Friday, 30 August 2013

The First Rule of Write Club is Write.

By Rainer Halama (Own work)
[GFDL (,
or CC-BY-2.5
via Wikimedia Commons
An excellent example of BIC
(Butt-in-Chair, aka sitting down and writing).
Sit down and write.  Absolutely nothing else will happen in your publishing career until you've written something.

You can't edit a blank page.  You can't query a blank page.  Only one blank book has been published, so that market's saturated.

Stuck at starting?

Open your page with this:  "I will write something today."

Once you get over the hurdle, you're fine.  You can clean up bad writing, but only if you've written it.

Any  questions?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Sometimes xkcd Says It Best
yWriter has an option for Microsoft Anna to read my text back to me.  Nothing like the aural version of a .txt doc to really point out the [lack of] flow in your narrative.  

Not a user of yWriter?  You could always try yRead.  Also good if you have laryngitis and the phone rings.  True story.

  Does Smerp count?

Monday, 26 August 2013

Postbox in Schenectady

By United States Postal Service (Wikipedia:Contact us/Photo submission) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
One would like to think these are contracts, not returned mss.
Sometimes I actively go looking for story ideas.   When I do, I do not latch on to the first thing that pops into my head.  Nor the second, or even the third.

When I brainstorm, I’ll write down all ideas as they come to me.  Then I ditch the first handful that came in. (Stop pulling out your hair!  Ideas are dime-a-dozen.  You can have my discards if it bothers you so much.)

Why on earth would I do that? 

Because those first few ideas were the most obvious.   I don’t wanna write the obvious.  I want to explore the obscure, the hidden, the new.  Road less traveled. Forgotten country. 

Essentially, I wanna make people consider something they might not have thought of before.  If I choose to write a fairy-tale retelling, you can bet your sweet britches I will steer far clear of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.   Overtold, overdone.   Go find something better.

A good writer should have some mad research skillz.  Go off and find something obscure.  Obscurity will not mean the story will be any less fascinating. In fact you may find it far more interesting, because you won’t have to compete against all the other writers’ interpretations.  Nothing sucks worse than discovering someone has already done your brilliant idea, and did it better.
By day, Her Grace beats her head against an office cubicle wall.  By night she pinches ideas from the pockets of unsuspecting muses and discards them at random.  Occasionally they make it into stories or Relief Society lessons.

Friday, 23 August 2013

So, wanna write a book?

Lots of people say they want to write a book. “I have a novel in me.”

When they say that, I always, without exception say, “Go for it. Write that book.” I don’t think I will ever discourage anyone from writing a book. More people should give it a go, I believe. Writing’s good for the soul.

Alas, most people never do [write that book]. If they regret not doing it, that’s their own fault.

I’ve never heard anyone who has written a book say, “I wish I never did that.” (Then again, I hang out with people who want to write, and do write, books.)

So, wanna write a book? Here’s some things you need to know.

