Monday, August 30, 2010

Celebrations and Breaks

At last I’ve finished my first draft. I’m so excited and I wanted to share the good news with my blogging friends. Can you hear the celebrations?

I feel it has taken me too long: 3 months to write 89k words (If they were polished words I’d be stoked – Aussie slang for ‘more than thrilled’). But I slowed down three quarters of the way through and allowed doubts to get to me.

My plan now is to take 2 weeks off from the book before I start editing. This will give me the much needed distance to do the chop. I might write some short stories that have been whispering to me for a long time. Or I might draft up some ideas for another book. After that, I’ll begin the tortuous editing stage. I plan to rip my WIP apart and piece it back together again. I may need a mountain of dark chocolate for this stage.

How important are breaks for you as a writer? What are some things you do to take a break from your current projects? How often do you take a break?

*photo: Hong Kong Disneyland

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Writing to Sell

As we all know, in terms of novel writing, there is a wide variety of markets we can choose: Adult, Young Adult, Middle Grade. And then there is a wide variety of genres within those markets: Adventure, Romance, Mystery, SciFi, Fantasy, Thriller and the list goes on. There are even subcategories. Some markets are bigger than others and so some are easier to sell to than others. So, my big question for today is, do you choose a market and then write? Or, do you write and hope your piece fits into a market and genre? There are benefits and drawbacks for both methods.

The benefits of writing to a specific market/genre:
• You have a place ready for your piece when it is done.
• You don’t need to go back and make major changes to force a fit.
• To write to a specific market you need to have first done the research about that market. Therefore your piece will have a greater chance of a good fit.

The drawbacks of writing to a specific market/genre:
• The perceived market could be too narrow and your writing could lack originality.
• The market of choice could be the rage now, but will die by the time you’re ready to query.

The benefits of not writing to a specific market/genre:
• You have the freedom to write what you want.
• Passion can drive your writing.
• Originality may be easier to achieve.

The drawbacks of not writing to a specific market/genre:
• Lack of knowledge of a genre and how it fits into a market.
• You discover after you’ve finished writing that your piece has no real place within any market.

I’d love to hear how you approach writing and the market. Are you willing to change or adjust for the hope of a sale? Or do you feel like you are giving up integrity if you write to sell? Do you just write and hope to deal with the selling later on? Have you found the middle ground? If so, where do you think that middle ground might be?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Longevity in Writing

Is longevity in your writing important to you? Do you want to write a novel that will blaze and then disappear after three months? Or do you want to write something that could be regarded as a classic in years to come? From the timeless words of Valeria from the 1982 film, Conan the Barbarian: “Do you want to live forever?”

The majority of books written today will disappear. I think the main reason for the lack of longevity is because they were written to a trend. Fashion is fickle. What is hip now is snigger-worthy tomorrow.

I recently pulled off old wallpaper in my tiny office only to find even worse wallpaper underneath. It was dark brown with bright orange flowers and green patches of grass. It was so painful, it was laughable. But at one time (probably the 70s) it was the height of fashion.

So, how do we achieve longevity?

--Ignore the current trends and write our own stories within the market of our choice.

--Steer away from the language of today because it won’t be the language of tomorrow. For example, any catch phrases, colloquialisms and clichéd expressions.

--Work with timeless themes. Romance and conflict will never date. Overcoming insurmountable odds will never date.

--Strive for quality. Strive to learn your craft, practice your craft and do your very best.

Does longevity matter to you? Can you think of other tricks to make your writing last?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Uses of the Passive Voice

One of the first rules we learn as writers is to avoid the passive voice in our prose. It is the active voice that is the gem of fiction writing. The active voice charges our prose with vitality and immediacy. The passive voice can sound bland by comparison. But there is no need to run screaming from the passive voice. It has its uses.

The passive voice can sound more authoritive and less demanding. For example: “Swimming is not allowed here.” This passive voice is a statement of fact and gains authority because of the lack of emotion attached. By comparison: “You must not swim here.” This active voice adds a demanding tone. It might work for a mother scolding her child, but if that’s not the tone you want to achieve, then the passive might be your answer.

The passive voice changes the emphasis in a sentence. For example, “1000 plastic balls are needed to fill the pit.” The emphasis here is on the number of plastic balls. Compare with, “The pit needs 1000 plastic balls to fill it.” The pit is the emphasis in this active sentence.

