Inspiration for the writing life from M. J. Roberts

How to Improve Your Writing, Your Sense of Humor, and Find Your Inner Rock Star

Improve Your Writing (and your life):

1. Space Out

Often the creative brain does its best in that semi-hypnotic daydreaming state that comes when you hit that perfect “twilight-zone-out” range.  One of the best ways to get there is through repetitive motion like running, walking, or swimming.  Any moving water will help you hit that hypnotic zone, and for many people, so will driving.  The hard part is to commit to writing what gems you got as soon as you can get pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  The practice of going from twilight to commitment to focus is where your writing life comes in.  If you practice enough, that’s where you mine the gems.  Welcome to the writing life.

1. Space Out

Often the creative brain does its best in that semi-hypnotic daydreaming state that comes when you hit that perfect “twilight-zone-out” range.  One of the best ways to get there is through repetitive motion like running, walking, or swimming.  Any moving water will help you hit that hypnotic zone, and for many people, so will driving.  The hard part is to commit to writing what gems you got as soon as you can get pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  The practice of going from twilight to commitment to focus is where your writing life comes in.  If you practice enough, that’s where you mine the gems.  Welcome to the writing life.

2. Bribes (Oh, I mean incentives)

I love to write. Love it, love it, love it, love it. Except when I hate it. When I sit down at the computer to write the movie reel of images I see in my head, and only two paragraphs come out, and then suddenly I’m HUNGRY. As in huuuuuuunnnnngryyyy. I want to do anything else. Why did I ever want to be a writer anyway?

This is normal.

How to get motivated is probably one of the biggest questions of my life. Sometimes a bribe is just the thing to get me back into The Zone. I try to be gentle with myself, yet also very firm. When you’ve written four pages, you can Netflix binge on Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Watching endless series is not a waste of time. After all, someone had to write the script for how to shove that stake through one of the Walking Dead. If you catch me watching The 100 or Between, just picture me, in a very comic voice saying “Hey, I’m working here”.

2. Bribes (Oh, I mean incentives)

I love to write. Love it, love it, love it, love it. Except when I hate it. When I sit down at the computer to write the movie reel of images I see in my head, and only two paragraphs come out, and then suddenly I’m HUNGRY. As in huuuuuuunnnnngryyyy. I want to do anything else. Why did I ever want to be a writer anyway?

This is normal.

How to get motivated is probably one of the biggest questions of my life. Sometimes a bribe is just the thing to get me back into The Zone. I try to be gentle with myself, yet also very firm. When you’ve written four pages, you can Netflix binge on Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Watching endless series is not a waste of time. After all, someone had to write the script for how to shove that stake through one of the Walking Dead. If you catch me watching The 100 or Between, just picture me, in a very comic voice saying “Hey, I’m working here”.

3. Discipline (Yuck, I mean yeah!), Do it, and Be Seen

I keep a writing log. Time in, Time out; the page I start on, how many words I wrote, how much time I spent doing research. It’s not a hobby; it’s a job.

If I want the muse to come to me, I have to be serious about making a place for her. Keeping a log helps me stay accountable. It may help me see that I wrote more than I thought. Maybe, it helps me have a secret audience of angels that notices how much time I spent writing. Maybe those angels will send me gems because they know I will appreciate them. Perhaps it’s just simple behavior modification. It works for diets, athletes, executives, and yes, it works for writers.

If you want to write a novel, or a short story, or a blog, or a song, or a witty joke on a cocktail napkin, get in the habit of keeping a consistent time carved out for writing and logging in your time. People often ask me where I get my ideas. Getting ideas is the easy part. Sitting down day after day, having discipline, being willing to let your work be seen, your heart opened and shared, that’s the hard part.

If you want to be a writer, you can sit alone. At some point, you will have to be brave. Here’s the drill. Breathe, space out, believe, breathe again, log in, have discipline, create, have more discipline, go for the jugular and write, write, write, don’t stop, feel the resistance (which is a big, fat, awful bully) but write more anyways. Log out. Congratulate yourself. Maybe indulge in the bribe. Rinse, repeat.

