What are your biggest challenges as an author? - Authors A.I.

Alessandra Torre
June 6, 2020

What are the most common mistakes authors make in their writing? That is the question bestselling historical romance author Cecelia Mecca and I sat down to discuss in the first-ever First Draft Friday video chat for the author community!

Sometimes you can sense these problems while writing. Other times they aren’t apparent until you step back and look at the manuscript as a whole. And sometimes … a lot of times … we need an editor to point them out for us.

Or, now, an artificial intelligence. Here’s our handout that explains how A.I. can enhance your fiction writing.

What are those common mistakes? Watch us discuss our top pain points — along with solutions to fix them — in our chat on Facebook Live that we hosted on our Facebook group page. And please join us there.

5 books

Giveaway: 5 books on the craft of writing

As part of our kickoff event, we drew five winners to get their choice of book on craft. We’re excited to announce the following winners:
– Sam B
– Misty B
– Leticia
– Terri B
– Lindsey R

All winners will be contacted via email to arrange their prize. If you want to attend our next First Draft Friday, be sure to join our Facebook group and subscribe to our newsletter with writing tips, author interviews and more.

And stay tuned for the official launch of the authors.ai site on Monday!

Transcript of my conversation with Cecilia Mecca

Alessandra: Alright, we are officially live. Welcome to First Draft Friday. This is our kickoff, I’m so excited. I have been count down the days and I can’t wait to dive in. So, if you are an aspiring or published author, this is a by weekly live chat. You are in the right place, I’d love you to shout out in the comment section and say whether you’re aspiring or published and hey, I’m already seeing familiar names pop up. So, just quickly, I’m going to talk about who we are and what we’re going to talk about, and then you can dive in. So, I’m Alessandra Torre, I write romance and contemporary addiction. I’m on the Authors AI team, along with Cecilia Mecca who writes historical romance, as well as you’re jumping into a new genre too, right?

Cecilia: I’m jumping into contemporary, the big, bad world of contemporary romance this summer under Bella Michaels. I’m excited about that because I’ve done Scottish medieval for the last three years.

Alessandra: Welcome, there’s a lot less research involved, so that’s the good news.

Cecilia: I’ve noticed. Yeah, but there’s different kinds of research. It’s a lot of fun. It’s good to switch the brain a little and it’s been fun.

Alessandra: I absolutely agree. And both of us are on the team at Authors AI. First Draft Friday is brought to you by Authors AI, which is a really cool new company we’re launching on Monday, but the site is open now for authors. If you want to swing by, Authors AI has a technology called Marlowe that reads, analyzes and critiques your novel in less than 15 minutes. And so, we’re going to be talking a little bit about Marlowe today and what she can do for you. But if you want a developmental edit of your novel before we are done with this presentation today; feel free to check her out because she has some really cool things and we’re going talk a little bit about that today. So, hi guys, I’m seeing a lot of published authors, so that’s really great and I know we have some aspiring ones who have registered as well.

So, today we’re going talk about craft. And this is kind of the focus of First Draft Fridays is on craft. There are so many podcasts and awesome events that around marketing books, but craft often gets conflicted. And I know I’m as guilty of that as anyone, I will spend four hours learning about Facebook ads, I never spent four hours worrying about craft, which is sad. So, we’re going to talk about some struggles that we have with craft. And at the end, before we sign off, we’re going to be choosing five winners, using random.org to win their choice of craft books. We have some really great prizes like “Write Naked” by Jennifer Probst and you can see all my tags and bookmarks in it. Have you read this book?

Cecilia: I’ve read that book. That was one of the first ones, another author recommended it. It’s awesome.

Alessandra: It’s really great. It’s in I’m writing my Stephen King or both Love. Easy to devour and easy to understand and not intimidating and for me, I can find an unintimidating… anything having to do with craft, it’s unintimidating then, and that’s our thing.

Cecilia: Yeah, it’s a great book.

Alessandra: So, what do you struggle with craft?

