Monday, December 20, 2010

Finish a Chapter

This week's tip is to forge ahead and finish a chapter. Some chapters are easier to complete than others. Some have ending paragraphs and sentences with just the right amount of a hook or lead into the next chapter. But others slip off the page like wet noodles and land in a clump of narrative garb on the next, with no element of suspense, surprise or even serendipity. This will invariably leave the reader uninterested or frustrated and you, the author, confused as to why the story isn't coming together. So here's the run down: One, finish the chapter. Two, start the next chapter. Three, read the last page of said chapter and the first page of the next chapter to see if it makes sense to have a chapter break at that point. Four, make sure the ending of one chapter and the beginning of the next are seamless yet purposeful. Try picking up a pile of your favorite novels and read the beginning and ending pages of each chapter, looking for interesting patterns and clues. Take special note of the last paragraph, sentence, word and punctuation of a chapter in relation to the first word, sentence, paragraph and punctuation of the next. If, for some unexplained reason, your stomach starts to growl, it could be the pasta. Your best plan of action at this point is to douse the page with your favorite marinara or pesto sauce and shovel it in, with a resolve to start fresh tomorrow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Embrace the Editing Process

When I originally wrote the Author's ABC's I stated E was for "edit again". I have since added "embrace" because it gives that added umph to the challenge. As a writer, embrace means to open your eyes, your heart and your mind wide enough to recognize just how unpolished the manuscript may actually be. I met a well known novelist at a writers conference who said he personally edits each of his novels 30 times! I wondered if he was exaggerating, or perhaps obsessive. But eighteen months, fifteen complete edits, and 17,000 less words later, I think I'm beginning to understand. Or maybe I, too, have become obsessive about my work.

The Dichotomy of Deleting

D is for "delete at least one sentence from each page of your manuscript." I'm not talking about rewording or restructuring a sentence but actually getting rid of it, never to be a part of the story again. This simple exercise is a powerful way to begin the editing process. It allows the writer to emotionally step away from the page and let go of unnecessary fluff'n stuff. Read each sentence with the following questions in mind: Does this sentence move the story along? Is it vital to the scene? Does it have a definite purpose? If the answer is 'no' to any of these questions, consider striking the sentence. If the answer is 'no' to more than one of these questions, absolutely get rid of the sentence. Here's another hint: there are likely many more sentences that need to be deleted on that particular page! It may sound brutal but it's really quite liberating. The dichotomy is that we can ask these same questions about our life. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, what can we delete that will make our story more real, more believable, more true to our character?

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Create Something New"

C is for Create. The possibilities for creating are endless, and only limited by one's imagination. When a writer harnesses the power of creativity, he or she becomes an artist, an inventor, a designer, a builder and a word magician. One of the key elements for keeping creativity flowing freely is to expand the areas of focus to your creativity. This week, do something out of the ordinary--something that does NOT involve writing--but which explores your creative self. I'm not going to start listing suggestions. The ideas you need to get out of any writer's rut you may be experiencing (or any other rut) are only inside yourself.

As for me, I cleaned out three closets today in preparation for a house full of guests coming to stay for a week. Cleaning out closets opens up a ton of possible metaphors. I love the organizing, purging, sorting and straightening this creative activity provides. And I love the end result--more space. If there's one thing a creative mind needs, it's space. So...whatever you decide to create this week, be aware of the fact that it will likely open some much needed space. Welcome it as part of the creative process. Magically, the next time you sit down to write, the words will appear.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"B - Browse Your Local Bookstore"

We're only on 'B' in our Alphabet for Authors post series, which incidentally does not stand for "ba-humbug I'm behind on the blog already". It would be a blatant mockery to last week's entry--praising and applauding the power of Affirmations--to beat myself up over the fact that it's Friday and I'm just getting to the blog again. So I won't.

