Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Writing when we're not writing

Last week all three of my sons graduated. Between parties, ceremonies, and more parties, we've been on the run for days (in a non-criminal way). Almost zero writing got done, and at first I felt guilty about it. But I soon realized how much writing I actually accomplished, even though my butt was not in a chair.

Here are some ways to work when we're not writing:
  • Solving problems. Worrisome plot issues, tricky scenes, and questionable threads can be examined and resolved when we're not staring at the computer screen.
  • Choreographing future scenes. What will be the beginning, middle, and ending of the scene? What will be the goal and conflict of the characters? These details can be worked out away from the writer's chair.
  • Collecting character quirks. When we're out and about among living, breathing people, we have access to limitless character traits worth stealing.
  • Gathering setting details. Parties, ceremonies, restaurants, malls, theme parks. These events and places are ripe with setting information. If we keep paper and pen with us at all times, we can scratch down sensory details for later use.
  • Ideas for the next project. Ideas swirl through our heads when we're performing menial tasks away from our manuscripts. All we need to do is reach out and grab them, saving them for when we're ready to plot the next book.
The "boys in the basement," as Stephen King calls them, never stop working. Solutions and ideas come to us when we least expect them. Besides, when we're away from the page, we're refilling our creative wells.

While I was wearing my busy mommy hat, I was able to untangle at least two of my problematic story issues. What writing tasks do you accomplish when you're not writing?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Inspiration for Writers--5th Grader Style

My 11-year-old twins graduated from elementary school a few days ago, and their principal sent each student home with a bag of goodies. The simple items within represented a strong and inspirational message, and I thought we writers could use a 5th grader-style boost. Your virtual goodie bag includes the following:
  • The cotton ball is to remind you to use soft words with each other.
  • The chocolate Kiss is to comfort you when you are feeling sad.
  • The sticker is to remind you that you should stick together and help each other.
  • The penny is to remind you that you are valuable and very special.
  • The rubber band will remind you to stretch the possibilities and try new things.
  • The star is to remind you to shine and always do your best.
  • The tissue is to remind you to help dry someone's tears.
  • The toothpick is to remind you to pick out quality friends along the way.
  • The eraser is to remind you that we all make mistakes--it's ok to start over.
I don't know who created this idea, or who wrote the sweet words, but I thought it was adorable.

Now let's get out there and conquer the middle school, I mean publishing, world!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is your story worth saving?

I'm deep in revisions on a story, and I'm having a love/hate relationship with it. I've even ventured into "is it worth saving?" territory. I scoured the blogosphere for a magic answer, but soon realized I must make this decision on my own. Here are some questions I asked myself:

Do you love this story?
Is the story structure solid?
Does it have a unique hook?
Does it pack an emotional punch?
Despite parts that make you want to pull your hair out,
are there really good parts too?

Fortunately I was able to answer yes to these questions. While not every story can be saved, I realized this wasn't a question of whether or not my story was worth saving, but whether or not I was willing to put in the hard word to rescue it.

What to do? In WRITING MAGIC, Gail Carson Levine tells how she writes several versions of some scenes, then chooses the one that works best. And in this great post by Susan Sipal we're reminded to follow J.K. Rowling's example and "...rewrite until we get it right."

And there are still two life preservers I haven't thrown yet:
  1. Beta readers. We're too close to our own work, and it becomes impossible to separate the "what were you thinking?" moments from the "wow, this is good" moments. Plotting & pacing issues, inconsistencies, and unnatural dialog might become white noise to the writer, but beta readers will point this out. A life saver indeed.
  2. Patience. This is the tough part. I want my story to be perfect right now. Levine reminds us that no book is perfect, even those currently sitting on shelves (although some are darn close). And there's no rule that says the 5th, 7th, or 18th draft must be the draft. If we're patient, the true story, the one that was meant to be told, will come to fruition.
Is your story worth saving, or should you allow it to sink quietly to the bottom of the sea? In my opinion, that's a personal choice each writer must make. If you've found a resource that helps with this decision, please share it in the comments.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

CRACK the CODE Winner!

A loud click sounds within the door. Heart drumming, you pull on the handle and the monstrous round door swings open.

