Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo--Your Novel is 30 Days Away

I did it. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month. If you haven't yet, it's not too late. Be warned though, the website is moving slowly tonight. Lots of last minute writers logging in and signing up. Leave it to writers to put off action until the last minute. We are champs at procrastination.

Most Novembers I am already in the middle of one or two projects and can't commit to writing 50K words on anything else. This year found me between contracts and between writing projects, so I thought, "What have I got to lose?"

In June '09 my darling husband woke up from a dream and laid out an entire romantic synopsis for me. Most writers have dreamed something that might spark an idea for a book or make a cute scene in a novel, or is just a kick to play around with. But his idea had complete novel potential. Best part, it was a romance, typically not something he thinks about or I write.

That story has nagged at me since last June when I transcribed his recounting into 8 pages of a synopsis. I've made a few changes, expounded on a few characters and sub-plots, and I'm rip-roaring ready to go tomorrow.

If you haven't signed up for NaNoWriMo or don't even know what it is, check out the website. It's not that complicated. Nor is it intimidating if you clear your head, fasten your rear to the chair and let the characters have their way. That's the best thing about NaNo. No plotting if you don't want, no editing--it's absolutely forbidden. How else will you reach your word count?--no stressing over plot points and submission guidelines. The whole point is to see if you can actually bang out 50K words in a month.

Try it and prove to the world You Can Write a Novel. Prove it to yourself. What have you got to lose? You might even find gold.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time stealers

Writer Ben Erlichman shared his addiction to video games on his blog this morning. Actually it's a four-part post you should really check out.

Ben's confessions reminded me of my son. Randy is 26. His excuse for spending hours at Halo and others like it is that he can play with old friends and a cousin on Active Duty he doesn't keep up with any other way. He's even played with TJ Houshmanzada (not going to take the time to look up correct spelling) and Chad Ochocinco--receiver and former receiver for the Cincy Bengals. For an avid sports fan--and even a not-so-interested-in-sports mom, that's pretty sweet.

But in the process of keeping up with friends and making new ones, not to mention the fun he has mastering the games, he doesn't eat right, sleep enuf, or get any exercise. Sound familiar?

Ben's confessions reminded me the same can be said about any other addiction or pursuit that steals our time and keeps us from doing the things that will bring us closer to reaching our goals. Many of us would never allow video games to come between us and our writing time. Or TV or the telephone or other things we consider time wasters.

And not everything that keeps us from writing is a time waster per se. Housework must be done. The family needs to eat. We have to shop for the food to prepare. Then there are familial commitments, work, friends--the list goes on and on.

Even if we don't think we have any unhealthy addictions in our lives, we can use those necessary chores as excuses why we don't accomplish more. I appreciate Ben's honesty in sharing his addiction to video games with us this morning. May we be as honest in examining our own lives and the things we allow to separate us from our goals.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Even more on how NOT to get published

My mother always used to say: Every old crow thinks her little bird's feathers are the blackest. We can easily apply that sentiment to writing. All writers have done it, especially in the early days. We peruse bookshelves with our noses in the air and thinking, "How in the world did that thing get published? My book is ten times better?"

One of the easiest ways NOT to get published is to fall in love with every word you write. After all, any dummy can see it's pure brilliance. You've created a magical world in which any reader will be swept away. Your characters are multi-dimensional and complex. No other writer living or dead has come close to hammering out a plot like yours. Every reader who picks it up will be on the edge of her seat, unable to put it down until the final, satisfying scene.

Not a jot or a tittle can be added or taken away to enhance the story. If a publisher or agent can't see that...well, they don't deserve the honor of publishing your book anyway.

I believe William Faulkner said it first, and a whole lot of teachers of creative writing, film making, journalism and other kinds of storytelling have been repeating it through the ages: Kill your darlings.

Samuel Johnson had similar advice: "Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

I don't mean to say the only way to recognize if you've written something worth saving is that you must hate it. Just don't fall so in love with your work, you don't think it can be improved upon. Only God does it right the first go-round. Or in the case of writing--the twentieth go-round.

First drafts are easy. Throwing words on the page with little regard for grammar or syntax or if the crazy thing even makes sense. It's the editing and rewriting where many writers want to take shortcuts. Fixing the plot holes, checking the facts, smoothing out the rough edges, getting the whole thing to flow, well, that's just plain work.

What writer wouldn't be happier if all they had to do was throw their writing onto the page and be done with it. I've read much from writers who do exactly that. It's always beginning writers who have not taken the time to learn the craft. They have a story inside them they've been wanting to write forever. It flows beautifully inside their heads. Sadly that vision does not always translate as brilliantly to the page.

