Posts Tagged Novel Writers Toolkit

The Good Old Days

Early last week I finally got my unread e-mails down to zero, which of course lasted all of a minute and a half. Yesterday alone I had 200 e-mails. I find myself glued to my phone, checking messages regularly so I can keep a handle on all the information and not get a twitch. I suffer from vacaphobia…fear of vacations. I cannot imagine being unplugged for more than a few hours. I don’t know if I could undig myself.

Yes, I have a problem.

In a way, I love this problem. I get to connect with amazing people like you guys. I mean, let’s face it, ten years ago, I couldn’t have afforded to be friends with most of you. Technology has so many advantages and we live in incredible times. But, sometimes, I think back to when I was a kid and it makes me smile. It seems so alien to remember a time when people couldn’t reach you any time or anywhere, where summer days were quiet and boring but oh so precious. Maybe I play Wonder Woman now, balancing writing and being a Mom…but that seems so far off the Wonder Woman I wanted to be when I was 5. She had a way better uniform. Mine is an apron and a laptop.

My son will experience things I only dreamed of as a kid. But, in a sad way, he will never experience an age of innocence that we so took for granted.

I grew up in Fort Worth, TX. Montgomery Wards was a staple in my childhood and every time I drive down 7th street I see this beautiful building (now fancy high-end condos) that brings back so many memories, namely the toy department. I know I am dating myself, but when I was little the idea of the “mall” was in its infancy.

When I was a kid, we shopped at department stores where, like Vegas, there were no clocks, no windows, but always loads of smiling salespeople to help you part with your money. My little brother and I would dash between racks of clothes and dive into the “core” where we could have our own “clubhouse”….well, until my mother had enough our antics and yanked us out, swatted our butts, then swiftly detoured to Housewares—UGH! The Floor of Death. There were few things that could suck harder for a six-year-old than being banished to the World of Kitchen Appliances and Yard Tools. My mother could spend an entire day—I kid you not—looking at refrigerators. The only thing worse was FABRIC STORES.

Ah, and then there was the waiting room for the Sears Catalogue Department.

Take a number please! I remember sitting for hours in horrible burnt orange chairs playing with the sand in the ashtrays (until Mom caught me). I would peruse the catalogues, making lists of all the crap I wanted for my birthday (Lite Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, Barbie Cosmetics Set, Hungry Hungry Hippos Game, Twister {I linked to all the old commercials if you want a flashback :D}).

Meanwhile, my parents waited in line for the clothes they’d ordered for us–turtleneck shirts and orange corduroy pants with reinforced elbow and knees. Über-fashionable.

My father would stand outside chain-smoking while my brother and I took turns checking the candy machines for loose change and petrified pink Chicklets left in the metal dispenser (Hey! I was a kid!). And then they had those “treasures” that came in a plastic bubble. We could buy JEWELRY for a mere .25₵! I knew my mother was bad with money in that she could not see the value. She never once gave me two measly quarters to try my luck at landing the gold princess necklace….or a tattoo.

Christmastime was especially magical. Of course every year all the department stores would have a cameo appearance from the Big Guy, himself—Santa. I must have been one of the most annoying children ever in that I never fully bought the whole one guy bringing toys to all the children of the world in 24 hours just out of the goodness of his heart thing.

Me: How old is Santa?

My Dad: No one knows.

Me: How can he visit all the children in the world in 24 hours?

My Dad: Santa is the only thing capable of traveling at light speed.

Me: What’s light speed?

My Dad: The speed Santa travels to give toys to all the children in the world in 24 hours.

Me: How can there be a Santa at Sears, Monkey Wards, and JC Penny’s?

My Dad: They’re clones.

And we wonder why I am warped?

Department stores like Montgomery Wards held so many fine memories, but their age passed and it was time to say good-bye.

There are other businesses like this. Arcades are still around, but not like the old days when we could spend 11 minutes and 43 seconds blowing through our allowance playing Ms. Pac Man or Space Invaders. There were no complex story-lines in these games like today. No, these games accurately reflected life—they got faster and faster and harder and harder until you DIED.

Drive-in movie theaters are pretty much extinct as well. I remember riding in the back of my father’s pickup as we drove down I-30 (no, that wasn’t illegal back then). I always knew we were out of town when I saw the large silver screen nestled in the hills. If it happened to be nightime, we’d be able to catch glimpses of the newest movies. 

I remember falling in love with Burt Reynolds while lying on a quilt spread over the hood of my father’s orange Chevy Ford pick-up (Why was everything orange in the 70s?). Anyway, I knew Burt and I would marry, despite the age difference. I was four and he was older than I could count at the moment using all fingers and toes, but love knew no bounds. 

There was the dancing hot dogs and soda. How can you not love dancing food? There was also a swing set where we could play when we got bored with the movie. You had to walk a half a mile to go pee…but the drive-in was pure magic.

Not a lot of roller rinks anymore, either. Who among you over the age of thirty DIDN’T fall in love at least once while gliding across polished wood under the light of the disco-ball? Stop skate, change directions, and maybe the hokey-pokey, is, in the end, what it’s all about. I still get chills when I hear Summer of ’69 or anything by Journey or Toto.

There was also this Skating Rink Hierarchy. The low guys on the totem pole (me) wore those horrid clunky brown rental skates with orange wheels. And you had to get back in line at least six times to get a pair that fit AND worked AND had shoelaces that were still in tact…well, until your mom had to cut them off you at the end of the night. Oh, but to one day be cool and have white skates with pink wheels and glittery laces like all the high school girls. That would be when I knew I had finally made it.

This is me when I grow up….or not.

We waited all week for Saturday cartoons, and most of us learned basic English skills via Schoolhouse Rock.

Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?

It was a world where feathered hair ruled and a Trans-Am was the pinnacle of coolness. We all dreamed of one day growing up and owning Firebird, never suspecting that it too, would go extinct, left in the Age of the Department Stores. I am glad I got the chance to grow up in a world still so innocent, where walking to a snow cone stand was the only way to pass time on a summer night. It was quieter, slower, and I miss it dearly.

What are some things you guys miss? I don’t care how young or old, what is some piece of yesteryear that you want to share? Maybe you’ll jog our memories!

I love hearing from you! And 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 every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Just so you guys know, the contest results will be delayed. I had all of your names printed off in nice little slips of paper and in a pretty jar…that I managed to knock off the counter late last night.

