2018: A year of story problems

So here is the actual deal. This year has sucked in a lot of ways. I think I’m ready to admit it.

There have been some serious bright spots too. I will not deny that I had many good times this year, but the suckage, it did cometh. one of the biggest points of contention for me this year was that I could not seem to complete any new novels. I had WIPs in hoards and I love them all so much.

But they did not love me back.

So that, along with certain lifey things, is why you haven’t seen much from me this year. I haven’t had many revelations. I haven’t been neck deep in a new project, which is when my creativity is flowing and I’m also inspired to write here the most.

It wasn’t a total loss. I can honestly say I’ve improved my craft and really gotten some fantastic edits done this year. But that creative process… oh I miss it. Every time I would get warm on a story, a big plot or character problem would set up a huge wall and I haven’t been able to work around them.

A few examples:

  1. A character I love that readers don’t like. I can’t figure out why they don’t. They can’t figure out why they don’t. So the manuscript sits.
  2. Can YA characters smoke a lot of pot without life changing consequences? I have been looking for a solid answer on this one for a while.
  3. How do I end a story that has stacked one shock onto another? Especially when I have no shock to finish it with?
  4. Seriously, why the hell do all my teenager characters smoke so much pot?
  5. Did I make these characters fall in love too soon?

And that’s it. With everything I’ve written, I’m plagued with questions that stop my story in it’s tracks. Powering through is like pushing a big ass boulder down a narrow road. It’s still in the road. There’s still no way around it, but at least you moved it ten feet?

Whats the point of this post? Well, two things. One, to really truly explain why i haven’t posted here. I’ve had the best intentions this year but it just hasn’t happened. I don’t want to post trash or drivel i just spat out to meet a deadline. I want to post things I think can be helpful and I’ve had very little.

Two, I wanted to assure other writers who might be hitting a dry patch like me that it is okay. I need to remind myself of this too. It’s been a hard year for a lot of people and that isn’t always conducive to good creating. What it is good for is buckling down, getting edits done, learning technique, reading  and reading and reading some more and planning strategy. And those things are important.

So I am taking a break. I dunno what it will entail, but I’m taking it, because trying to push that boulder is frustrating work.

And because I have a sneaking suspicion when I tell my brain to stop thinking about my stories, it’s going to rebel and offer me the perfect solutions to my problems.


The first couple are the hardest

The first story you wrote was probably terrible. Maybe you were a kid and that didn’t matter or maybe you were an adult and you felt like a failure. Either way, if your a writer now, it’s because you kept writing stories. You pushed your way through even when doubt and a suddenly failing vocabulary told you it was pointless. The first stories you wrote were the hardest.

The first critiques you received might have destroyed you. After all this work suddenly you feel like your back at zero. Your beautiful writing torn to shreds and now you’re realizing it wasn’t that good to begin with. If your a writer now, it’s because you survived, you got back up and you wrote something better. The first critiques are the hardest.

The first time you tackled serious edits, oh man how did that suck? It was SO HARD and SO BORING and you had to kill all these beautiful darlings. Now? it might not be your favorite thing but I bet you can do it. Those first edits are the hardest.

Same goes for writing queries, or a synopsis (cringe!). I hear people say all that time that they’d rather write an entire novel than a query. I have said it myself. I wrote a lot of bad queries. I used to get so frustrated writing a synopsis (HOW CAN I FIT A WHOLE BOOK ONTO ONE DOUBLE SPACED PAGE?!@?!?!?). The first ones were the hardest.

Then you get better.

Yet for some reason, us writers, in all our infinite writerly wisdom thinks that if we mastered one part of writing, the others should come easily. Then we beat ourselves up.

We need to stop this. It’s all hard. Each new task you take on is going to be difficult the first couple times you tackle it. You’re going to mess up and probably fail. You’ll suffer another rejection. You’ll wonder if you’re really cut out for this. Then you’ll do a little research, take a class, consult a writing group and try again.

And it will get better. Your shorts. Your novels. Your edits. Your queries, you hooks, your synopsis, your writing.

The first couple are the hardest. Keep going.

How to convince people that you’re really an author

I know you’ve been down in the trenches for years now, churning out novel after novel, researching agents and publishers, editing until your fingers bleed, but I’ll bet you still have a lot of people in your life that think this is just some fun little hobby.

