Monday, April 24, 2017

Top 10 things I Wish I'd Known Before I Became Published

A popular post from January 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack

10--I wish I'd known about the need to become a public speaker. It might have talked me out of it had I known how important this skill would be. HOW DID I SOLVE IT: I went to Toastmasters for 6 months and I have never turned down an opportunity to speak out of fear. I've had some successes that I smiled about on the way home, and I've cried all the way home too, but I'm improving.

9--I wish I'd understood that putting something personal out into the world invites the need for people to advise you, whether they know butkus about what you do or not. HOW DID I SOLVE IT: I learned to stop arguing when people felt the need to teach me how to write or why what I wrote was all wrong. I also learned to keep copies of complements to fill my bucket when people unceremoniously dipped from my confidence stores.

8--I wish I'd realized that getting that first book published was the BIGGEST step, but not the last one. Rather it was struggling with a sticky lock and then throwing the door open to find another door, and opening that one to find another one, and another and another, some are easier to push open than others. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I realized I will never solve it. I just keep writing my best novel. When it's done I start writing my best one again.

7--I wish I'd realized that the writing would get harder. That the ease I had of putting those first gripping thoughts together would one day run dry and I'd have to dig for the stories. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I dig.

6--I wish I'd realized what a lonely endovor it can be when you're best freinds become fictional creations. It's depressing when I have to remind myself that I don't get to go shoppign with them, or talk on the phone and that I actually have to deal with real live people. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I got to know other writers and I came to realize that though not perfect (they are not fiction after all) other writers will understand me better than anyone else. We share the same disease. I've met wonderful people that have become my dearest freinds.

5--I wish I'd realized that holding a finished book in my hand was like a drug and at times that memory would be the only thing to drive me forward on my current work in progress. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep publishing books, and when I get a new one I take that first copy and write down the feeling of holding it my hands. I can then go back to those thoughts and remember that's one of the reasons I do this, for the rush of holding that finished product.

4--I wish I'd realized that I wouldn't make much money. I really thought I'd be making a good yearly salary, and I'm beginning to, but right now I have $62 in my 'book' account and just mailed off a bill for my writers digest bookclub for $26.32. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep writing and spend my royalties wisely (sorta). I am also very clear on the fact that I don't write for money, though one day I hope to.

3--I wish I'd kept all the articles and ads ever done on my book. It's been almost 9 years now and I started keeping mentions a couple years ago but I missed a few really cool reviews and articles that would have been a fun keepsake. Even though I'll have more, I'll never have those first ones again. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep them now.

2--I wish I'd realized that great accomplishment aside (and I do consider it a great accomplishment) that I'm still me. I have my same weaknesses, my same obsessions (and some new ones, the same confidence issues and the same frustrations with not doing things the way I think I should do them. I believed that publishing my first book would change this, fill in the gaps, and I do think it's helped but it hasn't 'fixed' me. I guess it was silly to have ever thought it would, but I did and it didn't happen. I still have to work on me. HOW I SOLVED IT: Obviously, I haven't, but I'm learning to take things one step at a time and not expect one talent to suddenly take care of a dozen unrelated weaknesses.

1--I wish I'd realized that despite the drawbacks and unanticipated struggles, that writing would fulfill a part of me, a part of my reason for being here, in a way that nothing else did. It does not replace the role I play in the lives of others, it doesn't solve all my problems, but it has created a connection with Deity that I don't believe I'd have found any other way. It's challenged me in ways I never imagined and ultimately I know that I'm better for that and that here and there is a reader or two that in some small way is better for it as well. THIS one I've solved already. I found a place for myself, a place I have toiled and traveled through and because of it I am a better, smarter, and more content person that I would be otherwise. And in the dark moments, the hard times, I know that if I never wrote another word, if I never contrived another story, I would be at peace with what I have done, what I have already created. That peace makes it all a glorious journey.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Rewriting Rule #2

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Right up there with what is probably the most touted rule about writing, "Show, don't tell" is another rule, one that pretty much drove me crazy when I was a young writer.

You'll remember this one: "Write what you know."

This is such an ingrained rule that my university creative writing professor even had us write down a list of 100 things we knew and could therefore write about.

My list had things like braces, camping, and growing up with three siblngs.

Oooooh. Exciting stuff.

Here I was, staring at my list as an aspiring writer, thinking that—crap—I didn't know enough of anything to write. I had a bit of panic as I looked over my list of 100 things. I had wanted to write since second grade. Maybe I just wasn't cut out for it, because, well, I lacked the interesting life, the angst, that came with being a writer.

I came from a family with two parents that were still married. I wasn't abused. No one I knew was drug-addicted or homeless or otherwise having a more "interesting" life.

What in the world could I write about when I knew about nothing?

Fortunately, I tossed my list into the trash just as soon as I could. That teacher, despite being a great writer himself, didn't have the slightest idea how to teach writing.

I've read far too many early novels from beginning writers that are nothing more than memoirs in disguise—all because they were trying to write what they "knew."

I've since learned to tweak that all-knowing rule. It should say:

Write what you're willing to learn about.

Isn't that freeing? Suddenly an entire new universe of writing possibilities opens up.

Writers are by nature a creative lot, which is in our best interest. We read up on weird things that may appear later in our work, or we seek out topics that we need to educate ourselves on so we can write about them.

Here are a few of many things I've written about that I didn't know before but researched so I could write about them:
  • Profiling criminals
  • Poisons
  • Weapons
  • The history of denim
  • Horse illnesses
  • Flora and Fauna in Arizona
  • Boot styles in the late 1800s
  • printing press history
  • Early rock quarry tools
  • Blacksmithing
  • Police procedure
  • International laws on restraining orders
  • and much more
What would have happened if I had decided that gee darn, oh well, but I can't write about a house burning down because I've never been in a burning house? I wouldn't have written what became my break-out novel in my market.
Toss out "Write what you know" and pick up "Write what you're willing to learn about."
You'll be a better writer for it. Your work will thank you.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Savvy or Sell-Out?

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Some time before my publication days, I was bemoaning the fact that my latest manuscript had been rejected.

A well-meaning friend discovered a "hot" market, bought me a book in that genre, and said, "Read this. You should write a book like it. These kinds of books are selling like crazy right now."

I took the book and stared at it, trying to find a way to explain to this person that I couldn't just up and write a book for a market for no other reason than the fact that lots of people are currently successful at it.

Trying to fit myself into a mold like that would suck out any life that my writing and story might have naturally. (I know; I tried once. That pathetic manuscript will forever gather dust.)

But at the same time, writing anything my muse fancied might not be the best plan, either. I had a stack of rejections (with lots of great feedback, but rejections nonetheless) that showed something wasn't working.

It's a fine line to walk between selling out (abandoning your passion, your voice, and who you are as a writer for the sake of a market) and being market savvy (tweaking your work to make it more marketable).

It's one thing to find in yourself a passion that happens to be something agents and editors are looking for, or to adapt something you love into something that is more likely to sell.

It's quite another to decide that since books about young wizards are selling like hotcakes that you should write one too--only make it a girl . . . and give her a birthmark instead of a scar . . . and . . . you get the idea.

Even if your hot idea isn't a copy of what's already out there, there's a very good chance that the huge trend on the bookshelves right now (today, think vampires) is over and done with in the publishing houses.

Taking a book from manuscript to press can take upwards of two years, so bookstore shelves are essentially two years behind what publishers are hungry for now. If you try to write something new to ride a trend, chances are, you've already missed the boat.

The upshot: Trying to twist your writing self into a pretzel to fit a mold is selling out.

So what does a writer do when there's still that marketability factor to contend with? First and foremost, be true to yourself. Don't write a supernatural-mystery-Victorian-romance just because you heard that several agents are looking for one.

On the other hand, if mysterious Victorian-romances happen to be your cup of tea, jump all over it. You can probably work supernatural elements into the genre you already love to give it the angle the agent is looking for.

That's being market savvy, not selling out.

The manuscript I mentioned earlier saw several rejections until I learned that the heroine was a few years too young for what the market's demographic expected. I aged her about five years, tweaking a few scenes as a result, and the piece sold.