*bangs head on desk*

So I have to print off all the names again today, or any results wouldn’t be fair. Stay tuned for the winners. Will get that announced soon.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

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67 Comments

P.O.V. Prostitution is Strictly Forbidden

Okay, today we are going to discuss some of the finer points of writing fiction. I am putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for NY publication. Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for agent submission.

As you might be able to tell from my latest posts, I think self-publishing is becoming an increasingly viable option for many writers. Yet, I also want to be forthcoming. Self-publishing is not a panacea, and there are too many writers who rush to self-publish instead of understanding why their story wasn’t working. Generally, I can see in three pages why a manuscript was rejected by an agent.

How?

There are a number of ways, and I recommend you check out my earlier post, Novel Diagnostics  for a detailed explanation of some of the most common newbie novelist oopses.

But, beyond that list, the single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, our college Literature classes aren’t there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

 POV–Prostitution (Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?
  • Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Hell’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, you have to know what P.O.V. is if you hope to use it to your advantage.  “P.O.V. does not stand for ‘Prisoners of Vietnam,’” as author Candy Havens would say. P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.?

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

There are three major disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I remember when camp and the Come along with me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to muddy the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut. Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist (what Bob Mayer calls an EOE–emotionally overwhelming event). In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V is probably not a good fit. The scene would be more powerful if told from someone watching your protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

There are inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.” Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

 1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in Bob’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist. To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob uses an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose remains nice and smooth.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

 1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to muddy together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I have edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

  • In First-Person–Come along with me stories can easily turn into I remember when stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.
  • In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)–Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.
  • In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) –“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.
  • In Omniscient–“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in the Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would also recommend reading Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. She actually mixes third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments .

I highly recommend NY Time Best-Selling author Bob Mayer’s  The Novel Writers Toolkit for more in-depth explanation.

What is your favorite P.O.V. and why? Which ones do you like the least? Why? Have you never heard the term P.O.V. before? Does this post clear up some big questions about why your manuscript might have been having problems? Do you guys have any resources you would recommend? I want to hear from you!

And, to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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 WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.

Happy writing!

Until next time….

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

 

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2011 and Planning for Success in the New Year

 

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we are standing on the threshold of a shiny new year. It’s almost as good as getting new school supplies. The smell of virgin paper not yet touched by a ballpoint. A new start. No mistakes. Nothing but potential.

Okay, so if you are anything like me, your initial New Year’s Resolutions might look something like this.

  1. Lose 20 pounds by February 1st
  2. Run a marathon
  3. Go to gym 5 hours a day
  4. Win the Nobel Pulitzer by my birthday
  5. Save 85% of my income
  6. Go on vacation to Bora Bora (Note to Self: Look up actual location of Bora Bora)
  7. Clean out garage
  8. Paint house inside and out
  9. Finally have all my socks match
  10. Write 3 award-winning novels by summer

There is something about facing a new year that instills us with such hope that we lose all touch with reality (and I haven’t even started drinking yet). It’s great to set goals, but most of the time we are our own worst enemy.

Odds are, if you are a fan of this blog, you are likely a writer, an aspiring writer, or this is a condition of your parole. Regardless, all of you need to learn to set effective goals and learn habits that will keep you from sabotaging your success. Hey, I hear ya! I am the world’s worst.

But this past year, 2010, has been one of my best. I reached a lot of goals. Why? Because I learned some good lessons and applied them consistently. I hope to do even better this year. So I am going to pass these lessons on to you and hope that you will benefit as well.

1. Grant Permission to be Imperfect—Perfectionism is a noble trait taken to the extreme which can serve as an excuse for mediocrity and a mask for fear. Perfectionists tend to be self-saboteurs (I would know nothing about this *whistles innocently*).  We perfectionists nit-pick over every single detail often at the expense of the big picture. Perfection is noble, so it makes a great shield. I mean, we just don’t believe in churning out shoddy half-ass work, right? Um…maybe. Or maybe we have a fear of failure, or even a fear of success. So long as nothing is ever complete, we never have to face our demons and can happily fritter away our days perfecting our scenes and dialogue.

            Here’s the deal. No publishing house ever published half of a perfect book.

2. Give Baby Steps a Chance—All or nothing thinking, a close relative of perfectionism, can tank the best projects. It is so easy to fall into this trap of, If I can’t do X, then I do nothing at all. Baby Steps are still steps. It’s like the question, “How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.” Small steps, over time, with consistency add up. It’s sort of like working out. We can choose to show up January 2nd at 5 a.m. and work out three hours, but that is a formula to end up sore, injured and burned out.

So often when I go to the gym I am so tired I want to die. I used to be the person who went hell bent for leather, only to end up sick or injured. So two years ago I made a key change in my attitude. Now when I go to the gym I tell myself, “All I have to do is ten minutes walking on the treadmill. Ten minutes. If I still feel tired, horrible, sick, fatigued, disenchanted, etc. I can stop, go home, and climb back into bed. In two years I have only stopped twice. Usually all I need is to push past that initial wall and then I am off like a rocket.

Same with writing. Make small goals. “I will write 15 minutes.” “I will write 100 words.” Sometimes all we need is a little momentum. Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key. A good way to get going is to use kitchen timers. Set the clock and write for 30 minutes. I use sticky notes and set my big goal, then I divide it in half. One sticky note is on the left-hand side of my monitor (starting count). I then place the half-way point in the middle, and I am not allowed a break until I make that number (even if all I write is pigeon poo). The finish line is on the right. Getting started is always the hardest part. I generally find that if I can make it to the mid-point, I am golden.

3. Establish Accountability—Earlier in the week we discussed the pros and cons of a critique group. Critique groups and partners do keep us accountable. It is easy to blow off writing when it is just us, but when we will be a let-down to others? Different story. This is one of the reasons I LOVE blogging. Blogging has done so much to change my character. I adore you guys and love helping you and hearing your comments. I feel that you have given me your trust and that I need to always put my best effort forward. The funny thing is that this change in my writing habits, has sifted into other areas of my writing. Sort of like, when you get in the habit of going to the gym, you also start noticing that you take the stairs or don’t mind parking at the back of the parking lot.

This is why writing down your goals is imperative. If nothing else, it is a cue to your subconscious that you are committed to something. You will feel a lot more conviction if you write out a goal than if you decide to let it float around your gray matter. I would even advise taking it to the next step and sharing your goals with others. I feel this is why so many writers have a hard time saying aloud, “I am a writer.” To say it means we have to own it and that people will be watching. We are going to invite a whole other level of accountability and people will notice if we are screwing off. But I say that accountability is the best way to reach your dreams faster, so bring it on!

