Posts by rlfryar

Hi, there. I'm an author living in the Arkansas River Valley in west Arkansas, not far from the Ozark National Forest. I write adult fantasy about mountains with souls, trees with hearts, and the natural world is never that far removed from my writing.

The Joy of Writing

I’m typing this with spiders jumping all around me. Okay, that doesn’t sound very joyful, and in fact, there’s more than a small amount of uncertainty that I’ll get through this post without one hopping on my face, but it’s still a post about writing joy anyway.

Why? Because I’m outside, surrounded by the sounds of crickets in the reeds, crows cawing in the pine trees, water lapping at the shore of a large lake, and yes, well, there are the spiders, who seem to think my laptop is the place to be for some reason.

I’ve been thinking about the joy of writing lately because I’m revising several things for publishing right now, getting ready for another round of editing on others, and wondering how I’m ever going to accomplish the things I need to finish what with all the spiders hopping around.

Some of those spiders are in my brain.

Am I really ready to be published?

Are my books really good enough?

Am I a good enough writer to make my books good enough?

Oh, God, what if I’m not?

You know spiders. They’ll weave a web of self-doubt that will catch you right in the face the minute you walk out the door in the morning. Every time.

But, they are just part of the joy of writing, because those spiders mean I’m right where I want to be: challenging expectations, challenging assumptions, challenging myself. I’m at the point now where I can see more clearly where I am, where I could go, and where I want to go, and the wanting is the most important part. And that’s pretty danged joyful, to know that writing for publishing is a wild place, but I’m in it.

Spiders and all.

Intention vs. Motivation

I’m revising this week, and as I’m working through my pages, I’m reflecting on something I read this summer as part of my Write Mentor homework: Story Trumps Structure, by Steven James.

I guess, first I should say, reading Story Trumps Structure was not “exactly” part of my Write Mentor homework. I picked it up as an antidote to structure books that are the antithesis of how I write. There are any number of books out there that will tell you how to write a story via plotting, character profiles, and exhaustive questions covering everything from your character’s opinions of their kindergarten teacher to what they like most for breakfast on Saturdays. None of these things are bad. They can be kind of fun, and occasionally even enlightening (particularly if they hated kindergarten and that’s where they first had peanut butter crackers which is why they only eat cream cheese on their bagels now). However, when those same books attack pantsers for figuring this out as they go (they write a scene in which a character is offered peanut butter on toast and it triggers this awful memory of kindergarten which results in backstory and an intense emotional response to such a small thing), it’s hard not to want to hurl those same books across the room.

Enter Story Trumps Structure, a solid structure book by a pantser, which pretty much saved my brain from imploding. I could go on for hours about how amazing this particular craft book was for me, but today I want to focus on one thing that blew my mind and turned my scene composition around.  Intention vs. Motivation.

Intentions is what the character is trying to accomplish. Motivation is why he’s trying to accomplish it.

As an author, it might be helpful for you to understand a character’s motive, but it’s far more important for you to clarify, in the minds of your readers, her intention. Often motive doesn’t make one iota of difference to the forward movement of the story—only the way in which your character pursues the object of her desire matters.

A character’s motives might be multidimensional and open for debate, but his intent in each scene needs to be crystal clear. And remember, he might think he knows why he wants certain things, but just as in real life, he might be wrong.

These quotes are all from Chapter 22: Attitude

That bolded statement hit me like a thunderbolt. Why? Because my characters are extremely complex people. They come into my head fully formed, and with them comes the weight of their emotional backstory, their belief systems, their way of looking at the world, even if I don’t know all that until I start writing. I don’t tend to write all that down in a pre-story planning session, but if you do, hey, that’s fine with me! I won’t dump on a plotter’s joy. But the point is that yes, these are people, they have many wrong beliefs, mistaken assumptions, and downright bias that make their motivations completely impossible to state for everything they do.

But, you can and should state intention in every scene.

I’m going to say that again.  You can and should state intention in every scene.

So why was this so groundbreaking for me? Simply put, I’m not dumbing down my characters anymore. They can be just as complex as real people, act in ways that defy logic (because emotions are not very logical things), they can change their minds, have epiphanies about their beliefs, change, be altered by the scene, alter the scene, and in every way, be active protagonists in every scene in the book. Why? Because now they have intention.

Every scene now has a stated goal. On the page, goal! There are no more wasted scenes, every scene now has a simple sentence on page where I can see exactly what the MC wanted to do going into that scene, and wouldn’t you know it, that means that when the antagonist comes in, I know exactly what they will be doing too, because they have their own purpose in the scene, and generally, it’s to make the MC’s intentions go to hell. Enter conflict. Enter tension. And those things are like waves slapping up against the iceberg, exposing just the right amount of motivation to make things deeper and more interesting.

