Jaye Wells

Authornomics Interview

I recently sat down for an interview with Authornomics to discuss the writing life and my career.

Here’s a sneak peek:

You’ve written about writers needing to be more flexible. What strategies do you have for writers who are looking to get out of their comfort zone? Do you ever struggle with flexibility? Why is being flexible so important?

Flexibility is important in that every book offers new challenges. The more tools a writer has in their toolbox, the easier it is to duck and weave when new problems pop up. I also think we have to be less invested the in the mythologies we create about our writing. If you tell yourself that “real writers” don’t do this or that you could be actively working against your own progress. We get too invested in “shoulds” and acting like writing has to feel like punishment to be legitimate that we forget that writing can and should be fun a lot of the time. Being flexible allows more space for play.

Check out the rest here!

Craft Thursday: World Bibles

Craft Thursday: Inspiring Yourself Into Inertia

24-take-the-first-stepI just spent half an hour watching videos about creativity. They’re fun, right? They make us feel better–like we’re improving ourselves even as we sit on our rear ends and passively absorb their wisdom.

Maybe that’s why you come here to read my Craft Thursday posts or watch my Youtube videos. You want to improve yourself. You’re committing to your craft by seeking out tools and resources and inspiration.

That’s all well and good. It’s great, in fact. But only if you get to the moment where you turn off your web browser, open a blank page, and put words on it. Even better if you do this every or most days.

The truth is that if you’re not careful you will inspire yourself into inertia. You will convince yourself that you will write eventually once you’ve learned all there is to know about writing. Once you’ve improved yourself enough you will finally be ready.

Well, my friends, the truth is that the true path of improvement and inspiration is the path of  doing. It is the path of trying. It is making a practice out of your art. Isn’t it nice to think of writing that way–as a practice? There is no blog post I could write, there is no Youtube video, there is no craft book that will finally tip you over into being ready. You become ready by working when you’re not ready. By practicing.

So today, I want you to promise yourself that you will spend half an hour putting the pen to page. It doesn’t matter if you write a short story, a poem, or a snippet of dialogue. Write something. Practice the craft.  Inspire yourself, improve yourself, and inform yourself by doing the damned thing.

Happy writing.

J.

Craft Thursday: Must-Read Craft Books

When I’m teaching writing classes, I tend to mention the same craft books over and over. So for today’s Craft Thursday, I thought I’d share the titles with you and why I like them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of every good craft and writing life book I’ve read. It’s just a list of the ones I name-check most.

 

41KC-kry-QL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_1. Fiction First Aid Raymond Obstfeld: Great overview of common problems that plague a lot of manuscripts. Good to read prior to revision to help diagnose problems. I don’t think I read this straight through, but I’ve referred to it again and again over the years.

2. Writing & Personality by John K DiTiberio & George Jensen: This book used Meyers-Briggs personality to help explain how each type approaches large writing projects. I can not overstate how much this book did to help me find my process. I reread the section on my time at least twice a year–or whenever I try to convince myself that I’d have an easier time if I plotted (hint: I wouldn’t). Note: I’ve had trouble finding new copies of this book, but you might get lucky and run into at a used book store.

41OCo751wEL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_3. Rules for the Dance by Mary Oliver: I don’t know why it took me so long to discover Mary Oliver’s poetry, but now that I have, I’m totally in love. This book is Oliver’s primer on writing and reading metrical verse. You might have learned some of the information about meter in high school, but if you’re like me, the only one you could reliably name was “iambic pentameter.” I suggest this book because understanding the rhythm of language will help your prose crackle with emotion and texture. If you don’t read this book, you should at a minimum start trying to read more poetry and music lyrics. Trust me, it will help you become a better writer.

4. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: This is not a craft book–it’s a writing life survival manual. I probably have as many books about how to survive being a writer as I do how to become a better one. This is a great, easy-to-read book that is worth rereading at least once a year.

51xKvj+iyQL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_5. The Anatomy of Story by John Truby: Truby’s background is in screenwriting, but the way he constructs his stories is very similar to my own process. By that I mean, he advocates an organic approach. Instead of plotting, the prework here is focused on character creation and world building. The book is filled with writing exercises and great advice. It can be a bit dense, but it’s definitely worth a read.

6. Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card: Character creation is one of my strengths, but I read this because I was writing a book with multiple POV characters and wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. He introduces both topics in a clear way that’s great for newer writers. However, for my money, the best thing in this book is Card’s MICE Quotient. I won’t tell you what it is, but it sort of blew my mind.

What are your favorite craft books?

