Posts Tagged author Kristen Lamb

This Month, We Write IN HELL—To NaNo or Not to NaNo

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NaNoWriMo. There are a lot of opinions floating around about NaNo and I can’t tell you guys what to do. Wait, I do that all the time. Hmmm. Okay, I can’t MAKE you try NaNo, but I am the friend who will gently and lovingly shove you off a cliff because it’s good for you.

WHAT!!??? You SAID you wanted to go BASE jumping be a professional author.

In my 20s, I lived life like a Mountain Dew commercial. You name X Dumb Thing? Sign me up! One of my favorite suicidal activities was skydiving. If I was having a really bad time, nothing to perk me up like free falling from 15,000 feet. But I’m a natural idiot adventurer.

My little brother? Was probably the more cautious/sane one, but I could tell from this spark in his eyes that he’d one day like to just go for it and jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

One day, I was headed out to jump and invited my brother. “Hey, you can just watch. Check it out. See if it might be something you’d like to try one day.” He rides out there with me and, to his horror, I’d signed BOTH of us up and paid for his tandem.

He should have known from our history together that Big Sisters are pathological liars. Also, I was the one who convinced him to jump off our roof with an umbrella when he was five, so, in fairness, he should have TOTALLY seen that coming.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time. You’ll just float down.

*CRASH*

Oops.

Little Bro was “fine.” But I didn’t make him do anything I hadn’t already done. Trust me when I say he was a changed person after that experience (and for the better).

Back to NaNo…

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

For those who have not tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), at least consider it. Even if you only partially finish (land on your knees and then get dragged through stickers by your chute that caught a sudden updraft) you are now part of a percentage of very few people who TRIED.

And, unlike skydiving, I’ve yet to encounter any NaNo fatalities.

The trick to NaNo is to appreciate it’s PURPOSE. It’s to propel us out of the comfort zone and show us what we are truly capable of if we put our minds to something and refuse to give up. It’s training for the pace of professional author. Pros have a VERY different operational tempo.

We don’t play to win, we play for keeps.

I’ve finished NaNo quite a few times (and fast-draft everything I write), but every day is NaNo for me. I have a thousand words written before most people wake up. Was it ALWAYS that way? Sure!  :D *thunder rumbles*

OKAY, I totally just lied. I used to be thrilled if I had three sentences by the end of the day. OMG, if I could like, write FIVE HUNDRED words a day, THEN I will be EPIC.

There were a LOT of roadblocks to me being a “real writer,” roadblocks that NaNo can help us face and overcome.

No Such Thing as Schrodinger’s Writer

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Want to be a writer? Write. That simple. Lose the existentialism. People who have time to discuss what makes a “real” writer have too much free time. The rest of us are busy writing. The single greatest thing NaNo makes us do is it propels us to sit our tails down and get to WORK.

Ditch Perfectionism

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Want a surefire way to NEVER finish NaNo, or any book for that matter? Edit Frenzy. NaNo is NOT for the perfect book ready for sale on December 1st. Sure there are some pros out there who can whip out a perfect book in 30 days…I think. I’ve never met one, but like Sasquatch, we like to believe they could exist.

The world does not reward perfection, it rewards finishers.

Learn to SHIP. No unfinished idea ever became a NY Times best-selling book.

Word Count

One of the complaints I hear about NaNo is there is too much focus on word count. Oh-KAY. Get a three-book deal and see how important word count becomes. Word count IS critical, because without words? We don’t have a BOOK.

The Muse

Kill it with FIRE.

Kill it with FIRE.

A lot of new writers wait until inspiration strikes. The rest of us go to work (paraphrased Stephen King). Inspiration is for amateurs and hobbyists. If we look to some of the most successful authors in history, a large percentage shifted over from journalism. Reporters who wish to remain employed can’t wait for the muse to report about the four-alarm fire. Learn from that and SHIP.

NaNo is NOT the Time for REVISION

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NaNo is for getting as many words on the page as possible in 30 days. Revise LATER. It’s NaNoWRIMo, not NaNoWriReviseAngstDrinkMoWineMo.

Humans have two sides to the brain—the creative side and the logical side. The reason NaNo is fabulous is it trains us to remain in the creative hemisphere of the brain. Stay in the fictive dream and play your guts out. Logic brain will have its turn…LATER.

Ignore typos, misspellings, run-on sentences and WRITE.

NaNo Pushes Boundaries

Most of us are capable of a lot more than we believe we are, but we dig the Comfort Zone. It has WiFi and lattes. Excellence is born in a fiery crucible. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

NaNo Strips Excuses

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Life will not change one you are a published or successful author. Today is my Dad’s birthday and the 15th anniversary of his death. Hey, he was Scottish and we are known for efficiency. My SIL went in this morning for serious and painful eye surgery to prevent her from going totally blind. I have Shingles, my house is a WRECK and I have a cat I love who’s teetering on death that I have to syringe feed every other hour. Our family business was half-flattened by squall lines last week and…blech.

