Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pinteresting

DAY 42

Word Count: 26,970

Sentence of the Day: Before she could answer, he set a brisk pace, feeding off her protests to slow up and using her indignation to cool the warmer feelings he ought not entertain.


Yeah. I did it. I've successfully avoided Facebook for years and now I've gotten totally sucked into the vortex of Pinterest.

Lest you think I've contracted some dread disease, let me explain a bit about this website. It's a visual bulletin board. You find images that inspire you and 'pin' them up on one of your bulletin boards. You decide what boards you want. You decide what pictures you want. Where to get these pix? Anywhere. Other pinners. Your camera. The web. Those are just some ideas.

Currently the big draw for me is that it's January in Minnesota. Have you ever been to Minnesota in January? Enough said, then.

But even if you don't live in the frozen tundra and are desperate for escape, this is one site that you really should check out.

5 Writerly Benefits of Joining Pinterest

- It's one more venue to connect with your readers

- You can make storyboards for your current WIP and/or your published pieces

- You'll find loads of inspiring images to whip up some ideas for a new story

- Check out what pix other authors use to kick-start their muse

- It's a quick-fix for writer's block

So, come on in. The water's fine. If you're still a little nervous, though, you can wade in by visiting my page at Michelle's Boards to get a glimpse of what it's all about.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award

DAY 41

Word Count: 26,379

Sentence of the Day: She's nothing but a lace-covered tart.


YIPPEE!!!

I got an award. Granted, it has strawberries on it and I happen to hate fruit, but hey...an award's an award, and I'll take whatever small victory comes my way. My thanks to Gwendolyn Gage over at Serving Through Words for nominating me for the "Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award."

In order to win this fruity trophy, I'm required to share 7 random things about myself and pass the award on to 10 other blogs. Here goes...

7 Random Facts About A Semi-Deviant Author

1. Let's just say that in hindsight, belly dancing in public was a bad idea.

2. When I was a kid, my mom brought me in to see a doctor because I had regular conversations with Daniel Boone underneath the dining room table. Is it any wonder I write fiction?

3. The Count of Monte Cristo is my all-time favorite movie.

4. I'm a Trekkie at heart. When I grow up, I want to be just like Lt. Uhura...except I don't think my thighs would look that great in such a short dress.

5. I can cook. Really. But doggone if I can't make a batch of Rice Krispie Bars that don't turn out like bricks.

6. Centipedes make me scream.

7. My secret identity is Jayshua Porter. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

Next Recipients of The Sweet Blog Award (feel free to check them out)


Now then...since I've bared my soul, tell me a random fact about you!

Friday, January 27, 2012

#1 Exercise For Writers

video

Ever wondered what the most important exercise for writers is?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Writing Rules: Invest in a Red Pen

DAY 40

Word Count: 25,714

Sentence of the Day: Her voice cracked along the edges, and if the tears shining in her eyes spilled over, he'd rip off his gloves and wipe them away.


Writing Rule #3 = Edit. Edit. Edit.

You may think the words flowing onto your screen are God's gift to man but--newsflash--you're not one of the Apostles. So go ahead, bask in the glory of your creativity and productivity, then set the piece aside for awhile (meaning at least a week, if not more). When you come back to it, you'll see all kinds of literary creeping crud to scrape off.

And don't be shy about asking others to critique your work. I'm not talking about your mom or your best friend. Critiquers should be other writers who have a grasp of the basics or serious readers who aren't there to simply pat you on the head. Don't worry. You don't need a bajillion of these critters. Find 4 or 5 good buddies who understand your voice and are willing to swap WIP's with you.

Real Life Scenario: I'm in a great little group called Silverarrows. There are only 4 of us, writing in different genres, but we all write at the same level and have learned one another's "voice" (which is a whole other blog post I'll do in the future). The name 'Silverarrows' means that we won't shoot out one of our manuscripts (arrows) to an agent or editor until it's polished to a fine sheen (silver).