If you don't want to get published, write your story the way you want. Refuse to follow the advice of those who've been down the road before you. Anyone who doesn't like your work doesn't have to read it. (Believe me, they won't.) Don't read books on writing. Don't study the classics or bestselling books in your genre to see what they're doing right and you probably aren't.

Most importantly, don't read through your work objectively. Don't be willing to hack and slash any passage that slows the flow of the story, anything that doesn't further the plot, anything that might cause the reader to scratch his head and say, "Huh." or worse, throw your book across the room. Whatever you do, don't get rid of those long, flowery passages that demonstrate your illustrious writing prowess.

The only thing important is that YOU like it. A good story doesn't really matter as long as readers know how smart you are.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More on how NOT to get published

Thomas Hardy wrote after a particularly scathing review of Tess of the D'urbervilles, "If this continues, no more writing for me. A man must be a fool to stand and be shot at."

I know how poor Tom felt, on a much smaller scale of course. Even before the bad reviews come--and they will come--we feel shot at nearly every time we sit down to write. Or when we browse bookshelves and compare our writing to that of those who consistently sell hundreds of thousands of copies every year. Or when we receive yet another rejection.

Let's face it, this business is hard. It can be discouraging on the best of days. I tell fledgling writers if they need instant gratification or validation or the occasional pat on the back, they should go into a more encouraging field like the ministry or motherhood.

So here's number two on my list of how NOT to get published. Wait until someone likes you.

Take your manuscript to work and show it to the meanest, most critical and judgmental person there. Your father-in-law will do in this exercise as well. When they give you positive feedback, when they tell you they've never read anything more beautifully penned, and that you are the most brilliant, prolific writer since the Apostle Paul, you are ready to seek publication.

Until you get validation and encouragement from your peers, you shouldn't write another word. Who else but the people you work with or your family who never read a book until the Twilight series came out, can better judge your work?

By all means, don't go to writers' conferences and show your manuscript to people who actually know what they're talking about. Don't read books on the craft or practice with shorter pieces. Don't admit your first attempts might not be as good as you first thought, and should be rewritten from the first word or scrapped altogether.

So stop writing. There are already thousands upon thousands of writers more talented than you who can do what you do much better than you do it. Competition is too fierce. Publishers aren't buying so you might as well stop writing. You won't find the validation you crave in this economy so just give it up.

Great men undertake great things because they are great; fools, because they think them easy. - Vauvenargues

Happy Writing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

How not to get published.

This is a non-scientific list about how NOT to get a book published.

I'll add a new observation every day this week about how to avoid getting published. My first observation is this: Lazy writers do not get published.

There are many reasons why lazy writers can't land a book contract. For benefit of space and time, I'll cover just a few. First and foremost, lazy writers don't spend enough time with their rears adhered to the chair pumping out the words. They talk about writing. They watch the latest Oscar winning movie and tell everyone who'll listen that their story is better. They lament with their unpublished friends about how cliquish and unfair the business is. They discuss ideas and say, "Someday I'm going to finish that book." Or start it...

Hence, they never get published.

Lazy writers don't bother to learn the craft. They say, "I'm from the school of hard knocks. My story is about REAL life. It will set the industry on its ear and have readers clamoring to buy my book. My mechanics aren't that great. I forgot most of my high school grammar rules. I not really sure what Point of View or back story are, but my story will make up for all that. That's what editors are for."

Lazy writers don't look for smaller markets to publish their work while working on their novel. The day will come to seek publication of your novel. Editors and agents will want to know your bio. M.B.A.'s are impressive, but that doesn't mean you can artfully string two sentences together. What's your experience? Where were you published before? Friends' blogs and article directories don't count. Get published somewhere that pays for your work. Not only is the practice and experience invaluable, you will show you are a writer who can produce something someone is willing to pay for.

Lazy writers don't go to conferences. There is no better--or more fun--way to learn the craft, make contacts, and get inspired. Most aspiring writers don't have many writer friends. It's difficult in those early days to find someone who understands the frustrations and joys that go along with the writing life. Every person at a writers' conferences hears voices in his head the same as you.

Lazy writers don't take the time to build a platform. Nearly as important as getting work published in a smaller market is having built an audience before ever approaching a publisher. I don't mean you must have 10,000 readers committed to buying your book before a publisher will open your submission. But competition is tight and getting tighter. Thanks to the Internet it's easy to get your name in front of readers. Create a webpage. Every writer should have one. Guest host on writing blogs. Create a Facebook page to promote your work. Write articles about your area or expertise, even if it's just about writing for publication.