But I write. Doesn’t mean I don’t CARE about those other things. But if I were in any other job, I might be able to justify a couple days away, but other than that? I’d have to show UP and do my JOB.

I know Mr. Smith has a tumor I was supposed to remove today, but my cat is sick and I am still tired from Shingles, have storm damage to clear and no clean SOCKS to perform surgery in and….

Uh huh.

Writer UP

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You guys don’t have to do NaNo or like NaNo. It isn’t for everyone, but neither is this profession. I participate in NaNo, support it and recommend it.

Just for the LOVE of all that is chocolate, DO NOT believe you are finished after 50,000 or more words. You WILL need revisions and edits, so hold off on the CreateSpace or the query. You might probably will have a literary train wreck. But you have a FINISHED train wreck. EXPERIENCE will teach you what to do and even what NOT to do.

There are ways to have less of a mess at the end, but we’ll talk about that next time.

NaNo trains speed and discipline. Style comes with preparation, time and practice, not nit-picking.

So *beats shield* come back with your first draft or ON it ;).

THIS…IS…SPARTA NANO!

Haters: We will darken the skies with our criticism.

Real Writers: Then we will WRITE in the SHADE.

What are your thoughts? Are you afraid of NaNo? Good. Now suck it up. Have you tried before and failed to finish? Why? Have you revisited the “footage” to see what you could change to improve odds of finishing? Do you over-edit? STOP IT. Do you have friends, family or activities that interfere? Hint: They aren’t going away.

Share your successes, monsters, defeats and we will raise our goblets coffee mugs and spears red pens to the Elysian Fields! We will forever be Brothers and Sisters at Arms. Sign up HERE for NaNoWriMo.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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145 Comments

Can’t Find Your Butt with Google Maps? A Powerful Tool that Can Help Writers Become Organized

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

If you are anything like me, you VOW EVERY NEW YEAR’S DAY that THIS YEAR you are going to be more organized. Six months later we can’t find the Post-Its and the bag of paper clips have been sucked into the same vortex that eats half the socks. Our treasures purchased at The Container Store on January 2nd are lost (likely still in the BAG) and our cute pocket organizer hasn’t had an entry since January 15th.

*head desk*

*Note to Self: Dust Pocket Organizer*

As writers, we need to research and to be able to keep track of that research. We also have lives. Many have mates, pets and kids who’ve grown accustomed to being fed *rolls eyes*. So needy. We’re juggling so much that we actually hope a fanatical fringe group of Calgon Terrorists really will “take us away.”

When I launched my business WANA International, I was on the hunt for the best teachers for ALL aspects of a writer’s life. Since organization is a big part of what will help us be successful and accomplish more in the finite time we’re given, the choice for the best teacher was crystal clear.

Jenny Hansen writes, blogs, works multiple consulting jobs, teaches, gardens (and then flaunts her KALE on Facebook). She balances so much and is happy, generous and fruitful. She is also one of the few people on the planet who has the talent to teach technology and translate into Writer-ese.

Feel free to set down your paper bags as Jenny takes us on a brief tour of one of the most powerful tools we have for keeping everything organized and accessible in ONE place. I know that I used to use OneNote before I switched to Apple and it was fantastic. I’m thrilled to hear it’s now available for Mac products and will be with you for Jenny’s class because my keys can only end up on the freezer so many times….

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

I’m a software trainer by day so I have several “true loves” in the software realm. But as a writer, my hands down favorite is OneNote, especially after this week’s announcements:

  1. It’s now free across all platforms.
  2. Yep, you heard me…it’s now available for the Mac. (Move over, Evernote!)

To put it simply… I. Heart. OneNote.

And I know what some of you are asking: What is it, and where do you find it?

OneNote is a planner and note taking software. It lets you easily capture text, images, video and audio notes, and keep important information readily available across all devices.

If you’re the organized type, it’s likely that you have a binder with all of the research information and pictures for your book. OneNote allows you to keep this information in the same format electronically so it’s searchable.

You’ll find OneNote in your START menu.

I could do several posts on the topic (and I probably will) but when I stopped to think about what I use the MOST in the program, it was pretty easy to come up with my Top Ten Fave Features.

#10 – ToDo Lists

OneNote allows you to insert handy checklists. You just check off the item when you’re done and you can keep it for posterity or edit the list as you move to a new day.

How To Do a Check List:

Click to type in your OneNote notebooks page (top tabs are sections, right side tabs are pages) and type “Ctrl+1”

  • In the top middle of your Home ribbon in OneNote, there is a “To Do” button
  • Type your ToDo
  • Hit Enter
  • Use the Ctrl+1 shortcut key again to add more checkboxes

Click here for the latest OneNote and Microsoft updates that affect writers.

