writing

How Writers End Up On NSA Watchlists (via: @cantrelljason)

When talking about writers and their search histories I've joked that there are only two types of people who search for 'How do I dispose of my wife's body with a woodchipper'. Jason Cantrell talks about the realities of quite how dodgy a writer's web search history can look, and how you might end up on totalitarian government watchlists:

And of course, in addition to researching ponies and Mesopotamian slave names, I did extensive research into decay rates of human bodies. As you can see, I spent quite a bit of time visiting multiple websites on this topic. It’s almost as if I’m planning to enslave someone and I want to know how long it’ll take the body to decay when I finish killing her. But that seems unlikely . . . maybe if we go a bit further back, there’ll be something in my search history that will shed some light on this and explain what I’ve really been up to.

I tried to do this to find out what mad story ideas are shown in my own history, but it seems an earlier version of me had proactively disabled Google's web search history tracking for my account. Good thinking, yester-me.

Click here and check out Jason's history, if you dare: http://writingpossibilities.com/2014/07/07/how-writers-end-up-on-nsa-watchlists/

On Killing (via @mykecole, HT: @saladinahmed)

Myke Cole writes a great and heartfelt article about combat and killing, and how most fantasy novels, though steeped in violence, don't convey the experience and the consequences:

One doesn’t have to be a vet­eran brawler to write a great fight scene.

But I do feel like the end result of fighting, namely, killing, isn’t often treated in a way that res­onates with me. I can count on one hand the number of writers who get it right. Joe Aber­crombie springs to mind as one of them, a tiny band of authors, and I do not count myself among them, who evoke the con­se­quences of killing in a way that feels authentic.

[...T]here is one thing in par­tic­ular that I think fan­tasy writers miss, and I want to dial in on that here.

Killing is a chain.

It's good, so read it all here: http://mykecole.com/blog/2014/03/on-killing

 

Authors' Sleep Patterns & Productivity (via @shortlist, HT @benharkin)

This is a bit of fun and made me think about my own sleep patterns a little. Of course, is this correlation or causation? Does being a good writer predispose us to particular sleeping patterns, or does the sleeping pattern influence the writer?

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and a better author. Wait, that's not right.

Maria Popova (from www.brainpickings.org) commissioned an infographic to map the productivity of authors against their sleeping patterns.

It makes for an interesting read, demolishing any notion that there's a 'perfect hour' to rise. We're all for adopting Charles Bukowski's approach to mornings...

Check out the poster here: http://shortlist.com/entertainment/books/authors-sleep-patterns-and-productivity

A Reminder that Publishing Is Luck (via me)

Just a quick personal anecdote that might encourage some of you out there, particularly those who struggle with rejection (which as we have discussed, is just a fact of life for writers). It's not just the quality of your writing that is a factor in publishing. So, I wrote a story, which I quite liked. Normally whether or not you like a story doesn't have much to do with its quality, but I've been around for a while, and I thought it was pretty good.

It was rejected a few times mostly for thematic fit, and then sat with an editor at a pretty prestigious magazine for about two months, who gushed about how great it was and moved it through the publishing process until it was ultimately rejected because they had several similar stories, or something like that. The detail isn't important: what's important is that it was one of the good rejections, one of those personal, 'we love this, it's great but unfortunately [phase of the moon/colour of the ink/ennui] etc.'

Them's the breaks in writing, and personally a rejection like that feels like a win to me (aka validation).

Anyway, I sent the story elsewhere, to a less prestigious magazine, and it was rejected with a score this time (as this particular publication scored submissions, which I personally think is cool - any feedback is good feedback as far as I am concerned). The fun fact though, is that it scored significantly below the already low average for submissions.

Writers TearsNever to be upset by rejections (it's a trained skill) I just thought I'd share how one story could both appeal to a Big Deal magazine and do several rounds of editorial reading with excellent feedback, yet score woefully at a different magazine.

Same manuscript! True story.

