Fighting the Darkness With Light (and Words)

I’m a terrible salesperson when it comes to my own work. I do have quick little pitches stored in my head that I use for emergencies, i.e., when people ask me what my stories are about. But then *gasp* sometimes people ask me more questions, and I usually find myself tacking on a warning that some of my story material ventures into the shadows and so maaaaybe they miiiight not want to read it. (See? Terrible salesperson). The reason for this warning is because I integrate more somber topics like sexual assault and addiction and bullying into the backstory or as a challenge for my characters to overcome (this post explains why I take that leap and venture to tougher topics, and this one by my dear friend Wendy Jessen provides excellent tips on how to tackle tough topics with sensitivity).

I’ve noticed that when I write contemporary stories (but also when I write fantasy)  that the realities of life have significant influence upon my stories. While my own experiences or observations don’t necessarily drive my works-in-progress, they certainly steer them. Sometimes my characters struggle with the same things that I or the people I know have endured. Most recently, my characters have started experiencing hardships that I see as screaming injustices in the world.

When I initially sat down and semi-outlined my current WIP (I am a pantser and probably always will be), my main character was struggling with his inability to form any sort of emotional connection in relationships. That was going to be the driving force of his arc, and he was going to be the only voice in the story. But I’ve been thinking about the meaning of his arc more and more, especially in the past few weeks, and while I still think this suits him, it somehow feels like it’s not enough for the overall story. Heart heavy with the self-doubt that is par for the course for pretty much every writer I know, I told a couple of my critique partners that I didn’t know if my story had enough meaning. Because you see, in the past few days, I’ve thought a lot about the bravery required to face hate and darkness in the world. My lovely critique partner Elaine assured me that my stories do have meaning, but that it would also be a good idea to take note of the other ideas that were in my head. Wonderful advice, and I took it, with the initial idea that this could be in the next story.

I’ve decided not to wait. My current story has room for another voice that speaks against the injustices of prejudice and hate. This means another character with another POV (thankfully I won’t have to create her from scratch, but she didn’t have a POV in the story before). The utter necessity of this is due to specific events in the recent news — events that made this quote come to the forefront of my thoughts:

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I don’t pretend to be a champion of social justice; I don’t possess that level of bravery. However, when I write that bit of darkness into my stories, I also provide a way to fight that darkness for my characters: light. They are good people that begin their story with significant struggles, and they traverse bumpy and painful landscapes, but they eventually come to believe and hope and heal and find their way to a resolution — no matter what — to an eventual better ending.

In living through or seeing injustice, whether it be prejudice, racism, sexism, or discrimination of any form, whether we ourselves are or hear of victims of crimes or assault or abuse, when we live through times of hate, we storytellers have the power to make things right again. We can help our characters through those trials. If you are fortunate enough, you will help some of your readers as well. In taking your characters and readers into the dark, the best way to drive out that darkness is to provide a light. And hope.

p.s. Now that I’ve figured this out about my own stories, I don’t think I’ll have a hard time talking about what my stories are about — in case anyone asks.

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HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at www.helenboswell.com.

Stages of Writing

This writing business is not an easy one. At any given moment, you will find folks in the writing community who are celebrating great successes, others wondering if they should quit for good, and all of the iterations in between. As a writer, I sometimes feel like I boarded a tiny boat on a big ocean, trying to navigate somewhere while constantly being tossed by waves that alternatively represent swells and crashes — or swells and bigger swells followed by crashes and bigger crashes.

This weekend, my computer’s hard drive failed, and I received the diagnosis that my MacBook Pro had suffered a failed motherboard. After I made the final decision to lay my beloved MacBook Pro to rest, I spent some time reflecting on all we had gone through together. Yes, I know that it’s  just a computer and that their motherboards and hard drives have a lifetime, but I had written 3.5 books on this particular laptop (and I’m sentimental, okay?). In my tumult of emotions, I also thought about my writing community and the times while writing those 3.5 books when I’d both needed support and lent support to others, talked about and shared hopes and fears, advice, and inspiration, and I realized not for the first time that (1) I’m not on this tiny boat all by myself after all and (2) what an up-and-down kind of journey it really is.

