. And only in my dreams will we sit over coffee and talk about the craft and business of writing amazing stories. However, her general encouragement is a form a mentorship. As is her willingness to share some of her process and journey with authors. If you don’t believe me, go get a copy of her The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider’s Guide and read it. She is one generous lady.

In addition, I get to read her books both as entertainment and to see what works for me as a writer, what sings. And maybe I can apply what I find to my own writing. If it fits. I may never sit down and have a serious discussion with Ms. Ward regarding writing. I may never meet her in person outside of book signings and writing conferences. And I highly doubt I will ever meet James Patterson at either. Though never say never.

That doesn’t mean I can’t count these two others, along with a plethora of others (I’m looking at you, Patti O’Shea) , as sort of mentors. As guides along my journey. Their guidance is indirect. Subtle. Definitely not a formal mentorship affair. And 100% on me. I have to do the work. I have to apply what I learn to my own writing. I have to find what works for me. I have to apply that guidance to my writing, while keeping my writing something completely my own.

 

 

When Books Attack

I was procrastinating purging my bookshelves this weekend, in an attempt to make room for new books. Unlike the TARDIS, my bookshelves are not bigger on the inside. I wish I had infinite space for books. I kinda do on my e-reader, and ebooks are one of the sweetest inventions of mankind. But sometimes I want to hold a book in my hands, feel the heft, smell the pages, pet the cover. Sometimes only a paper book will do. And sometimes in my quest to support my fellow writers, I end up buying the Kindle version, the epub version, and all that is left is to purchase the paper version. (I’m looking at you, Carolyn Crane,  Patti O’Shea, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jill Barnett,  Susan Kay Law, Jill Shalvis, Kristin Hannah, the late Vince Flynn, Seanan McGuire, Marjorie M. Liu, just to name a few).

I don’t live in the TARDIS, or in a library, and my husband refuses to add more bookshelves to the house so I can live in a library. This means finite space. And finite space means difficult choices about which books to keep and which books I need to let back into the wild, trusting they will find their way to kind and loving homes. And I put off making these decisions until my husband bitches about the piles of books around the house I absolutely must.

When Hubs brings up the piles of books I know he’s quickly reaching a breaking point. He has a desire for order and items out of place are not, ahem, order. No matter how artistically I arrange these piles, to him the books are not in their right place. The right place would be neatly placed on a bookshelf. A bookshelf that is not stuffed for overflowing with the written word, mind you. A neat and tidy and aesthetically pleasing bookshelf.

I have a lot going against me here. I’m tidy, but I’m okay with some clutter. I like a home that is lived in and cozy, and horizontal surfaces that are completely free and clear from stuff makes me shudder. A minimalist I am not. I have made peace with this. Hubs is trying to make peace with this. It’s actually cute to watch him try. And because he tries so hard, I try to meet him halfway. When he tells me he notices the clutter, I try to do something about said clutter. In this case, organize and purge some books.

I had a system where if I had purchased a book and hadn’t read it come book purge time, the book would automatically go to GoodWill or be gifted to a friend who might enjoy it. Then I started collecting auto buy authors like my nephews collect Pokémon cards and the one year rule no longer fit. While I try to read books as soon as I get them, sometimes I purchase a crap ton of books at one time. Sometimes I purchase a book on release day to give the author that NYT bestseller list boost, but I’m not in the mood to read the book immediately. So the book sits and I may not pick it up for some time. Then there are the books where I read the ebook but didn’t read the paper book but want to keep the paper book because what if my Nook breaks and I’m unable to get a new one and I want to reread the book? Or the zombie apocalypse is upon us and I can no longer charge my Nook? Or I just want to hold a paper book and read for no reason other than just because?

Can you tell I’m excellent at justifying book purchases? Yeah, Hubs noticed this as well.

With books reproducing at a significant rate, I had to do something drastic. First, I had to admit I have a wee bit of a problem when it comes to the compulsive need to own books, sometimes multiple copies of a book. Bookaholics Anonymous may be in my future. In the mean time, I decided to get real and hold an intervention for myself and asked myself the following questions about each of the over 1500 fiction novels I own:

  1. What were the chances I would read the book for the first time (if never read) or reread the book in the future?
  2. If chances were slim, I asked the following to ensure I wasn’t going to do something I would regret:
    • Would the library have the book if I had the yen to read it in the future?
    • Was the book autographed to me by the author?
    • Was the book part of a series where I was keeping the rest of the books?
    • Did I already own the electronic version of the book?

Books that fell into the very slim chance of reading/rereading categories were set aside. Books that were set aside were reviewed against the additional criteria. Simply by purging the books that weren’t part of a series that I wasn’t likely to read/reread in the future, I was able to minimize the piles so there was only one by my nightstand AND clear a shelf for future purchases. Of course, some of the books I purged were hardcovers where I plan to replace with paperbacks because everyone knows paperbacks take up less room. There are only ten in this category, thank goodness!

I have a problem. I love books. I collect them like other women collect shoes. Or how my nephews collect Pokémon cards. I’m okay with that.