Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's A Wonderful Life

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. ~Burton Hillis

Writers are lucky. We have our regular families, and we have a writing family.

This year it's been fun witnessing blogger buddies publish books, snag agents, start and finish books, and support each other.

As we near the end of 2010, it's a great time to look back on our accomplishments. Some were large, some were small, but each one is worth celebrating.

The writing life is a wonderful life, and I'm thankful I've become a part of yours.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Grinch Who Stole Confidence

My confidence sparkled beneath my tree
The words kept me going, and helped me believe

It was wrapped up all pretty and tied with a bow
"You can do it, You're Awesome, Yay, Way to Go!"

Faith in my writing soon disappeared
Replaced with belief that my words were all weird

The chatter grew louder, it banged in my head
The Grinch stole my pluck, left my writing for dead

"Back away, Grinch!" I shouted with verve
"You can't take my faith, nor my courage and nerve!"

"I'll fall, to be sure, that's part of the game.
What you're doing is cruel, and your costume is lame."

He slipped up my chimney, scurried out like a mouse
I kept his cute doggie, cuz hey, it's my house

Words peeked through his bag, dumped without care
"You'd better not quit. No, don't you dare."

And so writer friends, shouldn't we know?
Hang tight to your confidence, don't let it go!

Has the Grinch ever stolen your confidence?
How did you snatch it back from the green beast?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Gift of Patience

Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, and scorn in the one ahead. - Mac McCleary

This holiday season, my wish for each of us is to receive the gift of patience.

Patience with the outside world
We'll drive through jammed streets, and battle for parking spaces. Some of us might visit a crowded mall and experience stressed out store clerks.

Patience with the writing world
We've all learned that the publishing industry moves at a glacial pace. Agents and editors are regular people with their own families and traditions to attend to. We might not receive the news we want at the time we want (a great post about this here).

Patience with ourselves
We do the best we can with the time we have. We may write about super heroes or extraordinary powers, but that's fiction. If we picture ourselves in slow motion, enjoying our friends and family, perhaps we'll cherish the season a bit more.

In the words of Benjamin Disraeli, "Patience is a necessary ingredient of genius." Do you struggle with patience at this time of year, or do you take it all in stride?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Exposition Blues

Exposition: a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory.

Try not to laugh. When I first joined my critique group, I was told I'd written too much exposition. I nodded, as if I knew what that meant, then went home and looked it up in the dictionary. So much for being a woman of words!

Now that I know what it means (ahem), I work hard to avoid information dumps. In Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell outlines these rules to avoid exposition:
  1. Act first, explain later. Begin with a character in motion. Readers won't demand to know everything up front. You can drop in information as necessary.
  2. When you explain, do the iceberg. Don't tell us everything about the character's past history or current situation. Give us the 10% above the surface that is necessary to understand what's going on. Keep the other 90% a mystery.
  3. Set information inside confrontation. Using the character's thoughts or words, you can drip, drip, drip crucial information for the reader.
When reading novels, I'm fine with not knowing all the reasons why something is happening. I store clues in my brain, knowing their purpose will be revealed later. Once the puzzle is pieced together, it's such a satisfying feeling.

Do you ever experience the Exposition Blues? If so, what's your cure?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fun With Book Dedications

The above book dedication was from A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh, to his wife Daphne. How sweet is that?

Do you ever wonder what you'll write as your book dedication when you're published? And if you're published, do you wonder who you'll dedicate your next book to?

There's no doubt I'll dedicate mine to my husband and three sons. They're the loves of my life, and they put up with my head-in-the-cloud forgetfulness too often (missed my kids dentist appointments...twice!)

And if I were being quirky, I'd dedicate my book to the following:
  • To my Sparkletts guy. Thanks for delivering water to my home in the boonies. I guzzle it every day while I'm pecking away on the keyboard.
  • To Lifesavers. Your delicious hard candies are my constant companion when I'm writing (less white ones in the bag, please).
  • To Colin Firth. Thanks for playing Mr. Darcy, and for wearing that white shirt in the lake scene.
There you have it. My someday dedication, and my goofy ones. How about you? What would be your real and/or quirky book dedications?

photo credit: google images

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Ac-count-a-ble: required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible

I was nervous about coming out of the closet as a writer. Before anyone knew, it wasn't embarrassing if I failed. It didn't matter if I finished manuscripts and submitted them to agents or editors.

