Writing a Sex Scene

The bedroom, a common setting for a sex scene.

: This post is a serious discussion about writing a common feature in literature and how to do it. It is not meant to be humorous, titillating, or controversial. That being said, this post will go into a topic that many people find uncomfortable, so please use your own discretion before proceeding further. Thank you for your understanding.

Sex scenes show up quite a bit in fiction, and seem to have increased with the passage of time as society has become much more tolerant of (or maybe obsessed with) the subject of sex and sexuality. That being said, many writers aren’t sure how to write these sort of scenes into their stories, let alone if they should have one to begin with. I recently wrote one into my WIP, and I figured now might be a good time to talk about this subject.

Now, I don’t write sex scenes often. However, I’ve written a few in my career, as well as read too many to count, including some in erotica novels and short stories (though not for the reasons you’re probably thinking). I’ve gained some insights over the years into this type of scene, so I think the ones I share here with you should be helpful.

This brings us to our first question:

Should I have a sex scene in my story? The obvious answer is, it depends. And it depends on two factors: the story’s need for one and the author’s level of comfort. Some stories just don’t require a sex scene. My upcoming novel Rose didn’t require one and adding one would’ve felt gratuitous, so I didn’t include one. For my WIP River of Wrath however, I could see where a sex scene might actually add something to the story, so I included it.

Should I have a sex scene in my story?

How do you tell which stories should have a sex scene? Well, some are more obvious than others. However, if you’re not sure, go back in later drafts and see if the scene feels weirdly inserted upon a second reading. And if you’re still not sure, ask your beta readers. That’s what they’re there for.

And if you as the writer don’t feel comfortable writing sex scenes, no problem. Everyone’s comfort levels with these things should be taken into account, and we’re all comfortable with different things. If you don’t like the idea of casually broaching the subject of sex, let alone writing about it, don’t. No one will send you to prison for it, let alone prevent you from ever getting published.

So if the story could use a sex scene and you feel comfortable enough to write it, what’s next?

Have the scene evolve like sex normally does. Sex doesn’t just happen: there’s a progression. Sometimes it starts with a kiss and involves foreplay. Sometimes it involves a look and goes straight to doing the deed. It depends on the people involved and what they’re up for. Likewise, how it happens in your story should have a natural evolution. Just having characters talk or meet and then go straight to sex doesn’t usually work, so show how it happens.

Pay attention to language. I’ve received some feedback on this from my own sex scenes, so I’m passing it on to you. First off, don’t be afraid to actually talk about certain body parts or their nicknames (apparently women are okay using the word c**k or d**k in literature. I was very surprised to learn that). You don’t have to get super-technical about it, using words like “vulva” or “vas deferens.” Just don’t be afraid to talk about them or what’s being done to them.

The second point is that the language should match the mood of the scene. Going for something risque? The language should reflect the adventurous nature of the scene. Kinky, maybe even involving BDSM? Rougher words would work better. Romantic, like the one in my WIP? Words emphasizing sensuality, connection, touch and love work the best.

What language you use in your scene matter quite a bit.

Just don’t use phrases like “Holy cow” to describe one participant’s reaction to the other’s penis being unveiled. Sorry EL James, but that’s more laughable than erotic.

The scene doesn’t have to be super-long. I’ve encountered sex scenes that have gone for a whole chapter comprising of several thousand words, and I’ve encountered some that were as short as a page. The one I wrote in my WIP was a little over a thousand words, or about four or five pages. So if you write one that’s maybe three pages, don’t feel bad that it isn’t longer. As I said, they come in all different lengths.

Pay attention to all body parts and surroundings. As much as we think of sex as involving only a few select body parts, it involves the entire body of each participant. As much as the scene may emphasize what the lower parts are doing, pay attention to what the arms and legs are doing. What is the back doing? Is the hair doing anything worth noting (yes, it can be worth mentioning)? Keep all that in mind while writing the scene.

Also, pay attention to surroundings. Is the scene taking place in a bed? Does it creak during the scene? Are items on the wall affected? Perhaps it’s taking place in a more public setting, like the back of a car. The participants may worry about being spotted by passerby. In a club? Are they noticing music playing or other people passing by?

These are important things to keep in mind, so don’t lose track of them while writing your scene.

 

And finally, there’s one more piece of advice on this subject I’d like to impart:

Read plenty of other examples and practice. Writing is often learned by intuition, example, trial and error. That being said, only so much can be imparted by reading this article. If you’re truly interested in writing a sex scene, read plenty of scenes from other authors from many different genres. See what works and what doesn’t, and incorporate it into your own style.

Always learn from the examples of others if you can.

And it couldn’t hurt to practice writing these sorts of scenes. It hasn’t have to be part of a story you’re working on, or something you’d ever consider publishing. Just try it to see if you can write a scene that you’d consider halfway decent. Like anything in our field, getting good takes practice, and that includes sex scenes. So consider practicing them as well when you have a moment. It can’t hurt, can it?

