Tag Archives: writing

NaNoWriMo…Yes or No?

November is National Novel Writing Month.That means that people all over the world are going to try to produce the first draft of their novel in one month. That equals roughly 1,667 words a day. Me? I try most years. Fail every time. Why? Because I get behind, darn it all. It’s HARD to write 1,667 words (or more) a day. My creativity isn’t always there. If I don’t feel like writing, I don’t do it.

NaNoWriMo is supposed to help writers remain focused and motivated. So my question to you is: have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? Would you do it (either try it for the first time or do it again)? Why or why not? I want to hear your experiences.

*If you want more information or wish to sign up, click on this link: http://nanowrimo.org/ Be my buddy, if you like. (Under the name KWehner)

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The “Great” Idea for a Book Concept

It happened again.

I went to a party, struck up a conversation with a very nice guy, and when he found out I was a writer, he said the inevitable: “Really? I have a great idea for a book.”

I wish I had a pen for every time someone said that same sentence to me. I would never run out of ink again. Anyone can come up with a “great” idea. Most of the time, that idea has already been done. And if it hasn’t, a variation of it has. Listen up…your idea is not genius.

The genius lies in how you construct your idea. In other words…how you implement that idea into a story.

Let’s take an example…an easy one. Harry Potter. Boy has a special gift. Only he can destroy the enemy. In the end, he wins.

That plot has been around for centuries. (David and Goliath, anyone?) But J.K. Rowling masterfully creates an entire hidden world of witches and wizards around it. And she sprinkles mythology throughout…bringing the familiar into the fold.

The other part I love about people who want to let me know they have a “great” idea for a book…most of the time they add, “Tell you what. I’ll give you my idea, you can write it, and we’ll split the profit.”

Really? You will come up with an idea…maybe spend ten minutes on it…then I can spend the next two years crafting it into a publishable book…and we can split the money 50/50? How lucky for me I bumped into you!

I suppose we could make a deal. If you build houses, how about I design one, hand you the picture, you build it, and then we split the profit after it sells? Or, wait, how about this? If you own a restaurant, I’ll mention what should be on the menu, you make sure the chefs make those meals, and we will split the profit!

Sounds silly? Then how about this? Instead of sharing your “great” idea with me, you spend the next ten years learning how to write a book, then write the dang thing yourself.

Ninety-five percent of those people with “great” ideas won’t even try. Four percent will give up before they finish the story. But one percent will make a go of it. And perhaps a handful of those people will succeed.

But a full 100% will understand…writing is demanding. Having an idea is only a fraction of the work involved. Making that idea work throughout the entire novel and finding a satisfying conclusion involves patience, research, and many hours of sitting at a computer screen praying loose ends can be tied up and readers will find the story plausible.

So when people tell me they have a “great” idea for a book and maybe they should have me write it (and split the profits), I tell them that I have more than enough ideas in my head, thank you very much. But that if they truly believe in their idea, then they should sit down and start writing that book.

It’s not going to write itself.

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On Writing by Elizabeth Kelly

Elizabeth Kelly August 4, 2014

As a Counselor for the state of New York, I found writing reports the easiest part of my job. I used writing like a cup of chamomile tea to calm my anxieties. The formulas of the reports made them easy to write and took little effort.

My joy with the prescribed writing was that I could play with words and sentences within a structure. I didn’t need to step out of my comfort zone. I tried to create descriptions of my clients that made them unique instead of the diagnostic label they were forced to become.

I wrote for a paycheck. I wrote using a specific template. I wrote about someone else. It was stress free.

Writing for myself is different; it is not easy. There is no formula to follow. No one is going to pay me for writing at my dining room table. All the characters I create are a part of me. I feel like I am undressing in public.

Then there is the issue of being perfect. How hard is that? Without my template, without my structure, I forgot how to have fun with words and sentences. I didn’t know where to start or even how to start. Then I found Natalie Goldberg, author and writing teacher who wrote the books,“Writing down the Bones,” “Old Friend from Far and Away,” and “Thunder and Lightning, Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft,” and many other books.

“Writing Down the Bones” was the first book I read about the art and work of writing. In it Ms. Goldberg motivates the new writer to be courageous; to write with love, energy, and confidence. She teaches different techniques some of which come from her Buddhist background. One technique is to sit quietly for at least 10 minutes, watching your breath. This technique clears the mind of distracting thoughts. It also opens up the writer to inspiration. Maybe the next scene in your novel is in the quiet of your mind.