#9 – Tag and Find Important Items

Why is this exciting? One Note has a series of Tags that you can add to any page that are easy to search by with the “Find Tags” button on the ribbon. I’m copying and pasting a screen shot of the Tags drop down to the right but there are even more than are listed. This feature makes me SQUEE!

#8 – Sync Up OneNote Between Your Phone and Computer

Yes, you heard me! If you have a smart phone, it can synchronize with the OneNote on your computer. Sign me up!!

Note: You need to first set up the app on your smart phone and you must also set up OneDrive (used to be SkyDrive), which is helpful to do anyway. OneDrive is only available with OneNote 2010 and later! It will not work with the older versions.

Tips on setting up your OneDrive in OneNote and getting the iPhone app are here (along with a ton of other amazing OneNote answers).

#7 – Ink to Text (There’s also “Math to Text” now, but hello? We’re writers!)

Ink to Text is a gift for creatives. You could go one further and get a Livescribe pen if you want to be able to upload longhand writing to OneNote first. If you have a tablet with a stylus, you can write right in OneNote, highlight it and choose Ink to Text to convert your scribbles into searchable text.

There are many, many ways to take notes, as you can see from the graphic below:

OneNote_ManyWaysToNoteTake

#6 – Hyperlinks to Anywhere

You can copy or create hyperlinks from any page, anywhere, and put it in your notebook page. I’m thinking of keeping an active writing notebook with tabs for each topic to store the amazing links that I run across in my web surfing. My bookmarks tend to get lost because there’s so many.

#5 – Print to OneNote

When researching, you can send a whole page or part of a page directly to OneNote. Choose File > Print and your page is sent to an unfiled note in OneNote, which can be moved to any section or page.

#4 – Send Whole or Part of Any Page to OneNote With a Shortcut Key

Imagine surfing the web and pulling up a side note by either pressing the Windows logo button + N or clicking the N (OneNote) icon button in the task bar (down by the time) and being able to jot down your notes to keep in your book’s OneNote binder. This shortcut automatically files it in the Unfiled Tab in OneNote, which you can move around.

#3 – Audio and Video Files

OneNote will also add audio or video files to your notebook pages. It can even record the same right into a page! Now that we’re in conference season, I’ve made the goal of adding my meeting and class notes into OneNote, and then recording those extras things that I didn’t get down in my notes.

#2 – You Can Attach Files to Any Page in OneNote

Can you writers say character charts? Photos? I thought of moving this higher on the list, it’s so sublimely amazing.

From your Windows Explorer, click and drag any file onto a OneNote Page. You will get the following dialog box:

You can insert a hyperlink, or choose the second option to have an icon on your page that you double-click on to open the file. But the last choice (to insert the file as a printout)? LOVE IT! I used this with a conference handout to make my notes next to the speakers content. It saved me a ton of time.

And My #1 FAVORITE thing in OneNote is:

OneNote doesn’t have a Save button. OneNote automatically saves your work on an almost constant basis in the background. This means I don’t lose work, even if forget to save.

Helpful Links:

Does OneNote sound like it would be helpful to you? Do you have questions, or shortcuts you’d like to share? We’d love to chat with you in the comments!

Where can you get more of Jenny?

Her blog information is below, but she also teaches online. For all you writers and OneNote/Evernote fans, in fact she is teaching a class for WANA next week!

Next week’s class details:

      • Course title: OneNote: The Simple (Kinda Sexy) Organization Tool
      • Course time: webinar next Monday March 24th at 7 pm EST – it’s available OnDemand afterwards, so don’t worry if you can’t make it.
      • The initial webinar is followed by two weeks of online time where we cover the material and create notebooks. We finish with another quick webinar recap.
      • There are various levels for the class, depending on if you just want the knowledge or if you need active one-on-one help setting up your notebooks. Be sure to click the course title link above to see what’s included for the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels.
      • Use the discount code MORECOWBELL for $10 off!

Lastly, we’re going to have THREE special things for this kickoff class:

      1. A member of the Microsoft OneNote team will audit the class to answer any questions on the technologies and features that are still new.
      2. A drawing will held to give away a subscription of Office 365 to one lucky attendee.
      3. Any interested authors will be entered into a drawing to be a guest author for the Office blog – in return for the description of how OneNote helped you “get it done,” Microsoft will promote the winner’s novel at the bottom of the post.

Really, y’all…how can you beat that? (You can’t! This inaugural class is the only one that will have all this, since it comes so quickly on the heels of Microsoft’s rollout.) Click here to sign up!

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Thank you, Jenny! Are you like me and struggle to keep organized? Do you have passwords for your passwords? One giant bag with all the mail so you have at least a good starting place for locating the electric bill? Or do you use OneNote and can attest to its powers? Do you have questions for Jenny? Confessions?