Being market-savvy is important, but never lose contact with the more important element: your muse. The trick is finding a happy marriage between the two.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Your Personal Legend

A popular post from January 2008

By Heather Moore

Recently, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s an international bestseller that many of you are certainly familiar with. The novel is brief, filled with a thought-provoking story and peppered with insight. But what struck me the most was the author’s introduction at the beginning of the book.

He explains that each of us have our own personal legend, or personal calling. I’d like to relate it to the writers in each of us.

Coelho says that not all of us have to “courage to confront our own dream.”

He gives us four reasons or obstacles as to why this is the case. As you read through them, think about your own goals and reasons for writing:

1. “We are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea . . . there comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible.”

2. “Love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream.” Coelho points out that those who love us want us to be happy.

3. “Fear of the defeats we will meet on the path.” Defeats happen and we will suffer along the way. “Once we have overcome our defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence.”

4. “The fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.” Coehlo says the “mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt.” We forget about the challenges it took to reach our goals—“this is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.”

This rang true for me. I could see a definite pattern as I look at my writer-self. I’ve been told that getting published is nearly impossible. I’ve worried about those I love and the sacrifices it might take to follow my dream. I worry about giving it my all, only to come away as a failure. And finally, when I do have successes step by step, I wonder if I should renounce it since I don’t want others to feel like they couldn’t reach their dreams.

But I love Coelho's closing comment: " . . . if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God . . . and you understand why you are here."

I believe that all of us are "worthy" to follow our dreams.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Get to the Point

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Where should you start your story?

That's the magic question so many writers wrestle with. I'm one of them; I usually rewrite my first chapter a dozen times before it's right, and often it'll end up as a different scene altogether, starting at a different moment in the story.

Regardless of how difficult the beginning is to spot and capture in your writing, doing so is critical. A reader (or, more importantly, an agent or editor) won't give you the benefit of the doubt and keep reading to page 63 where it really gets good.

You must hook the reader immediately and give them a solid reason to keep going. You have to earn the reader going on to the second sentence, the next paragraph, the next page.

In my editing experience, the most common mistake with beginnings is that the writer tries to tell too much of the back story too soon, as if we just have to know right away what got John to this point in his life.

When this happens, the reader doesn't get to the actual story without wading through the history, perhaps in flashbacks or large sections of "info dump." (Big hint here: if you're beginning your story with a flashback, you're starting in the wrong place.)

Your beginning should open at a time of change for the main character. By the end of the first chapter, their life has to be turned upside down.

And most importantly, something must be happening. Never, ever, have your first chapter filled with a character sitting on a mountaintop (or in the car, or by the beach, or in bed) recalling past events or what they need to do about them.

Remember "show don't tell"? Do it here. Show your character in a difficult situation. Show your character reacting to it, struggling to decide what to do next.

When past information is critical to include, drop a tidbit here and there, just enough to keep the reader informed while the story keeps moving forward. Avoid writing more than a couple of sentences of back story at any point; when you do that, you stall the story, no matter how fascinating the history is. Let us discover the past a piece at a time.

The majority of manuscripts I see with the problem of opening overload eventually find their beginnings. I can often spot it two or three (or more) pages into the piece. Sometimes I'll star that spot and say, "Start here. This is the real beginning."

What about everything before it? Hit the delete button. Really. It's all what David Fryxell from Writer's Digest calls "throat clearing," where you're just warming up and finally you reach the point you've been trying to make all along.

Reread your work with an eye out for any "throat clearing." You might just find you've already written a brilliant opening . . . on page 4.

Monday, April 10, 2017

You might be a writer if . . .

A popular post from January 2008

By Julie Wright

Today I am in the middle of edits, and have no time to be clever or original. So I have taken something I wrote as a creative exercise several years back and am doing a reprint here:

You might be a writer if . . .

Your spouse refuses to take you to the movies anymore because you mutter editing advice on how to tighten the dialogue and strengthen the plot.

You read books with a red pen in hand.

You pass judgment before hitting the period of the first sentence in any novel on whether the author has any intelligence at all.

All major relationship decisions are based on whether the other person knows the difference between lay and lie.

You got kicked out of Sunday School for pointing out a place in the Songs of Solomon where you felt the author lacked vision.

You cry in bookstores when you see a new book published by the imprint that recently rejected you.

You get caught eavesdropping on conversations, but insist you're not being nosy, just doing research.

Anyone who ever wronged you back in high school is now either a victim or an incompetent villain in one of your novels.

You know what a rejection letter sounds like as it swirls around in the garbage disposal.

You know what a rejection letter sounds like as it swirls around in the toilet.

You've ever said, "Well they just didn't read it!" after getting a rejection letter.

You've ever believed you could pay off your house with your first royalty check. HAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!! And now that you know you can't, you find that it isn't really that funny.

Your children eat corn dogs and Happy Meals when you're on a deadline.

Your children eat a lot of corn dogs and Happy Meals.

You named your dog Victor, your fish Hugo and your two parakeets Jane and Austen.

You hear voices in your head conversing, arguing, falling in love . . . and somehow you're sure this doesn't mean your crazy,

merely a writer . . .

Friday, April 7, 2017

Increasing Your Funny Quotient

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Humor in writing is tough to get right. It's all too easy for a joke to go just slightly off the mark and miss the laugh.

I think many writers do manage to be funny to a degree, but their problem is that they don't take it to the next level, the unexpected place where the laugh comes at you from the side so that you can't help but wipe away tears.

One great way of taking your humor to the next level is to analyze the laugh you're trying to make. What's the obvious joke (even if it's a funny one)?

Now, how can you take that joke one step (or even better, two steps) further?

An example:

In a recent essay I read, the author described a soul-sucking job and the manager she worked for. A good comparison (and a funny laugh) would have been to say her boss was a vampire, sucking the life out of her employees.

But this author took it a step further:

"[S]even years later, I voluntarily left a good-paying, soul-sucking, part time job as the records clerk for an office of remarkable neurosurgeons and one prickly office manager (who I am still convinced has no reflection in a mirror) to take a position at a veterinary hospital."

The reader deduces that she's a vampire without the writer ever saying so. It's a classic case of show-don't-tell.

Chandler from the sitcom Friends is another terrific example of taking the humor past the obvious. Take, for example, the time when he and Joey try to determine the identity of two babies, one of which belongs to Ross. One baby has clothing with ducks on it, and the other has clowns.

Joey decides to flip a coin about it, saying that the baby with ducks on its clothes will win if the coin lands on heads because ducks have heads.

It would have been funny enough had Chandler said, "What, and clowns don't have heads?"

But in a sense, that's what the audience is already thinking (and already laughing) about.

Chandler instead comes out with something that uses the first joke (clowns have heads too) and creates a second laugh by planting a comical image in our minds:

"What kind of freak clowns did you have at your birthday parties?"

Bull's eye.

Show-don't-tell is powerful no matter what kind of writing you're doing. Learn the skill well.

Then learn to take the humor past the obvious joke. Find out how far you can take it to create funny, fresh, and unexpected images.

It helps to read books, essays, and columns by some of the best funny men and women we have writing today. Also, watch comedians. Pay attention to how they craft their jokes, how the punch line flips the joke on its head and makes you laugh. Notice how jokes often come full circle later in the book/sketch/essay and take on new meaning the second time.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

And Then You . . .

A popular post from December 2007

By Josi S. Kilpack

There’s an aspect of publishing that isn’t often discussed, isn’t often considered, but has the potential to drive you crazy far more than lay/lie every could. This issue isn’t about getting the characterization just right (though, of course you’d be an idiot not to do a great job at characterization), it’s not about making sure your heading is in the right place (upper left hand corner; last name and book title along with the page number), and it has nothing to do with the disgustingly, grotesquely, annoying over usage of adverbs (thank goodness that’s not my problem)—this issue knows no boundaries of word count, genre, publishing history, or age, race, gender. We’re all equally annoyed by it, and yet there is no way around it. So it’s about time you knew that an absolutely essential part of being a writer is learning to wait.