I hope this will make you sleep a little better. Also, I have this now, and I drink a shot every time I get a rejection. It's great!

Don't Poke the Editor: Do's and Don'ts for Dealing with Editors (via @susanjmorris)

Susan Morris provides some tips for dealing with editors (and how not to deal with editors). For the record, I love all editors, and I've never met an editor that I didn't respect. Nor would I ever criticise an editor, or disagree with them. Never ever forever, strike me down if I lie!

Writing to an editor is intimidating. Editors are these daunting, mysterious figures who work in the shadows, wielding the red pens of judgment, and witnessing the godlike works of Really Good Writers ™ almost daily. They can also say some really hard things to swallow! But your relationship with your editor is one of the most important relationships you will have—right after your relationship with your cat and right before your relationship with chocolate.

Some of the things Susan lists may seem obvious, eg. 'DO be nice', but then we've all thought following guidelines would be easy, and I've heard some horror stories there. In fact, Maurice Broaddus discussed that in this recent interview:

Sigh.

Sigh.

Sigh.

The guidelines are right there. Black and white. Pretty simple. Yet we got everything from full novels to things that couldn’t be classified as stories. But we expected a fair number of “the title says 'Faith' and I’ve been sitting on this story with nowhere else to send it, so what’ll it hurt to send it” type stories. The thing is, for all the complaint about seeing such ill-suited and ill-written stories, they were easy to reject within a few lines. Which is good when you have a huge slush pile.

Do check out Susan's article here: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2012/08/dont-poke-the-editor-six-deadly-donts-and-dos-for-dealing-with-editors.html

Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Is the Great Lie of Writing Workshops (via @joshuahenkin)

Joshua Henkin writes a great guest post for Writer's Digest:

OK, let’s dispense with the obvious—namely, that there is a kernel of truth to the old saw “Show, don’t tell.” [...]

But it doesn’t follow from this that a writer should never say a character is handsome or happy. It doesn’t follow that all a writer should do is show. To my mind, the phrase “Show, don’t tell” is a wink and a nod, an implicit compact between a lazy teacher and a lazy student when the writer needs to dig deeper to figure out what isn’t working in his story.

I really like that last bit: looking at 'Show, Don't Tell' as an understood shorthand to address problems in a story. A bit of writing jargon, if you will. Being jargon, it's only useful as a communications shortcut to people already in the business. This means that if we hand that bit of jargon to a brand new writer they will simply take that advice literally, not as the understood 'your story needs work' agreement that it would otherwise be.

And there’s real fall-out. I see it constantly among my students, who are nothing if not adjective-happy. Do we need to know that a couch is a “big brown torn vinyl couch”? We are writing fiction, not constructing a Mad Lib. Yet writers have been told to describe, and so they do, ad nauseum. It’s like the sentence that was popular in typing classes—“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs.” Well, this is a good typing sentence (it contains every letter of the alphabet), but it’s a bad fiction sentence.

Read the rest of his really insightful piece here: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/why-show-dont-tell-is-the-great-lie-of-writing-workshops

Reasons this is the Best Time to be a Storyteller (via @chuckwendig)

Chuck Wendig probably needs no introduction, but here's a link, just in case. Chuck frequently produces '25-reasons' lists and excellent advice for writers. Amidst all the publishing industry doom-and-gloom it's nice to get a little bit of positivity. Chuck's response to doom and gloom is:

But, hey, you know what? Fuck that. Let’s lift our chins. Let’s find the sunshine. Let’s punch those dead otters in the face with our gauntleted fists of unmitigated optimism. Why is this a good time to be a storyteller?

There are an entire TWENTY-FIVE excellent reasons to be positive about being a writer now. I quite like this one:

The Age Of The Rockstar Is Over

The rockstar — those figures in pop culture who command all the sales and all the attention — is part of the monoculture and the monoculture is waning. When the really big, greedy fish leave the ocean, the smaller fish get more food (and are themselves less likely to be food). Fewer rockstars mean more craftsmen. They leave more room for the rest of us to come in and do our thing. Or so I like to believe.