Whether or not you’ve ever considered writing these scenes or whether or not they’re necessary, it’s always a good idea to have some idea on how to write a sex scene. A lot goes into writing them, so it’s always a good idea to have some idea of what to do when working on them. I hope this article helped in some capacity with your own sex scenes.

How often do you write sex scenes? What tips do you have for writing them?

What Do You Wear to an Author Event?

Not too long ago, I was talking with someone about my upcoming novel Rose. They said that it might not be a bad idea for me to maybe get some fancier get-ups, seeing as the book was being published by a company and I was in a better financial position than I was in college to do a book tour.

Now generally, I just wear whatever’s comfortable, and this person’s job required them to dress much nicer than your average Joe in most situations. So I wasn’t sure I really needed a new suit jacket and some fancy pants. Still, it stuck my mind. A lot of authors dress up when I’ve seen them at readings or on TV shows. And one author I really liked, Richard Castle from Castle (yeah, I know he’s fictional, but he’s got tie-in novels in our world, so he kind of counts) always wore nice shirts, pants and jackets. And Castle is kind of like the adult, mystery author-version of me. Perhaps I should get some new duds.

On the other hand, Stephen King usually wears sweaters and jeans to author events and TV appearances. When I went to see RL Stine at a reading (yes, that happened), he was wearing just a button-down shirt and pants. And one author I’ve had some contact with and was a huge voice during the recent Cockygate controversy usually wears tank tops that show off her tattoos and a cap when she makes YouTube videos (and in our increasingly digital age, that platform works just as well as TV).

So what to do? Well, I do what I do in times like this, I turn to Facebook author groups. And I quickly got a response in return. The answer: it depends.

More specifically, it depends on what kind of impression you’re trying to create. Some authors want to be seen as no different than their readers, so they dress as they do during a normal day off. Others like the effect a suit or a nice dress creates with an audience and thus dress up. And other authors like to dress up in a distinctive manner. This can be as simple as dressing up as one of their characters (especially if said character has a particular look), or as dressing up as a particular type or idea of a character. Our good friend Joleene Naylor recently went to an author event where she dressed up as a vampire like out of the stories she writes, and it apparently worked well for her in more ways than one.

Son Owen and father Stephen King on Good Morning America recently. As you can both see, they’re just wearing some comfortable button-downs.

In addition to personal choices, genre can sometimes affect what you wear to a book reading or in an author bio pic. Mystery writers tend to dress up more, as that makes them appear more distinguished and intelligent, which is what we want writers of mysteries to be. Horror authors, however, still deal with misconceptions that we’re all cannibalistic murderous sex-fiends, so we often dress pretty normally. Unless of course we have something to cosplay as, and then all bets are off!

In any case, what you end up wearing to a book reading or during a YouTube interview or whatever depends largely on your own personal tastes and comfort, the image of yourself you wish to put out there, and perhaps the expectations of your readers. If you’re confused, network with your fellow writers and see what they have to say. Surely one of them will say something to help you pick out an ensemble for your next reading at the local bookstore.

As for me, I think casual clothes will suit me well in most situations, though I can see some instances where I might want to put on a nice button-down and a jacket (Trevor Noah, call me!). It’s just how I roll. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you prefer to wear to an author event? Do you have any tips on how to dress for one?

The Inner Dialogue: A Method for Figuring Out Your Stories

So if you didn’t hear, a novel I’ve been working on since college is getting published, and I’ve been working with a professional editor to make sure that the story is the best it can be before publication. During the revision process, we agreed that the number of flashbacks in the story were actually getting in the way of the story, so I should nix them. Unfortunately, that meant a third of the book went out the window, and another third that relied on that first third had to go as well.

Yeah, that got me depressed for a little while, and it took a lot for me to climb out of that funk. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m actually here to talk about what happened with my story. Because you see, now that essentially the majority of the novel had been chucked out, I had to figure out where to go with the story. I couldn’t go the original direction of the story, because the flashbacks I’d tossed out were so essential to that direction.

Luckily, I was able to come up with a new direction for the story using a method that I’d never used before, which I call the inner dialogue. I can’t remember where I picked this method up,* but it’s stayed in the back of my mind for years, and I figured this was as good a situation as any to use it.

The inner dialogue is where you simulate a conversation with your inner writer (we all have one) when you’re struggling with what to do with a story. This could be trying to overcome writer’s block, figuring out why what a character is doing in the story feels wrong to you, having to rewrite a majority of the story, or any other issue you may be having during the writing/editing process of a story.

Here’s what you have to do:

Get a notebook and pen, or a typewriter and paper, or open up your preferred writing program on your computer. Imagine that you’re sitting down with your inner writer at a cafe, in your favorite writing spot, in a dark basement underneath a seedy dive bar, wherever you feel most comfortable talking to your inner writer. And have an honest conversation with them, writing down what you say and writing down what your inner writer says back. Think of it like texting, only you’re texting with a part of your mind you use for storytelling.

Bounce ideas off them, talk about the criticisms people have with the story, discuss what about the story is bugging you. Something about this method, writing out the problems and some possible situations to remedy this, allows your mind to open up and see new possibilities and solutions.

