Living that Curly Life

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Not everyone has straight hair. And not all curly hair is created equal. Yet, the vast majority of book characters (in books that I’ve read) have straight hair. If they have curls, they are often ” perfectly windblown” or some such nonsense.

Sigh.

Confession time. I have curly hair. More specifically, I have 2c/3a low porosity hair. For the majority of my life (**cough cough** three decades **cough cough**) I only let my hair be curly on days when I couldn’t bear to heat style it or couldn’t, for whatever reason, tame it into a ponytail. Even on my wedding day, my hair was carefully blown out straight and then curled with hot rollers.

Recently, thanks to some encouragement from my curly headed sister, I have embraced my curls. That means that I have had to start “unlearning” all of my bad hair habits. It also means I have to figure out how to care for my curls. It’s not as simple as it might seem. My hair actually gets curlier every week that I don’t try to straighten it, so I have to figure out how to handle it at each new stage of curliness too.

And so it hit me, almost every fictional depiction of characters with curls is complete nonsense.

First, there are a lot of different kinds of curls. From wavy all the way to coils and everything in between. And a person can have more than one type of curls at the same time.

Second, just because someone has hair that is naturally curly doesn’t mean they don’t have to work to style it. If you have a curly headed character on a long camping trip with no styling creams or gels, no satin pillowcases or head scarves, and no access to any kind of conditioner, those curls aren’t going to look the same anymore.

Third, if you have a character with curly hair and they go through some kind of makeover to become more attractive to a love interest, don’t straighten their hair. Curly hair is beautiful too.

I could go on, but at this point, I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t make a 10 Things post about curly hair at some point. I want to see more curly headed characters in fiction. And I want to see them depicted realistically.

If you are unsure, there is a wealth of videos on YouTube specifically dedicated to the care and styling of curly hair. Curly Penny. India Batson. Real life + Curly Girl. Hair Romance (her microphone is a hairbrush, which is just glorious). Joy Before Her. Bianca Renee Today. And those are just a few. Go down the rabbit hole.

Let your characters live their best life. The curly life.

A Matter of Distinction

A friend and I were talking about different books that we had started lately and decided to DNF. The premise of each book appealed to us, but we weren’t pulled in. We couldn’t immerse ourselves in the world the author created. After talking for a just a few moments, she said something about her book that was one of the main reasons she couldn’t connect. I realized it was the same reason that I couldn’t get on board with the one I was reading either. The character voices weren’t distinctive.

When I talk about character voices, I mean more than the way the character speaks in dialogue. It’s their attitude, air, personality. It’s their essence. If characters are distinctive enough, you could theoretically tell which one of them is “talking” without any kind of tag or beat.

Think about opening up a text from someone you know and immediately knowing, without needing to be told, that their significant other sent it from their phone. How did you know? The feel of it was all wrong. Your friend wouldn’t say it that way. But their partner would. That’s what character voice is.

Think about the music you listen to. If you heard a new song, just the first few bars before the lyrics begin, do you think you’d have a clue which of your favorites was performing? Perhaps. What if you read the lyrics. You might be able to figure it out. Because different artists/acts/bands do more than sound different. They feel different. Their voice is different.

So when you write characters, each of them should have a distinctive voice just like the people in your life. Even if there are similarities, no two people sound exactly the same. I have two sisters. They each look a bit like our mother in their own way. They shared a room growing up. They were taught the same idiomatic expressions. But they don’t say things the same way. When I answer the phone, I know which one of them is calling me without looking at the name on my phone. Even with similar tones and pitches to their voices, their “character voice” is very different.

Because this happens with real people, it needs to happen with fictional characters. Otherwise, each character comes off as a wooden copycat. Unless you’re writing a story about creepy Stepford clones, that shouldn’t happen. And if you’re writing a romance, character voices that sound too similar will seem like the main character is falling in love with himself/herself/themselves. And not just in a healthy self-esteem kind of way.

So when crafting characters, explore their personalities. What are their idiosyncrasies? Everyone has at least one. Do they use different idioms? Does everything they say have a passive-aggressive bite? Maybe they’re more direct? Do they say exactly what they are thinking, or do they expect everyone to hear what they aren’t saying? It will affect how you write their scenes. And it should. Characters should sound different because people are different.