REMEMBER: You've got one shot to impress a prospective buyer, so aim for the heart by sending out ONLY edited work.

These 3 handy dandy rules I've shared over the past few days really aren't negotiable. They're part of the writing craft and MUST be employed if you want to be successful as a writer....that and lots of prayer. God's ultimately the one who will land you a contract or not.

Which is either comforting or frustrating, depending on your relationship with Him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writing Rules: Limit the Backstory

Too much backstory is probably the number one glitch I see in novice writers. Obviously the reader needs some kind of history about the characters, but other than you, no one really cares that your hero came from Podunk in 1973 and used to have a somewhat pathetic stamp collection. Trust me on that.

This is a danger you want to avoid at all costs.

The problem with too much backstory is that it pulls the reader out of the present story. It slows down your action. Make your reader sleepy and guess what...they'll take a nap. And they just might not pick up your book again when their eyelids open.

Here are some tips to avoid this bugaboo:

Don't dump too much history into the first chapter.
Think of this chapter as the first time you're meeting someone, because you are. The reader. How do you like it when you meet someone and they talk endlessly about their past, hardly giving you time to add an occasional grunt? It's not only selfish, it's boring.

Be discriminating about what you share.
It's important for you as the author to know each character's background, but not so much for your reader. Choose the most crucial facts, those related to the story and those most interesting. Then be succinct. One simple sentence can pack a lot of punch.

Spoon feed the info in small bites.
You want to avoid the dreaded info dump. It's toxic to your writing career. Spread a character's background throughout the entire novel, not in a big chunk of copy.

Disclaimer: I'm not saying this is easy. In fact, it's work. But it's the work of the writer to master this skill if publication is your goal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Writing Rules: Love Them THEN Leave Them

DAY 39

Word Count: 25,463

Sentence of the Day: He clenched his jaw instad of shaking her like the empty-headed ragdoll she playacted.

Writing is so subjective. What's fan-freaking-tastic writing to one is a steaming pile of doo-doo to another. What one publisher snatches up, another will reject. What's a writer to do?

Subjectivity or not, there are some basic, can't-argue-with-this kind of rules that make for solid writing...writing that will eventually get you sold. For the next few days, I'll go over the top 3.

RULE # 1:
Know the rules before you break them.

As much as I hate grammar, it is a necessary evil. Vomiting words on a page without punctuation will make your reader sick. If you weren't fortunate enough to have Mother Superior cracking your knuckles with a ruler when you committed a grammar gaffe, then do yourself a favor now, it's not too late. Learn sentence and paragraph structure. Get yourself a good grammar book and/or a grammar guru that's willing to talk you through the basics.

Note: I said basics. Leave the sentence diagramming to English majors.

Once you get a handle on general language construction, that's when the fun begins. Now you can make a statement by bending or breaking those rules to smithereens.

For instance, too many sentence fragments will make a reader reach for a bottle of Ritalin. But if you're writing a fast-paced scene, then you want to ramp up the tension with short, punchy lines.

On the flip slide, if you're trying to slow down a scene or make your reader feel how tired your character is, that's the time to throw in a run-on sentence.

Knowing how and when to wield the grammar scalpel is part of the craft--a part that both readers and editors will notice.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Saddle Sore

DAY 38

Word Count: 25,034

Sentence of the Day:
The woman could change emotions faster than a cutpurse bent on escape.

It's been an entire month since I sat down to work on my Bow Street Runners series. 35 days to be exact. Not that I haven't been thinking about it or researching tidbits here and there, but officially...I'm back in the saddle.

And whoa baby, my backside's a little chafed already.

Re-entry into a story you've taken a break from can be a little rough. Here's a few hints to lessen the turbulence:

Study your character photos.
Wonder about what they're thinking, how they're feeling, before you start writing.

Re-read the last chapter you wrote.
This is a great reminder about where you left off, not just in terms of action but in setting ambiance.

Apply critiques.
Revisit what your crit buddies have said and work in their suggestions. You'll be looking at the piece with fresh eyes--the same kind of eyes that your buddies looked at it with in the first place.

