Monday, September 15, 2014

10 Things NEVER TO DO When Writing


WHEN YOU'RE WRITING NEVER:

10. Stop Reading:  After a long day of reading your own work it the last thing you want to do is pick up someone else’s but do it! You will stay motivated. I learn something new with each book I read.

9. Rely on Inspiration: Don't waste a day waiting for inspiration. Sit down, get to work, and inspiration will come calling.

8. Neglect Genre: It’s tempting to want to walk in between genres. What would be better than a science fiction, erotic, mystery right? But remember, if you want to find passionate and engaged readers, you have to find the genre that you most want to write and stick with it.

7. Get Bored: If you’re bored, chances are your readers will be to.  If you find yourself becoming bored, or your main character is skating through the plot with ease, throw some roadblocks in the way. Conflict moves stories.

6. Rely on Pretty People: Men don't always have to be fearless and women don't always have to be sexy. Your readers will spend a lot of time with your characters so make sure there is something going on in their heads and their hearts. Readers love characters for their imperfections and shortcomings just as much as their looks.

5. Lose the Through Line: Remember who's story you’re writing and what the point is.  Veer off the path and you lose your readers.

4. Be Afraid to Cut, Cut, Cut: Cut close to the bone. Make the tough choices and take out the things you really love. They may be great but only if they move the story forward.

3. Throw in the Towel: Too many people have half finished books, or books without an ending floating around on their hard drives. The easiest thing in the world is starting a book. The hardest thing is finishing one.

2. Let your Characters Off Easy: Just because you love your characters doesn’t mean you have to go easy on them. Let them struggle and sometimes fail. Anything that you put in your characters' gives the readers greater insight into their lives. Give them a goal to work towards, make it hard to get and you can’t go wrong.

1. Beat Yourself Up: The book isn’t shaping up the way you want it to? Someone read a chapter and didn’t care for it? Feel like jumping off a cliff? No worries. Those days happen, but remember that every day that you’re thinking, “woe is me,” is another day that you could be finishing a chapter or polishing a plot point. You can spend your time beating yourself up or beating your characters up. I do a lot of the former but am trying to stop.


Happy writing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

10 Bits of Writing Advice from J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien by Jenny Hansen


What if J.R.R. Tolkien had never written his books? What if there had been no Hobbits and no Gandalf, no Legolas or Frodo? The world of story would be an entirely different place.

Our stories matter. They really do.

10 Tips from the “Master of Middle Earth”:

1. Vanity is useless. Truly, Tokien wrote his books to please himself and answer the writer inside him. He expected them to go “into the waste-paper basket” after they left his desk, not live on in popular culture. I'm not saying we don't need to learn good story craft however, if you entertain yourself, at least you know one person that enjoyed the hell out of your book.

2. Keep writing, even through adversity. It took the man SEVEN years to write The Hobbit. He balanced a demanding day job, illness, and worry for his son who was away in the Royal Navy. I'm reminded of Laura Drake, her brick wall, and her 400+ rejections.

3. Listen to critics you trust. When his editor said, “Make it better,” he didn't throw the advice away. He read and re-read, and he tried his best. He credits listening to knowledgeable feedback, and working to make it better, for what he considered the best scene in the Lord of the Rings: “the confrontation between Gandalf and his rival wizard, Saruman, in the ravaged city of Isengard.” Oh, and the editor he listened to? C.S. Lewis, the creator of the Chronicles of Narnia.

4. Let your interests drive your writing. Tolkien's original interest was in languages. He took that and created new languages, and then an entire culture, around it. Our own contributor, Kathryn Craft, was a dancer, choreographer, and dance critic. She tapped all that experience to write The Art of Falling, exploring themes of love, dance, friendship, and distorted body image. that passion and truth will resonate with readers.

5. Poetry can lead to great prose. When he could not express his thoughts in the prose he wished for, he wrote much of it in verse. Authors as diverse as Charlotte Brontë and Langston Hughes started in poetry before moving to longer mediums. Next time you get stuck, you might try Tolkien's trick of writing your scene as a poem first.

J.R.R. Tolkien6. Happy accidents. No matter how much you plan, happy accidents occur on the pages of every book. Jennifer Crusie calls it “the girls in the basement,” saying they hand her up treasures as she writes. Others might call it “the muse.” One more kick in the pants from my criitique partner, Laura Drake: If you don’t put your butt in the chair and do the work, you won’t have any “happy accidents.”

