Friday, March 31, 2017
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 naïve hope, that you are presenting your best work.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
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
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.
Friday, March 24, 2017
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
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
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.
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
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:
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.
- Moving the plot forward.
- Setting the Tone
- Revealing the character
- Building relationships
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
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:
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.
- Moving the plot forward.
- Setting the Tone
- Revealing the character
Monday, March 13, 2017
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:
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.
- Moving the plot forward.
- Setting the Tone
Friday, March 10, 2017
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:
- 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.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
by Annette Lyon
- 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.
Monday, March 6, 2017
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.