When I finally came out, my family and friends were encouraging. And now that I'm blogging, the support has multiplied in amazing ways. Making it known that I'm writing and seeking publication also made me accountable. Some benefits of accountability are:
  • Motivation: if we know that other people are keeping track of and monitoring our actions, we're motivated to produce. When we belong to a critique group, we're encouraged to write fresh pages. This keeps us moving forward.
  • Improvement: when we're accountable, we work harder. When we work harder, our writing improves. No matter where we are in our writing lives, there's always room for advancement.
  • Relationships: accountability promotes good working relationships. Our critique partners trust us, and vice versa. There's a sense of teamwork around each project we work on together.
  • Courage: it's not easy putting ourselves out there. We pour our hearts and souls on the page, then offer it up for a thumbs up or thumbs down. This helps strengthen our body armor.
When we're accountable, others are watching us. The good thing is, people are there to lift us up when we fail, and they'll help celebrate when we succeed.

How about you? Do you find that being accountable helps with your writing?

photo credit: google images

Saturday, December 4, 2010

No Pressure!

I'm reading "Writing Magic" by Gail Carson Levine (thanks, Julie Hedlund!). Levine lists these easy-to-f0llow rules for writing:
  1. The best way to write better is to write more.
  2. The best way to write better is to write more.
  3. The best way to write better is to write more. (Hmmm, I'm noticing a pattern)
  4. Write whenever you can, even if it's only for five minutes.
  5. Read. (We all love reading, right?)
  6. Reread a beloved book. (I should do this more often)
  7. Save everything you write, even if you don't like it. Levine suggests keeping everything for at least 15 years. (Wow)
Levine's first three rules got me thinking: she says write more, but doesn't say we must write every day. Semantics?

I try writing every day, but it's not always possible. Does that make me less of a writer? Not so, says Elana Johnson in her post Don't Write Every Day.

And according to the post Don't Write Often, if we're only producing volume, without improving our skills, we're not helping ourselves.

It's important that we hang on to the joy of writing. As Levine suggests, we can sharpen our skills, read great stories, and add words to the page on a regular basis. All without putting too much pressure on ourselves.

How often do you write? If it's not every day, do you feel guilty?

photo credit: google images

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Creating a Splash!

Today's post is all about Talli Roland. Her book, The Hating Game, released today!

Talli is one heck of a blogger, and a huge supporter of writers. Let's see if we can cause the folks at Amazon to scratch their heads in disbelief at how quickly Talli's book climbs up the list.


When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £2000,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

Sounds awesome, right? I can totally picture this as a movie. Plus, doesn't everything sound better with a British accent?

The Hating Game on

The Hating Game on

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Plot Road Blocks

The other night I was cruising along with my NaNoWriMo project. Then I hit a plot road block.

I'd written through my prepared index cards. I knew where I was headed, I just didn't know how I wanted to get there. I was lost, and realized a few kinks needed to be worked out.

There's conflicting advice on how to handle this. Some say we should work straight through it. Write anything, and eventually we'll work our way out of it. Others say we should put on the brakes: take a walk, go for a run, or shut down everything and take a breather.

I followed the latter advice. I didn't want to write gibberish that would have to be slashed and burned later. I stepped away from the keyboard, curled back against a big pillow, and watched a chick flick. It was the perfect fix.

By the following morning I'd already prepared a fresh stack of index cards. With my new road map before me, I was cruising ahead in the right direction.

How do you handle writing speed bumps or road blocks? I'd love to hear your solutions.

photo credits: google images

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Writers Giving Thanks

We give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. ~Author Unknown

As Thanksgiving draws near, it's a great time to reflect on what we're thankful for. I'm sure the blogosphere will be 'stuffed' with many fabulous posts about giving thanks, and I'll add this one to the table.