4. Small Change Will Grow into Big Change—Good habits have a way of filtering through our lives. I have a saying, “Smaller truths reveal larger truths.” We don’t have to do mind-blowing alterations in our routines to start seeing real change in our lives. I guarantee that if you just start making your bed in the morning that other things will fall in line. Soon, you will notice that your bedroom is neater, and then the kitchen. As your house gets tidier, so does your purse and your car, and so on and so forth.

Just start with small writing goals and I guarantee that bigger better changes will follow suit.

5. Understand that Feelings LIE—Modern pop psychology loves to ask about our feeeelings all the time. Feelings are important, but they are a lousy compass to guide our actions. Why? Feelings can be affected by so many things—fatigue, diet, too much sleep, too little sleep, jerks at the office, kid toys underfoot, PMS, hormones, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, cat vomit in our house slippers, and on and on and on. If I can pass on any lesson that will change your life it is for you to understand that your feelings will almost always take the path of least resistance. If we are going to accomplish anything in life we cannot let our feelings have a vote.

I blog whether I feel like it or not. I don’t wait until I feel like writing to sit my tuchus in a chair. Feelings can be the enemy and steal your dreams. The Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies will capitalize on your feelings and do everything in their power to convince you that you will get to it later when you feel like it. Shut them down. Don’t give your feelings a vote.

The best way to shut down your feelings is to make lists of goals. I make lists every day and it keeps me focused. I can be exhausted, disenchanted, disillusioned, but it doesn’t matter. I look to the list. It’s like my earlier example of the gym. I say, “Okay, I will just do the first three.” Funny thing is that once I get started, I usually keep going. Like most things in life, overcoming that initial inertia is the hardest part. Lists keep us focused and don’t give feelings a say.

6. Make a Plan—There is a saying in sales, Fail to plan, plan to fail. A good plan will keep you focused, accountable, and give you clear benchmarks to measure success. I recommend buying NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer. He teaches how to craft a plan for a writing career. In fact, at WDWPUB, they are running a special and you can order a special bundle package of Warrior Writer along with my agent-recommended book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media AND Bob’s Novel Writer’s Toolkit that will take you from idea to finished product. These three books are the basic pillars to a successful career. I also recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. For $20 a workshop, you can learn everything about self-publishing, writing a novel, social media, and on and on…all from the comfort of your home and for less than the cost of eating out one meal.

In the end? Just Do It. Put that slogan on a Post-It notes and paper your house if you must. Put a Troll doll on your computer to remind you to be wary of Crappy Excuse Trolls in your midst. If any of you are new and don’t know the M.O. of the Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies, go here. They make 12% commission off your shattered dreams.

And remember:

  1. Grant Permission to Be Imperfect
  2. Give Baby Steps a Chance
  3. Establish Accountability
  4. Trust that Small Change will Grow into Big Change
  5. Understand that Feelings LIE
  6. Make a Plan

What are some struggles that you guys have? What are tactics you use to keep focused? What are your goals for this year? Be brave and put them in the comments. What are some goals you’ve always wanted to reach but haven’t? Why? What is your advice?

Happy writing!

See you next year!

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32 Comments

Blogging–Part 2 Don’t Feed the Trolls

Welcome to Part II of my blogging series. Blogging is one of those endeavors that separates the real writers from the dabblers, hobbyists and dreamers. Why? Blogging is regular proof of what we are…writers. How is that? Um, we are writing. Duh. When you finish and publish your novel, then feel free to call yourself a novelist. Until that day, though (which likely will be a couple years in the future) you are a professional writer. What do professionals do?

Professional writers write. They don’t make excuses. But I am here to give you fair warning. When you take on the task of writing a blog, just go ahead and expect that the Crappy Excuse Troll will rear his ugly little head…and it is up to you to kick him in the face. If you aren’t hard-core enough to stomp him like a Florida waterbug, then for the love of God, at least don’t feed him. Then he shows up with his friends and starts adding crap to your grocery list.

  • Saran Wrap
  • Apples
  • Peanut Butter
  • 60 jars of Marshmallow Fluff and 10 pounds of chocolate
  • Jumbo Bag of Rubberbands and Jumper Cables….. WTH?

I don’t know if you know this, but there are supernatural creatures whose sole purpose is to steal or sabotage your dreams. Last week, we met the Bright Idea Fairy. She is the creature who comes fluttering down with what seem like really cool ideas that are actually time-wasters in disguise. If you don’t spot her and shoot her immediately, she can have you off a primrose path of procrastination in six seconds flat. And if you’re not tied off to a safety line–which most of us don’t run around with a bright orange nylon belt strapped to the plumbing–your blog or novel might not see you for months.

Like the Bright Idea Fairy, the Crappy Excuse Troll is on a mission to tempt you away from your desk with the promise of candy, a movie, or any shiny object that can gut-hook you like a trout. But, here is some good news. The Crappy Excuse Troll, though, is fairly predictable. He is like that weird guy in the Wal Mart parking lot who manages to “run out of gas” every other day and yet people STILL give him money. Crappy Excuse Troll knows that his excuses suck, but suckers keep falling for them so he’ll keep using them. Crappy Excuse Troll makes 12% commission off of your shattered dreams, btw.

How do you spot Crappy Excuse Troll? Easy. He gives the same lies to every author. Whether you fall for them or not is up to you.

Oh, you just don’t have time. With the kids and the house and the baby and husband and yodeling class, you are lucky to get sleep you poor dear. Writing a novel has already been hard enough and NOW they expect you to blog too? Why you just can’t FIND the time.

Okay, Crappy Excuse Troll wants you to believe that time is laying around like loose change in the couch cushions. It isn’t. We have to grab hold of Time by the scruff of the neck and wrestle her down and let her know who is boss. In fact, just picture an episode of The Dog Whisperer and Time is that pain in the ass Chihuahua who pees on your rugs and bites your kids. You have to be calm, assertive pack leaders and wrestle the pack of feral Chihuahua Minutes under your control. Time is not in control of us. We are in control of Time. Now pop Time on the snoot and tell it sit and stay and mean it.

Now, when you do wrestle enough time to write, expect Crappy Excuse Troll to come from a different angle.

Oh, that is great that you are taking time to write, but 30 minutes is just not enough. If only you had all day to write.