7. Dreams give us inspiration. All of us have dreams so strong, they push us to the page. But what about literal dreams? Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers did a great post called How to Mine Your Dreams for Story Gold. When Tolkien dreamed of drowning, he channeled the experience into motifs and prose for his stories. His "letters" describe how that drowning dream morphed into the drowning feeling of Mordor’s invasion of Middle Earth and the drowning of Isengard.

8. Real people make great characters. Tolkien drew on real people to populate Middle Earth. You can draw on people you know for your stories as well. Real people do amazing things, both big and small, and rarely do they recognize themselves on the page. It’s a win-win for authors.

9. You may be the next bestselling author. Tolkien did not expect the acclaim he received from his first book, The Hobbit. He felt like it was a happy accident. Here are fourteen bestselling books that were repeatedly rejected by publishers. You won't know until you send it out. Perhaps your cross-dressing unicorn superheroes will be the next phenomenon. (Yes, I made that up.)

10. Books you write may seem trite. We can’t see our own work. A scene we find melodramatic, the reader might find moving. Tolkien believed that if you learn some craft and pour your heart and imagination onto the page that the work will resonate. I believe that too.


Note: Here's a link to Tolkien's work in its entirety. The aforementioned infographic summarized material from a wonderful post by Roger Colby at Writing Is Hard Work, outlining his research on writing advice shared by the Lord of the Rings author in the book, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works. When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.


photo credit: kugel via photopin cc

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Morality and Honor: Social Mores in Historical Romance

I was overly ambitious while writing my talk for last Saturday's OCC/RWA meeting on Herstory: Writing and Researching the Historical Novel, so I'm going to excerpt some of the material I had to admit in my monthly blog post. This month, social mores.

One of the biggest traps historical novelists can fall into is writing historical characters with 21st century mores. And nothing can make the reader want to throw a book across the room quicker. This especially applies to women. The double standard still exists, but it was much greater in previous centuries.

War and social unrest have always upset the normal patterns of life, and social mores tend to fall by the wayside during such periods. Still, a historical female character who shows no regard for her reputation isn’t believable unless she’s already a fallen woman and has no reputation to lose. Personally, I don’t necessarily mind a heroine who flaunts society’s rules; I just need to believe that she knows what she is doing and is well motivated in her choices. The woman who doesn’t understand the consequences of her actions strains credibility. Women had a lot more to lose in the not-so-good old days. It's especially tricky when you have a virginal heroine. People in those days set great store in virginity. But if we're going to write sensual or erotic historical romance, we need to find a way for our heroines to bypass those restrictions.

Though the concepts may seem rather passé nowadays, honor and integrity were more important in the past, esp. for men of the upper classes. One of my favorite scenes in Downton Abbey is the one where the Earl of Grantham tries to buy off chauffeur Tom Branson if he will leave Sybil alone. Tom refuses and informs the earl that men in his class aren’t the only ones with honor. Point, Tom!

However, morality did tend to vary by class. Upper and middle-class children were taught their manners and the difference between right and wrong while poor kids just tried to survive. In his children’s novel, The Shakespeare Stealer, Gary Blackwood introduces us to Widge, an orphan boy apprenticed to a dishonest clergyman. Dr. Bright teaches Widge a form of shorthand he has developed and then sends the boy to write down other vicar’s sermons. One Sunday, Widge hears Bright deliver one of the sermons he’d copied. At first, Widge doesn’t think too much about it. As he puts it, "As nearly as I could tell, Right was what benefited you, and anything which did you harm was Wrong.”

In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the basis for My Fair Lady, Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, talks about the undeserving poor and opines on “dreadful” middle class morality.

Morality and honor sometimes require our characters to act against their own best interests, which can be great for conflict.

So how do you know what the social mores of your period were? And how likely were they to be ignored?

 See what was going on in the period. As I said, social mores often go out the window in wartime. And history being somewhat cyclical, periods of repression are usually followed by periods of licentiousness, like the English Restoration, a bawdy reaction to the moral restrictions of the preceding Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell.

Also consider the prevailing religion of the time and location of your book. That will often provide guidance. Moral standards in Puritan New England and Cavalier Virginia during the Colonial period, were quite different.

 Look for etiquette books for the social niceties. For the Regency period, check out The Mirror of the Graces by A Lady of Distinction, first published in 1811. I have a paperback copy, but it's available in e-book format format. Google etiquette and your period and you will likely find a lot of choices.

