Sunday, March 29, 2009

Op-Ed-The ugly side of writing

A quick scan of various writer's loops I belong to has revealed a few things. We as writers are more critical of popular works of fiction then any critic. I'm reading blogs and e-mails where authors are grumbling about books, bad story lines, poorly written words, throwing books against the wall, pulling their hair out about why this trend in fiction is "flying off shelves" and not their trend. Aren't people tired of (insert whatever trend you can't break into here) vampires, werewolves, born-again preaching, sweeping fantasy epics, Navy Seals, Templar knights, international wars, gun runners, pirates, etc. etc. etc.

We gang up on stuff we can't sell but is popular- "Chicklit is dead for a had no plot!" Picture various writers who couldn't break into the Chicklit market dancing with glee around a bonfire of Chicklit books, stabbing it with their steely knives-baring vampire fangs...

Meanwhile another group waits in the dark edges for the vampire to die...secretly throwing vampire books at walls, muttering how Stephanie Meyer doesn't deserve her acclaim or money because she clearly is a bad writer. When the vampire trend is over-and it will go away for a while- they will come out to dance with glee around the bonfire of yet another trend they themselves couldn't break into.

It happened to the angel trend- it happened to the historical trend- it happened to westerns...

Why so much animosity? (Trust me, I am not immune. I have been known to utter the words "God hates me." I've been known to feel as if it's all some cosmic joke-to give me the talent, the drive, the story sight and then leave out the luck portion that will actually allow me to use all that to support myself.) In my opinion, it all boils down to the random acts of God that is the publishing business. What you have is a bunch of control freaks*-yes, as writers of fiction we are control freaks-who can't control readers, markets, publishers or trends. It why humans are superstitious- even the most talented sports player wears a lucky shirt/socks/shoes/hat because he knows that as good as he is-this game, this tournament has elements that are beyond his control. It's why farmers do everything they can for good crops but mostly pray to God for good weather.

So-take a bunch of control freaks-feed them "rules" of story and grammar and trends- tell them they are good at what they do, maybe even great- then shove them in a room full of chaos where success is a matter of dumb luck. Watch the frustration grow. What you get is people banding together to weather the storm of loss, waiting in the darkness for the perceived winners to fall from grace, building bonfires when they do.

As tempting as it is, it's really not helpful. It doesn't change the market. Throwing books, howling that so and so is a bad writer, bemoaning the fact that humor has been lost, desperately chasing trends, none of these things will change the random, subjective world writers live in...

Yes- it's crazy and UNFAIR and sometimes harsh, but look around people. Its life. So, let's all take a deep out....and find a story we can control...pour our efforts into the plot and conflict and characters we create. (Sure, take a moment to bemoan, but only a moment. Then remember the serenity prayer.) And most importantly, allow the successful to have their success-someday-it might just be you.

*Fiction writers are the ultimate control freaks. We are little gods. We say what color the sky is. We say what the hero/heroine looks like, how they feel, what they think, what they like or dislike. We control the weather, the cities, the houses. We create religions. We create good and evil and peace and conflict. We murder. We bring people back from the dead. We create heaven and hell. We control every word, every nuance, and grumble when the editor wants to mess with it. Maybe even choose to ignore what they say...Yeah- control freaks.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

WAG, part 5

“WAG #5: Life In Motion” Sometimes it’s good to approach writing like taking a photograph with words. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that a scene is always in transition. For this week’s adventure, sit in a good observation spot and notice how the scene in front of you changes from one minute to the next. Has the light changed? The sounds? The people? What’s different now compared to when you first arrived? Is there anything you can see (or hear, smell, etc) that is changing right in front of you? Be creative and break the rules! This week is all about change!

From my office:

I am sitting at my desk with my view of the world next to my right shoulder. The outside sun is weak as it enters through the window bringing in white/grey light and dim shadow. As I sit typing--fingers in motion-- the bird sounds change from red-wing black bird to a flock of starlings. Cold wind gusts make the window rattle and moan, then grow silent. A train rumbles through in the far distant. Heat clicks on and blows up the curtains. My little dog Grace pitter pats in, her small feet rustle the carpet. She sniffs the brown pillows on the floor by my chair, turns three times and lays down with a sigh. A roar from the downstairs tele raises up the stairwell as the televised crowd enjoys a basketball game. Downstairs someone is cooking-garlic, warm bread, tomato. Wait is that a snow flake outside? What happened to Spring? The kitchen smells grow stronger-toasted bread, is that soup? The digital clock ticks as the red glowing numbers change. I get up and move out the door. Time for lunch.