Here is the deal, no matter how much time you dedicate to your writing, Crappy Excuse Troll will tell you that you aren’t doing enough. Just expect it and then ignore it. You will be shocked how much you can accomplish if you will just dedicate even a half hour a day to your writing.

Crappy Excuse Troll, when he doesn’t get his way, often will call in the Procrastination Pixies to give one last ditch to lure you away from your computer and crush your dreams. Procrastination Pixies, like the Bright Idea Fairy, are all sparkly and pink and sound like a good use of time.

Oh, I can’t possibly write until the house is clean.

When I get an agent, then I will start blogging.

When I get a book deal, then I’ll do social media.

Why does the Crappy Excuse Troll call in the Procrastination Pixies? Because they have the ability to take on human form. They can morph into our mother, husband, wife, children, neighbors or friends and lure us away with movies, errands, shoe sales and Happy Meals.

We can’t let them win. Every time the Crappy Excuse Troll convinces us we can’t possibly write for whatever good reason…a kitten dies. Kidding! The kittens are safe, but your dreams and goals will be eaten away one excuse at a time. We always have to be mindful that these supernatural creatures call out to all of us, like sirens from the rocks. We have to stuff cotton in our ears and refuse to give them audience or that is where our dream of being a full-time best-selling author will crash…on the rocks of Gave it a Good Try.  By the way, those rocks are a giant graveyard for the aspiring writers. That’s why I say screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. 

Okay, so why did I take the time to go through all of that? Because blogging for platform separates the writers who are trying and the writers who are doing. Be a doer. No one will take us to writer jail if we do not blog, but we must appreciate that other writers are blogging and are gaining a large following and that is the competition. This is like Rocky IV and the big freaking Russian is training in the lab with all that high-tech science stuff, and we know that we are going to be a red paste if we don’t get in serious shape…fast. Grab a log and a harness. We’re going snow-running.

It’s the eyeeeeeee…of the tiger. Okay, where was I? Right.

Before we go any further, I want to clarify. I don’t care what you blog about. There is no right or wrong for blogging in general. But, when it comes to blogging for platform, with the goal of creating a large following, then there is right and wrong. I don’t make the rules. I tell it how it is.

You can blog from the perspective of the fairy queen protagonist in your book. I will not stop you. Feel free to blog about your life and the tortured struggle to be taken seriously. You can even post your fiction.  Again, I won’t stop you. I will, however, tell you that it will be next to impossible to gain a large regular following in the thousands with those topics.  

I am here to help you guys plan for the long-haul. If you desire to be a career author, then you need to put those roots in deep and plan on being around for a few decades. What I am teaching here is how to connect to a large audience to support you as an author.  Are there super mega bloggers who use a moniker? Yes. But their goal is not to build a platform to sell a book with their given name on the cover. Ours is.

So are you guys ready to be real writers? Then grab your gear and keep reading. We’re gonna talk blogging. Many of you, when I shot your bright idea-fairies to show you how it’s done, promptly had a panic attack and curled into the fetal position. So much…blooood. Okay, I’ll stop *snicker.* Anyway, I promised to hook you up in this week’s blog. What do you blog about as a fiction author trying to build a platform?

There are two ways to go about this.

#1 You can blog on topic (which we discussed last week).

If you are writing a period piece, then blog about that time period—the politics, daily life, the conflicts of the time. Many people who read period romances and mysteries LOVE history. I imagine you do too, or you wouldn’t spend time writing a novel set somewhere back in history. Duh. So if you love history, why is this so hard? Talk shop! Finally people who love to talk about the same crap you do. When you start talking about Elizabeth I or Bull Run, your followers will totally dig what you have to say…unlike your family whose eyes glaze over and drool begins to run down their chins. Take advantage. Odds are you will even meet people geekier than you who can add to your flypaper of random seemingly useless facts. I can hear your leg thumping like a dog getting a belly scratch ;).

If you write thrillers? Again blog on topic. Blog about the CIA or FBI or Manchurian Candidates or current security threats. Talk movies. Write scientific thrillers? Blog on the latest trends in science. Read Discover Magazine or Popular Science and then tell us about what you learned in your own words. Blog on Jurassic Park or The Fly. Science or peek into the future? Write suspense? Blog on serial killers if that is what your book involves. Blog on forensics. Put all that research to good use. This will help connect you to readers who enjoy the same stuff. Trust me, the people picking up Tess Gerritsen’s books are the same people who DVR Criminal Minds and Las Vegas CSI.

There are tremendous advantages to blogging on topic. First, you are less likely to run out of ideas and stall a month into writing your blog. Second, blogs on topic naturally lend themselves to discussion. People want to be involved and they gravitate to blogs that generate a dialogue. If we are just blogging about how tough it is being a writer, then we risk our blog devolving into weekly bitch session, not a thought-provoking dialogue. That is unproductive.

As I said last week, the secret to blog success is simple:

Topic you are passionate about + Topic readers are passionate about = Hit Blog!

We are passionate about ourselves and our works. But we have to be careful blogging solely about ourselves. Do we like people who do nothing but talk about themselves? No. So why would that be a good plan for a blog? Common sense.

Serve the reader FIRST. Find the common passion.

#2 We can also blog by demographic.

I wrote a book about social media for writers. What is my target demographic? Writers. Ergo, I blog on all things writing.

Writers do tend to be avid readers. Thus, they will be part of your demographic, too. So, if you want to blog on writing, go for it. Just make sure you are blogging about the craft of writing. Write blogs that serve those reading. You don’t have to know everything. Heck, you can be brand spanking new. Even better. Get readers involved in a conversation. Tell people what you learned, then ask for opinions, comments and feedback. People love to be helpful.

No one expects you to be an expert right away and that is fine, so long as you are deferring to experts. Now you have my permission to write about your struggles.

Today’s blog is about POV. I have always found it hard to understand. Yesterday I read Bob Mayer’s  The Novel Writer’s Toolkit and he explained it like this. Blah blah blah. Do you guys have trouble with POV? Why?  Any advice?

Writers looooove offering advice. We are a very helpful group. And if you write good blogs, we will happily send our peeps your way. Don’t believe me? Look at my blog roll and the Mash-Up of Awesomeness at the end.

