Self-Editing 101

  1. Spelling – Even the best spellers make mistakes. Use a software program like Grammarly or WordWeb (both of which have free versions.) Both may catch other errors in word usage – like affect vs. effect – and both do offer a thesaurus so you can find a better word or correct one that’s overused.
  2. One of the first things they may or may not tell you in writing classes or seminars is that in a novel it’s all about action. It’s about doing things. Show don’t tell. People don’t ‘begin’ to do things, they don’t ‘start’ to do things, they DO them. For example – ‘Smoke waited until they were distracted to begin nibbling at her hair again’ vs. ‘Smoke waited until they were distracted to nibble at her hair again.’ Which sounds better? (Smoke is a horse, by the way…) Don’t have your characters begin or start to do anything unless it’s the first in a series of actions. Do a search for begin and start.
  3. Ditto feel and felt. Which sounds better – When he kissed her it felt like she tingled all over -or- When he kissed her she tingled all over? For #2 and #3, a professional editor will often scribble “SDT”. This is not a disease, it means “Show Don’t Tell”. “The best “show don’t tell advice” came from Anton Chekov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
  4. Very or Really. They’re not very happy or really happy, they’re ecstatic or delighted. Use a better, more descriptive word. If nothing comes to mind get a thesaurus.
  5. Search for contractions. For some reason, many writers don’t write in contractions. Especially with ‘had’. He had, she had, rather than he’d or she’d. Be very careful not to do a universal search and replace to correct this or you’ll hate yourself in the morning because once it’s saved you have no other choice but to search the entire document for the awkward mess you made of things. (Always start a new copy when editing, just in case. It’s a lot easier to start over that way.) For example, a universal search and replace for ‘had not’ to ‘hadn’t’ will also change ‘had noticed’ to ‘hadn’ticed’. (This is a personal choice, in a more casual voice like dialogue in fiction, it works, but in more formal writing, it may not.)
  6. ‘There was’. Sometimes it’s justified. Look at each sentence to see if you can rephrase it to make the sentence clearer.
  7. Speaking of there – their (possessive), there (in that direction), and they’re (they are).
  8. *aargh* The dreaded ‘that’. That she, that he, that they… In most cases, the use of the word ‘that’ is completely unnecessary, but we use it in speech so it can sound correct when you write it.
  9. Try not to use that when you mean who. “The man that…” should be “the man who… “
  10. Just and only. Always make sure you really need to use them and that they’re next to the word you want to modify. For example – only costs vs. costs only or it just costs or costs just… Do you really need either?
  11. Was. Jim was shaking his head. Jim shook his head. Always watch for those ‘ing’ words. If you see a lot of them in your writing in conjunction with was, you need to change that sentence to a more active voice. Active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. In passive voice sentences, the subject is acted upon by the verb.
  12. As if/like. Make sure you know which of them you really mean. Do a search for like, and in each place see if ‘as if’ doesn’t sound better.
  13. Watch for split infinitives. Not all of them are bad – to boldly go where no man has gone before, where boldly splits to and go – is generally accepted. “I decided to not go” sounds awkward.
  14. Of…. is another sneaky little beggar. ‘Inside’ works as well as ‘inside of it’ in most cases.
  15. ‘Then’ and ‘and then’ are telling words, don’t use them. For instance: Then he went to sit down. Just say: He sat down. Or…. And then she set a bowl on the table. Just say: She set a bowl on the table. Using then or and then is like a narrator in your book telling us a story, it slows it down. Show, don’t tell.
  16. Do not use really, very, or like. He’s either hot or he’s not. He’s not really hot, or very hot, he’s roasting, burning up, or he’s gorgeous, sexy, etc. She’s not ‘like’ that, she IS that.
  17. Commas. If you have more than two it might be a good idea to look at the sentence and decide if it would work better as two separate sentences. This is DEFINITELY true if you have more than three. For more information on commas and their proper use –
  18. Singular and plural pronouns. When speaking about an individual, the pronoun should be singular, when speaking about a group, it’s plural. Ex. It brought him to their feet. Wrong.
  19. (Although this is primarily a grammar document, it is about writing and this has been seen too often to go unremarked.) Don’t ‘Slug a Nun’, as a well-known writer once said. In other words, when opening a chapter, any chapter, get to the point. Don’t say “Mikey slugged a nun” and then take ten pages, eight of which explain the history of the Catholic Church before you explain WHY Mikey slugged the nun.
  20. Another very common mistake – Her eyes wandered. Please put them back in her head, that’s disgusting. Her gaze might wander, but not her eyes. She might glance at him, their gazes may meet, or lock, etc., or they might stare at each other, but his eyes will never wander over her breasts unless it’s a zombie movie and they’ve gained legs. Some editors might let this go, but you should be able to find a better way to say it.
  21. Watch for sentences that start with the same word or the same type of beginning. He did this, he did that. Change it up so the reader doesn’t get bored.
  22. Too much use of “it” as a subject can make writing weak. Delete the vague pronoun and identify ‘it’ with a solid noun. Not – It felt good to dress up. Try – She enjoyed dressing up.
  23. Do not mix dialogue of one character in the same paragraph as another. Ever. Even if, or especially if, you’re using omniscient point of view. And always identify the person speaking or thinking.
  24. Action and reaction. Sentences need to relay information about the cause before the effect or result. Not – She jumped as the door slammed shut. Try – The door slammed, making her jump.
  25. Eliminate unnecessary words. In the above example – few doors slam open, so it must have slammed shut or closed. So, the door slammed.
  26. Try to avoid prepositional phrases (to her, at him, for her, etc.) that can be implied. Not – Seeing him proved what a distraction he was to her. Try – Seeing him proved what a distraction he was.
  27. Stephen King said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Try to evaluate each adverb (words that end in -ly), especially in conjunction with speaking tags. Replace with stronger words. Not – He leaned close and spoke softly. Try – He leaned close and whispered.
  28. Repeated words: There’s a function in Word that shows words you overuse, but a beta reader or editor can be a better choice. Sometimes it’s justified – a character tic.
  29. How often do you use ‘look’? Try variations like glanced, gazed, stared, their eyes met, saw.
  30. Said, but don’t get too caught up it. Studies have shown that said is a word that readers eyes pass over, registering only who is speaking.
  31. Starting a sentence with But when you could use However.
  32. Starting a sentence with And. Can you rework it? It’s acceptable, but too much or too often is a bad thing.
  33. Redundant actions: stood up. How else would you stand? Sat down – try sat. Nodded his head – just use nodded, if he’s nodding anything else it’s just weird.
Also, consider picking up The Elements of Style. It’s a small, thin book, perfect to keep beside your laptop or desktop computer. It answers some of those pesky grammar questions.
For style suggestions, try Hemingway Editor, a software program that highlights lengthy, complex sentences, common errors, and passive voice. Always be careful taking the advice it or other programs offer – you don’t want to sound too mechanical or lose your authors ‘voice’.
One last little hint. By not doing a read-through sentence by sentence but using search instead, it forces you to look at each sentence individually, in isolation. It makes it much easier to spot errors you might otherwise have missed or to question the wording of the sentence. Try reading it aloud, or use text to voice to read it back, that may help you pick up errors in flow.


