Thick-Skin A Key To Writing Success

american-alligator_444_600x450

The alligator in the photo reminds me that writers should be thick-skinned. Anyone who has succeeded in the writing world has developed thick-skin. Writers have to pull it out of their toolbox and put it on. Wearing it, nothing and no one can get in our way and bring us down. Sounds cool, right. Well, maybe not. It actually sounds hard. Really, really hard. It’s easier to cry into my alphabet soup.

There are probably more wonderful writers out there who have experienced zero success because they didn’t know how to put on thick skin. Thick skin helps turn rejection into success. Many best-selling authors have been rejected by more publishers than they have fingers and toes.

When to put on your thick skin

Any of these sound familiar?

When an agent or publisher face gets a deer in the headlights look when I pitch my story.

The sigh when an editor says. “Your opening line isn’t strong enough.”

Instead of crying or defending or ranting your thick skin shields your heart and you can say. “Thank you for your time.” or “Do you have a suggestion.”

Why it helps

Thick-skin helps you turn unpleasant things into success. I received an email from a publisher. This is the direct quote. “Your writing is not great.”

Without my thick armor I would have cried and threw my manuscript across the room and chided myself for being such a terrible writer. Great is what publishers are looking for. So, I took a writing course and got better. I still got rejection emails, but I kept at it.

My thick-skinned determination kept me submitting my manuscript for feedback. The first three chapters are the key: they need to shine. I sent them to a manuscript critique offering at a writers conferences. Drug them to my critique group. Each time the comments were more specific. They liked my story but…you have to pay close attention to the buts. A thick-skin helps you remain open to correction and instruction. After three editors told me the story actually started much later in my book I rewrote the first three as one chapter.

Another editor told me to delete all the chapters that were not in the POV of my main characters. I got rid of some interesting scenes. (Anyway they were interesting to me.)

A judge from a contest I entered said I had a lot of stuff going on. Too many characters doing too many things equals not good writing. The judge was confused by all the various action and who was doing what.

Each comment gave me something more to build on. Kinda like the story of the three little pigs. Each pig built his house but only the one built with bricks stood against the breath of the wolf. Wolf breath is often what it feels like when your book is not getting published and no matter how you rebuild your story the wolf breath of rejection collapses all your hard work.

Disney cartoon clipart

Disney cartoon clipart

I was thrilled to get a flash fiction published. This same magazine rejected all my other submissions. Even after making the corrections requested. How frustrating is that? I pulled on my thick skin so I could graciously ask (graciousness is part of the benefit of thick skin) the editor what I needed to do differently. We talked about it. But the gem he gave me because I took the time to ask was so encouraging. “Just because it doesn’t fit our publication needs doesn’t means someone else wouldn’t be interested in it.” Keep submitting until you get a yes.

Protects from reacting

I’m sure you’ve said something like the following:

Who do these jerks think they are?”

“They wouldn’t know good writing if it bit them in the….” You get my meaning.

Thick-skin protects your lips from saying offensive things. (At least in public.) What you say in the shower or to your spouse in the darkness of your bedroom doesn’t qualify under the thick-skin umbrella. It protects your heart from allowing critical opinions of agents, publishers, and fellow-writers from coming out your mouth and infecting all those around you.

It helps writers not compare their baby to everyone else’s. Comparison tinged with jealousy nurtures negativity and the result is a bitter writer.

Don’t get bitter but encourage

Bitterness repels people from you. People won’t want to work with you or recommend you to others. You shoot your writing career in the foot when you surrender to negativity. A thick-skin helps you cheer others on and offer a helping hand even when your own work is not getting recognition. Being the complaining, gossipy, faultfinding individual in your writing group, at a conference or on your blog only weakens your ability to succeed.

Grow some thick-skin by seeking out others who wear it well. Learn how they address issues and deal with rejection. Mimic their responses until they become your own. For me, prayer works wonders. It focuses me, reminds me God is the one in control and as I pray for those whose words or critiques bother me, I gain a new peace and perspective. Add thick-skin to your tool box and keep writing and submitting, writing and submitting until you reach your writing goals.

How do you grow thick-skin? Make a comment below, I’d love to hear about it.

 

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Avoiding and Retooling Clichés

no symbol

I heard a line of dialogue in Hawaii Five O this past Friday (One of my favs.) that made me sit up and take notice. “I know it like I know the name on my driver’s license.” Why, you ask, was it so significant?

