Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!

NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!

If you participated in NaNoWriMo 2012 you're a winner! It's the end of the month and you survived with your sanity (more-or-less) intact.

Whatever your word count, this should be a day of celebration. You wrote more than you normally do, you stretched yourself as a writer, and are heading into December with what Jim Butcher called writing momentum. Because I think his advice is fabulous I'm going to include it here even though I posted about it only a few days ago.
Write every day.

Even if you only write a little bit, even if you only write a sentence or a word, write. Because, even if you've just written a word, you're one word closer to the end of the book than you were at the beginning of the day, and that's progress.

Writing is about momentum, so get that momentum, set your time aside every day and stay honest.  (Jim Butcher's Advice For New Writers: Write Every Day)

What The Future Holds: Editing


For those of you who did finish and wrote 50,000 words over the course of November, you rock! But it's not over. You have a first draft. Great! Now put it in a drawer and back away slowwwly.


1. Take A Break


Resist the urge to read your manuscript over. Let it rest. Stephen King usually gives it about six weeks, but do what feels right for you. I think that having at least a week off would be an excellent idea.

Part of the reason for giving yourself a break is so that you'll be able to come back and, to a certain extent, read your story with fresh eyes. Passages you thought blazed with unsurpassed brilliance and creativity will seem less brilliant (after all, you were sleep deprived and over-caffeinated) but parts that you thought hadn't turned out as well as you wanted may strike you as pretty darn good.


2. Read Your Manuscript Through But DO NOT EDIT IT


When you come back to your manuscript read it through once, from beginning to end, but DO NOT EDIT IT.

Because you've gotten some distance from the story you will have forgotten some of its twists and turns. Given that, it would be BAD to make major alterations before you've loaded the story back into your noggin.

I know it's agonizingly hard to read your work without editing it. Or perhaps that's just me. It's like torture. But your restraint will pay off.

By all means, take lots of notes about what you'd like to change, but put them in a different file, or you could even use a paper notebook. I often enjoy the act of writing on a physical page when I'm taking notes.


3. Unleash Your Inner Editor


During NaNoWriMo I've been saying to people, "Take your inner editor, tie her up, and lock her in a closet." Now it's time to let her out (and hope she's not too grumpy). Now you want to think about how other people would read your story.

Here's a rule of thumb: 

Above all else, you want your story to be clear. Remove anything that doesn't serve to push your story forward.

For each element of your story look at it and ask yourself, "Does this need to be here? Would the story be the same without it?" If its absence would leave the story unchanged, be ruthless and cut.

Protagonist's goals: 

Is it clear what your protagonist wants? What their external goal is? For instance, winning the hand of the princess, finding the golden bird, bringing back the lost ark, and so on.

How about your protagonist's inner goal? How do they need to change in order to get what they truly want? For instance, Shrek was lonely, isolated. He wanted friends, but in order to get them he had to change and let people in.

Subplots:

How many subplots do you have? If you want to write an 80,000 word story and this is your first book you could go easy on yourself and have only one, or perhaps two. If you're writing a 40,000 word novella (which I think would be an excellent thing to do!) you wouldn't need any sub-plots. Again, this advice is for new writers, if this isn't your first book you know best what you're comfortable with.

Characters:

If a character doesn't do anything to advance the plot get rid of him. Or perhaps you could combine him/her with another character.

Backstory:

You only want to include what is relevant to the other characters in the novel at the time it's given. Robert Sawyer gave a beautiful example of this. (Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling)

Best of luck as you continue to work on your novel! Do you have any advice you'd like to pass on?

Here are a few articles about editing:

- Creating Memorable Supporting Characters
- Editing: Make Sure Your Story's Bones Are Strong
- Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling
- 11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings
- Check Your Writing For Adverbs And Other Problem Words: MS Word Macros
- How To Find The Right Freelance Editor For You
- Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs

Photo credit: "The BIG Guy" by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Amazon Sweetens the KDP Select Pot For The Holiday Shopping Season

Amazon Sweetens the KDP Select Pot For The Holiday Shopping Season

If you were thinking of trying out Amazon KDP Select, now's the time.

Today Amazon sweetened the KDP Select pot, adding a total of 1.5 million dollars to be paid out to authors over the next three months. A total of 700,000 dollars of that money will be dispensed in the month of December effectively doubling the amount of money an author can make during the peak buying month.

Here's the relevant section from Amazon's press release:
[A]uthors can earn a share of both the regular monthly fund and the bonus every time their book is borrowed from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de and Amazon.fr (Kindle Direct Publishing Adds $1.5 Million Holiday Bonus for KDP Select Authors)
How much money can an independent author make if they enroll their book in Amazon's KDP Select program? There are no concrete answers, but more than ever before.

- Over the past year Amazon has paid out 7 million dollars to writers who have enrolled their books in the KDP Select program. That's a little less than $600,000 a month.

- Over the month of December Amazon will add a bonus $700,000 into the pot IN ADDITION to the regular $700,000 that goes to KDP Select authors. But that's only for December. The remainder of the 1.5 million will be paid out to authors over January and February of next year.

The upshot: Over the Christmas season, the season you're likely to sell and lend the most, you'll get twice the payoff. But you'll have to put all your eggs in the Amazon KDP Select basket.


Is The Sweetened Pot Worth The Price Of Exclusivity?


First let's give Amazon their say. What are the pros?

1. A massive amount of ereaders = record numbers of sales and borrows


Amazon has obliterated all its previous records for Kindle sales over the last few months. I'd love to have hard numbers regarding exactly how many Kindles there are in the world versus iPads and Nooks, but what really matters is who buys and reads the most ebooks.

According to Bowker "Amazon dominates the world ebook market" and in May of 2012 Digital Book World announced that the Kindle was by far the reading devise most frequently used to read an ebook.

Even more interesting is Bowker's observation that "35% of ebook buyers are power buyers, and they buy 60% of ebooks & spend 48% of the market". I wonder whether power buyers are equally distributed between the platforms, or whether Amazon has more of them. I remember Jeff Bezos said that, on average, after a person buys a Kindle they read 4 times as many ebooks than they did previously. (See: Jeff Bezos: Amazon Makes No Money On Sales Of Kindle Ereaders Or Tablets)

2. Double the money


Depending on the number of books you have for sale and how new those books are, you'll stand to make more than double what you made in KDP Select last year, all things being equal.

But things are never equal. First of all, there will be MANY more Kindles in peoples' hands this year than there were last year and more people enrolled in Amazon Prime (it's only Amazon Prime folks who can borrow books from Amazon's lending library).

3. Access to Amazon's best seller lists around the world


Amazon mentions that 500 Select books have placed in their top 100 lists worldwide. Getting your book in the top 100 is terrific for sales, not only of your current book but for all your other books as well. (See: Amazon Ranks Authors In Terms Of Their Book Sales).

Unfortunately Amazon hasn't mentioned how many KDP titles (versus Amazon KDP Select) made it into the bestseller lists, nor do they mention how many books are enrolled in Amazon Select, so it's difficult to know what to make of that figure.


Mark Coker: Think Twice Before Accepting Amazon's Sweetened Deal


Should authors enroll their books in Amazon's KDP Select program? Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, says NO, hell no! (See: Amazon The Grinch ...)

