Five random tips from a scatterbrained creative type – Melissa DeCarlo

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Melissa DeCarlo, the author of The Art of Crash Landing, shares five random tips for writing. ♥

Overcommit (but just a little)

It seems like most writers wish they could write full-time, and I was no exception. But, I have to say it: be careful what you wish for. I’ve looked at that cloud from both sides now, and I’m here to tell you that having some time-pressure when it comes to writing is not always a bad thing. When I’m busy and overcommitted, the writing I squeeze in feels like a guilty pleasure, but when writing is what I’m supposed to be doing all day, it feels a lot more like … well … work. It’s funny, and perhaps not universal, but I would swear I can get more writing done in ninety stolen minutes than I can in five wide-open hours. I think it has something to do with letting my subconscious noodle around on the book while I’m doing other things so that by the time I’m sitting at my desk I’m eager to get down what’s been running through my mind. Or maybe, it’s because I posses a very limited quantity of self-discipline, and when I know I’ve only got ninety minutes I’m not going to waste it watching cat videos. Well, okay, maybe just this one. And this one.

Make your bed

I don’t do this every morning, but I will swear that on the days I do, I get more writing done. I’m sure a psychologist would postulate that it sets a tone for the day, or that smoothing out a bedspread and organizing pillows calms my mind, or some other very logical theory, but I remain unconvinced. Analyze it all you want, but I’m pretty sure it’s magic.

Don’t say what you mean

It seems like I’m always hearing people say that a novel has great dialogue because it’s so realistic, which means, of course, that it wasn’t realistic at all. Anyone who’s ever had to slog through a direct transcription of meeting notes will back me up when I tell you this: we are boring. And I’m not referring to the … uhhhh …space fillers everyone uses, I’m talking about the way we give direct answers to questions, and over-explain, and generally make an effort to not come off as total jerks. You see, good dialogue isn’t a polite verbal handshake; it’s a strategic encounter between characters with differing agendas — a fencing match if you will. Sol Stein’s chapter on dialogue in his book Stein on Writing is worth the price of the book, and while you’re at it read the other chapters too. It’s the best how-to book on writing I’ve read, and trust me, I’m a slow learner. I’ve read a lot of them.

Sharing is caring

Here’s what they don’t tell you about signing a publishing contract (or maybe they do but people like me can’t hear it over the Hallelujah Chorus ringing in our ears): once you sell your book, it isn’t entirely yours anymore. Having a good agent will help, of course, but you are selling something, remember? Don’t get me wrong, I love my editor, and everyone on my book’s publication team has been terrific to work with, but there have been compromises on both sides. I had the final say on the editing decisions, and they were very amenable when I wanted to get silly on the acknowledgements and the P.S. Section. But they wanted the title changed, so it was changed, and when it came to the cover — while I’m happy with what they came up with — the final say was absolutely theirs. To keep this from bothering me, I consciously switched my mindset. I stopped thinking of it as my book. It’s our book. I put a lot of work into it, but so did the people on my publishing team. We’ve all got a stake in its success. Besides, by accepting that it’s a group effort, I can implement my diabolical plan to take all the credit if the book sells well, and blame them if it doesn’t.

Hurts so good

Reading reviews is kind of like dating a bad-boy. You know you’re setting yourself up for a fall, but he can be so very sweet — when he isn’t being an a-hole. So here’s the deal: I can’t tell you to never read reviews because it feels a little bossy-pants to give someone else advice I have no intention of taking myself. But remember, once a book is out in the world, the author has little, if any, control over the reception it receives. People will love it, and people will hate it and —worst of all — people will be bored by it. That’s just the way it is, and there is nothing we can do to change that. Wait — I’m wrong. We actually do have the power to make things worse for our books if we respond to negative reviews. So how about this: even if you can’t quit this particular boyfriend, at least put him in perspective and acknowledge that he’s got a dark side. And for God’s sake don’t get his name tattooed on your ass.

Melissa DeCarlo was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and has worked as an artist, graphic designer, grant writer, and even (back when computers were the size of refrigerators) a computer programmer. The Art of Crash Landing is her first novel. Melissa now lives in East Texas with her husband and a motley crew of rescue animals.

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