  1. Don’t just talk about it. Go forth and do. Great. I’m glad you want to write a book. But until you put a word down on paper, it’s just a pipe dream.
  2. The first sentence is the hardest. It really is. It scares everyone, even me. A friend once told me the hardest thing about playing the clarinet was picking the darn thing up. Same thing with writing. That first sentence is the hardest. Once you’ve written it, everything else flows easier.
    I think the reason it’s so difficult is because the writer expects the first sentence to be brilliant. Here’s a secret; it doesn’t have to be. I sometimes get stuck wondering how to start. When that happens (sometimes recognised as “writer’s block”), I write the following: “I will write a sentence.”
    If I am still stuck, I will also write, “and here’s another,” followed by, “This is what I want to write about. Our Heroine is upset about…” and then I start writing about what I want to write about. Eventually I segue into the actual WRITING writing. I can go back and edit out my motivational nattering later.
  3. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s another thing that gets writers stuck is the belief (either conscious or subconscious) that everything has to be perfect. It doesn’t. Nobody cranks out clean draft the first time, not ever. Don’t be fooled. Every writer does an editing pass or ten once the draft’s finished.
  4. Start the sucker. Finish the sucker. For every two people who never start their novel, there’s one person who never completes it. Sometimes they realise just how long a novel is (80-120K, average), or maybe their idea wasn’t as good as they thought it was, or they’ve forgotten, or it’s not that important. Whatever. There’s a million reasons why novels don’t get finished.
    But deep down, if you wanna write a novel, commit to finish it, no matter how short it ends up, no matter how bad. The triumph of finishing a novel in the first place is worth it. So what if you peter out at 20K. So what if you get sick of it and the final chapter is “And then aliens came down and shot them all, The end”? That’s okay. Do it, finish it, celebrate.
    In November, try NaNoWriMo.
  5. The first novel sucks. Accept it. The first novel anyone writes will be terrible. And that’s okay. Allow yourself to accept a sucky first novel. It’s your initiation badge of honour.
    My first novel, The Atomic Girl, really sucked. Second novel, Legacy of Leporis, also sucked. Third novel, The Marvelous Adventures of the Great…whatever, I forget, totally Mary-Sue sucked. Fourth novel, first draft of Of The Dark, sucked a bit less, but still sucked (great idea, poor execution). Fifth novel, Daughter of a Lady, less suckitude, but not the best idea. Let Sleeping Gods Lie, getting better.
    And so on. It’s taken me this long to get good. That’s just me. Lots of other people wrote a sucky first novel, then a brilliant second novel, which sells.
    But the first novel always sucks. Don’t tell yourself any different. Don’t berate yourself either.
  6. Write until you get it out of your system. Everyone wants to write a book because they’ve got The Itch. Go ahead and scratch [with a pen on paper] until the itch goes away. Some people complete a novel, and that does it for them. That’s okay. If you’ve only got one novel in you, you’ve only got one. Write it, get it out of your system, then go on with your life. We don’t mind.
    Then there are those of us for whom the itch never leaves . People like us, we’re called novelists. Best way to deal with us is to go away and let us write.
  7. You don’t have to get it published. Some people mistakenly think that the only way to achieve validation is for the novel to be published. Not true. An unpublished manuscript is just as valid as a published manuscript. But if you want something tangible to hold in your hand, I’m sure Lulu (who is happy to print anything) can print a few, very nice looking, personal copies. Just keep it personal.
  8. Nobody owes you anything. Don’t think that just because you’ve poured a whole bunch of blot, sweat and fears into a manuscript that the world owes you accolades. Completing a book, no matter how good or bad, is a personal achievement. Keep it that way. Sure, you could go the publication route, but keep that pursuit for your second book. The rest of the publishing world will agree with me.
    Effort does not equal genius.
  9. Want to be published anyway? Go do your research. There’s a whole lot more involvement when it comes to pursuing publication. Educate yourself as much as you can, young apprentice. Go write another ms. (This is mandatory.) Go learn what “ms” means. Go workshop. Go network. Build a positive online brand. Write some more. Read Miss Snark, Preditors & Editors, Query Shark, and random author blogs. Go hang with other writers, preferably ones who are enjoying at least a modicum of success. It’ll rub off on you. (Don’t hang out only with bitter, unpublished wannabees. That’s the train to Nowheresville.) Get used to rejection and disappointment. It’s part of the territory.
  10. Overall, be glad of the journey. So, you wanna write a book? Do so, and let it bring you joy. So what if there's a few rocks in the path? Take joy in starting a book. Delight in adding to it. Rejoice when you complete it. Keep a positive attitude if you pursue a more professional path.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

How I Write a Novel

So, more on how I work:

I’ve got my novelling process down to a somewhat ordered format. Conception, pre-writing, outlining, drafting, editing, done. Often these steps overlap.

Conception: This is where I come up with the idea for a novel. Sometimes a character arises, and I want to tell her story (Grace Anson). Other times a situation happens, and I want to know more (what happens if the farmboy says no to the quest?). Sometimes I’ll do the ol’ “What If…?” (What if a valley is unfarmed because it is haunted?)