Mark Coker writes:
I contended, and still contend, that exclusivity is a devil's bargain. When authors go exclusive with any retailer, they increase their dependence upon that single retailer, limit long-term platform building at other retailers, disappoint fans who shop at other stores, and hobble the development of a thriving and competitive ebook retailing ecosystem.
As you can imagine, Mark Coker isn't happy about Amazon's move to monopolize independent book sales over the holiday season.
Let's address each of these points. Mark Coker contends that if an author enrolls their books in Amazon's KDP Select program they:

A. Increase their dependence upon that single retailer


Yes. Absolutely. At least, authors would increase their dependence on Amazon if they kept all their books in the Select program. But what about those authors who employ a mixed strategy? For instance, those authors who only enroll their books in Amazon's Select program when they're first released and then, after the 3 month term has elapsed, remove them from the program and distribute them as widely as possible.

Wouldn't authors employing a mixed strategy enjoy the best of both worlds? Your book would get an initial bump in readership because of the perks Select offers (free days and inclusion in Amazon's library) and then, after its term in the program ended, you could pull your book out and distribute it as widely as you wanted.

B. Disappoint fans who shop at different stores


Certainly if a fan doesn't have access to the Amazon store they would not be able to buy your Amazon Select books, but I haven't seen any data on how many folks are cut off from accessing Amazon's store versus other stores. In North America most people have access to all the estores but I have no data on how it is for the rest of the world.

If (for instance) Smashwords is much more accessible in certain parts of the world, parts of the world where your fans live, then this is a strong objection. If, on the other hand, Amazon can be assessed from all the places Smashwords can, the objection loses some 'oomph'.

True, some folks don't want to buy a book from Amazon, and if your book is in Select there's no other way to get it.

Perhaps knowing your fan base could help you decide. You could put a poll up on your website or send email out to your mailing list. Ask your fans how they would feel if you enrolled your books in Amazon Select.

C. Hobble the development of a thriving and competitive ebook retailing ecosystem.


For me, this objection is the least convincing.

First, would enrolling your book in Amazon's KDP Select program "hobble the development of a thriving and competitive ebook retailing system"? I'm not convinced and here's why. It's difficult for foreigners to get their books into Barnes & Noble, you can't do it directly. The only way is to enroll them in Smashwords and then Smashwords distributes them to Barnes & Noble.

I haven't heard anyone raise a fuss about this. Is Barnes & Noble hobbling the development of a thriving and competitive ebook retailing system?

I think that whether Amazon KDP Select will hobble the ebook retailing system is yet to be determined.

Second, even if publishing exclusively through Amazon DID harm the ebook retailing system it seems as though Mark Coker is asking folks to pass up probable gains in favor of not causing an unspecified harm to something nebulous (what exactly IS the 'ebook retailing system'?) at some point in the future.

Third, Smashwords stands to lose from what Amazon is doing, it stands to lose BIG. Coker isn't arguing as an uninterested party, he has stakes in this game, big states, and he's asking authors to continue to support Smashwords because ... well, because we want the ebook retailing ecosystem to thrive.

I think most indie authors are interested in where they'll make the most money over the month of December. After all, if you're like me, you have rent to pay, groceries to buy, not to mention the extra expenses of the Christmas season.

Against this someone might reply that those are short term reasons and I should be thinking long term but the fact is that we really don't have any statistics which will tell us what the long term is going to be.

Okay, that's my 2 cents! I've been writing impassioned blog posts lately, I wonder if something is in the air.

What do you think? Are you going to put any of your books into Amazon's KDP Select program?

By the way, just before I hit "publish" I noticed that Passive Guy had weighed in on Mark Coker's post. He wrote:
Mark Coker makes a lot of his Silicon Valley background. PG has been involved with many tech companies large and small. The good ones never complained about their competition. Instead they focused on building better products and services than their competition offered.

Other articles you might like:

- Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?
- Amazon's KDP Select: The Best Long-Term Strategy?
- Crowdfunding: Cutting Out The Middleman

Photo credit: "Bengal Tiger / Tigre de Bengala (Panthera Tigris)" by Esparta under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Crowdfunding: Cutting Out The Middleman

Crowdfunding: Cutting Out The Middleman

What Is Crowdfunding?


I've talked quite a bit about how to sell your work through Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and so on, but I haven't said a great deal about using crowdfunding.

Examples of crowdfunded projects are all over Kickstarter. That site also has a great tutorial, called Kickstarter School, which will step you through every aspect of creating a project.


The Do's And Don't Of Crowdfunding


1. Know how much money to ask for

Look at projects similar to yours and see how much money they're asking for. Don't ask for substantially more.

2. Make your pitch exciting!

Just as when you write a book blurb, you need to catch a readers attention quickly. Make them curious. Fascinated. Entertain them!

3. Make a great video

The Kickstarter folks have put together a great article on just this: Making your Kickstarter video.

4. Thoughtful rewards

Believe it or not, some Kickstarter projects don't have any rewards! Good, varied, rewards for donors go a long way toward making a project successful.

Those points come courtesy of Kris Rush and her wonderful article, Getting Rid of the Middle Man. Kris writes that even if you don't already have a tribe/community you can still do a Kickstarter project. She writes:
[I]f you have a fan base, you’re better off than the folks who are starting from scratch. But I just watched the Bijou raise funds from all over the world, not because of the theater’s fan base, but because small theaters in general have a fan base. 

Different Kinds Of Crowdfunding


So far I've just talked about Kickstarter, but there are many different ways to crowdsource a project.

For instance, Kris writes that a number of novelists are serializing their books online. They fund the project by placing a donate button at the end of very chapter.

Kris recommends, and I think this is an excellent idea, that you finish your book before you serialize it "just in case something in your life goes awry or you have to go back and add a gun in chapter one so that you can shoot that gun in chapter fifteen. (Getting Rid of the Middle Man)"

Yep, been there, done that.


Why Try Crowdfunding?


Crowdfunding, or crowdsourcing, allows writers to cut out the middle man.

Kris writes:
I’ve mentioned before how I appreciate the loss of the middle man. But this week truly showed me on a deep level what kind of world we’d live in if crowdsourcing hadn’t gone mainstream. ...

First, that royalty statement. It is missing both some information and some promised money—money the publisher has owed me ... since early last year. ...

As Dean said as he shook his head over yet another royalty fight facing me, the third this year, “It’s a wonder anyone survives in traditional publishing any more.”

I certainly wouldn’t be earning a living at it—a reasonable, above-poverty rate living—any more. In the last few years, I earned about one-quarter of what I used to earn in my bad years. The advances have gone from survivable to insulting. And now publishers are fudging on royalties owed. It’s disgraceful and hard.
.  .  .  .
But the next four e-mails were all from Kickstarter projects run by full-time freelancers. From anthology projects to magazine startups to calendars ...

... Sometimes I participate in a crowdsourced project because I like the people involved, but mostly I do so because I think the project is worthy—something I want in my library, I want to see, or I want to hang on my wall.

None of these projects would have gotten funding through some arts organization, nor would they have made it through the byzantine system set up by the studios/publishers—ah, hell, let’s just call them suits.

And if the project had made it past the suits, then the artist who proposed the project probably wouldn’t have made any money on it. Or the artist wouldn’t have seen any money for  years after the project got released.
.  .  .  .
It’s time for writers to explore all of their options. And many of those options should not include middle men.  The suits don’t care about midlist writers or indie films or small movie theaters. They care about whatever bottom line they see, and they don’t care how they reach that bottom line.

