Sunday, August 30, 2009
When they don't work, I want to snatch the writer's keyboard and shout "Stop it! Stop it now!" I would probably even ban the author from writing until he or she had scrawled "I will not write run-on sentences" 100 times on the chalkboard.
Last night, I came across an article that had me reaching for the writer's keyboard. Warning: It's about a baseball game. And I know that the style of sports journalism is way different from fiction. But a lead sentence is a lead sentence. No matter what you write, lead sentences serve the same purpose: Hook the reader.
Here we go:Backed into a corner once again and provided the stiff challenge of facing Eagles ace Ralph Amason, the Couriers once again displayed a sense of resiliency that conquered the previously dominant southpaw and led them to a 9-1 rain-shortened win over the Eagles at Johnson-Freeman Park on Saturday night that was called after 7 1/2 innings.
That, my friends, is one sentence. 57 words. Try reading it out loud. Did you run out of breath? I thought so. The next sentence is marginally better: 42 words.
Joe Anderson's three-run homer and Matthew Morgan's two-run homer highlighted the five-run fourth inning that doomed Amason and provided the comfortable lead that Lowell Baker preserved on the way to earning his first win in his past three starts.
Thank goodness, the rest of the article was much easier to read, and in fact, was a pleasure to read. Of course, sports writers have deadlines that you and I would simply laugh at, so I'm cutting this author a lot of slack.
However, if I had been the copy editor for these two sentences, this is what I would have done:
Backed into a corner once again and facing Eagles ace Ralph Amason, the Couriers displayed a sense of resiliency that conquered the previously dominant southpaw. The 9-1 rain-shortened win over the Eagles at Johnson-Freeman Park on Saturday night was called after 7 1/2 innings. Joe Anderson's three-run homer and Matthew Morgan's two-run homer highlighted the five-run fourth inning that doomed Amason. The runs provided the comfortable lead that Lowell Barker preserved on the way to earning his first win in his past three starts.
25 words in the first sentence, 20 in the second, 20 in the third, 23 in the fourth. Not great writing and not short sentences by any stretch, but at least they're easier to read. And we won't even go into what I really wanted to do, which was something along the lines of:
With his heart pounding against the taut muscles of his chest, the Couriers' batter stepped toward the plate and lifted the bat to his shoulder. He refused to think that his team was once again backed into a corner. "It's just between you and me, Ace. Come on. Give me your best pitch..."
How about you? Would you have left the sentences alone? Edited them differently? Or would you have laughed and said "Who cares about baseball anyway? I just want to see the guy with taut muscles." :-)
Friday, August 28, 2009
That said I have often wondered exactly how much we get out of contest critiques and how we all interpret them. How much do we use and how much do we just chalk up to "you can't please everyone"?
I've gotten some great ones over the years - helpful, insightful, real light bulb moments. That is why I started entering contests in the first place. Way back when I started I earnestly wanted to know if I had even a remote chance of making it in this business. I got a lot of great help and really good advice.
Then there were the others. Some of those critiques made me wonder if I had murdered this person in a past life, or maybe killed their cat or something. Some of them I wondered if they had even read the pages at all. And some of them are just a case of they really didn't get it and that's okay. No writer is going to be able to please everyone.
So, I've decided there are two methods when looking at those critiques. There is the Chinese Menu Method and the Dinner at Nana's Method.
I didn't eat Chinese food until I was in graduate school. I was convinced I wouldn't like it. But we were invited out with some friends and we ended up in a Chinese restaurant so I was stuck. I read the entire menu and then found the one thing I thought I MIGHT be able to stomach - Sweet and Sour Chicken. I tried it. I loved it. The next time I went I tried something else. Now some things I just KNEW I was NOT going to like. So I didn't try those. The iffy things I gave a try - some I liked, some I didn't.
You can do the same with critiques. Some things you just know are not going to work for you. You can tell as soon as you read them because your writer's gut says "yuck!" or maybe even just "I feel queasy." So don't try them. Don't waste the time. Now other things are going to appeal to you right away so definitely try them. But the same criteria applies. If you don't like it, if it makes you uneasy then don't try it again. Some things are you are going to try and realize "this was perfect for me." Hang on to that.