Another technique is to center yourself before writing by walking very, very, painstakingly slowly. I attended a Workshop with Ms. Goldberg at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. We walked very slowly from the dormitory to the building where the class was held so we could center our minds before writing.    I had to concentrate on the process of putting on foot in front of the other to walk as slowly as required. As with deep breathing my mind slowed down to concentrate on how my feet were moving and my mind was forced to focus.

A focused mind is open to new ideas and thoughts instead of being obstructed by the numerous daily happenings such as looking in the past, worrying about the future, unfocused, distracted, uninspired and closed to new thoughts and ideas. Ms. Goldberg’s writing techniques help the mind to quiet and listen for the next great sentence or great scene. I can’t say that I wrote a mind bending response to the prompt we were given after that slow, so slow walk, but I was grateful to sit down and I wrote.

The major part of her teaching technique is the ten minute writing exercise. I quote “Writing is an athletic activity.” Athletes practices every day to build up their muscles to win the game. You can see the Athlete’s muscles bulging, but a writer’s muscles are not easily seen, yet it is important to exercise and build up writing muscles.

The ten minute writing exercise is the impetus of her Writing Program. Ten minutes of writing on a specific topic is the same as bench presses to a body builder. Think of a specific topic to write about, “What makes up my perfect day” “My favorite actress is ____ because”, “Sunrise smells like”. If you can’t think of a what to write about write on the topic then start your prompt with “I am thinking of”. When you reach a block go back to “I am thinking of” This simple prompt can lead to much more or it can lead to nothing, but either way you are writing and building up writing muscles.

Ms. Goldberg’s books gives numerous simple writing prompts. Or you can make up your own writing prompts to help you work on a specific project. As Ms. Goldberg states, “Maybe you will write nonsense for 10 minutes, but there could be one great sentence or thought in the middle of the nonsense you can use.

The Memoir writer can find writing prompts and motivation in her book “Old Friends from Far Away”

A few of her prompts are:
Write about your mother’s jewelry. Go. Write Ten minutes.
Write about your mother’s shoes. Go. Write ten minutes.
The ten minute writing exercise can be used when you are blocked or you need
inspiration for the next scene. It can be used to Show and not tell.
Describe your house. Go. Ten minutes.
Describe the colors of a sunset. Go. Ten minutes.
Describe feelings of terror. Go. Ten minutes.

Writing for you me is easier when I have a specific question to answer, especially when I feel blocked. Ten minutes can grow to 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 90 minutes or more.

You may think Ms. Goldberg’s books are for the beginning writer or someone like me who feels insecure. But they can also be for the seasoned writer who needs a new trick, because at some time we all need a new trick.

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Starting a new leaf

Okay, I missed my day for blogging this week. I do have the excuse of getting my son ready to move. He leaves for Colorado today. What am I going to do by myself?

I’ll have to start working on my books in earnest! Those of you who don’t work outside the house, how do you manage your time? I find myself distracting myself frequently. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Enough for now. Almost time to go out for our goodbye dinner.

Patti

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Keep on Writing

I haven’t seen much activity on our group’s blog page, so I’m going to start a new leaf. Another group I belong to has a very active message loop. Yes, they have many more members than we do, but I think all of us would find it beneficial to have more connection between meetings.

I’ve just received a response back from Entangled Publishing for my manuscript. Two weeks for a turn-around. Better than the first publisher I’ve dealt with. As for the first publisher, I’m back to square one because my original editor left the company and a new editor is taking the manuscript from the beginning. And here I was with a second revision completed. Oh well, it’s a learning process and I do have much to learn.

Looking forward to next week’s presentation by Scott P. Several of my stories include some sort of fight scene in them, so it will be very helpful to learn from his expertise.

Okay, I’m passing the baton! Who’ll step up next to blog? It only took me five minutes to type and post this one.

 

Patti

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How to Write Full Time

Finding myself with unlimited free time, I need to learn how to write consistently and on a full time basis. Most days I sleep in until I’m hungry. Definitely not a good sign.

How do I motivate myself? How do I sit still enough to get quality work done? I coming up with answers as I write this.

The first thing I’ll need to do is move my desk into the living room. That will get me up, dressed and out of my room. There’ll be no excuses to just sleep the day away.

Next I’m going to commit to a specific schedule during which I can write uninterrupted. The biggest interruption is letting myself get distracted. To this event, I’ll allow distractions only after a determined amount of time of non-stop writing. How else am I going to get the eight or so other books in my queue written.