 We love finding good blogs to help us improve our craft. If you love all things writing, then blog on writing. If you have 15,000 followers when your book comes out, they will buy the book because they like YOU and want to support YOU. That is the goal…for followers to like YOU. Not your characters, not your world, not even your novel. News flash. Your novel will do that. Your blog is to get people to know and like YOU. Your blog cannot do something only your novel can accomplish. That is about as productive as trying to get your plumber to put in new kitchen cabinets for you.

I buy way more books than I ever read. I buy from people I know and LIKE because they have served me on their blog, and I feel it is my little way of giving back for all the hours they dedicated for FREE to help me. We need followers to like YOU if you plan on being around for a career…because I assume you have more than one book in you. Put your efforts behind YOU.

Whatever you choose to blog about, make sure it fits in the formula. You are passionate and readers are passionate as well. This formula creates a conversation between you and your readers. Conversations lead to friendships and that is the goal. Serve your readers and they will like you and will grow to be your biggest cheerleaders. Some of my greatest allies/promoters are peeps who follow my blog.  

Okay, now the hard questions.

How often do I blog?

You need to blog (minimum) once a week. If you are blogging once a month or when the fancy strikes you, that’s just wasted effort toward building a platform. Readers need to be able to count on you/your blog.

Me? I was a lazy sloth with zero self-discipline when I began blogging. I started with once a week then upped it to three times a week. In retrospect? Three times a week is WAY easier. You gain a following much faster and  it is easier to stay encouraged. I blog on three different topics, so I always have plenty to talk about.

I, personally, think blogging every day is too overwhelming for most writers and readers. I won’t stop you, but my experience is three times a week is enough to keep you top of mind with readers, and not wear them out.

What if I started a blog about my characters, book, writing journey?

Keep doing it. Just pick a day for that stuff, then blog on topic the other two days. Originally I came up with Free for All Friday where I would talk about me and my book, but I just don’t think I am all that interesting. I love being silly too much, and Fridays are normally my time to cut loose and poke fun at writers, writing, and the world in general. I am not saying you can’t blog on that stuff, I am just saying it is a garnish and not the main dish. People want to chew on steak, not parsley.

Personally? I believe you could blog on Monday about writing, your topic (serial killers) Wednesday, then talk about you/your book on Friday, and that would be just dandy.

What if I can’t find anything good to post?

Try harder. If you want to be a career author, then finding something interesting to say once a week should not be that big of a chore. If it is, might want to reconsider career choice. We all get stuck. In that case? Read other blogs and get some inspiration. Heck, write a blog about their blog. We love it when people do that!

I do want to say that I advise you STRONGLY not to post sections of your novel. All it will take is some jerk posting something mean to crater your self-confidence. And DO NOT blog from the POV of your characters. That’s gimmick. Steer clear.

Next week we will start talking about how you prepare a successful blog. Any questions? Comments? Why does blogging intimidate you? Why do you love it? Any resources or advice to share? Put it in the comments!

Happy writing!

Until next time….

Dying to meet me in person? Stop laughing. I will be presenting at this years DFW Writing Conference. Not only can you meet me, but Sandra Brown will be there too. Okay…remember me? *sniff*

Give yourself the gift of success for the coming year. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books! Enter to win a FREE copy. Check out Author Susan Bischoff’s blog.

The Mash-Up of Awesomeness

10-Minute Fixes to Common Plot Problems by Writers Digest’s Elizabeth Sims

How to Get Your Short Stories Published & Even Get Paid by @Bubblecow

When (or Why) Social Media Fails to Sell Books by Jane Friedman (I LOVE this blog!)

Want to learn a lot and laugh until Diet Coke comes out your nose? Read Chuck Wendig’s:

Edit Your Shit Part One-The Copy-Edit and Edit Your Shit Part Two-Editing for Content Only Chuck would think to compare Microsoft Word’s Spell Check function with SkyNet.

Author Piper Bayard has a whole string of blogs guaranteed to make you laugh your a$$ off (Can you tell I like a good laugh?) Seriously, only Piper could make the Donner Party tragedy tasteful… boooooooo! Read Snow is Relative & Relatives Might be Handy in Snow.

Peter St. Claire has two interesting blogs. One is on over-researching and the other is on the Jonestown Cult. Yeah, he had me at cult :D

Author Jami Gold has a really interesting post about how readers access blogs. She took a survey and even uses pie charts. Oooooooh.

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One Ingredient to Make Your Fiction Timeless

As we discussed in last week’s blog, there is a lot more to being a writer than sitting down and pounding out word count. Make no mistake, sitting your tuchus in the chair and getting your work finished is of utmost importance, but those words need to be quality or then you are back to wasting your time. There are other activities we as writers can do to make our story-telling muscles stronger. The fastest and easiest way is to watch movies.

Today, I am going to talk about a critical element missing in many of today’s movies. This is an element that is as vital to good fiction as oxygen is for brain function. It is easier for me to point out in movies for a number of reasons. First, it is easier for you to go watch a movie and see my point than it is for you to make time for another 400 page book. Also, writers are delicate and I am not going to be responsible for a tragic OD of chocolate and pink Peeps. I figure those in the movies make good money, so my little critique has been properly compensated.

So what is this missing element?

Angst (generally found in conflict).

We need angst. The reader/audience needs to be on the edge of their seat from the inciting incident. That is what turns pages. Lose angst and you have just provided a place for a nice fat bookmark because we are no longer worried.

We will use movies as an example.

I just recently watched the remake of Alice in Wonderland. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it. Now I think there was no one better that Tim Burton to make this movie, and Johnny Depp was born to be Hatter. Yet, despite the mind-blowing imagery and world-building, the movie, to me, fell flat. I felt as if I was slugging through scene after scene after scene. I was mildly entertained by what widget or gizmo would greet me around the bend…but I was never worried. Alice could take off right into the lair of her enemy, and no one seemed overly concerned.

Nothing was clearly at stake. Alice didn’t have to face the weakest parts of herself in order to be triumphant at the end. Her only change was to…make up her own mind? Ok.

See, there was no clear vision of what would happen if the Red Queen won. We all kind of got the idea that life was miserable, but it didn’t seem, in fairness, all that bad. And it didn’t appear as if it would get that much worse. Heck, the White Queen apparently just had to move to a different castle, and the only downer was that her old gardens got toasted by the Jabberwocky and she lost some of her favorite help. Bummer.

And the choice presented to Alice made her utterly unlikable if the choice had been made clear. Fight the Jabberwocky—or—scamper off like a coward and save your own skin (but everyone dies and there is no way home). So effectively there was no real choice that would have afforded genuine conflict, thus creating angst. There were no other champions (according to the Oracle), so therefore, no real choice.

