Posts Tagged author Kristen Lamb

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!

****

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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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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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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Three Phases of Becoming a Master Author

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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86 Comments

Successful Author Presence—Do You Have It?

Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

I read a lot of blogs, namely because I believe the best writers are 1) perpetual students, and 2) are stronger when they read a lot, particularly in other areas that might not be their genre or even directly related to writing.

One of my favorite bloggers (as some of you may already know) is successful CEO and leader in Silicon Valley, Steve Tobak. He had a really interesting post this week called Leadership Presence–Do You Have It?, which inspired me to write today’s post.

Successful Author Presence—Do You Have It?

All of us (writers) balance this fine line of complete narcissism, and profound insecurity/self-loathing. We have to believe that our ideas, opinions, stories are something others want to pay money to read in order to be successful. Yet, we are constantly plagued with self-doubt. Chronic doubt is possibly a built-in mechanism to bring balance to The Force.

Just my POV.

The Narcissist

If a writer is too full of what he believes he knows, he won’t grow and eventually will stall and burn out. That or his hubris eventually will just drive others away. This type of writer can’t forge strong relationships because everything is a competition. Eventually others just say, Okay, sure. You’re better than us. Bye.

In the current paradigm, we need a team more than ever. Also, likability didn’t matter fifteen years ago, yet now? Likability is getting to be a bigger and bigger deal. Readers will eventually just gravitate to writers who know how to tweet without putting others down.

The Emotional Vampire

On the other side, a writer who needs constant props and ego-stroking eventually wears out those around her. She can’t grow and mature either because she’s in the business for the wrong reasons. We writers should be here to teach/inform (NF) or entertain (NF/fiction), not to use our audience as emotional hostages.

The Author With “The Right Stuff”

Yet, there are those writers who have a “presence.” It’s a tough thing to explain. But, I think Steve’s list might help me try:

They’re Not Born with It

Talent is highly overrated. Character matters in this business. It’s why I dedicate so much time to talking about the writer as a human being. Without self-discipline, drive, humility and a certain work ethic, a writer won’t make it long-term.

The writer with successful author presence generally comes from a background that’s already fired out a lot of character impurities. Whether it’s a tough childhood, bad marriage, law school, or time as a police officer, this writer has a different je ne sais quoi that stands out.

Being Right A Lot

This writer is open to listening to a lot of people and processing a lot of information quickly. Rather than taking shortcuts, this writer knows where to funnel energy. If she makes a mistake, she readjusts and doesn’t waste time moaning over making a poor choice. She throws herself into the work knowing that, if we make enough wrong decisions, we grow enough to start making a lot of RIGHT decisions.

Hey, I’ve done literally EVERYTHING wrong. But I’m still here ;).

Knowing Your Stuff Cold

There are a lot of ways to train to be a good author, but great authors must read. The authors with presence study everything. Either they inhale craft books or they devour fiction. They watch movies and series, then break stories down to see what’s working, what isn’t and how to duplicate the magic.

Every time I meet a writer who says, “Well I want to be a best-selling author, but I don’t like to read.”

Yeah. Next.

The author with presence understands the basics of his craft and practices to perfection. As Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Confidence

Confidence is often birthed from hard work. One of the reasons I am a HUGE fan of writers blogging is it helps to build confidence. Confidence isn’t BS bravado, rather it’s a mindset that any problem can be solved if broken down into enough pieces.

When I used to run critique groups, I had too many writers who just wanted ego stroking, to be told every word/sentence/idea was a rainbow nugget of gold. If I tried to point out the problems, these types of writers would fly into a hissy-fit-rage.

Yeah, that would be NO confidence.

On the other hand, I’ve also been blessed enough to work with writers like Piper Bayard, who had enough confidence in themselves to take the criticism and then ask the tough questions. “How do I make it better?” “What do you need to me do/read?”

Writers like this have enough confidence to not be derailed every time they get feedback that doesn’t tell them they’re a unicorn-kitten-hug.

Piper now has a multi-book deal with a traditional publisher, btw :).

Thinking a Few Steps Ahead

Writers with presence regard writing as a career. They think strategically and long-term. These writers (even before they finish their first books) aren’t viewing publishing like a literary scratch-off ticket. They’re already planning the next book, the series, the next series, and which publisher(s)/publishing options might be the best fit, etc.

Too many writers have desperation coming off them in waves. Why? They have ONE book and market it TO DEATH. They aren’t playing Career Chess; they’re playing Publishing Tiddly Winks.

Adversity

Frequently, these writers are survivors. There is a reason we see a lot of lawyers, doctors and former military people become best-selling authors. These writers embrace pain and harness it for advantage.