The passive voice de-emphasises the cause of the action. For example, “Isabella was attacked at midnight.” We may not wish to reveal who attacked poor Isabella. Sometimes we wish to emphasise the action more than the person behind the action. For example, “The cure for the common cold was discovered in 2051.” The name of the person behind the discovery may not be important to your story.

The passive voice hides blame. For example: “The totals were placed in the wrong column.”

Can you think of other examples of acceptable use of the passive voice? Do you try to avoid all instances of the passive voice? What are some things you look for when deciding to use a passive voice?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Taming the Beast of Non-fiction

Writing non-fiction – and to a lesser degree fiction – is like facing down a mighty beast, meeting with an agent, or chairing a meeting. Never show them you are afraid.

You have to tell yourself that you own your subject. You are a master of it and you belong in the ranks of the published.

Don’t let them see you flinch.

Don’t let them see you sweat.

Be confident.

Know your subject.

And face that beast knowing you have already conquered it.

Then crack your knuckles and begin.

Nothing will hold you down or hold you back if you are willing to put in a little hard work. Confidence comes with knowing your subject. Knowing your subject comes from research. Research requires hard work and perseverance.

But it’s worth it to tame the mighty beast.

Do you agree with this? How much research time do you put in before you write a non-fiction piece (including blog posts)? Do you research more than you technically need?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Not so Humble Verb

The verb is a powerful tool when a writer knows how to wield it. It is the action word of the sentence. It strives, it yearns, it strikes, it sings. Verbs bring our sentences alive.

So why settle for a bland verb? Why not use the magical verbs, the verbs that conjure strong images in the readers mind and bring a little excitement into our sentences?

She ran. (How did she run?) She shot, galloped, jogged, raced.
He walked. (How did he walk?) He ambled, strolled, hiked, meandered.
See how the above examples create a sharper image of the character’s action?

Other things to consider:
Are too many of your verbs passive? I was being taught to play piano.
Do you use too many ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘were’? ‘The coffee cup was on the bench’ – as opposed to, ‘The coffee cup sat on the bench’.

There are so many more examples. I know some people collect verbs as a thesaurus collects synonyms. Do you collect verbs? Do you have some favourite verbs you like to use?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Protect Your Rep

For those of us who blog, twitter, or spend any time on any form of social media, we must always be mindful of the reputation we are building – and we build it whether we are purposefully attempting to promote ourselves or not. It is a precious thing. And it is fragile. In the words of Warren Buffett: It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. Think about that, you’ll do things differently.

So, how do we safeguard our reputation?

Always be positive. Positivity is attractive. Who wants to hang out with a complainer all the time? You will gain respect and followers when you are positive.

Be helpful. We tend to remember those who make themselves available in a helpful and encouraging way. And we often want to respond in like.

Avoid controversies. Some might think that even bad press is good press, but this is a dangerous game to play. More often than not it will backfire in your face and you may never be able to recover.

Don’t do the burn. Remember what our mums used to say to us: If you can’t say anything nice about a person, don’t say anything at all. I recently read a blog post which listed a whole string of a successful author’s failed sentences. As amusing as some might find this, it opened up a world of trouble for the writer of the blog. Because she burned someone, the readers felt it was then okay to burn her. It wasn’t pretty.

Grow a thick skin. Sometimes no matter how careful you are or how respectful you try to be towards others, someone will find something negative to say about you. If this happens I think it is crucial not to react back in a similar way. There is no justification for being unkind and you’ll end up looking worse than your attacker.

What are some things you do to protect your reputation? Do you even feel it needs protecting?

Friday, August 13, 2010

When Editing Doesn’t Work

Sometimes when we write we fail to achieve clarity and, no matter how much we edit, the piece won’t work. This happens to the best of us and it can be a frustrating experience. It happened to me this week while I attempted to write a blog post. The piece drove me crazy. I got to the stage where I felt all I was doing was shuffling words around. So, what do we do when this happens?

We have 4 options:
1. we can persevere and hope the editing will eventually iron out the kinks;
2. we can deicide it’s a lost cause and abandon the piece;
3. we can decide it’s good enough;
4. we can set it aside for a while with the plan to come back to it at a later stage.

In my opinion, the fourth option is the best choice. Time is an editor’s best friend. Time allows the writer to step back from their work and view their writing with a certain level of detachment.

The amount of time you set aside is up to you. Sometimes you’ll need only an hour. Other times you’ll need a day, a week, or even a month. In the case of my blog post, all I needed was a shower and some breakfast to see where it needed fixing.