Almost anything is easier. If you want to be a writer, a real writer, a creative rock star for yourself and others, you need to write. It takes discipline to just do it. Write junk. Write crap. You can always edit later. Just write. If you put in the time, you will have the pages. It’s simple. All that really stands in the way of you and the writing life is yourself. Which is pretty much how it is with all our goals, isn’t it?

3. Discipline (Yuck, I mean yeah!), Do it, and Be Seen

I keep a writing log. Time in, Time out; the page I start on, how many words I wrote, how much time I spent doing research. It’s not a hobby; it’s a job.

If I want the muse to come to me, I have to be serious about making a place for her. Keeping a log helps me stay accountable. It may help me see that I wrote more than I thought. Maybe, it helps me have a secret audience of angels that notices how much time I spent writing. Maybe those angels will send me gems because they know I will appreciate them. Perhaps it’s just simple behavior modification. It works for diets, athletes, executives, and yes, it works for writers.

If you want to write a novel, or a short story, or a blog, or a song, or a witty joke on a cocktail napkin, get in the habit of keeping a consistent time carved out for writing and logging in your time. People often ask me where I get my ideas. Getting ideas is the easy part. Sitting down day after day, having discipline, being willing to let your work be seen, your heart opened and shared, that’s the hard part.

If you want to be a writer, you can sit alone. At some point, you will have to be brave. Here’s the drill. Breathe, space out, believe, breathe again, log in, have discipline, create, have more discipline, go for the jugular and write, write, write, don’t stop, feel the resistance (which is a big, fat, awful bully) but write more anyways. Log out. Congratulate yourself. Maybe indulge in the bribe. Rinse, repeat.

Almost anything is easier. If you want to be a writer, a real writer, a creative rock star for yourself and others, you need to write. It takes discipline to just do it. Write junk. Write crap. You can always edit later. Just write. If you put in the time, you will have the pages. It’s simple. All that really stands in the way of you and the writing life is yourself. Which is pretty much how it is with all our goals, isn’t it?

4. What makes a romance novel a romance novel?

It must have these elements:

1. Basic plot structure of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. (Or in same sex boy-boy, you get it.) If they meet and they are romantic but are never torn apart it may be sensual but it’s not a romance novel.

2. In the middle of the book conflict and tension have to keep the hero and heroine apart. It can’t just be they lose each other because of any old reason. If your reason is lack of interest, or slightly lame lack of communication, your reader is going to say, “Really?” It must be a HUGE OBSTACLE which one or both lead characters work to overcome. The more realistic the obstacle, the more tense the conflict, the better your romance novel will be.

3. Intense sexual tension that builds slowly. Enough said. Often there is a sexual or sensual sense that is started, around page sixty to eighty, that is interrupted. There must be at least one sexual scene in order for your book to be a romance novel. It doesn’t have to show us everything, or use “his torrid member”, or penis, or go all the way to insert tab A into slot B. You can leave something to the imagination behind closed doors. But a romance novel has at least one sex scene and no more than three. If it has more than three sex scenes, it’s erotica, not romance.

4. Emotional growth. It is not a ROMANCE novel if the characters do not undergo emotional growth. Think about it. You want your readers to gain something from reading your book. Yes, you want them to have a great escape when they read your writing, but you also want them to come away from reading your romance novel better people than they were before. If your heroine is afraid of commitment because her parents abandoned her, than you have a set-up. If the hero can help her get over her issues through his love, so much the better. If both characters grow emotionally, even better, double points. If they also can make a physical improvement, like overcoming fear of leaving a job to start out on their own, well, now you’re talking. No growth, no learning, not a romance. Sorry.

5. Our lead characters must RESOLVE their conflict. They have to find a way to get over the problem that keeps them apart. How they find a way to do this, how realistic it is, is part of what makes your novel good or sucky. If they have a serious communication problem for eighty pages and you resolve it in two lines when one character says, “Oh, that was dumb. Now I’ll talk to you.” Your readers will probably never read anything you write again.

6. HEA or HEFN. It has to have a Happily Ever After or Happily Ever For Now. If your characters are tragically in love, but don’t stay together, it’s not a romance novel. Romantic yes. Romance novel genre? No. Romeo and Juliet? Not a romance novel. Bridges of Madison County? Not a romance novel. Fifty Shades of Grey? Waaaaay not a romance novel.