In a tribute to this journey (and indirectly to Ms. MacBook Pro), here’s my representation of the many stages of writing, showing some of the things that I and others have experienced. This is not to minimize any of these feelings, but to inform you that these are perfectly natural and totally reasonable reactions to the various stages of writing (shown via Bitmojis, naturally):

I wrote more today than I ever have! I’m in the flow! I can do this!

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Am I a fraud? Do I even know what I’m doing?

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Word count today: 0… the same as for the past month…I mean forever. What if I can never write another word again?

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I typed “THE END” on this draft!!!! This is the greatest feeling ever!

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*sends to beta readers*/*sends queries*/*goes on submission*  *refreshes e-mail every three seconds*FullSizeRender(28)

I don’t know what to write now. What if I don’t have another story in me? EVER?

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Do I save these rejections or delete them? *sets them all on fire and eats all of the ice cream and chocolate in the house* *buys some more for next time*

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Someone wants/requested/read/liked my manuscript!!!!!

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Revisions. And more revisions. And edits. And copyedits. And more of all of the above. Will this ever end? It has to end sometime, right?

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BOOK RELEASE DAY!!!!! THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING DAY EVER! I HAVE LIVED FOR THIS DAY!

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I’m just going to check my Amazon/Goodreads ratings one more time, but then that’s it. *five minutes later* Okay, just one more time. And one… More… Time…. FullSizeRender(7)

My book made a list! (Wait, is that category even applicable to my story? I don’t know. But who cares?) A list!

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Someone left me a 1-star review. They didn’t get it. They hated it. More people hate it now. What if my career is over?

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I’m deleting all of my social media and going into hiding.

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I just got the best story idea! It’s fresh and I already love the characters, and it’s almost like it’s plotting itself! FullSizeRender(25)

I’m writing again! I almost forgot how great this feels! It’s the best!

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Huh. I thought writing this next one would be a little easier. A tiny bit easier? Not a whole lot harder. It’s like I forgot everything I ever knew….

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So many plot holes. So many loose threads. What does this revision note to myself mean? What am I even doing?

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I feel so inspired! That writing conference/pep talk/book by *insert super inspiring writer or favorite author* was exactly what I needed! I’m rejuvenated and ready to hit it hard!

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I’ve been writing every night. And getting up early to write. And writing during the day between all the things. Because deadlines and expectations but also exhaustion and no time.

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I just hit 70K… but I’m really not feeling this story anymore, and my early test readers are bored. Maybe I should…*gulp* scrap this version and start over.

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I love this story again! I just needed to do “V, W, X, Y, and Z” to fix it, and it’s awesome again!

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Deadline is approaching…. I’m not sure I can meet my deadline…. Deadline is past.

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I finished the draft! I did it! I DID IT! (I knew I could do it.)

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Wait. All if this. All of this is my writing/publishing life? Can I really sustain this in the long term?

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I love writing! Ultimately I write for me, and I can’t imagine not doing it.

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I AM A WRITER, AND ON MOST DAYS, I LOVE IT.

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HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romance-suspense LOSING ENOUGH. She’s working on a couple of new stories right now, and you can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

We ALL Need Superheroes

There has been much buzz lately about the blockbuster hit Wonder Woman, and I have to agree with those that say the buzz is for a GOOD reason. I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that there was so much about this movie that hit my heartstrings and made me ponder many things, long after I left the movie theater. A week and a half later, and I’m still processing and enjoying the message and the story, and I can tell you this: Wonder Woman gave me hope about multiple things both personal and on a large-scale, at a time when I think I needed her.

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(^ When you just HAD to snap a picture of an epic scene because you thought you might need it for later).

One more thought has been rattling around in my brain about Wonder Woman, and it involves the pre-viewing buzz. Prior to seeing this movie, I did my best to stay away from spoilers and so really had no idea what to expect — except for the fact that this was a superhero story, which I typically enjoy (non-spoilers note: it is so much more than that). However, I had seen more than a few times on social media that people were urging all of their friends to take their daughters to see this movie. I was invited by a group of women to go see it a few days after I’d already seen it. As I reflect upon my own viewing of the movie, I completely understand this sentiment. Wonder Woman fought for so much, for her loved ones, for herself, and for humanity. I understood the call to take daughters to see this movie because as a woman, I was very inspired.