It might also make people wonder if you’re channeling spirits and doing automatic writing and/or if you’re having some sort of psychological crisis. But I think that’s a risk worth taking for finding what you need to make a story as good as it possibly can be.

Here’s an example conversation of me and my inner writer (who I’ve found to be very sassy during our conversations) discussing a hypothetical book idea I’ve been working on. My dialogue is written normally, while my inner writer uses bold letters:

So we’re doing this again, are we?

Yes, we are. Alright, let’s talk about my idea for a novel I’ve been working on. It centers on a group of cheerleaders.

I’m sure it does, you naughty dog.

Ha ha, very funny. Anyway, we’ve gone over what would happen to them once they arrive at the main setting of the story. But why does it happen? There’s always a catalyst that sets things up. Even if we don’t see it until the end of the story, there’s always something that starts the horror off.

Not always, baby boy. Remember The Haunting of Hill House? That really didn’t have a–no wait, that’s not right. The catalyst was that they entered the house for the investigation, and one of the subjects is mentally still very much a child, which puts her the most at risk to the house’s charms.

Yeah, catalysts in stories can be debatable or hard to pin down sometimes. But what could be a catalyst for this story. Why does this happen to these characters?

You were playing around with the idea of the setting being an illusion, weren’t you? Something created by the characters and the dark secrets in their minds. Can we do anything with that still? Maybe a variation?

You see where this is going, right? But it is very effective. I got ideas for this hypothetical novel just from doing an inner dialogue here in this blog post. And if doing it as a demonstration in this blog post can give me ideas for a novel, imagine what it can do for your work at home.

With that in mind, I just want to leave you with a couple of tips for doing this. You don’t have to use them, but I find them useful:

  • Be honest and write down everything. It may be a lot of work, but you’ll find it helpful to write down everything in these dialogues. Especially if you want to go back and see what you’ve come up with. Any thought, any idea, could prove useful, so write them down, even if your thoughts are kind of weird (mine certainly are).
  • Give your inner writer a voice. Like in your stories, the inner writer is also a character, even if they only exist inside you. That being said, you’ll want to give them a voice, motivations, everything you’d give a normal character. That way, they can speak to you just like any other character, and make the dialogue that much more effective.
    It also helps to give the inner writer’s dialogue some distinguishing characteristic, so it doesn’t get jumbled up with your own. A different font, italics, as long as it helps you differentiate, it’s all good.
  • Mark the dates and times of the dialogues. Often these dialogues can last a while. Mine lasted two weeks while I was trying to find a new direction. So mark the date and times you had these dialogues in the document you’re using. You’ll find it very helpful for later.

Nobody wants to find out a story is flawed or that they can’t figure out how to fix its problems. But there are a variety of methods to overcome these issues. Perhaps the inner dialogue is a good one for you, and will help you write, edit and publish your best work. You just have to sit down, and commit to talking to yourself for a little while. You never know what you’ll unlock.

*For some reason I think it might have something to do with Stephen King, but I think I’d remember if I came across this method in a King novel. If you have any idea where it came from, let me know in the comments. I’d like to give a proper acknowledgement to whoever or wherever I got the inner dialogue.

I Had to Give Up Writing to Market in Order to Find My Passion Again

It’s been ages since I posted anything on this blog. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas. I had a lot of them. But as soon as I sat down and wrote a paragraph or two, my mind came to a screeching halt. I waited and waited…and waited some more for inspiration to come so I could finish the blog post. But inspiration never came. I deleted most of those drafts. Why? Because my heart wasn’t “in” writing anymore, much less trying to figure out how to tell other authors how they might sell more books.

I had lost my creative edge, and the scary part is that I didn’t even know it. Writing had started to become a chore. I was doing good to chug along and write my books. It’s like I was running on a gas tank that was almost empty. All of the gas left in my tank was going to my books. I had nothing left to give to a blog post.

feeling trapped
ID 40361529 © Artistashmita | Dreamstime.com

I got some criticism for writing a blog post on here about losing income. But it’s true. I did lose income. I lost about 1/3 of my income from 2015 to 2016. I barely remained steady in 2017. I was even tempted to go exclusive with Amazon by putting new books in KDP Select so I could take advantage of page reads in Kindle Unlimited. I had to spend serious time in prayer and talking with a couple of friends in order to make the best decision for me longterm. (KU is not a good longterm plan.) I knew this, but I had started to focus on short-term plans.

Which is why I was writing to market when 2016 came around.

I wrote to market for two years. Fortunately for me, I happen to love historical western and Regency romances, which happen to be popular genres anyway. But what I did was pick heroine types, hero types, and plot types that I felt had the best chance of selling well. I broke this rule with one book (which is now one of my all-time favorites). That book didn’t do as well as the others. The thing is, I know what is popular in my corner of the romance market. I know what pleases the most readers. How? Because of all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years and watching what other (very successful) romance authors were doing.