It will take more than a well written book to get the attention of publishers and agents in today's economy. Don't get lazy or get used to a mailbox full of rejection letters.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Make them Suffer

While preparing for a writers' workshop--You Can Write a Novel--I came across this great quote by Alfred Hitchcock.

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”

While Al was speaking more of moviegoers, the sentiment can easily be applied to writing. I love quotes. I love using them in teaching and using them to inspire myself. And this one is a gem.

"Always make them suffer." This is every writer's purpose. Build an emotional attachment between the reader and the character, put the reader into the situation, and create extreme nervous anxiety that stretches the reader to the very limit of endurance. Make them suffer.

Isn't that when you know you just read a good book? When you, as a reader, became part of the action. When you felt like you had something to lose. Even with romances, YA, or picture books, pull your reader in. They should experience whatever the character experiences. Whether romance or danger or the exhilaration of buying the perfect dress at 80% off, the reader should experience these sensations.

My challenge to you today is to open your current WIP at random. Any page. Open and start reading. Is there tension on that page? Does it capture your imagination? Do you want to learn more about the character and the situation just by reading that one small excerpt? Is it enough to keep you reading? If not, raise the stakes.

Happy writing and make them suffer.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Writing helps, prompts and inspiration

To my dear followers here at You Can Write a Novel;

I read a quote not long ago; If you chase two rabbits, both with get away. I am cancelling this blog for the time being in order to focus on my Joy in the Journey blog. I hope you will join me there for inspiration, writing helps, encouragement, and fun. This blog has been languishing long enough.

So I'll focus my energies on catching that other rabbit and hope to take you along for the hunt.

Thanks for your support and encouragement during this writing journey.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Crafting Unforgettable Characters--Free E-book

My friend and fellow author K. M. Weiland has graciously allowed me to bring this info and offer to you.

As those of you follow me on Facebook and Twitter may already know, I’ve been hard at work for the last month, putting together an e-book as a gift to my readers. Today, I’m excited to announce that you can now claim your copy of Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Featuring some of my most popular tips on character crafting, this pdf offers a good starting place for understanding the basics of character building, as well as some tips for troubleshooting. You’ll also discover inspiring quotes from successful authors, writing prompts, and creativity exercises. Of course, the discussion of character is far too vast a subject to be covered in a 50-page e-book, but this information will give you the tools you need to tackle your latest batch of characters.

Click here to follow the link.

Thanks, K.M. for letting me share.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Respect Your Novel---Just Write

I don't know about you, but my day is full of distractions. Since I am able to stay home and focus on writing fulltime, it seems there are even more distractions that take me away from my desk.

Whatever your situation you might have a hard time focusing on writing once you are able to put everything else aside and hit it hard. While preparing my presentation for a writers workshop in the Dayton, Ohio area next month, I came across this list I had compiled of What Not To Do's when you should be writing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Even better, you might just find some inspiration.

Do not check your email. Do not log in to your favorite writers’ group to see what everyone’s up to. Do not turn on the TV and tell yourself its research. Do not wash the dishes. Do not reorganize your computer files. Do not take out the trash. Do not Google your exes. Do not Google yourself. Do not take a nap—I fight this temptation every afternoon. Do not change the cat litter. Do not hang out the laundry. Do not file your nails. Do not answer the phone. Do not pay your bills. Do not balance your checkbook. Do not yell at your husband because he didn’t record the last five transactions. Do not start to think you don’t actually have what it takes to write a book. Do not edit your ideas before you even write them down. Do not start a to-do list. Do not start wondering if that mole is bigger than the last time you looked at it. Do not start thinking of all the loose ends you need to fix before you finish your book. Do not start perusing your own bookshelves for inspiration. Do not organize all the magazines you subscribe to but never read. Do not start thinking about what to fix for dinner. Do not look up the number for the local delivery place because you probably won’t have time to cook dinner since you’re having such an awesome writing day. Do not start worrying about all the time you’ve already wasted. Do not come up with 20 more Do-Not’s to add to this list.

Enough lolly-gagging. Get back to work!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Do your habits hold you back?

They say old habits die hard. For me that is especially true. Have you ever moved a clock from one wall to another? How many times did you look at the blank wall to check the time only to remember the clock had been moved?

This week on American Christian Fiction Writers, they are discussing habits, both good and bad, that either rob us of our time or make us more productive. I examined my writing habits to see which ones should be eradicated and which ones I need to adopt?

One habit that I start every day with is logging into Spark People—an online community for those looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle—and logging my fitness minutes. You get Spark Points for time spent working out. Once I’m there, I check out the challenges for the day, see how my Spark Buddies are doing on my teams, and posting encouragement to newcomers.