Is it cheating to write from my office? Hmmm. Great exercise. Thanks to Nixy Valentine. To read the other WAG members- click on Nixy's blog and follow the list. Also, feel free to join in- instructions for adding your link to the list are also posted on Nixy's blog.

Until next week!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Guest Blogger L. Diane Wolfe on Hitting the Wall

It is my pleasure to introduce my first guest blogger, L. Diane Wolfe.

Known as “Spunk On A Stick”, L. Diane Wolfe conducts seminars on promoting, leadership and goal setting. She began writing as a teenager and was inspired to return by the adage that everyone needs “something to hope for and someone to love.” The author loves people, and her optimism is fueled by her spunky, sanguine personality. Wolfe does not believe in the word impossible and is willing to do whatever it takes to spread the message of hope found within her series.

Today, she is sharing her enthusiasm with us and discussing tips to help when a writer "hits the wall." Please welcome, L. Diane Wolfe.

Hitting the Wall

Hitting the wall. Losing one’s muse. Grinding to a halt. These phrases describe a very discouraging situation also known as writer’s block. Why does it happen and what can we do to correct the problem?
Creative difficulties occur for a number of reasons. Perhaps things were running smoothly and then our story ran out of gas. Maybe we have grown careless with our processes and habits, rendering us unprepared for challenges. Our enthusiasm may wane, draining all motivation. Bottom line – we hit a wall when we lose sight of our goal. Without a clear target, we begin to drift and our story may stall.
How can we prevent the proverbial wall from appearing? How can writers apply the power of defined goals to their situation?
An outline provides a writer with a clear path to follow. Writing without an outline is like driving without a map –we don’t know where we’re going. A basic synopsis, complete with ending, will keep our story flowing forward. With an outline, we always have the option of skipping ahead to the next scene just to keep creativity flowing, thus preventing writer’s block from stopping us cold.
An outline will also keep us from wandering from our original idea. Think of all the time we save when we stop chasing rabbits! A physical outline is far more effective than a mental one, too. Our brilliantly conceived story will hold our interest if we can view concrete ideas and plans. Relying on the wisp of an idea in our minds is too vague and eventually leads to frustration. Write out the basic plot and set it in stone.
It takes more than an outline, though. The real strength of our resolve to stay on target resides between our ears! Our attitude and determination will play a pivotal role in our ability to move past obstacles. How strong is the desire to see our vision develop into a tangible story that others can enjoy? It will not matter how well constructed the outline if the story does not ignite the fire in our soul.
Is it really that simple? An outline and our attitude? Yes, because all it really takes to overcome any challenge or problem is a dream and a desire!
So, make preparations before the wall appears on the horizon and the inspirational muse goes missing. Plan a course of action and get excited about the journey. Remember, we don’t have time for obstacles in our path. We’ve got a story to write!

- Author & professional speaker, L. Diane Wolfe

Wolfe’s newest title, “Overcoming Obstacles With SPUNK! The Keys to Leadership & Goal-Setting,” is an inspirational self-help book. The author has tied all of her goal-setting and leadership seminar information together into one complete, enthusiastic package! Seven other authors also contributed to this title, which features the five keys to success and summary points for each chapter.

The author’s other work is a young adult series entitled The Circle of Friends. It follows a group of sports-minded couples through relationships, college and into their early careers. Meant to inspire as well as entertain, these books have been described as “encouragement personified.” This series feature morally grounded, positive stories that appeal to both teens and concerned parents. The stories intertwine as the characters learn that with belief and encouragement, they can achieve anything. Many of today’s young adult novels are salacious & controversial and glorify frequent sexual activity, negative attitudes, and deviant behavior. Wolfe’s series focuses on wholesome and uplifting stories that are suitable for adults and teens alike.