It was creative. No cliché here. You know the cliché I’m talking about. “I know it like I know my own name.” This old tired line was transformed into something cool, memorable, noteworthy. At least for me it was. I turned to my hubby remarking that was a great line. Other family members would rather I kept my thoughts to myself. But I can’t help it. I tend to analyze not just watch a TV show or movie. This time I found a gem of a line. It inspired me.

Don’t show your amateur hand

They say the sign of an amateur writer is cliché lines. Not sure who they are, but it’s mention many times in writing books, classes and workshops “Avoid Cliché.”

It’s not easy. A cliché often says so much. We can understand with one line what otherwise would take paragraphs to explain. But it can become uninteresting and lack creativity for readers if our story is peppered with a lot of clichés.

Old Idioms aren’t always clear

My co-worker told me about her son’s coach who often used old idioms. Her son came home from practice one day and asked his mother what does “You are slower than molasses in winter” mean. I would guess most people under the age of 40 have no idea what that cliché means. When molasses was used more consistently as sweetener in days gone by, they knew it thicken in cold weather. Unless you know are familiar with molasses it makes no sense. So making sure your cliché is understandable is important too.

The cliché “It’s as plain as the nose on your face,” we know, refers to the obvious. Today we might hear the phrase. “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”

“The buck stops here” says I take responsibility. More recent “Put on our big boy pants.” or “Big girl pants.” We strive to be PC.

Some clichés like the molasses reference are dated. “Easy as pie.” What does that mean? It should really be easy as eating pie. Simple and pleasurable. Same as “Piece of Cake.”

Clichés can show time periods

Old clichés fit well in historical fiction if they are true to the time period.

“Say hello to my little friend.” Probably wouldn’t come out of the mouth of a bandit from 1874. But the idiom “When Pigs Fly” has been around since the 1600s. It refers to the impossible.

A sprinkle of cliché to speak to time and place usually gets (excuse the cliché ) under the radar of the cliché police.

Practice avoiding clichés

An exercise in many writing courses is to take an overused line and give it a fresh spin. Such as the line “I know it as well as I know my own name.” How else can a writer express confidence in a characters declaration of truth? How about “I know it like I know when Monday Night Football comes on.” Okay maybe you can come up with a better one.

One of the best reasons to avoid clichés is to push yourself to exercise creativity. For example a big clumsy guy at a gala might be described as “A Bull in a China Shop.” But isn’t it more interesting to say he was like “A singing mule at a piano recital.”

Avoiding cliché stretches our writing muscles. You might even create a new cliché. Remember “Life is just a box of chocolate.”

Let’s have a little fun. Here are some clichés. See if you can come up with a new twist on them.

Stick to my guns

It’s not my cup of tea.

Can’t see the forest for the tree.

It’s like pulling teeth.

Throwing out the baby with the bath water.

If you’re comfortable doing so I’d love to see your creativity in the comments.

 

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Springing into a New Novel

My hubby took this photo from our garden.

My husband took this photo from our garden. Daisies are a favorite of mine. My WIP is set in a favorite place of mine. Photo by: Charles Huff

Spring is a time of new beginnings. Although in the Chicagoland areas we are still waiting for it to hit us full force. Seeing the crocuses and daffodil’s green shoots come up gave me hope of warmer days ahead.

New beginnings in my writing life are a lot like spring. I just finished Speedbo in March, giving me a mess of words—the shoots springing up to form a novel. A new story, new characters, new plot, new time period. All waiting to be shaped into a new story world.

one of my favorite photos my hubby took.

One of my favorite photos my hubby took. I feel like I could reach out and pick it. The same is true of how our words need to effect the reader. photo by : Charles Huff

Watching my story unfold reminds me of watching the neighborhood awaken from winter into glorious floral colors. When I sit down to write a new story, whether it is a novel or a short story, an in-the-zone feeling sweeps over me. The characters’ world becomes my world. I see them. I experience their pain and joy. In their heads I discover new secrets. Details of place and time bloom forth in all their imagined glory.

Focusing on the details of this lily reminds me of writing to help raders focus. Again my husband Charels took took this

Focusing on the details of this lily reminds me of writing to help readers focus. photo by: Charles Huff

Springtime is raking, planting, watering, seeding, and fertilizing to encourage our yards and gardens to look their very best. My novel seeds need rewrite fertilizer, editing weeding and repotting, critique group watering and raking away all unnecessary words to trim and hone my manuscript into a story that flows and carries the reader to a satisfying conclusion.