I LOVE hearing from you guys (and comments for guests count DOUBLE)!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after her toddler Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.

When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA and at Writers In The Storm.

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75 Comments

Handling Criticism

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

I awoke at three this morning with an aching back (thunderstorms), then my mind began wheeling and there was no getting back to sleep. So I figured, what the hell? Get up and chat with y’all. I’d love to say the storm, my aching back or the toddler who gets up at three every morning lately (which is seriously spooky and a tad Paranormal Activity) is the sole cause of my sudden insomnia.

Alas, it isn’t. Why am I awake? The thought of rejection.

I’d love to tell you guys I’ve always been good at handling criticism, but truth is, when I started writing I had the skin of a grape and needed far more outside approval than was probably healthy.

Boldly…Okay Not-So-Boldly-Going…

The first two books are behind me and both did fantastic, but what about this third one? It’s completely different and I take some huge risks. What if people think I was eating lead paint, licking toads and smoking Qualudes while writing?

Wait. Does one smoke Qualudes?

What if everyone HATES it????

And this is probably why I’m up at three in the morning (aside from creepy toddler activity). I’m on the ledge of something entirely new, about to take the plunge. The book is at the formatter. This is the first time publishing on my own. I’m no longer a newbie. It’s a bigger game and I’m super glad I have you guys or I’d be terrified.

Okay more terrified.

Humans Dig Approval

Hey, I’m not immune. We all wan’t approval. We’re human. Yet, the problem is, criticism is part of life. Yesterday, we talked about writing fast, finishing and shipping. The best way to get really good at writing books is….ready for this? Writing books. As in plural. 

One of the main reasons writers work a book to DEATH is they fear criticism. They fear failure and rejection. So they work and rework and rework and never put themselves out there. Been there, done that, myself.

I know fear is a big reason I allowed my proposal to sit with an agent for eighteen months. I wanted the green light, the outside assurance that Rise of the Machines will be the best thing since unicorn stickers.

Putting ourselves out there is frightening. We open ourselves to rejection. Yet, the thing is, as much as it stings, criticism is vital to success.

Image via WANA Commons

Original image via GrandmaLow WANA Commons

Criticism Let’s Us know Where We Can Improve and Grow

We can’t fix what we can’t see. Criticism (when done properly) can take us to a new professional level. One of the reasons I’ve loved working with Piper Bayard is I didn’t have to waste time candy-coating my feedback and serving it on a polished platter so she wouldn’t cry.

I could say, “No, that doesn’t work. Here’s why.” Still can and it saves time for both of us.

And since I didn’t have to waste time adding fluff and glitter to all my critique, she’s now a published author with a critically-acclaimed book, Firelands. It’s AWESOME, btw.

Piper also has a seven-book series ahead. One is already written (and it ROCKS) and the next six are plotted. She’s a faster, better writer because she could take criticism, learn and move forward.

When it comes to my new book, I want to believe every review will be 6 stars out of 5, but I know that isn’t reality. Some people won’t like the book and I’ll learn and do better with the next book and the next.

Storms Make Us Stronger

Somewhere I heard a story about a bio-dome experiment. Scientists wanted to grow all kinds of plants and trees inside the safety of a dome. The trees were perfectly spaced, received just the right amount of water, sun, and nutrition. They were shielded from the outside elements in an ambient bubble of perfect and the scientists fully believed this would yield ideal trees because they were growing in an ideal “world.”

Yet, over time, the scientists noticed the trees never grew past a certain height and their roots were very shallow. Also, to add to the scientist’s surprise, it seemed trees outside the dome, trees faced with drought, competition, and storms fared better and grew bigger.

How could this be?

What they learned is that storms broke branches, yes. But damage forced the trees to get tougher in the broken places. Trees that had to compete for sunlight had to grow taller. Sometimes there was drought, and this forced the trees’ roots to grow deeper making them stronger and more resistant to high winds because they were anchored.

Original image via David Farmer WANA Commons

Original image via David Farmer WANA Commons

We Don’t Grow in Pink Perfect Bubbles

I know there will be criticism. There always is. Yet, thing is? I’ve been in critique groups where everyone just told each other how awesome their writing was, and you know what? No one grew. The writing never improved.

I don’t know about you, but I want each book I write to be better than the last. I can’t do this if I don’t have (sometimes painful) feedback. We need storms *shrugs*

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

We Have to Accept That We Can’t Please Everyone

Part of getting a healthy relationship with criticism is learning to discern what’s constructive versus destructive. Some people are just jerks. Nothing we do will please them, so learn to shrug them off.

Focus on the positive, but at least acknowledge the negative. Maybe the person has a point, but maybe the person is a lunatic. Not all feedback is relevant or even sane. 

Listen to the constructive and ditch the destructive as soon as possible. It’s toxic. If we try to please everyone, we’ll end up pleasing no one. “Books by Committee” suck.