A Christian and a vegetarian, Wolfe enjoys sports and has a passion for roller coasters. Growing up in Salem, Oregon, the author now resides North Carolina with her husband and two cats. She is self-employed and a professional photographer.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

WAG, part 4

“WAG #4: Do You Hear What I Hear?” So often, our brain filters out the sounds we hear every day, but sounds can make a story so much more concrete and help your readers feel like they’re really there in a story. This week, go out, sit and listen. (Close your eyes if that helps!) Let your attention move from the obvious sounds to the subtle ones. Try to take in the sounds you usually filter out, whether it’s voices, traffic, children, the hum of overhead lights, or whatever. Write a short description of the sounds and your experience, especially anything unexpected.

This week is an interesting challenge. Especially since the birds have returned and are particularly loud! Here goes.

I'm sitting in my garden, listening to a chorus of honking then the whirr of wings over head swooping in close to splash down on the lake's surface. The gaggle of geese have arrived for their morning coffee break. They usually come around ten in the morning and leave by noon. There are hundreds of them now-honking, flapping, splashing. The sound of their wings so close overhead raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Then the soft quack of a pair of mallards who nest at the waters edge in the spring joins in the mix. Redwing blackbirds trill. Robins call. Their wings smack as the males fight over territory. Sparrows and finches and starlings take over the woods, filling the branches with bird song. The neighbor's dog gets involved, barking and howling as a coyote pads by on nearly silent feet looking for an unsuspecting snack. Squirrels sit up in the tree, chattering at me, tossing nuts to the ground with a plop. A cardinal calls and finds it's mate. The tree branch pings as they fly off. In the far distance the sound of traffic from the highway. A train whistles by to remind me that there are humans present as well. I am not alone.

The Writers Adventure Group-WAG- is a lot of fun. If you enjoy this piece please follow on to Nixy Valentine's blog for links to other entries. If you wish to join in on the fun, Nixy has those rules as well.

Thanks to Nixy and the other WAG members for all the fun. Cheers!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Words of Wisdom

As writer's we're told to create a blog to garner interest in who we are and what we do. The point is to generate PR and market ourselves and our works. Yes, we are selling who we are and what we do on a weekly or daily basis. The question is how do we do that with the least amount of effort?

The answer- know yourself and know your audience.

A good example is my friend Carrie Lofty. She loves to write historicals set in unusual places. She created the blog Unusual Historicals. Where she gathered other authors who write so called "unusual" setting and reached fans of historical romances with unusual settings. (By unusual, we mean places outside the publisher's marketing research of Scotland and England. Places like Spain, Germany, Africa and the Middle East.) Simply by knowing who she is and what she writes, she has succeeded in reaching and building an audience with her blog.

Sherilyn Kenyon created a whole world based on vampires and some say she is responsible for the huge wave of vampire stories now. When she first started out there was no interest in the subject- but she created a dark website and built a community of loyal fans who demanded her stories.

When thinking about marketing and where to begin or how to revamp, you should think long and hard about what it is you want to do and who it is you want to read your work.

It is simply, really, know yourself, what it is you do, where it is you want to go and know your audience. Everything else stems from there.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

WAG, part 3

“WAG #3: A New Friend” Sit somewhere that you can watch strangers passing by. Choose someone that you don’t know, but you can imagine being friends with. Describe them in concrete terms, particularly whatever it is about them you find appealing (or unappealing!) Feel free to also write what you imagine that makes you warm to them, but don’t forget to describe reality as well!

Thank you Marsha for contributing this week’s adventure theme!

This was a good one since I live in the country and rarely get out to see people. For the assignment I went to the local mall and sat near a big palm tree display jutting out from an adventure restaurant. Here is my paragraph:

She is thirty something with brown hair, brown eyes and a serene look on her face. Sitting on the bench across from me, she is surrounded by a stroller, large diaper bag and kids' coats, drinks and hats. Three of the screaming, laughing, running, wild youngsters are hers. At least that is how many I see rush up to her, say something profound and rush off. Or rush over, take a drink, check to see that she is still there, then rush back. Other mothers look harried. The noise level in the play area is ear shattering. The crowd of kids all happy to be somewhere not home. To be out when the weather is too cold to go outside. It's like they have all been set free for the morning. Something inside me wants to scream and run with them, arms flung wide. I know what it's like to have cabin fever. I am attracted to this mother because she is so calm and happy to simply sit among the ruins and watch her children play. I imagine she would be a pillar you could lean on. A friend and confidant you could trust to always be there when you come back from screaming and running.