Now dinner at my Nana Bolton's house was another matter entirely. She fixed your plate and you ate everything on it because she told you it was good for you. You were not allowed up from the table until you cleaned your plate. And sometimes you went to bed with a bad taste in your mouth and a bellyache because no matter how good the food was for you, you just didn't like it. Period. To this day I cannot STAND boiled cabbage because that tough old Yankee broad MADE me eat it. She was older, she was my Nana, she was the expert. Yeah, right. Ever had boiled cabbage and cauliflower at the same meal. SHUDDER! The only person who ever stood his ground with my Nana was my youngest brother, Brian, who at the tender age of five made family history. He sat at the table from 6 PM until 2 AM because he refused to eat the cauliflower. At 2 AM my Nana gave up. He is a legend to this day to my Nana's grandchildren and great grandchildren - the Boy Who Wouldn't Eat His Cauliflower.
You can treat a critique like that. You can believe this person is older/wiser/knows more about it than you do. You can take every bit of advice they give and totally rewrite your work to fit it. You can "clean your plate" so to speak and eat it all up. And you might end up with a bad taste in your mouth, a belly ache AND a manuscript that is as much fun as boiled cabbage and cauliflower.
So, I guess the bottom line is that there are lots of writers out there - some better than me, some not so much, but all different. There are some people who write a novel by a strict formula. There are some who swear by certain writing class techniques. I'm not one of them. Most of the time if there is a rule about writing I am trying to see how creatively I can work my way around it.
Writing is a CREATIVE adventure. Kind of like cooking without a recipe. Sometimes it may not turn out so well. Sometimes it will be a masterpiece. The most important thing, I think, is that it be YOUR creation. When you write THE END there should be no bad taste in your mouth, no bellyache, and no ten point structure on which to hang your story.
Old Leonardo didn't use a paint by numbers kit to paint the Mona Lisa. I'm sure there were people in his studio who said "Leo, fix her smile." I'm glad he didn't listen. But I'm sure he had some good teachers in the beginning and he took what advice they gave, rolled it around in his mouth, swallowed what felt right and spit the rest out. (I do NOT recommend doing this to cauliflower when your Nana is watching. Dogs do NOT eat cauliflower spit under the table. See, even dogs don't like it!)
So, what do you think? Which method sounds better to you?
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The workshop was ably presented by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love. We were in a contained environment and forced to go through their steps to plot a book. I can't honestly say that I will use each of their steps to format subsequent work but I was impressed enough to buy their book. I found an added side benefit from going through the exercise when I sat down the next day to write. The character analysis we'd done in class was extremely helpful in focusing on my character's thoughts, actions and reactions as I wrote. It was easier to write when I already knew exactly how my character would react to each situation. All of this came about as a result of following through and asking myself some basic questions about my characters. For this, I give a hearty thanks to Mary and Dianna.
What have the rest of you found to be an unexpected benefit of this workshop? What did you find most helpful?
Monday, August 24, 2009
We've all made plans. We've set goals and made inroads to bring those images to fruition. But what happens when those plans are derailed? When life happens? We're so focused on sunset beaches with Mai Tais in Palm Springs, that when we end up with sandboxes and Juicy-Juice in Philadelphia, we're thrown! Frustration and disillusionment can set in. So can anger.
One plan that has persisted through my many career changes and reality checks has been my dream of being a published author. I've always known I wanted to write romance and one day have my books on the bookstore shelves next to my favorite authors. Even that has detoured from my original vision. Though I now have a contract, it didn't come six years ago like I planned, I still work a full-time job and instead of my book being on the bookshelf, it's going to be available as an e-book. I've prayed on it and asked God, why? Why, when I wanted that back then you gave me this now? It's what I wanted, God, it just doesn't look like it. I've learned this. If I'd received the contract six years ago, I wouldn't have been ready for it. Professionally, emotionally and spiritually, I couldn't have handled it. In the years since I've discovered balance, improved my writing skills and have found a support system in RWA that I didn't have then. By working a full-time job and still writing, I'm learning discipline and time management. And though I didn't envision e-book, I'm excited about the possibilities it represents and the doors it opens. But, if my mind had remained closed to anything but "the plan", I would have missed relationships, lessons, opportunities and successes.