B is for Browse Your Local Bookstore. On Monday morning I went to our island bookstore, Eagle Harbor Books, an independent book store that exudes all evidences of a scene from a chick-flick about an aspiring chick-lit author (which I'm not). In a single word it's quaint. The store has been in existence for almost 50 years and I absolutely love the perfect blend of past, present and future: wooden plank floors that creek, bookshelves that open up to secret compartments where folding chairs are stored, comfy overstuffed chairs to relax in, the place where I attend my Speculative Fiction writing class, and up-to-date access to nearly as many ebooks as Barnes and Noble. It's an establishment that meets the current demands of the book industry by catering to the wide array of formats readers prefer, yet still maintains cheerful personal customer service and a genuine interest in the people who read the books. Just walking through the doors creates some kind of transmutation to my soul. Additionally, Eagle Harbor Books is the proud venue where literally dozens and dozens of local authors are showcased. I dare say Bainbridge Island/Seattle is to authors what Nashville is to country music. A mecca, so to speak.

I browsed the new titles table first, meandered past the travel section and audio books, sauntered around the gift area looking for stocking stuffers, and then found my way to the YA display table. Truthfully, I was somewhat disappointed. For some reason I've obviosly not grasped, werewolves and vampires are still hot. I found plenty of dark magic, young love and true scifi stories. A couple titles on angels and one about a pegasus. True, I was just browsing, not really reading. But that's because nothing REALLY grabbed my attention. I read a dozen or so jacket covers, tried a few first pages, and flipped through two or three books to do a quick study on dialogue. Suddenly, I wasn't feeling my typical almost out-of-body euphoria when I'm in this bookstore. Or any bookstore.

After over an hour of browsing, I walked outside into the wind and zipped up my jacket, wondering what I'd write in my post "B is for Browse Your Local Bookstore" that would be semi-inspirational or atleast helpful. I'm not sure I've done that yet but here's a thought. If nothing jumps out at you next time your'e in a bookstore, try your own personal library. Presently I'm reading six books simultaneously but the one on my night stand that I haven't opened yet is "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. (Yes, I do realize it's NOT a new release!) The sequels are on display at Eagle Harbor Books which DID re-inspire me to start the series.

One other quick thought, if you do have a local independent bookstore then BRAVO! Considering today's publishing and emarketing industry, as readers and authors we need to do all we can to support their efforts and keep them in the BOOK BUSINESS.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"If NANOWRIMO is too much for you..."

For anyone who can't comprehend writing a complete novel in one month, don't despair. It's okay. Really. NANOWRIMO is there for those who are up for that particular challenge. But it may not be the right pace for you. Or me! At least not this November 1st. I did consider it for a long moment and almost gave in to the temptation. Putting basically everything else in my life on hold until numerous days after all the turkey has been gobbled...well, it actually sounded like a reprieve. Ah, to just write! But the stuff inside of me--my gut, my brain, and especially my heart--reminded me that there are other writing endeavors that will prove to be more beneficial to me this month.

Here's another option for you that will hopefully keep you in the writing mode and feeling good about your efforts. Last January I posted my "ABC's for 2010"--a list of simple ideas to help you stay focused on your writing--and which I'm going to use as the inspiration for my Monday posts over the next 26 weeks. The idea is to take it slow. Stay positive. Just move ahead. Together we'll make it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, Martin Luther King Day, Human Right's Day, President's Day, Valentine's Day, Ground Hog Day, St. Patrick's Day, the Spring Equinox, Easter, and Palm Sunday! Every Monday I'll give you something to explore during the week that will help you deal with any guilt or lamentation you may feel about NOT writing a novel in 30 days!

Week One: "A is for Affirm Aloud: I am a writer!" Go ahead. Say loud! "I am a writer!" Feels good, huh? Say it loud and louder! Again. Okay, you get the idea? Say it every day and start believing it. You may not be a published writer--yet--but that's irrelevant today. When someone asks you what you do, own it and say, "I'm a writer." It doesn't need to be complicated. Just start affirming it everyday, out loud, for a week, and as long as it takes until your brain has accepted it, your heart has embraced it, and your soul emerges with the endless words held inside of you.