Other ways of gaining a fresh eye for editing:

Read your piece out loud. It might feel strange at first, but it has a way of highlighting the rhythms of your words. It’s equivalent to an artist holding up their painting to a mirror. Seeing the art in reverse gives the artist a new way of looking at it. When you read your writing out loud, you’ll discover it’s easier to find the flaws.

Have someone else read your piece. Getting feedback from a range of different people is essential for improving your work. Even those who have no writing background can still offer a different perspective on your piece.

And, finally, sometimes we have to accept that a stubborn piece of writing will take more than a few word changes to fix. Sometimes it will need a full rewrite. And sometimes it will need to be tossed. If this is the case, don’t despair. No writing is wasted writing because the more we write, the more we improve.

What do you do when your editing doesn’t work?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

3 Ways to Manage Your Time

Time is a beast that every writer must tame otherwise it slips through our fingers with all too much ease. Family duties, job demands, and general living all have a stake in our time. On our list of priorities, writing has a tendency to drop to the lower ranks. Before we know it another year has gone by and we are no closer to finishing our novels. So what are some ways we can manage our precious time?

1. Prioritise. How important is writing to you? Are you happy with it to remain a hobby or would you like to make a career out of writing? These are the questions you need to ask yourself. If you want to make a career of it, then you have to treat it like any other job. When it is time to go to work, then you need to find a way of switching off from all other distractions and write.

2. Schedule. A great way of finding time to write is schedule a time to write. This not only helps you, but it also helps your family members. They will get used to the time you devote to writing especially if you have a regular schedule for it. They will even help you to stick to that schedule.

At this point I need to add that some people – me included – don’t like the rigidity of schedules. I can’t stick to one rule for schedules because I need a level of flexibility. I try to write every day. I try to start writing my WIP at 9.30am at the latest Monday-Friday. I take 30min lunch break (sometimes 40mins) and then I write some more until 2-3pm. If my writing is cooking then I’ll keep going. I don’t often write past 4.30pm, although it has been known to happen on that sweet rare occasion. Of course, that schedule goes out the window on the weekends, but that’s ok, as long as I find some time to write.

3. Make Goals. The best way I’ve found to manage my time is working with word count goals. My minimum goal per week is 7000 words. My daily word count is a loose 1000 words a day. Some days I can only squeeze out 400 words. That might sound sad and disappointing, but with my weekly goal, I can play catch up without having to bemoan the lack of progress. Some days I’ve written 1000 words in an hour so I keep writing and take great joy in the bonus words. With these relatively easy goals, I’m able to feel a sense of achievement with my writing and I’m able to push myself more if I’m close to a self-made deadline.

Of course, you don’t have to give yourself micro goals to help you manage your time. You can give yourself a broader goal. For example, you can tell yourself you want to finish your first draft by September.

When all is said and done, there is no point comparing yourself to anyone else. You have to find what works for you.

What are some tricks you’ve found that help you manage your time?

Monday, August 9, 2010

5 Ways to Crisp up your Writing.

Have you ever read a story that fell limp? Have you ever watched a movie where the characters were dull? I have no doubt your answer will be a resounding, "yes!" So, how, as writers, do we escape the boring characters? How do we avoid the fizzle? In other words, how can we freshen up our writing and make it more engaging for the reader?

1. Throw everything you have into your writing. I wrote tedious essays in school. I would spew out 2000+ words of dry facts and boring details and figured that would do. Technically they were correct. They had an introduction, a middle and a conclusion. But they were horrible. I got fair grades but there was nothing extraordinary about my work. Because I lacked passion. If you are passionate about your subject or your story, then that passion will translate into your work.

2. Never accept a ‘close enough is good enough’ attitude. Sloppy work will only cause regret later on. The practice of sloppiness will also mean critics will see you as an amateur – no matter how many books you sell. Always strive to be the best you can be.

3. Learn your craft. Sure, anyone can string a few sentences together and call themselves a writer, but you need to think of yourself as a wordsmith: someone who has to learn the power of words to be able to wield that power. The more you learn how to use words, the greater the impact you’ll be able to achieve.

4. Look for the new angle on an old subject. Clichés riddle our society. It’s in our speech, our media, our music and our stories. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey before my time -- I blame television. We watch too much of it and soak ourselves in its cliché spittle. I recently listened to some political speeches for Australia’s coming elections. The party leaders drowned in Aussie clichés. It made me wonder if they thought the public wouldn’t be able to understand anything more intelligent or thought provoking. And so I say – with passion – try to rise above the masses and write something new. (lol, even I’m not immune to the occasional cliché)

5. Seek honesty in your writing. Rather than writing what you think others expect or want to read, write with honesty the truths in your heart. This takes courage and requires practice. It means steering away from plastic representations of characters. It means going that step further to find the realism in your work. It may even mean writing to a different market than the one you originally chose. Readers respond to honesty, no matter what form it takes.