Shut off the internet.
Because when the going gets tough (and it will), you'll be tempted to toodle over to Facebook or Pinterest or whatever your choice of poison is.

Set a word goal for the day and stick to it.
Do NOT get your butt out of the chair until you've reached your daily goal.

Obviously you don't have to do all these things before the writing starts to flow. Pick one or two, then go for it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One Plank At A Time

I've been asked to write for yet another blog. If I say yes, that will be my fifth. Which begs the question...how many blogs can she juggle, folks?

And that, once again, brings me back to platform. There's this whole numbers game that you must get your name in front of a prospective reader at least 7 times before they'll be familiar enough with you to buy your book.

But putting all your eggs in the blog basket probably isn't the best marketing strategy.

So I researched out some other platform ideas. Besides blogging/vlogging, here are alternate opportunities for you to consider...

ONLINE PLATFORMS
- Twitter
- Facebook
- Flickr
- Tumblr
- Goodreads
- Forums

IN-YOUR-FACE PLATFORMS
- Book Clubs
- Librarians (get to know them)
- Book store managers (get to know them, too)
- Women's groups
- Teach a community ed class

I'm not saying you have to do all these things. You'd never have time to write if you did. The point is to get yourself out there. Somewhere. And consistently. It's not like you have to win a popularity contest. You just need to be visible. Being visible sets you apart from the masses...which is a good thing when you're waving your latest release over your head.

But don't wait until you've got a new release, a contract in hand, or even finished your manuscript. It's never too soon to start. Authentic platforms take time.

Unless of course you're buddy buddy with Oprah.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pressure to Produce

Deadlines. I don't have one yet, except for the screaming voice inside my head that yells from time to time, "Hey! Pump out another manuscript, you slacker!"

Knee-jerk reaction A): Hmm, wonder how little I can get away with to slap out another story.

Then there's the soothing whisper that I hear the rest of the time. "Take your time. Be the best you can be. Anything worth doing is worth doing well."

Knee-jerk reaction B): Huh, wonder how much more I can do?

Which reaction is correct? More virtuous? The reaction that best-selling authors would choose?

I'm going to go with C...both. Tipping the scale to either side will result in one of 2 things: fast bad writing or slow good writing. Let's take a peek at both.

Fast Bad Writing
Besides the obvious horrendously constructed sentences, what makes writing go to the bad place? Shallow characters. Predictable plots. Prose that doesn't make me sit up and beg for more. Yes, you can probably finish two, three, even four manuscripts a year if your only goal is to rack up words to a certain count, but don't count on anyone wanting to read those words.

Slow Good Writing
If your goal in life is to write one--and one only--fantastic piece of literature (think Harper Lee), then this style is for you. Most writers I know, however, have several stories floating inside their cartoon bubble. They want to sign more than one contract in their lifetime. Truth is, we live in a fast paced society. If you put out a book only once every five years, chances are your loyal followers are going to tag after someone else who keeps their name in front of their faces.

So as I've said, C...both...is the winning answer. Balance is always key. The goal as a writer in today's market is to write fast enough to keep your name out there and well enough to stand out as a 'must-read' author.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Internet Addiction

So when you sit down at your computer, what's the first thing you do? Check the weather? Facebook? Fiddle around with your iPod?

My default is e-mail. That's where all my updates and digests are sent. If I'm not careful, I'll spend the first hours of my day reading other's blogs or seeing what the latest buzz words are on the loops I belong to.

Technology is great, but it's also a time waster.

Stop and think about it for a moment. Morning is a valuable asset. Your brain is fresh from a long night's sleep. Not a whole lot of daily-grind clutter is clogging the gears of creativity. Your thoughts are yet undefiled by the opinions of others on multiple issues.

What if instead of turning on the internet first thing, you gave your initial attention to your work-in-progress?