Believing You’re Special

As we talked about in this week’s Boxing Series, there is a lot of resistance in this profession. The world will never be short of people who will call you a talentless hack/poseur/fake/amateur/nut.

It’s The Resistance.

The Resistance is made up of two types of people. Those too chicken $#!& to follow their own dreams, or those so full of themselves they can’t bear to share the spotlight. Both types of people build themselves up by putting others down.

Expect it.

The writer with presence holds fast to the internal knowledge she or he IS SPECIAL. She tunes out the haters and presses on. No matter the push-back, this writer has a calling and this calling is intimately tethered to the internal belief that she has something the world wants to read/hear/learn.

Just like no one is born with talent, none of us are born a “Writer with Presence,” but we can learn to be that writer. Just set down the ego, roll up the sleeves and WORK HARD.

What are your thoughts or opinions? What would you add to the list? What are your experiences? Have you dealt with the narcissists or even the emotional vampires? The jealous, the immature? Have you been that person and had an A-HA! moment?

I love hearing from you!

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. 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 March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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101 Comments

How Boxing Can Make Us Better Writers–Lesson 3 STICK & MOVE

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of MartialArtsNomad.com

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of MartialArtsNomad.com

Are You Quick on Your Feet?

When I trained as a boxer, we did a lot of footwork. Dart in, hit, then get out of the way. Best way to win a fight? Simple. Don’t get punched. Or at least get punched as little as possible. When our opponent takes a swing? Don’t be there. The skill of sticking-and-moving requires endurance, strength and flexibility. Being a successful Digital Age Author requires the same.

Learn to Stick and Move

Get quick on your feet. Change, adapt, overcome. The lithe survive, especially now in the Digital Age. The big traditional publishers are suffering because their size doesn’t allow them to adapt to the rapid changes that come part-and-parcel with explosive technological advance.

Indies, in this sense, have an advantage. An author can change covers if one isn’t working. He or she can respond directly to what consumers want.

A friend of mine, who happens to be an insanely successful indie author, broke each of his three LONG novels into three SHORT ones. Why? Customer feedback. Readers said they preferred shorter books. Instead of three 120,000 word books, Aaron broke them into nine 40,000 word books. Not only did readers prefer this, but now Aaron was making money off nine books instead of three.

Stick and move.

Knowledge is Power & Helps Us Adjust and Adapt

Knowledge is power, especially these days when everything is shifting at the speed of light. Today’s trend can be gone tomorrow, thus we need to pay attention. Make friends. Read blogs. Be humble. We can learn from anyone.

Be a good listener and never think you are too big to listen to “little people.” Sometimes it’s the outsider, the novice, who holds the most insight. Readers are who told Aaron they wanted shorter books, not NYTBSAs.

When I wrote my first social media book, I didn’t get a bigger, better “social media expert” to read it. I recruited my 60-year-old mother and my 92-year-old aunt. If they could understand it and enjoy my book, then I’d done a good job.

My mother now rules Facebook. Befriend her at your peril.

Experts Can Be Overrated

I always shake my head and laugh at people who think only multi-published fiction authors can teach/comment on writing. Some of the best writing advice we will ever get is from readers.

Teaching is a Different Skill than DOING

Just because someone is a marvelous storyteller, in no way means this person knows how to teach or how to give constructive feedback to others. If best-selling authors with high sales numbers were the only ones qualified to teach or comment on good fiction, then why would the world bother with agents, editors, reviewers, book bloggers, English teachers, or even readers?

To stick and move, we need to be open and know that there are a lot of different forms of expertise.

YES! Listen to multi-published successful authors who also teach, just don’t learn from them exclusively. If we only listen to one type of expert, we’re in real danger of being myopic. We risk falling into groupthink and miss opportunities to plan and act creatively.

We lose the ability to be innovative.

This is part of what has gone so wrong in “big publishing.” They failed to listen to outside opinions and their tunnel-vision has cost them dearly.

Teaching is a totally different skill set.

I’ve met mega-authors who were phenomenal storytellers, but mediocre or even dreadful writing teachers. On the other end? I’ve met people who’ve never published fiction who were masters of understanding and teaching the craft of writing.

Margie Lawson is a stellar example. She’s not a novelist, but her classes have taken newbie writers and shaped them into best-sellling powerhouse authors. I strongly recommend her classes.

Remember, Experts are Experts, Not Omniscient

The indie movement is full of writers who have had staggering success after they finally self-published. Theresa Ragan was rejected by the traditional publishers for EIGHTEEN YEARS. The “experts” told her she wasn’t good enough. Well, 300,000 books sold in 18 months shows me that maybe “experts” don’t know everything.