So, is a plan a good thing? Oh, yes. A plan is wonderful...as long as it's written in pencil.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
I used to love Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, they had all the best flavors when I was young. I’d stare at the choices, my breath clouding the glass protecting the treasured treats. I’d vacillate between the creamy chocolate with peanut butter chunks, or brilliant orange, red, and green sherbet, but I’d always settle on my favorite-chocolate chip mint. It was an easy decision.Of course, as I grew older the simple choices of which ice cream I’d like evolved into more complex ones, like what area should I study in (that took me some time to figure out), and whom should I marry? (it was one of the better decisions I’ve made)
This week I had another difficult decision to make. I was offered a position in another department. Great? It was bittersweet.If I took this new job, I would have to go full time. I currently work three days a week (but not just 8 hours, I can work 12 or more hours on those days). I would lose two days to write, but I’d have a more set schedule (8-5, no weekends, no holidays, and NO CALL!!! Woohoo!-sorry if you’ve ever been on call you know what I mean).
It was hard to make the decision, to lose those two days. I thought about it, I wrote lists detailing the pros and cons, I looked at other options, and consulted friends (I owe a few people some chocolate for listening to me and they know who they are). I agonized, because I wanted to be able to write full time.
I decided to take the job, because I am very unhappy in my current position, I need to pay bills, and honestly I get to learn something new. Plus, at the current rate I am plodding along on my writing road, I cannot afford to write full time…someday though.
DISCIPLINE & DRIVE
With my decision to change jobs, I realized I would have to increase my discipline. This means I’d have to write EVERY day for an hour at least, at night, although my best time is in the morning with a cup of coffee. I could blow it off and write haphazardly on the weekends, but what would this accomplish? Nothing—and that is my greatest fear.
I have a drive to write, to be published, and make a living at telling stories. Everyone who reads this blog (or a large majority) has this inner drive. We wouldn’t be hanging out in RWA if we didn’t. If I don’t focus my drive, and use discipline—to sit down and write when I don’t want to, then all I have are empty dreams. I’ll end up at the end of my life saying “I could’ve” or “I should’ve” written. I don’t want that.
Nothing good ever comes easy. Yes, we all hear of the new writer who gets the six figure deal, or that awesome agent, and the outstanding editor (I heard of one who got ALL three). The reality is, for me at least, I am going to have to work for it. I am going to have to earn it. Even the most gifted writer and story teller has to pay their dues (I still wish there was a Writer’s Fairy Godmother that would help now and then—even if it’s to work out a plot point, smooth out the dialogue, or tame the grammatical gremlins).
I have made my difficult decision, now I have to discipline myself, using my drive to help me. I won’t be the fastest writer, but I’ll get it down, one word at a time.
So have you had to make a difficult decision recently, and how did it affect your writing? Do you have more drive then discipline? How are you going to increase your time to write?
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I spent all of last weekend putting my website together (under my pen name—yay it’s done!). I’ll be attending the August workshop this Saturday (apparently along with the rest of the entire Southern Magic membership… ya’ll rock!). And there's so many other things I don't even want to think about.
What gets me is that I’ve read and heard this is the easy part of publishing. Seriously? The REAL work comes after publication? Holy smokes, I can’t imagine.
So where are you at in all of this? I read so often how fellow writers are juggling their families, husbands, kids, sports, Facebook time, and numerous other things. Can anyone imagine adding yet more—like copy edits, deadlines, and traveling? Think I’ll go take a nap now.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I am a contest slut.
There, I said it.
I didn’t used to be a contest slut. It just sort of happened.
It started innocently enough . . .
In February of this year, I entered a contest . . . and then another and another. I’ve lost track of the number of contests I’ve entered since then, somewhere in the neighborhood of eight or nine. Not so many, when you consider the number of romance contests there are out there. Still, it’s a lot for me. I don’t do contests, and the last thing I won (before this year and my foray into contest slutdom) was a prize at a birthday party in the fifth grade for carrying the most dried beans across the room on the blade of a knife. Seventeen, in case you’re wondering. I won a set of jacks. For those of you too young to know what jacks are, it’s a game we played in the Dark Ages before there were Nintendos and Game boys.