That was number 22. Imagine how many other helpful things are in that article? There may be a few swears in there, too, but we're all grownups here, right?

Original here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/06/12/25-reasons-this-is-the-best-time-to-be-a-storyteller/

Beta reading Interview with @joanneanderton (via @donnamhanson)

Donna Maree Hanson interviewed the lovely Joanne Anderton about her experience with beta readers (ie. gracious volunteers who help an author by volunteering their eyeballs and feedback). Here's a sample answer from Joanne:

Beta reader feedback is invaluable. They see things that I do not — plot holes, boring parts, big picture stuff. They notice problems that I’ve been trying to ignore, and don’t let me get away until I fix them. They bring fresh ideas to a story, help me see paths or themes or twists and turns that I would never have seen on my own. They’re also encouraging. They support me through the bad times and celebrate with me through the good ones. A good beta reader is like a good personal trainer! They keep me honest, make me work to the best of my ability and then push me that little bit further.

I've had similar opportunities to provide beta reading for (and receive it from) local authors whom I've come to know online and in real life. It's very helpful, even if only to help you toughen up a little and remind you that not everything that comes from your fingertips is golden...

Read the full interview here: http://donnamareehanson.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/beta-reading-interview-number-8-joanne-anderton/

Short Stories vs Novels (Jon Towlson via @darkriverpress)

Jon Towlson writes two posts over at Dark River Press, comparing and constrasting short stories and novels. I've pulled two representative chunks out below, but the articles are more detailed than that, so do check it out. On short stories:

Many short stories fail because they are anecdotal. Even though the idea is bitesize, it does need to be dramatic. The situation itself can be quite mundane but that situation should be important and significant to the character. Strong writing creates empathy between the reader and the character in a short story and this helps to make the situation dramatic to us.

On novels:

The novel requires structuring into a coherent long form work, and this is one of the most difficult aspects of writing novels – formulating the plot line/s.  Specifically, many writers tend to hate working from outlines because they worry that they will lose the spontaneity in their writing. They worry that their work will lack sparkle if it is too pre-planned. This particularly tends to worry writers coming from short story writing who are new to novels.

I've written two novel-length manuscripts in my youth, one of which was even shortlisted for an 'unpublished manuscript' competition run by Random House back in 1998 (we had to dodge Velociraptors as we rushed from shelter to shelter, in those days). They remain unpublished, and as most first-time novel manuscripts, should probably remain so. Nonetheless, it's shown me that I'm much more comfortable with short stories, especially short short stories, and plenty of his examples ring true: I don't enjoy outlining and excuse my lack of effort in this area with the same vague excuses: 'oh, I just miss the spontaneity, you know?'

This is a personal disgrace. I should pull my proverbial finger out of my proverbial rear end and learn this skill. Writing doesn't just happen, you have to work hard at it. So maybe soon I'll throw some novel ideas around in my head and see what sticks.

Read part 1 here: http://www.darkriverpress.com/12/post/2012/03/shot-stories-vs-novels-part-1.html and Part 2 here: http://www.darkriverpress.com/12/post/2012/03/short-stories-vs-novels-part-2.html

Tell it Like a Trickster: How to Write a Good Twist (via @susanjmorris)

Time for another great writing post by Susan J. Morris on the Omnivoracious blog:

When you tell a story with a twist, you are taking on the role of the Trickster. As the reader’s sole experience of your story is in your authorial hands, we readers kind of expect you to tell it to us straight. So when you take that trust, then give the story a twist, you’re tricking us! [...] But, of course, as many a Trickster has learned the hard way, you have to be careful when playing the Trickster, because while we may love to be tricked, we hate being made to look foolish.