Cecilia: So, I would say probably the big one that sticks out for me is, pacing just because I know, Oh, that’s all important, right? But I know how important it is to, you know, get to the end of the chapter and they want to just keep turning that page or not even the end of the chapter, we don’t want to lose them any time, and that’s kind of the goal. So, you know I dabbled a little bit in paranormal and I actually found that strangely easier because there were bad guys and there’s just so much happening where and even in the medieval like battles and things like that, I’m finding even with the contemporary pacing is something I’m struggling with probably even more than usual because I’m really focused on just the romance and I don’t have any battles to kind of, okay, what can we do now that is exciting.

And it’s something I’m always conscious of, and I know we’re getting a little ahead, but when I ran my first Marlowe, I was really happy to see that there was a pacing section because for me, that’s, what’s really important. I feel good about a lot of areas and, beats, and I plot pretty heavily, not pretty heavily, but I do plot. And since we’re writing romance, characters are always really important. Pacing is something that I’m always kind of conscious of and I struggle with probably the most.

Alessandra: I’m the same way, I think. And I noticed this really with my first couple of novels is while I was writing a book, I’d start getting so excited, like when I was getting near the end, because they’d be like, oh my gosh, look. Especially if my first book, I’m like, I’m about to finish my first book, so suddenly my scenes are getting shorter and I am like rocking and rolling through this happy laughter. Like, I mean, people are like hey love you, bye. I mean, I was so done and then I could be celebrating because I wrote a book that. I feared that in my early reviews reflected that. So, in the beginning, like many authors, I mean, I didn’t have any budget, I didn’t know the value of editing. And so, I didn’t have an editor to tell me, or I didn’t have more Marlowe to tell me and what Cecilia is talking about…

Just a quick thing, when you submit your manuscript to Marlowe you get back a 25-page report that talks about so many different things from character, to plotting, to pacing, to actually wrapping your thoughts highs and lows on the chart to overuse purrs, to cliché finder. There’s just so many different things that we can point out. So, we call it like a super quick and honest development, mental edit or critique, and pacing is one of things there. So, I always look at it because like you said with a mystery or action or really anything that has that, that action can be pretty clearly spread out and we can do a good job. And we have constantly like a next road Mark to hit, with just contemporary romance, it’s a lot harder and you don’t have that. That’s when a lot of people are like, Oh, I think I have to have my heroine get kidnapped right now because I need some development like another date where they talk about their feelings. So, these things can be a lot hard with that. And that’s something before I wrote romance and a lot of people kind of wrote off romance like, Oh, you know, it’s whatever easy to write, whatever, but it’s really not because you have to keep that tension and keep, those emotional highs and lows when you don’t have oftentimes a big battle or something.

Cecilia: You have no battles. I mean, if you’re writing in small town, Pennsylvania, and New York, so I’m like, well, you know, there’s no traditional big medieval battles. Yeah, I’m finding that definite. And it’s funny, I wasn’t surprised at all that Marlowe was basically like, you know, 50 to 70%… we have a little problem here, a little low. I was like, yeah, that’s kind of where I struggle.

Alessandra: Yeah, and I’d love to know in the comments section what you struggle from with craft. So, please feel free to shout out your biggest thing. So, pacing, I agree with you a hundred percent. And my other thing that I really just started learning how to do character development, and I’ve written 23 novels and I didn’t really start learning about craft until like books six or seven, I was just like winging it, you know? And so, I’ve gotten better and better about character development as I’ve gone, but it’s been a slow process. The more you develop your characters, the easier the writing of that book is and the more consistent it is. So, how are you with character development, and do you have any tips for creating powerful characters?

Cecilia: Yeah, I was actually going to ask you what we’re using to kind of learn about that because I know for me there’s like pivotal, these resources that really stick out Romancing A Beat was one for me. It was the first time I read about beats. I went through a few novels before I was like, okay, fine, I’ll look at this whole plotting thing. I’m a pantser, I don’t plot, but I do now. That one and a few other books that you showed earlier, but another one was Creating Character Arcs K.M. Weiland and that was the first one that I read that was specifically dedicated just to writing character. And I’ll be honest; I thought I was good to go. I taught English for 20 years, I used to train other teachers and worked for the state department of Ed teaching writing.