I always picked plots I was interested in doing. I could never bring myself to write something I didn’t like. But after two years of writing as fast as I could on projects that I felt would sell, I realized I had used up all of those ideas. I was exhausted. I knew I was burning out. Still, in January, I wrote another romance to market. Then February came. By this time, I was wiped out, but I already had a pre-order set for an April release, so I went through that month and pushed myself to finish that book. Thankfully, this book wasn’t a “write to market” book. It was a passion project. I was venturing into new territory I was excited about. If it had been a “write to market” book, I don’t think I would have survived the month as well as I did. Because even though it was a passion project, my joy for writing had already been hit hard.

And yet, as I write this, my income is still dropping. Writing to market was not a long-term solution to my problem. It was a temporary one. I don’t know if it’s because the market is saturated, or if my readers from early on were tired of the new stuff I was doing (since it was not longer my passion projects), or if it’s because I never went into KU, but my income never did return to what I made in 2015. Ads had minimal effect, and quite frankly, with tax payments based on last year’s income, I don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of money on ads, which are the latest promotional tool. (I’m sure the effectiveness of ads will run out in due time, just like the effectiveness of free, $0.99, and other tactics have diminished over the years I’ve been indie publishing.)

Anyway, when I saw my efforts were not paying off, I asked myself, “Why am I pushing myself so hard?” And it all came down to money. I wanted to make more money writing books. But the thing was, I wasn’t making more money. I was making less.

Early this month, I caught myself thinking, “I hate writing. I wish I could leave the computer and never write another word for as long as I live.”

And that scared me. When I was in the 6th grade, I first discovered how fun reading was, and from there, I started writing. I had always loved writing. Up until 2015, I couldn’t imagine never writing because I loved it so much. When I died, I was hoping I could continue writing in Heaven. So when did it all stop? Looking back, I realized it became “work” in 2016 when I started to seriously write to market. I stopped taking story ideas I felt was risky. I was no longer putting myself into every story. I was playing it safe.

My stress level went through the roof. Whenever I wrote, I was asking myself, “Will someone object to this? Will someone give me a 1-star over that? Will someone stop buying my books because I put this in it?” Everything I wrote (with the exception of two books) revolved around what I thought the market wanted.

I didn’t realize I was paying attention to something Dean Wesley Smith calls “critical voice”. I just got through reading his book Writing into the Dark last week (scroll down the page to find it). Anyway, the book mainly tells writers how to write without plotting, but in it he mentions how harmful critical voice is to writing. And he’s right. Critical voice was in full control when I was writing to market. Critical voice stepped in and stopped me from pursuing books I really, really, really wanted to write because, “No one is going to buy it because of (insert reason here).”

I had a good list of things I had to avoid writing while I was focused on the market, and because of this, I ended up having to work within a narrow parameter of what my critical voice had told me was acceptable. I still picked things I was interested in, but I wasn’t able to go beyond the box I had put myself in. And that was slowly killing my creative voice. I didn’t even know this was happening. That was the scary part. It’s only now as I’m looking back that I can see what was going on. I shake my head and wonder, “How could I not see it?”

This is something all authors are probably going to have to come to terms with at some point. Yes, writing to market can yield high income. (I’ve seen writers do it.) But is it possible to do this for the long term? Can they keep producing these books in a way that is fresh and new? Can they keep doing this at breakneck speed?

This is a bit of a side note, but I’ve noticed that (at least on Amazon), in order to stay relevant, I had to get more books out. Romance authors are now putting out two or more books a month. I’ve seen a couple of authors doing one book a week. Yes, they’re novellas, but still…  And the other day, one author was going from one book a week to two books a week. How long can this momentum stay up? I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to write fast and write quality, but even I can’t see how going that fast is a manageable long-term strategy.  But I’m not the only one who noticed this trend on Amazon. Cait Reynolds did a post on Kristen Lamb’s blog called “Kindle Unlimited: Good Plan or KU Hamster Wheel of Death?” (The post is hilarious, especially with the hamster pictures.) I have this article on my desk and read it at least once a month to remind myself that KU (and Amazon) is built for speed. You must constantly have new books out to keep income up. And there’s a point where I can’t write any more books that I currently do each year.

So I need a long-term strategy because I want to love writing. I want to keep writing. And more importantly, I want to love what I’m writing. I want my passion back. I want my creative voice to flourish again. Just recently, I finally decided I’m going to stop writing to market. I have officially dropped out of the rat race. I’m going to start embracing projects that I can give my whole heart into. If it fits the market, fine. If not, fine. But I’m not going to let that critical voice rule over me anymore.

It was amazing how quickly this single decision changed things around for me. I took a few days to decompress and re-evaluate my life. I did a lot of self-reflection.  But within a week, something magical happened. I got the joy back. I got my passion back. Finally, I have fresh and new story ideas again. I have characters who are exciting to write about. I didn’t expect this to happen so fast, but it did.

And last week, for the first time since 2015, I wrote because I “wanted” to. I had no idea there was such a huge difference between writing because I “had” to and writing because I “want” to, but it’s a huge difference.

What about you? Have you had any revelations about your own writing lately?

Slaying Giants

This blog post will contain some Christian references, but it also focuses on writing.

