How Writing Non-fiction Helped My Writing Career.

As much as I’d love to be able to say I make a comfortable living from writing fiction, I can’t. The large majority of my income comes from writing in the non-fiction field. With a background in adult education I tend to write a lot of textbooks, learner materials and teacher guides. It’s not overly fun writing, but it pays the bills and I have teenagers to feed, so I accept the contracts.

How does this help my fiction writing, I hear you ask? the answer is, writing non-fiction both helps and hinders my fiction writing.

It helps by:
• Instilling a writing habit and discipline.
• Developing the ability to work to deadlines.
• Improving my first draft writing in all fields. After all, the more drafts, the less money I receive.
• Teaching me, good enough sometimes is enough.

Of all of these, the writing habit and discipline is the biggest assistance. When you have a client waiting on copy, you can’t spend all day procrastinating looking for funny cat pictures on the internet. You have to get in and write.

Taking this discipline and applying it to my fiction writing was one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. While in my head, I knew discipline and writing habits was the best way forwards, making myself apply the lesson was difficult, because of my own lack of trust and belief in me.

For many, many years, I resented working on non-fiction because I believed that work was getting in my way of being a great writer. If I wasn’t wasting my time writing learner resources to tell someone else how to get the skills to live their dream job, I would be able to live my dream job. And it was this resentment that was holding me back from living the life I always wanted.

Until I made the connection (yep, smart person, slow learner) that everything I write, regardless of what the subject is, moves me closer to my dreams. Every time I re-write a passage, it helps me not make the same mistake. Each time I stop myself overusing a word, it helps my fiction writing. Every step in the writing process is getting stronger and ultimately those basic skills of sentence and paragraph structure, grammar and punctuation, spelling and word choice are helping me write tighter.

While the non-fiction writing takes time away from the creative writing and makes me too tired to look at a computer screen some evenings, the best thing I’ve done for my writing career is prove to myself that I’m able to have a writing career.

Eventually the book contracts will come. I know that, but they will come, in part because of the work I’m currently doing as a non-fiction writer.

Dragonbane

For me, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s latest foray into the Dark Hunter world was uninspiring. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the snarky dialogue. I enjoyed getting to see how old characters were getting on in their lives but Maxis and Seraphina story was underbaked.

It felt and read like it was a bridging book, moving from one story arc to another, but without an internal reason for Dragonbane to be written. The world building is incredibly complex and this book is one of the more confusing of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s books. Without a solid understanding of the mythology of this world, (and a working knowledge of real Mythology) it would be easy for a reader get lost. The world of the Hunters has been so very deeply developed that to keep up with this story a reader will need to be committed to the entire work of Kenyon. While I enjoy the books, I’m not an avid devotee of the world.

Maxis as a character is standard, cookie cutter male Kenyon character. Abused, stoic, on the edge of society (and honestly there are so many people on the ‘edge of society’ in Kenyon’s books they can create their own society) and feeling completely anti-social.

Seraphina is atypical of Kenyon’s heroines because she is unlikeable at the beginning. I feel that the character of Seraphina is actually where this book falls down. While the transition from unlikeable to likeable character can and does happen (hey Styxx) this book is too short to make the change believable.

Overall, the book is exactly what you’d expect from Sherrilyn Kenyon. Snarky conversations, twisted abused hero and a heroine that kisses it makes it all better. But to me, it is not the best of Kenyon’s work and seems to have been written more to set up the next story arc rather than because Maxis and Sera needed their own story.

Review – Alone in the Dark

Alone in the Dark is Karen Rose’s latest romantic suspense thriller, released in Australia in November. Alone in the Dark follows Scarlett Bishop as she works with Marcus O’Bannion to solve a murder and crack a human trafficking ring.

Fans of Karen Rose are already familiar with Scarlett and Marcus as we met them in the previous book, Closer Than You Think.
I love Karen Rose. I eagerly look for her book each year and pre-order it as soon as it’s available. As soon as Alone in the Dark arrived, I dived into the story, hoping to be transported for a weekend.

Was I disappointed? A little bit. I enjoyed the crime/thriller component of this story much more than the romance. While there wasn’t anything overtly wrong with the romance component of the story, it seemed underdeveloped. Which was a tad disappointing. The relationship between Marcus and Scarlett was pre-ordained in the previous book, which was fine, but the path for them to move from unrequited longing to committed partners was just too smooth. Too simple. I understand the romance component of the books is just a sub plot but normally with Karen Rose books, the relationship angle is developed a bit more.