However, I did not take any of my daughters with me to this movie.

Okay, so I don’t have any daughters. But I went with my husband and two young sons (ages 6 and 10). We had planned to take the kids to see a movie that day, but our sons chose Captain Underpants. Nothing personal against the briefs-wearing caped crusader, but my husband and I wound up arguing (yes, literally arguing) over who would be the *cough* unlucky person to go to see Captain Underpants because he’d taken them to see Trolls, and I’d taken them to see The Secret Life of Pets, and honestly, neither of us wanted to go see this movie that day. My husband then said to the boys, “We aren’t going to see Captain Underpants today. But maybe we should all go see Wonder Woman. Because you know — your mom is a Wonder Woman.” ❤  *cue heartmelt*

I waited for the counter-argument. I waited for one of my sons to say, “But that’s a movie for girls. But we want Captain Underpants!” There was none of that, and aside from one brief pout from the youngest one, we went and saw Wonder Woman. And my boys, husband, and I all loved it. My boys especially loved seeing Princess Diana as a little girl, they loved how funny and determined Diana Prince was as an adult, and perhaps most of all, they loved how kickass Wonder Woman was.

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Here are some direct quotes of what my boys had to say today (about a week and a half after we saw it as a family):

“I liked how Wonder Woman could do all of those cool things, like jump this huge distance and land on a building, and how surprised she was that she could even do it.” *makes flying noises*

“I liked when she tried to blend in and how she was trying on normal clothes but wanted to make sure she could fight in them.” *kicks and punches the air*

“I liked the part when she was figuring out things about people and our world for the first time.” 

“I liked her as a little girl when she was learning how to fight, just like I do karate.” *does awesome karate moves*

“There are too many cool things to say them all, Mom.” 

Wonder Woman is a story for everyone, you see, not just for daughters and sisters and mothers and female friends. Men and boys need to see kickass women as much as women and girls need to see kickass women. One way we can empathize with people from all walks of life is to experience their stories — and this applies to readers and writers of stories as well. When I was younger, I loved Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I read (and reread) Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t when I was in elementary school (and asked my mom tons of questions about each, which she frankly answered, bless her heart). My oldest son is an avid reader, and while his current favorite series is Tyler Whitesides’ The Janitors, he also loved Judy Moody.

If only we could live long enough to read and write ALL the books. Writers often talk about the need for writing and reading diversely. Usually we mean writing about groups that aren’t widely represented in stories, and this post and others explain why writing diversely is so very crucial for our readers to understand different perspectives. Yet as authors, our books may be categorized and marketed as girl’s books or boy’s books, as women’s fiction, men’s fiction, gay and lesbian fiction, multicultural fiction, and so on (I’ve even seen the category “men’s adventure fiction” pop up somewhere). These designations are primarily for marketing toward target audiences, as these stories depict women’s life experiences, or the experiences of LGBTQIA+ characters, or the singular experience of a man’s adventure, I suppose. But as a reader and writer, there is great value in crossing those bridges and experiencing (through reading) and representing (through writing) a wide variety of struggles and triumphs, just as my sons experienced the struggles and triumphs of Princess Diana / Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and now have an even broader perspective about certain things. And okay, I’m not going to lie when I say my heart melted when my 6 yo hugged me and told me that I’m like Wonder Woman (he didn’t tell me why, but that’s for him to decide).

When I was a teenager, I read my dad’s Ken Follett, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz paperbacks, and I enjoyed them (Ken Follett’s “men’s adventures” were some of my favorites, TBH). But my dad also had his Danielle Steele paperbacks that filled up an entire shelf on his floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and I read a lot of those as well. I still remember the day when he gestured to his personal collection and told me that I could read anything I wanted to because I could be anything I wanted to someday.

Maybe even a superhero.