It should go without saying that the hero and the heroine need to fall in love, and that the love should be special, a once-in-a-lifetime type of love (even if it is a second go around for them, like after a mate dies).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you want your novel to be successful your characters must be likable and lovable.

That’s it. They meet. They overcome the odds. They build tension, have sex, are torn apart, grow, and manage to figure out how to get over what kept them from being in a true relationship. Then as soon they get together for good, END THE BOOK. Period. Wrap it up.

Within this construction you need to be original. You do this by putting some of your personal soul in the book. Your sensuality. Your desires.

You can do it.

4. What makes a romance novel a romance novel?

It must have these elements:

1. Basic plot structure of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. (Or in same sex boy-boy, you get it.) If they meet and they are romantic but are never torn apart it may be sensual but it’s not a romance novel.

2. In the middle of the book conflict and tension have to keep the hero and heroine apart. It can’t just be they lose each other because of any old reason. If your reason is lack of interest, or slightly lame lack of communication, your reader is going to say, “Really?” It must be a HUGE OBSTACLE which one or both lead characters work to overcome. The more realistic the obstacle, the more tense the conflict, the better your romance novel will be.

3. Intense sexual tension that builds slowly. Enough said. Often there is a sexual or sensual sense that is started, around page sixty to eighty, that is interrupted. There must be at least one sexual scene in order for your book to be a romance novel. It doesn’t have to show us everything, or use “his torrid member”, or penis, or go all the way to insert tab A into slot B. You can leave something to the imagination behind closed doors. But a romance novel has at least one sex scene and no more than three. If it has more than three sex scenes, it’s erotica, not romance.

4. Emotional growth. It is not a ROMANCE novel if the characters do not undergo emotional growth. Think about it. You want your readers to gain something from reading your book. Yes, you want them to have a great escape when they read your writing, but you also want them to come away from reading your romance novel better people than they were before. If your heroine is afraid of commitment because her parents abandoned her, than you have a set-up. If the hero can help her get over her issues through his love, so much the better. If both characters grow emotionally, even better, double points. If they also can make a physical improvement, like overcoming fear of leaving a job to start out on their own, well, now you’re talking. No growth, no learning, not a romance. Sorry.

5. Our lead characters must RESOLVE their conflict. They have to find a way to get over the problem that keeps them apart. How they find a way to do this, how realistic it is, is part of what makes your novel good or sucky. If they have a serious communication problem for eighty pages and you resolve it in two lines when one character says, “Oh, that was dumb. Now I’ll talk to you.” Your readers will probably never read anything you write again.

6. HEA or HEFN. It has to have a Happily Ever After or Happily Ever For Now. If your characters are tragically in love, but don’t stay together, it’s not a romance novel. Romantic yes. Romance novel genre? No. Romeo and Juliet? Not a romance novel. Bridges of Madison County? Not a romance novel. Fifty Shades of Grey? Waaaaay not a romance novel.

It should go without saying that the hero and the heroine need to fall in love, and that the love should be special, a once-in-a-lifetime type of love (even if it is a second go around for them, like after a mate dies).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you want your novel to be successful your characters must be likable and lovable.

That’s it. They meet. They overcome the odds. They build tension, have sex, are torn apart, grow, and manage to figure out how to get over what kept them from being in a true relationship. Then as soon they get together for good, END THE BOOK. Period. Wrap it up.

Within this construction you need to be original. You do this by putting some of your personal soul in the book. Your sensuality. Your desires.

You can do it.

5. Set Yourself Free

The free write.

Writing is hard. The writing life is hard.

I don’t give a shit. Suck it up.

You want to improve your skills? Do a free write.

What’s a free write? You pick a setting, an obstacle and/or an object, and a goal. Setting: Mars. Object: A bloody copper key. Obstacle: Getting past guards into space station. Goal: To stop the villain from kidnapping fourteen-year old girl.

Or

Your hometown, a pink vibrator, getting back with an old boyfriend, solving a murder and putting the murderer in jail.

You get it.

Write for eight minutes. Non-stop. No editing. Don’t think too much. Just do it.

Even if you’re not a “real writer” try this exercise. Why? Because it’s a good way to calm down, express creativity, stretch brain cells, and have fun. Really.