What are your thoughts? Suggestions? Do you fear rejection? Fear failure? Is it keeping you from moving forward? Have you been hurt by criticism only to realize it was the best thing for you?

To make you guys laugh, I’ve included a vlog I did about the first time my fiction was critiqued :D….

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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64 Comments

Les Edgerton & Two Tips to Take Your Dialogue to a WHOLE New Level–Part 3

Les Edgerton

Les Edgerton

Hey, Guys. You wanted to learn how to write AMAZING, PAGE-TURNING DIALOGUE, so I kidnapped  recruited the best. Les Edgerton has been so generous with his time and talent, and we are SUPER grateful. I promise to release Les back into the wild…eventually :D.

Take it away, Les!

Thanks for having me back on, Kristen! There were several things I neglected to talk about on dialogue in the first two posts, so I wanted to include them here. There are many other elements of good dialogue than posted here, but these are kind of important.

Now, here are the couple of things I neglected to cover in the first two posts.

Format with Tags

One is the format of dialogue with tags. I suspect that this one will draw as many responses from folks who don’t buy it as there were who resisted using “said” as dialogue tag verbs. It’s your choice—I’m just relaying the mindset of many editors.

It’s very simple. The accepted format for dialogue tags these days is “He/she/name said.” Almost always. What is considered archaic and musty is this construction: “Said he/she/name.”

About the only folks still using this latter format are some older journalists, some writers from other cultures (Canada comes to mind), brand names, and writers who haven’t kept up with current usages. Which leads me to make a big point—brand names—those authors with significant followings—can make every mistake in the book and get away with it. They’re beyond such limitations, simply because their readerships are such that publishers will accept just about anything they publish.

Stephen King could probably publish his grocery list and it would hit the bestseller lists… Although, King is such a terrific writer, he wouldn’t (and doesn’t) break very many of these rules and conventions. This is just to make you aware that many times brand name authors aren’t always the folks to go to for writing models. Simply because they can get away with things that unknown writers can’t.

The reality is, King can do things we can’t. Same goes for any brand name author. That doesn’t mean their work is valueless for instruction—it has immense value. There’s a reason they’re popular and it’s almost always the writing. But, always look at it with a grain of salt and become thoroughly familiar with the direction fiction is taking because there are popular authors who haven’t kept up and whose books, if modeled for your own efforts, may work against you.

Whenever I have a student point out an example in a published book that goes contrary to the advice I’ve given them, my first question is: “Is this from a brand-name author?” If it is, then I ask them to consider the source. And to gently let them know that while it may not be fair, it’s the reality that we (unknowns) have to be better in many ways that established writers with significant followings don’t have to be.

If anyone’s parents told them the world was fair, they did them a disservice…

Conflict

The second thing I neglected to touch on is conflict. We all know that there has to be conflict on every single page of a novel for it to work, and this is especially true in dialogue. That’s why Q&A dialogue doesn’t work. There’s virtually no conflict in it.

I advise my novel writing students and clients constantly that the protagonist should never, ever gain anything easily, no matter how seemingly trivial the exchange is.

An example I give often is to tell them that if they have their protagonist stop a bum on the street to ask directions to a bar she’s pretty sure is a block or two away but isn’t sure in what direction, she should have the bum say something to the effect of: “Whadda I look like, Sweetpea? The frickin’ Chamber of Commerce?” And, then, either give up the info grudgingly or walk off and let her find her own way. The point being, never let the protagonist gain things easily. Never.

In dialogue, when the protagonist is trying to gain information, it should be like pulling teeth. Now, that doesn’t mean there should be a war created to gain a simple piece of information. The writer needs to tailor the conflict proportionally to the value of what she’s after.

In the example above, this is plenty. What she’s after is just a simple direction. It doesn’t rise to the level of WWIII. But… there should be at least a bit of conflict and resistance to gain her answer. When the information is valuable, the conflict needs to be ratcheted up in proportion.

This is one of the primary keys to creating tension and tension is the lifeblood of a successful novel. Nothing should be gained easily and the opposition to her gaining it should be proportional to the value it holds. The other primary key to a quality read is to keep posing story questions, one after another after another after another… ad nauseum.

I’ve barely touched on the subject, but hope there’s some food for thought here for most readers.

The main thing is—keep up on what passes for contemporary usages these days and keep those red flags to a minimum. And, remember, no one has ever written a perfect novel. Every single novel ever published has flaws. Perfection is an impossible goal. Can’t be done. Just get it as good as you possibly can and send it out. And begin on a new work and try to make it even “gooder.”

Remember: When you’re green, you’re growing. And, when you’re ripe, you’re rotten. Writing has changed greatly in the past ten-twenty years and it’s going to keep on changing. What I said here—at least some of it—will eventually be outdated. It’s one reason to keep reading voraciously and to keep reading craft books.

