Monday, February 28, 2011

The Measure of Success

Anyone else noticed the year has strapped on rocket boosters and is screaming past at an alarming speed? Eek. A short post to end February:

What is success?

Success is… when we’ve sold millions of copies of our books and our names are known worldwide.

Success is… when our names are printed larger than the titles of our books.

Success is… when our books are turned into movies.

Success is… when we’ve sold more than five novels.

Success is… when we’ve overcome the second novel syndrome.

Success is… when we’ve sold our first novel without going insane.

Success is… when we’ve completed a finished manuscript and we’re ready to query.

Success is… when we’ve finished the first draft.

Success is… when we’ve come up with an idea worthy enough to turn into a novel.

Success is… when we’ve decided to become writers and first put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard).

Though we won’t all reach every goal, that doesn’t mean we can’t all become successful writers. As long as we keep writing, we’re already successful writers.

Do you have a personal goal you want to reach that will be your measure of success?

note: photo of the dungeon steps at Warwick Castle, England. (couldn't find any other useable pics of ladders or stairs) Such a cool place.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is Near Enough Good Enough?

Have you ever grown so frustrated or bored of the revision stage you’ve thought, ‘That will do’? I know I have – and then I sent it to someone to read and they came back with comments on sections I knew deep down I should have fixed.

Have you ever caught yourself asking, ‘Why bother with all this work when an editor will change it anyway’? It’s true an editor will likely change your text for the better, but what if they don’t? And worse: what if you don’t even make it to the editing stage at a publishing house because your manuscript didn’t shine with a glossy polish? I’ve seen it happen all too often.

Leave out an essential ingredient from a cake and the cake will fall flat. The same goes with writing. One essential ingredient of writing a good book is the sweat of hard work. We can’t expect a first draft to be the last draft. We have to work hard to order our thoughts so our readers don’t have to order them for us.

Let’s strive to do our best. Let’s always work towards improvement. Let’s sign up for those workshops and conferences. Let’s find quality critique partners and helpful beta readers. Let’s not give up, but keep going until we get it right.

Would you pay a professional editor to go over your work before you started querying?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

6 Tips Public Speakers can give Writers

The majority of the population dread the thought of public speaking. The mere thought of it will send us into a sweat. Pushing the jitters aside, however, there’s a lot we can learn from public speaking. Below are six public speaking tips relevant to writers:

1. Share the passion. A dead-pan speaker will lose the audience. So too, a writer needs to share the passion in the stories she writes so she can engage her readers.

2. Keep it relevant. When a speaker rambles off on a tangent, their listeners will drift away on daydreams. As writers, we also need to keep our writing focussed and relevant to the story.

3. Know your audience. There’s no point talking to a group of emus about how to soar. (Believe me, there’s nothing worse than an angry rabble of emus flapping their non-existent wings). As writers we need to know who our audience is so we can write relatable stories.

4. Be confident. We’ve all felt sorry for the nervous speaker. It’s rare they get invited back. They lose their place in their notes, they stutter and sweat and fail to get their point across with any conviction. Writers also need to be bold. The work of a confident writer shines through.

5. Learn how and practise. Not just anyone can stand up in front of a crowd and speak well. Not just anyone can write well. We need to learn the craft and practise it often to improve.

6. Presentation is important. The best speeches are about more than just the words. They're also about how the speaker presents herself. They're about timing, body language, professionalism. The same goes for writers. Correct formatting makes our manuscripts presentable. Professional behaviour makes the author presentable.

Can you think of other tips a public speaker might offer? Have you ever done any public speaking?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is Social Media Worth Your Time?

As writers we’ve all struggled to balance the time we spend on our writing, our reading, our blogs and Twitter and Facebook, our day jobs, and most especially our friends and families. Time is precious.

I could easily spend all day on social media in all its many forms. Obviously, I can’t do this. I have other goals, other priorities. I have to work out what balance works for me.

As much as I’d love to have 100+ comments for every post, I can’t because it would mean I’d have to read and comment on at least 120 other blogs each time I post in the hope those blog owners would come visit me in return. I’ve always been a slow reader and I’d like to offer intelligent comments. I can’t do that for such a high quantity of blogs.

Because my main priority is to finish my current novel, I’ve accepted I can’t reach the goal of 100+ comments. I’ve had to schedule my time and become selective with what I do. For example, in the case of blogging, I post only three times a week, I visit the blogs of my loyal followers, and anyone else who leaves a comment, plus I visit the blogs that truly interest me. That’s pretty much all I can manage with a few random blog visits thrown in for good measure.

