Step 1: Face The Music
“What else are you going to do?” I don’t know if my partner in Werewolf Whisperer crimes, Bonita, remembers saying that to me a handful of years ago. We were catching up, after losing track of each other for nearly two decades. I was still waffling about my dubious career choices, having come to terms with the fact that the actor’s life I had chased since college was not at all working out the way I had hoped. I was pretty devastated when Bonita and I sat down for lunch. I had spent so long running after one dream that a lot of other options were no longer options. Her question changed my way of looking at my life.
Step 2: Who Are You?
I’d spent a lot of time thinking of myself as an actor. That was who I was, until I wasn’t anymore. My process became a lot like when Lorelai on GILMORE GIRLS tries to decide if she really likes Pop-Tarts, or if she just eats them because her mother didn’t want her to eat them.
Acting had been my Pop-Tarts of freedom and rebellion. But instead, it had become the thing that made me angry and sad and anxious and trapped. With acting out of the picture, I set out to discover who I was and what mattered to me.
Step 3: Discovery
Tucked away, secret for a long time, was my writing. And once I had let go of pursuing acting — grueling drives to auditions, the annoyance of rearranging my work schedule on a moment’s notice for something that would turn into nothing (and risking the day job), the sharp judgment and apathy of casting, the constant roller coaster of hollow hope and inevitable disappointment, the paralyzing self-hatred — the writing sprang into action.
Stage 4: Education . . .You’re On Your Own
I started with a whole mess of reading, so much in fact that my husband repeatedly asked, “Haven’t you read all the writing books by now?”
“Not yet,” I’d answer. “But soon.”
My degree is in English, and I’ d always fooled around with journaling and writing short stories. But when I’d finally made my way through Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I started putting word to paper in a new way, with purpose.
But while I read a lot of awesome books, I found very little that helped me cross that elusive line between wanting to write and writing.
Step 5: How To Start -— The Small Idea
A small idea. I had an idea for a short film. It stuck with me for a few days. I’d cry about it, alone in the shower. I didn’t like the idea. It bothered me. It scared me. It challenged me. To get rid of it, I finally wrote it down, following screenwriting format from a book and using an ancient version of Final Draft.
Step 6: Ideas Beget Ideas
But the small idea didn’t just sit in a drawer. I had the fortune of having my short film produced, and the privilege of being present for every day of the shoot. Hours on set are long. And as I was sitting around, waiting for the next shot (I was wrangling the dog stars), a new idea hit me.
The idea didn’t let go for a few days after the shoot. The idea made me laugh and intrigued me. I shared my thoughts with a friend, but it didn’t hit the right cord with her. Oddly, that didn’t deter me from loving the idea. For once I didn’t shut down. I knew the glimmer of a story just wasn’t developed enough.
So, I sat down and wrote a little treatment and a short script. I envisioned the story as a web series. Fleshing it out was fun, and I had a title: THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER.
I shared my idea with Bonita, who had just completed a short film of her own and was interested in developing a web series. We spent a summer writing a twelve-episode season. We had a blast, but by the fall we realized that the story had become too expensive to produce on our budget.
Step 7: Accept The Challenge
We decided that THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER needed to be a novel. We loved the idea and the characters too much to let them go. I’m glad we didn’t know how hard it would be when we started. We’ve moved mountains to create this series, and we did so because we were passionate about the material (still are).
Before I knew it, sitting down and writing two thousand words a day was just what I did. Not impossible. Not a chore. My routine. I’d get up at four A.M. to get in a few writing hours before work. Writing daily had become that important. And everything else had to fit around it.
Step 8: It’s Never Easy — Keep Going
Knowing that you can do something doesn’t mean you will continue to do it. THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER was not an easy book to write. Working with a partner is great, but I had to keep a tight grip on my individuality as a writer as well.
I wrote THE SEVENTH LANE right after book one of THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER because something in my head was starting to tell me that I would only ever write this one werewolf story, and that I could only write with Bonita. We could write together, but was accountability to a writing partner the sole key to my discipline?