Well fortunately if your real goal is impressing your friends and family (and Lyle in accounting) you don’t have to put so much effort into this whole thing. It’s really quite easy to convince them that you are actually a super impressive author, even if you’ve never published a word. Maybe even never written a book.

How you ask? Well because most people have no idea what getting a book published involves. So, if your tired of doing all this work that goes completely unacknowledged by the people you know (“I finished writing that ‘little book’ two years ago Aunt Sara. Thank you very much and so sorry it’s not a best seller yet!”) read on…

*Note: These tips only apply if your goal is to convince people you know that you’re an author, not to become an actual working author.

Tip #1 – Take your laptop everywhere. Open it up and type at every opportunity

Turns out that one of the reasons people don’t realize you’re working so hard is because they don’t see it. This is really an easy fix. Have your laptop with you at all times. When there is a lull in the conversation, open it up and get typing. When you finish dinner first, open it up and type. When you’re stopped at a red light, get typing. What you type doesn’t really matter. No one is going to look, but if you need some ideas try just typing out the lyrics to “Fat Bottom Girls”.

Tip #2 – Make sure they know how inspired you are

Picture this. You’re at your friend’s house and she’s struggling to get shoes onto her sticky two year old to take a walk in the park. You could just empathize with her about how hard it is to get shoes on a two year old, or you could say something writerly like “This is giving me an excellent idea for my twenty second chapter.” She’ll feel good because she inspired you, and you’ll feel good because she knows you’re writing a book with at least twenty-two chapters. (twenty two is an impressive number to non-writers).

Tip #3 – Print book covers, cover your old books with them

You don’t have to write a book to look like you wrote a book. You just need to have a cover. Or ten! Image a row of book spines with your name on them lined up neatly on a display shelf in your living room. People who come by will be totally impressed, and if they ask you to borrow one, you can cringe and say, “Oh, I’d love to but this is a special edition and I need to keep it pristine.”

Tip #4 – Don’t waste your time querying!

Ug, Why would you even? It’s awful soul sucking work and no one knows what that is, or why you even need an agent anyway. If you actually finished writing a book, you should be famous within, what, like a month or so? So just put your effort into pretending that’s happening.

Tip #5 – Pretend your day job is just research

People will wonder why you’re working a job if you’re an author, because obviously all published authors are millionaires. Tell them it’s research for your series (if you make it a series, they won’t get suspicious if you keep working for decades to come). Tell them not to tell your boss because she’s the inspiration for one of your characters. And so it Lyle in accounting.

Tip #6 – If you have actually written a book, just self publish it now.

Print out a bunch of copies to gift at Christmas. Sign them. Don’t worry about edits. They’re a waste of time for impressing people. Just make sure you have a nice website and cover, because that’s about as far as these unsupportive jerks will ever read anyway.

Bonus Tip – print out best seller stickers and stick them on the cover. It’s not like they actually keep up with what’s on the best seller lists, but if they do tell them it’s not a NYT bestseller. It’s a bestseller over seas. And in Nashville. Yeah.


So there you have it. If your big concern is that people who have no idea what’s involved in getting published don’t consider you an author while you’re trying to get your first book out, these tips are pretty much guaranteed to work for you.

Of course, if your goal it to actually become a published author, you’re SOL. People you work with, and many of your friends and family are not going to get it, at least at first. And the truth of the matter is, if you want to hit that goal, you’re going to have to let go of the need to impress them. Just throw that weight off because it will drag you down and away from your dream.

If you want to be a working author, you can’t tell them. You need to show them.

Good luck.

The wrong computer

I’m not trying to make excuses. I have dropped the ball on this blog for quite a bit. Although I really did try, there were many factors contributing to my absence here. One is that I just didn’t feel like writing for the sake of it. Another is that I was struggling with some big things in my life.

One of the strangest reasons I wasn’t writing here (or much of anywhere for that matter) is because in early February I lost my beloved laptop.

We’ll refer to her as Meggy.

Meggy came to me at a different time in my life. I was working full time as a designer, pregnant with my first child and anticipating needing to work from home from time to time. Before Meggy, I only had big desktop computers, and I intended keep those, but I needed Meggy to carry with me to and from work.