Craft Thursday: Permit Yourself

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One of the best skills you can foster as a writer is that of self-permission. I’m not talking about rationalizing destructive behavior or justifying crappy choices. Instead, you need to learn how to stop looking toward society, your friends and family, etc for permission to follow your instincts.

The greatest gift I gave myself as a new writer was permission to be a novice. After beating myself up for not writing brilliant prose and force-feeding myself every nugget of advice I could find from the experts, I finally threw up my hands and admitted that I wasn’t supposed to be good yet. I’d never written a book before, so how could I expect to be good at it?

Giving myself permission to be a beginner opened a door inside of me. Suddenly, I was free to play and experiment. To laugh at myself and let myself grow. More importantly, it allowed me to complete my first novel. I told myself I just needed to get it down. It didn’t have to be good–it just had to be done.

Since then, I’ve had to give myself permission to do lots of other things I found scary. I gave myself permission to go back to grad school even though everyone thought it was crazy. I gave myself permission to write a new genre. I even gave myself permission to take a break when I felt burned out.

The point is that your creative life is your responsibility. There is no fairy craft mother who’s going to point you on the right path or look out for you. More likely,  you will run into lots of people with their own agenda or products to sell who are great at pretending to be looking out for you. Long-term happiness in the creative entrepreneurial life requires that you get good at becoming your own advocate. It requires the courage to give yourself permission to make choices that go against conventional wisdom and to ignore the voices of people who are terrified you’ll be the crab to escape the pot.

It also requires that you get very honest about why you’re doing this. Are you writing because you want to be a millionaire (best of luck with that, friend) or are you writing because telling your story is as critical to your existence as oxygen? Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle (most of us do), and you need to decide where your hard lines exist and where you’re willing to compromise. If you’re in this for money, give yourself permission to ignore the people who are in it for art, and vice versa. Repeat after me: The existence of a different approach is not an indictment of your approach. 

So, my friends, tell me: What scary writing thing did you have to give yourself permission to do?

 

 

Craft Thursday: Jaye’s Office Hours

This week, I wanted to let you know that I’ve started a new thing called “Jaye’s Office Hours.” Since I can’t get everywhere to teach writing classes or speak about my books, I decided to use vlogging to get some of my lessons out there. Jaye’s Office Hours won’t just be about craft. I’ll also answer questions about my stories and do virtual readings, etc.

Here’s my most recent vlog, where I discuss the three types of research I use to write my books.

Be sure to subscribe to my channel so you don’t miss any of the videos. Also, if you have a topic you’d like for me to tackle or a question about my writing or how to write, let me know in comments!

 

 

Craft Thursday: The Juice Is Worth the Squeeze

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Writers are pretty silly. We indulge in a lot of magical thinking and we believe people when they tell us there’s a right way to write. This is why, from very early in my career, I believed I needed to write a book linearly. I learned this method from my first critique group, which was filled with published authors. They were pros, I reasoned, they know what’s up. So I plotted and I wrote my books in order.

When I began submitting to agents, the feedback was all sort of similar, “You say this is a single-title, but it reads like a category romance.” All of my critique partners wrote category romance and they were the ones who drilled into me that I need to plot their way.

Eventually, I left that group. My exit had been coming for a while, but the final nail in the coffin was when they urged me to walk away from the book I was working on–a little Urban Fantasy called Red-Headed Stepchild that would later land me a six-figure, multi-book contract and make it onto the USA Today Bestseller list. I harbor no ill will toward those critique partners because I learned a lot from them, including when to walk away from a situation that was not doing my writing any favors.

After I got my deal and had to write the second book in the series, I stumbled for a long time. I’d written three novels by that point, but I didn’t understand my writing process. Cue two total rewrites that resulted in one of the most stressful periods of my life. It was only once my editor called me and said, “What happens when you start writing a book?” that I gave any real thought to how my mind processed story. The first version of Mage in Black was a mess because, terrified and self-conscious of performing under pressure, I resorted to plotting and linear writing because it was what the published authors I’d known in that critique group had done. The result was a terrible, formulaic book that lacked all the heart that RHSC had going for it.

When I began to talk through my process with my editor she exclaimed, “Oh! I get it–you’re a scene writer. I’ve worked with someone else like that. Here’s what you need to do … ” See, until that moment, I only knew of two types of writers: plotters and pantsers.What I learned from my editor that day is that false dichotomy was screwing me up. I had no idea it was okay to be some sort of combination of the two, which, I’ve since found, most of us are.