Battling Imposter Syndrome

Thanks to all of you who are still here after my little hiatus. A friend of the family passed away, one of my nephews graduated high school, and my husband and I took our boys to the beach for a few days. My time away was jampacked with both joy and sorrow, but it was good. And now I’m ready to get back to my routine.

I intended to spend some of my vacation time writing. I like to write, so it doesn’t feel like work. But I didn’t get nearly as much done as I hoped. Part of it is because two kids under five at the beach are wonderfully exhausting. But part of it is because I felt like I shouldn’t.

Guilt wasn’t what kept me from my keyboard. After all, I saved writing time for after the kids were asleep, so it’s not like they were missing out on time with me. No, it was something far more difficult to conquer. Imposter Syndrome.

Every writer encounters it eventually. That voice in the back of your head that whispers–or yells–you’re not a real writer. You’re a hack with delusions of grandeur. You’re wasting your time. Give up. Give it a rest. Nobody wants to read your dumpster fire anyway. Throw it all in the trash.

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

That voice is powerful. It can be hard to ignore. But you have to. Because if you listen to that voice for even a few days, it’ll get to you. It got to me. Oh boy, did it ever. But just when I was about ready to throw in the towel, something pulled me back. Before I left for vacation, I gave some pages to a CP of mine and just at the right moment, I got her feedback. It wasn’t glowing. On the contrary, she had numerous comments and questions. But suddenly, I was excited to work on my project again.

Seeing my work through someone else’s eyes helped tremendously. It’s not hopeless. I’m not a hack. My work was (and still is) unrefined. Now that I know where the problems are, I can fix them and make it better. And editing is an important part of the writing process. I’m a writer. For better or worse.

This isn’t the first time imposter syndrome has reared its ugly head to me. And each time, I’ve dealt with it in different ways. Everyone copes differently, but I’ll share a few of my more successful tricks in hopes that perhaps it will help one of you.

  1.  Writer Twitter. More than just a great way to procrastinate, this is a great place to see that I am not alone. I see at least one post about imposter syndrome every day. They may not call it that, but the sentiment is the same. Sometimes it is enough to know that I’m not alone in what I’m feeling.
  2. Critiques. As I mentioned before, sometimes just knowing where the problem is can be a big help. I can stare at my work so long that I go word blind. I want this scene or this chapter to work and can’t figure out why it doesn’t. Fresh eyes help. Then I can attack the issue. Also, if I’m the one doing the critiquing, it can help too. It makes me feel like I have something to offer the writing world, even if it’s just a few comments here and there to improve someone else’s work. It reminds me how far I’ve come as a writer already.
  3. Reading. A writer needs to read. Reading can give great inspiration, it can be an escape, and it can serve as a reminder that your manuscript doesn’t have to be flawless. I’m not saying you should skip editing. But if there is a typo on page 79 that a well-known author, her editor, her agent, and her publisher all missed and the book still sold, just knowing that can take a little pressure off. Breathe. I can do this.
  4. Write something else. I’m going to let you in on a secret. Part of the reason I like writing this blog is that I get to switch gears and step away from my fiction projects. A quick post that doesn’t take weeks or months to write gives me a small sense of accomplishment. I started something and finished it. Now I can go back to my long-term project without feeling like I haven’t completed anything.
  5. Listen to a podcast or read a crafting blog. Sometimes the advice I see or hear on my favorite sites can remind me that other people need help too. I get excited because if a whole podcast, or series of podcasts, addresses an issue then I can’t be the only one struggling with it. And then I’m excited to try out the advice offered to see if it helps me.

Are there any ways that you battle imposter syndrome? I’d love to hear them. Maybe I’ll add it to my bag of tricks for the next time that little voice comes calling.

 

Pitch Contest Etiquette

I joined Twitter last year in the middle of the summer storm of pitch parties and contests. I know. I’m a bad millennial. Anyway, I joined Twitter so I could participate in said pitch parties and contests. My manuscript needed a lot of work, and some of the writers I met during the chats for those pitch contests became my critique partners who helped me see that. But I also learned some key things about pitch parties in general.

