Hey lovelies! It has been a seriously long time since I’ve done one of these AMAs… for real. This one has been sitting on my ‘to do’ list for a long time now (months and months) but I’m trying to get my inbox cleaned up and the lovely Shane Starrett sent me this list of questions after we spent a few days chatting about writing and my tips / experiences / suggestions from my years of writing. I’ll be honest though, this is just MY point of view. You might learn some things about me even if you don’t plan on writing, but – no matter what – I do hope that this #AskMeAnything is helpful! Curious what the #AskMeAnything is? Check out the official AMA page on my site over here. Enjoy!
I have a feeling this is gonna be super long, so I’m going to split it into 2 or 3 parts, but… let’s get started!
Q: How did you start on your path to being a writer?
A: I think the common answer here is true, I’ve always been a writer. I made up stories as a kid, I wrote them down, I wrote really awkward stories in high school and college that weren’t exactly “good”, but all of it made me feel good on the inside. I loved getting the characters in my head down on paper, and I always got that insane thrill from it. It’s the reason we writers put ourselves through all the sleepless nights and insanity… because if we didn’t get the stories down on paper they’d just continue to spin around in our heads FOREVER, and continue to drive us crazy.
But, I think this question is leaning more towards the actual steps I took to become a published writer, and that starts with a website called Literotica.com. I’d been reading on that site for years and years (since I was too young to read it, hahaaa) and there were a lot of stories on there that just weren’t well-written (grammar/spelling wise) and it drove me crazy! One night I had some wine and was reading another frustrating story, and had that alcohol-fueled moment of confidence where I was like, “I could do this better.” So, I started a story that had been rolling around in my head. I wrote it on my iPhone in the Notes app because I didn’t want my then-husband to find it, or watch me typing over my shoulder, and then I just posted it. It was the first chapter of what would become Security Binds Her, and at first no one noticed it, but I’d caught that bug to keep telling the story, so I posted another chapter a day or so later. By the third chapter I had READERS. I had people voting for my story, leaving comments (nice and not so nice), but people were actually READING my words and some even LIKED it. Over the next 6 months or so I wrote the original trilogy of the Thalia series on Literotica, and I credit the many readers who commented on those books (and the editor I found on there) for helping me realize the weak points in my natural writing style, the grammar rules for fiction I’d never bothered to learn… and in general, just giving me the confidence to keep going.
Thalia was popular enough that several of the chapters were in various “Halls of Fame” for highly ranked stories on the website, and from this I got invited to participate in an anthology by Tara Crescent – and it was going to get really published on Amazon. [insert internal screaming] I wrote “The Invitation” in a weekend, panicked that everyone would hate it, that no one would buy it… but it sold well. “Real” readers who paid for books were enjoying my words. Tara encouraged me to publish Thalia on Amazon, and while I was terrified to take it down off Literotica where I had this warm & fuzzy little fanbase, I made the leap. She helped me navigate the complicated admin side of publishing and…. boom. Suddenly I was a published author, with books, and people were paying me for them. It was exhilarating and amazing and there are days I still can’t believe it’s real!
I still VERY MUCH recommend writing on a fanfiction / literotica type site before publishing professionally. There’s no other format where you get chapter-by-chapter feedback from readers, which allows you to adjust and improve in real time. You hear about a problem before you even write the next scene, and it’s incredibly helpful when you’re just starting out and learning how to effectively get that weird vision out of your head and onto paper. Also, it helps to build up the thick skin you need when you publish on Amazon and those 1 & 2 star reviews come in. There’s nothing more brutally honest than an anonymous comment box on those sites, and it really does help. I promise. ;p
Q: Did you always know you wanted to write in a specific genre (dark romance), or did you come into it in another fashion?