There are constants in my regular life that I'm grateful for -- faith, family, and good health. Here are some things we can be thankful for in our writing lives:
  • Evolving skills. We're not the same writers we were 12 months ago. Published or unpublished, we're constantly learning and growing.
  • Seeking publication in this time of amazing opportunities. The industry is shifting before our eyes, and new avenues for publication are opening up.
  • The blogging community. We all learn from each other, and I love how we're on this wild ride together. Bloggers and Tweeters are so generous with information and inspiration.
In your regular life and/or your writing life (and whether or not you celebrate the American holiday) what are you thankful for this year?

Sorry about the questionable photo. I couldn't resist!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Writers, let's flex some muscle!

Hey Ryan, writers have muscles too.

Here are a few ways writers can flex their writing muscles (in front of a computer, not a mirror):
  • Create a character that's a wee bit unlikable. Getting the reader to care about them isn't an easy task.
  • Play with point of view. First to third? Third to first? Alternating?
  • Consider changing the tense. Past to present, or vice versa. Staying on "tense alert" keeps us on our toes.
  • If we're used to writing a female pov, we can try telling the story from a guy's point of view.
  • Twist our regular genre into a pretzel. Dipping our toes into unfamiliar territory can be daunting, and exciting.
With my current manuscript, I'm definitely stretching my writing muscles. They say, "Nothing is wasted," and I believe that. This project is giving my skills a good workout.
Can you share any tips on how we can flex our writing muscles?

And feel free to stick around and stare at Ryan Reynolds.

photo credit: Google Images

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Brilliant Character Development

I recently read two novels by John Green: An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska.

Here's one thing I learned about Green: when it comes to character development, he's brilliant. I mean seriously, he described several characters between the two books and I wasn't even a little bit confused. Each character had quirky habits, unique traits, and endearing vulnerabilities. Green's descriptions were not released in a flood of information. They were drip, drip, dripped as each story unfolded.

In my quest to improve character development, I've stumbled upon these helpful posts:
And if, like me, you're feeling a little un-John Greenish (new word), check out this post and read "How do you deal with writer's block?" It'll make your rough draft seem less horrible. I promise.

Have you read any of John Green's books? And what's your favorite tip for developing characters? Please share!

photo credits: Barnes and Noble

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Repairing A Jalopy

This is not a photo of our actual motorhome. No, this is my dream motorhome.

You see, our motorhome is more like a 32-foot-long jalopy, circa 1988. Having an older motorhome means we've made plenty of fond memories while stuck in oddball towns. The kids and I take in the local scenery as my husband digs through the motor, trying to figure out how to repair it.

The beautiful thing is, he always figures it out (my husband is a mechanical genius...but I digress). Each time he repairs our motorhome he gets to know it a little more. He learns what makes it tick, and what each noise is trying to tell him.

I liken it to reading through an early draft. It might squeak or hiss. It might wobble or thump. But as we read through it each time, we get to know it a little better. We figure out what's wrong, and if we don't know how to fix it, we'll learn. (Click here for Nathan Bransford's Revision Checklist.)

The beauty of a jalopy is this: we can enjoy it over and over again, making repairs along the way. We can polish it until it shines (almost) like my dream motorhome!

How do you feel about the revision process? Do you enjoy getting to know your manuscript better?

photo credit:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More than a four-day weekend

Our family is busy preparing for a camping trip over the coming holiday weekend. I'm guilty of tackling my mundane tasks without focusing on the "why" of this four-day weekend.

As we celebrate Veteran's Day this Thursday, November 11th, it's a good time to remember and appreciate those who volunteer to protect us.

Do you have a friend or family member who's a veteran or who's currently serving? I'd love to hear their story.

In the meantime, if you're feeling patriotic, check out these powerful videos:

"I Just Came Back From A War" by Darryl Worley

Courtesy of Jemi Fraser, a group of Canadian country artists sing "Standing Tall and True"

In the "Always makes me cry" category, Faith Hill sings our national anthem

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What We Hear vs. What's Said

Is it just me, or is it sometimes difficult to really hear what others are saying?

A critique partner might say, "I like your beginning, but this scene isn't believable."

We hear, "Your writing stinks. I had to hold my nose while reading your manuscript."