So, I actually came into this really kind of, I guess, not a nice way to say kind of arrogant. Like, you know, I’ve wanted to write my whole life. I’ve taught other people how I can do this, but no writing a novel, writing fiction is so different. And so just like you, I wrote a few novels thinking, I’ve read my whole life, I’ve taught writing, I got this, but it is its own beast. And so, I, like you, after a few novels in, I was like I need to go back to the drawing board, learn craft. And that was the first one that I specifically read about character development that really kind of opened my eyes, and I still use kind of a lot of the strategies that I don’t know if you’ve ever read it or heard of that one, but K.M. Weiland, I love her style.

Alessandra: I love her. I got her outlining in your novel book right here. K.M. Weiland is really great. If you’re looking for someone who isn’t intimidating and can break it down and break it down good Creating Character Arcs, is that book?

Cecilia: Yeah, that’s the book and I think it has a work one too and I don’t usually do the workbook things because I’m just like, I want to dive in and just do it myself. That is one that I think I printed it online and it was a companion to it and I physically actually completed the workbook and then now most of that, I kind of have in a spreadsheet and that’s what I use to create or start creating a lot of the characters. I had to do other things and I’ve read other things, but that’s the one that if you haven’t done any work specifically on that area, like it changed kind of my whole process really. Because romance is character based and so, like creating those really good characters, you kind of don’t… and not that you have a choice anywhere, but you’d really don’t have a choice. I mean, for me, it starts there.

Alessandra: That’s a really good point because I was thinking; I’m in the midst of teaching at a camp for aspiring authors. And so, it really takes you back to like, how did I use to be like, I have to get back to the mindset of not knowing ho. We do things without knowing how we do them now because they’re engrained, we have written so many novels and we don’t stop and go, okay, what is my process for creating a character, so it’s easy to forget. But I was sitting there thinking through different genres because I do write suspense as well. And a lot of great, you know, a lot of books, a lot of series; they don’t have a lot of character development that much, they’re more action-based. Like you’ve got, I don’t know, some thriller character who’s, you know, has a 20-book series. And there’s not really a lot about him personally, with each one, it’s more like what he’s doing. Whereas, you’ve got to deliver on those characters because otherwise they’re not invested, and they don’t care, and you don’t have that action to move forward and engage them in the plot so you have to.

And you talked about resources one thing that really helped me which I never would have thought, because I’m just not this type of person. You know, you talked about the worksheet, I’m going to look that up because there’s a lot of time she puts out like a questionnaire about your interview with your character or whatever. Those never do anything for me because a lot of times they’re really long and time-consuming, they’re like, what kind of peanut butter does she like or whatever. Like, I don’t know at all. Have you ever heard about using Enneagram?

Cecilia: No.

Alessandra: I’m probably mispronouncing it because I can never spell it, whenever I spell it, I always have to depend on Google to help me. So, Enneagram is a personality profiling system, so, it’s the same like, oh, I’m analytical or whatever, but there’s like eight different types and then there’s like subtypes. But I watched a presentation that someone did last year, and she talked about really diving into that personality type. And so, because I’ll tell you right now, I talked about the stumbling blocks to writing those people who quit their first books, they get writer’s block and then they run a way. A lot of times, at least half the time, writer’s block is caused by… David Libby just… there we go… Enneagram.

Yeah, that’s how they spell it though. David, will you spell it for us because it’s a mouthful. But a lot of times writer’s block is really caused by you not knowing your characters, like that’s really what it is. Like, you’re sitting there and you don’t know how your character is going to react to the situation you’ve been put in because you don’t know your characters. And Enneagram basically is, it really dives into… in this presentation she said in romance, typically an alpha male is this character type and then that character type responds in certain ways to do certain actions. And so, that allows you, if your character bumps into someone in the street, do they apologize? You know, do they get angry? Do they keep walking? Like, you know, how does the character react? And once you really know your character’s personality, you can. So, if I get stuck, I go to Enneagram. I go to Enneagram personal profile and you can put Enneagram infliction and Google that, and there’s just like, I mean, it’s a rabbit hole you can get quickly lost into.

