Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Perhaps a Writer's Retreat

I am exhausted. Have no idea why, except for the two submissions I got out last week and then the Master's degree deadline on Monday. The two critiques I had to do. I have four or five friends with books that released Tuesday. I've already gotten a rejection for one of last week's submissions and still haven't heard that the other arrived--need to check on that. I realized that my website needs updating. I'm reading three books at once--a nice hat trick--using every spare moment to crack one open and read a few bits. I discovered this morning I missed a promo opportunity. Two others appeared on my doorstep that I need to seriously consider. And that is just my writing life, I won't mention the rest of it. I saw it was time to blog here and I thought. No... I'll just leave last week's up. But that's a bit lazy, isn't it?
So, I thought I'd simply be honest. Let you know that sometimes the "glamorous" life of a writer is exhausting. Trust me when I say nothing good gets written when you are exhausted. So, I decided to take this week off. The last thing I want to do is interrupt your busy writing life with a blog that has nothing useful in it. (I am hoping that at least the photo gives you a laugh.)
Hopefully next week I'll have something useful for you. In the meantime, please make sure you take a moment for yourself. Cheers~

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to Write Right

"You should write, first of all, to please yourself. You shouldn't care a damn about anybody else at all. But writing can't be a way of life; the important part of writing is living. You have to live in such a way that your writing emerges from it." ~ Doris Lessing

I love this quote. As genre writers it is easy to get caught up in page counts, trends, "rules," contests, etc. Especially in the current environment when multi-published authors, what used to be called mid-list authors, are struggling with the newbies to sell work. Publishers are struggling to stay in business. Editors are losing their jobs and turning into agents and advances are so low that agents can't support themselves full time. It feels like desperate times and as writers we can get caught up in it all. I've been in a mood lately to say-"Stop the madness!"
Take a deep breathe and a step back. Ask yourself why you started writing in the first place. Was it love of words? Love of story? To get the characters out of your head? (This doesn't work-when you get done with one another pops up. sigh.)
Were you lured in by people telling you that you are a good writer-gifted even? Did thoughts of success on the scale of Nora Roberts or Stephanie Meyer twinkle before your eyes?
Do you find yourself with a bitter taste in your mouth- wondering what the heck happened. Or are you still desperately chasing trends, beating yourself up every time someone else sells?
Again, I say, Stop the madness! Stay with me here-take a deep breathe and let it out slow.
Now-let's review. 1) You are a gifted writer. You are. Believe that. But there are a lot of gifted writers. Just as their are a lot of gifted singers-some make the top forty, some make it to opera or Broadway, some sing at Disney world or on cruise ships and some sing at church. Each are as valid and gifted as the next.
2) Be yourself. Nora is Nora. That spot is already taken. Your friend who just sold three vampire books-that's her journey not yours. Stop trying to imitate.Yes, imitation is the highest form of flattery and we kid ourselves by saying-well, if it worked for them it will work for me. (This feels true when more than one friend sells in something you don't write. You start to second guess. You start to wonder if perhaps you should change over to YA steampunk. Of course, you'll have to research it and such because you were working on a cozy mystery...)
3) Live your life. Get a job, meet with friends, take a walk-you can't write about life if you are holed up in a closet pounding out four or five books a year in hopes that one of them sticks. Go into the city and watch people. Interview people in small towns. Discover occupations and the sorts of people who work them. If you are stuck at home with small children or job hunting, take walks. Make note of the seasons as they pass-the scents, the sights, the temperature of the air against your skin, the sound of lawnmowers or trains or traffic, the taste of water or seasonal fruit. All these things will make you a better writer.
And finally 4) celebrate your victories great and small and celebrate the victories of others. Life is too short not to have a party now and then. Or at the very least some virtual champagne and chocolate.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Importance of Being, or Passive Voice

Fiction novelists are story tellers. Maybe I should be even clearer than that- genre fiction novelists are story tellers. The work is about the story. It is NOT--I can't repeat this enough--NOT about grammar rules. Have I made you upset yet? Trust me when I say this, a strong story will win every time over excellent writing skills. A professor made this comment in one of my break out sessions, "we graduated this fellow who had a genius for writing, but he could not tell a story to save his soul."
What does this have to do with learning passive voice? A lot. Many writers mistake strong writing skills for strong story telling. They will tell people to be sure that they "never" use passive voice. Every sentence must be active so your story sings will never be published. dum, dum, duuuum. Trust me the last thing a writer wants to hear is that they will "never" be published. And so, they diligently go through and get rid of every 'to be' verb in their 75,000 word manuscript. Why? Because everyone knows that 'to be' verbs are passive. And, passive will "never" be published. Gah!
Relax, my friends. According to an excellent paper from The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, entitled Passive Voice, the above revelation is a myth.
It is myth number 2 "Any use of the verb 'to be' constitutes the passive voice." Wrong. "The passive voice entails more than using a being verb. Using 'to be" can weaken the impact of your writing, but it is occasionally necessary and does not by itself constitute the passive voice."
Myth number 4 will have rule followers shaking in their boots. It is a myth to say, "you should never use the passive voice. While the passive voice can weaken the clarity of your writing, there are times when the passive voice is okay and even preferable."
To which I say, YES! Writers waste too much time worrying about getting rid of the word "was" in their stories and not enough time looking at conflict, character growth, strength of scene and over all plot development. Why? Because it somehow "feels" easier to cling to basic "rules" like search and destroy all 'to be' verbs and repetitive words-when those things are the last things you should work on. Note: I did not say not to work on them. What I'm saying is that they are not as important as the story.
Don't let passive voice "rules" bog you down revising and polishing the first three chapters when what you really need to work on is the more ambiguous scene, sequel, story plot, character arc and sharp dialogue.
It is the story that you need to spend time polishing. It is the story that will ultimately sell a book. When you write a story, write it as if your life depends upon keeping the reader turning pages. If you can do that, then you will sell your book.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Writing and Identifying theme in your work