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HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager (and this post explains why). An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romance-suspense LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

Permission to Let Go: Lessons from The Concorde Fallacy

About two *cough* decades ago, I conducted my Ph.D research on parental behavior, using a bird species as my model system. In the biological sciences, it’s common practice to use research models to ask questions that then might be applicable to other species — perhaps even applicable to… people *gasp*. Through my background research, I discovered that there are actually a lot of social parallels between people and birds. Birds are socially monogamous and they are largely biparental, meaning that in most species, both father and mother provide parental care to the offspring (not necessarily equally or through the same tasks, but for most bird species where offspring are born helpless, fathers and mothers collaborate to care for these youngsters). In my studies, I also learned about this relatively straightforward seeming concept called the Concorde Fallacy. Named after the very expensive supersonic jet, the Concorde Fallacy refers to the error in reasoning of the British and French governments’ continued investment into the aircraft program because they already had invested in it, despite the impracticality and lack of economic need of this luxury transport. The Concorde Fallacy serves as a warning against the common argument that “we have come this far and now we should continue.” The argument is not that you shouldn’t ever use past investment as a justification for continuing: just as all businesses require a start-up period with initial investment, all writing takes time, effort, and sacrifice before you can finish a project or publish a book.

How often do writers commit The Concorde Fallacy with their own work? How many times have we persisted with a project because we’ve come this far and can’t quit now? How could we let go of a project if we’ve put years and years of our time and energy and effort into it? How do we avoid feeling like the planet’s biggest failure if we do walk away?

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In working on my Ph.D so long ago, I remember grappling with the question of whether I could apply some of these principles to my own life. According to my advisor, I wasn’t supposed to think of my own research concepts in the context of my own life. After discussing-arguing this point with him for the twentieth time, he gritted his teeth (or maybe he was smiling) and said that I had the mind of a sociologist and not a biologist. To this day, I love teaching biology and asking scientific questions. While I occasionally use my scientific background in my fiction writing, I more or less gave up on trying to apply those long-ago research concepts to my own life — until recently.

Last weekend I attended the Storymakers Conference for the very first time, and everything about this conference spoke to me: the classes, the intensives, the energy, and meeting old friends and new. But one of the things that struck me most of all came during one of the keynote speeches, delivered by the brilliant and talented, and kind and humble, author Ally Condie. As just one example of the many inspiring messages, Ally told us about two back-burner projects that she wrote. These began as projects that were not what her publisher requested. Despite this, she felt compelled to write them, and so she did. As I sat in the ballroom listening to Ally’s speech, I felt like someone had punched me in the chest (and no, it wasn’t Ally because she is too kind). But it was her message on giving yourself permission to be daring, to start something new and something that you’re excited about, to write something that you want to write, not necessarily something that you’re supposed to write. She made the important point that while some of these projects will never see the light of day, others will. In Ally’s case, the two back-burner projects she mentioned were ones you may have heard of: MATCHED and SUMMERLOST.

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Some amount of fangirling may have happened at Storymakers!

So, I have been working on a manuscript since the summer of 2014. It started as a challenge from one of my critique partners. For much of the first three months of writing this, what I will here refer to as the “scarred story” didn’t feel quite right. At the three month mark, I was forced to put it aside to finish the third book in my YA trilogy, which was on a deadline (while the scarred story was not). Book three of my trilogy was finished the following spring, and at that time, I went back to working on my scarred story. That was over two years ago, I have rewritten it many many MANY times. I am still unhappy with the beginning, parts of the middle, and I have never gotten to the ending. I know my characters well, but they don’t speak to me very openly anymore. But for over two years, I told myself I had to keep at it because I owed it to those characters to finish their story. Because I am not a quitter. Because I don’t want to fail. Because I have already come this far so how could I ever … oh. OH! Oh.

The morning after Ally Condie’s keynote speech, I closed all of my files that held my scarred story, the story that was so familiar to me yet so distant. I took my little AlphaSmart word processor down to the hotel lobby and opened up a brand new file. I started to write a new story, a back-burner project that has been rattling around in my head for some time now, and as I tapped on my keyboard, those ideas jumped out and started to play out in my mind like they were celebrating. I’m not kidding — I seriously felt like crying, in part because it felt so good to start working on this new project, but also because I had finally given myself permission to let go of the scarred one.