So, my plan upon returning from Philly, is to move my desk, organised all my writing tools and jump right in and write! No distractions from the two kids living with me, one is only there every other week so it’ll be easier to implement the new rules. The other child is moving to Colorado at the end of August, so there’s one less distraction.

Then I’ve have to figure this out all over again, as when my son moves, we’ll have to downsize to a 2 bedroom apartment instead of the spacious three bedroom we have now. But no use worrying about that until the time comes.

This week I’m at my brother’s, and have the best place to sit and write to my heart’s content. For once, I’m taking advantage of it.

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One Space vs. Two Spaces

*This post is dedicated to my mom and S. Arthur Yates*

In all the years I’ve been teaching creative writing, there’s one point that people find incredulous. In fact, I’ve actually had students disagree with me over this, despite the fact that I’ve worked with editors and an agent, all who spend loads of time reading manuscripts for a living. The truth is, it is now industry standard to only have one space between sentences. Not two.

“But this is how I was taught,” one woman (who will remain unnamed but is related to me) said. “And it wasn’t that long ago. Besides, it’s easier to read with two spaces between sentences.”

I was taught to type with two spaces after each sentence, too. On my word processor. Remember those? But now, with the advent of the PC, it’s no longer necessary to use an extra long space between sentences. In fact, it can leave too much white space and look awkward, depending on the font. Although truth be told, most times I don’t notice a difference at all.

For me, I’m happy to use one space. Less pecking at the keyboard. But for people who are used to tapping the space bar twice, this can be a real annoyance. It’s like learning a new language. It will take time before it becomes second nature. And you know what they say about teaching an old dog new tricks (not that I’m calling anyone a dog).

So to anyone who may be surprised to learn that they are turning in manuscripts that aren’t correctly formatted according to industry standard, here is the information, right from the young horse’s mouth (not that I’m calling myself a horse).

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Now I Can Say I’m a (Self) Published Author

I bit the bullet. So hard, in fact, I made indentations in the metal. After years of hard work, I finally made my middle grade novel available to the masses. And on my own terms. How do I feel?

Relieved. Happy. Fulfilled. Freaked out of my ever-lovin’ mind. Why? Because now people will (hopefully) purchase my book and decide whether or not it was worth what they paid. And then they will let the world know in their reviews.

I know authors who say they never read reviews of their work. They don’t have the thick skin needed to deal with  negativity. Me? I don’t know yet. I might read them, I might not. Maybe no one will buy my book. Maybe no one will leave a review. So therefore, maybe I won’t have to know what people think.

But gosh darn it all, I sure will be curious! At any rate, I’m elated that I took the plunge. Got my feet wet. Okay, soaked myself silly. Because I’ve done what so many others have done, and I feel pretty good about it. Now it’s time for me to work on the next book in the series. Sure, I’ll work on the marketing aspect as well. But for me, I’ve already done the hard part.

I’ve written a book.

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-ly adverbs

Luckily, most of us know better than to use too many adverbs, especially in an annoyingly awful way. When I teach my classes, people are awed when I propose (in creatively fashion) that too many adverbs make your otherwise excitingly written work especially boring. When authors unwittingly use too many -ly adverbs, they often find themselves utterly reducing the amount of incredibly amazing “showing” and instead producing paragraphs of really dull “telling.” I’ve heard -ly adverbs accurately described as lazy writing, but clearly there’s more to this naturally easy way of describing action and emotion than through an author’s quickly written description. Sadly, however, many people can’t quit their addiction to -ly adverbs, even though it’s terribly difficult to read through passages and passages of simply-written script that doesn’t completely convey what is happening in an effectively written way. So if you are considering using -ly adverbs in a significantly expressive way, please consider possibly more interesting alternatives. Thankfully, there are many.

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How To Deal with Rejection without Losing Your Mind

I’ve been writing and submitting work for a long time. I have rejections slips dating from 1996. This year…2012…marks the year I have officially broken the barrier and now my work is published in a national teen magazine. Let’s see…how many years have I been trying? Let’s do the math. Ah. 16 years.

If I count how many rejection letters I’ve had since then, it totals over 100. Therefore I believe I’m the right person to write about rejection and what to do in order to overcome that voice in the head that whispers, “Give up, you pathetic excuse for a writer. You’d be a millionaire by now if you’d spent those hours behind the McDonald’s counter instead of wasting them in front of the computer.”