Every new baby writer makes mistakes when it comes to pitching their manuscript. Thanking an agent for their rejection on social media? Yeah. I did that. I was genuinely thanking them because they at least took the time to look at it and respond. Still. Awkward. But it’s letting those mistakes become habits that linger long after you stop being a “baby writer” that’s a problem. So as we gear up for another summer of pitch parties and contests, let’s review some of the rules of etiquette of Author Twitter.

  1. Be at least a little professional. Yes, it’s fun and good to joke around with other writers. It’s encouraged. But be aware that what you say, even as a joke, can and will be seen by people who you are hoping to work with in a professional capacity at some point. I’m not telling you not to be yourself, but be your semi-professional self.
  2. Don’t whine. You didn’t make it in the contest? Celebrate the winners in public. Convey your disappointment in private. Your CPs, your friends, your support system. They will understand. If you whine and cry on the hashtags, it looks bad. If you can’t handle rejection at the contest level, how will you handle a book that doesn’t sell? This stuff matters.
  3. Celebrate the successes of others. Someday that could be you with your name on a list of winners, or on that press release. You’ll want people to be happy for you. Be happy for them. Yes, even if you think your work is better than theirs. This isn’t kindergarten. You don’t get to stomp your feet and scream about it not being fair. It isn’t cute when a five-year-old does it, it’s worse when an adult does it.
  4. Be considerate. You don’t have triggers, painful secrets, or anything you’re scared to talk about? Congratulations. Other people do, though. Don’t belittle anyone. Don’t be that jerk.
  5. When you’re wrong, apologize. We all make mistakes. Just own up to it.
  6. Don’t hit on people like a creeper. Enough said.
  7. Do your due diligence. If you ask someone a question that can be answered by a simple Google search or by checking the event’s homepage, you not only look lazy but like you expect other people to do your work for you. If it is something you need clarified or help to find, that’s one thing. Don’t be afraid to ask anything, just make the effort before you ask someone else to do so.
  8. Don’t brag. Or humble brag. You are always allowed to be excited about your successes. Celebrate. Don’t gloat.

This list isn’t comprehensive. It’s also not written in stone. But, in truth, most of these rules can be summed up by saying “Don’t be a jerk.” It’s that simple.

For those of you who are about to jump into the wonderful world of pitch contests this summer, good luck! And welcome to Author Twitter!

The Value of a DNF

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had DNF’ed several books that week and ended up writing a review on one I revisited instead of something new. Last week, I didn’t write a review because of several more DNFs (and also because my anniversary was in the middle of the week and I chose to forego my review writing time to celebrate).

I’ve put down a lot of books without finishing them lately. At least, it feels like a lot. But this is coming from someone who, until about six months ago, would finish a book no matter what–barring any triggering issues. I always felt like I owed it to myself to see if the book got better. I needed to know for sure how it ended. To DNF was to give up. I’m not a quitter.

I’m still not a quitter, but I do place a little more value on my time. I wrote that post last week about finding a balance. Learning to appreciate a DNF is part of that balance. It took me a while to realize this, but it’s true. When I DNF I’m not giving up. I’m placing more value on my time than on the rest of the book. It might sound harsh, but it isn’t.

To DNF a book is not always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s an opportunity.

Stick with me here.

As a writer, if someone DNFs my work it tells me something. Immediately, I know that there is an aspect of the story that isn’t working. I may have to ask questions to find out what, but knowing there is an issue is valuable information. The questions I ask will help me understand whether it is a small issue, a much larger one, or something beyond my control (e.g. just not their cup of tea). Whatever it is, it’s something I didn’t know before.

As a reader, if I ask some of those same questions I can learn a little bit more about:

1 – Myself. If it just wasn’t my cup of tea, why did I pick it up in the first place? What drew me to it? Is there a subject matter or style of writing I’m gravitating towards? A trope? A twist? Or, am I overwhelmed and a book that normally would have been fine is a turn off because the subject matter or main character are hitting a little too close to home right now?