I haven’t shelved my scarred story forever. I know will come back to it, and I know will do it justice, but I will do it when I’m ready. And it’s okay to let it go for now (and yes, even if it is forever) because writing is about heart. If our hearts are not in our work, then there is really no purpose.

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At Storymakers, I got to play with the other authors at the mass book signing ❤

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at www.helenboswell.com.

On Writing About Sensitive (Trigger) Topics

Trigger warning: This post mentions potential trigger topics.

I love writing happily-ever-afters (HEAs) for my characters, but in order for them to get there, they have to go through quite a lot. The following quote from one of my favorite reviews summarizes this nicely:

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My stories always include hard and stormy issues (This post explains why it helps to write darker topics for my characters). Some of these issues may be trigger topics: subjects that generate strongly negative emotional responses. Triggers could be related to a damaging experience in one’s past (e.g., war, sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic abuse, eating disorders, suicide, hate crime, bullying, racism, sexism, and more). Triggers may also be deeply rooted in a phobia of varied or unknown origin (e.g., fear of dying, fear of blood or violence, fear of spiders, fear of being alone, and more).

Given the wide range of experiences in your readers, I posit that there’s no way to predict all of the elements of your stories that may serve as triggers. However, you might reasonably assume that what you’ve chosen as characters’ primary struggles or fears will resonate on a very personal level with some readers who have had similar or at least analogous struggles or fears. Ideally, isn’t this what every writer wants, to have our readers be deeply affected by our stories? Readers are more sensitive and also more vocal than they were fifty years ago, and this is a natural result of social media and increased social connections. But it’s also because of an increasing social presence and conscience. Voices in our society rise with the call to address lingering social problems such as rape culture, racial inequality, gender discrimination, and mental illness (just to name a few).

You may decide to write about some of these trigger topics because they are part of life. If you do these topics justice, your readers will respond accordingly. Wendy Jessen had a great post with tips on how to write these tough topics. First and foremost, you need to pick your characters’ issues with knowledge and sensitivity. If you’re going to write about a sensitive topic, do your research well. Also draw upon real people’s experiences — perhaps this is you, or if not, seek out the perspective of someone who has gone through the storm.

In addition, here are three tips about emotional preparation:

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  1. Deal with the emotions. Make sure you understand your own emotions as you write about these sensitive topics. Channel that understanding to your story so your characters deal with their emotions as they work toward a resolution. You need to also accept the fact that you will have some readers dealing with their own emotions as they react to these issues. If this manifests as anger, know that this is their right. I have seen authors become extremely defensive or (worse) respond directly to a review that is strongly negative about their book with a justification as to why people shouldn’t take offense to how they wrote it. Every reader will take away something from a story, and it is their right to love it or hate it. It is natural, of course, to have your own emotional response when someone reacts strongly negative to something that you’ve written. However, find a healthy way to cope with your own emotions — go for a walk or a run or journal or paint or meditate or hit a punching bag — and then move on and keep writing.
  2. Know your place. This probably goes without saying, but I need to say it. If you craft a character that lives with a mental illness, this in and of itself does not make you a professional counselor. If your character is a survivor of sexual assault, this does not automatically qualify you as a victim’s advocate. Both of these are professional positions with specific qualifications. I have had readers write to me about their connections to something traumatic in my character’s backstory. (In these cases, these have been strongly positive responses, but as I stated in #1, anything is possible.) As an author, thank your readers for sharing their own stories, but it is not your responsibility (in fact, it would be irresponsible of you) to counsel them further.
  3. Trust in yourself. When we craft stories, we risk putting a very personal part of ourselves out there. When we write about highly sensitive issues, this risk of putting ourselves out there increases even more.  But if you want to write these stories, you need to shelve your self-doubt and instead trust in yourself and your abilities to represent your characters’ stories to the best of your abilities. I debated a handful of times whether I should include one particular element into my YA character’s backstory before deciding that yes, this was part of who she was. Like everything that has happened in my own past/backstory, this has influenced my current actions, and so was it with her. As I look back now to some of the vocal responses of my readers (both positive and negative), I do not regret my decision. If you decide to write sensitive topics, above all, you need to trust yourself to guide your characters through that storm and then back out again.  