A: Honestly, all of the stories in my head have always been “dark romance” in nature, even before that term existed. Hell, I didn’t even hear that term until after I’d published the Thalia series on Amazon. I knew I liked darker stuff, I read and wrote in the noncon/dubcon genre on Literotica, but I didn’t know it was an actual “thing” until the language started to show up on Facebook. It was a phrase invented because of FB’s censors, and Amazon’s too, but my brain has always been there. Capture fantasy / rape fantasy has just always been in my head, mixed in with a heavy love of BDSM, so when my brain invents stories it tends to follow the routes that make ME hot and bothered. I’m just grateful I’ve found so many other people who love it too!
Q: Do you plot out the entirety of your stories before you flesh them out, or do they grow from your imagination organically as you put them to page?
A: I am 100% a pantser. I have only tried to plot a book once before (The Wild Ones on Literotica) and it died a terrible and tragic death. If I ruin the ending, or if I have a list of shit I need to write, all of my creativity dies. The movie stops playing in my head, and there’s just… nothing to write. When I’m writing it’s all happening in the moment in my head, and most of the time I have no idea what my characters are going to do next. Now, sometimes I have what I call “milestones” that I’ve seen, specific events that I know are going to happen, but I never know how my characters are going to get there. It’s thrilling and one of my favorite parts of being an author!
PS – I know some of you still want to know what happens to Zora and Zane from The Wild Ones, and I still have hope that someday my brain will have “forgotten” them enough to finish their epic story. I really do love them too, and I want them back just as much. <3
Q: When you are writing, do you concern yourself with word count / page count? Or do you simply know a story you want to tell, and once it is finished it is what it is?
A: Similar to the last answer, I never constrain myself. Sometimes books end up shorter, sometimes they end up longer, but I never know what the word count / page count will be until it’s done. I’ve driven people crazy before when I think I’m *almost done* and then I write another 15k because it just took that long for the characters to get to the end! I’m not in control here, I swear, the characters are! Hahaaa
Q: What methods, if any, do you use to inspire yourself to write? Do you have any methods / tricks / etc. that you would suggest to aspiring writers to keep them ‘motivated’ to write?
A: If I’m really stuck, I’ll go and read another book, or binge-watch a show, because stories of any kind help get my brain moving again. I love watching characters develop, go through experiences that change them, etc. However I can get that into myself so that my own brain remembers how to do it… that’s what I do! I do think that everyone is different, but I know I’ve heard a lot of other authors say they’ll take a “reading break” if they’re stuck, and I think it’s probably for similar reasons! (PS – You don’t need to read within your genre, story is story, and it’ll get the same gears turning!)
Q: Do you ‘force’ yourself to write each day? Or do you only write when the muse inspires you? Either way, do you set specific goals when you are writing, and try to reach them?
A: Haaa, omg, if I tried to “force” myself to write each day it would end so badly. I’d write terrible shit, and my anxiety would go through the roof. I’ve found that my psyche is just too delicate to deal with that kind of pressure, and so I generally just sit down in front of the story, re-read the last chapter or two I’ve done, and if the words aren’t there… then I don’t force them. It wouldn’t be good if I did, so it would just be a waste of time. Fortunately (unfortunately), there’s always plenty of admin work to do when you’re an author, so I can still keep myself busy and productive – even if it’s not on new words.
Q: When you first started writing, what methods / resources did you use to obtain feedback from readers? Online outlets (WattPad, Literotica, fanfic sites, etc.), or through a writer’s group? Facebook or other social media avenues?
A: Oops! I worked ahead, I totally answered this on the first question, but I’ll use this opportunity to reiterate just how VALUABLE writing on these types of websites is. I cannot tell you the number of successful, published authors I’ve talked to who started out on these sites. I think it really makes someone a *better* writer when they start out in that rough, brutally honest environment. Talent is very quickly seen / recognized, and you get the opportunity to grow and improve without damaging a brand or having a book on Amazon that just “wasn’t ready” to be published. Whenever I see someone jump straight into publishing on Amazon, I always flinch. Amazon is $$$, and you’re not just fucking with your current ability to make money – but your future ability too. If someone had read the first thing I ever wrote (which was shockingly poorly written with the biggest Mary Sue heroine ever) then they may have NEVER read me again. It’s so much better to get all of that out under a random screen name, on a website where you can take it down and republish it later, than to go straight into building an author brand before you’re ready. Just my #twocents!