Should You Try Crowdfunding?


Crowdfunded projects aren't for everyone. They're stressful even for those folks who don't have trouble meeting their goals, folks like Kris Rusch and her husband Dean Wesley Smith with their project Fiction River.

Beyond that, there are many other ways to get your work out to readers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, even places like wattpad. I think it would be interesting to serialize a novel on Amazon. Publish one chapter a week and then, at the end, release the book.

It's great to know writers have options such as crowdfunding. We no longer need middle-men. Though it's always good to keep ones options open. (That said, I cringe at the thought of constantly having to fight publishers just to get paid the royalties owed me.)

Here's a useful article from time.com: How to Crowdfund Your Creative Project.

Have you tried crowdfunding? How'd it go? Would you recommend the approach to others?

Other articles you might like:
- Simon & Schuster's Archway Publishing: Is It Ethical?
- How To Start A Blog
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover

Photo credit: "the smile of a man with a wild fan base" by notsogoodphotography under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Simon & Schuster's Archway Publishing: Is It Ethical?

Simon & Schuster's Archway Publishing: Is It Ethical?

The Dream


When I was a kid I had a dream. I wanted to tell stories. Great stories. Stories other people would listen to with bated breath, leaning forward to hear whether the hero would escape the deadly clutches of the monster.

Or something like that. When I was a kid there probably would have been a fairy somewhere in the mix.

Penguin Publishing was part of that dream. (Yes, I was an odd child.)

To my young imagination, Penguin was special. It was like heaven, but for stories. It was where stories got to go if they were very, very, good. I didn't even think about getting paid for my stories, my goal was just to create something awesome enough that, one day, Penguin would want to publish it.

It never occurred to me writing was a business--but then I was eight and I hadn't yet grasped the whole need-money-to-live thing.

When I grew up--well, I don't think I've grown up, I just got taller and older--I understood about needing money, but I still thought the folks at Penguin--as well the rest of the Big 6 publishers--were special. I thought they did what they did for the love of books, of stories, of that great vague amorphous category called literature.

I no longer think that.

The Big-6 are BUSINESSES pure and simple and, as such, are tasked with making money.

Period.

Making money, not publishing stories (heaven-worthy or otherwise) is their bottom line.

So why does it shock and dishearten me when yet another publisher goes to the dark side of publishing?

(To my mind, a publisher goes to the dark side when it tries to make money, not from selling stories, but off of authors. Money should flow to the author, not the other way around.)


Simon & Schuster's Archway Publishing


Here's what started my thoughts in this direction. Recently Simon & Schuster formed a partnership with Author House and created their own self-publishing portal, Archway Publishing. (See: Simon & Schuster Partners With Author House To Create Archway Publishing)

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday--we left friends, although barely--in which he shrugged and said, "Well, if Simon & Schuster thinks they can make money off authors, why shouldn't they?"

Thunderstruck at his defense of Simon & Schuster, I spluttered that publishers shouldn't make money from authors, they should make it from sales of books (something to do with the whole publisher thing).

But, once again, my friend shrugged and said, "As long as Simon & Schuster is making money, and it's legal, why should they care? Buyer beware."

I glared at him and wished I had a retort, but I didn't.

Is "ethical business" a contradiction in terms? And, even if it is, don't we want the people who publish our stories to CARE something about writers? I mean, it's not outrageous to suggest a business should treat its client base with respect.

Is it?


The Hook


One reason Simon & Schuster's creation of Archway Publishing bothers me is that new writers will take Simon & Schuster's close association with Archway as indicating endorsement. As in, "If you publish through Archway you'll have a better chance, one day, of being published by us."

It invites new writers to think of Archway as an (expensive) initiation experience, a testing ground to see if their story has what it takes. (By the way, publishing your story yourself on, say, Amazon would do the same thing; if you're shy, you could use a pen name and not tell anyone. If it doesn't sell, keep writing till one does. Show me a professional writer and I'll show you someone mule-stubborn.)

This perception is helped by statements such as this one, found in a FAQ on Archway's site:
[W]e will alert Simon & Schuster to Archway Publishing titles that perform well in the market. Simon & Schuster is always on the lookout for fresh, new voices and they recognize a wealth of talent in Archway authors.
But it doesn't stop there. Simon & Schuster will be referring any unsolicited manuscripts they receive to the Archway program. Writer Beware Blogs writes:
There's also this disturbing tidbit in PW's coverage of the launch: "S&S will refer authors who submit unsolicited manuscripts to the Archway program." I didn't find this in other news coverage, and I'm hoping it's not true--or if it is true, that S&S will re-think it. Such referrals are seriously questionable, since authors who receive them are likely to give them more weight because they come from a respected publisher. (Archway Publishing: Simon & Schuster Adds a Self-Publishing Division)
How is that not taking advantage of new writers? Imagine this:
You've finished your first manuscript, it's a 240,000 word paranormal novel set in the wild west. As you mail off your carefully worded query letter the butterflies in your stomach feel more like elephants doing the tango. Afterward, you joke with your friends and say things like, "Oh, well, I thought I'd start at the top".

Then, after obsessing about it for a month, you get a letter from Simon & Schuster. As you hold it you think: This could be it! Your hands shake so hard it takes a minute to get the envelope open. The white notepaper inside is a blur at first, then you read: Simon & Schuster has referred your manuscript to another publisher!
If that were me several years ago I would have started doing the (highly embarrassing) Scooby dance.

It sounds great, doesn't it? Simon & Schuster has referred your manuscript to another publisher. They believe in it. They believe in you!

That's quite the hook, especially for someone craving affirmation the way a drowning person craves air.


Money Should Always Flow Toward The Author


Archway Publishing doesn't just charge authors between $1,599 and $14,999 to  publish their manuscripts, they also take a hefty royalty. According to paidContent.org:
Archway will pay an ebook royalty of 50 percent of net sales, so if an ebook is distributed to Kindle, for example, an Archway author would receive 50 percent of the sale minus Amazon’s 30 percent fee. (Simon & Schuster launches self-publishing arm with Author Solutions)
I wouldn't be as upset about Archway Publishing if it just charged outrageous sums for helping writers publish their work but gave them 100% of their royalties, at least for ebooks.

I know some writers don't want to do everything themselves, and that's perfectly fine. Many businesses help with things like line editing, cover art, formatting, uploading, and so on, and they charge a flat fee for services rendered. Bookbaby for instance. This is fine.

Imagine your neighbor is selling his house. Imagine he pays someone $30 to mow his lawn and then, on top of that, gives them 50% of the money from the sale of his house. Wouldn't you be flabbergasted? I would! Then why give royalties to the person who formats and uploads a manuscript?


Do Publishers See Writers As Marks?


What do you think? Am I overreacting? I can hold my opinions passionately, but I'm open to other points of view.

What do you think about Simon & Schuster's partnership with Author Solutions? What should the bottom line be for publishers? Making money? They're businesses so it's not unreasonable, but then where do writers fit in? Where do stories fit in? (For Dean Wesley Smith's perspective on Archway Publishing, click here: New Way For Uninformed Writers to Spend Money.)