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helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at www.helenboswell.com.

4 Tips for Decluttering Your Manuscript

This week was my Spring Break, and I spent the time getting my affairs in order. Spring is most definitely in the air (at least it is where I live), and decluttering is something I’ve been putting off, but this week I threw open my windows, rolled up my sleeves, and dove in(to my closet).

I also took the opportunity to declutter my WIP, a process that I dreaded but wound up enjoying. (What?)

When revising, you should go through your manuscript and declutter by cutting unnecessary words.  Yes, sometimes those words amount to an entire line. Or a scene. Or a character. Or an entire subplot. Yes, most writers find it painful to cut thousands of words *cries* when we invested so much to get to that high word count. However, a meandering story or pointless dialogue will not engage your readers, and if any of your words do not serve your plot or your characters, they need to go. (For super useful information about when and why you should be ruthless at cutting words, I highly recommend Elaine Vickers’ post on The Reductive Revision.)

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If either your house or your manuscript is beginning to feel like fodder for the producers of  Hoarders, here are four tips on how to declutter your life…I mean, manuscript:

  1. Put things in their place. I always feel better when everything is stored away in its place. There’s no reason to keep all of those hair scrunchies in my writing desk drawer, after all. Laundry, while functional in its basket, could be hung, folded, and put away, I suppose. As applied to writing, I like to organize the work that I have left so I can systematically put everything in its place. Scrivener has a handy feature where you can mark your chapters/scenes as “To Do,” “First Draft,” “Revised Draft,” and so on. I love this feature because I can tell at a glance where I need to be when I’m revising. Just like making a chore list at home (my kids do this, and yes, I also do this for myself), I also leave myself document notes for what I need to change in my drafts. As I complete those tasks, I cross these off one by one, and it’s even more satisfying than putting all of my winter clothes away for the season.
  2. Put things in storage. Not sure if you’ll wear that trendy jacket next year but not ready to get rid of it because you bought it this season? Put it into storage. Likewise, if you’re not sure if you need that scene or dialogue that you cut from chapter three, put it into storage. I save all of my extraneous scenes in a separate section in Scrivener called “Saved for Later” (you could do the same with a separate word processing file). If I do need those words, I know exactly where to find them. Sometimes I resurrect these words, but more often than not, I *gasp* don’t, which brings me to #3.
  3. Throw things away. My storage room in my basement has bins for toys that my kids don’t play with anymore. Occasionally they dig around in them and play with an old favorite, but the ones that are not touched within six months wind up being donated to charity. I also have items stuck away in that storage room that makes it to charity on a semi-regular basis, but a few pieces of this “favorite” junk have made the move with us to multiple houses. Similarly, I admit to carting around those deleted scenes and lines for multiple manuscripts. But here’s the thing: I’ve never used these words. When I’ve tried to insert something that I cut from one manuscript into another or even to a different version of a manuscript, it feels like trying to shove a puzzle piece into a space that doesn’t fit. I have to restructure these words so much that it would have saved me time and emotional energy if I’d just written them from scratch. Holding onto cut words and characters is primarily an emotional decision (in my opinion). If you’re holding onto them from project to project, evaluate whether it’s time to let them go. *clings* *says goodbye*
  4. Take a moment to admire all the things. The best thing about this week is that I’ve rediscovered the floor of my closet. Just kidding. I mean, I did rediscover the floor of my closet, and yes, the carpet is still the same color. But I’ve also rediscovered the joy in my story. It feels strange for me to say this, but I think I have been so focused on fixing my manuscript that I had fallen slightly out of love with my overall writing. Matt Williams posted earlier this week some great ideas on how to add voice to stories, and it inspired me to convert the chapter I’d been working into a .mobi file and drop it onto my Kindle app. As I read it, I was happy with how my changes translated to the page, and I was able to quickly bookmark one or two things that made it onto my to-do list. By decluttering, organizing, and shining up my characters and their scenes, I also have a better view of where they need to go from here. And I have a better appreciation of my writing, too.
  5. Have some chocolate. Technically, I said I would share four tips, but I find that a reward is always appropriate for good work. If you’re not a chocolate fan, choose your reward accordingly. ❤

Do you have any spring cleaning tips for your manuscript (or life)? I’d love it if you could share them in the comments!