Cecilia: I was just going to say, of course you had to mention this two weeks before a deadline because I’m immediately getting up and start learning it.

Alessandra: Easiest for me, I try to quickly decide what a personality type my character is and then I read about that personality and it helps me with the way they talk to people, the way they interact in the decisions that they make. So, yeah, that’s really cool. And if you’re a new author and you were listening to this, the typical path that you go down as you write characters that are just like you, that’s the easiest thing to do. And it’s an easy craft to fall on with your first book, and is fine with your first book. But then, once you start writing your second book in your third book, you’ve really got to expand your range and find other characters to write and not write all the same books in the first character. So, Marlowe has a character section where she like puts the personality types and broke down aggression of each character. And that’s one of the first things I look at when I look at my report is, I want to make sure my three or four main characters are all very varied and that my Villain isn’t like agreeable, friendly or cheer able all the time, you know, unless he or she has a personality quirk then.

Cecilia: I know, I held my breath when I got the Marlowe price. It reminded me of when I get my editor’s report back. I’m like, oh no, please, please, please you know, but it was actually just so awesome. I can’t even talk about this because it’s actionable. So, I honestly didn’t know, is this going to be something that you just kind of, that’s really cool and pretty and it looks great. No, no, I kind of came at it at a good time though. I was just finishing a manuscript, had sent it off to my editor and then I had Marlowe. So, I had some time right in between there and it was really cool, but that was something I looked at too. I was like, oh no, please because I was finished with the manuscript and I don’t love edits and so, I was like, oh no, this is going to be a nightmare. It was okay though. We did good.

Alessandra: Here’s another comment from a user. I struggled with the belief of wasting my time writing fiction. I mean, self-doubt can be debilitating. That right there can be a trigger for writer’s block. And that’s something that I think everyone I’m going to tell you right now, 20 novels, and you’re going to struggle with it as much. I struggle with that all the time and I think, oh, this book is terrible and why am I writing this and no one’s ever going to want to read this, but that can happen, but you got to just push through it because you can get to the other side. Did it help with you having a background in craft and in teaching and in writing? I’m self-taught so, I didn’t have, you know, years of training.

Cecilia: You would’ve thought so, right? But honestly, it’s just such its own unique thing that most of me doesn’t, but part of me wants to go back into the classroom. I taught eighth grade and take everything I know now, and then bring that into kind of, this is a real-world writing instead of doing a Venn diagram or comparing two stories and how they’re similar and you know, which is kind of very contrived, I would love to go back in and talk about Beats. I mean, how I managed to get through an entire education program and, you know, 20 years in education and not know about, or know anything about Beats, it’s kind of ridiculous. Really, when I look back, I think what we did, you know what I did in the classroom is very different than kind of the real-life thing so, yeah, and I think that actually hurt me in the beginning because I really didn’t think I needed that. I think a lot of people think their first book is a lot better than it is, but I really thought it was awesome and it wasn’t.

Alessandra: Yeah. I think I read… I trying to think who said this, it was such a great quote and I wish I could know who to attribute it to, but they said, however you feel about your novel, you’re typically wrong. So, if you think it’s amazing, you’re typically wrong, and if you think it’s horrific, you typically wrong, it’s one of those, like, that’s why we need editors and that’s why we need data readers. Marlowe does not replace an editor like that’s not our goal with Marlowe, but she is someone who is for that person who’s afraid to send it to an editor and they immediately want. I like the feedback from multiple different sources. So, can you offer somebody… because we have a lot of people doing this today or who are going to watch this later, who are not experienced and are aspiring authors. Can you give like an easy writing-for-dummies explanation of narrative beats?