Writing series/sequels

Looks like a good bookFirst, readers love series/sequels. However, the next book in any series should always be a standalone book, that is unless you really want to annoy your readers. And you should only write it because you have more to say, because you like the world in which you wrote it, or because you love the characters so much that you want to spend more time with them. Because if you did, your readers probably will, too.

If you’re going to write a sequel, though, don’t assume that a reader read book one. They may only have seen an intriguing cover or read the blurb for book two or three. I know of one writer who took a lot of backlash because her ‘sequel’ required readers to have read book one – they felt it was a cheat, that book two was just a way to make them buy book one. That’s why every book in the series should stand on its own.

You also have to be careful not to rehash all the info in book one in book two. It should be organic, as part of the story, something that can be shared via dialogue between two characters or as a memory. New readers need to know those shared experiences, so they understand what motivates the characters, why they’re friends or enemies. (Ditto Books Three, Four, and so on.) If you do your job right, then your readers will want to know more, and they’ll read Book One.

When you market Book Two, market it on its own merits. If you set it up correctly, the subtitle and cover will let readers know it’s part of a series. Series can be challenging for just that reason.

If you knew you were going to write a sequel to Book One, or a series, it’s much easier. Just make sure you actually have those books written. Or at least Book Two, with Book Three in-process, if it will be a series. There is nothing worse for a reader than having a writer talk about a sequel or series, but then they don’t deliver. If you didn’t, it gets complicated. For one thing, you need to join the books under a series name. Hopefully, you have an idea what that will be. It also means you’ll need to go back to book one and add that series name to the listing for the book. Ideally, too, the books should have similar covers. Those covers will automatically announce that there is a connection between the books. Without it, it makes it difficult for readers to know it’s a series. That may mean you need to purchase new covers, or contract with your original cover artist to produce a similar one. Similar covers will tell readers that it’s part of a sequel or series, reassuring them that they’ll find more books by their new favorite writer.