So, is social media worth my time? Yes, absolutely. Without question. It’s an invaluable connection to the writing community. I’ve made many wonderful and special friendships. I’ve loved the support network and I’ve learnt so much. However, it’s not worth ALL my time.

How do you balance your time? How do you manage comments? What do you want out of social media?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Those Second Draft Blues

Ever get stuck on favourite words and phrases? They become our security blanket and we repeat them through our manuscript. We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter for our first draft. They keep us ploughing through the story with bulldog determination.

Then we finish our first draft and we stare down the barrel of some nasty revisions. All the looks and verys and gasps bury their heads in the text and hope to escape notice. And they do escape notice because over the month, three months, six months it took to write that first draft, we’ve fallen into bad habits.

Our inner editors have gone to sleep, our polish-mode button has rusted over, and we’ve forgotten how to be chief editors of our own work. Other stories begin to distract us. We start to hear the call of novel #2 or 3 or 4. Our current WIP begins to wallow.

Sound familiar? These are the second draft blues.

Ways to change the hue and finish that novel:

Take a break. Don’t make it an endless break. Decide on a return date and stick to it.

Get your work critiqued. It doesn’t have to be close to perfect before you send it out to a trusted critiquer. Sometimes this is the boost we need.

Critique someone’s work. It’s amazing how much easier it is to see someone else’s repeated phrases and passive sentences. This will also wake up the editor that lurks inside us.

Read a how-to book on writing/ attend a workshop. We are forgetful creatures so we often need to relearn the basics, no matter where we are in our career.

Make a list of those favourite words. The beauty of Word is the find feature. I can search through my document and find the multiple gasps, see how I’ve peppered my text with them, and wipe them out where appropriate.

Decide on a writing schedule and stick to it. This will help push distractions aside.

Extend yourself. The revision drafts is where the real work begins. The challenge is always to find new ways of saying something. This requires us to push our thinking and not settle for a that-will-do attitude.

What are some of your favourite words or phrases you have to fix during revisions?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sentences that Jar with the Sound of Failure.

The other day I wrote a clanger of a sentence. It started with this: Even though she knew she assumed that…


It even stayed in my text for three days before I noticed.


Take a deep breath, Lyn. That’s why I edit and harass my critique partners. Not everything has to be perfect in the beginning. Even the worst sentences can be fixed.

Have you ever written some whoppers that make you question your skills as a writer? Please share and make me feel better.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Dos and Don'ts of Dumbing Down

I’ve had a number of writers ask me if they should dumb down their writing for their readers. Though these writers generally write for small children and teenagers, the question is relevant for all writers.

To answer this question, I could easily say, no don’t ever dumb down, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. So, I’ve compiled a short list of dos and don’ts:

DO treat your readers as you would yourself: with respect. Dumbing down your writing can across as condescending and patronising.

DON’T use words that show how smart you are. Use ones that are right. This will sometimes mean the simpler words are more fitting.

DO give your readers some credit. They are intelligent human beings. They don’t need everything explained to them.

DON’T go for simplicity for simplicity’s sake.

DO try to keep your writing consistent. If your style is simple, then throwing in a big word will only draw attention to that big word.

DON’T dumb down your language so far that you lose the essence of your meaning.

DO know your audience, your market. Use words your audience will relate and respond to.

Can you think of other dos and don’ts? Do you change your writing style for a target readership?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Writers Platform-Building Crusade

Gone are the days when publishers did all our promotions for us. As writers, we need to be more proactive. We need to build a platform to show our potential agents, publishers, readers, we are here, we are authors, and we are passionate about our work.

Rachael Harrie at Rach Writes has come up with a fantastic idea that will help us to do this: the Writers' Platform-Building Crusade. Her plan is to bring writers of all levels together to help build each other’s online platform. It’s a great initiative.

The Crusade will run from February 1st until April 30th. It’s never too late to join. Just click on the link to find out more.

Secondly, I’d just like to let everyone know I finished reading Alex J Cavanaugh’s CassaStar. In fact, I read it so fast, I think I inhaled it.

I loved it. Loved it! If you haven’t read it yet, go pick up a copy, sit back in your favourite chair, and enjoy.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding Clarity in our Words

When we write, we communicate our ideas and stories. We paint worlds of colour and shapes, texture and taste, concept and sound. We populate our worlds with characters who gain a life of their own and people with whom we want to fall in love. When we first put pen to paper we often create chaos, so how do we find clarity in the mishmash of ideas, how do we find focus?