To see the list of all the WAG blogs for this week go to: Nixy Valentine's blog.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Writing Process

I didn't have to do it. No one has a gun to my head. But I wanted to know-could I?

In January, I sent off a proposal to an, I don't know if you know anything about the book business, but a proposal can takes months for a busy editor to read. (I have a full manuscript on an editor's desk going on 12 months now...which reminds me I need to give them a jingle-see where it is in their process.) I figured I had plenty of time to write the complete 60,000 word book.

Then nine days ago, I got a letter in the mail...this editor wanted to read the full-if it was written, of course...could I send it? Right. Well, it wasn't written. I had 10,000 words and I had already sent her those. So, I was remembering last month's post on the creative process and Dean Wesley Smith's blog on writing fast. I thought, okay- I can do it. If I write 20 pages a day for the next ten days I'll have a rough draft by the 9th. Then I'll take four days to revise and polish and I can have this sucker off to her in 15 days. That editor won't even know it wasn't written.

20 pages a day for 10 days - straight. Dean Wesley Smith said- it's easy- do the many pages can you write in an hour? For me that's between 5 and 10 depending on the scene. He goes on to say- then simply times that by the number of hours per day you'll need to make your page count. Huh- so 2 to 4 hours a day is all. Technically- if you think about it, I should get up to 80 pages in an 8 hour day. It should be a walk in the park. Bravely, I dive in. The synopsis is written so, really, all I have to do is follow the outline, I tell myself.

Day 1- fast typing and done! Day 2- fast typing and...done. Day three- typing...and...done. Day four... Can I talk about the physical challenges? I don't know why but writing a story is like shoving a knife in your gut and spilling your innards out on a page. Yeah that painful- you have to mentally tele-port to the place where the story is and hold it while your fingers type. I don't know about you, but my back and bum start screaming-then go numb. My wrists, fingers, neck and shoulders do the same. It is as if you've got blisters on your body- All I have to do now is sit down in my chair to experience pain-agony and a punishing sort of endurance-which I imagine marathon runners feel at mile 10. But logically, it's only four or five hours in a chair for goodness sakes... right? Day 5- I keep going...but have to take long hot soaks, aspirin, yoga stretches. The energy it takes to keep going is like a hot wire in my hands...I can't turn it off. I stop sleeping. I keep writing. Why? Because I'm about the most stubborn person in the world. I want to be able to brag I did it. Day 6- I am awake at 2 am, thinking about the other proposal I sent off in January- for another book I haven't written- a 90,000 word book...Crap- what if they want to read that? Day 7- my editor sends galley's for Dream Man- 400 pages to read and proof... noooo- I am on a mission. Fine- will add galleys to 20 page a day left eye starts twitching. Day 8- two rejections in the mail from agents for thriller- one form, one nicely typed by assistant-both saying-not right for us at this time. Mental editor starts whispering I'm a hack. Eye won't stop twitching-now left arm starts to twitch in opposite rhythm to eye. Day 9- must write...must finish galleys... living on coffee and pain killers... back at desk.

What Mr. Dean Wesley Smith didn't discuss in his math is the creative process. If you have ever written a full book, you have discovered your creative process. Here's mine: I LOVE the first two or three chapters- love turns to boredom about the next three chapters but I press on, then something happens that I think is cool-so I am in love again- then I hit the second doubt wall- the "this book is going no's all been a waste of time" wall. I press on. Things pick up...okay- close to the end- then the Wait! I'm going to finish before the word count wall- the where did it all go wrong wall- the are you kidding me-just finish the darn story wall... ignoring said walls, I go on until I type the end and when I reread- I think-huh, it's not as bad as I thought when writing it.