And nothing sells Book One like Book Two.

Author Marketing Live! – Part Two

Yes, it really did need two posts! There was a LOT of information! I was getting overwhelmed, so if I misrepresent things, forgive me!

AMLHunter Boyle spoke about using e-mail to keep in contact with your fans and to build your fan base. He also advocated setting higher expectations, creating e-mail connections with the offer of a freebie. Create a compelling call to action – i.e. Sign up now to receive a free excerpt or copy of “Title” – so people will sign up to your newsletter or e-mail.

There was also discussion of using (I have a newspaper) by directing it to fans of your genre(s), and to help promote other writers. Connect with authors in your genre(s) and interact with them and their fans. DON’T promote. If those fans like you, and like your input, they’re more likely to check out your writing.

Deb Carney of Bookgoodies and Vinnie O’Hare from Awesomegang were a great tag team. (Another appears later.) If you’re not using their pages, you should be. Both are very AwesomeGang125generous in helping indie/self-published writers. They discussed Fast and Easy Ways to find your True Fans and Rabid Readers with Social media. They talked about using Hootsuite effectively and other twitter software like Shareist, Buzzsumo and Click2Tweet. They broke down each very effectively. I suggest experimenting with things like Hootsuite.

Andrea Vahl is a Facebook marketing Expert, and she advised not using boosts, but rather targeted ads – putting money in your pocket, not Mr. Zuckerberg’s, he’s rich enough. Track your progress. Do split testing – running the same ad with differences in focus or description. Run conversion tracking. How many clicks became sales?

As many of you may know, I’m a huge proponent of having professional covers made by professional cover artists. Derek Murphy echoed what I, and many of my cover artist friends, often advise – don’t expect a cover artist to recreate that great scene from the book. For one thing, that scene is probably too busy. Since all cover artists use stock art (even the Big Five) it’s very difficult to find an image that will match, and to create it will be that much more expensive. Earlier in the day, J. Thorn had shown the difference between a self-made cover, a professional cover, and the difference they made in sales.
As a cover artist, Derek was able to show that even more clearly by showing and discussing the difference between a good cover and a great one. He advocates using faces to help convey the basic emotion of the book. What was refreshing about him was his willingness to help self-publishers. For a full cover he’s probably outside the range of most new writers, but he does offer advice on how to improve the cover you have. He has a webpage called help those who want to create their own covers. He also created a neat little program where you can post your cover and folks – including him – will vote whether it’s effective or not. If he thinks he can help make your cover better, he’ll contact you. (Don’t expect him to do that for free!)

The closing/keynote address was delivered by the other tag-team – Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt from the Self-Publishing podcast. One of their key points was the difference between strategy and tactics. Tactics is running a freebie, strategy is using freebies effectively as part of an overall plan while also remaining flexible. That was another point – being willing to pivot – to make changes. My other favorite phrase – The only constant is change. You have to be willing to change, too.
For all of you who thing that the gatekeepers have gone away, you’re wrong. There are more than ever. They used to be the editors for the Big Five. Now there are new gatekeepers – they’re called readers. You need to engage and connect with them, and you do that by being personal and personable. Act professional. Put out a professional product.

If this seems to be a little overwhelming, take it in bites. Get edited. Check to see if your cover art is effective. Keep writing. The number of one-book-wonders can be measured on one hand, maybe two if you stretch it.
When you’re not writing take a look at other authors in your genre, or that interest you. Like their page and interact with them and their fans. Set up your first audiobook with ACX. Learn a new promotional program – like Hootsuite, – the following week.
Congratulations, you’re an authorpreneur.

Author Marketing Live Seminar – Part One

AMLI’ll be honest, I was half afraid that the seminar would be nothing more than a sales pitch, but it wasn’t. Even the sponsors didn’t promote, which was refreshing. (And made it more likely for someone like me to recommend their services.) The speakers were by and large very informative and sometimes funny. Some of it was more geared toward non-fiction than fiction, but even that had some value to indie/self-published writers. For me, the most informative speakers were content marketer and author Joe Pulizzi, horror/dystopia writer J. Thorn, social media providers Deb Carney (Book Goodies) and Vinny O’Hare (Awesomegang) , Facebook marketing guru Andrea Vahl (Don’t use Boost), cover artist Derek Murphy, and authors/podcasters Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt (although they went on a little too long). Okay to break it down: Joe Pulizzi talked about finding the niche between your book and your readership, and how to reach the last. (There was a strong drive toward e-mail subscripting throughout the day).  Find your influencers, successful writers in your genre. He also talked about finding 4 – 1 – 1 – the spot between influencers, content, and translating those to a sale of your book. 4-1-1 is also the divisions of marketing – 4 posts/twitters about yourself, one about your content, and one about ‘buy my book’. He talked about the three-legged stool – offering e-books, print and digital versions of your books. He spoke about using popovers rather than popups – especially using software like Pipity – in conjunction with e-mail subscriptions, and using keywords to make it easier for programs like Google to find you and your book.