P.S. If it helps, write your affirmation on Post It notes and stick'em up all over the place...on the fridge, bathroom mirror, the computer, your steering wheel, your dog! Whatever it takes to get it to sink in!

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Masks and Insanity"

I know this post title sounds a bit like a Halloween entry. Oh, if only it were that simple! Some days, like today, I ask myself what the purpose of a writer's blog is. Then I immediately question myself as to whether or not it's even correct English to end a sentence with the word "is". I don't generally question myself on trivial matters. Perhaps there are days when I'm more like the main character in my novel than I care to admit. (Yes, the manuscript is complete. Yes, I have edited it at least a dozen times. Yes, an agent requested an exclusive read and gave great positive feedback...and even gave me a personal referral to another agent! No, the agent has not yet responded to my has only been a week.) Anyway, am I the only writer who writes about my personal experiences and perspective from the mask of fictional characters? I think not. The insanity to it all is that we desperately want others to see behind the mask and know who we really are. (There I go again...ending a sentence with a present tense verb and wondering if it's even correct!) Somehow in our madness of writing we want others to connect with how we really feel. What we really mean. And we want them to know we know how they feel. Maybe it's not a mask at all. But then again, maybe it's not insanity if, as writers, we can dare to invite the reader to take away his or her own mask and reveal a bit more of themselves. The book is called, The Stelladaur: Book One, Finding Tir Na Nog and I wish I could tell you what a Stelladaur is but that would give away the story before you even open the first page. What I can do is quote one of the main characters, Eilam, an ageless guru who knows whole lot more about life and masks and how to deal with trivial matters than I.

"You are learning to hear what the Stelladaur speaks to you, are you not?" Eilam said.

"Yes, I am," said Reilly.

"Then continue to listen to the thoughts that come to you. But understand that it is only when a thought also resonates in your heart that you will know what is next....and you will have the needed courage to do it."

Today, after ten months of not posting anything on my blog, I swallowed my embarrassment and listened when my thoughts and heart collided. That's the moment I recommitted to posting at least every week. So what if it's been ten months since I last wrote. That's a trivial matter I don't need to be concerned with...or question if it's acceptable to anyone else or not. Even to an agent who may read this post. After all, they're just people, too, with their own masks of insanity.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"What Do You Know?" My W.I.T. 1/23/10

"It does no good to know that you don't know something, if you don't make the effort to know it. Apply that thought to getting a book published and you'll be a whole lot closer...both to the knowing and the publishing!" S.L. Whyte

"I'm Not an Idiot...and Neither are You!"

If you've ever read any "The Complete Idiot's Guide to...." books, you will likely recognize a brilliant marketing strategy. The titles have nothing to do with your intelligence. On the other hand, if you've ever shied away from such titles simply because you think you already know everything there is to know about the given topic, well, maybe the word "idiot' would apply. I just finished reading--devouring--The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published (fourth edition by Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander). What a fabulous book! It's straightforward, informative, well organized and even encouraging. With a yellow highlighter in hand, I marked stuff that I know I need to really internalize and "get". Frankly, I'm looking forward to rereading all the highlighted sections. (Yes, there are actually pages without any yellow!) I know it might sound bizzarro but...well, the truth is...this whole journey of learning about the connection between writing, authoring and the publishing industry really fascinates me! Maybe I'm still just naive. The point is, I've realized it's just that, a journey. One that takes time. And it's a journey you have to be completely committed to, with the emotional stamina to withstand the rejections and all the nitty-grittiness of the process. Call me an idiot but I'm up for it!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Rain, Rain, Go Away"

I live in the northwest. People often say it rains all the time here but those who say so must not actually live here. Or else they're forgetting the blissfully long spring, summer and fall when blue skies are abundant! The fact is there are numerous places in the country which receive more annual rainfall than Seattle. Isn't it funny how people like to talk about things they know nothing about? Sort of like when I hear a group of local, unpublished writers whine about how all the best agents and editors live in New York. Such ignorance is not becoming of any aspiring author. Or maybe people talk about the alleged incessant rain as a feeble attempt to justify their sour moods when all they see as they look out the window is gloomy dreariness. Please don't hate me if you really do suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder...I'm talking about those individuals who just want to complain about something. Anything! So they blame their entire day on the weather. I'm not sure what they do when something goes right on a rainy day. Who gets their wrath then? Or do they just give glory to the sun gods hiding behind the hovering clouds? Anyway, maybe people talk about how much it rains in Seattle because they don't have anything more interesting to discuss. Sort of like writer's going on and on about the challenge they're having writing a query letter when they haven't even finished the manuscript.