Hope this helps!

Blue skies,

Les

Les, THANK YOU SO MUCH. For my readers, Les will be back tomorrow with some final advice about your writing and your careers as authors, so I hope you’ll join us.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Les Edgerton is the author of HOOKEDTHE RAPISTTHE BITCH and others.

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Les Edgerton Shows How to Write Amazing Dialogue–Part 2 AN EXERCISE

Les Edgerton

Les Edgerton

I hope you guys enjoyed Les’s guest post yesterday. Today, Les is offering a bonus…an EXERCISE to help you develop your skills for writing killer dialogue.

Take it away, Les!

Exercise on Subtext

This exercise is primarily for the teacher teaching basic writing principles, although perhaps even more advanced writers may get something out of it. It’s an exercise I use in my “on-ground” classes when I’m teaching at a college.

It represents a very basic example of dialogue that’s not “on-the-nose” or a Q&A exchange, to show students a very easy to understand example of how off-the-nose dialogue works and how subtext informs the dialogue more than the actual dialogue.

I usually have two students come to the front of the room and read the following script. Then, I ask the questions that follow. It’s a simple exercise, but I’m happy to report that most of the students really enjoy coming up with their own exchanges, which is part of the assignment.

If anyone uses this in an actual class, I’d love to hear your feedback. (Also, you may want to write your own example—I admit this isn’t deathless prose, but hey! I wrote it in about five minutes. Gimme a break…)

DIALOGUE EXERCISE

She: The Bentley’s baby was cute, wasn’t it?

He: I don’t think I saw it. I was in the kitchen with the guys all night.

She: Well, she was a cute little baby.

He: Great. Women think all babies are cute. Ever heard a woman say someone’s kid was ugly? I mean, except for Shrek’s parents’ friends?

She: Brad and Gena seem so happy.

He: They should be. He just got a promotion.

She: Silly! I mean the baby.

He: There goes the promotion. The raise part of it, anyway.

She: I think they’ll manage. Babies are worth a sacrifice or two.

He: If you say so.

She: Look at it practically. Their little girl will probably take care of them in their old age.

He: That’s a great tradeoff. Let’s see… take care of a kid for 22 years—I’m including college—and they stick you in a home for your final three years. Probably use your own money to fund your own old folks’ home. Sounds like a good deal.

She: It’s not like that.

He: Yeah. Whatever.

Silence for a few seconds.

She: Samantha.

He: Huh?

She: Samantha. They named her Samantha. I think that’s cute. I wonder if they’ll call her “Sam.”

He: They ought to call her “Stinky.”

She: What?

He: You heard me. “Stinky.” The kid smells.

She: All kids smell when they make a mess. You smelled. Besides, how would you know if she smelled? You said you stayed in the kitchen.

He: All kids smell.

She: Then you change their diaper.

He: Yeah. There goes the entertainment budget.

She: You mean the beer budget.

He: So?

She: So is if you cut out a few beers, you’d have plenty of diapers… and lose a few pounds…

He: You sayin’ I’m fat?

She: I’m saying diapers don’t cost that much. A six-pack or two.

He: Maybe. But how many six-packs does it cost to send a kid to college?

She (laughing): About what you go through in a week!

He (mutters): Must be a cheap school. All the classes on the Internet? The school’s in the Caribbean?

She: She’ll probably get scholarships anyway.

He: That’s cool. That means she’ll spend all her time partyin’. End up pregnant.

She: She’ll be way too smart for that.

He: Like her mom was?

Who were this man and woman really talking about? What did the woman want? What did the man want? Did either of them come right out and say what they were really talking about?

This is dialogue that isn’t “on the nose.” It’s one way good dialogue is written. What’s important is what isn’t said–the subtext. The subtext is the real message that’s under the surface of the actual dialogue spoken.

This is what I want you to write (in teams). Two people talking about something that is really being expressed in subtext—dialogue that’s not “on the nose.” You can pick any subject you want for them to discuss (within reason!). Whatever they’re really talking about can’t be mentioned. After you deliver your dialogue, the class will attempt to guess what it is you’ve really been talking about.

Time: 2-3 minutes performance time per person. I’d rehearse this so your team falls within the time limit. That’s where I’ll take the most points off, for being short of the minimum.

Notes: You don’t need to memorize the exchange but can read off your script.

Bonus points: Your team can gain bonus points if you use props and/or costumes. (I’ve had some really original costumes and props show up…)

Hope this helps understand better what subtext is and what off-the-nose dialogue is. Write solid subtext dialogue and you’ll draw comparisons to folks like Elmore Leonard!

Bonus tips: Nothing to do with dialogue but just two tips to becoming a better writer.