THE SEVENTH LANE proved to me that I could make a go of it on my own. It was also my first foray into having my book turned into an audiobook. I was trying new things.
Writing the second WEREWOLF WHISPERER book, THE ALPHA & OMEGA, Bonita and I had some upheavals in our lives, and sometimes just getting a chance to work together for a few uninterrupted hours was epic. We’d end up FaceTiming each other while sitting in the car because it was raining and there was nowhere else to go. We struggled through month-long moves, nursing sick dogs, pneumonia, sports injuries, insomnia, narcolepsy, film shoots, family vacations, devastatingly slow internet service and those first two intense months of raising a brand-new puppy — all the real-life stuff that can so easily derail the best of intentions.
I became very sensitive to the fact that these potential pitfalls were primarily what Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance.” The closer you get to creating something, the harder Resistance will try to stop you. This is an ongoing problem — for everybody.
Step 9: The Marathon
I learned that writing is a marathon and not a sprint. I don’t think in terms of one book, or one series. I think in terms of many stories. I have a book full of story ideas. I add to it whenever something pops up. Some stories have been lingering, unfinished. Some will never be written. Some are vocal and tap long fingers on my shoulder and make throat-clearing ahem sounds. Those stories get the most attention. But even if there aren’t stories tugging at you, marathon writing means writing every day. Further education. Diving deep. And always, always coming back.
Step 10: Shouting Into The Wilderness — Don’t Get Discouraged
Getting stories in front of the right audience is so difficult but so important. I spend more time than I want trying to figure out how to get my stories and books to people who will love them. I submit, of course. But I also self-publish. The self-publishing world is like the Wild West. Things change rapidly, and I try to stay as informed as possible.
The Creative Penn podcast has been a great resource, not only for information but also for sanity. Joanna Penn has a wonderful way of helping me keep perspective and balancing marketing and creativity.
Step 11: The Lifelong Goal
I’ve written about how OF CATS AND DRAGONS began and developed, so I won’t repeat myself here. But let me say that tackling this world of stories has been a lifelong goal. And I had to do all that other work before I could take this on –develop my craft, learn to be organized and disciplined.
Carol and I have been deeply committed to developing these characters and lands and plots. There is so much we want to write about, and there’s so little time — in the grand scheme. Not that long ago, Carol and I were sifting through our database of stories, trying to determine where the series would go (I want to mention here that a total of five books have already been written and are waiting for the final editing touches), and after she’d listed storyline after storyline (“Remember the time Tormy . . . What ever happened to . . .) for nearly an hour, we both simultaneously realized that we already had enough material to write this series for the rest of our lives.
So many books, so little time. It’s a macabre thought, but it motivates me to push myself harder.
Step 12: If You Love Something, Let It Go
Love the story, then let it go. NIGHT’S GIFT is on the verge of being released. Soon, characters we have loved for decades will be out there, hopefully entertaining other people. There’s no more editing, fixing, adding, re-listening to the audiobook files, or waiting. All we can do is take a deep breath and move on to the next book.
Bonus Step 13: Next
And speaking of the next book, which I briefly stopped editing to write this blog post, it’s important to have a plan for what happens next.
When I used to do theater, I would always get depressed over closing a play. After working so hard during a run, suddenly stopping was like a shock to my system. And then I’d fret that I would never work again J.
Depression over finishing a book is real as well, especially when you go from a very packed writing/editing/publishing schedule to . . . nothing. I am very aware how that kind of change in momentum can potentially send me into a downward spiral, so I plan ahead.
With OF CATS AND DRAGONS, there’s a long list of stories to get to — ASAP. And Bonita and I are working on the third WEREWOLF WHISPERER book. And I have a few side projects waiting for me, tugging at me.
Thinking back on what got me here (going from zero to ten books in a few years), it occurs to me that somewhere along the way I crossed that seemingly unreachable line from not writing to writing. And there was only ever one piece of advice that mattered at all -— if you want to write, then write. It’s as easy as that. It’s as hard as that. Because — What else are you going to do?
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