J. Thorn

He looks younger in person

Horror/Dystopia writer J. Thorn was a riot. Like so many early self-publishers he made the same mistakes most most of us did – not getting properly edited and creating his own covers. I give him major kudos for humorously posting on-screen those early reviews – if you thought yours were bad, his were worse. (This is literature?) It was really funny. Fortunately, and wisely, he also realized that many of those early reviewers were right, and took the necessary steps to improve. He hired an editor and a professional cover artist. He definitely recommends outsourcing those skills. (He’s a techie so he does format his own books. I recommend hiring a formatter, too, if you don’t have the same tech skills.) He also advocates not reading your reviews once you’ve dealt with those issues. Reviews are for readers, not for writers, and not everyone is going to like your writing. (Where have you heard that before? *grins*) He also emphasized the importance of having multiple books. He used gardening references, like watering your garden – finding better ways to promote your books. Books, plural. Nothing sells book one like book two. Find marketing sites. Make changes to the book. Do revisions. Try different descriptions. Use Amazon’s Select, or find another way to run your book free. Price pulsing (run one price during the week, another on the weekend, or some variation thereof). Use #mondayblogs.  Do series! Do boxed sets of your series, or in conjunction with other writers. He talked about weeding the garden. In his early days he wanted to write fantasy, and did. Those were the books that garnered some of those horrible reviews. He had them properly edited and hired a great cover artist. As time went by, though, he realized he enjoyed writing horror and dystopia, and wanted to read more, but there wasn’t more out there. So he wrote the kind of novels he wanted to read. And that’s what every self-published writer should do – write what you want to read. Back to weeding the garden. Those early novels? He took them down. One of the truisms of writing is that you really have to write a lot, and keep writing, until you find your voice, your niche.  Most of that early work will be crap. I wrote several full books, and scrapped them, before I wrote something I felt so compelled to write – and write well – that I couldn’t deny it. (Personal advice – never delete those early works. You may be able to rework them, or the idea. Some of mine I still have, and may revisit.) There’s also no Kindle Gold Rush. Those days are gone. He did suggest using Kindle Select, but also branching out to other vendors, and also using promotional tools like #mondayblogs, price pulsing (running one price during the week, another on the weekend) or experimenting with pricing, and the importance of writing series and creating boxed sets of those series. He also spoke about the need to work with others with no expectation of return – creating boxed sets of similar books – to build your name and associate it with other successful writers. Using his methods, he went from selling two books per day to selling 200 per day. David Lawrence from ACX spoke about using audiobooks as another leg to your stool – another method of providing content for your readers. He’s done TV and lots of audacxLogoio. (I have to be honest here, I just started with the audio experience. It started out good, but didn’t finish that way. I was hoping to learn how to find a new, moreopen-minded narrator. The response I didn’t want was the one I got – “I can’t help you.”) However, there was a lot of useful information in his talk, including the biggest mistake that most writers make about those who provide services to authors – expectations. Expecting the narrator to sound like the voice in your head. Expecting them to understand the names and terms you use. They can’t read your mind, or duplicate what’s in it. Work with them. What seems obvious to you isn’t to them.

The Only Constant is Change

All of the Harry Potter books written by J. K....

J. K. Rowling has been taking a few hits lately in social media – first because she (or her publisher) decided to change the covers of the Harry Potter books and second because of her decision to publish her mystery novel under a different name.

Changes though, are sometimes necessary. Take that mystery for example. How many people might have mistakenly purchased it and given that book to their children under the notion that Rowling only writes children’s books. How many, having read the Harry Potter books, would have passed it up as “written by that children’s author” as they did with that last novel she wrote? She still has stories to tell, and not all are Harry Potter, how would she get past that bias to write a different kind of book? So, she wrote under a different name, and proved she could write mysteries well.

And then there’s those covers. Personally, I’m not surprised. How long have those books been out? So they wanted to put a fresh face on them.

So what’s the point of all this?

I listen – sometimes daily – to a lot of Indie writers complain about their book sales and/or lack thereof, and I wish they’d do something first… take a good hard look at their books.