Perhaps I'm looking at this the the wrong way. Even if making money is the bottom line for a publisher, shouldn't that mandate treating writers well? After all, no writers, no stories. I'd like to see publishers turn a profit then!

... hopefully self-aware androids are a long way off.

Other articles you might like:

- Jim Butcher's Advice For New Writers: Write Every Day
- Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds
- How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio

Photo credit: "There is always a bigger fish" by floodllama under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jim Butcher's Advice For New Writers: Write Every Day

Jim Butcher's Advice For New Writers: Write Every Day

In a recent interview with Sword & Laser, Jim Butcher described his Dresden Files series as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlow".

How perfect is that?!

As my title promises, Jim Butcher also gave great advice to new writers, but I'll save that for the end. Everything needs a hook, right?


Jim Butcher & Live Action Role-Play (LARP)


Want to meet Jim Butcher? Grab your cape and blasting-rod--a sentence I thought I'd never write!--and head out to Independence Missouri.
When he's not writing Butcher is an avid Live Action Role-Player, or LARPer, playing under the name of Longshot.

He invites fans in the vicinity of Independence Missouri to come out and kill some theoretical monsters, be beaten into theoretical unconsciousness and even be 'theoretically killed'.

The Idea That Started The Codex Alera Series 


Apparently the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for," applies to bets as well.
In 2004 Butcher was challenged by a member of the Del Ray online writers workship to write a good story based on a lame idea.

Jim took the bet and the challenger gave him the lame idea of a lost Roman legion and Pokemon.

The story Butcher wrote became the first book in the Codex Alera series.
I'd be interested how Jim pitched that series to his editor!


Jim Butcher's Advice For New Writers


You've been more than patient, so without further delay here's Jim Butcher's advice for new writers:

Question: Can you give advice to any new writers in our audience?

Jim Butcher's response:
Write every day.

Even if you only write a little bit, even if you only write a sentence or a word, write. Because, even if you've just written a word, you're one word closer to the end of the book than you were at the beginning of the day, and that's progress.

Writing is about momentum, so get that momentum, set your time aside every day and stay honest.
Awesome advice!

Jim Butcher shares great information in the interview--memories, anecdotes--that I haven't mentioned. The Sword & Laser (episode 16) video is well worth watching.



Thanks to K.B. Burnfield for sending out a link to this interview.

Other articles you might like:

- Making Time To Write
- Simon & Schuster Partners With Author House To Create Archway Publishing
- Editing: Make Sure Your Story's Bones Are Strong

Photo credit: "Super Troopers!" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Making Time To Write

Making Time To Write

It's difficult to find time to write, that's why we have to make time. Here are 9 was to do just that:


1. Around the house always have a notepad or laptop near at hand in case inspiration strikes.



2. Install a writing app on your phone or tablet.


Top 9 Writing Apps
9 iPad Apps for Brilliant Writing
Prose on the iPad


3. Throughout the day, when you have a spare moment, write a sentence or two.


For instance, perhaps you're standing in line to order lunch. Instead of being bored write a few sentences.

 If you take the bus, use that time to write.


4. Write at work


To start, go in 10 minutes eary and spend the time writing. Stay an extra 10 minutes after work and write.

After you get used to doing this you can lengthen the amount of time you write.

Hugo award winning author, Jim C. Hines, writes during his lunch hour.


5. Write while watching TV


Write during the commercials.


6. Plan your stories beforehand


Writing isn't just stringing words together, first and formost it is the creation of stories.

We first imagine what we later write, so the clearer idea you have of your story the better.

Before you start writing a scene decide:

- Who will be in the scene, the main characters at least.
- What the point of view (POV) character wants, what is his/her goal.
- How your POV character will fail to reach his/her goal and what will happen instead.
- What problem does your POV character's failure raise for the protagonist in the next scene?

You can decide all of this while folding laundry or taking a shower.


7. Keep a waterproof tablet in the shower.


Some of my best ideas come to me in the shower. Strange but true.


8. Always think about your story


Write down your answers to the questions in #6, above, on a piece of paper and pin it on the wall or take a picture of them and make it your screen saver.


9. Before you go to sleep ask your unconscious mind to work on whatever problems--plot holes, and so on--have cropped up.



Some of these ideas are from Rob Parnell's article Becoming a better writer.

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: I'm done! Yea! Finished yesterday. * Whew! * Now onto editing. :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Simon & Schuster Partners With Author House To Create Archway Publishing
- Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds
- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse

Photo credit: "[ For Valentine's Hot Chocolate Lovers Everywhere! ] EASTWAY @ The AndaZ LiverpooL StreeT London, England, United Kingdom" by || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Simon & Schuster Partners With Author House To Create Archway Publishing


Simon & Schuster Creates A Self-Publishing Portal


Just today Simon & Schuster announced it's partnering with Author Solutions to create Archway Publishing.
[Archway Publishing] will focus on self-published fiction, nonfiction, business and children's books. Digital technology has helped lead to the proliferation of self-published books, with Sylvia Day and Amanda Hocking among those becoming bestselling authors.
Archway will offer a range of services to budding authors beginning at $1,599.
Archway will offer a range of services, from a basic $1,599 package that includes "editorial assessment" and "cover copy review" to a $24,999 "Outreach" program for business books that features an "author profile video" and a reception at BookExpo America, the industry's annual national convention.

Why this is NOT good news for authors


I wrote about 1,000 words on this subject and then came across Carla King's article on Penguin's purchase of Author Solutions earlier this year: Why Self-Publishers Should Care That Penguin Bought Author Solutions. Yes, the article is about Penguin rather than Simon & Schuster but the same objections apply. Carla writes:
Smashwords founder Mark Coker is a longtime critic of Author Solutions, pointing out in his blog that they make more money from selling services to authors than selling authors' books: "Author Solutions is one of the companies that put the 'V' in vanity.  Author Solutions earns two-thirds or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors' books to readers ..."
Add to that Jane Friedman's comments:
Jane Friedman, in her Writer Unboxed blog, notes that ASI's acquisitions are "appearing more and more like a huge scramble to squeeze a few more profitable dollars out of a service that is no longer needed, that is incredibly overpriced when compared to the new and growing competition, and has less to recommend it with each passing day ..."
In my view this isn't a win for self-publishers, this is just another shark in already crowded waters.

Writer beware.

Other articles you might like:

- Editing: Make Sure Your Story's Bones Are Strong
- 11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings
- NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write

Reference links:

- Writer Beware: The Return Of The Vanity Press
- Indie Authors: Don't Give Anyone Ownership Of Your Work
- Snake Oil Salesmen And The Indie Author
- Why Self-Publishers Should Care That Penguin Bought Author Solutions
- How a Traditional Publisher Could Harm a Writer's Career
- A Step-By-Step Guide to U.S. Copyright Registration for Self-Publishers
- Bookbaby: Get published Now! (Bookbaby does NOT take a royalty)

Photo credit: "Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)" by mikebaird under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Editing: Make Sure Your Story's Bones Are Strong

Editing: Make Sure The Basics Are Clear

For my second post I wanted to talk about the craft of writing since my first one had to do with editing but it seems I'm obsessed with editing today. (See: 11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings)

I read somewhere that clarity is not only the King and Queen of storytelling, but the whole darn court as well! I agree.

If we don't get the bones, the skeleton, of the story right then no matter how wonderful, how stunning, our prose, the story will sag. (Ugh. Not a good visual. Perhaps think of a tent without tent-poles instead.)

