Saturday, January 29, 2011

What writers can learn from The Bachelor

I'm a romantic, or sucker, who watches The Bachelor each season. With great hope I view hot tub scenes, dream getaways, and tearful breakups.

My time with The Bachelor is not a complete waste. There's *ahem* valuable lessons to be learned from this guilty pleasure:
  • Rejection stings--in both the dating and publishing worlds. As writers, if the editor or agent we're pursuing doesn't love us back, we need to move on (or try again later with stronger material).
  • Image matters--when the women first step out of the limo and are introduced to The Bachelor, they're creating an impression. As writers, our image matters. Online, or in person at a conference, we should be aware of what we're projecting.
  • We will make mistakes--Jake and Vienna anyone? Gaffes are embarrassing, but writers improve by building upon lessons learned.
  • Some people hit the jackpot--Allie and Roberto. *sigh* Their battle to find each other was tough, but their romantic dreams came true. Writer bonanzas happen all around us with blogger buddies securing agents and publishing contracts.
  • We should aim high--not all 30 women will win The Bachelor's heart, but that doesn't prevent them from trying. Not all writers will achieve the same level of success, but that won't keep us from pursuing a perfect love match with readers.
Fess you watch The Bachelor? If not, what's your guilty pleasure?

On a similar topic, check out this post on How Querying Agents Is Like the American Idol Auditions.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Find and Replace

Modern writers are lucky. We have techie tools at our disposal, such as Find and Replace. If Jane Austen had originally named her main character Mr. Rogers instead of Mr. Darcy (gasp!), imagine how many feathers and bottles of ink she would have used in revision.

As we leap ahead with first drafts, 7th drafts, synopses, queries, submissions, and *shudder* rejections, we can do a productive Find and Replace of our own. Let us ...

Find fear - replace it with courage
Find impatience - replace it with calm
Find doubt - replace it with confidence
Find envy - replace it with joy
Find competitor - replace it with friend
Find rejection - replace it with acceptance

We writers are lucky to do what we love. Yes, the process can bring us down sometimes, but wow, creating a story from scratch or teaching through nonfiction is a one-of-a-kind feeling.

What stage are you at with your project? And please feel free to add to the Find and Replace list!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Spongebob and Casablanca

Have you ever experienced a partygoer who refused to leave? You know, the Spongebob type--happy and clueless while you mop the floor around their feet. Or are you that person?

When writing our stories, how do we know when it's time to leave the party? Do we escape too early, with our main character begging us to stay? Or should we leave in the thick of it, when the party is jumping and that person is swinging from the chandelier?

There's a balance between rushing the ending and overstaying our welcome. We want the ending to tie up loose ends, and it can summarize a theme we've instilled throughout the book. We want our endings to resonate with the reader, like the final scene from the movie Casablanca. To accomplish this, we should take our time with the final pages, give it all we've got, then get the heck out.

We know when the story is finished. It's when our main character says, "Writer, thanks for your time and for the bloody fingerprints on the keyboard. You can go now, and please take your stretchy pants with you. Oh, and here's looking at you, kid."

Bottom line: we should exit with flourish, and long before we're kicked out by the gracious host.

What do you think? How do you know when you've reached the ending? And how fast do you leave the party?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Variety of Stakes

When I first learned about stakes, I thought it meant the main character's life had to be in danger. HUNGER GAMES is an excellent example of this -- kill or be killed is definitely high stakes.

Many of my favorite books have more subtle stakes. In AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, Colin Singleton's life is not in danger. His mission is to find answers about himself and his relationships. Mellow, but totally entertaining.

Stakes are about loss. What does our main character stand to lose as she jumps over the hurdles of our story? And why should anyone care? Besides loss of life, here are some examples of loss in my favorite books:
  1. Loss of family/friends
  2. Loss of security
  3. Loss of power
  4. Loss of social position
  5. Loss of money/job
  6. Loss of respect
  7. Loss of happiness
  8. Loss of love
  9. Loss of beauty
  10. Loss of physical abilities
Real loss, or the threat of it, deepens our stories. If we layer it throughout, hopefully the reader will care about our Lead and root for her all the way til The End.

What are the stakes in your favorite novels? Can you add other losses to this list?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Not Trying = Defeat

My 10-year-old twins are running for student council. They ran last year and lost. They were disappointed for about an hour, then moved on.

This year, one of them asked, "Do you think I can win?"