Yardwork and gardening in the spring can get intense, but the end result is a lovely yard to enjoy and share with visitors. Something to be proud of with a feeling of satisfaction in a job well done. Gardening my words brings forth the same feelings of pride and satisfaction. Something to share with my readers for them to enjoy.

A new setting for flowers like a new setting for my new  WIP.

A new setting for flowers are like a new setting for my new WIP. Photo by: Charles Huff

How do you feel when you start a new project?

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Speedbo: More than A Monthly Goal Challenge

Speedbo participant

In the midst of working, helping with grandchildren and meeting the needs of my elderly parents I embarked on an adventure I almost skipped. I joined Speedbo for the month of March.

Speedbo ended yesterday. For those of you who missed my blog explaining Speedbo let me catch you up. Speedbo is sponsored by Seekerville. You sign up to accomplish one or more writing goals during the 31 days of March. Unlike NANOWRIMO you can devote the month to editing rather than just write. What you write and how you want to reach your goals is up to you. Send your goals to Seekerville and get started.

My goal

I wanted to write a new novel rough draft. I missed my 62,000 word goal by 1200 words. My goal was foremost about writing daily and word count was a great marker. Two thousand words a day no matter what. Matter did interrupt a few days, and I made most of that up by going over my word count other days. Technically, I wrote four new blogs during the month so my total word count for the month exceeded 62,000. But this word count made me a little shy of a completed rough draft but closer than I have ever gotten in a 31 day time frame. I am so excited to look back at all the interruptions and realize I still did it.

2015-04-01 07.30.44

What I learned.

  • I can write any time of day. I don’t just need to write in the morning. Being a morning person I tend to lose momentum in the creative department as the day lengthens. A few days this month my most creative times were evenings.
  • I discovered I can write in noise. My 2 year old granddaughter has developed a shriek lately that is like chalk on a blackboard. When I’m in the zone screechy two-year olds and loud giggles don’t reach my conscience mind.
  • Putting butt in chair can become a bigger inspiration than any muse or word prompt when you have a deadline. Every day I sat at my laptop and wrote. I could feel the inspirational parts rise out of the mess of words.
  • Even under pressure my characters still tell me what to write. I think they might be a bit pushier under pressure.
  • Scriviner software makes writing a manuscript easier. I chose to write by scenes rather than chapters. Now I can rearrange and expand on them and place them in the order I want in the editing process.
  • I still got reading in even in the midst of this self-imposed deadline. I read fewer books but I found the time.
  • I still got blogs and devotions written. Doing those helped stimulate my brain when it got numb from writing my novel draft.
  • Less TV is a good thing. There are times my family has games shows and reruns on that can draw you to sit and rest your work-weary mind. Choosing to write instead got my word count done.

What I knew before I started

  • I will work hard to meet a deadline. I work better with a deadline. My writing muse seems to appear more easily under pressure.
  • I get the other important things done because I make time each day for those things.
  • Family will always come first with or without a deadline.
  • Having an accountability partner only added to my determination to succeed. I’d acquired a new accountability partner at the beginning of the year. Knowing I had to report my progress every week already had me fired up about writing.

Conclusion

I will do Speedbo again in the future; it is life changing. Now I hope the habit is embedded in my DNA. So I will continue creating my own deadlines to see if I can maintain momentum throughout the rest of 2015.

Have you ever done Speedbo or NANOWRIMO or anything like them?

 

 

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Picturing your Character: The Dog Hero

The last two post have been about finding pictures to help envision my characters. I posted several pictures to help me create a compost of both Dan and Isabella. There is one more important character I needed to get a clearer picture of his appearance. My hero Dan Sweeney’s service dog. He has a dog to keep his panic attacks away and assist him when he falls. Service dogs detect symptoms before they occur and can be trained to do a number of tasks for their master. My heroine Isabella is afraid of dogs. So this creates an interesting dilemma. I wanted to choose a breed I love that is intelligent and gentle but he needed to be misunderstood. Looking at me as I typed my story was Kreeper, my son’s well-behaved, well-trained gentle Razor Edge bully pit. He is one of 265 breeds of pit bull. When he is trying to persuade you to feed him your popcorn, his pleading looks can melt your heart. But he can be alert and stand between you an impending danger. He thinks he’s a lapdog and often takes up the whole couch to snuggle next to any of the family. But I wanted Brutus to be kind of a mystery breed so I chose his heritage to be 50% German shepherd. They can be service dogs or guard dogs and are often used by the police. I wanted a macho dog for my wounded warrior. Some of you may not care for either breed. This is fine with Brutus because he’ll win you over as he does Isabella. Again I went online to find pictures to create my composite. I found pictures of both breeds.