To create genuine tension Alice required two choices equally appealing. Then the audience would sit on the edge of their seats hoping that Alice would choose to fight the Jabberwocky because it is the right thing for our heroine to do.

This was done brilliantly in The Return of the King.

Other heroes could have taken the ring to the fires of Mt. Doom. Thus, for Frodo to choose to finish the mission was one of ultimate sacrifice. Samwise could have taken the ring for his friend, but Frodo will not let him because he doesn’t desire the ring to poison more souls than it already had. This makes Frodo truly self-sacrificing.

We, the audience, witness the perils ahead and wonder how little Frodo and Samwise will make it to Mt. Doom in the first place. They are in constant peril physically and emotionally. We see the effects of the ring taking a deepening hold and wonder at every turn if Frodo will give in to the darkest parts of himself. Thus, as an audience, we not only worry that Frodo will not make it to Mt. Doom literally–he and his crew must make it past the Black Gates then face off against orcs and giant spiders all the while evading detection by the ever-watchful Eye of Sauron–but we also worry whether Frodo can make it there emotionally and psychologically.

Will the ring poison him too much before they can reach the fires of Mt. Doom? Can Samwise’s love and friendship conquer the greed and lust of the ring? We see the mounting pressure in the faces of our Hobbit friends as they struggle with physical injury, starvation, and stress…all against a ticking clock.

Then, the camera cuts to the other members of the Fellowship of the Ring. They are fortified at Gondor, terrified and staring at potential extinction. We see the stress has aged even the spry Merry and Pippin and witness the morale steadily eroding as they keep their eyes fixed on Mt. Doom for some sliver of a sign that the ring has been destroyed. We, the audience, twitch in our seats even though, logically, we know the little Hobbits must eventually win or we would have heard of the tomato-throwing mobs at movies around the country.

Yet, we still worry. Will Frodo destroy the ring before it is too late?

Alice? She had no affect through the entire movie. First, she spent far too long believing she was dreaming. But once she realized she was in another entirely different world, she never freaked out or demonstrated any signs of fear, which killed her authenticity. She was never really worried or concerned through the entire movie, and everything had a way of working out just peachy with very little effort on her part. When placed in situations that could have been fodder for great conflict, a nice contrived coincidence was there to bail out little Alice. Victory came too easily and defeat didn’t have a high enough price tag. Thus, aside from brilliant Depp and amazing special effects, I was bored.

What is a shame is that, had some adjustments been made in the story, this movie could have been another Return of the King. I feel the screenwriters forgot about story-telling and became more concerned with world-building.  Fiction writers face the same challenge.

To create riveting fiction we must put our characters in real danger continuously. They just about solve one problem only to realize they opened a door to a new and even worse problem. At the beginning they must fail because they are flawed. This flaw will be fired out by trial and tribulation by the end of the book. Our characters must be continually presented with two roads. One road ends the story and the other keeps our hero going toward the goal. But, the choices must be real choices.

In The Return of the King Frodo had numerous opportunities to hand over the ring to others who seemed more qualified to use it to defeat Sauron or take it to Mt. Doom. No one would have blamed the injured feeble little hobbit for handing the evil ring to another healthy Hobbit (Samwise) or a wizard (Gandalf) or a human fighter (Aragorn). Boromir even makes a good argument for using the ring to defeat Sauron. Our hobbit friend is in pretty bad shape at the time. He could have given into the logic very easily, but it is through character and the intervention of his allies that he makes the right choice…the choice that leads to his potential destruction.

Your big battle at the end must be something your hero/heroine could potentially lose. And the higher the stakes, the better the victory and the more angst you will create.

Those supporting your protagonist must also be genuinely worried as we see in The Return of the King. Alice’s allies didn’t show enough true worry that she would not be their champion and free them from the Red Queen.

Conflict creates angst which fuels the forward momentum of a story. World-building, setting, and description are all ancillary. I know it is hard to throw rocks at the characters you love. You, their Creator, desire to protect them. Don’t. The audience/reader needs to care about your characters in order to be vested in your story and root for your heroes. For truly great stories that stand the test of critics and time, your hero/heroine needs a tangible goal and a battle that could mean the end.

Exercise: Think of movies that you love.

  • Why did you love them?
  • How did the screenwriters create conflict?
  • How was the scene-and-sequel presented?
  • What are some ways you could use that in your own story?

 

Happy writing! Until next time…

Need more ways to grow in your craft?

As always, I recommend Bob Mayer’s  Novel Writer’s Toolkit for great writing instruction. Also recommend his warrior Writer Workshops for teaching the business and mindset of the professional author.

I also recommend author Jody Hedlund’s  blog and Candace Havens’ on-line workshops.

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Growing Pains–Meet “Critique Jerk” (Repost)

Critique has been a popular topic and has generated a lot of feedback and questions. Today I am going to debunk some myths about critique.

When I posted “Critique—If You Can’t Stand the Heat, then Get Out of the Kitchen,” some interesting commentary surfaced, but a lion’s share seemed to revolve around the nefarious breed of critic who apparently is so powerful, he or she has the power to crush a writer’s dreams. Like other creatures of the night, it was alleged that the Malus Critiqueus not only could give bad advice, but also apparently had the power to drain ambition and creative power like a succubus, leaving a hollowed out husk of what used to be an aspiring author who now cannot even bear to open Word.

Give me a break.

I will still stand by my assertion, All critique is useful. Just not all of it is valuable.

***A Note of Importance for All, but Especially New Authors

Before continuing, I would like to point out that good critique might very well make you angry. But, before casting judgment, take a break, calm down, then ask yourself why this person’s comments so upset you.

A really good critic is highly skilled at finding your greatest weaknesses. That is a good thing. Better to find and fix the flaws while a work is in progress and changes can be made. But, it is normal to react. Thus, the best advice is to breathe deeply. Listen. Calm down by breathing deeply some more. Ask questions. Check your ego. And then grow. Trust me. One day you will thank these people for having the courage to be honest.

Think of your time in critique like going to the gym. The goal is the happy medium. If after exercising you need ice and prompt medical attention? That is bad. If you don’t so much as break a sweat? You are wasting your time. A good critique is like a good workout. You want to walk away sore. It means you are pushing your limits, and therefore growing and getting stronger.

With that clarified, on to myth-busting…

Myth #1 Malus Critiqueus exists.