I often struggle for the perfect mommy words. Instead of telling my son something profound, I said, "You won't know unless you try."

The same goes for writers. I think it's safe to say we each experience moments of great doubt. It seeps in and courses through our veins. It explodes within every cell of our body.

Unpublished writers may wonder -- Do I have what it takes? Will this pile of words ever morph into something entertaining and publishable? If an agent loves my manuscript, will they find an editor who feels the same way?

The published writer might wonder -- Can I do it again?

Writer friends, this much we know for sure: we won't know unless we try. And try again. Not trying equals defeat, and we can't let that happen.

Will one of my fifth graders win a seat on the student council? I have no idea. But they'll give it all they've got and be proud of their effort. I could learn a lot from a 10-year-old.

How about you? Do you ever experience these doubts? Do you struggle to push past them and keep trying?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Naked Writers

When a critique partner reads my work aloud, I feel naked. Exposed. Not even an octopus has enough arms to cover all the embarrassing parts.

Although it makes me uncomfortable, I realize this is essential to the publishing process. Here are some benefits to letting it all hang out:
  • Detecting funky flow. If the reader stumbles over a sentence, it probably needs cosmetic surgery or amputation. Unless you meet over margaritas. Then you can expect the stumbling.
  • Laughing together at the blemishes. If we have the right attitude, laughing together over the ugly parts helps take the sting out. Plus, our writer friends are willing to help replace that hairy mole with something of the Cindy Crawford kind.
  • Elephant Skin. Writers need thick skin. We want people to read and enjoy our books, but it'll take time and polish to get them ready. Most critique partners offer free makeovers in the form of helpful analysis. See this great post about handling criticism effectively.
Listening to my own words isn't as intimidating as it used to be. Sure, I'm still embarrassed, but I recognize that it's part of the game and I need to get over it.

Can you add any benefits to someone else reading your work out loud? Are your words still buried under a trench coat, or are you a naked writer?

Saturday, January 8, 2011


We learn so much when we read the work of other writers. I recently finished LOSING FAITH by Denise Jaden. This author taught me a valuable lesson about focus.

The main character, Brie, had one mission: to discover the truth about her sister Faith’s death. Every line of dialog and each scene focused on Brie’s goal. Jaden didn’t bore her readers with unnecessary descriptions or extra characters. *note to self*

Sometimes I get off track with my story, and have to remind myself to stay focused. In WRITING IT RIGHT, Sandy Asher reminds us to ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Whose story is this? Our main character should be clear and have a strong voice.
  2. What does the main character want? Our main character’s need or goal should be obvious. Is their goal worthy of the reader’s time?
  3. What’s standing in the character’s way? The obstacles should be evident and well-matched with our character.
  4. Does the main character drive the story forward?

Our first drafts might not be as focused as they should be, but hey, it can all be fixed, right?

Do you have any tricks for staying focused?

photo credit

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Loosey Goosey Goals

"Establishing goals is all right if you don't let them deprive you of interesting detours." - Doug Larson

Do you set firm goals for the year, then freak out if you don't reach them?

I would. That's why I create loosey goosey goals for each day: Write x number of words. Revise x number of chapters. Read through critique pages. Query Tracker had a great post about writer's goals here.

I have long-term publishing goals, but they're somewhat dependent on the tastes and actions of other people. If my goal was to publish a novel in 2011, I'd be disappointed on December 31st.

My goals for 2011 are loose: charge forward, write new material, revise like crazy, try new things, submit, submit, submit, and keep learning.

Nothing is impossible if we work hard enough and push through our obstacles. As Jack Penn said, "One of the secrets to life is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks." And as Elana Johnson wrote in this post, "the impossible is possible."

Do you have concrete goals for 2011, or will you take the loosey goosey approach? Please share!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Just for Smiles

Vicki Rocho's blogfest rules are simple. Post a picture that makes you smile every time you see it.

My photo choice is only a couple of days old. Last night we returned from camping in the California desert. We love riding our atv's across mountains of sand in the Imperial Sand Dunes (aka Glamis). The above photo is of my husband and sons just before they took off on a night ride (dads are great for stuff like this...I stayed inside my cozy motorhome and read a book).

Here's a photo of the dunes.

Whether chillin' at home, or racing across enormous sand dunes, these four people make me smile every day.

My wish for you is a year filled with happiness, good health, and many fond memories. Happy New Year!