It’s sort of like saying, “there are two types of people: those who like night and those who like day.” It completely ignores the wondrous nuances that exist in a 24-hour period–dawn, midday, noon, afternoon, L’heure Bleu, dusk, evening, night, midnight, etc. In other words, you might have a tendency toward writing by the seat of your pants, but your version of pantsing is probably different from every other pantser out there.

My editor called me a scene writer, but I’ve since amended it to being a “puzzler.” Yes, I write my books as discrete scenes and I write them out of order. Some might say, yeah, that’s classic pantser. But, my friends, those people would be wrong. Pantsers are notorious for diving right into a story without any preparation. In fact, I do a lot of pre-work on my books. It’s just that instead of charting out each beat of the story, I prework by focusing first on world building and character development. I fill my subconscious with as much information as I can about the world and characters so that while I’m writing I have a ton of material that informs my choices. The first hundred or so pages of my books (sometimes way more than that) are a frenzy of scene writing with no regard to structure. It’s almost like writing a bunch of short stories about the characters. This period is me working totally on inspiration. I let my subconscious play until it starts to run out of fresh ideas. Then, and only then, do I start to plot. I take that collection of scenes and place them on a storyboard. Then I started shuffling them around  (puzzling) until the story reveals itself to me. Once I have a pretty good idea of the structure, I fill it in with all the scenes I’m missing.

Look, I know this isn’t the easiest process or the most logical, but it’s how I best create stories. When I try to work against this process, my stories are terrible. That’s because when I don’t allow my imagination to drive the process, I default to formula to create structure. That’s no bueno, my friends.

I’m not sharing this because I think you should write stories the way I write them. Instead, I simply want to suggest to you that if you’re stuck, you might be struggling to understand your own process. Alternately, if you’re a plotter and find yourself hitting roadblocks, maybe try to shake things up a little. If you can’t write the next logical scene, jump ahead to another chapter or scene you know is coming. Sometimes we think we’re linear writers when we’re not. You can be a plotter and easily write your scenes out of order because you already have the plan in place. Or, if you write by the seat of your pants, maybe just do a quick sketch of what you think the scene you’re about to write is really about. That might speed things up a bit.

Bottom line: You have to go where the juice is, and to get there you have to understand your process (the squeeze).

You’ll know the juice when you see it. Your fingers will itch to start typing. When you talk about those scenes, your speech will speed up and people will remark on the way your eyes glow.

Knowing your process is basically understand where to find your juice. I rebel against structure and linearity, so my juice requires me to mix things up and not commit too soon to plan for the story. Your juice might require intricate plotting using Excel or a storyboard. Or your juice might be diving off the cliff and plowing through the story from page one to The End without stopping. All of these methods are valid as long as they get you to your juice.

Writing is work, but it should not feel like punishment. If you’re honoring your process, you will still have tough days, but you will move past them more quickly because you’ll understand how to get back to the juice faster.

Now, a caveat: It took me a long time to understand my process. It involved me blocking out all the well-intentioned advice and getting out of my own damned way. I took a lot of classes and tried a lot of methods. In addition, sometimes a story will throw a curve ball and you’ll have to try some new approach. The point is, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know your process. Also, if you know your process, don’t be slave to it to the detriment of your work. And for goodness sake, don’t turn into one of those insufferable artistes who use process as an excuse for being a jerk.

Getting to your juice is simply about knowing how your imagination processes ideas and how to best organize your work flow to optimize it. If you’re stuck, try something new. If you’re not sure what your process is, keep working. Eventually the patterns will reveal themselves. Just never forget that if writing feels like punishment you might be approaching it in a way that doesn’t optimize your flow.

Happy writing, friends.

DFW Con Schedule

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April 23-24, I’ll be at DFW Con in downtown Ft. Worth. I first attended this event two years ago and found it to be a rally great experience. I’m excited to be presenting again this year. The guest of honor this year is Christopher Golden, and there are a ton of great speakers lined up. If you’re in or near DFW, you should check it out!

More info about DFW Con can be found here.

