Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Make Time to Write Your Novel

I used to cringe when I heard people talk about growing old. “You better enjoy these carefree days while you can, kid,” they would tell me.

“My life isn’t carefree,” I always wanted to say. “I worry about everything.”

Of course I never said that. I just ignored their admonishments and went back to worrying about passing a test or how I’d tell my friend I lost her copy of Helter Skelter or whether the boy sitting behind me in World History knew I was alive.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally realized life truly is fleeting. The older I get, the more aware of it I become. Until I grasp the value of time I will continue to squander and waste it, not doing what needs to be done.

Since this is a writing blog I won't get into letting others know how much they mean to us or how we should stop and smell the roses, though that stuff is extremely important as well.

All I will do here is remind you that when we are gone, our stories go with us. The stories of our childhood, our parents, those frozen moments etched in our hearts that helped shape us into who we are today, are waiting to get onto the page. When we are gone, they will be lost forever.

I have a friend who says he doesn't have time to write though he enjoys discussing his writing ideas with me. He is a busy man. He has a family and a fulltime job and property that needs tended. But he also watches sports on television every weekend. He is nearly addicted to computer games and loves surfing the Net for news coverage.

He has time to write. You find time for what you like. But writing is hard. It's easier and usually more fun to sit around and talk about writing and discuss plotlines and characters than to actually buckle down and get to work. So we put it off. We say someday. We'll wait until we're inspired. Let me tell you, you get inspired by doing something, not sitting around and thinking about doing it.

Once we finally realize the value of our time, often for many of us it is too late. While your life might seem like a long time in the midst of it, truly it is a blink of an eye. Before you know it, you'll look back and wonder what happened to all the years that transpired since you first said you were going to write a book. Don't put it off. Even if you only take a small step today, stop procrastinating.

Write something today. Don't talk to your spouse or coworker or best friend about writing. Write something. Write down a memory from your childhood. Write the story your grandmother always told you about her childhood. I bet it's already harder to recall than it was twenty years ago. Get it down before it's gone. Don't depend on your memory. Don't depend on your sister who remembers all those old stories. Get it down so you can tell it to your child. Better yet, get it down because it may encourage you to keep going, keep telling, until you have a masterpiece ready to submit.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Writing workshops for every level of writing

Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. – Truman Capote

As writers, we must continually learn the craft, and fortunately, there are numerous ways to educate ourselves. High school and college classes, books on craft, writing conferences, and nowadays, even online writing courses provide writers with endless possibilities to hone and polish their work.

Today, I’m thrilled to share with you about WIES Workshops. We began offering affordable, educational, online courses earlier this year. We usually have two or three courses each month, geared towards writers of all skill levels. Our workshops can be completed from the comfort of your own home and offer a great alternative (or even an excellent addition to) numerous conferences each year. Multi-published, award-winning, and/or best-selling authors considered experts in their chosen field teach our courses, so the benefits for the student are exceptional, for instruction and for networking.

Class size is small, format is easy to use, and the instruction one-on-one. Student feedback has been very positive thus far, and we can’t wait to hear of the successes as our students continue on their writing journey.

October course offerings include:
Writing Fiction Proposals, taught by Virginia Smith. This course covers all the elements of building a successful proposal, taught by one of the best. Virginia Smith has just signed her 12th book contract in four years, so she knows what she’s doing. She teaches other courses for us, and the students rave about her instruction. At the end of this 4-week course, Smith provides feedback on each student’s completed book proposal elements (minus the sample chapters.)

Reach for the Stars! A Writing Course for Young Authors is taught by Susan K. Marlow. This unique course is geared towards students ages 10-15. It’s a great unit study for homeschoolers, or for any young person interested in writing. Susan Marlow’s energy is contagious, so the class will be fun and educational. This 6-week course offers discounts for homeschool groups of five or more.

Writing Devotionals is taught by Jeanette Hanscome, who brings her experience to the table to help writers learn how to share God’s truth without preaching. This 4-week course will not only teach you the basics and formatting of devotions, but will help you learn to write tight and focused, and help you find home for your work.

Other upcoming courses include:
· Build Your Publishing Credits
· Head Games: Exploring Point-of-View
· Writing for the YA Market
· Writing Romantic Suspense
· How to Write How-To Books
· From Flat to Full: Characterization in Fiction
· Writing for Children
· Writing Women’s Fiction
· And MORE!