Another reader might say, "Your characters are likable, but I think you need to flesh them out a little more."

We hear, "You are SO not a writer. A real writer would have nailed the characters in draft one."

A writer friend might say, "Good luck with your revisions."

We hear, "Yeah, good luck with that pile of scrap paper."

When our writer friends sandwich the good comments around the not-so-good, it's easy to focus only on the parts that don't work. It would help if we also remember to appreciate what we did right.

No manuscript is perfect on the first draft, but I have to believe that most are loaded with nuggets of good stuff. We just have to sort it all out.

How about you? Do you tend to focus on the negative comments instead of the positive?

photo credit: flickr

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Strong Foundations

Foundation: A body or ground on which other parts rest or are overlaid

Whether we're building a home or a novel, if we stack upon a weak foundation, the product will suffer. What makes a strong story foundation? Here's what I've learned:
  • Start with a three act structure
  • Create strong characters who readers will care about
  • Envision a setting that is rich with sensory details
  • In the early stages of Act 1, preferably on the first page, the main character should experience a disturbance to their regular life
  • The transition from Act 1 to Act 2 happens when the MC is thrust into the middle of the story
  • The middle of the story, Act 2, is a series of complications for the MC (I like to create a "make 'em suffer" list for this section)
  • The transition from Act 2 to Act 3 happens when the MC reaches a point of no return
  • Act 3 is the climax and denouement (add a twist!)
  • Revise your story until it's so awesomely amazing that readers will line up around the block to demand a sequel. Well, this one probably doesn't belong, but I like the sound of it.
I realize this is an overly simplified list. What tips can you share for creating a strong story foundation?

photo credit: google images

Saturday, October 30, 2010

NaNoWriMo -- Wicked Trick or Awesome Treat?

Fifty thousand words in thirty days. Writers all over the world are preparing to step up to the challenge that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Are you one of them?

Last year was my first time, and I fell in love. It's crazy and exciting. It can also be intimidating, so my approach is to do what I can. If I win the challenge, great. If not, well, there's no down side for me.

I love the whole togetherness of it all. Thousands of us burning up our keyboards with the same goal, pushing and encouraging each other.

If you haven't seen these yet, here are some great links for getting prepped:
I'm a planner by nature, so I've plotted and written a loose outline. My index cards are filled out, stacked, and ready to go.

Are you in? If you want to buddy me, I'm at Julie Musil. I hope to see you there, and good luck in November!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Censoring Yourself

Have you ever been in the middle of writing and thought No, I shouldn't write that. Your fingers hovered above the keyboard. It's risky, and so and so might not like it.

We're annoyed at the idea of published books being pulled off the shelves. Would Speak exist without rape? Would The Hunger Games be as powerful without violence? Or would 13 Reasons Why be so gut-wrenching without teen suicide? I'm glad these authors wrote from their heart and nudged the censor out the door.

When I'm writing, sometimes my inner censor watches over my shoulder. She warns me that my idea is stupid, and she whispers in my ear, "Who do you think you're kidding?" At times, she might even say, "This subject shouldn't be brought up."

I try not to listen to the voices. I squelch my inner censor and write my first draft the way I want, knowing revisions will smooth things out. Plus, I remind myself that not everyone will like what I write. Just like I don't read vampire or Harry Potter books (*Gasp!* Please don't throw virtual tomatoes).

Do you struggle with silencing your inner censor? Or do you listen to the censor, hoping it'll steer you down the best path?

photo credit: flickr

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Preacher's Bride

I recently finished THE PREACHER'S BRIDE by Jody Hedlund, and felt like I'd said farewell to a good friend. The story still lingers in my mind.

From the back cover:

No matter the sacrifice,
Elizabeth Whitbread would serve a wounded family.
No matter the danger,
John Costin was determined to speak God's word.
Neither expected to fall in love.
As enemies threaten to silence Costin--and those close to him--will following their hearts cost John and Elizabeth everything?

I was fascinated to read the following in the author's note:

"The Preacher's Bride is inspired by the real-life story of one of history's greatest heroes of the faith, John Bunyan, writer of the classic Pilgrim's Progress. While history gives due laud to John, it fails to recognize the woman who stood by his side and helped shape him into the hero we all know and love."