I admit it. I'm talking as much to myself as to you. It takes a conscious choice to break a bad habit. Tonight before you go to bed, put a sticky note on your computer screen to remind yourself of that choice.

Honestly, the world isn't going to crash if I don't check my e-mail right off the bat. And if it does, I suspect I'll figure that out without having to check on Drudge.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Perched on a Limb

I got some great feedback over the weekend about my vlog experiment...everything from "stop closing your eyes so much" to "that was hilarious". Huh. I had no idea my eyelids have a mind of their own and makes me wonder what would happen if I tried to be funny.

At any rate, I know it was (and will be) a risk to vlog. Risk is something writers take every day. If you don't, your writing will be as fresh as the half-eaten bag of Cheetoes sitting atop my frig.

Blogger/author Seth Godin says that artists do their work out on a limb..."not in the safe places, but out there, in a place where they might fail, where it might end badly, where connections might be lost, sensibilities might be offended, jokes might not be gotten."

Staying in the safety zone is comfortable. There's no pain involved. But neither is there growth.

Here's my challenge to you: whatever piece you're working on today, do something different just for the heck of it. Examples...

- Throw in a crazy metaphor
- Give a character a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me attribute
- Sneak in a stunning bit of sarcasm in the dialogue
- Add a quirky quote from a long dead author
- Confront one of your own fears via a scene with your hero
- Try some alliteration

Yeah, dismal failure is a distinct possibility. But on the other hand, maybe not, and it just might nudge your brain in a different direction that really brings a new kind of freshness to your writing.

My risk for the day? I've added a picture to my blog post and will continue to do so until a mob with pitchforks suggests I do otherwise...and/or I can't find any good pix.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Spiritual Jumpstart

Have you ever written anything that brings you to your knees? Cuts deeper than the heart, to the depth of your soul, so much that you have to step away from the keyboard?

It's frightening.

And oh so good.

You'll notice my word count isn't going up. That's because I've been working on writing a series of talks I'll be giving at a conference in February. I decided to do what I do best and write a story for the crowd. This story, quite possibly, is the hardest thing I've written to date. It's about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

If you're looking for a fantastic way to hang out with the living God for an hour or two, try taking a scene from Jesus's life and write it as real time.

You won't be the same afterwards.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Avoiding the Fetal Position

So what do you do when you get a critique that stings? Cry for your mommy? Reach for a half-quart of Ben & Jerry's? Kick the dang dog?

Sometimes it's hard not to take critiques personally. Especially if you've knocked yourself out to begin with on a particular piece of writing or if the crit comes at an exceptionally bad time (bad time defined as something as huge as contracting Dengue Fever or as simple as you just burnt the toast and your house stinks to the high heavens). I understand that holy-cow-whatever-made-me-think-I-could-write feeling. But before you take that feeling and run with it to the bad place, here are some ideas to cope with a tough critique:

Shelve It
Though your instinct may be to ball the thing up and toss it into the circular file, don't. There's likely a lot of great advice in there that will improve your manuscript. Set it aside and come back to it later. Time really is the great elixer.

Find a Shoulder
Writers are an emotional lot. Yes, even those with stoic Scandinavian backgrounds. As a writer, it's important for you to find a network of 2 or 3 buddies who are there for you to give you a pat on the back and listen to your sniffles. Often a good venting will clear out the gunk in your head so that you can see the critique way more objectively.

Pray
Go to to God and give Him all your insecurities. Really, that's likely all it is, you know. When you get your eyeballs off yourself and turn your view upward instead, all that insecure nausea will disappear. Tough critique or not, either He's in charge of your writing or He isn't. Which is it?

Critiques that are hard to swallow are going to come your way. It's part of the writing game. So put on your knee pads and wrist guards and get out there and play.

Monday, January 9, 2012

APTAT

How many times have you heard writers need a platform? Just the thought of platform makes me throw up in my mouth a little...or maybe that gag reaction is because in effort to increase my platform, I've agreed to a speaking engagement.