Each month new classes are offered, so check the schedule regularly for updates.

Courses range from four to eight weeks in length, and $100-$150 in price. Gift certificates and payment plans are available; scholarships may be available for some of the courses, so please send me an e-mail if you’re interested in one, and we’ll see what’s available.

For more information, or to register for any WIES Workshop, visit

Teresa, thanks so much for welcoming me to your blog. I’d love to hear from your readers.

About Tracy:
Tracy Ruckman is a freelance editor, writer, and photographer. She owns Write Integrity Editorial Services and WIES Workshops, and hosts the popular Pix-N-Pens blog for writers, editors, and photographers. Her story, Miracle of the Nativity, appears in the book Christmas Miracles by Cecil Murphey and Marley Gibson, releasing October 2009.

Tracy is the blessed wife of an incredible husband and the proud mom of two grown sons and one spoiled rotten dog. She loves to travel, fish, garden, and read - and usually has her camera with her at all times.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Best Writing Advice You'll Ever Receive

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

One of my writing groups posed this question the other day. You will have your own answer to this question and I'd love to hear it. But here's my answer.

Anytime I speak, I am usually asked a variation on this topic. Advice has come from many venues, but I believe the most useful I received has come by way of quotes. I love quotes. They inspire and motivate me. The best advice I ever received came from a quote by Raymond Chandler. I can't find the exact quote, but the gist of the sentiment was to write as quickly and as passionately as you can without stopping to see if what you're writing is any good. There's plenty of time for that later.

That is how I strive to write. Without editing. Without second guessing myself. Without worrying if it makes sense or if anyone will pay good money to read it. Just get the words on paper and worry about how it all turns out later.

Sounds easy enough, but it's quite difficult to put into practice. One of the hardest things for me to do is shut off the inner editor and get down to writing. I typically hate every word I write while I'm writing. It isn't until after I'm finished, usually with the entire book, that I read a passage and think, "Hey, this is pretty good. I don't even remember writing it."

That's when writing is fun and worth all the fear, frustration, and doubt that goes along with it.

So get to it. The story idea that’s been pestering you, the article you should’ve written last week, the blog post you meant to write but can't quite remember the point you wanted to make-- whatever it is--write it quickly and with passion. Don’t worry that it’s too long or too short or not original enough for anyone to want to read. Just get it down.

You've got a lifetime to edit. Now have a wonderful writing week.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How to be a Successful Writer--Part II

Welcome back to Part II of an article by Judith Krantz. Again, my thoughts are in italics.

7. Work regular hours, as if you were being monitored by a time clock. Whatever your schedule, commit to be at your desk during those hours. If you feel blocked, leave the desk, roll on the floor, groan if necessary but DO NOT leave the room.

This is another item on the checklist I need to give attention to. I almost beg for distractions, especially when I’m stuck on something. Work through, dear writer. If a section gets tough, move on to something else and come back to it later. Sometimes the answer to a problem comes when we aren’t struggling with it so hard. Just don't stop writing.

8. Keep good-sized pads of paper and pencils all over the house, particularly in the bathroom, kitchen, near your bed, wherever you read or watch TV. Take a pad with you if you're going out ANYWHERE. Inspiration is a tease and a flirt.

Love this one. I often get “Brilliant” ideas that I’m sure I won’t forget. I don’t bother to jot them down, and, you guessed it, ten minutes later, they’re out of my head forever. Don’t let this happen.

9. Don't talk about your work with your friends. It's better to write in secret until you've been published. This avoids the question, "How's it going?" and prevents using up the vitality of your creative energy in conversation. Show your work to only one other person for commit or criticism.

I don’t talk much at all about my work with anyone. When people ask how it’s going, they get a very vague reply. I usually talk to my husband when I feel like a brainstorming session. He’s good at bouncing ideas off of. Not a writer himself, he gives me matter-of-fact input and nothing else. Invaluable.

10. Learn to compose directly on a typewriter (or computer nowadays). Have a typing chair that supports the middle of your back while your feet are on the ground.

‘Nuff said.

11. Don't get discouraged. One great writer in the middle of her career wrote to a friend, "It's terrible to think, as I do every time I start a book, that I no longer have -- that I never had -- any talent..."

It is so good to know that all writers go through this. I am sometimes embarrassed to read my early books because I think they are so terrible. I almost want to apologize to every person who bought the books. William Styron wrote----“I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting stated each day. Let’s face it—writing is hell.”