But, I digress. Back to the subject at hand: contests. They are a kind of pleasure/pain. I love the anticipation of the unknown, throwing my work out there to see what happens. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
On the flip side, I hate waiting around for the results, especially when other people on the contests loops are announcing they’ve made the first cut, and I’m left sitting at home sulking and singing the ‘I suck’ song.
But, I LOVE finding out just when all hope is lost Obi Wan Kenobi that I made the cut after all! And then the whole anticipation/angst cycle starts again as I wait to find out if I’ve won or placed in the top three.
Heady stuff. Who knew I was such a masochist?
Oh, yeah, and then there are the critiques. I started entering contests for the feedback. By and large, I have found the feedback to be constructive and helpful. Of course, you can’t bend and twist with everything every judge says or you lose your voice. What one judge likes, another may hate, and so on. But, I have had some very good suggestions out of contest judges to make my work stronger, and that is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Making the work stronger?
Nah, it’s all about the happy dance you do when you find out after months of waiting that you’ve finaled or won. Let’s face it, writing can be a solitary, lonely business, and it’s nice to receive validation of your work.
While writing this blog and toying in my sad and needy way with the idea of entering even MORE contests, I e-mailed a member of my writer’s group for advice. Do I need contest rehab? I asked this wise woman. Should I enter this one or that one? I asked, while secretly hoping for permission to enter all three. This woman, a regular on this blog who shall remain nameless, but whose initials begin with LOUISA CORNELL, informed me in no uncertain terms that I am a mere piker compared to her. I think the number she tossed at me was something like NINETEEN contests entered in one year, but that was only the ones she FINALED in, so the actual number was really more.
So, maybe I’m not such a slut, after all. Maybe I’m just a little loose around the edges. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a few more contests to enter before I can earn my bustier and thigh high boots.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
It's a little scary thinking of setting a book in a place where I haven't walked down the streets, eaten the food, or smelled the air. Yet with guidebooks and Google Earth, I'm hoping I don't do too bad a job of making Buenos Aires come alive for the reader.
I really like making up places, though. It frees you to create without fear that a reader will angrily take you to task for messing up the geography of her hometown. In a couple of my unsold manuscripts, I made up small towns in the US and had so much fun with the quirks of small town life without the fear of getting something wrong.
Where do you set your books? Do you make up towns or kingdoms or islands? Or do you use places you've been? Or do you use guidebooks, Google Earth, and locals to create settings in places you've never been? What's your favorite setting?
PS Edited to add that I'm having a great contest over at my blog! You can win a prize pack that includes a satin tote, a microfiber hair wrap, an Alluvia Berry Blast travel set (body wash, soap, and moisturizing lotion), an exfoliating body scrubber, a velvet makeup bag, a set of Vitabath Spa Therapy candles, and a copy of the UK version of Spanish Magnate, Red-Hot Revenge to enjoy while you pamper yourself! For more details on how to enter, click HERE.
Friday, August 14, 2009
10. I hate how I have to wait months and months (I'm a slow writer) before I can find out how my own book ends.
9. I hate how I fall in love with my hero and then have to give him up. He belongs to the heroine.
8. I hate how I have to concentrate on one book at a time. I have two hands, two sides of one brain (the logical side to set the plot, the creative side to make a love scene believable). Why can't I write two books simulaneously?
7. I hate how I can't save children from predators and kick butt like my heroines.
6. I hate how my love life isn't as exciting as my heroines'. Oops! Did I just type that?
5. I hate how I have to write a synopsis to sell my book. How do you say CliffsNotes?
4. I hate writing the synopsis.
3. I hate how I get a bug-eyed look from non-writers when I talk about writing.
2. I hate how I can talk about nothing but writing.
And drum roll please....
1. I hate how no one has bought any of my books yet.
Now for the scene from one of my favorite movies that inspired me to write this list...
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
I have discovered that many young writers just can't take this sort of honesty. They refuse to listen to anyone else and stick to their vision of their work. Which can be a very good thing, unless your vision needs glasses! (and sometimes a seeing eye dog!)
For me, if something isn't working I want to know about it. Do I change everything just because my CP says so? Ask her and you will get a resounding "He** NO!" But I do listen and everything she says to me makes me think. And maybe that is the greatest gift someone can give you - the freedom to think.