2 – Editing. Okay, the book is something I would normally enjoy, so what’s the deal? Perhaps the book is too dialogue heavy. Or perhaps the interactions between characters are stilted. These are things that I might not have noticed as much before or at least been more forgiving of. But now, all I can see is a subpar editing job and it ruins my book experience.

3 – Self-care. My time is valuable. It’s also limited. I’m not going to waste it by making myself read something I don’t like. Especially not when I could be checking something else off my to-do list or getting some sleep. Or reading something that I love. Also, if there is something even remotely triggering, it’s always okay to put it down. I don’t owe the author anything.

4 – Publishers. If there is something glaringly wrong with or offensive in a book, I will look to see who published it. If it was self-published, that author will go on my mental list of writers to avoid. If it was published by a someone else, I’ll be more wary of their offerings going forward, since they didn’t see a big enough problem with the story to refuse to peddle it.

I’m sure given time I could think of other reasons that DNFs can be valuable, but I’ll stop here for now. What are some ways that you find a DNF valuable?

 

Finding a Balance

For most of us, writing is not our primary job. It is something we love and work hard for, but it isn’t what pays our bills. Or cleans the house. Or the other million and one things that make up daily life. For the majority of writers, writing is something we have to make time for before, after, and/or in between the other necessities of life. It can be difficult and daunting.

We give up our nights, weekends, lunch breaks, our children’s naps, anything that will give us a little more time at the keyboard. That doesn’t mean we don’t have families, friends, jobs, hobbies, chores, or special events that we can’t and won’t neglect.

And it doesn’t mean we should neglect ourselves either.

My writing is important to me. It’s a part of who I am. But it is only one part. I’m also a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, etc. Beyond that, I am also someone who loves sports, board games, learning–and teaching–self-defense through mixed martial arts, and volunteering with local groups/organizations of my choice.

If I abandon the other things in life I enjoy, or my other responsibilities, I feel guilty and my writing suffers. If I neglect my writing, I feel guilty and my sense of self-worth suffers. I have to find a balance. It’s not easy. If ever I perfect it, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I have to be intent on carving out time for writing and for the other parts of me. Because my experiences fuel my writing. And, frankly, sleep is non-negotiable. I’ve tried.

A lot of writing blogs I’ve read in the last few months have stressed the importance of taking a step back from your work during editing. Walk away from the project for a short while so your eyes are fresh when you come back and you’re more likely to notice things that escaped you before. Use that time in between to do something for yourself. Rent a movie. Run a race. Play a game. Take a long bath. Read something with no intent to critique or edit. Go to the gym. Do whatever it is that helps you feel human again.

You write, so you’re a writer. But it will never be the only thing you are. I’m sure even the overwhelmingly successful authors would say that they are more than their job. Don’t forget to let yourself be more. It’s okay to give yourself a night off once in a while. Your writing will probably be better for it and so will you.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t dedicated. You don’t have to be superhuman to be a successful writer. Nobody will doubt your dedication if you go on a date with your significant other, go see a sporting event with your kids, or go to bed early. You’re allowed to be human. You’re allowed to be you.

Your writing will still be here when you get back.

 

#WriteClub Battles Have Commenced!

This is just a quick reminder that as of yesterday (4/16) #writeclub battles have commenced over on dlhammons.com! Monday through Friday for the next three weeks, two 500 word writing samples will be posted. You (yes, you!) vote for your favorite. It’s a great way to give feedback to writers and to be a part of the fun.

Rules:

  1. The writing samples are anonymous and each presented under a pen name. You may hype the contest, but if you try to get votes for a specific writer or their pen name, they will be immediately disqualified. The contest is about the writing, not about how many followers a person already has.
  2. You can vote once per battle.
  3. You cannot vote anonymously. The writers are anonymous, but as a way to enforce the “only one vote per person per battle” rule the votes can’t be.**
  4. Voting stays open on a battle for several days. If you have missed the first battle or know that you will miss another, no need to miss out. You can still vote for it when you get the chance.

**Each time you vote you will be entered to win a Barnes and Noble gift card, so you want them to know who you are.