1—After you’ve written the perfect story and given it to trustworthy manuscript readers—you wait for it to come back. For me this is anywhere from 2 weeks to a month per reader.

2—After you’ve made the suggested revisions and sent our your query—you wait for an acceptance. I know people that have sent our literally dozens of queries and heard nothing back for months and months. I know of others that have heard back in a few weeks.

3—If you’re shooting for the national market, after your agent accepts you—you wait for them to sell it to a publisher. This can take anywhere from a few months to a couple years. Should your agent find that they can’t place your book it will be returned to you and you can go back to step #2.

4—Once a publisher has accepted the option of looking at your full book, you send them the electronic copy—and wait to hear their suggestions. Just because you’re previously published does not mean you skip this step.

5—If you get revision suggestions, change the manuscript accordingly, and resubmit—you wait to see if those are accepted. If the changes are acceptable, you move on, if they aren’t, you go back to #4.

6—Once you get officially accepted by the publisher—you wait to get the signed contract, sometimes this can take a few weeks. Sometimes there are different boards that must also accept your book. They may suggest more revisions which will take you back to #5.

7—Once you sign the contract—you wait to see your cover and get your galley proofs. This is usally about 2 months or so. The good news is that this is where you know this book is going to be published. You have a contract and they have put in a lot of time to edit and typeset your book. You’re very close! But that doesn’t mean you don’t have more waiting to do.

8—Once you get your galley proofs, and proof them (hence the term)—you wait for the fateful day when your book comes in the mail to you. This is anywhere from 4-10 weeks or so after submitting your final galleys. Some authors choose to do a second set of galley prints which will extend this.

9—Once your book is off the presses and on the shelves you GET TO WORK SELLING IT!—and wait for the first statement telling you how many you’ve sold. Most statements don’t come for a few months.

What do you do with all that waiting? Gear up for your marketing campaign, promote any other works you’ve already published, and of course work on your next book. Publishing is a long process, it takes patience and if that’s not your strong suit (Me! Me! Me!) then you . . . well, you’re out of luck cause there is no way around it. It helps to take yoga, clean out lots of closets, blog, e-mail, and rant at your spouse now and again. If they’re a keeper they nod and commiserate you, if they threaten to cause bodily harm you might want to find someone else to rant to. As much as the waiting annoys you, it’s necessary that you act as if you’ve hardly noticed. Valium is good too.

Can you tell I’m in a waiting period right now, or was I too subtle?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hearing Voices?

A popular post from January 2008

By Julie Wright

Of course you're hearing voices. You're an author . . . we can't help it. But that's totally beside the point.

I met an author who hasn't read a single book authored by another person since he got his first book published. His reasoning is that he doesn't want his literary "voice" tainted by someone else.

Not only is his attitude excessively narcissistic, but he has trapped himself into a limited world. His voice will never grow--never improve; his characters will never stretch or be different from the ones he's already created. He has written many books, and it's the sad old case of "if you've read one of them . . . you've read them all."

Most serious writers know that their first couple of books are practice. If you don't get them published, you'll be saved from lamenting over your shallow voice and two dimensional characters. If you do get them published, you'll have that lamentation, but you can laugh yourself all the way to the bank. So there is comfort in having your first books published. ;)

But how do you develop you voice so that you move beyond your first tentative steps as an author?

1- READ!

And don't be afraid to read outside your preset genre. Read everything. Read drama, literary stuff, comedy, romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction. As you read, your own voice develops. Your brain subconsciously picks out what works for you in writing and what doesn't.

I read 39 books last year. That doesn't count the myriad blogs and articles I read. And that doesn't count the reading I had to do on my own books to get edits done.


There is no way around it. If you want to be a writer, you have to actually (gulp!) write. And you have to write a lot. Try your hand at writing everything that holds a spark of interest to you. I've written music lyrics, poetry (badly), short stories, novels, commercials for products (I once fantasized that I would grow to be a high powered advertising executive dressed in a black power pant-suit and riding the subways). I've written articles for both newspapers and magazines and, of course, I spend some time blogging (which I count for good practice, but don't count towards writing goals).

And after you've written quite a lot, go back over your writing and look for recurring themes. It took me several years to notice that I am primarily a young adult writer. I read mostly young adult literature and when I write, I can't stop myself from writing with a youth audience in mind. I didn't set out to write for this age group . . . it just worked out that way. Even when I wrote for adults, I ended up with a riot of teenager fans. I also find I gravitate towards the fantastic, the paranormal, the time travel, the space travel, the beliefs of fringe society.

Time spent on poetry, on a short story, and the full-on novel help you to stretch your voice. Play with all forms of writing. Have fun with it.

3. Resonate!

If you write about things that resonate to the marrow of your bones, you won't be able to help but write in your own voice. If you're passionate about your topic, your characters, your story, your voice will convey that passion. If you're from the deep south, you will have a different angle of resonance than someone from Ireland. Write in the language you know--the language you speak. I am a firm believer in increasing your vocabulary, but you want your book to resonate to others. By speaking plainly, you will achieve that.

most people are searching for themselves. Writers are searching for their voices. To help you on your quest, read, write, and resonate (I love alliteration). Have fun!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Self Objectivity

A popular post from December 2007

By Josi S. Kilpack

A friend called me the other night to discuss a point in her book. I had edited this work for her a couple years ago, so I was familiar with the story despite the fact that she'd done several revisions since then. The reason she called was because there was a magical element in the story that wasn’t sitting right with her. She’d gone over it a few times and just felt like it wasn’t sensible, that it didn’t work. She wanted to know what I thought.

I thought it was fine, very creative in fact, and I told her so. She was not appeased.

“Then why is it bugging me?” she mused. So we continued talking about it and over the course of a few minutes she came up with a solution that didn’t necessitate cutting the element—it really is very clever—but added a dimension to it that would work and make it more plausible. In once sense it was a very small, a minor detail, to her overall story, and yet in it’s own way it was huge.

After I hung up, I thought about scenes I’ve had in my own books that have stuck out to me. A couple specific ones came to mind after this conversation and I realized just how impressive it was that this friend of mine would take the quality of her work seriously enough to want to make sure she was good with this detail. It occurred to me what a brilliant thing this was for her to do and what a reflection of her skill as a writer it was as well.

Fact is, it’s relatively easy to make changes people tell us to make, it’s rather simple to cut things when we’re told to cut them. Letting someone else point out our mistakes makes us feel more secure somehow, but it’s a matter of skill to be objective enough about our own work to not only see our own mistakes, but then to ponder, discuss, and brainstorm on them enough to find a solution for the singular reason of making our book our best work.

My challenge to each of you, today, is to think of your work—maybe something on the shelf, maybe something you’re working on right now and objectively think of one detail that isn’t ‘settled’ in your own mind. Maybe it’s a character, maybe it’s a name, or a place, or a missing line of dialogue. Maybe it’s a magical element, or the sequence in an action scene; perhaps you’ve missed an opportunity to foreshadow, or you’ve laid it on too thick and exposed a plot line you weren’t ready to expose yet. I challenge you to find a quiet spot or a blank piece of paper and brainstorm that detail. How can you fix it? What would make it stronger? What would help you make peace with it?

It’s fabulous to have outside readers and it’s wonderful to get professional advice, but honing your own ability to objectively tweak your own brilliance, therefore admitting that you don’t always get it right the first time, will improve your overall writing far more than another person ever will. Then, when the time comes to ask someone else to give you an opinion, you can have confidence, rather than na├»ve hope, that you are presenting your best work.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hopeful or Hopeless?

A popular post from December 2007

by Annette Lyon

When it comes to the dream wagon, I'm one of the first on board. I held onto my dream of publishing for many years through a large number rejections, and even though I have some publications under my belt, I still dream big.

I love cheerleading fellow writers, especially those who haven't seen their name in print yet. It's exciting to encourage and inspire others to keep going even after another rejection, to never give up. It's one of my favorite parts about speaking at conferences.