First, look at the cover. I see quite a few really awful covers out there. Really awful. No matter how gifted an artist you/your wife/daughter/son/whatever is, unless they have a degree in graphic design, it will look like crap. There are some great pre-made covers out there that are fairly inexpensive. Or you can hire someone.

Are your sales okay, but not great? Maybe your cover isn’t working for you. Try another

Are your sales dropping? Even if your book has a professionally done cover, like J. K. Rowling you’re not off the hook. You need to drawn attention to that book again. Everyone has seen that cover. If they were interested in it once, and wanted to buy it, they may just bypass it again because its familiar, it’s been there for a while, and there are new books out there to try. Maybe they’ll come back and try yours later, they think. You need to catch their attention, help them remember what appealed to them.

That would be your blurb – the book description – and maybe the ‘Look inside the Book’ feature.

So, take a look at your blurb. A blurb should entice, should draw the reader in with just enough information to make them want to read more. The shorter the book, the shorter the blurb – few sentences to a paragraph – the longer the book, the longer the blurb – but no more than two or three short paragraphs. *sticking fingers in ears to block out the screams of “How do I condense my story that small?!”  Write it, hone it, take out unnecessary words, and don’t tell the whole story in the blurb. Don’t give spoilers.

As far as the “Look inside the book” feature…I’m not going to go into the value of an editor, however I will say that readers are forgiving, but not that forgiving. More than one error in those first few pages are a fast way to turn a reader off.

So, don’t be afraid to embrace change. Corporations change advertizing all the time. They try something and if it doesn’t work, they try something else. So should you. Change is not your enemy and can sometimes be your friend.

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How many, how often?

Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

“How many books should I write, how often should I release them?” That’s a question I hear a lot as an administrator to a writer’s page, next to, ‘How do I become a rich and famous Indie writer.’ Or any kind of writer.

There is no simple answer, but I’ll do the best I can.

I once read that you should have at least three books written before you submit to a traditional publisher – and I think that still holds true for traditionally published and indie writers.  There were several reasons for that maxim. One of the primary ones is that very few writers become rich and famous with one book – barring a few notable exceptions. Another is simpler – both publishers and readers want to know that if they fall in love with your writing, there will be more of your books to read.

The new question is – How often?

That used to be dictated by the traditional publishers. Those publishers had thousands of books to release over a given year, and they didn’t want to saturate the market with a particular writer. If the author’s first book showed legs, they were more likely to produce and promote book two, if there was one. Knowing a writer had more books in their back pocket helped.

There was also a life cycle for traditionally published books – print for six months or so, paperback, then the new release a few months to six months after that. Especially for Christmas and pre-summer releases. Like motion pictures, publishers wanted to get the most bang for their buck. How many of you have waited impatiently for the next new book in a series? Only to find out the release date is six months out, so you pre-order it? (Giving the traditional publisher a pretty good idea of what their print run should be.) And then went searching for a similar writer to get your reading fix?

That, by the way, guaranteed them an income from that writer for at least a year or year and a half. With a second book, two years. Because another maxim was also true – book one sold book two, book two sold more of book one, and a third book would sell more of both of the others. (Otherwise known as the now-nearly-defunct back list.)

Fortunately or unfortunately, Indie writers don’t have the luxury of a large marketing department and a given reader base, so we have to create a new paradigm for ourselves. But that last maxim still holds true for us. Book one sells book two, etc. How many people have seen writers hawking the same book endlessly – to the point that you’re tired of seeing it? How many of you are inclined to buy said book, knowing that there isn’t another (or they’d have mentioned that book two is ‘coming soon’?) At a guess, not many.

And that maxim of putting books out regularly has been proven. From Amanda Hocking to Hugh Howey to Jasinda Wilder, all have proven that getting new books out regularly has made them successful. Hocking built a  reader base that helped push her books along, Hugh Howey released the Wool as a serial, and Wilder put out  (with her husband) about a book a month until she hit the right chord.

Do you want to be a successful well-known writer like Jasinda Wilder or Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking? Then you have to get your name out, you have to keep it in the eyes of readers. Marketing alone won’t do that. Write a compelling book, get it edited, and while it’s being edited, write another. Get a decent cover artist. Release that first book while the second is being edited, then write the third. In the meantime, talk to people, do interviews, join FB groups. Talk about your works in progress so readers know there are more coming.

More than anything though, write what you’re compelled to write. Only Jasinda Wilder – that I know of -deliberately chose to write a certain genre. Then she and her husband got every romance/erotic romance they could find and read them – the ones that worked and the ones that didn’t. (Proof that reading your genre helps find your market.) She didn’t really hit it big – although they were making money, until she wrote Falling into You – a story of heartache, loss and healing that appeals to women readers. First, though, she built her name.