Winning Code: 84-12-88

Congrats goes to Sarah Templeton who successfully CRACKED the CODE at The Bookshelf Muse, winning a copy of PLOT & STRUCTURE (Bell)! Please contact me as soon as possible so I can get your prize to you! Thanks everyone for playing along & helping to celebrate a great writing community. :)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tag...I'm it!

I've been tagged by the lovely Leslie Rose! Here's the scoop:

Do you think you’re hot?

Is short, plain, and forty-something hot? Just checking.

Upload a picture or wallpaper that you’re using at the moment.

The family visiting the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

When was the last time you ate chicken meat?

Last night when we met my in-laws for dinner. Chili's chicken quesadilla salad. Yum.

The song(s) you listened to recently.

"Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum. My twin 11 year olds love that song, and we sing it over and over again on the way to school (they're still in school until next Tuesday).

What were you thinking as you were doing this?

What happened to my California sun? It's cold outside!

Tag you’re it…

Thanks for the fun, Leslie!

Be sure to check back tomorrow when the winners of the Crack the Code contest over at The Bookshelf Muse will be announced.

And happy birthday to my wonderful, devoted, supportive husband. You know the song "Always and forever, each moment with you. It's just like a dream to me, that somehow came true." Yep, he's that awesome.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Must writers be natural storytellers?

While I've always loved escaping deep into the pages of a great story, and I've enjoyed writing since I was a child, I've never fancied myself a natural storyteller. I envy the writers whose stories gush from their minds faster than they can type. For me, each plot point, character, and scene must be pried from my brain.

Thankfully, I don't believe The Big Lie--that writers are born, and if you don't have what it takes, you'll never get it. Storytelling can be learned. Here are some ways we can become storytellers, and improve our skills:

Critique partners: my writing buddies are so talented, and I learn something new from them each time I read their work. Yes, we help our partners when we critique, but we also gain knowledge.

Writer's days or conferences: I've only been to one-day conferences, but each time I've left the event feeling energized and ready to roll. If you're on a tight budget, like me, mark your calendars for the awesome WriteOnCon, taking place August 16-18. It's free!

Writer's and agent's blogs: the amount of information floating around the blogosphere blows my mind. Elizabeth S. Craig created the Writer's Knowledge Base (also linked on my sidebar). Type in the subject you need help with, and a long list of related blog posts appears. The Bookshelf Muse is an amazing tool for writers who need help with descriptions for characters, emotions, weather, and so much more.

Read great books: thanks to D. U. Okonkwo's smart comment, I'm adding this to the list. Thanks!

Lisa Green (one of my talented critique partners) wrote a great post about The Secret Formula to writing great books. And Justine Dell wrote this interesting post--I'm a storyteller, not a writer. Check 'em out!

Are you a natural storyteller? #jealous
What has helped you improve your storytelling skills?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cool Critique Prizes!


Guys, you've got to check this out--they have amazing critique prizes!

The Bookshelf Muse is celebrating over 2000 Followers and almost 1/2 million hits and they want to know...CAN YOU CRACK THE CODE?

Let me break it down for you:

  • 12 generous writers.
  • A formidable steel vault packed with prizes.
  • A time locked sensor.
  • And you...with a code.
Will The Bookshelf Muse's Prize Vault open for you? Stop by and find out!

Here's a HINT to help you win it: What color is Curacao Liqueur?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Writers--appreciate your growth

I recently added my sons' school pictures to wall frames. Older pictures were stacked behind the new ones, and as mommies do from time to time, I waded through those older photos.

My sons had transformed little by little. From gapped-toothed to braces. From chubby cheeks to lean faces. From slender arms to muscles. I didn't notice the small changes taking place each day until, BAM, my 14 year old was taller than me.

It reminded me how we writers sometimes ignore our own transformations. Maybe we don't notice our improvement because we're focused on all we need to learn/fix/change. Sometimes it's nice to not only focus on where we're going, but to appreciate where we've been.

I'd love to know the ways in which you've grown as a writer. Here's a small sampling of my lessons learned:
  • Adverbs--replace or delete
  • Avoid info dumps
  • Don't begin each sentence or paragraph with the same word
  • Restructure clunky sentences
  • Avoid beginning the story or scene too soon
  • Each scene must have a purpose
  • Find and replace addictive words
  • When reading other books, pay attention to story structure
Each writer is a work in progress, and we should appreciate our growth. If you were to read an early manuscript, what changes would you notice most? How have you grown as a writer?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Revision--The Long View

Writing is an easy, quick way to get rich, right? I know, I know, stop laughing.