But this week I read something that stopped me in my tracks. It was a letter to the editor of a writing magazine, wherein the aspiring writer discussed how many decades (I think it was four) he/she had been working on a book, revising, submitting, getting rejected, and trying again with the same (theoretically improved) manuscript. "I'll never give up my dream" was the point of the letter.

I had a two-fold reaction to this:

1) Good for them for keeping at it and never giving up.

was quickly followed by:

2) How pathetic that they've put all their eggs in one basket for forty some-odd years.

Had this writer been regularly coming up with new ideas, writing new books, and following publishing trends, for forty years, I wouldn't have had this reaction.

But they've been working on the same book for forty years? Where is the logic in that?

Almost every published author I know has several manuscripts gathering dust that will never see the light of day, books that they cut their writer's teeth on. You learn to write by doing it. Many times. On different projects. In different ways. It generally takes writing a few books, going through the entire process, before you're good enough to be published.

Revising the same book forever isn't going to do that for you.

Additionally, there's a good chance that this person's book will be horrifically unmarketable; assuming for a moment that their idea was hot back in, oh, 1967, I'd bet my birthday chocolate that it wouldn't sell today.

And then there's the element of productivity: A publisher doesn't usually make much money on a first novel. They hope to eventually make a name for you and sell more with each book. If you can't promise that you'll produce more than one decent idea in forty years, you won't be on their happy list.

Cling to your dreams. I'll never tell anyone to give up. But I will tell them to be a tad realistic. Write your way toward your dream. That means doing everything it takes to be cross the finish line.

Don't kid anyone; circling the practice track forever is not called "pursuing your dream."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Resolutions Writing Style

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

As you begin a new year of writing, you might want to make making some writing-related resolutions.

First, take stock of what worked for you in 2007 and what didn't. Do daily word count goals fit your lifestyle? What about weekly ones? Do you work better by tracking chapters or pages rather than words? What system works best for you?

Second, set goals for yourself--goals that, while reachable do require you to stretch a little.

Last, decide on rewards for each goal you meet. It's amazing how a little incentive can help yourself plant your behind in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. Your inner writer is a child. Bribe it! (I find chocolate works well. And pedicures.)

Consider adding some of the following when making your list:
  • Read. A lot. It helps me to keep a running log of all the books I've read in the year. I've done this every year for over a decade, and I try to at least match if not beat the number of titles from one year to the next. A good writer is a good reader. Be sure to include writing books in your list. And don't forget to read works in the genre you write in. Add one or two books that stretch you.
  • Take regular outings to places that bring something new to your senses: try new foods, visit a museum, take long a walk through a strange neighborhood, go on vacation to a place you've never been before. Stimulation to the senses does marvels for creativity.
  • Proof every query, cover letter, and manuscript you send out. Many times.
  • To help you send out the cleanest material possible, learn your punctuation and grammar rules. (A funny and great place to start: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by Lynne Truss.)
  • Get up the guts to show your work to someone other than family and friends . . . someone who will give you the honest truth. Consider hiring a professional. It's worth the cost.
  • Make at least one big goal for yourself: I'll finally finish this book/I'll query 20 agents/I'll attend 2 writing conferences. And attach deadlines to each goal.
The biggest resolution? Don't give up in 2008. This may be your year.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Whose Point of View?

A popular post from January 2008

By Heather Moore

In a recent manuscript, I came to a dead stop at a particular scene. But it was not just an ordinary scene—it was the climax of the entire novel.

In this scene, a man is burned to death for his religious beliefs. He is given the chance to recount his teachings, but refuses. Therefore, the punishment is death by fire.

I wondered if the scene would be stronger in the man’s point of view . . . or in the man’s wife’s point of view.

Would it be more compelling for us to know the thoughts of a man who’s taking his last breath and knowing he’s going to die? Is it more compelling to “feel” the pain of fire with him as he’s consumed?

OR is it more compelling to watch with his wife as her husband is brutally tortured? Do we want to know her intimate emotions, experience her undoubted grief and horror? To hear her thoughts of loss and anguish?

The way I answered this question was: Who has the most to lose?

Then I posted it on a blog and received excellent feedback. Everyone agreed. The wife had the most to lose. So the death scene should be in her POV.

When you are writing in multiple view points (3rd person in my case), the rule of thumb for selecting POV is to take a look at the character who experiences the most change, or is highly affected, or who has the most to lose in the scene.

Then you'll have your answer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

This Year, Go Big or Go Home

A popular post from January 2014

by Annette Lyon

Last month, as I have for well over a decade, I attended another Christmas dance recital to watch my daughter light up on stage. As usual, her grace performing (this time ballet) didn't disappoint.

A different dance number jumped out at me for a different reason, however. Most likely, it jumped out at every member of the audience: a hip-hop piece. The number was well choreographed, and the star dancer, a sixth grade black boy, stayed front and center, and for good reason. He was nothing short of jaw-droppingly amazing.

Every move he made was powerful and precise. He exuded joy and energy and attitude and got the audience excited, returning his energy a thousand-fold.

The few times my eyes strayed from him, I regretted it.

Why? The other hip-hop dancers on stage with him weren't anywhere in the realm of his league, for starters. But that in and of itself wasn't the problem. The real problem was that the other dancers didn't seem to be trying at all

In dance speak, they were marking the routine rather than dancing full out, as if they were afraid of looking stupid doing the moves, so, hey, I'll do them small and weak, and maybe no one will notice.

To be honest, the other dancers looked almost embarrassed to be up there. Surely they knew they weren't as good as the star, but by not doing their best, by not going full out, they looked even worse. Their movements looked sloppy and weak. They looked unsure and had so little energy that as an audience member, I found watching them to be total yawn fest. At least, when I wasn't cringing.

Worst of all, I made the discovery that when hip hop is performed halfway, it does look really, really silly, which I can almost guarantee was the dancers' (and, I'd wager, every artist's) worst fear. Do it halfway, and you'll look ridiculous. Do it full-out, and you're on to something.

As I sat in the audience, it dawned on me that writing is somewhat the same way.

Writing and putting your work out for an audience can be downright terrifying. But you can't play into that fear. If a writer backs away from being as strong and powerful and in control of their work as they can and should be, that is the moment when the work looks sloppy, weak, and chaotic. It's as if the writer wasn't at the helm, had no idea what to do next, and simply hoped no one noticed the missteps.

And yes, there will be times a writer is unsure. We have all taken risks in our work (or we should have). We all have grown, so we've all had our weaker moments, and will continue as we (hopefully) keep growing. The risks that have the best shot of working are the ones we commit to: the ones we write full-out. The minute we start marking a risk or a new technique, hoping no one will notice we're unsure and scared? That is the moment our work looks sloppy and weak.

Watching that hip-hop routine, I thought back to times where I've seen writers who have poured their souls into their work, even into a first draft, when maybe they weren't entirely at the skill level they wanted to be at. But they were trying with everything in their souls. The result: riveting and exciting writing anyway. As a reader, I find myself forgiving errors or weak spots because I see the passion and power that lies behind the writing. On the flip side, I'm far more likely to give up on prose that happens to be free of typos but lacks any heart.

So however you write, whether it's sitting at the keyboard or curling up with a notebook and pen, don't hold back. Yes, you may have some missteps along the way; that's to be expected. Maybe you aren't (yet) as good as other writers you're "on stage" with.

But chances are, if you hold back, your work will only draw negative attention to itself, and you won't grow. You'll never reach that glorious point where the eyes are all on you, where people's jaws drop in awe and admiration at the feats you just pulled off.

And remember: Every time a writer steps on stage, he or she is writing all by themselves. We must write full out, every single time.

Is baring your soul, pouring your all into your work, easy? No. Unequivocally no. But I'm convinced that doing so is the only way to ever be great.

So for this new year, here's my challenge for a resolution:

Get in the game, all the way. Write full-out every time. Leave the fear on the wings of the stage.

When you write, be that amazing kid in the front who made the dance look cool and amazing and awesome instead of the ones in the back who made it look, well, silly.

In other words, go all the way. Go big, or go home.