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helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

(Almost) Everything I Learned About Writing, I Learned from Parenting

Last week, some of the Cedar City members of Thinking Through Our Fingers met at our local library for a writer’s panel discussion (which was wonderful). The first thing our lovely panel moderator asked us was to share our most important piece of writing advice. Mine was along the lines of every project being different and how it therefore becomes necessary to temper our expectations along the way (i.e., just because book three was a relative breeze doesn’t guarantee that book five won’t be a beast with horns). Each work has its own personality, and I began to think about how in some ways, tending to our “book babies” is a lot like parenting. Not a parent? No worries. These analogies apply to other crazily difficult if not impossible tasks as well. Like domesticating wild zebras. Or learning how to sky-dive into volcanoes.

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READING ABOUT IT IS FINE, BUT TO REALLY LEARN HOW TO DO IT, YOU HAVE TO JUST DO IT.doit

  • Prior to becoming a parent, maybe you stocked up on those “What to Expect” or other parenting books (Goodness knows I did). While useful for some technical things (like how to get that dirty diaper off and the clean one on before the baby pees or poops EVERYWHERE), nothing can better make you a better parent except for rolling up your sleeves and actually tackling parenting. Seriously. Despite the best books, you will have those days, weeks, months (or more) where you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but take comfort in the fact that you are learning more every day (especially from your mistakes), and that you’re doing the best that you can. Because you’re doing it.
  • Similarly, you might have a favorite stack of craft books and podcasts and go-to blogs about writing. You may attend writing conferences and workshops to learn about your craft. Yes. DO THOSE THINGS. But in addition to getting ideas, inspiration, and technical details, nothing will teach you more about writing than rolling up your sleeves, sitting your butt in that chair, and writing. And yes, you will have those days, weeks, months (or more) where you feel doubtful about your writing and maybe even question your entire writing career, but take comfort in the knowledge that by actually writing, you are learning more about writing every single day (especially from your mistakes), and that you’re doing the very best that you can. Because you’re doing it.

MAINTAIN REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.expectations.gif

  • Even before I became a parent, I had plans. I planned to go the route of natural childbirth for my first child. I read up on it, spoke to my physician and other professionals, and attended classes to prepare myself and my husband for what would hopefully be a memorable experience. Well. What wound up happening was a total of 28+ hours of difficult labor, two separate epidurals, and an emergency C-section that saved both my and my son’s life (talk about the opposite of “natural”)! And the important and special bonding process between mother and baby that’s supposed to happen immediately after birth? I didn’t get to even see him until two days after he was born because we were both recovering from those 28+ hours of trauma. That little guy is now almost ten years old, and I’ve learned to chill out (a little) about my expectations. If he remembers to brush his teeth and comes home from school with a smile on his face, then this is a good day! If he also does his homework and helps around the house and doesn’t argue with me and doesn’t torture his younger brother too much and practices piano without me nagging him 194 times, then that’s an amazing day. The point is not to set low expectations, but maybe it would be better to set realistic ones and understand there are lots (and lots) of things in life that out of your control.
  • Oh boy. We expect so much from ourselves as writers, don’t we? We go to conferences, connect with other writers, read about others’ experiences, and educate ourselves as best as we can about what it takes to get published. We hope that people (critique partners, beta readers, agents, editors, and eventually EVERYONE) will read and enjoy and possibly even connect with our stories. Once our book babies are out there in the world, we hope and hope and hope they will do well. I made the emotionally draining mistake with my third published book of having unrealistic expectations. This was the first contemporary story I’d written, it had gotten great pre-release buzz, and so many people worked hard to promote it on release day. Well. This book never did too well, and at first, I let that bring me down. However, I still dearly love that book baby, am currently working on another contemporary story that shall be published later this year, and I’m being careful to not unrealistically inflate my expectations. Since I’ve published my first book, I’ve chilled out (a lot) about expectations. Honestly, as long as I’m still writing, I’m good :). If people read my book and connect with it, that’s amazing. I don’t stress about charts and rankings so much anymore, especially because things like hitting bestseller charts are not in your control and therefore aren’t realistic goals.

