Friday, July 29, 2011

5 Tips and Tricks for Microsoft Word

Many of us use different programs to write. Although I’ve heard Scrivener is good, I use Microsoft Word and I know many of you also use Word. So I thought I’d write a post with some tips and tricks that might help you with your manuscripts.

Widow/orphan control:
This control is switched on by default. If a paragraph is at the bottom of the page and runs on to the next page, this control will push the lines over to the next page rather than split the paragraph over the pages. This needs to be turned off so that every page has the same number of lines. To switch it off go to Format/Paragraph/click the Line and Page Breaks tab/ uncheck the widow/orphan control box. (if you’ve already started the document, make sure you highlight all--Ctrl A--before you uncheck the box).

Our manuscripts can get long and clunky in terms of manoeuvrability. While editing we may want to jump from chapter 7 to chapter 28. Or we might want to make a note to ourselves which is easy to click to. The best way to do this is use a bookmark. Go to Insert/Bookmark/type in a one word label/ click add. I put in bookmarks for every chapter, labelling them as ch2 and so forth. I also make notes to myself such as fix_dialogue or mark in key points in the book.

Another neat trick is to use font styles. You can set up styles for your headings so when you scroll through your manuscript a floating box will pop up and show not only your page number (if you’ve set it up), but also the chapter you are scrolling through. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it does help. Also, if you make any changes to the style, it will automatically change all instances of that style in your document. To make a new style you can go to Format/Styles and Formatting/and click New Style button. The rest is self explanatory.

This is particularly handy to have for critiquing another’s work. You can insert comments into a document and they sit in the right margin, easy to spot. Highlight or click on a section you wish to comment on and go to Insert/Comment/ and start typing your comment.

This is more of a formatting tip than a Word tip, but I thought I'd throw it in anyway: Even though printed novels are centrally justified, your manuscript should be justified to the left. It is far easier for editors and agents to read this way. If you can't find the buttons, you can find it by going to format/paragraph/ and clicking left in the alignment drop down menu.

What other helpful tricks do you know in Word? What’s your program of choice for writing?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

10 Things to Do After Finishing the First Draft

Maeve asked, ‘Do you have particular questions you ask yourself once you’ve completed your first draft?’ Last year I posted Questions to ask While Editing. Pop over there to see a long list of questions to get into the editing process. Today’s post is about that process:

1. Celebrate. After the mad scramble of finishing the first draft, I recommend you open your favourite sweet treat and celebrate. The first draft is something many people begin, but few finish. It’s a marvellous achievement. Be proud!

2. Take a Break. You are too close to your story to make any clear sense of it at this stage so the best thing to do is take a break. It doesn’t have to be a long break. Only you will know the best timing. Sometimes I only need a week. Other times I need an entire month to gain the distance I need for editing.

3. Read the manuscript through. Now is not the time to make little adjustments. Now is the time to get yourself reacquainted with the big picture. Make brief notes only. Try to keep your attention on plot and structure. Look at pace and timing, your beginning and end, and if there are any slow or unnecessary scenes. Make sure your protagonist is an active participant in your story.

4. Make structural changes. Still don’t worry too much about the little things such as your use of adverbs. No matter how much they might jump up and down to get your attention, there is little point worrying about that until you get the structure right. Otherwise you could spend hours on getting a scene just right only to realise you have to delete it later for the sake of tightening that structure.

5. Read the manuscript through again. Yes, read it from start to finish again making sure the overall structure is right. No skimming allowed. Some writers will share their manuscript at this stage. I did and it helped a great deal. Admittedly my poor crit partner had to put up with some dodgy wording and sentences, but she picked up some helpful pointers for my structure.

6. Start line edits. Find the pesky POV shifts that aren’t meant to be there. Root out the telling when the prose should be showing. Remove any unnecessary words, clichés, repetitions. Do the spit and polish.

7. Get another opinion. This is a great time for beta readers and critique partners. You could be taking a break while they read your manuscript. In fact, a break at any stage is also good—especially if you are unable to see the faults.

8. Read the manuscript again. Yes, read it again. All the way through. Read it out loud. Listen to those rhythms.

9. Now do your copy edits. The small details. Spelling and grammar and the fiddley little details which we inevitably miss no matter how careful we think we are being. 

10. Take another break and then read it again before sending it out. Never send out your manuscript less than two weeks after you think you’ve finished. In fact, I often hear agents say don’t send it out before two months. And always read it before sending it.

What's your editing process?

Monday, July 25, 2011

7 Qualities Publishers Look for in an Author

We all know publishers are looking for great stories that have been well written, but did you know they are also looking for certain qualities in the authors as well? Below I’ve listed those much sort after qualities.