1. Don’t show a “single tear coursing down the cheek” of a character. It isn’t dramatic; it’s a cliché. It’s a moronic cliché. Plus, it makes the reader wonder if the other tear duct is clogged or if only one tear shows a person with some kind of half-ass control over their emotion where they can control one eye but not both at the same time…

2. Don’t ever write a sentence like: I wonder if he’ll like me, she thought to herself. I mean… who else does a person think to other than themselves? Unless it’s a sci-fi novel and people can think to others…

These two things are my personal bugaboos in writing. I throw up in my mouth whenever I encounter these puppies! Sometimes, I do more than just choke up a bit of bile. At times, I’ve hurled chunks when encountering these in a student’s work… Just sayin’…

Thank you Les for this wonderful exercise. I am trying to twist Les’s arm for a Part Three on Monday, so here’s hoping :D.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Les Edgerton is the author of HOOKEDTHE RAPISTTHE BITCH and others.

Winner for March is Daniel Occento. Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. You can also choose to send a one-page query letter of five-page synopsis (limit 1250 words).

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58 Comments

Three Phases of Becoming a Master Author

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.31.06 AM

Image via Kristin Nador WANA Commons

Professional authors make our job look easy. That is the mark of a good storyteller. The work flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless. Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three stages in this career.

Neophyte

This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music.” We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.32.50 AM

Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training.

Apprentice

The apprentice phase comes next. This is where we read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, most of your family will likely ban you from “Movie Night.” Everything now becomes part of our training. We no longer look at stories the same way.

The apprentice phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest and filled with the most change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.34.46 AM

Image via KcdsTM Flikr Creative Commons

It’s like when I first started learning clarinet and I had to think of SO MANY THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. I was new at reading music, and I had to tap my foot to keep the beat at the same time I keyed notes (which I keyed incorrectly more times than not). I had to hold my mouth a certain way, blow air with just the right force, pay attention to the conductor…and most of the time I needed a nap afterwards.

WHY did I want to play clarinet? I wondered this a lot.

But as we move through the apprentice phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the apprentice phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.

We just write.

We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the “rules” are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to break rules.

Writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the clarinetist whose fingers now naturally go to the right keys without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

The trick is sticking it through the apprentice phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious.

Master

This is where we all want to be. In fact, we all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are deeply engrained, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte, it’s actually a real story worth reading. Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.36.54 AM

Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Not Despise the Day of Small Beginnings (thanks, Joyce Meyer)—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.

3. No One Begins a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie, too. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be “Masters” right away.

Hey, I did.

We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into “Apprentice” to refine our art even further.

While I am a huge fan of social media and authors having a platform, I will tell you that mastery will only come with writing. Focus less on marketing and more on writing books. That’s what will make the difference, not some algorithm or Facebook ad.

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Note: Due to Easter holiday/anniversary…okay video game marathon, I will be choosing March’s winner later in the week, so stay tuned.

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132 Comments

WordPress.COM vs. WordPress.ORG — Which Is Better for Writers?

Technology can feel a little like THIS...

Technology can feel a little like THIS…

*blinks groggily* Geeze, Kristen, what did you put in that candy? I promised I’d write a guest post for your blog. You didn’t have to kidnap me to make it happen. Methinks you like the Candy Van just a little too much.

That van was a BARGAIN. Getting my $250 worth.

Besides, I only drug my favorite people. It’s like a CLUB…bonded by candy and Stockholm Syndrome :).

Didn’t want one of my guests feeling left out. No Candy Van War Story to share. Oh, here’s some water. Might help wash the sedatives out of your system. 

Take it away, Jami!….

WordPress.COM vs. WordPress.ORG — Which Is Better for Us?

Image via Bill_Owen Flikr Creative Commons

Image via Bill_Owen Flikr Creative Commons

Okay, let’s see if I can focus my eyes enough to explain the differences between the WordPress.com and WordPress.org blogging platforms. Yes, one is .com and one is .org. Yes, it’s confusing. Don’t worry, we’ll deal.

  • WordPress.comFree by default, but with limited customization options. They make their money by placing ads on our sites and selling upgrades that increase customizations to some extent.
  • WordPress.org Requires a hosting company to run the free software. Hosting companies charge a monthly fee to “host” your data on their servers. Depending on the hosting company, you can do nearly any customizations you want.

If you’re already feeling a splitting headache coming on (like I currently have— thanks, Kristen) from the thought of all this technical information, you might want to catch up with my previous posts.

Earlier, I shared some of the reasons I focus on WordPress and not Blogger for our blogging platform. And I did a guest post at Writers In The Storm blog (with no kidnapping required, I might add) explaining what a hosting company is and why they’re important.

We all need to work together. Image via Wikimedia Commons

We all need to work together. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Why WordPress.COM Is a Good Option for Some

When we’re first starting out with our blog, we understandably might not be ready to commit any money to the venture. We want to see how this blogging thing works for us, figure out whether we’ll be able to think of topics, and decide on a direction for our blogging voice.