Amen, brother.

12. Rewrite. When your work is finished, go back to the beginning and rewrite, because now you are a much better writer than you were when you wrote your first page. Rewrite up to the end and then look it over again to see if you can't rewrite some more.

I love this and it can’t be stressed strongly enough. New writers especially fall in love with their words and don’t think it can be improved upon in any way. Wrong! Nearly anything can stand improvement. I’m willing to wager you’ve read a book by a famous multi-published author and found mistakes and poorly written passages. It happens to all of us. Read through with an open, critical eye, and rewrite.

And in case you wonder what's up with the squirrel at top of the post, check out my other blog Joy in the Journey to enter a very fun contest. (This will be my only hint.) Yes, there are prizes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

This is a summary of the article titled "How to be a successful writer: 12 suggestions by Judith Krantz." My input--if you care to read them--is in italics.

Part I

1. Don't allow yourself to be intimidated by the work of other authors. You may not be Cheever or Dickens but that doesn't mean there isn't a market for your work.

This one stymies me all the time. Even when I'm halfway through a manuscript and feeling like things are going pretty well, I wonder what gives me the right to think I will ever have something worth contributing to the world when there are already so many wonderful books out there. Tuning out that voice of premature defeat is a constant struggle.

2. Pick the area in which you would like to be successful, and read the works of writers in that area with an alert and analytical eye.

I enjoy this part of the process most of all. I must confess though I have become somewhat a bit of a writing snob, thinking I would've done it differently, thus writing a more engaging book. I realize this mindset contradicts what I wrote in answer to Number 1.

3. Don't imitate. The trick is to find your own voice -- the thing that you can do what others cannot. The only way to find it is to write and write some more. Keep a diary. Write to friends. Letters of complaint count. Keep on writing.

I couldn't agree more. Voice is often a difficult concept for an aspiring writer to grasp. It doesn't have to be. We spend years cultivating voice when it's really unnecessary. . Just get out of the way and tell the story as only you can. Your voice will develop and become more apparent with each work.

4. Outline, outline, outline! Whatever you're writing, from a novel to an article -- with the possible exception of poetry -- needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Don't start until you know where you plan to go. Your outline will probably change as it grows more real and takes on a life of its own.

If the thought of an outline makes you want to throw down your pen and never take it up again, don't despair. Many prolific writers outline as little as possible, yours truly included. But it is a necessary evil if you ever want to be an efficient writer. Look at it as planning a trip. You may not know exactly how you'll get there. You may take a few detours along the way and encounter a few unexpected delights, but you should have a destination in mind and a road map beside you before you ever leave home.

5. In any fiction, identify your main characters early. List character traits for each one. Visualize them. Don't try to break new ground unless you're prepared to wait a long time for recognition.

I tear pictures out of magazines of how I imagine my main characters and pin them on my bulletin board so I always have a face in front of me. It reminds me who this person is. I fill out as much of a biographical sketch as possible early on. I learn more about my character as I go along, just like I do with people in real life who I've known for years. But it's good to know a lot going in. Your characters are living out their story through you. You should have a good idea what that story is.

6. Have a private place to work in. My (her) sign says, "PLEASE, do NOT knock, do NOT say hello or goodbye, do NOT ask what's for dinner, do NOT disturb me unless the police or firemen have to be called.

This seldom works for me. I'm too tempted to answer the phone or stop for food or take the dogs for a walk. I need more discipline in this area, especially if I someday hope for aspiring writers to think of me as some sort of expert in this field.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II of How to be a Successful Writer by Judith Krantz

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Creating Characters We Want to Hate but Can't

My inner editor no longer whispers to me while I read or nudge at the back of my brain when I see a poorly devised commercial. She screams at the top of her voice. Yesterday was no different while I watched Gran Torino, starring Clint Eastwood. I generally watch movies months and years behind the general viewing public, but don’t fret. If you haven’t yet seen the movie I won’t spoil anything for you.

I just can’t help noticing when I see a story that works, or equally when one doesn’t. Since we’ve been talking about the creation of characters I’ll stick with that topic as I discuss how they managed to make a character like bigoted, bitter, hateful Walter Kowalski so darn lovable.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know there wasn’t much to love about Kowalski. He hated everybody, and I mean everybody. He was an equal opportunity bigot. He had a negative, profane slur to throw against the Irish, Italians, Jews, African Americans, the young, the old, women, Asians, auto mechanics, religion, the Church, and his own children, just to name a few.

