Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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NaNoWriMo Update

This month has flown by in an absolute tizzy of words. I haven’t done much else, and there’s much more I need to do. This November, so far, I’ve learned the perils and rewards of working without a real outline. I’ve got a sprawling character study! With the no-editing clause in full effect, I have to go through five more days of do-not-touch-the-structure, but then in December I can rip it apart.

Usually when I’m drafting I’m far too close to the characters to see how to pull it apart and rework it, but I woke up this morning with a clear revision path in mind. I’m impressed, and it’s not often I impress myself.

I refuse to boast about word count. I haven’t even got to the end of the novel yet–I’ll just say I’m above the required. But instead of adding more lovely characterization, I’m going to sketch out how to get from here to the end and fill it in loosely. Then I’ll be satisfied.

I only changed the name of the novel once. That’s also impressive. I have written every day, which is good for me during NaNoWriMo, but doesn’t necessarily apply to my everyday life. Eleven months out of the year, I write when I can as often as I can, but don’t generally have the time to sit down and write for three or four solid hours. And you know what? It’s all good.

NaNoWriMo hasn’t been as much a rush to the finish for me as a learning-to-navigate-my-lack-of-outlining-skills experience. But as my mom always said, “As long as you learn from it, it was worth doing.” Now I can’t wait to craft it into something solid.

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Happy November! That Means NaNoWriMo.

I usually approach National Novel Writing Month with a combination of excitement and dread. I’m never sure which is more appropriate but one thing is certain: it’s always exhilarating.

Writing whenever the mood strikes.

Me, hard at work. Photo via Visual hunt

Last year I worked on a novel right on the heels of Pitch Wars. To say I was burnt out is an understatement. Reworking a novel in a couple of months is no mean feat, much less preparing for the agent round, which always coincides with the start of NaNoWriMo. This isn’t a complaint, though. I learned so much from Pitch Wars, particularly about my weaknesses as a writer. For one thing, I’m not much of an on-paper plotter. I know where a story is going in my brain, after a vague fashion, but putting it down in an organized fashion makes me want to tear out my hair. I had to do it for Pitch Wars, but now that I’m on my own I’m free to own my bad habits, as long as I recognize them.

We hear a lot about the two main types of writers (plotters vs. pantsers). At this point I’m a hybrid between the two. I know where a story starts, where it wants to end, and a few of the most important plot points in between. I’ve also written (and rewritten) enough romances to have a fairly decent feel for where I am in the story at any given moment.

I’m also a bit of a rebel, and like to break the rules. Not all of them, because romance novels need to have a certain reliable emotional sequence in order to work. Just because standard wisdom says the characters shouldn’t have sex before the 50% mark doesn’t mean that works with all characters in all settings.

I’m proud to announce that today, on Day 1 of NaNoWriMo, I managed to get an intimate scene in there. To be fair, I wrote the first chapter of this book previously (don’t worry, I’m not cheating by including that chapter in my word count), so I have a small idea about my characters and their emotional makeup. Also to be fair, this is the third book set in a specific world. That also goes a long way toward making the words flow more easily–I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Most of the characters are new, which is fun. One is an old favorite who’s evolved so much over the course of the first two books that he’s a pleasure to write, even if he’s only really evolved in my brain. But that’s why we write! To get the stories out of our brains and onto the page.

I’ve also just begun querying my last book (not last year’s NaNo novel, that got scrapped but served as good groundwork for the one I’m shopping, which I wrote in a personal May-June version of NaNo, then edited to the ground). I see November as three things: writing every day (something I learned how to do from my very first NaNo experience), researching agents and sending query letters (something I got really good at after Pitch Wars), and getting into the groove with the website a bunch of us have been working on (All The Kissing – by romance writers, for romance writers). Ultimately, that means it’s shaping up to look like a normal month.

But I have my NaNoWriMo buddies to cheer on, and to cheer me on. It’s so much fun!

Tell me, how are all of you? What are you working on? How’s autumn treating you?


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Romance Query Critique Giveaway

Hi there, fellow writers. Are you writing romance? Getting ready to query, or not sure about the query you’re sending out? Would you like a little feedback?

If the answer to any of them is yes, here’s a query critique giveaway for you. It’s open until October 22. If you have any questions, ask away.

Enter here.

Query Critique Giveaway!


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Then the magic happens.

I remember writing a book outline where I had a beginning and ending. You know what words sat between those two things?

Then the magic happens.

Yeah. I know. But it’s true. As creators and writers we reach this point where we are or have become our characters, at least to the point that the person looking out through our eyes is colored by the personality of the character. It’s writing as method acting. It’s inhabiting the character so much that their thoughts are either first or rivaling ours for first. This phase can last for months. Years. A lifetime. Writers are tricky that way.

I’d fallen out of this lovely phase for a while, but now I think I have it back. The magic is ready to happen again. I can feel it in my face, the tips of my fingers, the expressions I make.

This is the part of writing that’s about giving up control and letting the people living in my brain have their turn in the spotlight. This might be what industry professionals mean when they talk about voice and how it’s so difficult to define.

That’s because it’s magic, and there are no words in our language to define what can’t be explained. I’m ready to rock & roll.


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On Writing and Competitiveness

This post has nothing to do with entering contests. Many of them are wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences with them.

Today, I’m here to talk about competitiveness, not competition. There’s a difference. We can all enter writing competitions. I did and have and will again. The writing adrenaline junkie in me loves to get the feedback, to see how I did, to see who wins and why. Writing contests are a great way to receive input on our stories from people who’ve never read our work. Of course the feedback is subjective; of course it’s varied. That’s a good thing, because when our works are published and out there in the world, the reading audience will be varied and subjective. Fasten that suit of armor! Get used to it.