I'm a lot of things. Mom. Author. Tutor. Wife. Daughter of a King. Not necessarily in that order, mind you. But one thing I'm not is a speaker. So why did I agree to talk for an entire weekend at a women's retreat?

Platform.

I figured it would increase my visibility and/or, more importantly, God's visibility...which is a tall order for someone who'd rather be shut in a room with a computer all day than rubbing elbows with the masses. And, quite frankly, I'm scared to death about it.

So last Sunday's sermon was a Godsend. Literally. I'm pretty sure someone whispered my dilemma to my pastor and he developed a message to deal with my fear. It's a great concept that can apply to any anxiety causing dilemma like finishing a manuscript, querying an agent, or meeting with a publisher.

Simply put, it's APTAT.

No, I'm not speaking in tongues or even in Klingon. It's an acronym. Feel free to use this handy-dandy bit of gibberish next time you're anxious about writing...or anything else, for that matter.

A = Admit
Admit to God that you're not up to the task. In fact, if left up to you, you'd fail at whatever you set your hands to. In my case, I need to admit to God that unless he goes to the podium with me, I'll probably pee my pants.

P = Pray
Ask God to help you. He is, after all, master of the universe. He's overqualified and willing to help you with any of your 'little' troubles. In my situation, I'm asking him to give me loads of creativity to help encourage the women I'll be speaking to.

T = Trust
Dig into the Bible and find a rock to plant your feet on. The whole book is full of promises to you. Do you believe them? Personally, I'm going with "Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

A = Act
This is where the rubber meets the road. I'll have to force my feet to cross over from audience member to the spotlight. What is it you need to act on? Parking your rear in a chair to finish that story? Stashing your pennies in a jar so you can attend a conference? Unless you act, you'll be stuck in limbo.

T = Thanks
Yes, you will have something to thank God for. He will act. He is faithful. Disclaimer: He might not act in the way you think He will. There's not always fireworks. In fact, on the outside, you might see nothing at all, or worse, disaster...as defined by you. God's always up to a gazillion things. He will use your actions for His purposes, and that's something to be thankful about.

Fluff Defined

One of my readers wrote:

"I agree about planting seeds, but that can be done even in lighthearted books.
We don't have to be serious to go deep with the Truth."

I'm not going to argue with that. Lighthearted stories can kidney-punch some powerful wallops of Biblical truth (which is what I was advocating in my previous post). Humor is a fantastic approach to impart hard principles in a way that is more palatable.

It's not lighthearted I have a problem with. It's fluff. Here's a dictionary definition:

fluff (flf)
n.
1. Light down or fuzz, as on a young bird or on a dandelion or milkweed seed.
2. Something having a very light, soft, or frothy consistency or appearance: a fluff of meringue; a fluff of cloud.
3. Something of little substance or consequence, especially:
a. Light or superficial entertainment: The movie was just another bit of fluff from Hollywood.
b. Inflated or padded material: The report was mostly fluff, with little new information.
4. The parts of a junked car that are not metal and cannot be recycled.

Definition 3A...now that's what I'm talkin 'bout. Note that it says light, not lighthearted. This is exactly what should be considered when developing characters, plot and theme.

Banish the Fluffy Characters
If you don't make the reader care about your characters, they won't give a flying wingnut about what happens to them, even if it's catastrophic. Your job as a writer is learning to be a good tightrope walker. It's all a balancing act. Villains can't be all bad. Heroes and heroines can't be all good. A reader connects emotionally to a multi-faceted persona because that's the way people are. It makes them more relatable instead of superficial.

Axe Fluffy Plots
Not that you have to have mushroom clouds and/or zombies dominating every scene, but you do have to include increasing crises which build to a climax. This doesn't have to be physical. Emotional confrontations create fireworks as well. This is especially important to remember in the middle of your tale.

Say No to Fluffy Themes
This is where you have the chance to impact a reader's life. Don't waste your opportunity with platitudes. You can go simple but go deep.