Here are a few things you might look for while re-writing your first draft.


1. Increasing Conflict


It may seem as though writers are fixated on conflict, but it is the engine that drives the story. No conflict, no readers. That's probably an exaggeration, but not by much. Of course, not everyone would agree. (See: Plot Without Conflict)

1a. How can you increase the conflict between your protagonist and your antagonist?


1b. How can you increase the conflict between your protagonist and his/her helper?


1c. How can you increase the conflict between your protagonist and his/her love interest? (Assuming they aren't the antagonist.)


1d. How can you increase the conflict between your secondary characters? If this is a romance, do you have other characters vying for the heroes, or heroines, hand? Or perhaps two secondary characters hate each other but both are essential if your protagonist's plan is to succeed.

 

1e. Is the conflict increasing throughout your story? There should be MORE conflict in the second half, especially toward the end, than in the first half.



2. Make Sure The Basics Are Clear


2a. Is your protagonists external goal clearly identified?


For instance, in The Firm, in the first half of the movie Mitch's external goal was to get rich and in the second half of the movie it was to escape the firm with his life, his wife and his ability to practice law, intact.

It helps if you can represent your protagonist's external goal by something visual. For instance, the Maltese Falcon in the film of the same name. (See: The MacGuffin: A Plot Device From Screenwriting)

2b. Is your mid-point marked by an identifiable point of no return? 


Different writers have different names for the mid-point but, generally, your protagonist will suffer a setback.

Often, there will either be a death at the mid-point or a symbolic death. In The Firm Mitch found out he had a choice: rat the firm's clients out to the FBI and break his professional obligation--not to mention having a hit taken out on him by the mob--OR throw in with the firm and have the FBI come after him. Either way his goose would be cooked.

2c. Is your 3/4 point marked by a major setback?


I know this can seem formulaic, but it's not easy creating a major setback (sometimes called the 'all is lost' point) that the majority of your readers would be surprised by! Just because there's a formula doesn't mean the story isn't complex and enjoyable. Take the Indiana Jones movies, for instance. Or the original Star Wars trilogy.

2d. Is the protagonists external problem clearly resolved at the end? 


Even if there are aspects of your story that aren't resolved and are intended to carry on into future books, (I think) your protagonists external goal has to have some sort of resolution. If it doesn't your readers will get cranky. (I know I do. :-)

Well, that's it for now! I'll be revisiting this topic again, soon. If you have any tips you'd like to share, please do!

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo will soon be over but I liked the little update I gave at the end of my posts so I'm going to try an experiment. I'll continue it but instead talk about what I'm reading. My current addiction (that's how I read, in great uncontrolled gulps) is Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series. I'm on book number two: Halfway To The Grave. Isn't Bones great? Jeaniene's books are paranormal romance, but with a strong action/adventure backbone. Great storytelling.

Other articles you might like:
- 11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings
- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse
- Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds

Photo credit: "Flamingos Partying" by szeke under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings

10 Tips For Editing Your Manuscript: Tip #1: Edit Ruthlessly.

The Key To Good Writing Is Re-Writing


We're nearing the end of November and beginning to think abut life after NaNoWriMo. (When we'll actually have that thing known as spare time!)

Soon you'll have a (more-or-less) completed first draft of a novel or novella. (40,000 words seems to be the upper end for a novella, at least according to Ian McEwan, so you'd have to trim 10,000 words, but that would likely make your story stronger. (See: Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction)

You've probably heard this expression before: The key to good writing is re-writing. That's not to say a writer couldn't get it right on the first draft. Some writers can sit down and produce a publishable story in one draft--or one draft and minor cleanup.

I admire them! But many of us--perhaps MOST of us--aren't like that. Stephen King for instance.

How Many Re-Writes Are Enough?


Many professional writers say that three re-writes does it for them. Stephen King writes:
Now let’s talk about revising the work—how much and how many drafts? For me the answer has always been two drafts and a polish (with the advent of word-processing technology, my polishes have become closer to a third draft).

You should realize that I’m only talking about my own personal mode of writing here; in actual practice, rewriting varies greatly from writer to writer. Kurt Vonnegut, for example, rewrote each page of his novels until he got them exactly the way he wanted them. The result was days when he might only manage a page or two of finished copy (and the wastebasket would be full of crumpled, rejected page seventy-ones and seventy-twos), but when the manuscript was finished, the book was finished, by gum. You could set it in type. Yet I think certain things hold true for most writers ... If you’re a beginner ... let me urge that you take your story through at least two drafts ... (On Writing, Stephen King)

Whatever works for you--whether it's 1 draft or 21, that's okay. The important thing is that we finish. As Neil Gaiman says, "You write./ You finish what you write (Advice to Authors).

Advice on Editing


An integral part of re-writing is editing. For advice on editing I've turned to Ray Morton and his wonderful article, Rewriting is Writing.


1. Walk Away


Ray writes:
The single most important tool you will need to do a successful rewrite is perspective—the ability to see your work for what it is, rather than what you hoped it would be. Perspective is impossible to attain when you are caught up in the frenzy of the creative process. So, once you have finished your initial pass, walk away from it for a week or two, or five. This break will ensure that when you return to your work, you will be able to view it with fresh, objective eyes.
Stephen King agrees. He writes:
Now let’s say you’ve finished your first draft. Congratulations! Good job! Have a glass of champagne, send out for pizza, do whatever it is you do when you’ve got something to celebrate. 
.  .  .  .
You’ve done a lot of work and you need a period of time (how much or how little depends on the individual writer) to rest. Your mind and imagination—two things which are related, but not really the same—have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work. My advice is that you take a couple of days off—go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle—and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book. (I wrote some pretty good novellas, “The Body” and “Apt
Pupil” among them, between drafts of longer works like The Dead Zone and The Dark Half.)

How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing. Your thoughts will turn to it frequently, and you’ll likely be tempted a dozen times or more to take it out, if only to re-read some passage that seems particularly fine in your memory, something you’d like to go back to so you can re-experience what a really excellent writer you are.

Resist temptation. (On Writing, Stephen King)

2a. Reread Your Script


I would add: DO NOT EDIT! Read it through once and take notes on what needs to be added, deleted and changed in a separate file or on a pad of paper. And NO going back or skipping forward. Read it through from first to last.

This can be painful. You'll see constructions that are, to say the least, infelicitous. Resist the urge to change them. Why? Because if you're anything like me once you start editing you just won't be able to stop and what you really need to do is re-load the entire story back into your head.

If you begin changing your manuscript before you've fully reacquainted yourself with the story you could make disastrous mistakes. For instance, once I forgot where I was going with a particular arc and wrote (what I thought was) a beautiful scene which took one of my main characters in a completely different direction. As a result I either had to change a major aspect of the plot or throw out one of the strongest scenes. I elected to put the book aside while I pondered the delemma. I still haven't picked it back up!


2b. Ask The Following Questions:


"Is the premise of the piece understandable and established early on?"


Ray writes:
The premise is the seed from which the rest of your narrative grows and must be clearly set up in the opening pages of your ... [novel]. If you have reached page 15 or 20 and it is still not obvious what your story is about, then you have some work to do.

"Does the ... [manuscript] tell the story that you intended it to tell?"