There is no easy way, but the easier way is to write, and write a lot. Put out new well-written, well-edited, books as quickly as you can. Indie writers have the ability to set their own time frame, and it doesn’t have to be tied to the traditional release cycle.

Wilder did about a book a month. A writer friend of mine does three different series and puts out three books a month – one in each. Her small publisher assigned her an editor of her own. She’s hit the USA Today bestseller lists. Yes, those two examples are romances or erotica – sex does sell. But Hugh Howey does post apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi. Most indie writers do genre writing. Find your niche, fill it, and write. After all, isn’t that what writers do?

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Care and feeding of an indie author – aka, look after yourself

One of the major things I do have quite a bit to say after that extended hiatus is the ‘care and feeding’ of your muse, yourself and your immediate family.  I don’t mean ‘earn enough to buy food’,  because if that’s your goal, you really should probably be looking elsewhere to at least supplement our income. I mean ‘looking after thyself’.

I didn’t…

The big problem with looking after myself is in short, I just don’t.  I don’t look after myself, I find it practically impossible to do so and I do feel at the best of times that I’m fighting a losing battle when considering what I should be doing at any given time.  Writing and working from home has two major drawbacks (in amongst the good stuff).

  1. It’s lonely – not good for your mental health, not one bit.  Even introverts need to talk to people outside their immediate sphere of reference every once in a while.  If you’re a true hermit and can get on with just your family, consider this – contact with others broadens our mind as much as reading books.  It’s a psychologically proven fact that humans can only cope with around 150 connections (the size of a small village) at any given time – so having only four is potentially damaging.
  2. More important than that though, you’ve got to learn to deal with the outside world in general, or you’ll really not cope at conventions etc.  And while there are exceptions to this rule, the vast majority of us aren’t that special.
    Me, I’m anti-social, unless it’s to do with the Nanowrimo or Uni.  There’s no time to be shy when people are watching me though, so I cope quite well with conventions too – but I put myself in a position of dealing with 40+ people in a month at least once a year (Nanowrimo) so that seems to help.
    What doesn’t help is most of my social connections are online – so on balance, I’m probably not doing my mental health much good at all.
  3. Exercise, diet and fresh air – those of us who are parents might not struggle *as much* with this, but the average work at home freelancer doesn’t leave the house often.  Perhaps once or twice a week at most.  We eat badly, we’re not particularly mobile and of course, when the summer rolls around it’s too sunny to work outside – in winter, it’s probably too cold.  In other word, excuses.
    Running is actually a good way to let your brain process the scenes you’re stuck on though – or at least, I’ve found that.

I used to run three times a week – I was about nine weeks into Couch to 5k when we were in a car accident which injured my shoulder.  No more running so far – my shoulder aches too much.  As I already mentioned, I’m horribly antisocial, so all that leaves me is exercise in the house.  Zumba, twice a week, and another xbox based exercise game for me, plus I try to eat well.
And from this week, whenever it’s warm/sunny enough, I will be outside, at my teak garden table, or on my front doorstep with my laptop, getting some sun.

Feeding your muse

And don’t forget your muse in all this – read – watch interesting programs, talk to people.  Do stuff that interests him or her 😉  It might seem silly but what goes in, eventually comes out – so if you’re putting good quality stuff in, it’s bound to translate and come out again in your own work.
Reading poorer quality books is a waste of time in most cases, unless you’re specifically interested in seeing what they’re doing wrong.
Which leads me to…

If you’re happy, your family is too

One of the last things I wanted to touch on was happiness.  It’s difficult to quantify that for other people, so here’s a thought.  I’m often told by my doctor that if I’m happy, my family is too, and that’s true.  Make yourself happy, and you’ll have the tools to deal with whatever is ailing your family, if anything is.

What do you think?  And what makes you happiest of all – let us know in the comments – we love dialogue!

Please note – this disclaimer practically appears every time I write about mental health – there is no shame in dealing with mental health issues – and if you need help, you should seek it whenever you can.  

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TSTL – Too stupid to live

Pleating to the sett

Pleating to the sett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I heard this once from an editor because my heroine went to a fight wearing skirt. Which would probably come as a bit of a shock to any Scot wearing a kilt, and a few martial artists as well. As someone who took martial arts training – in a standard gi – I can tell you that trying to do high side kicks in jeans would have been a bit… binding.