Cecilia: Yeah. So, Jamie Gold does a fantastic job, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with her stuff and her side, she has all the beat sheets. I would probably start there if I didn’t know anything or it was just kind of jumping in. But for me… because I say a plot, but I really don’t, I know some authors plot every chapter or every scene and they know exactly what’s going to happen. I don’t, I basically just now plot beats, which is halfway through the book this is kind of supposed to happen or 25% in, the first plot point happens. And you know, this is typically what happens in the first plot point. So those beats are… in all of fiction, these are the things that typically happen in Bestseller Code or however, you’ll get it; these are in a good story. I’m trying to think of a synonym for the word beat, right?

Alessandra: What if nothing happens or if your story changes? Yeah, a beat is a really great word for it.

Cecilia: I know, right? I’m not supposed to use the word, but and you know, and it’s not necessarily to be married to them, some people are. I’m married to them, but I’ve talked to others and worked with friends of mine who are like, I want nothing to do with the beat sheet, I don’t care that have great, great books because they have that probably that intuitive beat sheet within them because they’ve been reading for so long. So, they might not have the first plot point at 25%. I do because I beat it out and I know, okay, I’m coming up on this many words, so, I want this to happen. So, when I did get back my Marlowe, I do have that nice, like, you know kind of rollercoaster of emotions and type things. But maybe it’s not 25% exactly for everyone, but it’s a good guidepost for, you know, do I have… at the midpoint, have I set everything up? Have I done all of the things that most good fiction does. And like I said, Jamie Gold… I’m trying to think of some of the resources that I read when I first started Romancing The Beat was one that’s specific to romance. K.M. Weiland, there you’ve already mentioned, and then “Save the Cat” for author fiction. Is that what it is?

Alessandra: Yeah, there’s the newer one, right?

Cecilia: Yeah, and I just read that. It’s awesome, I kind of didn’t think I needed it because I had read, “Save the Cat,” which is for screenplays. And so, I was like, well, I kind of already did that one; I don’t need any more. But I was on a car ride and so, I listened to the audio and that to me, now that’s like my favorite one. It’s worth the listen or read; even if you’ve kind of read all of the other ones and even the original Save The Cat, it’s awesome. So, I kind of blend them all together and for someone who is a pantser in the beginning, you know, now I have a spreadsheet of all of them and all of the different beats and I just kind of go across and look at, okay, what did this one say? What did that one say? What do that one say? How do I meld them all together and this perfect, you know, making sure I hit everything I’m supposed to at the pinch point or whatever that particular beat is. So, I definitely am a convert.

Alessandra: So, you started off pantsing.

Cecilia: I did.

Alessandra: Even though you had a background in writing, and you knew what we were supposed to do. You start off pantsing and then at what stage in your career did you switch? Was it a slow gradual change?

Cecilia: I’m trying to think if it was book. It was pretty early actually. It was either going into book three, two or three or three or four, somewhere around there. I was at a conference and someone had mentioned a book, Oh God, what was the first one? Cathy Yardley, Rock Your Plot, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her; still one of my favorites if I had to make the top three, she’d be on it. Somebody mentioned it I was like, Rock Your Plot. That sounds awful; I don’t want to have to plot. But I read it because I knew I wanted to keep learning always and I’m always reading something. Like, I’ll read it, and it was simple and it wasn’t, I have to write out every scene. I don’t want to know what happens. I just want to know what I’m heading toward when I sit down at the computer, I want the characters to kind of just tell me what happens today, but you can still do that and plot; that’s kind of what I learned. What about you? I mean, where did you jump in on the process in terms of…?

Alessandra: I started and now it gives a great point beats worker on a road trip. Like, that’s a great way to think about it. I started out pantsing, and I was that person who had had no training and just like on a whim who decided to write a book one day. And I started off pantsing and it wasn’t probably until… my fourth book, I rewrote probably five times. And when I say I rewrite five times, like, completely different plot all five times. I was like, okay, I wasted so much time with this book, like I’ve got to find a better process. And so, I moved into planting, which has a plotter and a pantser.

Cecilia: Oh, that’s the first time I’ve heard that.