Here, have a nice relaxing picture I took in Mexico. Breathe deeply. Smell the salt air, feel the sand under your feet. It’s good to slow down once in a while, isn’t it?

Competitiveness in writing is a whole separate beast. It’s my firmly-held belief that writing is not a competitive sport. Say that with me one more time: writing is not a competitive sport. We don’t write to finish faster or with more words in ten minutes than our sprint partners. We don’t write because it’s a race to the end. We write because we have stories to tell–full stop. Stories inside our heads that we want to put out on the page, worlds to build, people to invent. These unique creations are ours and ours alone. No one else can write the stories I imagine, nor can I write the stories you imagine.

So why are we so competitive as writers? We sprint (“how many words did you get?”). We query (“how many full requests did you get? How many partials?”). We attract an agent’s interest (“how many offers did you get? How many did you have to turn down?”). On and on it goes, as if comparing our successes and failures will make us better at writing.

The only person I want to compete with on this writing journey is myself. I can set word count goals and if they’re too low, challenge myself to write more. I can set reading goals (Goodreads practically forces us to do so). I can set editing goals…but I don’t want to compete with my fellow writers on these things. The truth as I see it is this: we can only do what we can do. Just because one of my writing buddies might have daily word counts in the 5k range and mine level out around 3k or their query netted a 20% positive response rate and mine sits at 14%, it doesn’t matter. I write because I have stories to tell. Unique, personal creations living in my brain that want out on the page, and in that there is no competition.

Only creation.


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Pitch Wars, that Zen moment I’ve dreamed of, and why rock & roll?

The excitement around Pitch Wars has been bubbling, and I’ve been helping out with #menteeshelpingmentees. It’s strange (and wonderful) to be in a position to help, which is what I like doing best when I’m not writing fiction. All of it has me thinking, though.

So many people see Pitch Wars as a direct path to getting an agent. From personal experience, I can tell everyone this isn’t necessarily the case. I’m proof of that: I had plenty of requests in the agent round, but I’m still unagented. I haven’t given up hope, but the truth of my particular situation seems to be pointing to the big sign that says yes, you can write, you can tell a good story, but that one you had in Pitch Wars might not be the right one.

I’ve shelved manuscripts before. It’s never something I take lightly, and I’m not ready to give up on my Pitch Wars manuscript yet either. I still have fulls and partials out there and I would never pull it when it’s under consideration. But I have reached a very important milestone in my quest for representation.

I’m at that Zen point where getting rejections doesn’t bother me. I don’t take them personally. I sit here with serene confidence in myself and my writing abilities, and know that if I’m persistent enough and keep writing, I will write the manuscript that’s picked up. It might not be this one, and that’s okay.

This sounds like a lie I tell myself, but it’s not. Getting to this point has been a hard-fought battle, with plenty of frustration and tears and anger and disappointment thrusting up like spikes right into the soles of my writing boots all along the way. But every battle has its tipping point, and success can be described in many different ways. Getting to the point where I can shrug off a rejection from someone I queried six or eight months ago hasn’t been easy…but I’m there now. It’s a relief.

Of course I want to hear back from the agents who’ve requested pages. Of course there’s still a tiny tinge of disappointment. But I’m wearing my big-girl pants now, and understand this is only business. Despite the reminders of how subjective a business this is and the reassurances that the right agent will love my work, it’s still a business. Rejection is nothing personal. It’s a hiring decision, and so far my fun breezy behind-the-scenes rock & roll romance hasn’t applied for the right job.

In the meantime, I’ve written another book which is off being edited, and yesterday I started on a brand new one. That brings me to the second half of this post: why rock & roll?

I never set out to brand myself as a rock-&-roll-romance writer. The market is glutted with stories about hot tattooed bad-boy rock stars wishing for simpler quieter times with the shy but humble girl of their dreams.

I don’t write those.

Confession time, here’s what I’ve got: I used to roadie. I was lucky enough to see bits and pieces of this big beautiful industry from the inside out instead of the outside in. Did I go on the road with the Rolling Stones or anything like that? Hell no, ma’am or sir, but I worked with a variety of musicians in a variety of places, and did time with smaller bands. I worked everything from sound board to lighting console. I loaded and unloaded equipment. I climbed into cherry pickers to play with gels and lights. I stood security outside dressing rooms, kept fans from breaking into the backstage areas, cleared the front of house before and after shows… almost anything you can imagine. Met many famous people. Met many less famous people. I can’t say I never met a rock star I didn’t like, but I can say I never met a roadie who wasn’t secretly cool as f*ck.

The stories I write are the ones that take place behind the scenes. Honestly, how many people want to read a fictional version of a rock concert going smoothly? See, I didn’t think so. The small insights I had into life backstage were fascinating, though, and while I can’t write about rock & roll road life without everyone’s favorite tattooed super-rich bad boy rock star dreaming of simpler times (well, yes I can), I can focus on what makes all the people associated with this life into who they are. Focus on their drive, their passion, their skill, their abilities, and how it all blends together to make unique and unforgettable experiences once the lights go on and the show starts.

And as a bonus, I know just how much equipment and how many people can be crammed into an aging Ford Econoline van. (Note I didn’t say “safely.”)

That part of my life might be in the past, but my passion for it hasn’t diminished in the least. This is why I write what I write. I hope my love for it comes through on the page.