It’s where you mine for gems. It’s scales to the musician. Stretches to the runner. Bicep curls to the bodybuilder. Sketches to the painter.

If you think it’s a waste of time, you’ve never done it.

Yes, romance is great, sex is great, erotica is great, blow jobs are great.

But sometimes it’s good to expand your horizons and do something you don’t usually do. It’s easy to sit back and watch TV or read someone else’s work. It’s daunting to think about writing a 400 page novel. Committing to eight minutes means you are sitting down and doing something right now.

Simple.

Life is grand, isn’t it?

5. Set Yourself Free

The free write.

Writing is hard. The writing life is hard.

I don’t give a shit. Suck it up.

You want to improve your skills? Do a free write.

What’s a free write? You pick a setting, an obstacle and/or an object, and a goal. Setting: Mars. Object: A bloody copper key. Obstacle: Getting past guards into space station. Goal: To stop the villain from kidnapping fourteen-year old girl.

Or

Your hometown, a pink vibrator, getting back with an old boyfriend, solving a murder and putting the murderer in jail.

You get it.

Write for eight minutes. Non-stop. No editing. Don’t think too much. Just do it.

Even if you’re not a “real writer” try this exercise. Why? Because it’s a good way to calm down, express creativity, stretch brain cells, and have fun. Really.

It’s where you mine for gems. It’s scales to the musician. Stretches to the runner. Bicep curls to the bodybuilder. Sketches to the painter.

If you think it’s a waste of time, you’ve never done it.

Yes, romance is great, sex is great, erotica is great, blow jobs are great.

But sometimes it’s good to expand your horizons and do something you don’t usually do. It’s easy to sit back and watch TV or read someone else’s work. It’s daunting to think about writing a 400 page novel. Committing to eight minutes means you are sitting down and doing something right now.

Simple.

Life is grand, isn’t it?

6. Getting Better All The Time

Don’t be surprised if on the days you write something, even on a napkin, you rock all your tasks harder. In other words, write a little, sail a lot.

What?

Here’s my writing tip of the day. People who do what they like sail through the things they don’t like as much. It’s easier to get errands done when you’ve spent a little time with your sexy romance novel in the morning and you know you will spend twenty minutes writing erotica at night.

It’s that simple.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, even if what you write is crappy, when you write that day, your life (and therefore the life of each of those around you) flows a little easier. The more we do it, the better it gets. Like The Beatles song says, “It’s Getting Better All The Time.”

They say, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Bullshit. Not always. But do what you love and you will be happier. You’ll be happier doing the dishes, playing air guitar, reading sex scenes, driving in traffic.

So if you’ve always wanted to write, try it. This goes for anything you love. Samuel Butler said, “People are always good company when they are doing what they really enjoy.”

Step 1. Find something you enjoy. Step 2. Do it.

Rinse, repeat.

“Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?”

– Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, The A-Team

Today’s writing tip.

6. Getting Better All The Time

Don’t be surprised if on the days you write something, even on a napkin, you rock all your tasks harder. In other words, write a little, sail a lot.

What?

Here’s my writing tip of the day. People who do what they like sail through the things they don’t like as much. It’s easier to get errands done when you’ve spent a little time with your sexy romance novel in the morning and you know you will spend twenty minutes writing erotica at night.

It’s that simple.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, even if what you write is crappy, when you write that day, your life (and therefore the life of each of those around you) flows a little easier. The more we do it, the better it gets. Like The Beatles song says, “It’s Getting Better All The Time.”

They say, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Bullshit. Not always. But do what you love and you will be happier. You’ll be happier doing the dishes, playing air guitar, reading sex scenes, driving in traffic.

So if you’ve always wanted to write, try it. This goes for anything you love. Samuel Butler said, “People are always good company when they are doing what they really enjoy.”

Step 1. Find something you enjoy. Step 2. Do it.

Rinse, repeat.

“Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?”

– Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, The A-Team

Today’s writing tip.

7. Reach out and touch someone.

Writing is a solitary act. It might not feel like it because you’re spending time with your characters who are much more interesting than live humans, but at the end of the day it’s you and your computer, alone. Writing isn’t like say, basketball, where you discuss a game plan ahead of time, work passing the ball during the game, shower with your teammates afterwards, get naked and clean together, pass the soap in the shower….Sorry, I digress.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to do it, you have to reach out and connect to someone. Not just any old human either, another writer. This is where writing groups come in handy. Reading your work out loud in front of other writers is very beneficial. (Much more beneficial than reading it out loud to your bartender.)