The crime component of the book was twisty, complex and involved, just as I expected. I was surprised by some of the turns which was wonderful. The complex back history of Marcus was more fully explained but I was astounded by the lack of identifying the serial killer who had wounded Marcus and killed his brother in Closer than You Think. For those of us who read each of the novels, it was understood how the killer was able to impact Marcus, but for those who didn’t read the previous novel, I think the regular references to the incident would have been annoying.

At over 600 pages this is one of the longest Karen Rose novels and could have been edited down a tad, but overall, this is a solid read with amazingly good character development. Not a single character is one dimensional or underdeveloped. Highly recommend this book, if you enjoy taking the time to really get to know the characters.

When Should You Engage an Editor?

So you’ve finished your manuscript? Congratulations, you’re already well ahead of the many aspiring writers in the world. Now you’re ready to find an editor who can help you move your work to the next level, aren’t you?

Well, No.

For the best return on your investment, there are a range of things you can do before employing an editor to work with your manuscript. The tips below are aimed at writers who are intending to self publish or to engage or employ an editor to work on their manuscript before submitting to a traditional publisher.

First: Have you let the manuscript mature?

Putting the manuscript away for at least a few weeks, (six months would be better) allows it to mature and gives you time away from it. The greater the time and distance you’re able to give your manuscript, the easier it is for you to see the clunky sentences, the overused words and the clichés. After all, why pay someone to point these out to you?
Always remember, time and distance makes you forget what you wanted to put on the page and lets you see what you really wrote.

For example:

Before:

Darcy shifted, trying to find a position that allowed him to relax in a seat too small, while avoiding the scrapes, abrasions and bruises covering almost every inch of his body.

After a break:

Darcy squirmed in the tiny seat, searching for a position that let him relax without bumping the scrapes, abrasion and bruises covering his body.
With enough time away from the manuscript, you’ll be surprised by what is on the page, good and bad.

Second: Have you read your manuscript aloud?

By reading the manuscript out loud, as horrible as it can be, you hear what works and what doesn’t. If you can, record yourself reading your manuscript and listen for the awkward phrasing. It’s these difficult points where your reader may decide to walk away.

If you can’t listen to yourself, ask someone else to read it to you. Or use one of the many programs that will read a document to you. Personally, I tend to use Dragon software, but that’s because I have access to it. Have a look around and see what software is available. A computerised voice reading your manuscript isn’t as good as you reading it but it’s better than hearing it only in your head.

Third: Have you used online editing tools?

There is debate about the validity of online or computer editing tools. I find them useful for forcing a writer to think. The tools show you where you have too many passive or sticky sentences, have overused words and can show you the reading level of your work.

Many programs exist; Hemmingway, Prowriting Aid, Autocrit are some of the ones I’ve reviewed. All of them have their strengths and weaknesses but by using them, you are identifying some of the things a good editor will find anyway. Once you have the reports back from the programs you are able to look at what has been highlighted and decide what, if anything, you want to change.

Fourth: Have you made any changes?

All of the work above should have identified things you want to change. By making those changes, getting the manuscript as close to perfect as you can before you send it to the editor, will ensure a good return on investment because the editor will be able to focus on the things that you are too close to see.

A good writer may be too close to their characters and the storyline itself to see any problems. This is where an editor can be the most effective. Sure, any editor can fix your spelling and grammar, but for the best bang for your buck, let your editor focus on making the manuscript stand out from the crowd.

This is especially true if you intend to self-publish. Get another set of eyes, not on the mechanics of punctuation, spelling and grammar, but on the magic that is in your manuscript.

Fifth: Beta Readers?

This one can be difficult. Do you get a beta reader before the editor or do you work with the editor and let beta readers at the work later?

In all honesty, either works. If you are using beta readers before engaging an editor, hopefully someone will mention if the character is unlikeable, the situation implausible and how did the character change gender half way through, but not always. Particularly if your beta readers are friends. They won’t want to hurt your feelings.

The downside of using beta readers and critique groups before hiring an editor is you sometimes end up with a hodgepodge of ideas that take the story in a direction you don’t want it to go. A good editor is going to help you deliver the story you want to tell.

By using an editor first you have a manuscript you’re happy with before listening to critique groups. By having a story you’re happy with, you know where your ‘line in the sand’ is and you can then use the beta readers as a litmus test of the story itself.

Ultimately, you bring in an editor when you’ve done everything in your power to produce the best possible story and you know you can’t do any more without outside help. Every writer will come to that point at a different time, but each writer knows within themselves when they’ve done all they can.

Now approach an editor.

In the next post, I’ll be talking about what you should be discussing with your editor before the editing process starts.