How do you freshen up your writing?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Versatile Blogger Award

Last week Rosie from East for Green Eyes gave me the Versatile Blogger Award. Thank you so much, Rosie!

This award comes with the following rules:
1. Thank the person who loved me enough to bestow this gift.
2. Share seven things about myself.
3. Bestow this honour onto 15 newly discovered or followed bloggers – in no particular order – who are fantastic in some way.
4. Drop by and let my fifteen friends know I love them.

Seven Things
Since this is a writing blog and I try to keep as much to the theme as possible, I thought I’d share seven random tips I’ve learned about writing:

  1. Don’t worry about the technicalities of writing. Don’t stress about correctness. Just write. Then edit.
  2. Every writer, established, famous, or new, will experience writer’s block. Don’t let it defeat you. Keep writing.
  3. If it’s about fame and fortune, reassess now. The chance of getting rich off your writing and gaining celebrity status is as high as winning big on the lottery. It’s possible, but it’s not likely, so don’t bank all your hopes on that.
  4. It’s better to be a slave to your story than your story a slave to you. Think about that one.
  5. Exercise sharpens the mind and makes a better writer. No matter how much I resist this one, it’s true.
  6. No matter how much time you have to write, it’s never enough. Consequently, it’s better to have less time because you’ll be less likely to squander it.
  7. Everyone has a right to be heard. Your voice is just as valid as someone else’s. So keep writing. (lol, maybe I should rename my blog to “Just Keep Writing”)

And now to pass on the award (no particular order):
Amanda @ All that Good Jazz
Jennifer @ Unedited
Mary @ Wistful Nebulae
Victoria @ Hairnets and Hopes
Erinn @ Something Else to Distract Me
Terri @ Terri Tiffany Inspiration Writer

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Flash Fiction: Boogie Fear

Flash fiction is exactly how it sounds: a story in a flash. It is less than a 1000 words, but more often it is less than 500. That’s not a lot of words to cram a story into, and, for that reason, I recommend every fiction writer to have a go at writing some flash fiction.

Flash fiction teaches the writer brevity. It trains them to seek and destroy all unnecessary words.

Don’t for a minute think that writing flash fiction is easy. It is unforgiving. There’s little time for character development. It relies on story, a punchy beginning, and a pow ending.

Boogie Fear was accepted for publication way back in February. I’ve been itching for it to reach the public eye. At last it has, and, because it’s online, I can share it with my blogging friends. If you wish, you can register and vote for your favourite stories as well. I’d love to know what you think.

Have you tried any flash fiction?


Monday, August 2, 2010

Vocabulary: Expand or Not to Expand?

In one camp sits the belief that it’s not necessary for a writer to expand their vocabulary. It can often lead to stilted writing, it can add an air of pompousness, and it can slow the readers down.

In the other camp sits the belief that it is necessary for a writer to expand their vocabulary. The more words we learn, the more skilled we will be to express ourselves.

In George Orwell’s classic, 1984, the government removed words from the public’s vocabulary in order to remove their ability to think with clarity. “Doubleplusgood” replaced words like “excellent”, “exceptional”, and “brilliant”. “Bad” became “ungood”. This is, of course, an extreme example but it does drive the point home: we need words. So, how far do we go to learn new ones?

My take on the issue: We naturally pick up new words through reading and, as writers, we should be reading a wide range of books anyway. I don’t believe it’s something to stress about. I don’t believe it’s necessary to hunt down new words. When we come back from the hunt with a shiny new gem, we may have a tendency to use the new word for the sake of the new word alone, rather than using it because it’s the right word.

Words interest and fascinate me, but I choose not to use many of the ‘high brow’ ones because it’s just not my writing style. Whenever I throw one in it stands out like a beacon and screams, “Oh, look at me! I’m a big word. Look how smart the author must be to know me!” (exclamation marks ‘n’ all).

Anything that takes away from the story must go. Anything that draws attention to the writer must also go.

If the big words are your thing then they have a place in your prose. A writer friend of mine loves to indulge in lugubrious pontifications. That’s her style and it’s brilliant because she works it well. It’s not my style.

So, what’s your style of writing? Do you love the big words? Do they work for you or do you work for them?