She didn’t keep standing there in one spot getting pummeled black and blue by agents (“experts”). Theresa learned to stick and move. She did something different. She tried new things.

Think FAST!

Part of our job as professionals is to learn to critically think. Take in all kinds of information and advice from all kinds of people, because this is what will hone our instincts. Our gut will tell us when to punch and when to back off. When to duck and when to dive. Who to listen to. Who to ignore. What part of the advice is gold. What part is trash.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee ;).

What are your thoughts? Opinions? Has an expert discouraged you? Have you ever had a time a total amateur gave you an amazing stroke of insight? Who do you like feedback from when it comes to your fiction?

 I love hearing from you!

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. 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 March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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28 Comments

How Boxing Can Make Us Better Writers–Lesson Two ENDURANCE

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Fort Worth MMA and BJJ

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Fort Worth MMA and BJJ

Yesterday we talked about how important it is to learn to take a hit. We grow, get tougher, get stronger, and we learn where we’re weak. Sometimes those weaknesses are what keep us from moving forward professionally, so it’s good to find them and strengthen them.

We have to learn to take hits because the world is full of petty, nasty people who will go for the TKO. We might even be related to more than a few.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

I’ve written over 512 blogs over the past four years. Let’s say my blogs are 1,000 words long (which is on the low end for anyone who’s followed me for very long, :D). That’s over a half a million words just in blogs. This doesn’t count my books or guest blogs.

I blog for my city and am a featured blogger for SocialIn (with completely different content). My blogs reach hundreds of thousands of people in 26 major cities. Though I’ve easily written close to a million words in just blogs, I still have people infer I’m not a “real” expert/writer. Likely always will, too. Goes with the territory *shrugs*

And $20? It will happen to you, too.

Prepare for the:

“Well, you’re not a real writer because you didn’t traditionally publish.”

“Oh, you aren’t a best-seller so you aren’t a real writer.’”

“You haven’t made the NYT List, so who are you?”

“You don’t yet make your living writing full-time, so you’re not a real writer.”

Okay you win. You’re better than me. Um, I’ve got writing to do *checks watch*. Fun chatting, though :).

Roll with the punches and press on. Keep pressing and those people can just eat your dust later ;)…which leads me to today’s lesson.

Endurance Matters

Why we need to learn to toughen up is this—thick skin is vital for us to keep pressing even when we’re bloody, wounded or discouraged. Being a career writer isn’t a sprint. It’s a mega-marathon-mountain-climbing-Iron-Man. Many writers will fail not because of lack of talent, rather lack of staying power.

Appreciate that Training Often Involves “Other” Activities

Join a boxing gym and just expect to do a lot of jumping rope, running, sprinting, bag work, and you’ll get hit with a medicine ball…a lot.

Yet, at no time during my tenure “boxing” was I ever attacked by a jump rope or a medicine ball. Those “other activities” weren’t actual fighting, but they trained fighters for the endurance necessary to win in the ring.

Winning is frequently tied to staying power. Writing is no exception. Your mind, fingers and muse strengthen with focus, time, training and pain.

We’ll do a lot of things (I.e. blogging) that might not directly have anything to do with writing fiction…but it trains us to 1) meet self-imposed deadlines 2) build an audience with our writing voice 3) hook early 4) ENDURE.

I blogged for almost two years before I passed 50 hits a day. I blogged even when it felt like no one was listening, because I viewed it as part of my author training. Even if no one EVER listened, I was a better, faster, cleaner, more disciplined writer and I was investing in the long-term.

New Writers are Vulnerable

A boxer who’s been in the game for ten years, has a wall of title belts, has already been through the fire and gotten outside validation? It’s easier for that guy to jump in the ring. There’s a psychological advantage this guy earned with blood, time and pain.

For the newbies? Everyone thinks we’re nuts. They forget that even that title champ was a once a green pea tripping over the jump rope, too.

Becoming a writer is easy. Staying a writer is another matter entirely.

The beginning is a delicate time. It’s easy to get discouraged, but remember this:

Every NYTBSA, every Pulitzer-winner, every literary legend was once just an unpaid amateur with a dream, too.

Learn to keep going no matter what, and you cannot imagine the edge you’ll have in this profession (ANY profession).

Keep training. Keep blogging. Keep writing books, even bad books. Keep reading. Keep studying. Learn from everyone you can. It’s how we grow. How we learn. We can’t learn from the sidelines. We need to get into the fray even when we know it’s going to hurt because that’s what gives us staying power. And, as the great coach Vince Lombardi said, Quitters never win and winners never quit  ;).