If, like me, you struggle with scene goals because you realize that your character has about fourteen to fifty reasons why they want to do something, and it’s overwhelming you, try going back to basics. What do they intend to do in the scene? State it as the first sentence of the scene, and watch everything flow from there like magic.

It Never Rains…

Remember that nice, peaceful August I had planned? The one where I would have time every morning to write my morning pages, revise sedately in the middle of the day, and finish the day off with a craft exercise, a nice dinner, and a relaxing evening on the couch with a good book? Remember that?

It didn’t happen.

I’d like to say the writing life conspired, but it didn’t. Things happened, I’m still kind of tottering around in shock, and I think it’s going to be well into next year before I get a chance at that nice relaxing writing retreat. Maybe January? Maybe?

So, in order of what happened:

  1. I am going to be a published author. I signed a contract with Mystic Owl, an imprint of City Owl, for my gay ghost story, FLIPPING. I’m looking forward to working with Lisa Greene on revisions soon.
  2. I finished my revisions to TEETH in time for the Write Mentor showcase. It wasn’t easy—that was a tight deadline for all I had left to do. I’m still not completely certain that story should ever leave my shelf, but it’s out there anyway.
  3. I’ve been up to my ears in kitten management. That’s fun.
  4. I hired Jaime Dill to work on my fantasy romance TREE GODS to help me get it in amazing shape. And wow, it’s going to be great, but intense.
  5. It’s hot, I’m tired, and it’s been a very, very long summer.

But you know what? It’s September now. August is over, autumn is coming, and soon it will be time to get into the nuts and bolts of what being a published author is all about. And from what I’m seeing so far, it’s intense.

But also a heck of a lot of fun.

Time For That Writing Retreat

I’ve had this in my mind since spring—a writer’s retreat at home for me. Lots of craft books, lots of writing, some good food, time spent in other rejuvenating creative activities, and withdrawal from the vast majority of social media obligations and so forth for about four weeks.

I think August will be that month.

It’s been one wild summer. I’ve had a ton of revisions through the months of May and June, and am contemplating a really intense August revision schedule. I also have some drafting I want to get through. My painting has suffered through the summer. Now is a good time to give that the attention it deserves.

Hopefully, the pull back into the creative world will also be a good way to spend more time interacting with my immediate family, spending some days out on the local rivers and lakes, and getting a few home repair projects done that have been waiting a while.

So—no blog posts from me in August.

I’ll be writing.

See you on the other side.

Here Comes July

June was a hectic month, but a productive one. I revised two novels and drafted half of another. I did some painting. I didn’t keep up with the house, but a morning spent planning how to handle revision house this past month is poised to help me conquer some of the clutter. All in all, I got a lot done.

I’m exhausted.

And here comes July.

Camp NaNoWriMo. There are a few pitch contests I’d like to do. I have a few trips planned, some work, too. And I have to finish polish revisions on the two novels, send out some things to Beta readers, keep up with the gardens, oh, and I have two things I want to draft, plus revision house…

Here’s the thing.

I can do all of this. I’ve done it before. But everything feels more insurmountable in July for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one being that I have reverse SAD. I spend most of the summer unable to do the things that recharge my creativity the most. I love to be outside. I love to be in the woods, in the mountains, in the water. All of that is harder when the sun wants to murder me. I’ve had to think outside the box to schedule some activities that have proven themselves good for me, but don’t require me to be outside.

So, I contacted a CP and asked if she wouldn’t mind keeping track of me this month, checking in, making sure I’m feeling okay, keeping up, taking breaks when I need them, and recharging as necessary. I don’t usually take that step unless I feel I’m going to need the support, but I’m thinking I should probably do it more often.

Writing is such a solitary thing.

It’s nice to have friends to protect me from myself.

Million Word Madness Update

June’s tally with both revisions/rewrites: 171,999

(Yeah, yeah, it should have been 150,000 and I’ve still got more revising to do)

Total for the year so far: 584,548

Finding The Balance

I’ve just concluded my annual trip through The Artist’s Way for the year. Today’s question was on procrastination.

First of all, I certainly procrastinate with the best of them. I can absolutely spend a day when I should be writing up a creek somewhere. I’ve been known to decide today is a good day to bake pie. I have, at times, picked a spot next to a river to simply rest and think about absolutely nothing.

And it occurred to me that I actually did all of that recently, and far from being a problem, it was exactly what I needed.

I recently took my first vacation in twelve years, and the first vacation I’ve ever taken alone with the specific intention of resting. I was astounded the amount of time I spent simply lying on the couch, watching the sun make patterns with the leaves on the windows, or walking down the road to listen to the creek talking to itself, or watching the wind ripple still water on a morning river. I revised as well, but that was secondary to simply taking the time to relax.