Q: Of the above, which did you find the most helpful / rewarding, and would recommend to aspiring writers (if any)?
A: Since I only ever wrote on Literotica I don’t feel like I can answer this question on websites. I think all of them work well depending on what you want to write, just find the website that fits your niche and go for it! I will say that the very few times I’ve been to “writer’s groups” in person, they were full of the most closed-minded, rude, self-centered people I’ve ever met. Just a bunch of nose-in-the-air bullshit about the “right” way to write… which just isn’t true. We all write differently, and go about it in different ways, and that’s what makes books so diverse and wonderful. I’m sure there’s some good writer’s groups out there, but I’m 110% out on ever showing up to one again. XD I can’t stand (or tolerate) judgy, bitchy people who try to tell someone else how EXACTLY to do something that is inherently personal.
Q: Fan fic? Have you written any yourself? Have you had any written about your stories? Some authors do not like fan fiction, as they feel it detracts from / devalues their own work in creating the original content. What are your thoughts on this, and what would you advise aspiring writers regarding this?
A: While I’ve never written fanfiction, I did a TON of online roleplaying when I was younger. From mIRC to AOL chatrooms to MUDs, I RP’d all the fucking time. Sometimes it was an imagined world (like the MUD), and sometimes it was for books or TV shows I loved… and sometimes it was just erotic RP because I was always sexually-minded when I wrote. I think I spent an insane number of hours doing that before I ever tried to write an actual story, and I honestly think it made me better!
As far as fanfiction written about my books (haha Shane!) the only one that’s ever been written, to my knowledge, is The Wedding Gift which is an alternate universe version of just how things went down at the end of Salvaged by Love written by none other than Shane Starrett (who sent me these questions. Hahaaa!
I don’t think fanfiction damages the original work, I think it’s kind of like free advertising. People are going to fantasize / imagine whatever they want about the worlds you create when you write, and if they’re writing those things down on fanfic sites, then all they’re doing is showing a ton of other people that they love your work SO MUCH that they couldn’t stop thinking about it. To the point that they’re spending their own personal time to write down a story you inspired. That’s a huge compliment, and an awesome thing, and as long as no one is trying to profit off of it (without the author’s permission) then I don’t see a problem with it. Obviously, you can still be stopped with a Cease & Desist order from the author, and if they do that, don’t risk legal issues. Just stop, finish the story on your hard drive, share it with some local friends, and move on.
Q: Writer’s block – have you experienced it? If so, what helped you to get through it, and what would you pass along to aspiring writers who may encounter it?
A: Totally. There are times when my life is just so insane that there’s no way to get the movie playing in my head for my characters. I get completely locked up, and frustrated with the story – which means it wouldn’t be good even if I forced the words down. Usually I flip over to something else I *do* want to write, or I take a break. I read, I watch TV (like I said before) and I give my brain the space it needs to calm down. It’s really all you can do!
I will give one more trick though… sending your work in progress (WIP) to someone who already enjoys what you write, and letting them fangirl/fanboy over it can be really inspiring. It can remind you why YOU wanted to write it in the first place, and sometimes the questions they ask / comments they make are enough to get the story moving in your head again.
Ahhhhhhh, this is already so long! Okay, lovelies, I’m going to stop this here and I’ll pick it up again next week with Part II. Based on the number of questions Shane Starrett sent me, it looks like there will be 3 of these experiences / advice posts. Please tell me if you liked this, or if it helped, and if you have any other question – add them in a comment!
Thanks so much for reading this, lovelies, and just know that the only way to start writing… is to start.
You can do it!
I know this was meant for aspiring writers but even for a non writer (I freak out just writing comments on FB which I read over and over again before posting as I worry about what people will think about what I’ve posted) it was so interesting learning how you got started on your journey.
I’m really sorry this response is so delayed, but I’m really glad you enjoyed this lovely! <3