Pre-Writing: this is where I start putting elements of the story together. This often happens simultaneously with Outlining. As I get characters and scenes and story neepery, I write it down. This is where the real writing of the novel happens. From the outside, this process looks an awful lot like this:

But inside, there’s a whole lotta hampster wheels cranking away.

I’ll have most of the novel written out in my head before I actually start putting words to page. The characters play out their scenes and have their dialogues and fights and other happenings. I do my best to remember what happens, and often take notes.

Outlining: Happens during the pre-writing stage as I take notes. This is where I start ordering scenes. I’ll put down what happens in a scene, who’s involved, where it’s happening, and what important thing needs to happen. I’ll also make encluing* notes. I like to have my outline in place before I officially write scenes. (Snippets of dialogue from pre-writing don’t count.)

Drafting: By now, most of the novel is done (in concept). Here’s where I BIC (butt in chair) and do the actual scribing onto the page. I mostly follow the outline, but sometimes little things will pop up. I’m okay with that, if it fits in with the overall plot. If something does crop up, I’ll go and stick it in the outline. Because I know most of how they story’s gonna unfold, I can simply write it all down, without having to pause to think much.

Editing: Once the draft is done, I’ll let it sit for a while. Sometimes my brain will fill in subconscious details that aren’t on the page. When I let a ms age, I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Then the holes are more obvious. I’ll give it an editing pass or three, maybe let it sit a bit longer. Whatever.

Done: Once I’m done with a draft I like, then it’s ready to do the rounds with the beta readers. I’m fond of OWW but sometimes it can take a long time to ‘orkshop an entire novel. Otherwise, I’ll toss it out to a couple of mates and other random volunteers.

*enclue (en-clu’) en-clu-ed, en-clu-ing - v: to stick clues or other subtle-yet-pertinent information into a story. Covers hints and clues leading to the truth, but not necessarily red herrings.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Can't Pants

I can’t pants it. I can’t write organically. I’ve tried.

I’ve gotta consciously know where I’m going. I’ve learned that if I don’t know how the story ends, I can’t finish it. Many a novel and short story of mine has floundered because of this.

I did finish a novel once, trying (somewhat) to write it organically. The ending turned out pretty pathetic. I think at that point, I was simply trying to finish a novel, pushing through.

My next novel, I wrote a four-page, scene-by-scene outline (sixty-four scenes!). I knew how it began, I knew how it ended, and I knew what had to happen in the middle. Result: finished novel I was happier with.

Since then, when I conceive a novel, I begin with a concept or spark. (Regency Romance with Magic! -or- “I am currently unsupervised. I know. It scares me too, but the possibilities are endless!”) I work out my main characters (always called Our Heroine, at first), then I work out the bones of the plot, including how it ends. Especially how it ends. I don’t have to be specific on the stuff that happens in the middle, but I must have that ending.

If I don’t have that architecture in place, I’ll end up floundering somewhere in the middle, then peter out, wondering, “Now what?”

(And now, let us have a few moments of silence for all the novels I started without knowing how they ended, and are now resting forgotten in the bottom of the trunk. Sorry, Marinda.)

Friday, 16 August 2013

Personal Style Sheets

A novel’s a big thing. Naturally, you’ll forget the little details—the colour of the hero’s eyes, the spelling of a name, the location of a temple, that sort of stuff.

A personal style sheet comes in useful. This contains a roster of all your characters, their characteristics, goals, personal quirks, particular spellings and more. It can also contain any maps, important plot points, and continuity notes. Heroine left her parasol at Gunter’s? Then she shouldn’t have it with her at Almack’s. Style sheets can help avoid these sorts of errors.

Now, I don’t get stuck up on all the formal layout and spelling and stuff (except for proper nouns. Keep names and words unique to your universe consistent). But I do want to know important things.

I once wrote (most of) a novel organically. In the first few chapters, I had X happen, and a McGuffin went missing, thus creating an important plot point. Then about chapter eight, the missing object showed up without fanfare, and became part of a very important plot point. When Plot Point #3 came along, I had forgotten what had happened in the first part of the novel, so I went back for a read.