As fate would have it though (or practicality really) I ended up rarely using my desktop after Meggy came around because, believe it or not (no for real, some people don’t actually believe this until they’re tried it) it’s really hard to work in a home office when you’re also taking care of a baby. Meggy became my living room computer, that I could easily (sorta) maneuver while caring for a little one, long after I traded full time design for full time momming.

It is also where I started writing again. A lot. In the quiet hours I stole for myself, I found my voice, silenced by exhaustion, commercial work, and the shift in identity that come with becoming a mom. I wrote like I used to write back in college, except this time I was willing to put it out there, hear the criticism and get better. And I did.

Meggy was a wonderful computer, reliable, durable, easy to use and dusted with a coat of inspiration (and dust, and coffee drips). After six years I had no desire to upgrade. When her battery died in January, I bought a new battery.

Then disaster struck. One bleary eyed morning, I, sitting in my usual spot, set my coffee on top of Meggy’s closed monitor. The kids were getting ready for school, I was scrolling through twitter to see how politically enraged I could get before 8 am.

A the cat jumped up on the small laptop desk beside me, shaking my coffee from my full mug all over Meggy’s dented but still shiny black casing.

And into the computer.

Meggy had been warning me she was on her way out, with screen problems and occasional freeze ups but I wasn’t ready for that moment when I pushed her power button and she never turned on again.

Well, it seems that this story has been really weighing on me because it’s getting quite longer than I anticipated, but let me go on.

When we realized nothing could be done for Meggy, I though the solution was to simply upgrade to the newest version of her model. I thought it would be the same. With Meggy’s salvaged hard drive I was optimistic that I would overcome this loss.

But six years later version of Meggy was NOT the same. This insidious PC laptop has a mousepad that would highlight blocks of writing with the barest brush of my palm from a half inch above and delete it. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t sit right and it didn’t work like Meggy.

The truth was, I’m not sure what it was exactly that didn’t fit, but it just didn’t, although I was determined to make it work. I kept my resentment buried away, refusing to share my feelings in fear that it would hear me and become even more difficult to use.

Yes. I am a weirdo. Did you think otherwise?

But while I suffered in silence, my fingers over the keyboard slowed. When I would write out a chapter only to have to deleted by some imperceptible motion over the mousepad, I would call it then night instead of continuing on (after restoring it, I at least didn’t lose anything too important). Work wasn’t challenging because I was working out plot issues, it was challenging because I was actively fighting against my computer.

And eventually all but the necessary projects and edits dried up.

And that was rather depressing.

Now I’m not saying it was all that computers fault.

But it lacked the magic (or maybe just the user friendly design) that Meggy had. Writing is frustrating enough without fighting your medium for writing.

I think the muses know this.

So I think they’re entirely to blame for the glass of red wine that spilled over the keyboard of this six month old computer a few weeks ago. Yes, it was entirely them and not possibly my dumb ass who is still placing beverages beside my computer on a flimsy desk.

It was a loss. But at least I learned how to salvage a hard drive when Meggy died.

So, I bought something small, cheap and refurbished. It’s a different brand than Meggy. It doesn’t have a lot of the features I wasn’t using before. The keyboard is laid out differently. It has a little glitch. The screen is so much smaller than I’m used to.

And I love it.

It fits me better than that replacement for Meggy ever did.

And the words are flowing again.

So the moral of this story is… um…. blame your computer for your writers block.

Just make sure you have a whimsical story to back up your charges.

And get a spill proof cup if you’re going to put drinks next to your computer!

Blog Series: First Lines #1

I’ve been thinking a lot about first lines recently, how a novel opens. We frequently hear about how this can make or break your novel, especially when you’re first starting out. Maybe that’s dramatic, but I can tell you from experience that a great opener can make a big difference in whether I dive into a book or sigh heavily and see if I can get through the first chapter.

Here’s a great opener.

“An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he’d bought of a pachuco at the border – right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.”

—James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential

Why does this work? Well because it’s tense as hell. Serious shit is going down and Buzz Meeks, whether he’s a good guy or bad, is ready for it. Or maybe he’s not, but we sure as hell are going to keep reading to find out.

Here’s a completely different example

“Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.