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I loved this book. It was beautifully written and meticulously researched. I felt like I was in that time and place, living in a land where there was no such thing as religious freedom.

Reviews for The Preacher's Bride can be viewed here. Have you read this book yet? What's your opinion?

Be sure to visit Jody's amazing blog where she offers equal doses of encouragement, writing tips, and reality.

photo credit: Amazon

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Red pencil time?

In his book Plot & Structure James Scott Bell suggests we tell ourselves the following before we slash our first draft with a red pencil:
  • Rewriting strategically is only going to strengthen my book.
  • Rewriting strategically is fun because I know what to do for each step.
  • Rewriting is what separates the real pros from the wannabes.
  • I don't wannabe a wannabe. I wanna be a pro. (I love this one! Must be said while stomping your feet.)
Bell suggests we print the manuscript on paper, then find a quiet place to power through the book. He marks up his manuscripts using the following symbols:
  • A checkmark for pages where he feels the story is dragging.
  • Parentheses around incomprehensible sentences. (Huh? I have those? Yep.)
  • A circle in the margin where he thinks material needs to be added.
  • A question mark for material he thinks might need to be cut. (My poor darlings!)
My manuscript is still in cool-down mode, but I've sharpened my red pencil & I'm ready to make the book better.

How about you? What revision tips can you share?

photo credit: flickr

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's AJC Day!

Alex J. Cavanaugh day, that is. His book, CassaStar, releases today!

CassaStar is a mixture of science fiction, adventure, and space opera. How awesome is that? You can check out the cool book trailer here.

Library Journal says CassaStar "...calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein's early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars."

Congratulations, Alex! Your blogging buddies couldn't be happier for you.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Celebrating "The End"

Only those that dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly - Robert F. Kennedy

A few days ago I finished the first draft of my novel. It's time to set it aside for awhile and let it cool, while I collect comments and suggestions from my amazing critique group.

As you all know, finishing a novel is a monumental task. The moment should be savored and appreciated. How did I celebrate this accomplishment? I cleaned my neglected house. Yes, that's how I roll.

How ugly will my revisions be? I don't know yet. I never looked back while I was writing, so draft #2 will be interesting. But as James Michener said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."

How do you celebrate once you've finished a manuscript? Do you open a bottle of bubbly? Do you dine at a fancy restaurant? Do you imagine the millions you'll earn from the movie rights? Please share so I can live vicariously through my exciting blogger buddies.

Did you read Tahereh's guest post about The Nine Stages of Dating a Novel? From lust to infidelity to love, it's all in there!

photo credit: google images

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kids and Classics

My 13-year-old son grumbled about his Language Arts teacher. She had told his class,"You must read from this list of classics."

My son loves reading nonfiction: medieval weaponry, The Dangerous Book for Boys, and survival techniques by Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild. I looked ahead to his eighth grade year as one of frustration, tying him to a chair while he choked down classic literature.

One evening we sat together at the computer--his list in front of us. Last summer we read Old Yeller together, and he loved it. From Renaissance Learning, we found out the word count of Old Yeller (35k, in case you're wondering).

We found several books on his list, similar in length, that my son is excited about reading. He read half of The Outsiders over the weekend, telling me this morning about one of the "sad ironies" of the story (go figure). Next he'll read Fahrenheit 451.

It pained me when my son was upset about having to read, and yet I understood how he felt. I like reading certain genres, but was forced by my English teacher to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm thankful, since it remains one of my favorite books.

Fortunately, my son has opened up to reading about subjects other than spears, gladiators, and drinking your own urine. Perhaps one day he might even be glad his teacher gave him the dreaded list.

What's been your experience with kids reading classics? If you're a parent, did your child resist? Or were you a child who resisted?

photo credit: Barnes and Noble

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Leaky Faucet vs. Tidal Wave

Are you the type of writer who sits at the keyboard for hours while the story gushes out of you? Or are you like me, the leaky faucet who drip, drip, drips their way to a finished manuscript?