For those who missed the August meeting, I've added pages at the Reference Shelf on blog with two of my handouts. Primogeniture still to come.

British Titles: A Brief and Incomplete Guide

Source Books for Historical Writers: A Partial List

 Feel free to leave questions and comments below.

Linda McLaughlin / Lyndi Lamont

Friday, August 15, 2014

ART & SOUL

 I want to be upfront: I borrowed that headline. I saw it in the Los Angeles Times this morning and it started me thinking about how we, as writers, view ourselves. Actually, that's not quite correct. I've been thinking about this ever since I joined a discussion on LinkedIn. It went something like this.

Author #1:How do you decide on your novel titles?
Author #2: I like to use lots of words.
Author #3: I like titles that keep people guessing.
Author #4: I hate publishers. They always change my titles.
Author #5: Publishers have no soul. They aren't creative.
Me: I disagree. Publishers are creative in a different way, a business way. We should appreciate that and learn from it.

So, while we write, immersing ourselves in our fictional character's lives and worlds, we are being artistic and creative. When we come up for air, we need to be something else. We need to be publishers: clear-eyed, objective, and strategic.

If it weren't for traditional publishers taking a chance on me, investing in my art, offering me a platform for the work of my soul, I wouldn't have grown as a writer. I still have every rejection and acceptance letter I ever received because reading them reminds me of why I failed as much as why I succeeded. I still can visualize every editorial letter that came in the mail (after 28 books, that's a lot of letters). They outlined where I could do better: style, grammar, character development, transitional efforts, titles, plot and story. I still remember meetings with sales reps, buyers, distributors and realizing that at every level there was effort and money being spent on my behalf in ways that were corporately creative. I also know that the administrators did the research I could never do regarding an ever-changing marketplace.  Sure there were inequities.  Sure there were things I didn't agree with but my interaction with the publishers, more than any writing lesson, taught me the true art of bringing my work to an audience.

Now that I'm indie, I wear a publisher's hat. I can hire a freelance editor, a cover designer, and a formatter. I can even hire marketing experts to handle the last, critical part of the publishing puzzle. But if I do not understand and appreciate the creativity of the input they provide me -  a title that will cut through the ever-growing clutter, a cover image that is arresting even though it appears as a thumbnail, interesting ways to communicate with the marketplace -  then my money is wasted. I will never be able to truly control my own brand. 


When your book is finished and it's time to publish, take off the rose colored glasses of an author and get out your publisher's magnifying glass to assess the marketability of your work. Ask yourself "what would a publisher do?" I promise, if you answer that question honestly you will find avenues for success you never dreamed. In my book, that last step qualifies as creativity. That is the Art & Soul of  the business of publishing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Time Management for Writers

by Kitty Bucholtz

There is a lot of talk about self-publishing nowadays. The pros being bandied about include having more control, publishing faster, and potentially making more money. But that’s not what I was thinking when I heard about Kindle Direct Publishing in 2011.

I was thinking - this is the business I’ve been waiting for!

Ever since I was a little kid with a Kool-Aid stand, I’ve wanted to own my own business. By the time KDP came along, I’d already had two businesses, both writing-related. But I’d come to dread getting more work each week because I couldn’t tell if my customers were going to be easy and fun to work with or complete nut cases.

Now I have what I’ve always wanted - a business I run mostly by myself. If I hire an outside contractor for something like editing or design and they don’t perform as I’d like, or we have a personality clash, I can hire someone else for the next book.

The down side is that I am in charge of everything. Everything.

So after I published my first book, Little Miss Lovesick, in 2011, I quickly realized I was going to need tools to manage my time. I considered tools I’d already used as a magazine editor and a conference director, and I tweaked them for my new business. I bought books on organization and time management. I tried a lot of new things and took a lot of notes on what worked and what didn’t.

Eventually, I started sharing what I’d learned with other writers, then started an online class on time management for writers. Other creatives started asking questions, so I tweaked the class slightly to accommodate other creative people. I’m excited to say I’ll be teaching the class in person at the California Dreamin’ Conference next March!

Some of the tips I’ve shared with writers include:
   Start now - You don’t have to wait until January to start planning your calendar; you don’t even have to wait until Monday.
   Restart - Time management is slippery. Things will always come up that force changes to your schedule. You can hit the restart button at any moment and work around the changes.
   Write it down - People carry a lot of information in their heads, but even the most organized people compartmentalize and forget things. Writing your target deadlines down on a calendar will help you to keep track of where you are and what still needs to be done.
   Sticky notes can keep you calm - If you write directly on your calendar and something changes, the new information might be difficult to find. Worse, the scratched out information may be a reminder that you didn’t make your original deadline. That can end up making you feel bad, and no good can come of wasting your energy that way.