We've all learned that writing can be a long, arduous process that's not for the faint of heart. It's a profession where dogged determination rises above speed. It involves hard work, constant learning, failure, and the desire to take the long view of our writing careers.

I'm preparing to tackle the daunting task of a big revision. I opened REVISION AND SELF EDITING** by James Scott Bell and instantly felt at ease. He reminds us that most successful people take "the long view." For example, doctors train for years before they're able to practice medicine. It's a long road for them, but in the end, it's worth it. Same with writing. When it comes to revision, Bell advises, "Don't look at the mountaintop. Look at the path in front of you." Here are some of Bell's wise words about revision:

Take the long view and learn to see revision as a friend. Being a smart, disciplined reviser delivers a number of benefits:
  • It makes you a better writer. With each revision session you learn more about your craft, and the next time you write you'll write stronger.
  • It marks you as a professional. Editors and agents who see your work ethic will be more certain of your ability to produce good books.
  • It builds confidence and encourages you to stretch your horizons.
  • It is its own reward. When you've put in good, solid revision time, you rest easier at the end of the day.
This is why I heart James Scott Bell. Our favorite books were revised like crazy, and we should expect to do the same. Yes, a major revision takes a lot of time, patience, and hard work, but future readers deserve nothing less from us.

Is revision your favorite or least favorite part of the process? And have you ever tackled a major revision?

**Yes, I'm obsessed with Bell's books. I refer to them over and over again because his writing books have helped me that much. I'm sharing what I'm learning along the way.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

What to look for in an agent--guest post by Raquel Byrnes

A killer strikes. A love rekindled. A life-altering choice.

PURPLE KNOT by Raquel Byrnes

Welcome, writers. Today I'm honored to feature a guest post by author Raquel Byrnes, whose book PURPLE KNOT just released June 3rd. Woo hoo!

Raquel tackles the subject, "What to look for in an agent." Take it away, Raquel!

What to Look for In an Agent

Agents are people and as such, they vary from micro-managers to the other end of the spectrum. One thing to help you decide what you to look for in an agent is to look at yourself and how you work.

  • Do you need hand holding?
  • Do you hope for a movie-esque relationship where they call you up at night with a great idea?
  • Do you see an agent as a sort of mentor or teacher?
  • Do you want them to help you with your manuscript because it needs an overhaul?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you don’t need an agent. You need more time. You see, agents take you on spec. That is, they don’t make any money unless they sell your book. So when looking for an agent, make sure that YOU’RE what THEY’RE looking for in a client.

Once you feel you’re ready to query, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help you separate the honest, reputable agents from the scoundrels.

  • Agents do not charge you money. Period. Not for a reading fee or a submission fee or anything else.
  • They do not say they will take you if you use their editorial services. Reputable agents with connections to an editing service let you know about that relationship up front. And whether or not you use their service should not affect your submission with them.
  • You can check their track record on Publisher’s Marketplace or similar sites. If they are successful and have been in the business a while, then it will show.
  • If their commission is outrageous, more than 10-15% domestic, or they penalize you for being new by charging a higher commission, then walk away.

Where do you find a great agent?

One of the best places is to meet them face to face at a conference. My own agent has said that he finds 80% of his clients during sessions at conferences. This is a wonderful way to dialogue with an agent about what to expect, how they handle client questions, and what level of interaction you are looking for.

Websites like Query Tracker, a free database of literary agents and publishers, is a fantastic place to start when you’re ready to submit your query. Finding an agent is a long process, but worth it when you connect with the right one. As a wise person once pointed out…publication isn’t a selection process, it’s a survival process.

Thanks, Raquel!

Writers, please feel free to stop by and visit Raquel during her blog tour, happening now through July 4th. Click here for more information about PURPLE KNOT, including the book trailer and an excerpt.

Raquel, I think I speak for everyone when I say, "Congratulations!"

Raquel Byrnes lives in Southern, California with her husband of sixteen years and their six children. She considers inspirational fiction a wonderful way to minister to others. She writes romantic suspense with an edge-your-seat pace. Her first book the Shades of Hope Series, Purple Knot, releases on June 3rd from White Rose Publishing. You can visit her at her website: www.raquelbyrnes.com and her writing blog, Edge of Your Seat Romance.