Susan describes a few archetypical twist styles with examples, so click through to read the rest: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/12/tell-it-like-a-trickster-how-to-write-a-good-twist.html

The No 1 Overlooked Skill for Every Author (via @janefriedman)

Jane Friedman writes at Writers Unboxed:

I wish they taught this skill to students in high school or college. Creative writing students especially need to spend a semester on it, but never do. You’d think publishers would deliver a 101 guide on it for their authors, though I’m not sure the publishers themselves always know anything about it. The skill is copywriting.

Jane breaks copywriting down into three areas, and goes into convincing detail about how different its application is to 'regular' writing, while being something that almost every writer needs to write:

  • Writing query letters, synopses, and other submission materials
  • Writing copy for your website and social media profiles
  • Writing copy for your books (or products and services)

Unless you have someone to do these critical marketing tasks for you, check the article out in detail here, since these dot points can't tell the whole story: http://writerunboxed.com/2011/11/30/the-no-1-overlooked-skill-for-every-author/

Once you've finished reading that, this link from Jane's wrap-up suggestions is great: http://www.copyblogger.com/copywriting-101/

Tips from the Pros: Greenwood and Evans on How to Jumpstart Your Writing (via @susanjmorris)

Today Susan J. Morris posts wisdom from Ed Greenwood and Erin M. Evans on the Omnivoracious blog:

To celebrate the deadline-driven inspiration of NaNoWriMo, this Monday, Wednesday (today!), and Friday, some of my favorite professional authors are spilling their secrets on how they write even when the muse is M.I.A.

I've always found the old adage 'Just Write!' perfect: two words that sum up what you need to do to take this job seriously: just write, just write, just write. Sit down. Shut off distractions. Write. Submit.

Doing that over and over gives you experience, thick skin (and/or writer zen) and will eventually get you published. Sheer persistence (and the reality that practice makes, at best, good enough) will get you through.

But... But it's so easy for me to sit here and tell you that's all you have to do. It would be helpful if there was some advice on how to stay motivated, hey?

Ed Greenwood:

[...] I always have six to eight projects on the go at any one time, and when I start to run down or hit a wall on one, I just switch to another.

Erin M. Evans:

When I get hit with “writer’s block,” I fall back on two techniques, depending on the cause. [...]

Sorry, you'll have to click through to find out more: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/11/tips-from-the-pros-greenwood-and-evans-on-how-to-jumpstart-your-writing.html

Slash and Burn! A glimpse into cutting back your manuscript (via @DonnaMHanson)

Donna Maree Hanson gives us an insight into cutting back her work in progress, 'Dragon Wine' over at her blog. Less is usually more, after all.

I had been talking to Nicole about Dragon Wine, lamenting that I had cut a bit but needed to cut more and didn’t think I could get another 20,000 out of it. Then we talked a bit more. I suggested I could cut the bad guy’s point of view. A couple of chapters I had written during revision were from the Inspector’s point of view, nasty stuff too. Nicole said she’d done a twitter survey suggesting that readers don’t like the bad guy’s point of view.

Then she said something really cool:

Actually, writing the bad guy helped me flesh out a few things. Now I’ve done that I can get rid of it.

She's right: writing is as much an exploration of world, story and characters for the writer as it is for the reader. There are plenty of pathways through the story and decisions the writer needs to make to get to the destination, but these decisions aren't necessarily important (or interesting) to the reader. Just like any wilderness hike, once you reach your destination the instructions to retrace your footsteps don't need to include all the back tracking, all the double-guessing, all the dead ends, all the deadly wildlife... Your job as writer (or guide, to continue the analogy) is to beat down the track for the reader, make all the mistakes for them.

Then cover your tracks so no one finds the bodies.