SORRY, BUT IT DOESN’T GET ANY EASIER.screams

  • Okay, yes, some parenting things do get easier with experience. With my second child, I figured out how to multitask a bit better (because simultaneously juggling nursing, helping my son with his homework, cooking dinner, and proofreading a manuscript was necessary). However, I had to give up naps because life became much busier, and that was hard. Most importantly, I quickly learned that my kids’ personalities are not the same, and so I’ve had to adjust my parenting style to fit each child — in a way that’s a bit different for each child but hopefully still fair (unless you ask them directly, then nothing in life is fair). But I haven’t even gotten to the teenage years with them yet, so I know it’s going to get harder and harder and that I might not completely survive adolescent boys. Just kidding. We will be great, and when I get more gray hair, it means that I get to color it even more fun colors. But to say parenting becomes magically easier with each kid — just, no.
  • Likewise, every writing project is different, and prior experience will make some things easier, but not all. For instance, I don’t cry (nearly as much) when my editor comments that something major in my story needs to be changed. On the other hand, drafting is still that untamed beast with horns that gores me and leaves me bleeding on the ground. Each book has its own personality and its own challenges, and I find that these challenges continually surprise me. Book two was a challenge because it was the first one I wrote from dual POV (one male and one female). Book three was actually a relatively easier and pleasant one for me to write, but it was different because it was contemporary and not fantasy. Book four was a huge challenge because I had to balance two stories that were 500 years apart, but I felt pretty good throughout the process. And here I am writing book five, and it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever written and I want to pull out my hair because of ALL the things. GAH. What a problem child my fifth book has been. But I don’t hate it, and I just have to keep reminding myself that this story has its own personality and challenges. But to say that writing becomes magically easier with each project — just, no.

IT’S WORTH IT. (ALSO, DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF!)worthit

  • At the end of the day, I might be hoarse from yelling and my house might be in danger of being classified a Federal Disaster Area, but being the mom of my two creative, hilarious, energetic, and sweet boys is so worth it. Some days I feel like I still know pretty much nothing about parenting, but I know a lot more than I did before I held my first baby.
  • Similarly, writing may make me frustrated, sleep-deprived, feel like a failure, give me anxiety or at the very least, Imposter Syndrome, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. I know a lot more about writing than I did when I was slogging through my first manuscript.
  • Writing books and being a parent are two of the most challenging things I’ve ever done (and my former graduate school advisor is still mad at me because I told him that getting my Ph.D paled in comparison in difficulty to either of these things). Whether we choose to become parents and/or writers, zebra domesticators and/or volcano skydivers, these difficult tasks that we take on require us to continually build up our abilities with experience. But as long as we acknowledge and embrace that there’s always more to learn, I think we will all be okay.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: HOPE

Even though there have been many, many moments in recent days when it has been a struggle, the last lesson I want to share is this: HOPE. Raising my children requires that I maintain hope, for their happiness, for their lives, for their education and future prospects, and for the world that I leave behind for them. My children are my ultimate inspiration to keep fighting for a better future, and I will continue teaching them about important things such as inclusion, diversity, and how we should speak up and act when we see the need for change. Similarly, as writers, we have the power to write meaningful stories that touch lives and provide connections for those who feel lost. We have the power to share stories that reflect inclusion, unity, diversity, and betterment of the human condition. We have the power to tackle tough topics, heal people and their wounds and empower them. We can create better worlds and give people the power to speak up, and we can give them hope.

Because we always need hope in our world. We really do.

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helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. Mom of two and author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (<– coming as soon as she can tame that wild beast of a book baby). You can find out more about her writing at www.helenboswell.com.