Nothing wrong with that, but if I’m not careful, in no time at all an entire hour has slipped away. I do the same thing when looking for blog ideas. Other blogs are so darn interesting I have to stop and read. I convince myself it’s for research. After all, I need to see what they’re doing to attract so many visitors. The same goes for Facebook and Twitter. Before I know it, it’s almost eleven and I haven’t written a word.

The afternoon brings its own challenges. I usually eat my lunch around one. I look forward to that hour all day. I nuke something and plop down in front of the TV for some downtime. One episode of The King of Queens turns into two and then I watch an episode of The Office that I recorded last night. Or worse I doze off on the couch and don’t accomplish a thing.

What about my good habits? Hmmm. There has to be something. First thing every morning I watch Joyce Meyer, work out, and then watch another preacher from Singapore while I cool down before taking a shower. It’s after I get out of the shower that my routine breaks down.

I need to learn to apply the same dedication to writing as I do my workout routine. I worked out on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day because I didn’t want to gain over the holidays. Achieving my writing goals should be more important, or at least as much as keeping off the weight I had lost. While my health is important, my career should have the same priority.

Habits I need to incorporate:
1. Keep the TV off, especially during the day when I am home alone. What better time is there to write?
2. Prioritize. Each day is a gift. Don’t waste a moment of it.
3. Don’t answer the phone every time it rings. Not every call needs to be taken when it is convenient for the caller.
4. Write at the same time every day. Begin early and finish early so if something comes up I’m not behind in my work.

What about your writing habits? Are they productive or ineffective? What do you need to incorporate into your routine and what should you eradicate? It’s a new year—an opportunity to begin anew. Don’t lament the time wasted or what didn’t work last year. Move on, and move up.

Happy Writing

Monday, January 4, 2010

Taking Inventory

Two years ago my friend joined a group called Celebrate Recovery created by The Purpose Driven Life’s Rick Warren. She has grown immeasurably since joining. One thing she told me about the other day was taking inventory of her life, especially of how she has grown from last year to this.

Unlike resolutions, an inventory is simply a way of making sure you are on track to reach your goals you have already set and evaluating where you are on your journey, whether spiritually, physically, in relationships, career, or any other goal a person might have made.

Unfortunately my inventory was so depressing I cannot bear to post it here. Suffice it to say, I did not get a book contract. That goal makes all others pale in comparison. The factors that determine whether a book is picked up by a publisher or not are not completely within the author’s control, especially in such tough economic times. But that doesn’t take the sting out of the rejection or the amount of time I am further behind in seeing an actual book on a shelf. I did procure an agent. I wrote the first draft of a new book. After focusing my energies in building a web presence and trying to publish the books already finished, that one is still in a rough, hideous state.

I will continue in 2010 to hone my skills and grow in the craft. If something doesn’t change soon, I will be forced out of the house and back to the nine-to-five grind. Since I would rather eat barbed wire, I trust this sense of urgency will propel me to take drastic measures, like actually fastening my rear to the chair and focusing on my writing.

What about you? Are you on the right path to end up where you want to go? What resistance do you regularly face? What can you do today that will put you on the fast track to your goals?

Here’s to a blessed, beautiful and healthy 2010.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010--A year of REVOLUTION, not resolution

Every year as we bid adieu to one year and welcome another, we do so with such enthusiasm and expectations. We wipe our slates clean and start the New Year with a fresh outlook. We are sure this is the year we’ll make permanent, positive changes, whether in our finances, relationships, careers, health, whatever.

It’s a great way to start off a New Year, but most often our resolve doesn't last long enough to produce any real results. The initial enthusiasm wears off and all too soon we find ourselves right back where we started.

A "resolution" is a statement of action. Thus, to be resolved, means to be committed and dedicated to an act. That’s where our trouble starts. We want to make changes, we are just not committed enough to take the necessary steps to see our resolutions through to the end.

Just how determined are you to make changes in 2010? Changes that will endure?

The only obstacle between you and making this a year of Revolution is you. Do you want to quit smoking? Lose weight? Get out of debt? Spend more time with your family? Read through the Bible? Finish that novel you've been talking about? Get a book contract?

What's the resolution you'd rather turn into a REVOLUTION?

First and foremost you must believe your goals are worth working for. Secondly, free your mind of the negative images that keep you from taking the proper steps to reach those goals. Banish from your life whatever is holding you back. Move forward with resolve and determination. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Nothing worth having comes easy. It's time to declare 2010 a year of revolution. A year we become free of our old patterns and set our lives in a direction we want. A year of real change!