Check it out here: http://donnamareehanson.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/slash-and-burn-the-cut-back-of-dragon-wine-continues/

How to Scare Your Reader with Tricks from the Movies (via @susanjmorris)

I love Halloween, though at this time of year I have to content with curmudgeonly Australians who feel as though a holiday is being imposed on them. I can't see past the fake blood and zombie makeup to get to the politico-cultural overtones, frankly. Each year I dress up to join in the Brisbane Zombiewalk, so Halloween (and by extension, scary stories regardless of medium) is my thing. Although I try not to feature too much content from one site, Susan Morris has written another good article featuring tips and tricks to scare your readers. From the movies!

Even if you’re not writing a horror story, knowing how to scare your reader is an important skill to have. We like our villains frightening, our monsters terrifying, and our unknown horrors to reduce us to a quivering goo. Otherwise, we can’t appreciate the heroism of your hero—or their abject fear—when they face whatever horrors you have in store for them. Being able to effectively communicate how scary something is for your hero is key to reader immersion and empathy.

So this post isn't just for horror or dark fiction writers. As Susan explains, the devil's in the details:

Cutting off someone’s head is scary. Pulling off someone’s fingernails is scarier. Finding a fingernail imbedded in the arm of your chair while you’re home skipping class, trying to get your groove on with your boyfriend, is scariest.

You can find the rest here: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/10/halloween-special-how-to-scare-your-reader-tricks-from-the-movies.html

Proofreading Tips (via @duolit)

The duo over at DuoLit asked Randall Davidson from www.proofreadingservices.us to write a quick tips article for do-it-yourselfers. Proofreading isn't easy, and if you don't have access to or can't afford a professional, the task comes down to you (or a friend who is also not a professional).

Self-published works are not subjected to the watchful eyes of professional editors, leaving the job of proofreading in the hands of the writer.

I won't spoiler the ten items, and the headline of the article does promise that this will ensure your work is flawless. I don't have that much confidence in my perfection, so I'd still advise caution. But things like...

  1. Allow some time to pass. [...]
  2. Simplify whenever possible. [...]
  3. Format your text. [...]
  4. Have someone read the text to you. [...]

...and more, will certainly go some way to cleaning up the kind of basic typos that I see when I do slushreading of unsolicited submissions. (I removed the extra detail in that list; you will have to go read the article if it sounds interesting.)

One of the comments to that article points out that you can have Adobe Acrobat read back your writing to you, which could seriously help. I'm pretty sure that Mac OS X has full text-to-speech support as well. Worth investigating.

DuoLit also has a services page. I don't want to wait until Sunday to post it, so I'll just do so now. They provide a lot of the self-publishing services that traditional publishing houses hide from authors, and that self-publishing authors can find daunting (and so they should): http://selfpublishingteam.com/services/ and specifics here: http://selfpublishingteam.com/services/a-la-carte/

Check it out here: http://selfpublishingteam.com/10-proofreading-tips-to-ensure-your-self-published-works-are-flawless/

Writing Tools - Plotting Made Easy (via @4kidlit)

This is an older article but I had it lying around in my writing email folder for quick reference. It's a more formulaic 'checklist' approach to making sure your narrative ticks along. Obviously not every approach works for everyone, but I liked the look of it. It approaches a plot (in this case their focus is on writing for children and teens), in four sections, or acts: Separation, Descent, Ordeal, Resolution

Try the Complications Worksheet as a thinking tool. Before you start, I encourage you to cruise through the links at the end of the post so you add or subtract whatever you need. Then answer the questions in the worksheet with your story and characters in mind.

Read through the worksheet here and take a look: http://childrenspublishing.blogspot.com/2010/03/plotting-made-easy-complications.html

Emerging Writers Festival's 'Digital Writing Conference' via @alanbaxter @emergingwriters

This weekend Lucas and I visited The Edge at the Queensland State Library to partake in the Digital Writing Conference, the Emerging Writers Festival's crowdfunded day conference. A range of interesting and entertaining panelists spoke to a decent crowd of writers and literary-interested folks. I'd taken notes on Evernote, when it crashed several times and ate them all. That's hardly an excuse, though, and luckily there is the internet, and far better prepared and dedicated bloggers, such as Alan Baxter, who also spoke at the conference. Alan posted a summary of the day which includes all the relevant twitter accounts of speakers, and even some photos.