Publishers are looking for authors who are:
1. Career authors. Those who are in it for the long haul. They don’t want one-hit-wonders. They want to be able to follow up a successful book with another. So, in answer to Madeline’s question: Does not wanting to write a series hurt my chances of becoming just an ounce as popular as JK? The follow-up doesn’t have to be a part of a series, as long as we have more than one story to offer.

2. Hard working. They want authors who will meet deadlines. Authors they can rely on. And authors who won't settle for mediocre work.

3. Flexible. They want authors who will accept advice. I know of a few publishers who will shy away from authors who have an unmoveable vision for their book including how the cover should look. Publishers are there to help us become successful and they have a whole lot more experience than we do.

4. Easy to market. They want authors who want to help promote their book and who have a bit of marketing savvy. For example, an author who has already worked on their platform and has social networking set up.

5. Professional. Someone who is easy to work with, who won’t burn anyone else and embarrass the publishing house.

6. Passionate. An author’s passion for their stories will shine through. It’s not an easy career so we need that passion to keep us going and to sell our stories.

7. Knowledgeable in their craft. They want authors who don’t need to be taught the basics of writing. Publishers are not there to teach us these things.

What else do you think publishers are looking for? Are there any qualities you feel you are stronger in than others?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Guest Post: Cultivating Your Inner Critic

Benoit Lelievre blogs at Dead End Follies, where he likes to talk about writing, reading, movies and pop culture in general. He lives in Montreal, Canada. Thanks, Ben, for writing today’s post:

Let me guess. You follow a hundred, maybe two hundred blogs on your Google Reads and most of them are about writing? You’ve read the books Donald Maass, Ray Bradbury and Lawrence Block wrote on the subject. You have critique partners and attend several workshops. You have faith that you can write a book, but every day, somebody makes you doubt your decision and makes you feel like starting over again.

I’m sorry if this breaks your heart, but none of these people care about your novel. In fact, nobody does. Nobody but you. Until your book is out and published, you’re your biggest fan. I’m not looking to discourage you here. Just to make you realize something. Writing advice will only get you so far. Writing your guts off will make you go the extra mile and reach publication.

Making distance between you, advisors and critics is vital. These are a necessary part of the process, but they don’t control your work. If you feel that something works, despite what the others think, keep it. Take novelist Josh Stallings, for example. The bad guys in his novel BEAUTIFUL, NAKED & DEAD are somewhat cardboardish. They don’t have a strong identity. It’s a big no-no in the writing playbook, but in Stallings’ novel, it works. Because his novel is driven by his famous character, Moses McGuire. It’s about him, his inner demons and his journey to a better life that forever eludes him.

You have to cultivate your inner critic. You will know in your gut if what’s on the page works or not. It’s your story after all. Be your own editor. If you care to make your prose tight and your storytelling fluid, people will start enjoying your stories. Editors will notice you, because you make their lives easier. Let go of the playbook. You’ve read it over and over again. Reading it another time will make you fall into the hell of second guessing. Step up and take responsibility for your work. Until it’s under press, you’re the only one who cares.

Do you find it easy or difficult to trust your own judgement when it comes to your writing? How do you decide who to listen to?

Thanks again, Ben, for a wonderful post on a topic that’s close to my heart.

If anyone would like a guest post spot here, please send me an email.

Also, Jamie at Mithril Wisdom is having a brilliant giveaway. Click here to check it out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Benefits and Drawbacks of Seeking Public Opinion

Bonnie Rae at Just Words recently asked about online forums and communities where she could find critique partners. I have answered this question in a previous post about How to Find a Good Critique Partner. The comments are also helpful. I would like to also add that the online writing conference, WriteOnCon, will be held August 16-18.  She also asked if it might be too risky finding a critique partner this way and that’s what I’d like to focus on in this post.

The Drawbacks:
1. Demoralising Criticism. The moment any of your work goes online it becomes open to criticism. I’m not talking helpful critiquing, constructive help, but harsh criticism from anonymous readers. To cope with these kinds of comments you’ll need tough skin.

2. Property Theft. A writer’s greatest fear is intellectual property theft—well, it’s actually losing an entire manuscript to a computer virus and having no backup copies, but we won’t go there.

If you put anything in electronic format then assume you’ve lost control of it. People will take your property for different reasons:
1. They will take it for profit
2. Because they can
3. Because they oppose digital protection
4. Because they simply liked what you wrote and want to keep it.

If you can live with that, then put it out there.