There are questions we can ask ourselves before we even begin:

What exactly do I want to achieve? Sometimes when a scene refuses to work, it’s because we may have lost our direction, or we’re unclear about the scene’s purpose. Asking this question will help us find clarity. It will also help us with the decision to save or toss scenes.

Who is my audience? With whom do I wish to communicate? Often we tell ourselves, “I write for me”, but, if we want our words heard and our stories read, then our audience is greater than ourselves. We need to know who it is we wish to connection with so we can adjust our writing.

And then there are questions we can ask ourselves when we edit:

Have I said what I meant to say? So often we think we are saying one thing, only to discover we’ve said something else. Often we will need to go back and remind ourselves about the purpose.

Is what I’ve said relevant? Often we can waffle on and lose ourselves in the joy of description and discovery. We need to remind ourselves our readers won’t always share the same joy especially if they sense us waver from the path of our stories.

When your words threaten to become mud, what do you do?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Writing Ain’t Easy: Me & My Inner Editor

With all the writing advice I offer on this blog, I may appear to be in control, to have all the answers, and think writing is easy. Well, I want you to meet Bob…

Bob is my inner editor. He doesn’t like me when I’m working on a new project. He snuffles and snarls at me. He keeps butting in and tries to give me suggestions.

I tell Bob to go away.

He doesn’t listen.

I remind him of all the wonderful shinies he can play with once I’ve finished the first draft. I entice him with bad grammar, clumsy sentence structure, and adverbs he can fix later.

He begins to salivate.

For a while, he stays in his corner, but it doesn’t take long before he ventures out again.

I tell him to go away.

He howls.

I slap him.

He moans.

I ignore him.

He whimpers and pretends he is wounded.

I finish my first draft.

Bob cheers and pops open a bottle of champagne.

I begin my revisions and give Bob a nudge.

Bob’s fallen asleep.

What’s your experience with your inner editor?

*This post was inspired by Vic’s Friday post at Hairnets and Hopes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

How to Find a Good Critique Partner

Due to many of your comments from last post about why we all need a good critique partner (CP), I thought I’d write a follow up post to help those who don’t currently have one. To find a good partner, we need to ask ourselves some key questions:

1. What do I want? It’s helpful to work out what it is we want in a CP. Many of us are after different things. Many of us are at different stages in our projects. Sometimes all we need is to find someone who can comment on the basic story structure. Other times we might be after someone who can do picky line edits.

2. What are my weaknesses? We all have weak spots in our writing, so it helps to know what they are so we can find a partner who is strong in that area.

3. What can I offer in return? CPs share a two-way relationship. They will critique each other’s work. So it’s helpful to figure out early where our strong points lie and offer those skills in return.

Now that you’ve equipped yourself with these answers, you’re ready to find a match. There are a number of ways of finding a CP. The blogsphere is full of potential partners.

Denise at L’Aussie Writing has been compiling an email list for anyone interested in finding a CP. You’ll need to email her soon with your details if you wish to be included.

Nathan Bransford offers on his forums a thread designed to help writers connect with critique partners.

Natascha at The Las Vegas Writer is offering free critiques in the month of February.

Finally, you could always email your favourite bloggers. It can’t hurt to ask.

If you know of anywhere else a writer could go to find a critique partner, then feel free to leave a link in the comments.

What are you looking for in a critique partner? How did you find your critique partner?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

7 Reasons We Need a Critique Partner

1. A critique partner, as opposed to a regular family member, should ideally have some knowledge of the industry, grammar, punctuation, and so forth. They will be better equipped to express what might be technically wrong with our manuscript (ms). Family members and close friends may just tell us things we want to hear.

2. Writers often suffer from blindness when it comes to their own ms. I can go through my work a billion times and still not catch basic mistakes. A critique partner will zero in on these mistakes.

3. What goes on in my brain isn’t always what I’ve put down on paper. A critique partner will often point out the holes in my story. They will help us find clarity in our meaning.

4. It’s not uncommon to repeat words and phrases. A critique partner can point out our favourite catch phrases, words and descriptions. In my previous project I didn’t realise everyone scowled all the time. In my current project, now everyone gasps.

5. My experience of critique partners is they are supportive and helpful. I’ve learned so much, not only from gaining critiques, but also giving critiques.

6. Critique partners push us to do better.

7. Critique partners teach us to grow a thick skin. The more we put our work out there for judgement, the easier it gets to hear criticism, and the faster we will learn and improve.

Can you think of any other benefits from having a critique partner? What’s the best tip you’ve gained from your critique partner?