He reminded me of a bigger, meaner, more opinionated Archie Bunker having a really bad week.

His reactions to the world were so mean and over-the-top, I couldn’t keep from laughing from time to time. I could also understand why he was the way he was though I didn’t necessarily agree with it. I suppose writers had to make him somehow funny or viewers would throw bricks through theater screens across the country. Of course the character was played by Clint Eastwood, and you expect certain things from a Clint Eastwood movie. It’s hard not to root him even if he is rude and crass and the most hateful creature a writer can create.

There was a reason for Kowalski’s bitterness. I won’t explain here, but the story would’ve been downright insulting if he’d been a sweet old gentleman who passed out candy and witticisms to all the neighborhood children.

The point is Kowalski’s character was multi-layered. Underneath the bigotry and bravado was a heart. I won’t go so far as to say a heart of gold. It was Eastwood after all, but we saw the cracks in the veneer. Like the time he gazed at a picture of his dead wife and told the dog; “We miss Mama, don’t we, Daisy?”

Who wouldn’t get a catch in their throats at a question like that? I think that’s why writers gave Kowalski a dog. American viewers—and readers—will forgive almost any sin if the jerk doing the sinning loves a dog enough to talk to it as though it understands.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Whose story is this anyway?

Someone asked me the other day why a story had to be told by different characters. I think what this young man meant to ask was why an author employed several different Points of View throughout the story. A point of view, of course, is who is telling the story in a particular scene.

There are several different ways to tell a story, and each one has its place. First person point of view is popular in police procedurals with wizened detectives and private eyes and also with chick lit, ie; Brigit Jones’ Diary. I have only written two novels in first person point of view, though I prefer that method more than any other.

First person narrative can be very limiting. The reader can only know what the main character knows. They can’t know of a storm brewing in another state if the hero isn’t watching the weather. They can’t know the killer is outside the window if the heroine doesn’t see a shadow of feel the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. If you choose to write your story in first person, you can’t switch halfway through and let the reader know something our hero doesn’t. But by using first person the reader gets very deep into the head of the character telling the story, and that’s always a good thing.

Third person narrative doesn’t necessarily mean the reader can’t get as close to the main character. Done well the reader can come to understand the hero just as well as first person, and this method might be the way to go for a beginning writer. The writer is free to pursue several different leads in the story. The reader can hear the story from the viewpoint of the heroine, her mother, her estranged daughter, and even the postman if he plays a key role in the book.

The writer can let you know why John loves Susan, but Susan can’t love him back, and why her best friend thinks she’s making the worst mistake of her life.
When first beginning your novel, play around with different points of view. You will learn soon enough how the story needs to be written. The characters will let you know who’s in charge and who’s voice must be heard the loudest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Know your characters

Last time we talked about the pivotal “What if” moment that determines what your novel is about. You’ve considered possible scenarios, reasons your killer only terrorizes left-handed, red-headed concert pianists. You know what your heroine did to attract the attention of your killer. You’ve come up with a few red herrings designed to throw off the reader. You even have an idea for a subplot involving the heroine and her estranged mother.
But before you begin writing this novel that’s sure to be the next bestseller, you need to decide who the story happens to. I ask myself 5 questions about the major players in my books before I begin writing.

1. Who is the hero?
2. What does he want concretely?
3.What does he want abstractly?
4.What stands in his way?
5. What does he learn through the course of the novel?

In answer to the first question, I write an extensive biographical sketch: education, what he drives, where he was born, physical description. Go as far as you like. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know everything at first. You’ll learn as you go, but get as deep as you can. Your novel will benefit from all the thought you put into this stage.

What does you character want concretely? Let’s imagine he wants to learn to dance for his daughter’s wedding. Some of your characters’ needs won’t seem as important as others on the surface. Don’t stress over it at this point.

What does he want abstractly? Perhaps he has always had a poor relationship with his daughter. He wants to prove that he’s sorry for not being there when she was growing up.

What does he learn through the course of the novel? The answer to this question will tie in with the theme of your novel. Maybe he realizes he can’t buy love. Or his daughter loves him unconditionally and never held his parenting mistakes against him. Or that he should’ve been honest when she was little and not hid behind his career.
Answer these questions as best you can. It may prevent you from hitting your head against a wall later.