Sunday’s church sermon was on how David killed the giant, Goliath. The visiting pastor talked about how big and tall Goliath was, and how he wore heavy battle armor. This Philistine was intimidating to the Israel people. Who could defeat this menacing giant?

To urge someone to come forward to fight Goliath, King Saul offered one of his daughters to marry and for the family to be exempt from paying taxes. Still no one answered the call until a shepherd boy expressed his interest in 1 Samuel 32-33:

“‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ David told him [Saul]. ‘I’ll take care of this Philistine.’”

“Saul replied. … ‘You’re only a boy and he [Goliath] has been in the army since he was a boy!’”

However, David was not deterred even when he threw off the weighty armor Saul gave him to fight the giant. David would slay Goliath on his own terms.

The odds were against David. But with one swift swirl of his slingshot, the rock hit Goliath on his forehead, and the giant fell dead to the ground.

This reminds me of our own writing battles. We work hard to make our work the best we can do. We edit and edit, research and research for historical accuracy, we promote and promote to secure readers and yet at times we feel just like the Israel people – intimidated and hopeless.

This year I made an oath that I would depend upon God and not worry. There are a few days that hopeless feeling returns once more within me, such as this weekend at a writers’ conference.

It took a couple of hours for me to set up my booth, so I could sell my books during Saturday’s lunch and conference breaks. I had practiced reading from my recent historical, clean and Christian romance, When Hearts Rekindle, wanting to entice those hearing my Friday night reading to visit my book booth on Saturday.

For all my efforts, I sold one book, my first book, Seasons of the Soul, which includes a spattering of personal accounts of my two different autistic sons. It took me time to get over my sinking feeling of all my efforts to result in one sale; however, grateful I am for that sale. But to be honest, I had hoped for more, not a lot, but perhaps three to four sales. At least with that, the $10 booth would have paid for itself.

The next day I shook myself awake from my despair and renewed my commitment to God. As a Christian, I must believe the word of the Lord, “all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23) That does not mean there are not troubling times.

However, overall, each year gets better and so, I say to you, keep trudging along. Do not let your fret overtake you and continue to write, tweak your manuscripts and move forward. You are doing better than when you started. Why? Because you have learned from your past mistakes and so you are more prepared today than you were yesterday. Grab your pencil and paper – or should I say your word program and computer? – and  type and write! God bless.

 

Bankrupt: What do you do when your Publisher no Longer Exists?

You have two options – find another publisher or self-publish them.

This is what I was faced with recently on two of my six books/anthologies. I decided to self-publish Seasons of the Soul and Lockets and Lanterns, because they were published years ago (Seasons of the Soul in 2006 and Lockets and Lanterns in 2012).

I believe self-publishing is the right path to go on these two books. However, this meant I needed to develop a new cover. After all I did not own the rights to the covers, the publisher did. What should I do? Go with an expensive cover designer or do a nice cover without any bells or whistles?

I decided to do the latter. I could not see paying a lot of money for a cover artist on books several years old. Thus I turned to a friend who has self-published, and she is assisting me.

Now since the original Lockets and Lanterns cover never really said romance, and it is a romance, it made sense to have a cover that more matched the genre. In fact at book signings, people often thought this book was either a horror or mystery novel. Although Lockets and Lanterns includes an element of mystery – the husband’s secret – your average mystery reader would not consider it as such. It is pictured below. What do you think?

L&L Coverjpeg

The second problem was the book’s description. It needed to be revised. It did not say “romance” and, of course, it must do that.

This got me thinking about publishers who market all types of genres. They really do not know what each target audience demands. So, although going through my submitted manuscript is going to be a chore since I will have to correct the point size and fonts used and remove all editor’s remarks, it also is a time of rejoicing.

Rejoicing you say? Are you nuts? No, I have been disinterested in these books for quite a while to focus on my new material, such as the recent release of my historical humorous tale, The Bride List. The cover is pictured below.20160104_The_Bride_List_p2

However, now I am excited about these older books. Why?

Because it also took me back to when my autistic sons were younger as relayed in a spattering of personal accounts in Seasons of the Soul. I could relive those trials, such as where the family almost drowned or a humorous tale of when Andrew’s cat went missing. And, I could reread the God-inspired story, loosely based on my grandfather, in Lockets and Lanterns.

So when disaster strikes like a publishing company going out of business. First panic then take a deep breath and realize the positives. Positives of getting the books printed as you wanted in the beginning and are able to do so with self-publishing them.

Have a great spring and I would love to have your feedback on this issue and as always God bless.

Dragon Speech-to-Text Software: A Review

Back in December 2016, my boss recommended that I try Dragon, or some other speech-to-text software. I don’t remember how the subject came up (I do remember it was during the office Christmas party, so it probably had something to do with vacation plans and plans for life), but he said that as a writer (something that becomes common knowledge for anyone who gets to know me) it could be helpful with how quickly I write.

Now, I admit at the time I was a little skeptical. I’d heard of programs like that, but I didn’t know much about them, and I can be a little wary when it comes to new technologies. But over the next month or so, I heard from several writer friends who had used Dragon, either because they wanted to try it and see if it works, or because various medical conditions or health issues prevented them from actually typing their stories and blog posts. So, with a lot of gift card money, I ordered Dragon from Amazon and decided to see if it could help.

