Friday, February 24, 2012

How to be a Successful Writer

Today the Rockville 8 welcomes New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Anita Clenney who shares about the proper care and feeding of that fickle animal, Lady Luck. Anita will give away one copy of Embrace the Highland Warrior to a randomly chosen commenter (US or Canada addresses only).

Take it away, Anita!

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a formula for guaranteed success? Unfortunately, we don’t. For one thing, success is relative. What makes me happy might not be enough for you. But success is possible. Look at Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Janet Evanovich. All very successful writers, but I bet if you looked at each one, you would find no two success stories the same. This business isn’t one size fits all. However, each of those writers has one thing in common. They’re great storytellers. Even being a great storyteller is no guarantee. I’m sure we all know talented writers who should be published but aren’t. It takes more than talent and hard work. It takes luck. And by luck I mean timing, circumstance, and opportunity. But we’ll call it Lady Luck. It sounds cooler. The key is to do all you can to attract Lady Luck to your door. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts while you’re waiting.

DO write a book so compelling it makes the reader forget she lives in the real world. DO write characters so real, so memorable, the reader can’t stop thinking about them even after she puts the book down. DO write a plot that drags the reader into the story kicking and screaming, crying and laughing. DO keep your stories and characters fresh with unique twists that are all you. DO be persistent. We all know these things, but we need to remind ourselves from time to time. It’s easy to forget how the story looks from outside our heads. The DON’Ts are basic too, but crucial.

DON’T write a boring book. If it doesn’t thrill you to write it, it won’t thrill Jane Reader to read it. Actually Jane Reader will never see it because Jane Editor won’t buy it. DON’T have characters so bland and lifeless that the reader doesn’t care if they’re eaten by alligators. DON’T leave plot holes so big a UFO could land in them. DON’T GIVE UP! If you do any of these, DON’T hold your breath waiting for Lady Luck.

When I started writing, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but without realizing it, I had the most important thing. Enthusiasm. I was so excited about this story that when I realized what I’d gotten into and that I would probably never be published, I didn’t care. I was going to write this story and it was going to be the best story in the world. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I was excited about my story. I think that’s even more important than writing degrees, proper grammar, and knowledge of the market. You can learn writing craft, show don’t tell, POV, what’s selling, what’s not, but enthusiasm is what gives life to your storytelling. So dig inside that talented head of yours like a miner searching for gems. Dig out the most intriguing jewel, then cut and polish it until it shines. And don’t give up. After you finish that story, start digging for another. When Lady Luck finally knocks, you’ll be ready.

About the Author
NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Anita Clenney writes mysteries and paranormal romantic suspense. Before giving herself over to the writing bug, she worked in a pickle factory and a preschool, booked shows for Aztec Fire Dancers, and has been a secretary, executive assistant, and a real estate agent. She lives with her husband and two children in suburban Virginia. To find out more information, please visit, follow her on Twitter @anitaclenney, or like her on Facebook ttp://

Some places you can buy Embrace:

And I’ll leave you with an excerpt:

Cody sighed. Might as well get it over with. He removed the shackles, returned them, and bent over her. “Shay, wake up.”

Her eyes flew open. She planted both hands against his chest and shoved, knocking him on his back, then sprang on top of him. “How dare you handcuff me to a bed?” she yelled, punctuating each word with a shake that rattled his brain. He didn’t fight back. She had to get it out of her system, and he didn’t blame her. He’d be more than pissed if someone shackled him.

She landed a fist into his stomach, and the breath rushed out of him. Okay, enough was enough. He captured her hands and rolled, trapping her under him.

“Get off me, you oaf.”

“I’ll get off when you stop beating the snot out of me.”

She let out a war cry and lunged for his throat, teeth bared. Intrigued, he hesitated a second too long, and she sank her teeth into his neck. A jolt of desire shot straight to his groin. He’d never been one for the rough stuff, but damn! He pulled back before she could do more than leave a bruise. He trapped her legs with his and held her hands above her head, letting his full weight press her into the soft mattress. She still struggled but could move only enough to get him excited.

“I’m sorry, Shay. I had to do it. It was too dangerous to let you go traipsing through the woods. I had to keep you safe.”