Oh, the continuity errors! If I went back and fixed one thing, it completely ruined the other thing. In the end I had to scrap that novel and redraft it.

Lesson learned: I work best when I draft out the outline first, including making notes about important things. Then I can sit down and crank out wordage.

When I work on a ms, I’m always taking notes. Thankfully, yWriter, my noveling software of choice, has a section for notes. (It’s also got places for listing character bios, locations, McGuffins and more.)

How do you keep track of the minutae of your ms?

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Epiphany -or- "How bad do you want it"

Several weeks ago I had an epiphany. Glad I did.* My epiphany was this: how bad did I want to be a writer?

It is a question every writer, from the “I’d like to write a novel someday” aspirant to Mary Falkner, needs to ask herself.

How bad? How really, really bad, do you want it?

My answer: really, really bad.

The second question: So, what’s stopping you?

Don’t think this answer is a cop-out, or someone calling you on your lack of faith. It is an honest-to-good introspection. If you are not writing prolifically every day, why not? What stops you from sitting down and cranking out draft until you pass out from sheer exhaustion?

Well, the need for sleep, for one. Young children who need their mom. The need to eat, the day job to pay the bills, other necessary obligations (dishes? Nah). There will always be things in your life that will be more important than writing.

But what about the Internet? Is it more important than your writing? How about games? Television? What little time-wasters are you indulging in when you could be writing?

Next question: Why are you letting these time-wasters get in the way of your writing? Don’t let this question fool you. It’s not saying, “get off your lazy butt and write!” It’s asking for the reasons behind why you chose to watch television, or play Angry Birds or Facebook instead of writing.

Why was your desire to catch up on “2 Broke Girls” more enticing than finishing a scene? Whatever the reason, perhaps it’s something you must address. Did you choose to flop in front of the television because you were tired? Once in a while is okay. All the time is not. Examine your logic. (See question #1. How bad do you want to write? If you answered truly with “really, really bad”, your soul will find the energy from somewhere, somehow, to write. Only when you fall asleep on your keyboard, or your spousal unit demands you retire to bed, should you acknowledge your tiredness (as in, “Where did that yawn come from?”).)

Want it bad enough? It will drive you. Drive you forward, drive to completion, drive you to another plane of existence, drive you spare, to distraction, to go mad.

But you will always come back to it, because if you want it truly, madly, deeply, you cannot help but come back. You can’t not write.

Maybe writing is not as important as you want it to be. That’s okay. But do be honest with yourself. If you don’t want it so bad your eyeballs turn yellow, accept that, and be content with being a weekend writer and the occasional published short story. There is nothing wrong with that.

Unless you really want it so bad, dominatrices send you their cards. If so, acknowledge just how important it is and give in to your highest dream.

*Epiphanies are always straightforward and direct. But you can’t rush ‘em. This irks me. Five minutes ago, I was wondering, “Why didn’t this epiphany come five years ago, when I really needed it, or even ten years ago? They come when they are ready to come, and when you are ready for them. It’s some sort of juxtaposition of synergy thing. What I am doing now, I wanted to do five/ten/twenty years ago. But I didn’t. I’m still not sure why, but I wasn’t ready. I wish I was. Imagine all the mighty things I could have accomplished! But I got it now, and I acted upon it right away. I berate myself for letting me be so stupid and lazy and not believing in my dream enough. But then sometimes I need to learn the hard way. This time, I’m hoping to stick to my guns. I’m going to tap into that bit of me deep down that really REALLY wants this. I’m going to be bold. I’m not going to shirk. __________________________________________
Her Grace has cranked out thirty thousand words since the epiphany nearly three weeks ago, despite the day job, her family and church callings. As a result, her Facebook page is sparse, her TV recordings are piling up and Their Ladyships are learning independence immersion-style. She’ll be looking for a few good beta-readers soon.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Thoughts on Voice

When an agent or an editor reviews a submission, one of the first things they look for is voice. It is one of the elements that hooks a reader on page one.

Voice conveys mood. Is your voice light and breezy or dark and brooding? Is it formal or conversational? Does it absorb the reader, or distance them through tediousness?