After a few hiccups in getting set up (turns out my laptop needed to upgrade its audio equipment, and I kind of forgot to register my copy of the software on Dragon’s website before starting out), I started testing it out. And it actually works very well.

The way Dragon works is that once you download the program onto whatever computer you use to write, you boot up the program and turn the microphone settings on, signaling to Dragon that you want to record what you’re saying. Dragon picks up what you’re saying either through the computer’s built in microphone or through a microphone headset that comes with the software (I prefer using my computer’s microphone, but that’s just me). Dragon will then record what you are saying to it into a Dictation Box (usually pops up when I’m using Dragon to write a blog post, like this one), into a tool known as the DragonPad, which functions similar to Notepad programs, or onto Microsoft Word, whichever you prefer.

Dragon also takes commands. For example, if you usually use italics to emphasize a character’s thoughts, you merely have to say, “Italicize this word through that word,” and those words will be italicized. Dragon comes with tutorial programs to teach you the basic commands and how to use them when writing, and there are plenty of videos online showing you how to use the program if you need more help.

I spent the first couple of sessions with Dragon just learning how to use it. It takes a few sessions for the program to get used to your voice, which is why I highly recommend you use it in a space where the only noise will be from you. Background music from a stereo, noisy kids, or any other distractions may confuse Dragon, especially during the first couple of sessions. But Dragon does get used to your voice eventually, and with more practice, it has an easier time transcribing your words as you want them to be transcribed.

Not only that, but you can actually teach the program new words. Usually when you boot up the program, it will ask if there are documents or emails they can use to learn your speech patterns or any particular words you use a lot that aren’t in a standard dictionary. This is very handy if you tend to write fantasy or science fiction. I was able to take the outline for the final book of my science fiction trilogy, and use this option to teach the program certain words in the story, including a few character names that probably won’t make the list of popular baby names in the United States. It’s a very handy feature.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems with Dragon. It will still mishear words and commands you’re telling it. I often find myself having to go back and make some corrections, like when Dragon hears the word “them” as “him” and vice versa. It also sometimes lists numbers as numbers instead of words, and unless you configure it so that it always does numbers as words, it can get a little annoying.

Still, I find Dragon very helpful. I still type some parts, especially with words that Dragon doesn’t know or when I make corrections. But for the most part, I’m now speaking my stories, and my stories are being written faster. What used to take a couple of hours to write can now take as little as half an hour to an hour. A chapter that took two to three weeks to write now takes three to four days. I speak my story, making corrections as I go, and it unfolds before me. All in all, I would recommend at least trying it out.

Now I know that this isn’t for everybody. Some of us just love to type or write in spiral-bound notebooks. But for those of you who are interested, here are some tips I’ve gleaned from using Dragon. Please be aware that I’m still new to all this is well, so if you have a tip and you don’t see it here, please leave it in a comment below.

  1. Think about what you’re going to say before you say it. You don’t have to have the entire story in your head before sitting down to write (or speak), have a general idea. The more you plan, the less you find yourself stumbling over your words or taking long pauses to figure out what you should say.
  2. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t sound like an audiobook narrator. Audiobook narrators are generally paid actors who are provided a script ahead of time. They’ve read over and review the material and practice plenty of times before they go into the recording booth, and even then, they make mistakes which are corrected in future takes. When using Dragon, you’re basically putting down the first draft. So if you make a mistake, or you don’t sound like William Defoe narrating Stephen King, don’t be discouraged. It’s a first draft, so mistakes are okay.
  3. Find a quiet place to write. Like I said, noisy spaces interfere with Dragon picking up your words. I heard from one woman who said that when she played music on her radio while writing, Dragon sometimes picked up what the radio was saying instead of what she was saying.
    If you would still like to listen to something while you write, you can put in your headphones and narrate while iTunes or YouTube or whatever program you use place your favorite tunes. Dragon will actually quiet the music you’re listening to while you write so that it seems more like it’s in the background rather than blasting into your ears.
  4. Don’t expect to master Dragon all in a single session. Like I said, I’m still learning how to use it, and I’ve had it for about a month or two. Like any craft or any tool, it takes a lot of practice to get very good at it. Don’t sweat the mistakes.
  5. Have a glass of water nearby. This may just be my thing, but narrating my stories makes me thirsty. If it’s also your thing, then definitely have something to drink nearby.
  6. Use those learning tools. Even if you don’t write science fiction or fantasy, those tools are quite handy for any writer. Perhaps you write a story with a lot of Polish characters with those long Polish last names. Or the French language shows up a lot in a short stories set in Paris. Or use an expression or slang term particular to a certain area and it’s not well-known outside of that area. It’s times like these when the word-learning tools are helpful.
  7. When using Dragon for a blog post, go over it before publishing. Like I said, the program does make mistakes on occasion, so if you’re used to writing a blog post and then publishing it straight away, DON’T!!! Check over it first to make sure Dragon didn’t mishear “won’t make” as “don’t take” and then you can publish. Trust me, it’ll avoid all sorts of problems

If you are interested in trying Dragon, you can get it direct from the manufacturer, Nuance Communications, or from Amazon like I did. And it might also be available at Best Buy or other electronic retailers, though I don’t know that for sure. If you’re getting it for home, make sure you’re buying the home version when you check out. And please, make sure your audio software is up-to-date, and that you register your software on Dragon’s website before downloading the program.