There will be other relationships on every writer's journey with agents, editors and even critics. How much honesty do you want from those people as they come into your life? How much is too much honesty when it comes to your writing? And are you grounded enough in what you write to listen to a vastly differing opinion and still stay true to your voice?
Saturday, August 08, 2009
What are your dreams? If money, skills or your circumstances were not the issue. What matters to you and what would you do?
Friday, August 07, 2009
So, I've come up with some responses just suitable enough for the smart alek who asks it:
1. With a cigarette and a smile.
2. I'm heavily into method research. I'm a hands-on kinda gal.
3. Why? Did you want to borrow my manual?
4. Strip poker. But, for those menage scenes? Naked Twister.
5. What scenes? The murder scenes? I usually just kill off the people who ask stupid questions.
6. *Question: "Why do you want to write that?" Well, the immaculate conception story was already taken, so I decided to think outside the box.
...and my favorite so far...
7. *Question: "What does your husband think?" The new head of Research & Development? Oh, he's enjoying his promotion quite well, thanks for asking.
Aren't I a stinker??
Thursday, August 06, 2009
It got me to thinking. What ARE my writing strengths? And how do I incorporate those into the things I DON'T do so well? And what are those?
And how do I find out? I mean, I am definitely a contest slut. I've got judges sheets on all three of my manuscripts - bunches of 'em. And of course, being human, I tend to look at the negatives, the things they DIDN'T like and obsess about them. How can I fix this? What is wrong with it? Why can't I do it?
So now, I've looked over the sheets and tried to find the things the judges DID like, the consistencies. Once I get a bead on those, I think I can use them to make my weaknesses, less weak.
So, after much research, here are my strengths - my dialogue and my love scenes. I can work with that.
How about you? What are your writing strengths? How can you incorporate them into all aspects of your writing.
Only the good stuff here. What things do you do REALLY well? Inquiring minds want to know!
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
The whole experience was new to me. I've never had a professional manicure, let alone tips glued on to my nails. I always felt they were a luxury I could ill afford, but now I feel a bit more put together and professional.
There is something powerful in trying something new and stepping outside the box. Ever since I have become involved with RWA, and truly pursing my writing dream, I have found I am doing more and more new things. It can be a bit discombobulating, but I keep on trying these new things. Some of the new things I have done:
- I started blogging here
- I have entered in on friendly writing challenges.
- I have taken online writing classes
- I have met the most charming and delightful group of people online--some of them I've even met in person.
- Finished a rough draft (this is huge)
- I've done my first in-person pitch.
- I've sent off my first partial
- Received my first polite rejection.
- I've even gone to a retreat.
- Created my own website (with help!)
I do believe I'm on a roll! The new things keep on coming, and I am beginning to meet them with a sense of adventure and not as much trepidation. What are some of the new things I am going to try and do? Some of them are:
- I'm going to write my second book (ok, three if I make my challenge!)
- I am going to research Agents, Editors, and Publishers and prepare a query
- I am going to enter a few contests (Golden Heart is one!)
- I am going to attend the next RWA conference.
So bring it on, I'm ready! What new things have you tried lately?
What new things are going to do this year? Is it hard to break outside the mold and attempt new things for you? Why?
NOTE: I have posted this prior to leaving for Minnesota for a memorial service. I may or may not be able to respond, but I will when I return after the 7th of August. Apparently my husband has decided to make this into a family trip (albeit a somewhat sorrowful one). It will be a quest- but that I will save for a another blog.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
But does he complain? No. Never. Not once.
Like many, I go through a doubting ritual at least once a week. But I never go through it alone. When I'm exhausted and curled on the floor in a fetal position--my doubt demons doing a Snoopy victory dance around me--it's without fail that I'll hear David say yet again, "You are a great writer, honey. Keep at it. It'll happen." That alone would be enough, but his support doesn't stop with this weekly vote of confidence. In addition to a fulltime job, he does all of the yard work, the majority of the house work, helps with the laundry, and even makes macaroni and cheese on occasion, all to keep my butt in the chair writing.
I notice each one of these gestures, these sacrifices, and it's time I give him a big THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART for the whole world to see. He is ultimately the hero I write about every day. He is MY hero.
I'm so blessed. I love you, sweetie. (Yes, he reads my blogs too.)
Who is YOUR strongest supporter in this writing biz? How do they show it?