(I don't really want you to go home. Just decide to go big!)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Writing Schedules

A popular post from March 2009

by Annette Lyon

Sometimes I listen to a great podcast called Writing Excuses, produced with writers Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells. It's a very helpful podcast with lots of good information, and I recommend listening to it. Some of what they discuss refers specifically to fantasy and science fiction, but most of it is applicable to any genre.

One of the episodes, however, had me snickering and giggling: the one about a writer's schedule.

All three of the guys who are part of the podcast are full-time writers. I suppose they've forgotten what being a part-time writer was like, because they said things like (paraphrasing here):

"If I'm going to get any writing done, I need at least a four-hour block."

I burst out laughing.

Most of my writing career has been spent as a stay-at-home mom with several small children. Finding a four-hour block for writing was something that existed only in the realm of fantasy. Heck, for years, a TWO-hour block was pretty much an impossibility.

I had to find a way to make time, to use small snippets here and there. I learned to think ahead so that when I did have 30 minutes to write, I could type fast and make the most of the short session I had. I got really good at finding pockets of time and using them efficiently.

I wrote several books and sold lots of articles this way.

I imagine the vast majority of writers are in the same boat. They don't have large swaths of time to warm up and get into the mood and wait for the muse to strike. Not if they want to produce anything, anyway.

And that's fine.

Rumor has it that John Grisham worked as a lawyer while writing his first book, a page or so at a time during his 30-minute lunch break. Other now-famous blockbuster writers did the same before they could quit their day jobs.

If writing is a priority, you can find the time, even when a four-block is totally unrealistic.

Some ways:

What can you cut out of your life? Something will have to go, because there are only 24 hours in a day. Maybe it's a hobby. Or TV time (can you skip a sitcom six nights a week? That's THREE hours of writing!). Or it might be something else.

What can you consolidate or do faster? For example, if you ran all your errands on one day instead of spreading them out all week, you might be able to find a little time on a day or two to hit the computer. Maybe you can take the bus to work and write during the commute.

Plan ahead. That means both with finding time and with planning your writing. One small example: if I plan dinner well ahead of schedule (even doing something in the crock pot) then I can save myself half an hour or more that can be spent writing.

Then, if during the day, I thought ahead to what scene I'll write during that half-hour period, I can get right to work and be productive.

When are you sitting around doing nothing? I've written entire scenes in the doctor's office, the dance class lobby, and more. Time otherwise lost to the ether was made productive.

"I want to write, but I just don't have the time," is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Writers don't have time dropped handily into their laps. They MAKE time. They carve it out. They hunt it down, tie it up, and suck out every drop.

One irony: now that my youngest child is in kindergarten and I actually have a regular two-hour block, I find that I'm less productive in small snatches. It's as if my brain has realized it doesn't have to focus and work so hard--it's got two whole hours! Let's relax!

Next year when she's in school all day, I'd better not end up saying I need a four-hour block to get anything done.

If I do, smack me back to reality.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Art of Dialogue: Building Relationships

A popular post July 2013

By Julie Wright
part four of four

It's time for the fourth tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number four:

Alter relationships—either building or tearing down-- You can tell if people are falling in love or getting a divorce by the kind of conversation they’re having. Most of the time anyway.  One of my favorite lines in the movie Life as We Know It is right after the two main characters have a major fight. One of the secondary characters made a comment that, "If my ex-wife and I fought like that . . . we'd still be married." So although they were fighting, it was a fight filled with passion, one that led the viewing audience to believe that the couple was in love in spite of the cruelty they hurled at each other in the form of words.
What are your characters saying to one another? Are they shredding each other verbally? Is the popular girl standing out from the crowd by telling one of the unpopular girls that she looks cute? Is the soldier refusing an order from his commanding officer which will likely result in disciplinary action?
You can tell if your characters are becoming friends or determined enemies by their conversations.  The things we say to each other alters our relationships even when we aren’t meaning them to. An offhanded compliment may save one person's life while a random verbal dig at that same person might be what throws them over the edge and makes them overdose. Conversations are important.

In real life, people kind of shamble through their own sentences. They um and er a lot, they digress, interrupt themselves, and start over again with the ums and ers. It's hard to build a believable relationship in print with all that going on, so refine the dialogue to include only the important things.

Dialogue can do all of these things we've discussed over the month—reveal character, move the plot, set the tone, and alter relationships in one conversation, but it, at least, has to have one, otherwise the dialogue isn’t necessary.

 –It can also do one more thing. Dialogue can provide exposition and backstory…and you want to use this judiciously. Nothing will bore a reader faster than you using dialogue to tell your main character’s entire life story or telling the entire history of the world you’ve built through the character’s conversations. That being said, dialogue is a tool in which you can quickly (quickly being the key word here) give some additional information, such as back story so that you won’t end up with long, tedious passages of exposition.

Building relationships means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said the last few weeks, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone
  • Revealing the character
  • Building relationships

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Art of Dialogue: Reveal the Character

A popular post from July 2013

By Julie Wright
part three of four

It's time for the third tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number three:

Reveal the Character

We don’t learn about characters simply by what they do, or the exposition that is written; we can learn about them through what they say and just as important, how they say it. Some characters are quiet and reserved so every word they actually utter is like a gift. Think Phineas and Ferb. If Ferb ever says anything, you always pay more attention to it, because it hardly ever happens. You expect something profound and awesome to exit that guy's mouth.
Other characters say whatever pops into their heads. They're the non-filtered characters.  These people are annoying to most of the world. These are the people that you sometimes want to push off a cliff because you just need them to stop talking. I am a non-filtered conversationalist. Please don't push me off a cliff. I truly don't mean to be offensive. We are who we are . . .
Some people are opinionated. Some are conservative. Some people turn everything into a joke. Some people don’t even get jokes let alone tell them.

By using dialogue properly, we can SHOW a character who is a submissive kiss-up in the way he offers to do the Starbucks run when the boss mentions he needs a coffee. Or in the way the kiss-up walks in on his co-workers talking in the break room instead of working and insists he's going to tell the boss on all of them.  The author doesn't just tell the reader that Simon was a whiny, sniveling kiss-up. The dialogue shows it.

Revealing the character through dialogue is an ultimate SHOW don't TELL kind of move. Don't tell us she hates her mom. Drop us in the middle of the fight and show her yelling at her mom--saying the sorts of things that prove her feelings. Don't tell us it hurt him to say goodbye. Show his voice cracking as he stumbles over the one word that changes everything for him.
We learn a lot about people during the course of conversation. Use this tool to help your reader better know your characters, and for your characters to better know each other. The more your reader knows your character, the more your reader can empathize and love that character which means they will stay with your character until the very end.

Revealing the character means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said the last two weeks, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone
  • Revealing the character

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Art of Dialogue: Set the Tone

A popular post from July 2013

By Julie Wright
part two of four

It's time for the second tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number Two:

Set the Tone
If it’s funny, or serious, or scary—you’ll know by the dialogue. Setting sets the tone, too, and is  completely important in writing, but a setting can’t exactly explain the tone of the book because the same setting can have multiple purposes.
So let's say our characters are at a funeral home. It’s just two of them, because no one else has arrived, or maybe no one else is coming. They're standing at the casket looking at the solemn repose of the deceased. That’s the setting.
But what will set the tone is the conversation—or lack of conversation—the two characters will have.
Maybe they’re brothers and it’s their father’s funeral. Maybe they hate each other because Dad loved one over the other. The setting says sad funeral, but the tone might be an angry war between brothers.
Or it could be two teenagers at the funeral of the science teacher who left them a clue to his murder. So they’re there to figure out who the murderer is. Their conversation and tone will be one of tension, intrigue, and anticipation. The tone is a who-dunnit.
Or it could be a couple of friends at the funeral of a roommate who was totally insane, and they’re there joking around about who gets his room and his Fender guitar. The tone would be a dark comedy.

