Tough love and chocolate

Do you want to know what strikes fear into the heart of your intrepid horror writer? The woman who writes horror stories about zombies and serial killers? The woman who rubs her hands in glee at the idea of the Zombie Apocalypse? What scares HER? Well, a little thing called backing up her computer files.

Hey, how could you know? I didn’t know it myself until some writerly friends were talking about how vital it was to have not just one backup, but two or even three. They had gone through external hard drives, zip drives, thumb drives, etcetera and then they started talking about the “Cloud.” I had to come clean. I raised my hand tentatively. “I’ve never backed up my files.”

It was as if I had finally admitted I’d never learned the alphabet. Everyone was aghast, making “tch, tch” sounds and clutching their pearls. There were varying degrees of heat to their reactions, but it boiled down to “Get thee to your backup system, post haste!” I did much promising and explaining and feeling rather backwards.

My computer holds all my writing, all versions of every piece of work I’ve done. Sometimes, I can’t find the “perfect” edited copy of a story. I can only find the one where I spelled my character’s name wrong or the one where I left out six paragraphs. Sometimes, I print out my writing, for editing purposes, but I usually just trash the print copy when I’m done editing. So, as I said, no backup.

And of course, being me, I am a little too embarrassed to ask anyone HOW to backup my files. Even though it’s important, even though I know I stand to lose so much should my computer commit suicide, even though I know I promised my lovely friends I would do it, I haven’t had the guts to ask someone how to backup my files. Is it a one-by-one process? Do you just copy your whole documents folder? Does it involve bloodletting or anesthesia? Do I dare wear white after Labor Day?

I’ll probably google it later today, because I’m determined to backup my files. Not just my writing files, but also the hundreds of photos I have on my computer. I may have skewed values, but those photos would be a huge loss, maybe bigger than my writing. At least most of my writing is either published or not that far along in the process that re-creating it would be a huge effort.

But this is the year I write a novel, so I better freaking learn to backup my work, right? Imagine losing an entire manuscript? I’d end up in the happy house, wearing that fashionable snug white jacket I’ve had my eye on lately.

My friends are invited to bully me into getting things backed up. Call me an idiot, wish ill upon me, tell me about your best friends’ uncle’s neighbor who lost his entire twelve-volume fantasy epic and DIDN’T HAVE A BACKUP! I need tough love, man. Tough love and chocolate.


About that writer’s group

My latest experiment in writing was to join a writer’s group. At this point, I consider it a mistake, or maybe the better way to say it is “it just wasn’t for me”. 

It was a small group, just two other people, who’ve been meeting for a year, working on each other’s writing, polishing up their words and enjoying it, it seemed to me. They told me right off that they are tough and they were not kidding. The first sample I gave them came back so full of red marks, I could barely read my words.

Let me tell you about me: I was a kid who loved school, loved writing essays, never minded writing that 10-page report. I loved it. At college, I received one B in my major (communications, journalism), the rest were As. I’m not used to seeing my writing riddled with edit marks.

I won awards for my writing while in college and as a professional newspaper reporter. I was told over and over that I could write.

So, based on that flimsy evidence, I figured I could write. I’ve sold a couple short stories, and I’ve published two on Amazon. I’ve had good reviews. Still, I’m thinking I can write, you know? I had a few rejection letters, but none said, “you can’t write”.

Then I went to writer’s group and found out I don’t write very well after all. I mean, I write OKAY but not well. I tell a good story, but my writing ain’t too swell. My characters are good, but I just need to work on my writing. The other writers were looking forward to reading the rest of the story, but I really needed to fix a lot of things.

The first night I took it pretty well. Even in the car on the way home, I thought, “wow, I am really learning a lot.” And then the second week, my REVISED copy got the same red ink treatment.