Ray writes:
When deeply immersed in the writing process, it’s easy for a writer to get carried away by subplots, wander off on tangents, and become enamored by a single scene at the expense of the overall narrative. If that happens, use the rewrite to get your tale back on track.

"Are there any elements in the ... [story] that do not directly support the central theme or narrative?"


Anything that does not serve the story gets cut. As Stephen King says: Kill your darlings!

"Is the protagonist’s primary goal clear and does his pursuit of that goal drive the narrative?"


Ray writes:
In dramatic storytelling, a protagonist has a strong objective that he/she sets out to achieve. All of the choices the protagonist makes, every action he takes and obstacle he overcomes should bring him closer to accomplishing that goal. If they don’t, then you must redirect him.

Is every single piece of backstory "vital to the narrative or theme of your piece"?


If not, you know what to do.

Is it the right genre?


Ray writes:
Does your story fulfill its genre expectations? In other words, if it’s a comedy, is it funny? If it’s a horror film, is it scary? If not, then a major rewrite is in order.

3. Revise Your Story


Now that you've reacquainted yourself with the story and you have a list of things that need to be deleted or changed, get to it!


4. Repeat Until Done


Just as you need a break between the first and second draft, so you need to take a break between the subsequent drafts, but perhaps not as long of a break. Take a day or so off then continue the editing process.


5. Get Feedback


Depending on your process, you might have let someone, or perhaps even a few people, read your manuscript after the first draft.

Regardless, at some point your manuscript will reach a finished stage and then you'll send it out to your beta readers. At this point I would give my manuscript to my critique group and to other writers I've met over the years and ask them for feedback.

Ray cautions:
Choose folks who can analyze your piece with an objective eye and who will give you honest and constructive criticism. Seek out fellow writers and industry colleagues—people with a grasp of the nuts and bolts of screenwriting ...
I would add that you should choose readers who are familiar with the kind of book you've written. For instance, if it's a paranormal romance, don't ask someone who only reads science fiction to critique it. They'll proably hate it, but that's okay, they'd probably hate the best paranormal romance.

This also goes for reviews. In general, you don't want a review from someone who dislikes, or who is completely unfamiliar with the genre your book is from.

Ray continues:
Once all of your analysts have responded, analyze their analysis. If one person takes issue with some aspect of your script, then it could just be that person’s problem. However, if a number of people have the same problem, then it’s likely that the fault lies with the script and will need to be addressed.
Excellent advice.


6. Listen The The Feedback


Feedback doesn't do any good if it's ignored.


7. Rewrite Again


Do another rewrite. By this time it'll probably be physically painful to go back to your book and make changes, but you're almost done.


8. Hold a Reading


Ray is giving advice to scriptwriters but I'm passing it on because most of it applies to novelists. Most of it, this is one thing that's different. A screenwriter can throw a party and ask his friends to each take a part and help read the script, but this would be more difficult for a writer to do. For starters, novels are generally much longer than screenplays!


9. Proofread


Get someone else to proofread your manuscript. If you can afford it hire a copy editor to look for grammatical mistakes, logical errors, typos, misspellings, etc. If you absolutely cannot afford a copy editor then strike a deal with one of your writing friends, get them to line edit your manuscript and in return you can line edit theirs.


10. Don't Rush


Ray advices:
[T]ake your time and put as much care into the rewriting of your work as you put into the initial writing. It may take more time in the short run, but the long-term rewards will be worth it.

11. Celebrate!


I added this point. As soon as you've either sent your manuscript off (whether to your editor or to a self-publishing platform) you owe it to yourself to relax and celebrate your achievement.

Well, that's it! If you only remember one thing from this post I hope it's this: Whatever happens, even if you think it's hopeless, finish your story. Later you'll be glad you did.

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: Only 900 and some words to go! My manuscript is at 49,104 words so I'm hoping to be finished tonight. Yes!! So happy. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write
- Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds
- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse

Photo credit: "Bialetti Robot" by _Zeta_ under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write

NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write

We're pulling into the homestretch of NaNoWriMo!

Exhaustion is setting in. I feel like a marathoner nearing the end. I've seen pictures of runners near the finish line reaching out for a tiny paper cup of cold water, dumping it over their heads with an expression of ... well, not ecstasy, but close.

That shock of cold gives them the impetus they need to keep going, to find the will to finish.

This morning I found my impetus in the form of Kathy Steffen's article, 10 Quick Tips to Get Your Writing Back on Track! It gave me the jolt I needed to keep putting one word after another.

Below are 5 of Kathy's 10 tips:
3. Print out motivation quotes or writing affirmations and tape them to your computer so you will see inspirational words every day. We all can use a cheering section. Make your own.

6. Collage your book or your writing goals. Visuals can be inspirational and bring a different motivational aspect to your writing. Don’t like glue stick? Have you tried Pinterest? It’s more than pinning recipes. I use Pinterest to make WIP boards. This one comes with a warning. It can be a huge time drain, but only if you let it. Just be sure to set a timer and limit your time on the site, and stick to your WIP board. Later, as a reward for writing, give yourself a little “fun” Pinterest time.
I love this tip! Just yesterday I wrote about using Pinterest to help organize research for your work in progress. (See: Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds)
7. Make a writing sound track. Whether it’s for a specific book or just music that inspires you to write, make the soundtrack and play it! And write.
Kim Harrison is someone who does this, she can tell you what sort of music each of her major characters from the Hollows likes. She's even made playlists for them! (See: Writing To Music: Knowing Your Characters)
8. Set a timer for ten minutes and write a journal entry about what writing means to you. Inspire yourself by putting words on a page and remember what writing brings to your life. Remember why you love to write and write about it.
This exercise is how I worked through a particularly bad case of writer's block. Well, this one is similar. All I did is write for four pages or 8 minutes, whichever came first. In my imagination I re-entered the first scene of my last story and wrote about what I saw. That's it. The damn burst and words spilled out of me. (See: Vanquishing Writer's Block)
9. Hook up with a critique group or partner. Being accountable is a terrific motivator and a deadline every week  (or even every month) will keep your eyes on the prize, as they say. A group or partner will force you into writing consistently, and before you know it, sitting down to write will be second nature! This one keeps providing motivation, long after you’ve begun.
Great advice! I speak from experience. Here is what Kim Neville has to say about it: Lessons learned: Why I love giving critiques.

Kathy's article was published on the How To Write website. If you haven't visited them yet I'd highly recommend it. They have great articles about every aspect of the craft of writing.

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: As of last night my manuscript was at 47,025 words. Only two NaNoWriMo writing times to go!! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds
- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse
- For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each

Photo credit: "Mumbai Marathon -011" by through my eyes only under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds

Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds

I love Pinterest. I mean, who wouldn't? If only it wasn't a lethal time-sink! I love looking at beautiful pictures and chatting with friends. Since Pinterest combines both it's like visiting a virtual art gallery with dozens of your best buds and getting to curate your own collection.

I figured out a LONG time ago that I needed to limit my time on Pinterest if I wanted to get anything done.

That's why I was surprised when I came across Daniel's article, Using Pinterest For Your Novel. It never occurred to me that The Great Timesink could be harnessed for good.

Who knew?


Pinterest Right-Click


Before I say anything more about using Pinterest to help organize your novel I'd like to talk about how to get a plug-in for your browser that will allow you to right-click on any picture you find on the web and pin it to one of your boards.