Shepherds

Pit Bulls

When I googled Shepherd pit mixes I got these adorable creatures.

Brutus has Kreeper’s temperament and like all service dogs had been well-trained to work with his master. He is attentive to him first and foremost. For those who question my choice google the top ten vicious dogs. Dachshunds and Chihuahua are number one and two with larger breeds further down the list. Along with my son’s pit we have a dachshund living here, as well. The little one is more likely to have aggressive behavior toward a stranger entering our home. The large dog may injury you with the enthusiastic wagging of his tail.

When I envisioned Dan’s service dog I saw our pit bull and knew his bred was getting a bad rap so why not go against the norm of a golden retriever or a lab. A well-trained dog no matter the breed is a wonderful pet and companion. By making him a mix breed we concealed his negative identity until after our heroine discovers how loving he is. Fiction heroes need time to woo their readers even the furry variety.

What is your favorite breed of dog to read about?

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Picturing Your Character: The Heroine

Monday I shared a new technique I was exploring to create my characters for the novel I’m working on during Speedbo. I shared a compilation of pictures I found on the internet to create my hero Dan Sweeney.

Now I want to show you a collection of pictures I found to help create my Hispanic heroine.

At the Start of the story Isabella has waist length hair

My character had waist length hair

My character had waist length hair

She is five foot two from Guatemala, adopted as a young girl. Isabella Wilson is starting over after the death of her husband. She gets a make-over cutting her hair short.

She becomes more stylish

Shoe Shopping

She enjoys wearing three inch heels. I am a practical footwear person myself so I went virtual shoe shopping to find what Isabella liked. Fortunately she doesn’t go for too outlandish of a style. Three inch heels help her feel more in control because she is so short.

I found perusing photos on the internet really was an interesting way to get a clearer picture of my characters. Keeping the photos handy as I tell my characters’ stories. References to their appearance chapter by chapter remains the same.

What techniques do you use to help create a character? Do you virtual shop for their clothes?

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Picture Your Character: The Hero

writing

Choosing your characters’ looks is always a challenge. As I work on my Work In Progress (WIP) I want to picture my characters. I tried something this time a few writers use to keep themselves focused on their characters. I searched for pictures on the internet to refer to as I write. The process became a bit of a challenge. There wasn’t one photo that fit the image I’d envisioned. I thought I’d post the three pictures I used to help me create a compilation character. It took a bit for Dan Sweeney to reveal himself to me. Even his name changed once we got acquainted. Dan Sweeney didn’t like the name Joe Martin. I guess Joe was a bit of a cliché name for a soldier. Dan is a wounded warrior with a prosthetic leg. He is blond and blue eyed. Looking through hundreds of photo sites, I found this soldier.

Photo one: Interesting. right hair color and eyes.

Find a picture like this for your character.

Find a picture like this for your character.

Looks pretty good.

But Dan has scars and a missing a leg. So I found this photo.

Photo 2: Wounded Warrior wrong hair color though.

Other characteristics from a second photo.

Other characteristics from a second photo.

Which gives me lots of interesting possibilities for my story. Dan has a scar on his jaw and neck so he grew a short beard and longer hair like the character Detective Marty Deeks of NCIS LA.

Photo 3: Eric Christian Olsen has the hair and beard I envision.

Eric Christian Olsen's press photo is the perfect inspiration for my character.

Eric Christian Olsen’s press photo is the perfect inspiration for my character.

Now I imagine a blond haired blue-eyed wounded warrior. He is 6 feet 2 inches and has to-die-for dimples partially hidden by a short trimmed beard. He has two missing fingers on his right hand, the pinkie and ring finger. And of course his prosthetic starts just below the right knee.

Can you envision him too?

I’m sure you have the perfect imagine in your mind based on your own creative imagination. As you read a novel, you’ll have your own image of a character that will carry you through the entire novel. As a writer it is important to keep the image in your head so he doesn’t suddenly grow a few inches or scratch freckles on his nose that weren’t there a few chapters earlier. The characters’ pictures should be posted in a prominent place to refer to as you write both to inspire and speak to you as you create their stories.

On Wednesday I’ll post my heroine’s photos.

How do you find inspiration for your character’s appearance?

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