“What if he was hiding in one of the other bedrooms and sneaked in here while I was handcuffed to the bed? You left me so I couldn’t even protect myself.”

“Lach heard him out in the woods, but that’s why I locked the door, just in case. If this guy had broken it down to get to you, you would’ve screamed, and I would’ve come running. I was never far from the house.” He’d heard every name she called him.

Her eyes still flashed fire, but her breath was steadier, and she kept glancing at his mouth. He thought that was a good thing. He wondered if she’d calmed enough not to hit him, because he should move. She had to notice the effect all the wiggling around was having on him. He felt her hips push against his, and he groaned. He relaxed his grip and lowered his head, letting his lips touch her chin. He kissed his way to her mouth, and she head butted him in the nose.

While the stars exploded in his head, she shoved him aside and bolted out the door. He jumped up and went after her as she pounded down the stairs. He caught up with her outside. She was swinging her purse like a whip, headed for the car.

“Where are you going?” he demanded.

“Get away from me.”

“You can’t leave.”
“Watch me.” She opened the door. “I’m tired of people hiding things from me. I thought you were going to stop. Now you’re handcuffing me to the bed.”

“I explained it to you.”

“Don’t touch me,” she said, jerking away when he grabbed her arm.

“You’re not leaving.”

Shay straightened her shoulders. “You can’t stop me.”

He grabbed her, tossed her over his shoulder, kicked the car door shut, and stomped up the steps.

“Put me down!” Shay kicked and twisted, cursing at him. He dumped her on her feet inside the door.

She blew her hair out of her face, and as soon as she could see, she threw a punch at his chin. He deflected it and grabbed her arm. “Stop hitting me.”

“How dare you throw me over your shoulder like some kind of caveman,” she spat, trying to wrench her arm free. It didn’t work, so she used her knee.

“Ah, not there.” Cody trapped her knee. “I made the mistake of letting you leave here nine years ago without listening to me. By God, I won’t do it again. You’ll listen if I have to sit on you,” he growled.

She drew back her other arm, and before she could throw the punch, he had her on the floor and was sitting astride her, pinning her wrists to the floor. She bucked and twisted, but he held her down. “We can do this all night if you want, but you’re going to listen to me this time.”

“Listen to more lies? You’re still hiding things from me. Like the fact that you have Nina’s entire house under surveillance. Like the fact that you’ve got a Bat Cave in your basement. Like the fact that you were in Scotland when the stalking started.”

“You think I’m your stalker?” he yelled. “Me! I’m trying to keep you alive. We’re all trying to keep you alive. That’s what the clan’s been doing your whole damned life, trying to keep you alive! And just like always, you’re making it hard as hell. Your father wasn’t a bloody spy, and that thing in your living room wasn’t a man!”

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bless your heart, Girl. Jump

I'll admit that when Keely brought up the WOTY concept for the blog, I felt a certain smug satisfaction. I had not just a word, but a whole phrase: Stay The Course (STC). It'd been my mantra for 2011 and with it I had completed a 60K-word version of my novel, pitched it at RWA, and received a couple of nibbles. I was on top of the world.

Then, in November, something really wonderful happened. The Rockville 8—those wacky women that write and laugh…a lot—extended an invitation to me to join their group. This was just what I had been looking for: savvy critique partners who would help me take my manuscript to the next level.

Seemed like a good idea in December. It's February now, and I feel differently. Very differently. Smug is no longer an emotion I'm enjoying. Thanks to the wonderfully supportive R8, I'm growing as a writer and my manuscript is becoming tighter and more focused. But, I'm also running smack up against my own self-imposed limitations and STC no longer applies.

I realize now that Stay The Course only works when you're in a safe place and just have to avoid distractions. It's like cupping your ears and squeezing your eyes closed while singing la-la-la-la. So in 2011, in my uber-efficient and security-conscious way (), I carved out a niche for writing that would inconvenience no one, except me. The alarm sounded at 5:30am, and by 5:45, I was seated at my computer with a cup of coffee. Armed with a detailed plot, character bios, and Goal-Motivation-Conflict charts, I followed the plan and wrote every morning. No matter how often my inner critic told me I was writing crap or the list-serve featured another “publishing is dead” article, I just sang la-la-la-la and stayed the course.