I use Firefox so that's the browser I talk about, but I'd be surprised if similar plug-ins don't exist for your favorite browser.

Pinterest Right-Click is the name of an add-on you can get that will help you collect images from the web and pin them to one of your boards. After you install the add-on all you have to do is right-click on an image. You'll be asked which board you'd like to pin it to and that's it! Quick and convenient.


Organize Your Research With Pinterest


Pinterest provides and great way to visually organize your research for a novel.  For instance, you could have one board for pictures of locations, one board for pictures of casting choices for your characters and one board dedicated to the music that not only inspired you as you write your novel but which your characters like to listen to.

But that's just the beginning! You could have boards for what their homes look like, their wardrobes, landscape features such as gardens, where they like to go on vacation, what their families look like, what they dream about, and so on.

Here's my Pinterest board for my NaNoWriMo novel: NaNoWriMo 2012.

Locations


When I draft a story I tend to think visually. What a great idea to use a Pinterest board to hold miscellaneous images you come across on the web, images that remind you of various locations, or possible locations, in your novel.

In my NaNoWriMo novel one of my characters, a mage, lives in an ice fortress (no, he's not superman!) and I have an image in my mind of what it looks like. I just Googled "ice fortress", found lots of great pictures that ... while none of them was  exactly like the image I have in my mind, they're fairly close and evocative in their own way.

Using Pinterest Right-Click I easily created a new board "NaNoWriMo 2012" and pinned those photos to my board.

Your Characters - What They Look Like


Although it changes, in the beginning I have certain ideas about what my characters look like. Though perhaps it's only partial. Perhaps I'll know that the antagonist has long thick black flowing hair that gleams in sunlight. It's fun to use Google images to help fill out the picture.

I just went through and pinned a few images of how my characters could look and found out something valuable. Apart from Robyn, my protagonist, I'm not sure how the other characters look, especially her friend and side-kick Jane. Good to know! That's something I'll have to work on in the second draft.

Music - What Would Your Characters Listen to?


Since Pinterest is a visual medium the best we can do is pin pictures of albums, concerts, songs, magicians, and so on. Though it would be be great if we could pin the actual songs!

Before this moment this isn't something I've thought about for my characters, what kind of music they'd like. It's good to think about, though. This helps bring out other aspects of their personality. At the moment all I know is that Robyn likes classical music. That might change, though, as I get to know her better.


I'm finding there are a multitude of creative ways to use Pinterest. If you have one you'd like to share, please do! :)

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: Hurray! 45,025 words. Only one caffeinated writing jag away from the end. Not that I think that's going to happen, though it would be nice to finish tomorrow! Still, I think I'll continue to take it slow and steady so, if I keep my current pace, I'll be finished Monday. Which works out perfectly, since I wanted to be done before Jim Butcher's Cold Days comes out on the 27th.

I hope I didn't just jinx myself! lol

Other articles you might like:

- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse
- For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each
- Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling

Photo credit: "Brown Bear having fun, rolling in the grass on his back with paws up" by Beverly & Pack under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, November 23, 2012

How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse

How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse

If the first rule of writing is "writers write" then a close second is "writers read".


I haven't been reading. Sure, there are reasons--too busy, don't want to use it to procrastinate, haven't found a book I love, and so on--but for the past few days getting my 2,000 words a day for NaNoWriMo has been like an exercise in self-torture.

Yesterday I had one of those 'light bulb' moments where I realized my problem might be that I haven't read enough, so I downloaded a book from my local library and started reading. Or, to be precise, listening.

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but I stayed up till 7 am listening to that book! I just couldn't stop. I think my muse was starving.


Nurturing Your Muse


This is why, for my second post today, I want to talk about ways to nurture the muse within us all.

The following is from a post over at The Creativity Post called 101 Tips on How to Become More Creative by Michael Michalko.
1. Take a walk and look for something interesting.

3. Open a dictionary and find a new word. Use it in a sentence.

6. Create the dumbest idea you can.

7. Ask a child.

10. Create an idea that will get you fired.

11. Read a different newspaper. If you read the Wall Street Journal, read the Washington Post.

14. What is your most bizarre idea?

15. List all the things that bug you.

16. Take a different route to work.

22. Doodle

24. Go for a drive with the windows open. Listen and smell as you drive.

40. Daydream.

50. Eat spaghetti with chopsticks.

51. Make the strange familiar.

52. Make the familiar strange.

55. Wear purple underwear for inspiration

63. When you wake write down everything you can remember about your dreams.

69. Talk to a stranger.

75. Change your daily routines. If you drink coffee, change to tea.

85. Learn to tolerate ambiguity.

86. What have you learned from your failures? What have you discovered that you didn’t set out to discover?

87. Make connections between subjects in different domains. Banking + cars = drive in banking.

90. Hang out with people from diverse backgrounds.

96. Sit outside and count the stars.

99. Cut out interesting magazine and newspaper pictures. Then arrange and paste them on a board making a collage ...
I hope your muse is well-fed and willing to help spin your tales! If you have any tips you'd like to add, please do. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each
- Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales
- The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself

Photo credit: "untitled" by 416style under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each

For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing On Sale For $1.99

I read about this sale over on Kim Harrison's site but it's such a great deal I wanted to post about it too. There are few things Writers like more than reading books on Writing, especially during NaNoWriMo!

I tried some of the links on HarperCollins' site but the books don't seem to be discounted at every retailer. For instance, Amazon doesn't have all these books on for $1.99, at least not when I checked.

Here are links (all go to Barnes & Noble) to 10 books on writing on sale for $1.99 in honor of NaNoWriMo:


1. Write For Your Life, by Lawrence Block


I haven't read this book but if it's by Lawrence Block it's going to be good. I love, and still use, his book How To Tell Lies For Fun and Profit.


2. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser


I've read this and re-read it many times. An excellent book to have in your reference library.


3. Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, by Elizabeth George


I love reading books on writing that have been written by prolific bestselling authors such as Elizabeth George. Ms. George wrote the series that the BBC's Inspector Lynley Mysteries is based on.


4. Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose


I just started reading this book, and I think it's brilliant! Here's an excerpt:
Can creative writing be taught? ....

[I] answer by recalling my own most valuable experience, not as a teacher but as a student in one of the few fiction workshops I took. This was in the 1970s, during my brief career as a graduate student in medieval English literature, when I was allowed the indulgence of taking one fiction class. Its generous teacher showed me, among other things, how to line edit my work. For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, or especially cut is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.
Anyone who can write like that is worth reading!


5. Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, by Elmore Leonard


This is a short book, but you don't need a lot of space to communicate the essentials. For instance, "Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said'." Stephen King would agree with that. I think many writer's regard it as some kind of sin; mortal not venal.


6. Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Elizabeth Berg


I haven't read this one (yet!) but Elizabeth Berg has written enough books to know what she's talking about.


7. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard



8. Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, by Roger Rosenblatt


A different kind of book on writing since it's written more-or-less as an unfolding story about writing.


9. How to Write: Advice and Reflections, by Richard Rhodes


I think this is the only book on Writing I've ever read that was written by a Pulitzer Prize winner. Richard Rhodes has an impressive catalog of books to back up his musings.