Alessandra: What I used to use, and I still use it in my courses is panty liner, which is a pantser and an outliner. But my male students like hate that, which I don’t blame them, and a lot of my female students hate it too. So, we settled on planter because it was like not as visual. Yeah, so now I’m now a planter, so I give myself complete creative freedom to abandon my outline at any point in time, and my outline literally just looks like I scribbled on a napkin and I have like four or five lines of just like my general plot. And then, a lot of times I’ll outline like my next three scenes that I’m writing. So, when I go to bed that night, I know like I’m thinking through the next three scenes that are going happen, and that kind of helps me like keep going in the right direction.

Cecilia: I love that. That’s probably a way to kind of to get jump-started that next day and not waste time. And I saw that you have Maria on there. So, Maria is actually one of the people I was thinking in my head who writes amazing, amazing books. And she’s like “No plots” no plotting for me, so I know both ways can work. That’s so cool about what we do and there’s lots of different approaches, lots of different ways to success and you know, even in craft.

Alessandra: You’re right. Like, there’s no wrong way to do anything. Like, does it mean that one way might take longer to get to the end? Like, yes. Does it mean that one way you’re going to spend more time and rewrites? Yes, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to spend more time in prep if you’re an outliner. Yes, but everyone is different and that’s why all of our novels are so different. So, I think to me, the only real rules that if I was going to give someone a set of rules to follow is like editing, like don’t neglect editing. Even someone who writes a super clean book can still benefit and should have in my opinion an editor. And then just not to get bored, like, you know if you’re bored writing a lot of times the reader’s going to be bored, but keep going because you can fix everything once that first plot is written. A lot of the scenes that I thought were like, eh, like I remember there are scenes that I thought about cutting and I sent it to my beta readers. And one of the questions I always ask them is what is your favorite scene and what is your least favorite scene? That’s one of the questions I always ask my beta readers, and a lot of times scenes that I was really close to just nixing, they’d say were their favorite scenes.

Cecilia: You struggled through it, but they didn’t have to; they just get the end result.

Alessandra: That’s exactly what it is. Like they never spent hours in the kitchen; they’re just eating the lasagna. Like, that’s true.

Cecilia: That’s a great way to put it.

Alessandra: Yeah. I’m going to go ahead and draw the winners. I actually do the winners, right before we began. So, thank you random.org. So, these are five winners, we are going to announce their names and then we’re going to reach out to all of the winners via email and you can choose which craft books you want, but we have Lindsay R we have Terry V, Leticia, I don’t have your last name because we stopped with collecting last names at some point… Misty B and Sam B. Well, a lot of last names with B. So, congratulations to you guys and thank you to everyone who entered. Every First Draft Friday for kick offs we’re going to give any way different things. So, please come back and join us for future First Draft Fridays. And is there anything you want to add about craft? I didn’t mean to cut you off.

Cecilia: No, that’s okay. No, I’m thrilled to be here, and it was fun. I like to see people these days. So, every time am like, yeah, I’ll talk with you, I’m so happy to. But yeah, there is one, no right thing, I would say that for someone that’s just starting out except maybe not necessarily, you said that your one thing was editing, and I would agree with that. And I found a good editor early on, so I kind of got lucky, but I would say just keep learning. As a recovering educator, I would say you can’t go wrong if you keep learning. I mean, I obviously I’m 20 books in and I just learned something today and I’m excited to dive in and make the next book even better. So, that would be my one thing.

Alessandra: That’s really good. I agree a hundred percent. And good or bad news is there’s always something to learn in this industry like editing, marketing, publishing and everything else. Like it never stops, but act especially like, the more you learn, the better and easier it is to write. And you don’t have to learn everything at once. And writing itself is the absolute best training you can do; each book you get better. And I put the wrong URL up earlier, so I have already completely botched First Draft Friday. So, that was good I got our mistake out of the way early. So, if you are interested in getting a Marlowe report, they’re very inexpensive. You can get two report from us for as little as $17 a month. So, check out authors.ai and absolutely pleased come back and join us again on another First Draft Friday. So, it’s great to have you guys, I’m going to let you get to your Friday evening, wherever we’re at home around the world. Thank you, guys.

Cecilia: See you, bye-bye.

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