The interesting thing is that the term is only applied to women characters. No man wearing a kilt would have been described that way, and I read a few male characters who deserved the title. *laughing*

On the reverse side, I once had a reviewer (female) ask ‘why did she go’? Meaning, why did the queen go to defend the stair to give the King and their son a chance to escape, although I gave exactly that explanation. (Just to show that the bias is shared by women, or that they’ve been trained to believe the myth.)

Neither question would be asked of men.

Few people – certainly few Americans – are taught that women fought in every war since time immemorial. The British have several examples of powerful women – Elizabeth I, Victoria and even Margaret Thatcher – yet they, too, turn a blind eye to some of their history. There’s always been a bias about women in battle, especially in our traditions. Women are victims (probably a factor in the rape of military women) or mothers. In fact, even when faced with direct controversial evidence of the bias and blindness about women in combat, archeologists simply ignored it when faced with it. So much so that when I commented on it at another site, I was called on it by someone who considered himself an expert.

Someone, though, corrected the misconception better than I can…

One of my favorite unsung books involves the deed of Paksenarrion – a farm girl who becomes a warrior.

In this age of negative images of women – even down to taking away Merida’s (from Brave) bow and sexualizing her – there are some great examples of magnificent, flawed, powerful women like Paks. I read one review – by a woman – who didn’t like Lessa of The Dragonriders of Pern because she was too tough. Lessa was tough, and strong. Anne McCaffrey – who wrote the Pern series – wrote a lot of strong women characters. Ditto the Heralds of Valdemar series.

So if you’re looking for books featuring great, strong, interesting women you could read any of those. (Or mine *grins*)

More importantly, consider going against stereotypes – many of them are wrong. Consider breaking the mold – have a not so heroic hero like Mal Reynolds in Firefly… but try to stay away from whiny, moody… Whoops, my bias is showing!


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Be a little… different

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ”Ancient Temple with Supermoon Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon gave us cowboys in space – just look at the way Nathan Fillion was dressed – right down to the ‘companion’ with a heart of gold, the preacher and the doctor all along for the ride. He just did it a little differently, with a touch of sci-fi, made the hero more realistic, and the gunslinger a science experiment who could kick some serious butt.

Dragons had been done, and done well, by Anne McCaffrey, in her Dragonriders series, but Christopher Paolini gave them new life in Eragon. Vampires have been terrifying, then sexy and finally moody and sparkly, while werewolves have evolved into a multitude of weres – none of them sparkly. Not yet. Even zombies have gotten a makeover.

Elves and fairy have generally been portrayed as cold and distant, with the exception of Tolkien, and Dwarves have run the gamut, but are still generally seen as small with beards. Sometimes they smoke pipes.

So what brought this post on you ask?

Two things.

One, a blog post by a writer who could not get people to read her/his literate sci-fi novel. Out of frustration said writer wrote a ‘trashy’ erotica novel because that seemed to be popular. Sales numbers blew through the roof. The curse of sameness. Or at least similarity. Erotica is hugely popular. I have no complaints about that since write it, too. It was a little tactless to readers to refer to it as trash and tactless as well to those writers who only wish they could see those kind of numbers. But the writer’s point that more literate novels don’t get the same attention as erotica had some validity.

Which was the other point.

Since the advent of the sparkly vampires there have been dozens of similar moody, angst-ridden vampires. Lots of stories about shape-changers. Some of them are pretty original. Some not so much. I do wish sometimes that the women seemed less in heat.

With the arrival of 50 Shades of Grey it seems the majority of erotica novels I read about are BDSM. Personally, not a turn-on . And, I’d like to see something different from Doms. Don’t get me wrong, if you enjoy them I’m happy for you.

50 Shades, though, started off as fan fiction of Twilight – and it worked.

No one has written a new Harry Potter, but the popularity of it probably made way for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Which stands on its own merits.

No criticism intended, but… why not try to write the next new big thing like he did?

For myself, I like writing something a little different, a new take, or an entirely different genre. I’m not trying to write that next new big thing because that’s a crapshoot, but I am writing something unique to me. Sometimes, most times, that’s enough.



It’s a Writer’s Life for me….