Yes, today it's raining in the Puget Sound. But I like the rain. I like everything about it. So unless it rains for forty days and forty nights straight, with no sign of stopping, I'll welcome it. If it's raining where you are (or even if it's not) and you need a diversion, try this simple writing exercise. For fifteen minutes write down as many metaphors for RAIN or RAINDROP as you can. No right or wrong answers, just whatever rain is to you. Then pull out your manuscript and read five pages you haven't read recently, checking to make sure you have at least one good metaphor per page. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Rain is an invisible, sneezing giant
  • Rain is an exploding comet from a meteor shower
  • Rain is run-off in reverse
  • Rain is a musical composition
  • Raindrops are kisses
  • Raindrops are ballerinas doing pirouettes from the sky
  • A Raindrop is a looking glass
Hope this gets your creative juices soaking wet!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Writer's Stew" - My W.I.T. 1/7/10

"Gather the freshest ideas from your garden of creativity. Wash thoroughly to remove any critters lingering on the leaves of your literary brain. Cut into big size chunks (the ideas, not the brain!) Make sure the chunks are large enough to fit in the stewing pot but small enough to get in your mouth. Fill pot with water and season with a variety of carefully chosen spices and herbs, otherwise identified as savory adjectives and sizzling adverbs. Add enough plot structure to give the stew tantalizing meaty stuff. Add choice of pasta or grains to add sufficient character (s) and watch them expand as you stir gently. Bring to a rolling boil and continue boiling until ideas and meats reach desired consistency. Allow to simmer. Substantial simmering is required to blend all the flavors properly, diffuse the yummiest aroma, and temp the taste buds. Once you're sure the stew is finished invite soup experts to sip and sample. Pray they ask for the entire recipe and give rave reviews from at least one top rated NY establishment. Wait patiently until you see your creation printed in the #1 Best Selling book titled Award Winning Recipes for Writers."

Monday, January 4, 2010

ABC's for 2010

Rather than tormenting yourself with resolutions that last only a few days, or weeks at most, keep it simple: Each day choose a letter from my Author's Alphabet to focus on. Then see what emerges this year for you as a writer and author!

A - Affirm aloud that you are a writer!
B - Browse your local bookstore
C - Create something new today
D - Delete at least one sentence from each page of your manuscript
E - Edit...AGAIN!
F - Finish a chapter
G - Give yourself fifteen more minutes to write
H - Hook: if the one you've been using in your query hasn't worked yet, get a new one!
I - Imagination, Introspection, and Intrique Invite Interesting characters
J - Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents: check it out!
K - Keep at matter how many rejections you get
L - Literary Marketplace: check it out!
M - Memorize your pitch and practice it until you know it as well as you know the ABC's
N - News: Read your local newspaper for interesting marketable writing ideas
O - Open a favorite book you haven't read in years and read it again
P - Publisher's Weekly: subscribe today!
Q - Query letter: rewrite it again after careful research on what it should look like
R - Respect your agent's and editor's time...respect your own time
S - Synopsis: condense it!
T - Trust your inner voice and write from your heart not your head
U - Understand why you write and you will better understand yourself
V - Viewpoint: reread your manuscript from a different viewpoint
W - Writer's Conference: research options and sign up for one today!
X - eXpect results equal to your efforts, skill, determination, talent, and perseverance
Y - YES! The word you will be shouting when your editor calls to make an offer
Z - Zany: do something crazy today to invite creativity!