That's a lot of emotional turmoil-but I've learned that happens with every book- every darn book for me. I know a best selling author who writes three endings for every book-then turns in the first every time. She thinks it's her way of letting go of the story, the characters-her creation. It's her process.

Here's the thing--writing fast does not change your process- what it does is compresses the process so that you are slamming into walls once or twice a day- day after day... I have become comfortably numb... in other words a babbling idiot outside my office. My family has been feeding me, taking me by the hand, patting me on the head... lots of funny looks and there, theres... finishing of sentences...concern for eye twitching... whispers of taking me to see "someone"...

One more day to go...that is after I write 20 pages today. What have I proven? Nothing really- except I'm stubborn...and perhaps half mad...but I think those are two qualities you need to be a writer in this mad, mad, mad world.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

WAG, part 2

I am enjoying WAG- the adventure writing group so much I have decided to post it on Saturdays for all of you following along- and for those who want to join in- feel free:

For this week go outside, and sit for a minute. (This can be in your yard or garden, on a city street, in a park, in a shopping centre, where ever you choose!) Soak in everything you see, hear, smell, etc, for a moment, and then describe something that you did not notice at first. This can be anything! Just make it something that you overlooked when you first arrived. Keep your descriptions as concrete as possible.

Here's mine:

I went into my garden, sat down on the canvas swing and took it all in- the pebble stone patio, the yellow brown grass, the red painted picket fence, the bare french pussy willow tree, the ice encrusted lake, the grey clouded sky. I heard geese fly in. Sparrows twitter. A cardinal flash red-the brightest color in the garden. Mist, cold and damp wrapped me, filled my lungs, sending a shiver. The wet smell of thaw filled my nostrils. Then I saw it. The fat brown rabbit in heavy fur, watching me from under the evergreen bush. Big brown eyes studied my every move. Only it's nose twitched as it waited for me to do something. Anything. Perhaps leave so it could go back to sleep.

Following are the links to all the wag participants:


Cora Zane - Stars Will Cry

Sharon Donovan

Adam Heine - Authors Echo

Nancy Parra - This Writer’s Life

Criss - Criss Writes

Carol - DMWCarol

Nixy Valentine

Marsha Moore - Write On!

Jesse Blair - SexFoodPlay

Jackie Doss - The Pegasus Journals


JM Strother - Mad Utopia

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Writer's Adventure Group- WAG

I met writers Nixy Valentine and Marsha (Write on) through their fabulous blogs and Facebook. (I have learned to love the social media.) Since we are writers and therefore spend a great deal of time shut up in our rooms, Nixy proposed we have some outdoor adventures and formed the Writer's Adventure Group or WAG. Our mission- to fulfill the weekly assignments, post them and link to other blogs.

All writers are welcome to join in, and we’ll be doing something a little different every week. Original rules on Nixy's blog linked above. Here are the basics:

Each week we’ll do a little mini-writing project together, and post the results on our blogs. This week's assignment is:

The Sky Is The Limit
Outdoor scenes often use the sky, light, or weather to create a mood. So this week let’s practice that. Go outside and look up. Describe the sky exactly as you see it. Use concrete words, no flowery language or metaphor. The idea is to let the physical speak for itself and to train us to be able to create the idea of “peaceful”, “beautiful”, “amazing” without using those kinds of empty words that tell the reader how to feel. Keep it real. No aliens or imaginings or memories. This is an observational exercise!

Following is my example: Gosh I so love to write metaphor and simile...sheesh. Okay-bare bones. Here is what I see this morning.

A huge dome with ends I can't see. The center of the dome is darkest of the pale blues that graduate along the edges to white. Stratus clouds act like lace around the edges. (too flowery?) Hmm. Stratus clouds at the edges go from white to gray as they thicken. The sun-nearer to the horizon is yellow white filtered through the clouds at the fringe. Flocks of dark Canadian geese fly in vees over head. Sparrows and chickadee flutter about, chasing giant black crows. Sounds of honking and kawing vibrate through the air. The very sky itself is cold. Releasing tiny bits of snow that float and never land-too dry to accumulate. Dark branches break up my view as the sun slowly rises in the east.

Okay-Can't wait to read others-have a good week everyone.