Some writers literally can't stop themselves when they're writing. I'm not that type of writer. Little by little my wip is dripping its way toward the first draft finish line. It hasn't been a speedy process, but I'm okay with that.

I appreciate the cooling-off time between writing sessions. My brain doesn't work fast enough to pour all that out at once, and I need a little down time in order to refill my creative well.

How about you? Are you a tidal wave writer, a leaky faucet, or somewhere in the middle?

In case you missed it, please read this guest post by Elana Johnson over at Adventures in Children's Publishing. Elana defines perseverance, and I'm always inspired by her story. Elana says,

"Publishing a book is not a race where the winners come in first. It’s not important WHEN you finish, just that you DO. Oh, and one more thing: Your journey is your own. It won’t look or feel like mine. It shouldn’t. Don’t compare journeys. Just be grateful you can take one more step."

photo credit: flickr

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Conquering Writer's Block

Each day, writers are blessed with the opportunity to do what they love. They also leap over hurdles such as doubt, writer's block, and procrastination. The writer might think, I need inspiration, I don't know what I'm doing, or should I stick with this story?

K.M. Weiland just released her cd, "Conquering Writer's Block and Summoning Inspiration." She breaks down topics into bite-sized, easy-to-swallow pieces. She understands our joys, fears and frustrations, and offers practical tips on how we can become better writers.

Some of her other topics are "Daydream or Die," "Why You Should be Writing Scared," and "Why no writer knows what he's doing."

You can purchase K.M.'s series here. And don't forget to stop by her blog, Word Play, any time. There's always useful pieces of information and encouragement floating around on her site.


photo credit: K.M. Weiland

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Capturing Ideas

Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole' boys drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin' this will be the day that I die...

I love this song. I don't mind if it replays in my mind all day. Other songs, I wish they'd leave my brain. Like the Barney song ("I love you, you love me"), or The Map song from Dora the Explorer ("If there's a place you wanna go, I'm the one you need to know").

Like songs, ideas ping in my head. So many ideas for fiction and nonfiction that I'm sure I'll never be able to write about them all. But I don't want to let those ideas fly out the window while I'm driving. What if I forget it later? What if that idea is "the one?"

I trap those ideas before they escape. I have a large 3-ring binder with several dividers. I've created sections for nonfiction, fiction, characters, setting, sensory details, etc. I have notebook paper scattered throughout my house, and I write the ideas down when they come to me. Then I file them away for future use.

How do you catch your ideas before they disappear? And what songs attach themselves to your brain like mold, refusing to let go?

I wanted to share some good news: I just received an acceptance from Highlights magazine! After many rejections, it was exciting to see an envelope with "contract" stamped on the outside.

photo credit: flickr

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


an·tag·o·nize - to act in opposition to; oppose

I'm rounding the final corner in the first draft of my wip. One of the many things I'll tidy up in revision is my antagonist. Right now he's flat and unexciting, and I doubt I've done a good job fleshing out his reasons for being such a jerk.

Antagonists play a huge role in our novels since their job is to stand in our main character's way. Here are some of the things I've learned about antagonists:
  • They don't have to be evil. They simply need a darn good reason for stopping the Lead.
  • There needs to be something that glues the Lead to the antagonist. Why can't they simply walk away from each other?
  • The antagonist should be as strong or stronger than the Lead.
After my first draft has cooled, I'll revise with the following questions in mind:
  • Is my antagonist interesting?
  • Is he fully realized?
  • Is he justified in his actions?
  • Is he believable?
The Blood-Red Pencil had an excellent post about creating compelling characters. Do you have any advice for me when it comes to antagonists? Please share!

photo credit: google images

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Greener Grass

The grass is always greener on the other side, even in the writing world. We look at other writers and think, I wish I was there already.

Those working on their first drafts wish their wips were polished.
Those with polished manuscripts wish their queries were perfect.
The unagented wish they had agents.
The agented wish they had a book deal.
The published wish they had higher sales.
Best-selling authors wish they had a movie deal.
Round and round it goes.

With the right attitude, this can work in our favor. It gives us something to strive for while we're pecking away on the keyboard. Without the proper perspective, this could bring us down, making us feel as if we don't measure up.