Or maybe the characters are talking about cutting off the dead guy's head. Kind of weird, but hey, it happens. An ounce of preventuion and all that . . . As they cast a casual glance over their shoulders to see if anyone else is watching them cut off the head, the newly deceased's eyes pop open. Seeing that no one else is present, they move to the gruesome task of staking the undead at the same time the undead is working on making a snack of the two of them.  (I hate it when I wake up hungry). That tone of that scene would be horror/action.
The same setting can produce lots of different tones depending on what the characters say when they open their mouths.
Setting the tone means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said last week, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Art of Dialogue: Move the Plot Forward

A popular post from July 2013

By Julie Wright
part one of four

Dialogue is one of the most important parts of effective writing to me. It's one of my strengths in my writing, and so it's disappointing to me when it isn't a strength of other writers. I won't care if your commas are scattered like dandelion seeds on a manicured lawn, but I will sigh mightily if the dialogue doesn't work.

Sigh and likely put your book down.

So here is the first of four tips on what your dialogue should accomplish. The next three tips will come each Tuesday for the next three weeks. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number one:

Move the Plot Forward
Dialogue is a place where your characters can learn new information that helps them deal with the conflicts they're experiencing.
  • This is where they make decisions about where to go from here.
  • This is where they argue, fall in love, declare war, ask for divorces, make peace. Basically, this is where we create tension and conflict.
  • This is where information is shared between characters that helps them understand if there is impending danger, or if the danger has moved on already. It helps build suspense.
  • This is where the reader comes to understand how the character fits into the plot they've been dropped into. It allows the character discovery opportunities.
  • This is where things happen because the characters say it’s happening.
Moving the plot forward means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. I believe that writing is like owning an apartment complex. If you rent a few apartments out to people who aren't paying rent--you need to evict them so that you can maintain profitability and stay in business. If you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Nowhere is this more true than with dialogue. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is moving the plot forward.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Novellas, Novelettes, & Short Stories: What’s the Difference?

A popular post from Feb. 2014

by Annette Lyon

For about two years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of an anthology series. As of February 2014, we have put out six Timeless Romance Anthology collections, and will continue to do at least four a year. Each has been fun and challenging in its own way.

For those unfamiliar with the series, each collection has six stories, three by continuing contributors (PEG’s own Heather B. Moore, plus Sarah M. Eden, and yours truly). We select a theme and then look for three guest writers to join us who are established, published writers we know will produce a great story.

We have few rules, but the ones we have are written in stone: No story can go over 15,000 words, so the entire collection is no more than 90,000 words, not counting author bios and other back matter. Each anthology is roughly the length of a typical novel.

The other two rules: 
  • the stories must all follow the theme
  • they must all be sweet romances (read: clean romance, with nothing beyond kissing in them and no graphic violence, etc.).

 In today’s digital world, the experiment has proved to be a great success. We treat the collections as a professional endeavor, including hiring a talented graphic designer experienced in book covers. The stories all get professionally edited and formatted, and the final result has been fantastic—as has the response from readers, proving that there is indeed a market for sweet romance.

We recently made the first anthology (the WinterCollection, featuring historical stories set in the winter) available in paperback, and we’ll likely put more of the e-books into print as we move forward.

So why are am I talking about these stories? Because in today’s e-book world, we’re seeing the return of relics from the publishing past. There was a time—before the Internet and all of the many distractions it brings—when magazines and book publishers regularly published short stories, novelettes, and novellas.

Short stories lasted a bit longer than the other two, especially in magazines. I may be dating myself here, but I recall a time when teen magazines still included a short story in each issue. Novelettes and novellas pretty much went the way of the dinosaur decades ago, and a big part of the decline of those literary forms was the cost. With the printing, shipping, and other costs that mirror the costs of full-length novels, but with lower price points, novellas and novelettes simply couldn't make enough of a profit to stay viable. 

As for the space short stories used to take up in magazines: It was quickly replaced by other content, with the belief that "no one reads short stories anymore."

In the last few years, however, many people, from the Big 5 publishers in New York to self-published writers, have changed their tune. Formatting for e-books is inexpensive, and a lot of writers have learned to do it themselves. There are no costs for printing or shipping, and little to no cost for delivery. Plus, they can be produced far faster. In other words, they're profitable again.

As a result, many writers, including bestsellers, have contracts to write novellas, often as a prequel before a new book comes out, or to give hungry readers a taste as they wait a year between volumes in a series.

Anthologies are one the few places that never stopped publishing shorter fiction entirely. A lot of them were and are produced by fantasy or science fiction publishers, and getting into one was a great way for a writer hoping to publish novels to break into the market.

Anthologies are still a great way to get started and break in. At the 2013 League of UtahWriters conference, Paul Genesse taught a great class about short fiction. He's had success making a name for himself through contributing to many anthologies over the years, and while he’s admitted that you won’t get rich doing that, you will grow a readership and develop a name for yourself.

But before you attempt to submit to a collection, be sure you know the varying lengths of the different forms. Today's readers aren’t yet that familiar with the terms, so if you self-publish a shorter work, the technical term won't be nearly as important as if you plan to submit your work to a contest, publisher, or anthology.

According to both Paul Genesse and SFWA, the following word counts are pretty standard in the industry: 

Short Fiction Word Counts
Short Story: under 7,500 words
Novelette: 7,500 words – 17,500 words
Novella: 17,500 words – 40,000 words

A few things to keep in mind with those numbers:

Middle-grade and early chapter books often fall below 40,000 words but don’t get the novella label, even though they're in that range. 

Word count is a far better guide to story length than page count, especially in fiction. Why? Word count per page can vary widely. For example, a page with mostly description will have many more words than a page with a lot of dialog, where a new paragraph starts every couple of lines, creating a lot of white space.

For example, the Timeless Romance Anthology stories, which typically run 13,000 to 15,000 words, will take up from 45 to 60 pages double-spaced in Word. That's a pretty broad page count for stories roughly the same word length.

As you can tell by the guidelines above, the TRA collections are technically made up of six novelettes per collection, yet in our book descriptions, we still call them novellas, because that’s the term readers are most familiar with. As novelette becomes a more familiar term to readers, we may use it.

So, you want to publish a novella/novelette/short story?
As with any potential market, be sure to research the submission guidelines and follow them exactly. Thinking you're the exception to the rule only shows you aren't a professional taking the job seriously.  

If it’s a contest, submit by the deadline or even before. Follow the format required. And, of course, know in advance if the market is open to submissions at all. (The Timeless Romance Anthologies are invitation only, for example.)

How do you write short fiction, anyway?
Actually writing short fiction is a very different animal from writing a full-length novel. For me, at least, it's been a wild but awesome ride learning how to create a good story in a small space. 

For that matter, it's a topic worthy of its own post another time.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Benefits of Writers Conferences

A popular post from March 2008

By Heather Moore

Writing can be a solitary activity. Well, we wish it is solitary--but there are many of life’s interruptions along the way (sometimes every three minutes it seems).

When I first started writing, I had no idea there were Writers Conferences. So when I joined my local writing chapter, I found I had a lot to learn. I had written two novels by the time I went to my first Writers Conference and this is what I learned:

1. Marketing—authors don’t just write, they market.
2. Agents—the first agent I met was in his early 20’s—this kid was going to accept or reject my very fine, mature work?
3. Self-publishing—an option I’d never thought of.
4. Vanity publishers—I met two at the conference. Glad I didn’t submit.
5. Shoes—dress to impress, but do so with comfortable shoes no matter what.
6. Advil—I’m glad I had some along. I wasn’t used to absorbing so much information in a two-day period.
7. Writing Contests—enter them if you can. It’s a great way to get feedback.
8. Networking—people that I met over seven years ago are still my friends.

Now that I have a few books published, and have attended half-a-dozen conferences, my advice is as follows:

1. Marketing—ask the published authors you meet what are the top three effective marketing tools they use.
2. Agents—make appointments with them if possible. Have a list of questions for them in addition to the manuscript you're pitching. Remember most agents find their clients through writers conferences or referrals.
3. Self-publishing—a more viable option for many. Learn from the experts first though, since there are many considerations.
4. Vanity publishers—still don’t submit.
5. Shoes—wear warm socks, too. The conference rooms can be very cold.
6. Excedrin—takes away the head ache faster.
7. Writing Contests—the feedback from an unbiased judge can be invaluable. But remember, it’s still subjective.
8. Networking—no matter how many books you have out, it's still important to network. Make new friends and pass on your own advice. The writing world is very small and can catch up with you fast. Also, volunteer to help at the next writer’s conference. Give back as much as you have received.