I’m excited to share this and much more at my workshop in March. I hope you’ll join me!

If you, too, love the idea of owning your own writing business, if you have a manuscript ready to self-publish but don’t know quite how to start, or if you want to learn how to do it in case you decide to self-publish in the future, I’ll be teaching “Your How-to Guide to Self-Publishing” next month. This online class offered by OCC RWA runs September 15 - October 12. You can get more information and sign up at http://www.occrwa.org/onlineclassSept14.html. Or come to the OCC meeting on September 13 and hear an abbreviated version of the class.

Happy Writing!

KittyBucholtz decided to combine her undergraduate degree in business, her years of experience in accounting and finance, and her graduate degree in creative writing to become a writer-turned-independent-publisher. Her novels, Little Miss Lovesick and Unexpected Superhero, and the free short story, "Superhero in Disguise," are now available at most online retail sites. Superhero in the Making will be released this summer.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Self-Pub Corner: Back Cover Copy "FInalist" in I Heart Indie Contest by Jina Bacarr

The sales pitch.

You either love it or hate it.

For your novel, it's called the back cover copy. It can be even more difficult to write than the dreaded synopsis when you're self-pubbing a novel. But you gotta do it.

The tease. The logline. The character descriptions.

Sometimes it seems it takes longer the write the back cover copy than the novel itself (just kidding...).

So you can imagine how excited I was when I found out my back cover copy and beautiful cover from Covers by Ramona for A Soldier's Italian Christmas is a finalist in the Novella category in the I Heart Indie contest!

Here's the back copy cover:

He is a U.S Army captain, a battle-weary soldier who has lost his faith.
She is a nun, her life dedicated to God.
Together they are going to commit an act the civilized world will not tolerate.
They are about to fall in love.

December 1943
Italy

The ravages of combat have taken a toll on Captain Mack O’Casey, who has lost his faith after seeing the horrors of war as the Nazis fight hard to keep the Allies from reaching Rome. His beliefs are challenged even more when he loses his way and ends up in a mystical place called Monte D'Oro Rose during the cold winter of 1943…and falls in love with the beautiful Sister Angelina.

The young nun has a secret of her own, one she will die trying to protect: the lost Cross of Saint Cecelia. She must find the religious relic first before the brutal Nazi major who will stop at nothing to get it. Even murder. Sister Angelina risks her life to save the cross for the Church, but will she also risk her heart? Falling in love with the handsome American soldier is against the rules, but she can’t deny the stolen moments with him have made her question her vows.

It is Christmas Eve when these two lonely people come together on this holiest of holidays and how faith helps them overcome their greatest fears. A time when the whole world holds its breath as brave men and women fight for freedom.

And a soldier and a nun dare to fall in love…

=============

And here is the cover! Check out this extended video excerpt from Chapter One from A Soldier's Italian Christmas


A Soldier's Italian Christmas: Excerpt from Chapter One from Jina Bacarr on Vimeo.


To celebrate being a finalist in the I Heart Indie contest, A Soldier's Italian Christmas is FREE for August 11, 12, and 13th!! Grab your copy HERE.

Best,
Jina
www.facebook.com/JinaBacarr.author
https://twitter.com/JinaBacarr
http://www.pinterest.com/jbacarr   

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

RWA National



RWA National was fun this year, as always.  I found myself quite busy and didn't get to attend as many workshops as I'd have liked.  I did attend one in particular, though, since I was its moderator!  It was called Multiplicity Rocks: Writing Concurrently in Multiple Genres or Subgenres.
I spent a lot of time at book signings like the Literacy Signing and those held by my publishers, plus meals including a couple with some delightful Harlequin editors.  And parties, of course.
I did some sightseeing in San Antonio , too--mostly a river cruise and a visit to the Alamo .  Very enjoyable, if you ignored the high humidity and temperature.
I unfortunately didn't stay to see the RITA Awards, which in retrospect I'm now sorry about.  You're probably already aware of it, but our delightful member Laura Drake won the RITA for Best First Book!
How about you--were you there?  What did you do?  Did you enjoy it?
--Linda O. Johnston
http://www.lindaojohnston.com/