It takes some practice to develop a workable writing style. A good place to start developing an addictive writing style is to read books whose writing style you admire. Take some time to analyse the writing style. What sentence structure does the author use? What kind of vocabulary? How’s the pace and rhythm? A strong writing style will provide a good platform for an author’s voice.

How does the writing make you feel? This is the important bit.

When you analyse someone else’s style and voice, make note of how it feels. Is it formal and dry? Brief? Witty? Poetic? What’s the sentence structure like?

If you wish, you could attempt to write something in someone else’s style. When you are done, put this piece away, and revisit it much later. Weeks, months, years, maybe. Go over it, and ask yourself, what if *you* were writing this piece (and not Hemmingway), what would you do different? What would you change?

Find something you wrote ten years ago. Have a look at how you used language. Does that earlier work make you cringe? Why? Figure out what it is you don’t like about it. Also recognise what you did right. You need to do more of that.

Another point to consider: voice isn’t just what you’ve put on the page. It can also be what you didn’t put on the page. Picking on Hemmingway again, his style was quite terse. But it was effective.

There really is not right or wrong when it comes to voice. But there is good and bad (and a muddled middle subject to personal taste). A good voice uses language in a very effective manner, evoking setting and mood without weighing down the text. Balancing this out is a matter of practice and relaxing. No matter how much you want to, you can’t force it. In fact, if you try to force it, it’ll lock up and you’ll sound stiff. Take it easy and write without worrying about how it’ll end up. Freewrite stuff without the goal of doing anything with it other than write it. Chances are your voice will come out more in this work.

I recently had some issues with my voice. I couldn’t figure out why stuff I wrote sounded so… blah. Eventually, I figured out my sentence structures were too formal, and too long. I was using a lot of “which” and “that” and “then”. I was trying to connect up causality, when I really needed to let facts speak for themselves. I needed to trust my readers.

No doubt there are a few other elements I haven’t discovered yet. Those’ll reveal themselves with time.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Good Idea, Bad Idea

When querying a novel to an agent, there's a right way and there's a wrong way.

Right Way: Query Shark (f.k.a Miss Snark, c.k.a. Janet Reid, Literary Agent). Sure, some people miss the mark, but most come good in the end.

Wrong Way: SlushPile Hell. Whatever you do, do not make these kinds of mistakes. To the rest of the world, you will look stupid.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

A Writer's Day

The Dream

  1. Wake up early and go to gym. Exercise contributes to the creative process.
  2. Lovely little breakfast.
  3. Spend morning on new writing. Three, four thousand words, possibly more.
  4. Lunch, when you feel like it, what you want, and take a whole hour if you choose.
  5. Spend afternoon editing, going over galleys, workshopping, doing writing-related business, (drafting synops, writing queries, answering your agent/editor/copyed's questions, etc).
  6. Finish for the afternoon and go do what you want (Play with the kids, go out with friends, chill)
  7. Enjoy a nice dinner.
  8. Read.
  9. Do whatever you want for the evening.
  10. Get a good night's sleep. The subconscious does its best work when you're asleep.

The Reality

  1. Wake up early (groan) and go to the gym. It's the only time you have for exercise. Listen to fiction podcasts on headset while pounding treadmill.
  2. Sneak in 200 words.
  3. Get kids ready for school. Forget breakfast, maybe.
  4. Work the Day Job, wish you were writing.
  5. Scrawl furiously during the half-hour lunch break. Don't forget to eat (assuming you remembered to pack a lunch.)
  6. Work Day Job some more. Maybe dash off an idea or two on your blotter.
  7. Pick kids up from school, run them about to sport, music lessons, etc. Snag 50 words here and there while in the car waiting for them.
  8. Family dinner. Spend quality time with family, so they'll leave you alone later.
  9. Spend time with spousal unit. Recognise the importance of a supportive spouse.
  10. Put kids to bed, hand spouse TV remote, retreat to computer.
  11. Work at writing, wish you were being paid. Send off some queries, sub some shorts, dream about the weekend when everyone will be off at sports and you can write in peace.
  12. Get to bed way too late to read.