Whether it’s an Internet circle of six people who read/write/edit/suggest and salivate over your erotica or swoon over your romance novels, or beta readers who suggest how to get more action in your mystery stories, you need ‘em. They pick up on picky edits and catch mistakes. Those smart brains notice when changing the order of sentences is helpful, and they suggest adding a stronger verb to draw the reader in more forcefully. Your writing group. Yup. They improve your writing, and that’s priceless, and there are other benefits as well.

Yes, little changes that your writing group suggests to your novel or short story will help. Just as important, their support will keep you going.

In other words, they will help you from going FREAKING insane.

Always a plus.

Unless you have a pro basketball team to get naked with, in which case, you could spend less time at the laptop and more time with a video recorder.

7. Reach out and touch someone.

Writing is a solitary act. It might not feel like it because you’re spending time with your characters who are much more interesting than live humans, but at the end of the day it’s you and your computer, alone. Writing isn’t like say, basketball, where you discuss a game plan ahead of time, work passing the ball during the game, shower with your teammates afterwards, get naked and clean together, pass the soap in the shower….Sorry, I digress.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to do it, you have to reach out and connect to someone. Not just any old human either, another writer. This is where writing groups come in handy. Reading your work out loud in front of other writers is very beneficial. (Much more beneficial than reading it out loud to your bartender.)

Whether it’s an Internet circle of six people who read/write/edit/suggest and salivate over your erotica or swoon over your romance novels, or beta readers who suggest how to get more action in your mystery stories, you need ‘em. They pick up on picky edits and catch mistakes. Those smart brains notice when changing the order of sentences is helpful, and they suggest adding a stronger verb to draw the reader in more forcefully. Your writing group. Yup. They improve your writing, and that’s priceless, and there are other benefits as well.

Yes, little changes that your writing group suggests to your novel or short story will help. Just as important, their support will keep you going.

In other words, they will help you from going FREAKING insane.

Always a plus.

Unless you have a pro basketball team to get naked with, in which case, you could spend less time at the laptop and more time with a video recorder.

8.  So whatduyuh wanna write about?

Maybe you want to write romance novels with sizzling sex scenes. Maybe you want to write action novels with superheroes. Maybe you just want to write short stories. Maybe you don’t know how to get started writing.

One of the best things to do is read your favorite novelists, well-known, contemporary, top New York Times best-selling authors.

You may want to read action/adventure/humorists like James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Janet Evanovich, or romance greats like Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts, J. R. Ward, Susan Mallery, Lori Foster, Jennifer Crusie, and Louisa Edwards.

Also go back and read some of the Science Fiction classics from the mid-1940s on.

Then to become a good, successful, best-selling writer, here’s the key. When you read, read with small thumb-sized sticky notes with you. Every time you see a good metaphor or simile, a good word choice, riveting action sentence, a red-hot sex scene, mark that sentence with your Post-it note. Then go back and copy all of the sentences you like in one document. Regularly re-read your best book snippets. This is how you learn from the masters.

8.  So whatduyuh wanna write about?

Maybe you want to write romance novels with sizzling sex scenes. Maybe you want to write action novels with superheroes. Maybe you just want to write short stories. Maybe you don’t know how to get started writing.

One of the best things to do is read your favorite novelists, well-known, contemporary, top New York Times best-selling authors.

You may want to read action/adventure/humorists like James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Janet Evanovich, or romance greats like Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts, J. R. Ward, Susan Mallery, Lori Foster, Jennifer Crusie, and Louisa Edwards.

Also go back and read some of the Science Fiction classics from the mid-1940s on.

Then to become a good, successful, best-selling writer, here’s the key. When you read, read with small thumb-sized sticky notes with you. Every time you see a good metaphor or simile, a good word choice, riveting action sentence, a red-hot sex scene, mark that sentence with your Post-it note. Then go back and copy all of the sentences you like in one document. Regularly re-read your best book snippets. This is how you learn from the masters.