3. Rights Issues. Once you put your work online it is considered published. You can no longer offer first rights. For this reason, be careful how much you choose to share with the public before you get contracted.

The Benefits:
1. Getting Noticed. I know a few authors who have gained a publishing contract because they shared a portion of their work online. Of course, once contracted, their agent and/or publisher requested the author remove all instances of their work from the web.

2. Learning. If an author is able to sift through the often conflicting comments, they can gain valuable help for their work. Many commenters will take the time to carefully think about your work in the hope that you will do the same for them. You could learn a great deal.

Can you think of other benefits and drawbacks to putting your work online? 

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Social Media Advantage

In the post I left open for questions (found here), many of you asked about the importance of social media to an author’s career. Today, I will answer Suze’s question: If an author had zero social media presence, but had all her other ducks in a row, do you believe not having a presence in social networking would be the dealbreaker if she wanted to go the traditional publishing route?

One of the panel sessions I attended at a writers’ festival, Zoe Walton, publisher of children’s and YA books at Random House Australia, said that it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. One of her authors isn’t comfortable with social media but he is great with answering the emails of his readers. The publishing house has also set up an author page for him. The point of social media is to have some kind of connection with your readers.

There is another point to throwing yourself into social media before you get published – it shows agents and publishers that you are active and willing to do a lot of the hard work. It shows them that you would be easier to market than an author with nothing. As my hubby says, ‘It’s like an ogre with many layers.’ An author has the choice to do a little and hope their stories speak for themselves, or do a lot and gain an advantage.

So, in short, while avoiding social networking will unlikely be a dealbreaker if you have an exceptional concept and story, it can only help.

I expect some may disagree with me on this one. Times are changing rapidly where it’s becoming almost essential to use social media to get anywhere. What is your opinion?

Note: I will tackle some of the more specific questions regarding social networking in another post.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reasons for different POV choices

In my last post I asked if anyone had any questions about writing, publishing, or social media. I got a lot of wonderful responses and fantastic questions. Today I will address Bethany Elizabeth’s question: Could it work to have two different POVs in a story, one third person, one first person?

The simple answer is yes. I have read a book with this kind of double POV with one first person and the other third. I wish I could remember the name of the book, but I do remember it worked well. However, having said that, it’s not a common method. For this reason you may find you’ll have to justify your decision to editors if you decide to go this way.

There are no absolute rules about how to write point of views (POV). Story will often determine how it’s presented. It’s important to ask yourself who is telling the story and why.

First Person:
Example: I am hot. So hot, I sizzle.
First person POV is common in Young Adult fiction because of its sense of immediacy. It gives the readers a chance to get into the head of the main character and experience the story through their eyes. First person can also be limiting because the writer is trapped in the single point of view. Some writers get around that, such as Maggie Stiefvater who wrote SHIVER with two different first person POV’s. She separated the POVs via chapters labelled with the character’s name to remove the confusion.

Second person:
Example: You think you are hot. You strut down the street.
This method is not seen often. It can give the reader a feel of being told what to do. The only time I’ve seen this method is in children’s picture books and in choose your own adventure MG books.

Third person:
Example: Bob thinks he is hot. Hotter than Bertha.
Third person is less personal and can be omniscient or, in some cases, it can be written as if it were first person. Because of this flexibility it’s a lot easier to write in third person. Epics will almost always be written in third person since that kind of story is often bigger than a single character’s experience.

Whatever method you decide to use, just make sure you avoid head jumping where the POV changes mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence. It’s best to separate POVs by sections or chapters.

What POV do you most enjoy writing in? Is there a POV you don’t like reading? Do you have any pet hates regarding POV?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Questions do You Have?

Thanks so much for the birthday wishes here, on Facebook and on Twitter. I had a fantastic birthday. I came close to overdosing on chocolate and I’m afraid of stepping on the scales, but it was so worth it.

Thank you also to Pam over at 2 Encourage for making my writing blog the feature blog of the week. Her reason: ‘I have learned so much from your posts that I want to send people over to glean the gems you've mined from your writing experience.’ I appreciate it more than you know.

Announcement: I will be opening my blog up to the occasional guest writer. If you have a book coming out and/or you’d like to share a writing or social media tip, please send me an email.

Lastly, do you have any questions about writing, publishing, reading or social media? They can be as basic or tricky as you’d like. Just leave your question in the comments and I will do my best to answer them in future posts.

Pic: I went to the Chinese Gardens at Darling Harbour, Sydney, on my birthday.