I read somewhere that goals are dreams with deadlines. I think it's okay to look past where we are and work our tails off to get to the other side. As long as we understand there are weeds in that greener grass, because there are. In case you missed it, Nathan Bransford wrote an interesting post about When Dreams Become Expectations.

Am I where I want to be with my writing career? No. But even though the grass I'm standing on has a few weeds here and there, it feels pretty good under my feet. How about you?

photo credit: flickr

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Big Lie

"Writers are born. You either have what it takes or you don't, and if you don't you'll never get it." - James Scott Bell, from Plot & Structure.

Bell calls this The Big Lie. He'd always wanted to write, but didn't think he had what it took. Then he immersed himself in books on craft, putting techniques into practice. He wrote screenplays, which were optioned. He wrote novels, which were published. He proved The Big Lie was just that...a lie.

If we want our writing to break through, Bell offers the following tips for coaching ourselves to publication:
  1. Get motivated. Write an inspirational statement and tape it to the computer. Read books and author bios and imagine your picture on the back cover. Take writing seriously.
  2. Try stuff. Reading about writing won't make us better writers. We grow when we learn how to do something, then actually do it.
  3. Stay loose. When we're anxious about our writing, it shows on the page. We need to loosen up and let our creativity have its way with us.
  4. "First get it written, then get it right." For me, this makes all the difference in the world. Our job with the first draft is to get the story down. Author/Agent Mandy Hubbard wrote a great post about this here.
  5. Set a quota. Bell suggests a word quota instead of a time limit, since minutes can easily tick by while the writer stares at a blank screen. He quotes Peter DeVries who once said, "I only write when I'm inspired, and I make sure I'm inspired every morning at 9 a.m."
  6. Don't give up. We've all heard that the difference between successful and unsuccessful writers is persistence. Bell reminds us to keep writing.
I used to believe The Big Lie, but not anymore. How about you?

Now that you've read Bell's encouraging words, check out why you probably still suck as a writer over at Read it all the way to the end...there are some gems in there!

photo credit: flickr

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Just For Fun

Recently, someone on the radio posed this question: what advice would you give your 15-year-0ld self?

Would you offer guidance about peer pressure, bullies, high expectations, or high-waisted jeans?

I'd tell myself to travel a little bit before buying a house. I was 21 when I took on a mortgage, and although it was a sound decision, I think a couple of years of whimsy never hurt anyone...much.

I'd also tell myself to take my writing hobby seriously. I'd suggest digging in to that diary I kept, and turning those nuggets into a piece of fiction. I'd even go so far as to suggest sending that manuscript off to an agent or editor. It's never to late to start, or too early.

Just for fun, what would you tell yourself at that age? If you turned down Bill Gates when he asked you to the junior prom, that definitely counts!

photo credit: flickr

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Unlikable Characters

Have you ever read a book where you disliked the main character? That's how I felt when I began reading BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver. Samantha Kingston was a horrible person, and I didn't care if she lived or died.

Lauren Oliver wrote an amazing story with an unforgettable character arc. By the end of the book, I did care whether or not Samantha survived. As she lived her own Groundhog Day experience, I found myself wishing for a happy ending for Samantha. This was an excellent book, and if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it.

In Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell states, "What makes a plot truly memorable is not all of the action, but what the action does to the character. We respond to the character who changes, who endures the crucible of the story only to emerge a different person at the end."

Love 'em or hate 'em, when we're passionate about a character it means the writer did a great job of developing a pretend person that feels real and stirs up strong emotions.

Do you remember a character you didn't like, but who won your heart by the final chapter?

photo credits: Barnes & Noble

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Next Generation Remembers 9/11

Today our sons were among a group of scouts who planted flags in honor of the victims of 9/11. Even after we explained the reason for this memorial, I doubt our sons truly understood why they were there. After the flags were planted, they couldn't wait to untuck their shirts and play in the dirt.

Maybe it's impossible to comprehend something horrible unless you were there, or witnessed the events unfold on television. The bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, and 9/11--if you were around when these events happened, it's likely you remember exactly where you were when you first heard the news.

