Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Procrastination Station

A few months ago I wrote a first draft and set it aside. In the meantime I worked on a big revision. But now the first draft manuscript is next in my queue. And I'm terrified to open it up. I haven't so much as glanced at it since I wrote it, and I have no idea what I'm dealing with.

So, what have I done instead of working on that draft?

Suddenly it's become important to me for my home to be clean.
Suddenly it's become important for me to prune my rose bushes.
Suddenly it's become important for me to go through that stack of papers on my kitchen island.
Suddenly it's become important for me to bring out my label maker and organize stuff.

I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm totally procrastinating! Why? Fear, of course! Fear of not knowing how in the heck to fix it. But I know better than this. I know that the only way to fix it is to just dive in. So that's what I'm doing today. Diving in. And I'm excited to experience the story again, no matter the hurdles.

In preparation (and procrastination), I've re-read these previous posts about revision:

But wait...I need to prepare our tax information! Just kidding :D

Do you procrastinate when you're ready to begin a major revision? Or do you just dive in and go for it?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's the Story with iBooks Author?

On January 19, Apple launched the iBooks Author app, which, according to thenextweb.com, "allows authors to create interactive works for publishing on Apple's new iBooks 2 platform."

I was curious about this new app, and did a little digging. Here are some details and early opinions:

"Armed with the new app, users will be able to choose from a template to create their books (much like the wizard in Microsoft Word) allowing them to drag and drop elements into the page and position them with ease."

"Similar to Keynote and Pages, authors can embed galleries and elements, but also include JavaScript and HTML5 code, providing them with the ability to deliver truly custom content from their computer or the Web."

GigaOM reported that Diesel Sweeties creator and artist R Stevens created an iBook over the course of one weekend. Roberts noted some positives, but also these negatives:

"...bandwidth required to provide the downloads is a problem, which could be overcome by selling via the iBookstore, but that entails additional costs and operating within the confines of Apple's marketplace."

"The other problem is with how iBooks Author writes to PDF, since Stevens wants to offer the collections to anyone, regardless of platform. Apple adds branding to its iBooks Author PDF output, which Stevens says is understandable since it's a free tool."

GigaOM also said this:

"...while Apple will let you distribute the book independent of the iBookstore, if you want to make any money on the product, you have to go through the iBookstore and the iBookstore only."

Techcrunch.com explained how easy it is to drag and drop:

"The process of creating an iBook is surprisingly straightforward. Creators can type their text directly into iBooks Author, but Rosner (Apple VP of Productivity Applications) noted that some people prefer doing their writing in a different environment like Microsoft Word. iBooks Author plays nice with those Word documents, as it automatically picks out and creates sections and headers from the text itself when the document is dragged into a new iBook chapter. Adding images is just as simple, as users can drag them onto a page while the text reformats itself around whatever you add."

How does iBooks Author stack up to the competition? Click here for a graph on mashable.com. At a glance it seemed to fare well, but all the colors and numbers threatened a head explosion, so I'll have to come back to those.

In this post and this post, the license agreement came under fire. Same with this post on thepassivevoice.com (the comments on these posts are also enlightening):

"As (Ed) Bott explains, 'The nightmare scenario under this agreement? You can create a work of staggering literary genius that you think you can sell for 5 or 10 bucks per copy. You craft it carefully in iBooks Author. You submit it to Apple. They reject it. Under this license agreement, you are out of luck. They won't sell it, and you can't legally sell it elsewhere. You can give it away, but you can't sell it.'"

This discussion is fascinating, and it'll be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out.

Before downloading the software, anyone who's seriously considering using this app should read The Fine Print of iBooks Author over at Writer Beware.

What have you learned about this app? Based on what you know, would you publish through the iBookstore?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


com-mu-ni-ca-tion = the imparting or exchanging of information or news

If you're a parent, has this ever happened to you? It's Sunday night and you're told that a special folder or project is due the next day. Or you're told on Friday night that your child was invited to a birthday party the next day and they need a gift, pronto. How long had they kept this information to themselves? Days, I tell you. Days!