-Neil Gaiman, American Gods

This one starts with the character and then sets them at odds with out perceptions of this character. He’s a big scary guy in prison, who spends his time learning coin tricks and thinking not just about his wife but how much he loves her. Something is just a little weird here, the way the language is presented. I’m not sure what’s off yet, but I want to know, so I’m going to read more.

So, now I want to present to you a terrible opening. It’s mine, from a book I wrote long ago. I’m using this as my first example because although it’s terrible, it’s also typical. That is to say, in my readings I have come across openings like this more than a few times.

The night was dark and stormy. The kind of night you’d expect when you were going to an English castle but I wasn’t happy about it. I wasn’t happy about anything then, especially not the English castle part but I was almost there and the silence that had settled over the blue van would soon be broken.

Okay first, let me point out for anyone who doesn’t know, that the night was dark and stormy is the clichest cliche in the book of cliches. But at least the second line tries to acknowledge that cliche, awkwardly, with a fragment. Then for some reason the narrator tells us she wasn’t happy about it. What it is? Well that’s not very clear. But she’s also unhappy about the English castle, oh and apparently she’s in a silent blue van.

Nothing about this opener works. It is all over the place, trying to establish setting, mood, tone and time period all at once. It’s biggest problem is that it smells like a big stinking novice, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be corrected. While we have to dig into this jumbled mess to discern what the writer (young moi) was trying to get across, the sentiment itself is not completely off course.

The storming sky was as black as my mood as our blue van splashed through mud puddles toward the looming English castle.

Well that’s kinda better. It compacts all those things from the first opener into something that might not send readers throwing the book into the dark and stormy night. Or what about this?

It was raining, of course it was raining. We were on our way to an old castle after midnight. Could it be more cliche?

This introduces us to our narrator quite well. She is not having this English Castle shit.

Or what about:

Fuck castles.

Honestly, I think I would choose the third, although it might be too shocking for certain readers. Two lines that present the entire mood of this narrator much better than that lengthy monstrosity about silence in blue vans and not being happy about dark and stormy nights or English castles.

What do you think? How could we improve this opener? What is your favorite opener?

I will continue to post my own old starts here to break down and improve, but I’d also like to open up the floor. Do you have a bad opener you’d like to improve? do you want to know why it’s not working? Shoot me a message or drop a comment.


Writers’ Business plan: Write more books

If a company made one product, and after years of refinement, market research, paying consultants and pushing it at every niche and trade show there was, they still couldn’t get it to sell, what would you advise them?

Keep in mind that their product might be great. But the market doesn’t want it, right now.

Would you tell them to keep pushing? Would you tell them to give up? Close up shop, stop being a company now because your one product isn’t selling.

What if you knew that because they created this one product, they could create other products? That it was, in fact, their specialty to create these products, similar but not the same. With all the experience they had making and fixing and marketing their product, they had an expertise in the field that they couldn’t pay for.

Yes, I’m nudging you toward the answer I’m looking for, because all of the time I see writers clinging to their first novels with their cold dead fingers, insisting “I will not write another book until this one is perfect! Until this one is sold! I will keep pushing it until the bitter end! It deserves my unrelenting attention!”

Year after year after year, they are pushing just one product, and it is not selling.

Now, I will admit that being an artistic type is different that being a corporate type, to an extent. There are plenty of writers out there that do not care to make a living writing books. They write books because they love it, and that is a good thing.

But if you want to make money doing what you love (which is completely valid and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You do not need to starve to be an artist) you need to consider the market and the best way to meet the demands of the market are to have more than one product to sell.

Put down your baby. Try something new. Make friends with new characters.

Then do it again.

Each book will be better. Each rejection will hurt less. Each accomplishment will be more rewarding.

The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference: Tips for your first writers event

The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference in the oldest writing conference in the country, celebrating its 70th year this past weekend.

While I’ve been aware of it for years, this year I pushed myself to step outside of my comfort zone and take the trip. I’ve never been to any writing conference before, because, well, it’s kinda scary. Which is exactly why I determined it was past time I found out what it’s all about.

So here is what I learned and some things to consider if you are thinking about taking the jump and going to your first writing conference.

1. Pace yourself

The PWC is three days long. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That is a lot, even for a seasoned pro. I wanted to do it all so Friday I was booked from 9:30 am – 8:00 pm.

That was too much. Too much information. Too much nerves. Too much sitting in chairs without back support. Too much time around too many people.