I don't know if you do, but I struggle understanding and identifying the specific theme of my stories. I went looking for a definition. According to, theme when used as a noun is defined several ways: 1) a subject of discourse, discussion, meditations or composition..., 2) a unifying or dominating idea or motif..., 3) a short informal essay, a school composition, 4) music..., 5) grammar, the element common to all or most of the forms of an inflection paradigm, often consisting of a root with certain formative elements or modifications... (Huh?)
Truthfully whether you "get" it or not theme is one of the most important things about a story and is integral to plot. Theme is the reason you write the story. It is what you, as the author, are telling the world. Knowing and understanding the theme you are exploring in your work will keep you on track and it will help you explain the work to agents and editors.
According to, there are two kinds of themes in writing, implied truth themes and simple themes. Most of my books have implied truth themes such as "love will prevail but it's not always easy," or "you are more than you think you are," and "no where is safe." Simple themes are one word themes such as "courage," "survival," "friendship," "sacrifice," and "growth."
Once you have identified your working theme be sure to state it early on in the work. Perhaps not literally but strongly.
Ex: one character can say to another, "there is more going on here than meets the eye." And the other can answer with a shake of the head, "you are one of those conspiracy theory crazies, aren't you?"
Or a character can pass a man on the street holding a sign that says, "The end of the world is near." Even if it's only the end of the character's marriage or career. It states the theme of the book. And begs the question, now what?
Putting theme into words is one of the hardest parts of story telling and yet, if you take the time to discover your theme, it will give you a clear path to follow whether you plot or pants your story. It will also help you with your tag line, synopsis and pitch. Don't just ramble, people, know what it is you want to say and then make sure you say it in a clear and concise manner.
Does theme come easy or hard for you? Do you find what you think is your theme but then readers find something else in your work? Does your theme change over the course of your writing? Curious minds want to know. Cheers~

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writing through stress

Okay, so I cheat a bit. This topic came straight from a chat I attended for the Master's program last night. But so many people showed up to talk about stress that I thought it might be a good topic to address today.
Let's face it there are many things in life you have no control over. As writers, we love to have complete control over the lives and worlds our characters live in and, after a while, we get frustrated when the "real" world does not act the way we think it should. We throw conflicts into our characters lives to drive plot and create character growth but conflict in our own lives drives us mad. We tend to procrastinate. An "I'll deal with it later" attitude would get cut from our character's lives because there is only so much room on a page. Perhaps we should think of that in our own lives. There are truly only so many days in your life-if we turn into Scarlett O'Hara and say "Tomorrow is another day." We slow down the pace of success in our own lives and slow down our character growth, thus creating our own stress.

Sometimes we create our own stress-procrastination, poor eating, lack of vitamins or exercise- because we are bored. Stress gives us something to think about or do, but these kinds of stresses can effect our writing and our own personal character growth.

Sometimes we put stress on ourselves to live the perfect life to be the perfect person. We've all grown up in a world filled with advertising. The successful person washes with X soap. The healthful person has the white smile and the crazy flat abs. Everyone in "Ad land" lives in huge up-to-date houses. They all fill their weekends with less spending and more doing-single handed remodeling bathrooms from gutting to tile and grout to plumbing. Our yards are supposed to be picture perfect. Our cars well maintained and always clean. Our kids should have every toy, eat perfectly nutritious foods, enjoy cookouts and games and cakes the size of New England. How do we reconcile this with the size of our paychecks? With the age of our homes? With the bills that are due? With the slowness of old computers?With kids who get sick or have tantrums or parents who get sick and need care. With family members diagnosed with cancer. With deaths of loved ones due to war or accidents or flesh eating bacteria.

The real world is messy and unpredictable and most of the time our own character growth is hard-unlike those we write about. Fantasy and reality are so wide apart we are stressed by the differences.

For some writers, stress fuels their passion. The more going on the better they write. For others, stress freezes them in place like a deer in the headlights. Goals, dreams, deadlines slip away.

How do we combat this?

First off find out what is your optimal amount of stress. What causes you to work better without over whelming you. Use this as your best indicator. Try not to stray to far one way or the other from this. Next, organize your life and prioritize your actions based on your personal stress baseline. Finally, do your best with your health-I don't mean lose those 40 pounds today. I mean get up and take a ten minute walk around the block. Drink water. Ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. And, when you have to, feel free to do something silly, like step into your coat closet and scream your head off.

Remember you can't control the stress that comes your way-but you can control how you react to it. Find your base line and live the life that works best around it. Not the false life of advertisements, or the "You have to do x to be happy or published" life of others who want to control you. Think of your life like the pages of your book and edit thoughtfully.

These are some of my tricks for combating stress. What are yours?