Ok, so sometimes kids have a hard time remembering to share information with their parents. These moments are yet another opportunity to teach this valuable lesson--communication makes our lives much easier.

It's been my experience that in real life, and in the writing life, it's so much better to know than to not know. Here are some ways we can improve communication with our writing:

Beta Reads
I'm still opening up on this one. In the beginning, when I read the work of others, I held back because I thought, What do I know? Something would jump out at me but I remained silent, fearing my rookie status hadn't earned me a voice in the process. But I was wrong. Each of us has a voice. Each of us has something to offer. Maybe my comment won't be helpful, but why hold back? That's not being fair to my writing buddies. If they're reading something of mine and something, anything, jumps out at them, I want to know about it. The writer then has a choice--change it or not.

Through Characters
Too often I assume the reader knows what I mean. All the story information that's accumulated in my head doesn't have to be dumped onto the page, but the necessary stuff should. A tweak here or there can clarify the message.

Over Communication Blues
I've also been guilty of beating a point over the reader's head. I don't want them thinking, I get it already. This is another area where beta readers make all the difference in the world. They'll holler when points are repetitive.

Sharing Goals
It helps when we share our goals with friends and family. This way they can cheer us on as we pursue our dreams, and lift us up when we experience setbacks. It also helps them understand why we might need to lock ourselves in a room and flesh out a scene or an idea. And if we're less than attentive at times, they know not to take it personally.

Do you have other ideas for improving our communication? Have you ever experienced a communication breakdown, either with friends and family or through your work? How did you resolve it? And will my sons ever get a handle on this communication thing?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Character Inconsistencies & The Change-Up

I recently watched The Change-Up, a wacky body switch story. Here's a brief summary from Wikipedia:

Mitch and Dave were inseparable best friends, but as the years have passed, they slowly drifted apart. Dave is an overworked lawyer, husband, and father of three children and Mitch is a single, quasi-employed man-child who has never met a responsibility he liked. To Mitch, Dave has it all: his beautiful wife and three children who adore him and a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm. To Dave, living Mitch's stress-free life without obligation or consequence would be a dream come true.

They get drunk, pee in a fountain, wish for the other life, and BAM! Switcheroo. Ryan Reynolds is my biggest Hollywood crush, so I can look past the predictable premise and constant F-bombs. I can even chuckle at the gross-out humor (I have three sons). But one thing I couldn't get past were the character inconsistencies.

Here's what I mean. *Spoiler Alert* In the end, as expected, the family man missed his family and wanted his old life back. He even volunteered to quit his job as a lawyer. His wife cried when she said, "I don't want you to quit your job. I just want you home for dinner."

Ok Hollywood, that would've worked if the opening had shown a negligent father who never spent time with his wife and kids. But the opening showed a father at home who bathed his twins while his other daughter read him a book. He was laughing and playing with his kids, and his wife was the one who arrived home late.

In one scene, there's even mention of a dinner song. Dinner song? If he's never home for dinner, how is it that they have a dinner song? Hollywood, if I'm missing something, call me!

The silver lining? 1) Gawking at Ryan Reynolds for two hours, and 2) I was reminded that the character arc needs to make sense. Yes? Yes.

Ryan, I still love you. No worries. But now I need to watch The Proposal again so I can get The Change-Up out of my head.

If you've seen The Change-Up, did this bug you? Have you noticed problems like this in any other movies you've seen? And if you have a Hollywood crush, inquiring minds want to know who it is!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Beware The Dream Destroyers

"Dreams can come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them." -- John Updike

I recently heard an inspirational message about chasing our dreams, and I thought I'd share it with you. It was a reminder that not reaching our dream is better than not having a dream at all, and that we should be on the lookout for these dream destroyers:
  1. Temporary Circumstances--Our present circumstances don't necessarily determine our future. Even if we're having a down day or disappointments, these circumstances are temporary. These problems will not be here forever.
  2. Delays--If our dreams don't come true quickly, we're tempted to lose hope and give up. Or we may think it's not in the cards for us.
  3. Doubt--When we're lacking confidence, it's easy to wonder if we can make this happen. It's possible others may even doubt us. For centuries, people have tried to put down the dreamer.
These dream destroyers can leave us feeling dejected. But we're imaginative. We're dreamers. So we'll keep on dreamin'. As Walt Disney once said, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

Who knows what our destiny is, or which of our dreams will come true. Perhaps we'll even achieve a variation of our original dream. But one thing I've learned is that chasing a dream is a heck of a lot of fun, especially when I'm running alongside all of you.