By the time I went to the agent and editors buffet, nearly every writer I spoke to was saying the same thing. “I am burnt out.”

And so was I. In the future I will be a little more discerning about the classes I sign up for and the length of my day.


2. Talk to new people

There’s a stereotype about writers being introverts. I would never say it’s true across the board, but it definitely is there for a reason. A lot of writers wandered around, looking a little lost Friday morning, including myself. As soon as someone at a table spoke up, everyone gratefully introduced themselves.

At lunch, I realized I had no idea where to get food and wasn’t sure about which direction to walk to find the nearest restaurants. I grit my teeth and walked up to a group of people and asked them and ended up getting invited to lunch with a lovely writing group.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, was so friendly and willing to make friends. Any time i started to feel shy or awkward, I’d see someone else sitting alone, and end up making a friend. Frequently we bonded over how shy and awkward we felt.


3. Get Business Cards!

This didn’t even occur to me and I really regret it now. All these awesome people I met and none of us thought to share our contact info. Even if you don’t have a book or blog or website, print up some cheap cards with your social media accounts and give them out to the people you meet.


4. Look into everything the conference offers

I arrived late and frazzled after getting stuck in traffic coming into the city. Everyone was in for the opening speaker so I mulled around, trying to get my bearings and happened to see the sign up table for agent and editor pitch sessions.

I had assumed they cost extra and they would be filled up before I got there. But I asked. Apparently very few people had signed up and they were free. So I got an unexpected five minute pitch session with a really awesome agent. (and also rambled like a nervous idiot a bit). It was uncomfortable, but really really helpful, and I might have missed it completely if I hadn’t checked.


5. Remember that Writers are awesome

The writers and editors leading the conferences, the agents, the attendees, were all super cool. By the end of first day, I was burnt out, but I also realized that I had no reason to be nervous about the people. We all just love to create. We all love the written word. We all want more of it.


6. Bonus Tip for Introverts.

Find somewhere you can go be alone for a few minutes, through out the day, especially if you are not used to being around people all day long. I took a few breaks in my car, in the parking garage. scrolled through my phone, adjusted my uncomfortable conference-ey clothes, and took from deep breaths any time I started to feel overwhelmed. It saved the day.


Any conference tips of your own? Please share in comments!

Occupation: Writer?

I remember staring at the blank space on the preschool enrollment form. Mother’s Occupation: ____________.  In the past I’d used my old job. Graphic Designer. Then I resigned myself to “Home maker” but it made me feel a little uncomfortable. Not because being a home maker isn’t a real job. Let me tell you, it is a full time job and a half, but because it’s not a “job” I do exclusively, or alone. My husband and I make our home together. For a little while I aggressively wrote in “Mother” because psh, that IS a job that I do 24/7. That’s true for every mother, by the way, not just ones who don’t work full time jobs for money.

But it is not my professional occupation, any more than home making is. Any more that graphic design has been since I left my full time job after my first child was born.

So I wrote it, on that line.

Mother’s Occupation: Writer.

After a moment of intense self doubt I also added /Homemaker.

It took me a while to be comfortable writing this in. Because I do not make anything close to a living writing, yet. Yet I don’t get paid to cook, clean, or parent and I have no trouble listing those things as my occupation.

I spend a significant portion of my time writing or doing writing related things. I edit while my daughter watches morning cartoons. I research while I wait for spaghetti to boil. I do social media work all day in stolen moments. I write at night between baths and bedtime and the five times my kids need something.

Writing is my occupation. How much money I make for it doesn’t make it any more or less valid. I am building my career and every moment dedicated to it is precious.

So if you are struggling with the same thing, cut yourself a break. Money does not define the value of your job. It does not define you. If you are lucky or motivated enough to be able to dedicate your time to writing, you are a writer and you rock.

Chris Bauer’s Thriller “Jane’s Baby” is out Tomorrow! Check out the podcast about it and pick up the book


The good folks at Philly Liars Club let me join their “oddcast” last week. So here is 30 audio minutes of me blabbering about the thriller JANE’S BABY plus using controversial issues as thriller topics, the use of humor when dealing with controversy, and quirky characters, and me giving the listening audience an incorrect website […]

via Liars Club Oddcast Podcast — Chris Bauer