Most importantly, you come home with a head full of fresh ideas and re-energized to get back to writing. You realize that writing is not so solitary as you first thought.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Unexamined Lives

A popular post from March 2009

By Julie Wright

Plato said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." From that one could also say that the unlived life is not worth examining. And from that one could also say that a character without a life isn't worth reading.

Life is messy if you're bothering to live it well. It's all fine to live safely, but people who lock themselves into their houses and use antibacterial soap aren't usually the most interesting people out there. If your characters are like these people, your book won't make it past page five (and that's if the reader is generous)

We like to hear about people who are doing things. And we are never bored when our friends call us up to tell us their problems.

This is why your characters should have problems. They should be out doing things. Don't open your book with characters looking at a sunset (unless the sun is rocketing towards earth in a cataclysmic event that will burn us all up within the next 24 hours and the hero has to figure out how to harness the sun and put it back in its own orbit). Don't open your book with characters waking up, having a bowl of cereal, and brushing their teeth. The mundane is synonymous with life unlived. We need action!

And the best action comes from characters solving their own problems. David Gerrold said, "the bigger the problem, the bigger the character has to be to solve it." And if you want to justify telling the story you're telling, you'd better be writing that character and his problem absurdly huge.

Some problems come from a challenge. The character accepts a challenge or takes on a challenge and falls into crisis (think Lord of the Rings).

And your character must go through the try-fail cycle. He'd better go through it a few times (three is what they suggest) This means he tries to overcome his problem and fails, tries to overcome his problem and fails. But the real failure is the guy who doesn't get back up when you knock him down. So your character had better not be that guy. Your character had better be the guy hauling his backside up and shouting, "Is that all you've got?" Your character must win.

Give your characters life by letting them dive into the messy complications of REALLY living. And if you're starting to worry about yourself becoming boring, maybe take on a challenge or two for yourself on your off writing days . . . it'll give you more to write about.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The PERFECT Writing Quote

A popular post from March 2009

By Josi S. Kilpack

I love writing quotes and always tell myself I'm going to save them and have hundreds of them to look through at any given time. Sadly, this promise to myself is often lumped into the same category of "I will not eat sugar today" which really means "WHERE'S THE SUGAR!" and "Today, I'm going to do nothing but write." which really means "I'm going to feel bad about not writing, but at least my toilets will be clean." Therefore, I have no document full of writing quotes. But today I am writing and I wanted a quote to inspire me. I considered this one:

Writing is a lonely job, unless you're a drinker, in which case you always have a friend within reach. --Emilio Estivez

Unfortunately, I don't drink, hence I am lonely and this quote makes me feel worse. On to the next option:

For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can. --Ernest Hemingway

No kidding! But still not exactly what I'm looking for.

And all writing is creating or spinning dreams for other people so they won't have to bother doing it themselves. --Beth Henley

I don't know who Beth is, but now I'm depressed.

A young musician plays scales in his room and only bores his family. A beginning writer, on the other hand, sometimes has the misfortune of getting into print. --Marguerite Yourcenar

Let that further convince you to never read MY first book:

"The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding." -Francis Bacon

Uh, what? I'm going to have to keep looking. Meanwhile, which of these three best describe you today?

"I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper." -Steve Martin

"By writing much, one learns to write well." -Robert Southey

"There is no great writing, only great rewriting." -Justice Brandeis

"I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly." -Edgar Rice Burroughs

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Great Debate: Outline or Discover?

A popular post from March 2009

by Annette Lyon

You've likely heard the debate between two basic camps of writers: those who swear by outlining and those who shun it, instead discovering their story organically as they go.

Which is right?

Well, both. And neither.

Outliners swear by the idea that if you think through the entire story from start to finish, you'll be able to write a pretty solid book in your first draft. The story will have a better shape, it won't be directionless, and you won't waste time wandering around and driving into ruts and having to back up. A lot of Outliners say that thanks to detailed outlining, by the time they've finish a first draft of the actual book, it's pretty darn close to the final version.

Discoverers, on the flip side, don't want to be held down by a strict structure. They feel like half the joy in writing is finding out what happens right along with the characters. They do end up with several drafts this way as they find their way, and yes, a lot of what they might be considered a waste of time by Outliners, but they wouldn't have it any other way.

Do you have to pick a camp and set up your writing tent there? The good news is that no, you don't. There aren't just two camps, because the Outliner/Discoverer techniques are really two ends of one big spectrum. Most writers fall somewhere in the middle.

I personally lean just a teeny, tiny bit toward the Outliner side, but I'm pretty close to center.

I can't truly "outline" a book in detail. I tried once, and when I started the actual writing, the story fell flat. I'd already "lived" it, so to speak. The spark was gone.

On the other hand, any time I've gone into a story blind, without a clear idea of where I was heading, it's turned into unstructured mush.

The way I work is first having a clear story concept (what is this book about?). I need to know roughly where the story starts. I need to know where it'll end up. I must know several major landmarks along the way, including the major conflict/s, main characters, and several pivotal scenes.

That's it. I don't necessarily know how I'll get from one landmark to the next. My "outline" is pretty skeletal, but it's there in some form. As I write and "discover" an upcoming scene, I'll add it to the outline, such as it is.

This method is my writing method. Every writer's will be slightly different. The trick is finding what works for you. Let yourself discover where you fall on the spectrum.

Try outlining and see if it works for you. Remember that outlining is a spectrum concept. You don't have to write down every detail. Try different levels of outlines. Maybe you do need an outline--just not one as fleshed out as another writer's would be.

For example, if you don't know how you'll get your characters from scene B to scene C, no worries. Figure that out later. Not knowing the bridges doesn't mean you can't benefit from an outline.

On the other hand, maybe you'd benefit from trying your hand at Discovery writing. Maybe that works for you.

Or maybe you're a mixture of the two styles, falling slightly to one side over the other, like I am.

Try several styles and learn what "clicks."

Wherever you fall, don't let anyone tell you that your way is wrong or inferior. It's just different. It's YOU.

Monday, February 20, 2017

To begin is human . . .

A popular post from September 2009

By Heather Moore

I’ve been to many writers conference over the past eight years, and listened to maybe close to 100 presenters. I’m at the point where I’ve heard pretty much everything, so I rarely take notes anymore. Mostly I’m interested in publishing stories—as in how did this bestselling author get his/her start?

At the Book Academy conference held at Utah Valley University this past week, Brandon Sanderson was the keynote speaker. If you are a fantasy writer, for children, YA, or adult, his books are a must-read. He writes the Alcatraz series for middle-grade readers (they are hilarious for adults as well. Also, for you omniscient pov writers, this series is a classic example). He also writes epic fantasy. Elantris is his first published, and the Mistborn trilogy has propelled him to pretty much stardom. I'm dying to read Warbreaker, his newest release, but I'm trying to get my WIP progress drafted first.

Brandon talked about how he wrote novel after novel (I think it was 12-13) before he finally got his #6 book a publishing contract. When he heard from the editor who wanted to buy his book, he contacted an agent who he’d gotten to know over the years through various writers conferences. The agent signed him.

Brandon gave some advice on things he wished he would have known before he tried to follow market trends (which wasn’t successful for him). I won’t reiterate it here since I don’t want to plagiarize, although I did ask him if it was okay to blog about it. And I think he said yes. Or maybe I just told him I was going to, and he looked at me funny. I’m not sure (since when I'm around famous people I'm lucky to remember my name), so to be on the safe side, I’ll just tell you about one of the things he emphasized.

“Write what you like to READ.”

This sounds so simple, but when you really think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense. This can solve some of our writer’s angst when we are trying to think of a new genre to break into. Say you are published in historical fiction (like me!) and you see all of your friends getting huge advances in children’s lit. Hmmm. Should I switch genres? Catch the tide? Do I love children’s lit or am I just trying to copycat?