Do these dream destroyers ever creep up on you? How do you put them in their place?

On a related subject, QueryTracker had an interesting post about Making Your Dreams Your Reality.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Have you written The Worst Thing Ever Written?

As I revised my manuscript--strengthening character, plucking out repetitive words, and deleting nonsense--I had the feeling I'd written The Worst Thing Ever Written (TWTEW). But it wasn't TWTEW. How do I know?
  • Readers--my talented agent and beta readers had caught plot holes and character inconsistencies. They'd questioned the time line and reminded me when an issue became repetitive. Sending our manuscripts to other readers is terrifying (or is that just me?), but it's a must.
  • Lessons learned--with each pass, I recognized things I hadn't known about before. We're constantly improving as writers, and as we read and learn and read and learn, we're able to spot nasty little problems and apply those new lessons.
  • "Once upon a time" to "The End"--after the revision, I read the story from beginning to end and became excited again. The disjointed parts were in context, and it flowed well. It was no longer TWTEW, it was actually pretty darn...dare I say it...good.
We've all learned that our original drafts are bad, but probably not as bad as we thought. And as we revise and revise and revise, our manuscripts are no longer The Worst Things Ever Written.

Do you ever feel like you've written TWTEW? (you haven't!) How do you remind yourself that it's not?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

4 Ways to Recycle Dusty Manuscripts

You'd think I would suggest using dusty old manuscripts as doorstops or paperweights, but no. There just may be a happier resting place for an unpublished piece of work. Here are four suggestions:
  1. Unpublished picture books--Consider cleaning them up and sending them to markets like Stories for Children, Knowonder!, or My Light Magazine. These e-zines are free, and you'd get paid little or nothing, but kids could enjoy your stories!
  2. Unpublished nonfiction--If it's short nonfiction for kids, like a nonfiction picture book, consider updating the data and sending it to Imagination Cafe or the educational market, Viatouch. Again, you wouldn't get paid, but this is such a great way to practice writing and earn publishing credits. And you'd be helping kids in the process. If you write for adults, FundsforWriters is a great place to search for markets.
  3. Steal a scene--If you've written a novel that will never see the light of day, but you love a particular character and/or scene, consider vamping it up and creating a short story. Especially if it's an unusual premise. It could then be submitted to an e-zine or anthology.
  4. Create a quilt--If you've left a trail of unpublishable manuscripts, I feel your pain. But maybe there are exceptional characters or plot points from different pieces that can work together. Dig through old material for gems and quilt them together in a new manuscript. A fresh spin might do wonders for those old faves.
I have a few pieces that I'll be tweaking and updating, then sending off to new places. I figure why not? They might as well be read and enjoyed by kids.

Have you ever recycled material from unpublished manuscripts? Did your favorite character find a home in a new story, or did your nonfiction piece satisfy hungry readers? If you can think of other ways to recycle dusty material, please share!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What Costco can teach us about writing

The other day I shopped at Costco, pushing my flat bed cart throughout the store. It teetered with, among other things, six gallons of milk, two cases of bottled water, and four boxes of cereal. Three bunches of bananas precariously perched on top. We have three growing sons, and my Costco bill is frightening. I'm the lady you don't want to stand behind in the checkout line (I'm not cruel...I've let plenty of people go before me).

Anyway, as I maneuvered around a tight corner, I passed an elderly couple with--count 'em--three items in their small cart. They smiled when they saw my pile, and I envied their tiny bill. But here's the thing--there's always more than one way to view a cart, or a character, or a journey, and this helps us as writers.

The Cart

One way: Elderly couple thinks Poor dear has to feed those kids.

Another way: Elderly couple thinks Do you remember when our kids were home? I miss those days. The bustle, the activities, the noise. The laughter around the dinner table. I'd give up our small Costco bill in a flash just to have those days back.