I had a great time catching up with some of the folks online whom I'd never met, or those I rarely catch up with. It is rumoured there may have been some beer consumed afterwards.

Alan sums the day up very nicely, and I urge anyone interested in writing to seek out similar events in their local area. Be sure to follow the twitter accounts referenced in his post, or if you're not a twitter person, check out their associated blogs.

A truly spectacular event that I was proud to be a part of. Given that most of my conference activity is quite genre-focused, I always enjoy these wide open writers’ events, with everyone from journalists to fiction writers and beyond all mixing together, all styles, all media, all slightly crazy. It’s inspiring and motivating in so many ways, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you want to be a writer or you already are one, get out there and mix with these overlapping tribes. We’ve all got our love of writing and reading in common, after all.

Read Alan's post here: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/2011/10/17/emerging-writers-festival-digital-writing-conference-brisbane.html

How to Write Villains (via @susanjmorris)

We heard about anti-heroes yesterday, but Susan followed it up with a post about writing good villains:

Villains and antiheroes are cut from the same cloth--only villains give in to (or even revel in) their darker instincts, whereas antiheroes resist them. So delve into your villain’s history and try to root out the cause of their evil. Even if your villain is sympathetic, the reader should still recognize that he (or she) has beyond the pale--that he must be stopped no matter the cost.

She also adds ten reasons to love villains at the end of her article, so check it out here: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/10/sympathy-for-the-devil-how-to-write-killer-villains.html

Susan also adds a 'How to Write Mastermind Villains' interview with Richard Lee Byers:

Crossing paths with a mastermind villain is like being caught in a deadly chess game in which you can only see your own pieces. If you survive, it will feel like it’s just the mastermind toying with you. And despite working as hard as you can, what limited successes you achieve will feel like they are due only to the amusement of your opponent. Even in losing, a mastermind often achieves their esoteric goal.

You can find that article here: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/10/smarter-faster-meaner-richard-lee-byers-on-writing-mastermind-villains.html

How to Write Anti-Heroes, by Paul S. Kemp (via @amazonbooks)

Today's post comes from the Omnivoracious blog, where Susan Morris interviews Paul S. Kemp about how to write good anti-heroes.

The antihero is the answer to today's complicated world. When good and evil are not so easy to separate, and every protagonist has their share of damning secrets, the golden hero of yesterday--in his innocence and good will--is unrelatable. The modern audience demands moral complexity--heroes who face the same challenges, temptations, and questions we do.

Paul summarizes part of the appeal of anti-heroes in a single line:

The anti-hero is a one-man morality play. Whereas the villain and hero rarely face moral crisis (or when they do, it’s an ultimate moment in their progression as characters), the antihero is the moral crisis.

It's a fun read, so check it out at: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/09/tall-dark-and-heroic-paul-s-kemp-on-how-to-write-antiheroes.html

Studying Books You Love (via @Janice_Hardy)

Ann Meier writes a useful exercise on first-page analysis at Janice Hardy's blog. After receiving rejections for queries on her manuscript, she took Janice's advice and looked at the positive feedback she was getting, and what she was getting wrong.

Janice’s second suggestion was to look at the first chapter of a favorite book and to analyze how it was different from mine. I chose the first book in a long-running, best-selling series that I think is the best in my genre. And I knew it was a best seller how? Every other person reading at the pool deck on a cruise one summer was reading this series.

 

Ann breaks down the opening page of the book she selected and does a critical analysis of every sentence and paragraph; she identifies what's happening, what emotions/assumptions are being evoked, and how the structure of that page 'sells' the story to the reader.

It's a very good exercise, and it's good to see how her own introductory paragraph changes throughout the analysis.

Read the details here: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2011/05/closer-look-studying-books-your-love.html