I cooked some really nice meals for myself, something that I haven’t had time or inclination to do in a while. I sat down every morning outside on the deck and ate breakfast. I went to be when the sun went down most nights. I watched no television (there wasn’t one), my social media engagement was limited mostly to letting my friends know I hadn’t been eaten by a bear, and I journaled every day about what wonderful things I’d seen and what feelings I had about them.

All good things come to an end, but the moment I got back and headed back into my deadlines, obligations, and painful things (like saying goodbye to another one of my elderly animals), I found myself throwing myself back into revisions to escape.

Which made me think that there’s a little something out of balance with my creativity. I don’t necessarily need to procrastinate, but I need to make time for being done with work and ready to play. Whenever I get to the end of my revision time and start wondering if I could get in another two chapters by skipping dinner or foregoing family time, there’s a problem! I’m not exactly sure how to fix it, but I’m determined to spend more time planning my little vacation times when I can let go of the drive to write long enough to at least watch a sunset.

The words will still be there when I come back.

It’s A Long, Long Summer

I finished out May on a good note. I completed two first drafts, and am at least half-way through another that’s more a fun way to relax than a serious story, but we all know how that turns out in the end. I got notes back on two WIP for revisions, and headed into them last week. I’ve made good progress on some Beta reading and craft book studies. My daily to-do list takes up half a page in my journal, and half of that is writing related work. Yippee!

In other news, I’m tired.

Oh, not tired of creating. Not tired of writing, reading, or any of the work I have ready for me. But I’m also working hard at this—somewhere in the tune of between 8000 to 9000 words a day counting rewriting and continued drafting. And while I certainly won’t whine about being in the enviable position of actually being able to work on 8000 or 9000 words over three novels in a day, I will concede that at the end of the day, my brain is tired.

What’s important for me to remember is that it’s a long, long summer. My revisions have deadlines, but they aren’t impossible or even onerous for me to meet them. I can take my time with the first draft I’m still hammering out and go exploring whenever I want to. My revisions can be the same way. I can’t be afraid to leave the path and go off and find a new view or new trail to follow and just see where it leads. I can’t be afraid to play.

It’s summer after all.

And sometimes, even driven and productive writers need permission to go build a sand castle or two.

Million Word Madness Update

Finished May with 90,420 words

Total for the year so far is 412,599 words.

Still on track to hit my half-million by the end of June.

The Double-Headed Demon of Perfectionism

This week I’ve been busy with a few things. One, I’ve got an edit letter steaming on my desk, which means I’d better get busy on my revisions soon! Second, I’ve been on a writing retreat at home using The Artists’ Way, working my way through the chapters. Guess what last week’s chapter was about?

Perfectionism.

I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist. I’ve let go of many things that I once would have obsessed over in my life. My house is no longer picture perfect. I quit trying to have the perfect gardens and plant only the things I’m interested in growing. I don’t get angry at myself if I don’t make a word quota or a self-imposed deadline anymore. I just adjust my expectations. I don’t try to edit while I draft. I let a draft sit for six to eight weeks before I mess with it, sometimes longer. I don’t expect perfection of myself. Good for me, right? I’m a perfectly adjusted perfectionist.

Have you ever noticed that the moment you start to get all proud of yourself, thinking you’ve got something mastered, something comes along to kick you in your rear end? Usually right into the nearest mud puddle?

There are two heads on the demon of perfectionism.

The other half of the monster decides that not fixing that porch because you wanted to work on other things is a statement about your belief system. The other half of that monster says that gardening without a sense of timing is just fine, and it’s okay to raise a plant you don’t intend to care for. The other half is the part that decides your drafts are always amazing and you know everything there is to know about craft. You don’t need to change anything because…ugh, your draft is, well…

Perfect?

See what I mean?

It doesn’t go away.

Most of my monsters don’t. They hang out in the closet, waiting to jump out at me and ruin my life. While I may have the first monster’s head pretty well bagged, the second one is always there to eat me.

But it’s the same root monster.

Here’s the quote that convicted me:

“Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop—an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.”

                                                                                    Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Well, look at that.

The refusal to move ahead.

That can be refusing to move on to the next page because the first one isn’t right. It can also be refusing to consider mistakes or correct them because that means you have to move on to the next page.

These next few weeks are going to be huge. Not only do I get to decide what I have done well, I have to face everything I haven’t done well, say, “Oh, boy, is that a mess!” and dive right in with the same enthusiasm with which I initially wrote the book. Not aiming for perfection. Not pretending the problems don’t exist. I won’t let either head of the perfectionism demon get me.

How To Help The Panster in Your Life (Or in You)

I’ve been studying craft books this week. Part of it is for Write Mentor—I had homework. The other part is for me….so I can understand my homework.

See, I’m an organic writer, commonly known as a pantser. I didn’t arrive at this conclusion the logical way. No.

Convinced by various craft books and a number of other writers, I tried my best to cram my writing self into a round, well-shaped hole, only to find out that I was as angular as they come. Then I tried to chip my edges off. As you might imagine, that didn’t go so well.