The Character

One way: My character is too mean/nice/pretty/flawed. And I'm not sure how they should respond to certain situations.

Another way: Characters should be multi-dimensional. Like real people, they should react to situations based on who they are at the time. We have an entire story for their arc to run its course. And if the characters still aren't quite right? Luckily we can revise until they are.

The Journey

One way: I'm a new writer with no publishing credits. Who am I fooling?

Another way: I have passion, desire, determination. I'll work hard, learn, fail, and try again. I'll play with characterization, genres, and techniques. There are so many opportunities, and it's wide open for me.

One way: I'm published. I've achieved the dream. Now what?

Another way: I'm published! I've achieved the dream! I'm grateful, and looking for the next mountain to climb.

Have you ever analyzed a situation from two completely different viewpoints? What were the results? And is your grocery bill enviable or frightening? And isn't Costco's food court the best?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Writing lessons learned from THE HELP

I just finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and in a word...wow. What an amazing debut. I'm probably the last person in the world to read this book, and I haven't even seen the movie yet. That's next on my to-do list!

From Goodreads:

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, three women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and the times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women - mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

I learned many writing lessons from this book, and I'll list them all, even though it makes for a lengthy post. Here goes:
  • Create a disturbance in early pages. The book opens with Aibileen's normal world as a domestic. But on page 10, her world shifts when Miss Skeeter asks, "Do you ever wish you could...change things?" The seed is planted, and the story takes off.
  • Keep secrets. Stockett did an amazing job of keeping secrets, without annoying the reader. What happened to Skeeter's beloved maid? What was Minny's Terrible. Awful. Thing she did? Why did Minny's boss, Miss Celia, remain locked up in her room all day? Why did she wish to keep Minny a secret from her husband? Bit by bit, these questions are answered, but the author keeps the reader guessing at the perfect pace.
  • If you're writing a strong dialect, consider giving the reader a break. I don't know about you, but I have trouble reading a strong dialect. In the first chapter, when I read Aibileen saying, "Law, it's hot out there." I thought, Law, help me finish this book. But Minny's and Skeeter's sections gave my muddled brain a much needed respite.
  • Surprise the reader with a slow burn love story. When we first meet Stuart, we hate him. He's rude, disrespectful, drunk. Mid-way through the story, out of nowhere, he reappears. In one paragraph we change our minds about him. And then in another paragraph, later on, we change our minds again.
  • Use real life events as story backdrops. The characters bravely took on this book project, even though it would put them in real danger. And that real danger is evident because of the time and place (Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement). Assassinations of Civil Rights leaders. Citizens beaten or killed. Knowing these real events took place adds an extra layer of fear.
  • Use one character to supply information about another. The story begins in Aibileen's pov, but she drops information about Skeeter and Minny. By the time their pov's are introduced, the reader already knows them well.
  • Each character must have "skin in the game." Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny each have personal reasons for participating in their dangerous project. And Hilly has strong motivations to block them at every turn. The protagonists and their antagonists have conflicting goals, which adds drama.
  • Match up unlikely allies. Miss Skeeter, a white woman who lives on a plantation, teams up with Aibileen, a humble, motherly domestic. Minny, a spitfire maid full of attitude, and Celia, the boss lady from the wrong side of the tracks, earn each other's trust and loyalty. These odd couples add emotion to the story.
  • Use memorable, but easy to pronounce names. Aibileen. Skeeter. Minny. Hilly. Enough said.
  • Bittersweet endings have staying power. By the end of the book, each character's life is changed. But not all for the better. That's reality, and reality resonates. If the ending had been tied up with a neat little bow, it would have felt less personal. Less real. But the author tied it up with the perfect balance of sadness and hope.
Another lesson learned? That even a critically acclaimed bestseller has its haters. A quick Google search confirmed that not everyone was happy with this book. Something to remember when our skin is thin.

The Help was a beautiful story with so many lessons about writing--and life. Have you read this book or seen the movie? What was your takeaway?

And if you're interested, here's an interview with the author. These "how many times were you rejected" stories are so inspiring.