10. How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide, by Howard Mittelmark, Sandra Newman


Well, that's it! I don't know exactly how long these books will be on sale for, on HarperCollins' site it just says "for a limited time" but since they're billed as NaNoWriMo books I'm guessing they'll be on sale through November.

It's not on sale, but the book that has pride of place on the self where I keep my reference books is Stephen King's On Writing. I can't recommend it highly enough.

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: Arrrrrrrrgh! Sometimes writing is easy and sometimes it's hard, for the last three days it's felt like I had to chisel words from stone! Bah! Still, I got my 2k done. My manuscript is now 43,018 words long. I hope to have 45k done by tomorrow. The end is in sight! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling
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Photo credit: "NaNoWriMo Calendar 2012 Fresh Ribbon A" by Monda@NoTelling under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling

Robert J. Sawyer: Show Don't Tell

Robert J. Sawyer & Dirty Harry


For my second post today I want to share my notes from a workshop I took with consummate science fiction novelist Robert J. Sawyer.

The first time I heard Mr. Sawyer speak was on the first stop of his book tour for WWW: Watch last year. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Robert Sawyer talk--whether it is a keynote address, a book launch or a workshop--I'd advise you to grab it. He's a terrific speaker.

Here's an example: Mr. Sawyer's workshop was held on the morning of the third day of the conference and everyone, including Mr. Sawyer, was tired. I think we all wished we'd had one more cup of our favorite caffeinated beverage.

Dirty Harry and Backstory


Regardless, Mr. Sawyer gave a great talk and, at the end, opened the floor to questions. Someone asked him about backstory, how much was enough. Here's what he said (this is from my memory and is not verbatim):
Great question! You want to put backstory in when its relevant to the other characters. For instance, perhaps you all remember a scene that goes something like this:
Here Mr. Sawyer assumed the manner and voice of Clint Eastwood and proceeded to act out the iconic scene from Dirty Harry:
I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk? (Memorable quotes for Dirty Harry)
But of course that's all backstory. Or an information dump, but that's what a lot of backstory is. The scene only works if the reader/audience understands that Harry doesn't remember how many bullets he has and what will happen to 'punk' if there's even one left. That information is critically important to 'punk'. That's why the scene works, and works beautifully.

I'd never thought of it that way before.

That's the sort of thing I've come to expect from Robert Sawyer. He's knowledgeable, witty, a great teacher, and knows how to make a crowd laugh, even first thing in the morning on the third day of a conference!


Show Don't Tell


RS's example of what telling versus showing:

Telling:
Mary was old.
Showing:
Mary moved slowly across the room, her hunched form supported by a polished wooden cane gripped in a gnarled, swollen-jointed hand that was covered by translucent, liver-spotted skin. (Robert Sawyer)
When we 'tell' we're using straight expository text. What is the big difference between the examples above? In the "showing" example RS didn't use the word "old". The reader inferred it.


Interactive Reading


Prose fiction is a form of interactive media. Lectures are boring, books shouldn't be. Make your stories interactive.

What is our goal? Why do we write? We want to ENTERTAIN readers. You want to engage your reader, you want to bring their cognitive functions to the story.

Convey information actively. You want your readers to find your work EVOCATIVE.

How do you do this? Look for TELLING DETAIL.

Telling:
Singh had a reputation for being able to cut through layers of bureaucracy and get things done. (Robert Sawyer)
Showing:
Chang shook his head and looked at Pryce. "All this red tape! We'll never get permission in time."

Suddenly the office door slid open, and in strode Singh, a slight lifting at the corners of his mouth conveying his satisfaction. He handed a ROM chip to Chang. "Here you are, sir — complete government clearance. You can launch anytime you wish."

Chang's eyebrows shot up his forehead like twin rockets, but Singh was already out the door. He turned to Pryce, who was leaning back in his chair, grinning. "That's our Singh for you," said Pryce. "We don't call him the miracle worker for nothing." (Robert Sawyer)

Showing is PARTICIPATORY and VIVID.

Showing is descriptive. Dialogue by its nature is telling. But you can still show some things. For instance, through the words used. Is the person speaking educated, uneducated? Do they speak with an accent? What kind?

One caution, though. Avoid being offensively steriotypical.


Show Using Action


Let's say you want to introduce the information that a character is an engineer but you don't want to outright say, "Mark is an engineer".

RS gave an example--which I didn't have time to write down in detail--in which a person walks into a boardroom, sits down, his iron ring clicks against the glass of water as he takes a sip, etc. The point is that we use the (more-or-less) well-known fact that engineers wear iron rings to actively (ring pinging against the side of the glass) plant the idea that this character is an engineer.

It's always more interesting to receive information in an active way. The next time you're watching a movie notice how often the characters will be walking around, doing something active, while receiving the obligatory information dump. And it makes a difference. The same applies to writing.


When Telling Is Okay


You don't always want to show rather than tell.

a. Don't bother showing if it's not on the test.


If you spend a lot of time describing something, if you show something, that lets your reader know it's significant. On the other hand, if you tell them something that lets the reader know it's not significant.

RS said this is how he thinks of it: Is this on the test? If you're wondering if it would be okay to tell something rather than show it ask yourself: Is this on the test? Will this be important later? Is it important to the story? Does the reader need to know this in order for the resolution to make sense? If it doesn't then you can tell it.

For instance, if your story hinges on it being the dead of winter then you'll want to spend several paragraphs describing this. If it doesn't then you won't.

Also, pay attention to imagry.

Spring --> rebirth
Fall ---> crumbling decay
Winter --> dead, depressed, stalled

You don't have to show everything, you don't have to show something if it's not on the test.

b. Don't bother showing if you're on the first draft.


When you're writing the first draft you don't know what the next twist is.

If you're only writing in declarative prose then if you have writer's block you can go back and write a previous scene in detail. Flesh it out.

For instance, in Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury could have written "It was summer" and then gone back and wrote "I remember a summer that would never end".

c. Don't bother showing in your outline


It's okay to write in your outline "and then an epic battle occurs". You'll fill this in when the time comes. And if your outline changes it will save you wasting time on a scene that will never make it into the final draft.


Audience Questions


i. Description in adult versus young adult literature

One of the questions Robert Sawyer was asked was whether there is a difference in Young Adult literature regarding how much description you should give. Mr. Sawyer said you might want to be sparser in your description. You can't put in as many details. You can't list 20 things about the old church on the hill, you can only list 3 so you have to be careful you make those three do the work of 20.

ii. Too much specificity can hinder reader identification

For instance, if you want your reader to identify with a character you could write, "A beautiful woman walked through the door" and leave the reader to fill in the details. What color her hair is, how much she weighs, how tall she is.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what you consider beautiful might not be what another person does.

#  #  #

That's it! I'll try to remember to put up my notes from Robert Sawyer's other workshop, The Intimately Human and the Grandly Cosmic. There he spoke about what Science Fiction is, what genre is. Also, I sat in on Anne Perry's workshop, Where Did They Come From (about characters and characterization) again this year and, again, it was wonderful.

 Have a great Thanksgiving! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Happy Thanksgiving, Battlestar Galactica & Kris Rusch
- 8 Do's And Don'ts Of Writing Fiction From Neil Gaiman
- Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales

Notes:
- All the examples, above, of showing versus telling are copyrighted by Mr. Sawyer.

Photo credit: "I Love October" by Pink Sherbet Photography under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.