Nevertheless, I continue to study plotting by plotters for plotters. If I get a recommendation to read a book, I will not only read it, I’ll do every exercise in it. If someone says, try this reverse outline? Yeah, I’ll give it a whirl. If they say, try this amazing beat sheet, yep, I’ll try it! I draw the line at anything involving index cards and spreadsheets (eww!) but I try to be very open minded in this regard, despite knowing that deep down, everything I read from a plotter’s viewpoint will have to be completely reversed, rewritten, and retrofitted if I’m going to get ANYTHING out of it. Y’all, this is what I do for fun.

However, I can say that most pantsers don’t find this fun. Even I don’t always find it fun, especially when the vast majority of writing craft books widely recommended usually start out with some version of “If you are a pantser, go to hell. And stay there until you have learned to be good.”

Is it any wonder that many writers are terrified to admit they don’t get help from craft books that are recommended to them? Is it any wonder that they are afraid to say the word “pantser” in public? Is it any wonder that when a plotter recommends something to them, they’ve learned to put their heads down and NOT say they don’t understand this recommendation and haven’t got the faintest clue what you expected them to get out of it? Nobody wants to look stupid, do they? And yet, this is exactly how many pantsers, including me, have been made to feel over the years. (For what it’s worth—say you don’t get it. It’s the best way to admit to yourself that you need what works for you and stop trying to cram yourself into that aforementioned round hole that won’t fit your angles.)

So, I thought I’d write something while my thoughts were fresh on this difference between storytelling styles about how to care for the pantser in your life, should you ever come across one. Remember, we hide. So look carefully.

  1. When a writer asks for craft book recommendations, along with asking them what they are looking for, ask them their writing style. Plotter or pantser? In between? What side of the spectrum? A LOT of closet pantsers are plansters, or plotsters. It keeps us from getting beaten up in writers’ meetings. Give a plotter plotter craft books. Give a pantser/planster pantser-friendly craft books. I’d probably give the plotster a pantser-friendly craft book as well. (I will have some recommendations later this month as I dig through as many resources as I can. Note: a pantser-friendly craft book will not say, “if you don’t write just like this method, you will waste time/wind up unpublished/be miserable/ develop boils on your butt/die if you don’t take heed before it’s too late.”
  2. When a writer says they didn’t like or didn’t understand a recommended craft book, ask them why. Then listen. Just listen.
  3. When a writer details their method for writing and it’s different than yours, please don’t say, “You can’t be productive that way. MY way is so much better/faster/logical/right, it’s the only way to write well.” I promise you, it’s not.
  4. When a writer is upset by your recommendations, it’s not because they are being sensitive. They are upset because they came to you for surgery, and you handed them a knife, or worse, you stabbed it in their gut. Listen. If you recommend an outline prior to writing or after writing, and they find that overwhelming and creatively destructive, consider that you might have a different kind of writer on your hands. You are going to have to think outside your box. It’s not so bad. That pantser has likely been doing it all of their lives to get along in a world where they aren’t supposed to exist.
  5. Normalize prefacing every piece of advice with the words “This works for me but it may not work for you”.
  6. Realize that while certain elements of craft are universal, the way of getting to them is not. The way of understanding them is even more fluid. A reverse outline may tell a pantser nothing at all about their story. Why? They already know that story. Writing it all out again as an outline will not tell them anything they don’t already know. It will bore them to tears and they will lose their enthusiasm for the story. However, if you show them how you use the reverse outline (or whatever on-paper thing you do to plot your story), they can arrive at a way to do the exact same thing in a format that works for them in the same way (perhaps a plot treatment or a long synopsis). Now both plotter and pantser have learned something from each other.
  7. Validate, validate, validate. When a pantser has feelings, they are often feelings that are the direct result of using advice that wasn’t right for them. They may actually be in the process of converting it to something they can use. Hear them out, let them vent, and don’t be surprised if they start brainstorming a way around the poorly delivered advice they got and making it work for them. When they get it, tell them so!

So those are my seven tips for helping the pantser in your life and not making them feel like a second-class writer. They are just another writer, like you, struggling in the world, and learning as they go. Different styles do not mean wrong or right, and contrary to a lot of craft books out there, there is more than one way to write a book!

April Got Wild

It always does. Three contests, a pitch event, Camp NaNoWriMo, a fun Beta read, revisions on one novel, looking forward to revisions on two more, four WIP going at once and…

An orphaned one-day-old kitten.

So this month just got a whole lot busier and more rewarding.

I see a lot of really short blog posts in my future, and I’d write more, but I’ve got 3000 words to draft, work to plan, a kitten to burp, and I think I need to schedule a nap somewhere between feedings every two hours!

Million Word Madness : 30,786

Yeah…don’t see me hitting that total this week!