"Writing", 22 November 2008

Midnight, eyes shoot open… oh what a wonderful idea! Seeing the castle, and the flames, hearing the shouts of the fighters, the clash and clangor of swords and shields. Slips out of bed to keep from waking significant other and hurries to the computer, tripping over cat in the dark. Whispers, ‘sorry, sorry’, pats cat, and sits down at keyboard. Pours a glass of wine. Music, I need music in the background. Cues up one album. No that’s not right. Cues up another. Better. Okay, okay. Fingers start tapping on the keys as the scenes flow, as dialogue is exchanged. Okay, okay, this is working. It’s wonderful, like watching a movie, with the characters moving around, the scenery projected onto the black night. No, wait, what happened? That’s not exactly right… Don’t fix it now, do that on the second draft, keep going with the flow…if you stop to fix everything so it’s perfect you’ll never get finished. Keeps writing as the doubts and anxiety creep in. Is it any good? Will anyone even like this? Drinks wine. I like it. I love it. But will anyone else? Keep writing, keep going. It’s good, it’s fine… Beloved character dies. Oh, I so did not see THAT coming. Typing through tears shared with the other characters, and, hopefully, the reader. So glad that hopefully has been certified as a good word, it wasn’t always. Sips wine, wipes tears, keeps writing. Wait. I thought that character was a bad guy, but he actually just wants to do what he thinks is best from his point of view. Interesting. Bad things happen to good characters. Making the villain real, getting inside his head – not a pleasant place to be. He does what to the hero? Or the heroine? A frantic rescue. Desperately hoping that what’s being written isn’t trite, trying to avoid writing what’s already been written by others. Stomach cramping, nerves working, is it any good? Keep writing. So tired, but I can’t stop now or I might lose the story. Exhausted, tumbles into bed. Waking, grabs something that can be eaten while typing. Working from the beginning, getting caught up in the story again. Sees how to fix that one scene to make it better. Tightens up this sentence, clarifies the actions of the fight scenes, picks up the next scenes, keeps writing. Fighting anxiety. It’s good, it’s good, isn’t it? Thank heavens for dishwashers. Feeds cat. Significant other on his own. Sleep, wake, write.

First draft done. Tries to walk away. Can’t. Still caught up in the characters. Starts second draft, cries through death of beloved character – again. Keeps going. Looks at what’s written. Doubt creeps in. It’s crap, garbage. No one will want to read it. Pours a glass of wine. Finish it, finish the book. Keeps working. This word would be better here. Oh, actually, this part isn’t bad, it’s actually pretty good. Okay, okay. Gets wrapped up in the story again. The end. Oh, when did that happen?

Feels oddly lost and out of sync.

Saves file in multiple places having lost a story or two to computer hell. Gets up, trying to stay away from the story. Leave it be. Moves between despair and hope. Is it any good?

Returns to real life. Cuddles with significant other, pets cat, does chores. Responds or clears out 153 unanswered e-mails, talks to friends.

Receives edits from another story from editor. Winces at the notes in the margins, at the corrections. It’s crap, it’s all crap. I can’t write. It’s all garbage. Note from editor – ‘I really like this scene’. Maybe not so much crap. Still, a glass of wine is needed as editing is done, stomach tightening. Why did I want to be a writer again? This story is good, though, isn’t it? My editor thinks so. Maybe it is all just garbage, and I’m just fooling myself.

Take break from edits to check e-mail to find a bad review on another story. The timing, with my edits, could not have been worse. Sixteen good reviews but one bad one sends me into a tail-spin. This one is particularly unpleasant, confirming all my doubts and fears. Said good reviews notwithstanding. Stupid, but true.

Pushing on through editing. The story really isn’t bad. Gets caught up in it again. Okay, maybe it’s pretty good. Finishes edits with relief. It’s actually not bad. But is it ready for prime-time? It’s as good as I can make it. Sends to be formatted. They catch two typos. *facedesk* Fixed, it goes live in two weeks. At least we caught them, but there could still be more despite all the eyes on it. Stomach twisting. It’s time, though.

Checks e-mail. Finds  a nice review. HURRAY!!!

Picks up new story, finally, for polishing before sending to editor, fighting anxiety. Is it any good? Settles down with glass of wine and starts from the beginning. Gets drawn into the story again. It’s the kind of book I want to read, but will readers? I did something in this book that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, and the logic of it held, but will people like it or hate it? Polishes and tightens, finds particularly crappy passage. Ack! What was I thinking? Is it too emotional? Not emotional enough? Rewrites, rewrites. Okay, better… maybe even good. Good enough to send to my editor? Maybe, possibly, probably. Stomach in knots. Hits Send. No, no, I want to take it back. Maybe I should take another swing at it? No, I did the best I could. Applied the Elements of Style, etc. Now there’s just the waiting, and the glimmer of another story.

Doing the dishes the glimmer becomes more of a real story… What music? Okay, that will work. Settles down at keyboard and gets lifted up by the new story, exhilarated and ecstatic as the images come, and the characters speak….

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