It worked, but, I ask you, is that sustainable? Maybe for some people, but I'm burned out and growing as a writer demands more time. So, why not just claim it? Because I’m a Southern woman and we're cursed to put the needs of others ahead of our own. But, even more, I'm afraid of facing uncharted waters. I want to make a plan and follow it, but you know, sh--t, happens. Plans get interrupted. 

The French writer, AndrĂ© Malraux said: "The difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to take a calculated risk—to act.”
I was ten the first time I jumped off the high dive. Shuffling out to the end of the board had been terrifying and now I was frozen with fear.  At the base of the ladder, a group of children waited and watched. Some yelled encouragements; others taunted me with fraidy cat. Minutes passed. I made no move. Finally, the life guard shouted, "Bless your heart, Girl, just jump!" 

Risk. Courage. Those are the words I'm mulling over today. Will I have the courage to take the risk and jump? I hope so. The girl that I once was did.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


My word for the year is "Open." It didn't occur to me naturally, by any means. No, it was given to me ("given" a word which here means "nailed to my forehead") by my good friend Deborah.

Please note that Deborah doesn't have a blog that I can link to because she hasn't opened up to it yet . . .

Are you feeling my pain?

N-E-way . . .

My word is open because that's what I need to do. I have a habit, you see, of prediction. When presented with a scenario -- say, sending out a query -- I can "see" everything that will happen, right down to the rejection -- thus "saving" myself from actually having to send out the query. It's fast and easy. Takes two seconds tops and it's no trouble at all. But it isn't getting me very far.

So 2012 is my year of opening up. To all the possibilities: the good, the bad, and the neither here nor there.

Thus far I've opened up to pitching to Entangled in the pitch event we had here recently. Which led to my project being requested.

And I opened up to seeking help with the difficulties I've been having with the writing. Which led me to  reading Productive? Prolific? Sign me up! at the Waterworld Mermaids blog, which led me to buying the book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Rettig.

And it's slowly pushing me back on to Twitter, a slipstream if there ever was one.

You can find me there as @EV_Owens, which is the name I've used to self publish two short stories, and the name I am opening up to as I sally forth through 2012.

If you are a dreamer come in. If you are a dreamer a wisher a liar, a hoper a pray-er a magic-bean-buyer. If youre a pretender com sit by my fire, for we have some flax golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!
--Shel Silverstein

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ready, Willing, and Able

As a writer, I thought I’d heard of every seminar under the sun. But a friend of mine has me beat. Not long ago, she told me about the Ready Seminar. In case you haven’t heard of it, it goes something like this:

This new year, say you hope to find your significant other. Your ideal partner. Your soul mate. According to the seminar leader, you need to go home and clear out half your closet. Empty half your medicine cabinet as well. Slide your DVD collection to the side and make room on half the shelf. Why? So you’ll be ready for Mr. Right when he comes along. Because once you’re ready, he will come along.

Now, truth be told, it would take more than someone showing up on my doorstep to make me toss half the contents of my closet. And really, I’m not sure this seminar is going to put professional matchmakers out of business. But I didn’t let that prevent me from latching onto the moral of the story. What is it? It’s simply this: be ready.

Ready, ladies and gentlemen, is my word for 2012. (For more on the Rockville 8 and our Words of the Year, see Keely’s post which kicked off this series.) Now, that doesn’t mean I’m already ready for everything. But it does mean I intend to identify my heart’s desire, and do the prep work ahead of time so when Opportunity comes knocking, I can open the door with confidence.

And wonder of wonders, Opportunity has already come calling. A literary agent recently offered me representation. When she wanted to discuss a course of action for my manuscript, when she sent the representation agreement, and when she sent her first revision letter, it hit me. All that reading, all those workshops, all that writing I’ve done over the years—all of it made me ready for this step.


Now, I want to be ready for the next time Opportunity knocks. I want to be able to grasp that doorknob, give it an assured twist, and invite Opportunity in. So I’ll be working on being ready throughout 2012. Will you join me in being ready for the good things coming your way? What’s your heart’s desire this year? How can you prepare to take that step? Tell the R8. We’d love to know!