Example: forgiveness. Sounds easy enough, but if you pick apart the act of forgiveness, you can share nuggets of Biblical truth all the way from bitterness to freedom. And this can be done in any genre, from humor to horror.

I suppose the point of this rant is to make your writing count. When it comes to words, quality is indeed more virtuous than quantity.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Nixing the Fluff

I keep forgetting this is the last year of my life...if the Mayan's are correct, that is. Personally, I think they ran out of parchment or papyrus or whatever-in-the-world kind of paper they used.

But for the sake of argument, what if this really were the last year any of us had here on earth? Would we live differently? Love differently?

Write differently?

If so...then how?

I'm thinking theme. Message. Take away value. Plant deep the seeds of Biblical truth so that readers very souls are affected. Not that I'm advocating sermonizing and whapping people upside the head with the Bible, but honestly...is it worth a reader's time to ingest pap?

When I do finally park my behind in a chair and get back to my WIP, I'm going to keep this in mind.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fame...Possibly

Pretend you're at a party. Not a rip-roaring gangbuster of a blitz, but a small gathering. It's comfortable. Cozy. You know most people but not all. One of the strangers approaches you, and without fanfare or even a hey-how's-it-going, they corner you and say, "I read your book." That's it Nothing more. Perhaps this is just small talk, but it sure sounds like a threat.

Yeah, well, this scenario is not make-believe. It happens to me, and I NEVER know how to respond. Usually I mumble some stupid comeback. Take your pick:

A.) "Oh."

B.) "Umm...you want me to give you a gold star or what?"

C.) Awkward silence followed by, "So...how about those insert-sports-team-of-your-choice?"

I suppose all this is because I'm too gutless to ask how they liked it. I mean, what if they hated the story? The characters? The cover or the overall theme? What if they hate me?

Or worse...what if they came to some existential literary conclusions that I accidentally wrote and I don't have a clue what they're talking about?

Are all writers this psychotic or is it just me?

Whatever the answer may be, I should probably come up with a proactive plan for the next time I'm stuck in an uncomfortable situation. And as much as I hate to admit it, my mom's advice from many moons ago is as pertinent as ever. Memorize, along with me, this timeless nugget of sage advice.

Smile and say thanks.

Of course, no matter how hilarious I think it might be, I should also stop writing Jodi Piccoult on my nametag.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Intersection of Life and Writing

As much fun as it is to live in my fictional world, life often jumps in and pulls me away from it.Such is the case this week. My family and I have been New Years partying all week with another writer buddy's family in Iowa. It's been a fantastic time, and I'm on my way home now, but guess how many words I accomplished on my wip. Yep.

Zero.

So how to deal with the lurking feeling of dang-I-haven't-gained-any-ground-word-wise on the ol' manuscript? Simply put...get over it.

If life doesn't take priority over fiction, real people trump the fake voices in your head, then not only will your writing suffer, but your relationships will as well. Your story world isn't going anywhere. It'll be there when you get back, unlike the important people in your life who can and will withdraw if you're not really 'with' them when you're with them. Savvy?

So next time life intersects with your writing, choose life. Next time you sit down to write, you'll likely find your characters will be all the richer for it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bingo!

We have a winner...a winning piece of musical inspiration, that is. Click on the following link and listen to this with your eyes closed.


Did story scenes pop into your head or am I the only freak around here?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Resolution Revolution

Yeah, losing ten pounds would be nice. Revamping my budget would be a great idea as well, especially since my charge card is still smoking from Christmas. But seriously...we all know those things are going to happen anytime soon.

So what if this year my resolutions weren't about me? Hmm....

This year I resolve to target 1 writing-related person per month. No, not in a creepy stalker way. Instead, I'll hand-write an encouraging note and put that person on my prayer list. It could be anyone from a well-known multi-pubbed author, to an agent or editor, or might even be the kid down the block who likes to write silly stories.

Think outside the box this year and revolutionize your resolutions. If the Mayan calendar is correct and the world does end this coming December, why waste your time cutting calories?
 
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