So I pause and ask myself: “What do I READ?” That’s the answer. If I don’t like to read what I’m writing, then guess what? The passion will fizzle out all too soon.

So, like Brandon, who decided to not follow the tide and write what he was passionate about (Epic Fantasy), I think I’ll do the same—not the same genre, but you know what I mean.

One last quote from Mr. Sanderson, which I thought about putting on my whiteboard in my office, but then didn’t want to be reminded of a big revision in my near future:

“To begin is human.
To finish is divine.
To revise is hell.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

Spinning Wheels

A popular post from October 2009

By Julie Wright

Madeleine L'Engle quoted someone who'd said her success hadn't affected her, and then said, "Hasn't it? Of course it has. It's made me free to go out and meet people without tangling in the pride which is an inevitable part of the sense of failure."

I get tangled in pride every now and again, but not the way you'd imagine. I don't sit there thinking of how amazing I am, or better than anyone else I am, simply because I have a few books published. My pride entangles me when I'm not accomplishing what I want--when I am failing.

I see other people accomplishing, achieving, reaching, and feel that inevitable bruising of pride--that sense of failure because I am mired in my own mediocrity. I don't feel like I'm moving forward.

Things sit too long, freezing under me and I start spinning my wheels on the ice; I sometimes take a step or two back instead of forward. Those steps back affect me a great deal more than any success. I withdraw into myself--feeling less worthy. I find myself unable to cheer anyone else on their journey because I am so centered on my own self--which makes me selfish.

This is what happens when I spin my wheels. I become selfish.

The only way to end the cycle is to find some traction, create enough friction, and start moving again. This doesn't always mean getting the agent, the contract, the movie deal. Sometimes finding traction just means to submit another manuscript, to write another word, to DO something--anything that moves you forward.

When moving forward, I find myself better able to step *outside* myself and encourage others to reach for their dreams as well. It allows me to be a better friend, a better mentor--a better person. When I feel like I am succeeding in even the smallest measure, that measure allows me to dream bigger, climb higher, take another step forward--which leads to another step . . . which leads . . .

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Nothing But Trouble

A popular post from September 2009

By Julie Wright

I read a book several years ago where the characters did a great job of avoiding trouble. They skirted around it in all sorts of creative ways, but never actually confronted trouble head on. I never finished the book. I gave it a good shot--way more than it deserved and read 200 pages before frustration took over and I gave up.

Nothing was happening. YAWN.

Your characters have to get into trouble because that's what creates conflict. Conflict is interesting. Trouble is interesting. Trouble can also be . . . well . . . trouble.

I don't know about you, but sometimes my characters are great at getting into major trouble, but not so great at getting out again. They can wind up in all sorts of huge calamities, the entire world can be falling to piece around them and I agonize over how to piece that world back together again.

Over time I've learned that if my characters can get into a fine mess, they'd better just get themselves out.

Convenience is a writer's enemy. It's tempting to help your characters out and throw them the olive branch of convenience, but you aren't doing them (or yourself) any favors. Convenience looks just like it is--too convenient. You lose your reader's trust when you start making your characters do things that don't make sense to the character you've developed. You can't betray the persona's you've created simply because you NEED the character to get up in the middle of the night and go downstairs for leftover cheesecake so they can overhear a conversation that will lead them to the murderer when your character is a deep sleeper and they're allergic to cheesecake.

Stay away from convenience.

And your character got into their own trouble . . . make them smart enough and resourceful enough to get out of it. We like characters who can think on their feet. The damsel in distress who always needs to be taken care of by the hunky hero is really not compelling. A butt-kickin' chick who can break out of her own prisons? She's someone we want to read about, even if it is her own fault she landed herself in prison.

Also stay away from false conflicts.

The kind where the character thinks they are in all kinds of life threatening peril but in reality the character's best friend is in control the whole time. It's the difference between the tummy tickle of a roller coaster while you're strapped into the train car and the tummy tickle you get when jumping out of an airplane dependant only on a parachute that you packed yourself. Did you pack it right? Do you know how soon to pull the cord? That is the parachute on your back, right? You didn't grab your backpack by mistake?

That real peril--way more interesting.

At least in books. I don't personally make habits out of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. I don't care who packed the chute.

Monday, February 13, 2017

When in Doubt: Kill Someone Off

A popular post from March 2009

By Josi S. Kilpack

They year is 1999.

The Place is my dining room in my house in Draper, Utah.

The book I'm working on is my first one, Earning Eternity

It happened like this.

I had never written a book before, but had spent the last two months creating this story. I was having a dang good time and loving what I was created, but I'd hit an impasse. I didn't know what came next. I had built conflict, but it wasn't enough. I had great characters, but they weren't enough either. I was faced with that 2/3 sag, where you're not quite ready to end the story, but you're running out of steam. I thought about some of my favorite books, trying to figure out what those authors did. That's when it came to me.

I broke into tears, pushed away from the table and stopped writing for the day. The next day I sat back down, let my fingers hover over the keys and burst into tears again. I couldn't do it. I was a mother, I had a son of my own. I couldn't do it.

Another day passed and I just knew--I just knew that if I didn't do this the book would suffer. To be true to the entire structure of a novel, I had to let my character suffer--REALLY suffer. So I did it. I wrote the car accident that led to the head trauma that led to the death of Kim's son. I cried the whole time.

My husband came home from work and my eyes were red and swollen.

"What happened?"

"Jackson died."

"WHAT?" (Jackson was also the name of a boy in our neighborhood)

"Jackson, in my book, he died."

Husband freezes and looks at me like I'm an alien life form (no worries, I've gotten used to it since then--happens all the time these days) "Huh?"

So I explain it to him; how Jackson's death was necessary, but it broke my heart, and it's just so sad and I'd been really upset about it. I start crying again as I try to explain. He thinks I've truly lost my mind (who's to say I haven't?)

It was my first fictional death, and it hurt to know that I'd done it. And yet, when the book was done I knew that I'd been right--the story did need it. The sacrifice had paid off, never mind the heart ache.

Since then I've become a regular serial killer of characters. Some are important characters, some are just 'props' we don't need anymore. They've died in a myriad of ways, and while I don't usually cry anymore, that's not because it's easy. I don't like random acts of violence any more than the next person, however, in the case of writing a good book-well, there are just times when somebody has to die. Here's why.

Death challenges the deepest fears that we, as humans have. Even those of us with a religious bent worry about death--the mess, the other side, the people left behind. Death is painful on many levels, and that being the case it's a powerful tool of manipulation. That's what we do, you know, we manipulate people into thinking and feeling what we want them to think and feel. Don't try and deny it--you know it's true. And while there are hundreds of ways to create this manipulation of our readers (kissing scenes, rain, tearful goodbyes, vampires that glisten in the sunlight) there are few quite as powerful as death--be it the bad guy getting shot in the head, the hero's lover falling victim to small pox, or, as in my first book, an only child dying as a result of a bad idea gone horribly wrong.

There is also a sense of relief about death that you can't get through other means of character torture--with death you know that that character's life is over, and then the remaining characters need to rebuild without that person. It's a huge 'change' that can then grow new conflicts and direction for your story. Even the bad guy getting what he deserves provides opportunities of reflection and growth. Because death is so difficult, your readers are hungry to see the remaining characters cope and grow because of this adversity, giving you a whole new tool belt of tactics to use for the rest of your story. Bad guys are made worse when they kill someone, and good guys are made gooder when they triumph over such tragedy.

You are likely reading this with one of two reactions--you're either nodding, thinking about some great death scenes you've read or written, or you're thinking I'm a little tipped in the head. Don't feel bad, I'm the last one to say I'm not tipped, but I will say that when I reach those parts of my books where I'm feeling it sag, or I need to get the story started but not sure how to get those first pages in there with enough action to hold my reader, the first thing I do is look around at my characters and see who is dispensable. That's not to say I don't shed a tear now and again--I'm not completely heartless--but you never know when death might be the very thing to save your story.