If you have Dragon, what is been your experience with it?

What tips do you have for using Dragon?

Stress: How To Cope When the Mountain of Work Only Increases

An author’s life is an incredibly busy one.  The easy part is writing your book.  It’s what happens after you hit publish that can have you running around doing a million things at once.  Whether it’s family, friends, the household budget, chores, appointments with the dentist/doctor/etc, and things like car repairs, we are already busy.

Now, add to this the job we have of promoting our work.  We must juggle social media.  We must answer emails.  We must update our website and/or blog.  We must line up things with editors/cover artists/formatters (or do these things ourselves), though I would advise to never do the edit yourself because it’s hard to catch everything when you’re reading what “should” be there instead of what is actually there.  On top of all of that, we have to keep track of our expenses and our income for tax purposes.

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There is so much we do.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems that for every one thing I accomplish, two more things pile up on my “To Do” list.  So how are we to cope in a world that is constantly demanding our attention?

Keep Writing or Write More

Sadly, this is the one thing we do that is easiest to push back because the other things require us to do something for other people.  All of our promotional efforts focus in on others, and we often put others before ourselves.  (I’m not saying this is always a bad thing, but if you don’t take care of yourself, then you won’t have the emotional reserve to take care of others.)

For most of us, we need to write.  It is the only thing that keeps us sane in the middle of our stressful lives.  So if we were to “not write”, then we would only get stressed out even more.  Writing has a calming effect on us.  It clears our minds and helps us focus.  So I believe writing needs to be at the top of our priority list in order to help us do everything else.

How much writing should you do?  That will depend on your particular situation.  A good rule of thumb is to figure out how much time you need to write in order to feel calm and relaxed.  For me, it’s two hours minimum.  Once I hit the two hour mark, I feel at peace with the world around me.  I don’t have to do this every day, but I can’t go for longer than two consecutive days without getting irritable and restless.  Your own threshold will be unique to you.

It’s Okay If You Don’t Answer Emails, Blog Comments, or Facebook/Twitter/Google Plus/Etc Comment Today

Unless there is an emergency to tend to, it’s okay to push all of these aside for when you have more room in your calendar for them.  One thing I have found helpful is to write 250-300 words, answer 1-2 emails or comment from a social media site, then go back to writing another 250-300 words.

This way  the social end of my writing business doesn’t take away from the actual writing.  Of course, it requires some discipline.  It’s easy to get distracted by a funny picture or video.  So if you need to be offline while writing, then wait until you’re done writing in order to get to the social stuff.  On days I don’t write, I’ll carve out 1-3 hours to catch up on the social side of writing.

Whatever way works best for you is the one to go with.  Just because the tips above helps me, it doesn’t mean they’ll work for everyone.

Say No To Things You Can’t Handle

We all have our limits, and knowing where yours is can be a huge life saver.   It is hard to say no when someone wants something from us.  (This something is often our time.)

Carefully weigh the pros and cons before saying yes.  Can you still get everything on your list done if you say yes?  Will you have the energy you need later on in the day to do your work?  Will the creative flow still be there?  Do you feel like everything is in order, so when you come back, you’re not going to feel stressed out?  If you say can yes to those things, then you can say yes to the person’s request.  If you say no to any of them, see if you can do the thing for that person at a more convenient time.  (Unless you don’t want to do it.  Then, by all means, just say you can’t do it.)

Prioritize Your Tasks

I like to have a calendar next to me where I can keep notes on what I need to do and on what day they need to be done.  I plan out this calendar a week in advance unless there’s an appointment I scheduled six months in advance (like a trip to the dentist).  You may be able to plot out your writing and social media tasks for a longer time span.  My attention span is pretty short, so I need to keep my timeline short.

I don’t keep a detailed list.  I know some people who do, but I would go crazy if I did that.  I take 2-4 main things I want to do that week.  I don’t write down the every day things I do.  I just write the things I do once in a while, such as “make blog post for newsletter blog,” “write up letter for email list recipients,” or “update website.”  Then I make those the main focus for the next coupe of days, and I do these in addition to my writing.

However you want to handle your list is up to you.  There is no right or wrong way to do it as long as it helps you keep focused on the main things you want to get done.

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Well, those are my tips on managing stress.  I know there are the proper sleep and taking care of our health components involved, but I wanted to stick mainly with the writing part of our stressful lives.

What do you do to help cope with stress as a writer?  Got anything you can add to the things I mentioned?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Building Meaningful Relationships With Your Readers

I’ve had this post sitting in the draft folder for a year, and I’ve been waiting for the right time to use it.  Recently, I came across this great post “5 Mistakes Authors Make on Social Media” by Michael Cristiano, and I knew this was the right time to make the post below public.