My schedule:

Saturday, 4:00-4:50. Workshop – So Here’s My Problem. Room 202B.
Instructors will help writers with whatever writing challenge they bring to the table. Each of the FOUR writers will have 11 minutes to discuss their problem and receive feedback from the instructors.
Moderator: Melissa Lenhardt
Panelists: Jaye Wells, Paul Black, Steven Salpeter, Nadia Cornier, Tara McKelvey

Sunday, 8:00-8:50 am. Panel – Independent & Small Press Publishing. Room 202C.
A panel on independent and small press publishing.
Moderator: D.L. Young
Panelists: Laura Maisano, Pamela Skjolsvik, Jaye Wells, David Doub, Harry Hall, Lindsay Cummings

Sunday, 11:00-11:50 am. Delivering Your Pops and Payoffs. Room 202B.
Good stories don’t happen by accident. To master the art of delivering satisfying tales, writers must learn how to effectively make story promises in Act One as well as how to deliver satisfying payoffs by The End. This class will explore the types of promises you must make from the first line of your story, demonstrate a variety of tools you can use to make those promises, and offer strategies to avoid cheating your readers out of satisfying payoffs.

Early Craft Thursday: Escape Hatches

Today for an early Craft Thursday, I have a guest post up at the wonderful Writers in the Storm blog about writer burn out.

Here’s a preview:

See, what I figured out is that everyone needs a hobby. We each need something that doesn’t have ego or income tied to it. When my hobby became my job, I lost that safe space where I could create without fear.

We don’t talk enough about the causes of burn out in the writing community. Everyone is too afraid of admitting that they’re not super successful that they don’t know when to ask for help. Don’t let this be you. The writing life you save might be your own!

Read the post over at Writers in the Storm.

Craft Thursday: Old Dog, New Tricks

One of the most important things any writer can do is be open to learning new tricks. Continuing education of all types keeps your tool box stocked and your edges sharp. Because Craft Thursday is all about helping provide tools, I thought I’d share a new trick I recently discovered.

I just finished a book yesterday. Yes, it’s the book I waxed poetical about in my last Craft Thursday post–the one that helped me find my song again. The thing is, even though this book represents a lot of personal triumph for me and is probably the closest thing to a book of my heart as I’ve written, it still needed lots of technical craft to pull off. Enter: Revisions.

I did a rewrite of the draft last fall and have, since then, been working on edits. Once I’d dealt with beta readers’ feedback and my MFA mentor’s copious notes, it was time to do my final read-through.

For years, I have extolled the virtues of reading work out loud. I’d read several portions of this book to myself throughout the revision process, but I planned to read it all the way through for the final pass. I mentioned this on Facebook the other day, and it started an interesting conversation with author P. T. Michelle. She claimed that having the book read to her via text-to-speech was a crucial step in her own revision process.

I’ll be honest. At first, I was a bit skeptical. The mechanical quality of TTS was off -putting. Besides, I’d been doing my read-aloud trick for years and it worked just fine, thank you very much.

But then, just because I wanted to prove I was right, I tried it on a chapter. This was the first chapter of the novel–the one that had been read and reread dozens of times. It had been edited and run through Grammarly and vetted by betas. I’d read it out loud, myself, probably ten times. So you can imagine my surprise when the TTS voice found some things I’d missed throughout all those other passes.

I was sold.

It took me about five days to get through the entire book. I used the TTS on my Mac. Patrice said she used her Kindle but I wanted to have a little more flexibility so the computer worked better for me. Here’s what I did: With the printed manuscript in front of me, I’d highlight the chapter I was working on and set the TTS to go. As the voice read out loud, I read along on the printed version. If I caught an error, I’d mark it with a highlighter or pen. Making extensive edits wasn’t possible if I wanted to keep up with The Voice. At the end of each chapter, I’d go back through the draft and make the appropriate changes. Doing them that fast meant I didn’t forget why I marked a word or passage. It also meant that by the time I was done going through all the chapters, my edits were pretty much done.

I can not tell you how helpful this strategy was in accomplishing a lot of fine editing work. It’s tedious work, but so crucial. I will say that this is not for rough drafts. It’s for that moment when you’ve done all your rewrites and layering work and wordsmithing passes. It’s for that final pass, where you want to catch those typos, rhythmic stumbles, or continuity issues. The continuity thing was a huge surprise, actually. I caught a ton of them with this method–way more than I’ve ever caught reading the book myself. I also realized that both listening to the book and reading it allowed me to catch more missing words, which I tended to fill in when I only read it out loud.

Yes, the monotonous voice of the TTS guy took some getting used to (my Mac had an option of six voices–three female and three male), but I think the lack of inflection actually made it easier for me catch mistakes. I also appreciated the ability to adjust the reading speed. I think the Kindle has a better-sounding TTS, but, like I said, I preferred being able to spread out on my desk and mark up the printed file.

So what have we learned here? First, if you haven’t tried this method, I’d definitely recomend it. Second, I personally learned that even though I tend to be someone who is always trying to learn new things, I still can get stuck in my ways. Lesson learned.

What new tricks have surprised you lately?