For this reason, many of us want a free blogging platform, like WordPress.com. If we go this route, WordPress.com is our hosting company. Our blog posts (and all our other site data) live on their servers and visitors connect to our site by using WordPress.com’s network. To make money for all that equipment, WordPress.com offers paid upgrades, from a custom domain name to design help.

The only upgrade I’d recommend for WordPress.com would be to pay for a custom domain name. By default, internet addresses (otherwise known as the URL) of sites running on WordPress.com include “wordpress” in their name: http://ourname.wordpress.com. (Like how the URL of Kristen’s blog is http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com.)

Some think having “wordpress” in the URL can make us look less professional. If we want, we can upgrade to a custom domain and our URL would then be: http://ourname.com.
WordPress.com’s default (meaning free) settings will be enough for many of us.

We can choose from over a hundred free themes (the template for the design of our blog). We get free access to great integrated contact forms, comment systems, blog email signups, etc.

However, depending on our goals for our website/blog, we might want or need more customization. In that case, we’d want to consider using WordPress.org instead.

Why WordPress.ORG Is a Good Option for Some

While the WordPress.org software is free, we have to pay for a hosting company to store the data for our website blog. So people often call WordPress.org the “paid option.” Technically, it’s the self-hosted option, meaning we get to pick our hosting company.

Going this route means we’d usually have more freedom with our site to do the customizations we want. WordPress.org offers almost 2000 free themes, and many premium themes are available as well.

Our domain name would be whatever we wanted, but we’d need to obtain it ourselves (some hosting companies will help us with this step).

In short, going with WordPress.org means more freedom—and more responsibility. Domain names, picking a good hosting company, being careful to not let our site be hacked, oh my.

In a way, WordPress.com is like going with a traditional publisher who will do some of the work for us—but leave us with less control—while going with WordPress.org is like self-publishing, where we have to do everything ourselves. So it can make sense to stick with the free WordPress.com if it does everything we want it to do.

How Can We Know which Path Is Right for Us?

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

We should pick a hosting company (I use TechSurgeons.com) and go with WordPress.ORG if we want to:

  • Use plugins (for Google Analytics, email newsletters, controlling the “related posts” listed at the bottom of a post, adding more sidebar widgets, better SEO (search engine optimization), better sharing to social media, etc.)
  • Use a custom theme
  • Make changes to the programming code
  • Add a store
  • Use direct links for purchasing
  • Post Adsense ads
  • Use affiliate links
  • Prevent ads from showing up on your site (WordPress.com can display ads on our site)
  • Use a different commenting system (like Disqus)
  • Add more features to our website (like a forum)

On the other hand, we should go with WordPress.COM if we:

  • Do not care about any of those above options (customizations, adding a store or links to sell things directly off the site, widgets, forums, commenting systems, preventing ads, etc.)
  • Just want a basic site that we don’t have to worry about

What If We’re Still Not Sure?

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

It is possible to move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, and some hosting companies can help with that transition. So it’s not the end of the world if we start one way and then change our mind. However, old links, credit with Google for our site’s popularity, etc. might be messed up along the way.

We have to balance our current needs and ability to pay with a guess at our anticipated future needs. That means we might not be able to do what we want right now. Or we might guess wrong. But I hope this post gave you some ideas for how to start making that decision. My hosting company offers potential clients a test site for a month if they want to play with WordPress.org.

If you have specific questions about which route would be best for you, I’ll be doing a one-hour live Q&A session on WANA International’s Facebook page on Thursday, April 11th at 7 p.m. Eastern time. On my blog today, I have more details about the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org and links to more information.

I’ll also keep an eye out for questions in the comments here (assuming Kristen doesn’t slip anything else in my candy stash *hugs chocolate close*).

Okay, I’ve Decided—Now What?

If you’re thinking of setting up a website or blog for the first time, I’m offering two workshops through Kristen’s WANA International at the end of April. Registration is currently open for these two workshops designed for those with no knowledge of WordPress, websites, or blogs. Interested?

Readers of Kristen’s blog can use Promo Code “jamisave” to save $5 on registration. Sign up for only one of the workshops:

Thanks for having me here, Kristen! And next time, all you have to do is ask—no kidnapping necessary. I promise, my friend. *smile*

Jami takes away all my fun. Without kidnapping, I only have a toddler and the Bubble Guppies.

Do you have questions about WordPress.com or WordPress.org? Do you understand what makes them different? Do you have other suggestions for how to decide which path to take?

***

Author Jami Gold

Author Jami Gold

After discovering a chemical compound that makes chocolate even more awesome, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in making her sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her familyóand zombie cat.

Find Jami at her blog,†Twitter,†,†Facebook,†Pinterest,†LinkedIn, and†Goodreads.

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91 Comments

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