Um…no. No such thing. There is no Malus Critiqueus…but there are some people who happen to just be jerks. They were born little creeps who just grew into larger creeps. And here is a dose of reality….fully expect to find at least one of these folk in a writing group. Why wouldn’t you? Come on! Think about it. Most of us work or have worked day jobs. Didn’t there seem to be some sort of a hidden @$$hole quota? Like HR was tucked away in their offices watching a panel of hidden cameras?

Hmmm. All the folk over in accounting seem to be getting along. How about hiring that guy with that special talent for making people feel like an idiot? You know, the one who we can count on to make everyone dread coming into work. That guy.

Now Critique Jerk can take the fun out of a meeting, but always remember….he has the right to be wrong. But, better still, you have the right to be RIGHT.

Myth #2—Critique Jerks should be avoided.

Jerks are everywhere. And they are like an allergen. They get under our skin and make us puff up and wheeze and wish we were dead. But, the best way to get over this kind of severe reaction? Small exposures. Build an immunity. This person’s comments may make us want to scream and shout and carry an automatic weapon, but it isn’t going to get any easier. Also, since a lot of critique groups/writing groups are open to the public, it will be next to impossible to keep the Critique Jerk out—and you can count on this guy to have perfect attendance. So what can you do? You cannot control Critique Jerk, but you can refuse to add fuel to his fires. Just refuse to engage him and focus on the only thing within your control—your reaction.

Myth #3 Critique Jerks will eventually go away.

No, they just change form. Mean people do not disappear simply because we get published. If anything, they multiply in number and escalate in intensity. This is what Critique Jerks prepare us for.

There are actually people out there with nothing better to do than write hateful notes to authors. Bob could tell you some stories. Writers are also in a profession that is very public and open to the world for evisceration. Book reviewers can be brutal enough, but now with the wide-open world of the Internet, any twerp’s opinion can be up for public display….permanently.

A couple of months ago, I went to a friend’s book signing, and she was nearly in tears after some random person left a hateful review on Amazon. It didn’t matter that there were 42 other positive reviews. This one nasty human being managed to suck all the joy out of what should have been a really wonderful day. But, to give credit, my friend did hold it together very well. She exhibited true grace under fire…the sort of composure that, for most of us, does not come naturally. It is developed.

 Myth#4—Critique Jerks can derail a career.

So you may think the jerk in your writing group serves no purpose, but he does. He is there to rub and rub and rub and rub on you….until you build a callous. Publishing is brutal, and the thicker our skin, the better the chances we survive and thrive.

Critics (critiquers), in my opinion, only have the power we give them. As authors, there is a certain amount of responsibility we shoulder, and it is unwise to hand the keys to the kingdom to others. Professionals understand that knowledge is power. They actively read and educate themselves every day in order to arm and prepare against the onslaught of negativity and bad advice.

And not to be a smart-aleck, but how far can anyone’s bad advice really lead us astray without our own consent?

All writers should have a basic command of the English language. Don’t laugh. There are some great story-tellers who wouldn’t know a dangling participle if it bit them on the leg. That said, if punctuation and grammar are weaknesses, then it would be wise to read more books on these subjects. Eats, Shoot & Leaves (Lynne Truss), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar & Style (Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. D. Rozakis), The Elements of Style (Strunk & White).

If you are a grammar Nazi, but story structure is a weakness, then look for books on the craft of writing. The Novel Writers Toolkit (Bob Mayer), The Writer’s Journey (Christopher Vogler),On Writing (Stephen King), Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Hooked (Les Edgerton), etc.

Go to writing conferences and instead of hitting every class on landing an agent, go to some of the classes that teach about the craft. Listen to experts.

Again, knowledge is power. Knowledge will help refine one’s ability to discern good advice from bad advice. The more education one has, the harder it is to be misled. To rely solely on the feedback of one critic or even a critique group is, at best, foolishness. And if we are too lazy to read books, and blogs, and articles, and do all the things professionals do…then we deserve what we get.

Myth #5 Critique Jerks can steal our dreams.

Malus Critiqueus is the Boogeyman of the writing world, an urban legend. No person should have the power to take away your passion. Bob Mayer tells this story in his workshops, but it is a perfect illustration. 

A young man received a violin when he was a boy, and started to play. He practiced and practiced and actually got quite good.

One day, he heard a great violin master was coming to his town, so the young man decided to play for the master and get his feedback.

The master agreed to see him and the young man played his violin as hard and as well as he could. When he was finished, he asked the master how he did and the master replied, “Not enough passion.” And turned and left.

The young man was crushed. He put his violin away and never played it again.

A few years later, the same master returned to the town, and the young man saw him at a party. The young man approached him and said, “Master, the last time you were here, I played for you. You said I did not have enough passion.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well, I stopped playing the violin.”

The master replied, “I say that to everyone. In your case, I guess I was right.”

There are all sorts of ways to find a good critique group—fellow writers, the Internet, the public library, local chapters of RWA. But, in my opinion, the worst sort of critique group (or critique partner) is one that holds our hand and does not challenge us to grow. In fact, the only thing worse is the group or person who charges us money to have our hands held. Again, think of the gym analogy. We want a good personal trainer. The pill that promises us instant weight-loss and a six-pack abs with no sweat, no effort, and no discomfort is probably a scam.

Critique groups or editors who promise a pain-free experience aren’t doing us any favors. NY is not going to baby our feelings. There are too many other talented authors out there who have the skin of a rhinoceros, who can take the truth on the chin and keep on chugging. With this said, though, critique should also be productive. If you feel like throwing yourself off something very high after every critique…it is probably time to look for another group.  

The best critique partner or group challenges you, but also helps keep the fires of your passion burning bright.

But the person who succeeds will sometimes get there with luck. Most of the time, though, she gets there because she never, ever, ever, ever, ever gives up…no matter what anyone says.

Happy writing! Until next time…

 

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Editing–Meet the Novel Killer

Sorry for the delay in posting, but have been very busy with writing jobs, which is a good thing.

The topic for today is an interesting one and even possibly controversial. Editing is great, but it can KILL a novel. If you are hoping to either one day be published or even write that break-out novel, you could be your own worst enemy.

Some of you reading this may be on Twitter, and if you are, there is a hash tag group called #writegoal (the brainchild of talented romance author Anna DeStefano http://www.annawrites.com). Definitely worth following and even joining. The purpose of #writegoal is to inspire and to create a system of accountability. Other writers will cheer on people they have never met, and there is something oddly convicting about posting “Goal today is 500 words.” There are no writing police to drag you away if you fail to meet those 500 words. Yet, those who participate feel they must at least give it the good college try in order to appease the group. But, I digress. Accountability is important, but a topic for another day.