First of all I want to mention that like most writers I would write even if I never found an audience. I love the challenge of completing a story. I also get a bang out of creating characters and giving them each a unique voice. I never used to like equations in high school, but now I can’t get enough of “if x happens, then y happens, what is the outcome?” Sound familiar? So giving up writing altogether isn’t in my DNA.

When I first started out, editors only used snail mail, so it would take months to get that rejections slip back. It was often on a small slip of paper, the dreaded impersonal form letter. I started out by submitting a play that had been performed on the college stage–my introduction to seriously considering writing as a career instead of a hobby. I entered contests and submitted work to playhouses, more or less to test the waters.

The waters were choppy, my friends. One of the contests had a form for the judges to fill out that rated the plays from poor to fair. My judge marked my play as being somewhere between poor and fair for character, plot, originality, dialogue and style. Ouch! Her ending comment? “There is no conflict or drama. Characters are very superficial. Get some plays from the library to see the proper format.” Blub.

I reformatted the play, reworked portions of it, and sent it to another contest where I ended up a finalist. What did I learn from the experience? First of all, art is subjective. While one person might think it’s not worth the paper it was conceived on, another might find value in it. Second, that giving up would have prevented me from learning and growing as a writer.

I continued to write, bought books on the craft, took classes on the subject. I continued to submit work that I thought was wonderful, but didn’t move anyone to tears or laughter as I had hoped. The waters remained choppy. I continued to doggy paddle my way through.

Here’s what I discovered as I navigated my way through unfamiliar murky sea: my first attempts were not not publishing-quality even though they were fairly well-written and had interesting characters.  I took a job teaching creative writing and became a stronger writer because I could see more clearly what I was doing wrong by studying the work of others who were making the same mistakes I was making. This has to be the single-most important thing I ever did to get me to where I am now. It was the lifesaver ring that kept me afloat while the rejection letters trickled in. There was so much more to learn about writing. And I was learning it in the best way possible…through observation, study, and application.

The rejection letters took a more personal turn. Editors began to hand-write notes of encouragement. A couple of times I came close to having work placed, only to have an editor leave before my work was accepted or an editor decide to use another writer’s work in place of mine. I was close…so very close. I could see land up ahead. An oasis in the middle of the sea.

And then I entered a contest for a magazine and won third place…and a whopping $50! I then placed first for my novel excerpt in another contest. Yes, by now I was writing novels. I’d written three for practice, and was now submitting my fourth to agents (this is in 2003) via a query letter. They all turned it down. I brought the first ten pages to a conference and paid to have an agent critique it. He listed all the problems he had with my storyline and characters…and I was buoyed because now I knew how to improve it! I wrote another novel and submitted my query letter to numerous agents. I received manuscript requests and was ultimately turned down. But I came close, and that made all the difference. (See my post: http://blog.klgore.com/2011/12/10/i%E2%80%99m-not-proud-all-the-wrong-ways-to-deal-with-an-agent/)

In 2009, I found my agent. Two, actually. I chose who I felt was a better fit for me, finally reaching the shore of my oasis. If I had given up after that judge from the play contest told me my play had no plot and dull, one-dimensional characters, I would never have come this far.

So here is my advice:

1) Keep submitting your best work.

2) Keep track of your rejections. Note when they become more personal. This is your turning point! It means you have become a better writer.

3) Read blogs about other people’s rejections. It helps to know you’re not alone.

4) Enter contests. Even if there is not a monetary reward. It could bolster your ego. Plus, it helps you feel productive.

5) Write even as you continue to submit.

6) Join a critique group. Not only will others help you find places to improve your work, by reading other people’s work, you will see where there are problems in your own work. Plus, you can all relate rejection tales of woe and have support for both the bad times and the good.

7) Quit when you’re depressed…but only for a little while. Don’t plod through the depression. I took month long breaks when I became discouraged. When I was rejuvenated I felt ready to continue. Trying to write when you feel like a failure is like going on a diet when the fridge is full of cookie dough.

8) Read really badly written work. It will make you feel much better about your own writing.

9) Remember that all writers are rejected. Kathryn Stockett (who wrote The Help) was rejected by 60 agents. If she had quit, she wouldn’t be doing her happy dance now.

10) Eat ice cream.

Remember, you can have an amazing book that still won’t find a traditional publisher. If you believe in your work there’s always the self-publishing option. Don’t let rejection define you. Sure, you may still have a lot to learn (I do), but you have to keep swimming if you want to get to the other side.

So jump in. The water’s fine.

To read more on rejection letters see my blog post: http://blog.klgore.com/2011/08/02/rejections-is-it-them-or-you/

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