On September 11, 2001 I was home with our three sons. The boys who planted flags today were only 19 months old and our oldest was 4. My husband, a firefighter, called from his Los Angeles fire station and told me the shocking news. I'll never forget it.

Do you remember where you were when you first learned about the attack? And did you know any of the victims? Please share your story.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When Writers Remember

Today our three boys started school. As a mom, I did the usual things such as cut the tags off their new shoes and laced them up, wrote their names in backpacks and on lunch pails, and took photos of their first morning.

For kids, their first day includes completely different rituals. They meet up with friends they didn't see all summer, jockey for position within their new classes, and size up their teachers.

A few months back I attended a writer's day, where Libba Bray was one of the speakers. Something she said stuck with me: as writers, we should remember what it was like when we were younger. What was it like on the first day of 5th, 8th, or 12th grade?

I remember scuff-free shoes, new pee-chee folders and sharp pencils. I remember hideous haircuts, short boys and tall girls. I remember friends who had gotten new braces over the summer, and girls who had increased cup sizes in just a couple of months.

Memories can be exciting, embarrassing, or painful. But when we remember, and pour those emotions on the page, it makes us better writers.

What memories jump out at you from first days of school? Please share the good, the bad, and the ugly!

photo credit: google images

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Distractions, distractions ... SQUIRREL!

How do you handle distractions?

Do you power through them without glancing away from your screen? Do your fingers fly across the keyboard while the world races around you?


Do you stop writing to answer the phone? Do you read new emails the moment they arrive? Do you glance at each tweet as it pops up on your screen, and click on the awesome linkage?

Me, I'm in the second category. I'm a bit like Doug from the movie UP. I'm easily tempted to lose focus and move on to whatever dangles in front of me.

Ooh! A new email!

Where was I? Oh yes, distractions.

Thanks to Christine Fonseca, I learned about Dr. Wicked and his amazing Write or Die program. Am I the last writer in the world to hear about this?

I used it yesterday and fell in love. Before signing on, I planned where I was going with my story (for me, a crucial step). I shut down my email and Twitter pages. I entered my word count goal, set the timer, and clicked write. What a rush! Watching the screen turn from pink to red when I lingered too long was a great motivator. It's the perfect cure for my short attention span.

Would this work well for revisions? I don't think so. But for a first draft, it was perfect.

Do you struggle with distractions? And if you've used Write or Die, what's your opinion?

photo credit:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"We're not worthy!"

Are you part of a critique group? I am, and sometimes I feel I need to pull a Wayne and Garth - you know, bow down and exclaim, "I'm not worthy!"

My group is loaded with talented writers, including Lisa Green. They're so great that I read their pages and think, no way is this their first draft (between you and me, I think Lisa submits her 10th draft...just sayin'). Meanwhile, I'm submitting my clunky first draft (shudder) and gobbling up their feedback.

I love learning from other writers. If part of my job includes dissecting the words of Suzanne Collins or Jodi Picoult, then I'm a lucky girl. If you missed it, there was a great post on Query Tracker about learning from the masters.

I'm thankful I'm surrounded by amazing critique partners, and that they're willing to improve my work. We each bring something unique to the table, and are worthy of some writerly give and take.

How about you? When you read someone else's awesome words, do you feel like jumping off a bridge, or are you inspired to sharpen your skills? And in your opinion, who is a master storyteller?

Just for smiles, check out this video by author Jen Hayley. It'll make your day!

photo credit:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Inner Editor...QUIET PLEASE!

Is your inner editor anything like mine?

Right now, she's peering over my shoulder and staring at my wip on the screen. She's poking at me, trying to convince me to hit delete over and over again. She's such a nag, and I really must get rid of her.

I have plans for my inner editor: they involve duct tape, a shovel, and the national forest. Here are some other ideas for how to handle our inner editors.

I've plotted, I've planned, and I'm working hard to get the first draft of my story down. I know the clunky bits can be fixed in revision, so why am I trying to make things perfect? According to this, my inner editor is trying to protect me. She's only allowed to protect me after I've finished my first draft!

Does your inner editor pester you while you're writing? If so, how do you kick it to the curb until you're ready for it?

photo credit: flickr