I keep tabs on #writegoal, and #amwriting and even on MySpace and FB groups. One consistent post I see looks like this. “Looked at the pages I wrote last week and now editing. What crap”…or something to that effect.

Editing can be CANCER to a novel. Yes, editing can be devastating to shorter works, but doesn’t have quite the killing power it possesses when introduced into longer works. In a novel that can span anywhere from 80-120,000 words (depending on genre), editing can be catastrophic if done at the wrong phase.

Think of it this way. Driving is great. It gets us from point A to point B much quicker, and we do not know what life would be like without our cars. Yet, do we hand car keys to an eight year old? NO! Why? Because that child needs to develop into at least pre-adult (known as an adolescent) to be handed a two-ton piece of metal and fiberglass. Is it because we sit up at night thinking of ways to make the lives of our eight year old children miserable and that we take sick joy in depriving them of fun activities like driving? Um, no. As older wiser adults, we know the child doesn’t have the height, motor skills, and cognitive development to take on such a task without possibly fatal results.

Yet we edit novels three chapters in? No!!!!! Can you edit a novel this early? Sure. But just like handing an eight year old car keys, prepare to endure some consequences.

In my opinion, a novel has not developed enough to sustain any reasonable edit until at least the first draft. Your first draft is essentially your fifteen year old who can now go to Driver’s Ed.

Some of you might be screaming right now. “Kristen! What do you mean? Are you mad? Are you suggesting I leave a document rife with spelling errors and grammatical flaws just lying around?”

Yes. Yes, I am. You will thank me later.

If you are writing a novel, you need to leave any kind of edit for once you have finished the entire first draft. Breathe. Get a paper bag. You will be okay. Just trust me.

Now is it okay to reread what you have written in order to get grounded? Sure. And when you reread, it is even okay to make notes of things you believe at the time should be fixed or even expounded. But don’t you dare hit that backspace button! Nothing gets deleted. Period. Feel free to highlight. Make a note that you believe something should be taken out at a later time, but leave it be. Also, anything you decide needs to be added needs to be written in any color other than your main document. Red, purple, blue. Doesn’t matter. Just make it a different color.

Also, if you take part of your novel to a writing critique group before you are finished with the first draft, then you are taking a HUGE risk.

But, if you choose to do so, I recommend that you still follow my rules of editing. Any changes or suggestions need to be inserted in the form of notes (highlight possible deletions and make a notes as to why this section needed a change). Any additions need to be in another color…then sally forth.

Don’t look back, or you will turn into a pillar or unfinished novels.

Premature editing is very dangerous for three reasons:

1. Uproots Subconscious Seeds—Your subconscious mind is an amazing machine. It sees the big picture in ways the conscious mind cannot. As you write, your subconscious mind is planting seeds that, when viewed in a microcosm of one or three chapters, will likely seem to make no sense. Duh. That is like an acorn trying to envision life as a 100 foot tall oak tree. These seeds need time to gestate. When you edit prematurely, all you see is a hunk of something smooshy. You don’t realize that a possibly mind-blowing idea is trying to take root in the fertile soil of your story. By editing too early, you can possibly cripple your novel. By the end of the first draft, however, you will be able to look back and see sprouted weeds, which you can feel free to uproot. But the sprouts will be mature enough to distinguish from seedlings that need to be nurtured to their full potential.

2.  Makes us Mistake Busy Work for Real Work—Premature editing indulges our fears. Many times writers do not continue forward due to subconscious fear. Deep down we might know our original idea is flawed, or not strong enough, or convoluted, or unclear. We may know that we don’t have a solid outline or framework to support a 100K words. We may realize our characters have problems, but it is going to take work and honesty to fix them. Or all of that might be just fine, but we fear failure or even success. We fear writing the gritty stuff because it leaves us exposed and vulnerable, or we fear writing real conflict because our human nature is to avoid it. Premature editing gives us a false belief that we are being productive, when in fact it is sabotaging our work and reinforcing our fears by permitting us to procrastinate. Fears can only be conquered by facing them, and premature editing keeps us “busy” and gives us justification to stay mired.

 ***This is one of the reasons I started Warrior Writer Boot Camp, based off Bob Mayer’s teachings about fear. I felt that, for many, the traditional critique group of piecemeal edit kept writers from facing and really working on the real weaknesses.

 3.  Premature Edit Can Discourage and Keep a Writer from Finishing—This is another reason that traditional critique groups can be counter-productive. Other writers are seeing your work in a microcosm, and that limits how well they can critique. This is why I suggest using the techniques we discussed earlier. Just make notes. Your fellow writers are invaluable, but you have to appreciate that they are seeing your work from a limited point of view. Their opinions may be dead-on (We HATE your protagonist and hope he dies), but they could be far off-base and serve only to uproot those subconscious seeds we discussed.

If you continue to go back changing things chapter by chapter, changing, changing, changing, either due to critique group feedback or your own self-edit, what happens is that you KILL your forward momentum with a big ol’ red-penning, back-spacing machete.  Do that long enough, and it becomes hard not to be discouraged and ultimately give up. If you have been reworking the first act of your book for months, it can very easily end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished works.

Now I know all of you care about your work, and you desire to put your best foot forward. If that means waiting a few months before you bring anything to read at your critique group, then so be it. Mark my words. It will take a lot of self-restraint NOT to go back through your writing with pruning shears after a hard critique.

But writing a novel is like planting a field of green growing things that will eventually bear fruit. If in the beginning, you can envision the magnificent rows ready for harvest, then it is easier to be encouraged and to refrain from digging up the seeds and starting over.

Good luck and happy writing!

Until next time…

Here are some resources to empower you on your journey to successful published author:

I highly recommend Candace Havens website. Candace often runs on-line writing workshops with Rosemary Clements-Moore that teaches Fast Draft techniques. http://www.candacehavens.com

As  always, I recommend, Bob’s Novel Writers Toolkit as a foundational text to learn how to write a novel and also suggest Who Dares Wins as a fantastic book that teaches how to address and conquer fear. Bob also runs the Warrior Writer Workshop, designed to develop amateur writers into professional authors. Bob now offers the course on-line for greater convenience. http://www.bobmayer.org

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