Friday, July 8, 2011

How to Use Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags are the labels we use to indicate who is speaking: he said, she asked, they exclaimed, Lyn pontificated. The problem with dialogue tags is they are a tell rather than a show. They tell the reader who is speaking. They can also distract from the story like powerlines in a photo. For that reason it’s common to hear advice to keep the tags to a minimum.

Some writers will only use ‘said’ for their tags. At all cost they will avoid all other variations. Maybe they might allow the odd ‘ask’ or ‘reply’ in, but nothing else. Other writers will dress their tags up in froufrou: he instructed, she explained. The options are endless. Often these kind of tags are redundancies. They don’t add anything that’s already obvious in the dialogue.

Apart from the simple ‘said’ tags, I will use ones that add a dimension that’s not already evident in the speech. For example: ‘I hate you,’ he laughed. ‘Get down,’ she whispered.

Sometimes I’ll avoid the tag altogether by describing the character’s action before or after the dialogue. For example: Bob scratched his nose. ‘I don’t get it.’ In this case the need for the tag is eliminated by the action before the dialogue.

Of course, sometimes I let it get away from me. I forget to ask myself why I’m adding in a word and froufrou abounds. For that reason I love my critique partners – along with multiple edits.

Other than the standard ‘said’ tags, what do you use? Have you ever seen or tried an unusual method of dialogue tagging? How successful do you think it was?

A big thanks to Mark Noce for the inspiration for this post. Please visit his great blog here.

This weekend is my birthday weekend. My hubby may be whisking me away to an exotic location (or maybe a winery). Virtual cake for all! OR, if you’d like to make your own, such as the one in the picture, pick up a recipe from Dezz in the Kitchen

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Word Search Checklist

While working on my latest work in progress I wrote down a list of all my favourite overused words. We all have them. These are the words we love to repeat because it’s easy to throw them in while we’re in a mad rush to get the story down.

They are convenient words, but they weaken our prose. They drag our creativity into the realms of laziness. They are perfectly fine for the first draft. However, once you’re satisfied with the structure of the story, they should be culled. Below is a sample of my list:

Almost, be, but, felt, gasp, got, is, just, little, looked, *ly, nice, only, put, quickly, said, sat, scowl, seemed, some, so, suddenly, that, then, very, walked, was, went, were.

Thank goodness for the Find/Replace feature in Word. What are some of your favourite repeat words?

Thanks to Jasmine at An Author’s Ramblings, my newest follower. She inspired this post with her post about the word, ‘that’. Check it out here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4 Ways to Gain More Comments

We all want hits on our blog. We want people to read our words, we want to know we are doing something right and we want to feel like we are part of this great community. There are three ways we know someone has visited our site: a simple hit counter, the site stats, and comments.

Comments, of course, are the most obvious sign not only to ourselves, but to everyone else who visits. I especially love the long, thoughtful comments, the ones that make it clear someone read a post in full and thought about what I said. They don’t have to agree with me. I also love the amusing comments, insightful comments, even the brief, hi-I-was-here-and-appreciate-your-posts comments. Commenting encourages the writer – and writers need a lot of encouragement.

Lurkers are less obvious. They don’t throw themselves as much into the community, but they still appreciate our words. Writers are good with leaving comments because we love to write, however not everyone is a writer. As our blog grows we start to pick up a broader readership and so we will gain more lurkers. I love my lurkers. I wish there was a way of getting to know my lurkers a little better. The only thing I can do is encourage comments.

Ways to encourage comments:
1. Leave discussion questions at the end of each post.
2. Respond to the comments -- and always respond in encouraging ways even when the commenter doesn’t agree with you.
3. Be active, be seen and be helpful.
4. Leave comments on other blogs.

What kind of comments do you like? What kind of comments don’t you like? What is it that encourages you to comment?

Congrats: A huge congratulations to Amie Kaufman for signing with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Magic of Interpretation

During the Writers’ Festival recently I attended a session about picture books. I have no desire to write my own picture book at this stage, but I found the session interesting because of my artistic background.

I didn’t realise most authors don’t get to meet the illustrators of their books until the book launch. They don’t even discuss the book together one on one. Publishers will actively keep them apart because invariably what happens if they do get together is the illustrator will suggest the author change their text and the author will tell the illustrator to change their art.

Publishers don’t want them influencing each other because there is magic in the interpretation. The illustrator will gain so much more from the writer’s text than even the writer.

Likewise, everyone who reads our work will have their own interpretation of it. As writers we need to give our readers room to imagine. We don’t have to lay down every minute detail. We need to create mood and atmosphere, but the real magic happens in the reader’s mind.

What's been your experience of this phenomenon (picture books, movie adaptations, cover art etc)?