My recommendation is to read the post given at the link above and then read what I have below.

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1.   Guess what, everyone?  I just wrote this fantastic thriller about a group a survivors who need to wade their way through the apocalypse while trying to find a cure for the virus that turns everyone into zombies.  Check it out on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks!   (This is either posted for the gazillionth time on the author’s social media page–or worse–posted on someone else’s page without their approval.)

or how about…

2.  Space Invasion has received a 4.5 star average out of 23 reviews on Amazon.  Check out why it’s so hot!  (Amazon link provided)

or how about…

3.  I know you guys are talking about romances, but I want to tell you about this fantasy I wrote which won the This Book is the Best Ever 2016 Award.  I know it’s not what you were asking for, but it is so well written that you will love it anyway.  Here’s the link!

or how about…

4.  That story about your kid is so funny.  It reminds me of the scene I wrote in my book, Alison’s Fake Fiancé,  when her toddler went into the store and ran into a large display and knocked everything over.  Here’s the link!

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What do all of the approaches above have in common?  They’re a hard sell.  And honestly, I don’t think they work.  We are saturated with ads in one form or another.  (All of the above are ads.  They just weren’t ads someone paid for.)  I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring ads of all kinds.  I don’t really “see” them when they’re there.

A better approach, in my opinion, would be to build relationships with readers instead of selling to them.  It requires a slow build.  It takes a lot of time.  And it probably won’t mean a massive amount of sales in a short period of time.  But I think it can be a very rewarding approach longterm because the readers you meet become real people instead of just numbers, and I enjoy getting to know who is reading and enjoying my work.

Alright, so let’s get to the nitty gritty of this post.

I like to start with this in mind: treat others as you want them to treat you.

I can tell when an author is engaged with me as a person vs when they’re just trying to sell me a book.  I’m inclined to read and buy books by authors who take the time to get to know me and care about me.  Early on (2010), an author was really nice to me, but the moment I read and reviewed her book, she stopped replying to my comments on her posts.  I still remember how that made me feel.  I felt like I’d been used, and I never want anyone else to feel that way.

Be yourself.  Hang out on places that interest you.  Have a good time.  Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Let’s say you’re shy.  Instead of initiating conversations, why not comment in the threads other people have started?  Let others lead and add whatever you can.  After a while, you’ll be more comfortable with some of the people you’re talking to, and you’ll open up.  But let it be a gradual process.

I do think Facebook could be effective for this.  I know Facebook isn’t as effective as it used to be, but it’s still a good way to engage with people who read books.  Just be sure when you are engaging, you’re not out promoting your books.  Be real.  Build friendships.  You can even create a Facebook group to chat with your readers.

You don’t need to be on Facebook.  Pick whatever social media site or sites you enjoy and spend your time and attention over there getting to know people.

I know what some of you are thinking.  “But if I don’t tell people I have a book to sell, how will they find it?”

Make sure your name links to your page on that social media.  Facebook and Twitter highlight your name.  This will take people to your page on that site.  Your page is where you link to your website in your profile.  On your website, you will have your books.  That is how people will find your books.

Another way they can find out is by asking you.  But let them do the asking.  Or, someone else might mention it in passing and arouse the person’s curiosity.  This needs to be someone you didn’t tell to do it.  No gaming the system, guys.  It needs to be honest and real.

Do I have friends who never read my books?  Yep.  There are some awesome people who haven’t read anything I’ve written who have been a huge blessing in my life.  So don’t limit your conversations only to those people that you believe will buy your books.  Be open to everyone.  Just like any friendship, it takes time to develop and involves being sincere.

Does this method take time?

Definitely.  I know it’s hard to wait in our instant gratification culture (at least in the United States where I live).  But anything worth doing often takes time.  When you went through school, you didn’t jump from kindergarten to high school.  You had to go through years to get there.  When you go to college, you don’t get your degree in one semester.  It takes time, effort, and dedication.  But when you take time to do these things, the reward makes all the work worth it.

And honestly, I’ve been far more blessed by people who read my books than they’ll ever be by me.  There were times I wanted to quit (such as this morning, believe it or not), but they were there to encourage me to keep going.  I would have given up long ago if it hadn’t been for them.  Money is just one factor to being an author.  The emotional support you get from your readers is a lot more valuable, in my opinion.  But yes, I do understand we need money in order to eat.  Like my mom used to say, “You can’t eat love.” But I think being your real self with others can lead to a solid foundation that can help you as you look for effective marketing techniques in the long run.  Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Writing Time: Selfish, Selfless, or Saving Others?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a hard time with writing time = being selfish even though intellectually I keep telling myself that writing time = self-care time. Writing makes me happy!

A Writer's Path

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by Christopher Slater

I will start out by saying that this is a perfect example of what is meant by the phrase, “Doctor, heal thyself!” I am the absolute worst at not following this advice. Of course, that is probably why I have joked with my students that my name should be a verb meaning “to screw up badly.” So if you ever heard me say “I Slatered myself by not listening to my own advice,” then you can understand what I mean.

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