Have you dealt with nasty people who tried to undermine your dream? What activities do you use to train as a writer-artist? What area do you need help? Where do you feel you’re weak? What’s your plan for strengthening that area? What activities do you think might help writers with endurance training?

I love hearing from you!

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. 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 March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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60 Comments

How Boxing Can Make Us Better Writers—Lesson One

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of familymwr

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of familymwr

Many, many moons ago I was in martial arts (I started Tae Kwon Do when I was 13). Because I’d had roughly eight years of dance, I tended to rely a bit too much on kicks when sparring, and I knew this was a weakness (especially since I was the only female competitor back in those days).

In short, I wanted to get better with my hands. So, when I was 19, I joined a boxing gym. This was 20 years ago, but the lessons learned in the boxing ring are useful for anyone in a creative profession, but particularly writers.

Toughen Your Soft Underbelly

Our profession, by its very nature, is delicate and connected to our soft underbelly (our ego and feelings). Our soft underbelly is exactly where critics will seek to strike.

Think of this job like boxing. We’re in the ring. Outside (and even internal) critics are going to seek to gut-punch and knock the wind out of us. Their objective is to drop us to our knees and make us give up.

These opponents might be nasty reviewers, mean critique group members, jealous people with too much free time, or even family members who will tell you you aren’t a “real writer.”

As a NF expert, I just know to expect the “you are really just a poseur fake and not a ‘real’ expert” jab.

Now, I am human. My first instinct is to raise my shield (my resume, my list of credentials in fiction and social media, my Mom’s sworn testimony that I’m awesome, cute and adorable), but we have to move beyond that and just learn to take the hit and keep moving.

“Roll with the punches,” so to speak.

I recall my first time doing an exercise with the medicine ball. My teammate, a giant black man who was apparently fathered by a Mack truck, stood over me. His job was to toss this “ball” at my stomach as I did my sit-ups. Of course, I just saw a ball, and didn’t put two and two together that this “tiny ball” WAS TWELVE FREAKING POUNDS.

Wasn’t pretty.

I curled over on my side gasping like a goldfish out of its tank, all the while wondering why I didn’t take Jazzercise instead.

Yet, after a few months of this, I swear someone could have hit me in the stomach with a crowbar and it wouldn’t have phased me. It’s because those exercises (which hurt, btw) toughened me up. In short, I learned to take a hit.

In this business, we must learn to take a hit.

Hits Can Reveal Weakness

If someone strikes, and it hurts? That might be an area of weakness we need to actively strengthen. Clearly, if I’d possessed abs of steel when I began this boxing class, the medicine ball wouldn’t have rendered me into a weeping ball of wimpy. Thing was, I hadn’t trained and strengthened that area. 

When I was in critique and received a brutal punch to my WIP? It showed my weaknesses. When I was a new writer, I was notorious for overwriting. I never met a metaphor I didn’t love. What did I do? Cry like a sissy little girl?

Yes.

But then I started writing flash fiction to train myself how to employ economy. I wrote flash fiction until I started winning awards and being published in flash fiction. Being forced to cram an entire story into 500 words or less trained me to appreciate that less is often more.

When I wrote my first novel and was bashed by my beta readers for lack of structure? I started reading every book I could find. Scene & StructurePlot & Structure, Story Engineering, Save the Cat, and The Writer’s Journey are all must-haves. I started working as a line-editor first, then later as a content editor. I’ve critiqued hundreds of plots. I also kept writing until I finally had two novels win major contests.

Even then, I had more to learn. I won because of good stories and witty dialogue, but judges kept telling me that I wasn’t hooking early enough. This led me to Les Edgerton’s HookedI started studying beginnings in books and movies. I took classes and soaked up every bit of knowledge possible.

I’m still learning and growing and always will be. My next challenge is to publish my novels. Winning contests is great, but I want that next challenge.

Hits are Valuable

Yes, getting hit sucks and can even make us suck wind; but hits that hurt show us where we need to focus. Hits weed out the uncommitted, those who are in this writing business for the wrong reasons. Hits save time and help ramp us up to the professional level faster. People who can’t take a hit, won’t grow. They won’t know where they are weak and they won’t possess the toughness to endure this profession.

So the next time someone hits you where it hurts? Walk it off and just remember.

It’s all part of going pro ;).

Has someone hit you where it hurt? What did you do? How did it make you stronger? Did you nearly give up? Why didn’t you?

I love hearing from you!

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. 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 March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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66 Comments

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