I’m not a quitter; I’m really not. But I had to quit the writing group. I’m not built to take a weekly beat-down. I’ve been criticized as being too sensitive and you know what? I am sensitive. I don’t just sit down and peck a bunch of keys and consider it good writing. I work on my stories. They’re read and re-read. An experienced author had even edited the particular story I shared with the writing group.

So I was frustrated that I missed all these “mistakes” in my story and I was frustrated that the editor missed them, and I was just plain fed up with writing and editing and to hell with it.

I’m still beating myself up a bit over quitting the group, but it’s just not helping me. In fact, I found myself doubting every word I wrote and rethinking some things I’ve written that I’ve sold. I’ll never get anywhere with that amount of self-doubt hanging over me. So I have to shake it off and go back to thinking “I can write”.  If I can’t believe in myself, I can’t write.

I’d love to hear from other authors about their experiences with writing groups. I know they work great for some folks. Please share your experiences here.


Getting started

IMG_0295Recently, an author I much admire, William Cook, posted on Facebook that he is reading one of my stories. Mine. William’s a great guy, but he’s also a fine author and a well-regarded cover artist. And he’s reading my story?

How did this happen? How did I go from the avid reader who always dreamed of being a writer to, well, being a writer? Strangely enough, I never doubted I’d one day BE a writer, but I had no plan for it. It was a dream. I could see my book, with a very clever cover, sitting on the shelves of my local library or book store. But I never took a step toward my goal.

Well, you know how it is with goals. If you ignore them, sometimes they just go away and you think they were too difficult anyway. Sometimes you put your eye on the prize and charge forward toward a certain goal and somewhere around the first time you tell people about the new goal, you hit a huge stumbling block and realize you’ll never reach your goal.

Anyway that’s how my mind works. I’m a pessimist, glass-half-empty-with-a-fly-floating-in-it pessimist. So although I’ve certainly reached many goals, I have a lot of experience with letting goals just slip through my fingers.

One day, on Facebook, I was chatting with a friendly woman I had basically just met. I told her I dreamed of being a writer, but just didn’t know how to get started. “Well,” she said. “My publishing company has an anthology coming out. You could always submit something.”

Oh, my! Talk about a golden opportunity! Now, I’ve already admitted I’m a pessimist, but I’m no fool. Someone tells you “here’s a way to get started on your goal. It’s easy as pie.” You must listen to those opportunities or else you’re not just a pessimist but a defeatist. I’m so excited I talked to that nice lady, Jo-Anne Russell, that day and that I listened to her advice.

So the next week, I wrote a story. I’d written lots of stories, but not fiction stories, in my career as a newspaper reporter. I had to learn to invent characters and put words in their mouths. That first story is really a funny little tale called In Sickness and In Health and although it hasn’t been published yet, it was accepted and thus kicked off my writing career.

After a while, I had another story to submit and it was accepted. I had quite a run of acceptances but, naturally, I hit that streak of four or five rejections. I don’t particularly enjoy the rejections, but I try to learn from them and move on to the next project and maybe later I’ll find the right home for that rejected story.

And I met other authors, successful authors, who advised me on writing, marketing, keeping calm when you get a review, whatever they thought would help. Amazingly,  they didn’t expect anything back from me, they just enjoyed seeing someone else achieve her goals.

So, by now, I’ve sold some stories, I self-published two stories (which will become a six-story series in the near future) and I have a great idea for a novel. I still saw myself as a wannabe writer, believe it or not. Then I attended the World Horror Convention and we wore lovely nametags that identified us as attending the convention. A few people asked me why I was at the convention and I said “I’m a writer.”

Then when I was alone later, I’d smile from ear to ear and say it again: I’m a writer!! I’m mingling with other writers! I might be just getting started but I’ve got one foot in the door!

My expectation is that I’ll eventually get both feet firmly in the world of writing and finish that novel. Maybe I’ll even see it on a library shelf, which was where I found my love of reading many years ago. I have a many steps to take before then, but I think I can do it. And from a pessimist? That’s a ringing endorsement.