Tag Archives: advice

Reading as a Writer

I stopped enjoying reading in grad school. Why? I used to read as a reader, getting sucked into the world of the book and enjoying every minute. Total relaxation. Then, I spent two years studying my craft. I quit reading the authors I used to read. I no longer enjoyed their books. I couldn’t have put my finger on it; I just didn’t. I read differently now. Every book is a lesson in craft.

I still have authors I enjoy, and I will read all their books. But now they teach me. One of my favorites has a new book out, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Have you ever picked up the wrong drink? You have an iced tea and you pick up hubby’s Coke by mistake? That OMG reaction your mouth has to that unexpected taste is what I am getting from this book. This is a good writer, but this book is driving me nuts. I want to tell my inner writer to shut up and let the reader just enjoy but…

We’ve all been told there are rules for a reason, BUT breaking them is also done for a reason. I’ve seen accomplished writers break rules and paid close attention in the hope that I could replicate that success. (still waiting) I’m a child of the sixties so I’m all about rule breaking but trying to break as many as possible in one book is too much for even a talented writer.

Some lessons a writer learns in reading are more painful than others. Such as, even our favorite writers, even those gifted in craft, make missteps. Has a favorite author ever let your inner reader down? (No names, please)

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Kreativ Blogger Award

Kreativ Blogger Award

A BIG thanks to Natasha Hanova blogger and paranormal writer who passed this award on to me. Her blog posts are upbeat approaches to writing and the writer’s life and include insightful advice, as well as, personal experiences she and her critique group have had. (I’m lucky enough to be a founding member) Find Natasha on Twitter here.

The Rules:
1) Say thanks and link back to the awarding blog.
2) Answer the following 7 questions.
3) Provide 10 random factoids about yourself.
4) Pass this on to 7 deserving others.

Questions

1. What’s your favorite song? This changes practically by the hour so catch me any time and you’ll get a different answer. Currently, it’s “Run” by Matt Nathanson (Featuring Jennifer Nettles)

2. What’s your favorite dessert? Anything pumpkin. I love it. If you need a specific dessert, I love spice cake.

3. What do you do when you’re upset? I have a prayer journal. I go there and pour it out. Sometimes I feel better. Sometimes it takes chocolate.

4. What is your favorite pet? We lost both our dog and our cat this last year. I admire traits of both but I find dogs are more my type of animal. Although they aren’t pets, I LOVE our horses best.

5. Which do you prefer – black or white? I’m Casper. Seriously, I’m glow in the dark white. Hate it. So, I will take black!

6. What is your biggest fear? Read my stories. Our work reveals our worst fears.

7. What is your attitude mostly? I’m a bit of a cynic, a child of the post sixties era. I accept nothing at face value. Prove it or I won’t accept it.

Ten Random Facts

1. My favorite age to teach is high school freshmen.

2. My favorite job is teaching college composition to college freshmen.

3. I danced for 36 hours in college to raise money for muscular dystrophy only to have my father be diagnosed at 82 with one of the diseases in the MD family.

4. I’m a lousy cook so I married a man who is a marvelous one.

5. Got my first kiss in kindergarten.

6. I’m not a girly girl and never have been. However, I have a fascination with jewelry. Costume because I’m cheap.

7. My critique partners are some of the best writers I’ve met.

8. I’ve visited every state in the union except Florida, Alaska, and Hawaii. My favorite was Colorado and my least favorite was Utah(apologies, I’m sure it’s a lovely state but I was fifteen and bored by it).

9. If I were graduating from high school now, I would go to school to become an FBI agent.

10. If I could bring someone back from the dead to talk to them, it would be Mark Twain.

I’d like to pass this award to:

Carol Riggs: She offers practical advice. Her blog gives actual critiques of manuscripts showing strengths and weaknesses. Invaluable to all writers writing for publication.

Becca Weston: A humorous, often irreverent, approach to writing and writing process, her blog always makes me smile even about things that often cause me grief.

Carla Luna Cullen: Into research or it’s important to your genre, check Carla’s blog out.

Laurie Dennison: Another blog with a humorous approach, her down to earth voice is relaxing when I’m tense from my writing demons.

Alice M. Fleury:Go to Alice’s blog to make sure you’re crossing your T’s and dotting your i’s in terms of craft.

JE Fritz: A great writing site with a literary approach.

Regina Kennedy Linton: A potpourri of anything and everything writing related.

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The Sweet Hereafter

A conference brings this storm swell of creative juices, and you’ll return home convinced that you are ready to conquer anything publishing throws your way. That glow will last if you’re lucky, 24 hours. A part of every conference prep should include planning for a return from the wonderful world of nothing but writers and writing to that world of diapers, bottles, teenage drivers and angst, or cranky hubbies. Whatever your daily world encompasses, it’s all waiting for you when you leave that sheltered world of the “conference”.

The first thing you need to do is prepare yourself emotionally for this return to your ‘normal world’ as Christopher Vogler describes it in The Writer’s Journey. My critique group has done this and we’ve learned new things every time. Here are suggestions for returning from the conference:

1. Hit the ground running when you get home by making time to email the contacts you made at the conference. Don’t wait. Don’t give them or yourself time to forget. If you followed advice, you wrote something memorable on the back of the business cards you collected.

2. Share what you learned. If you have a local group of writers you work with, share what you learned with them. If not, use your blog or website as a host for educating others about Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Inc. (or your conference) and writing. If your entire group attended (as our group does), it is always a good idea to debrief after conferences. Go over what went well, what didn’t, what inspired you, what frustrated you, etc. As a group, we attend different sessions to maximize our attendance, then we share what we learned with each other.

3. When you enjoy a conference and find it worthwhile, spread the word! Let others in on what’s worthwhile about it. Give them publicity. We’re all in this together so help each other out.

4. We have a new goal for this conference. Since this is our third year, we wanted to do something special. Stay tuned to the Novel Clique blog for interviews with writer attendees at OWFI 2012.

5. Final evaluation: upon returning you need to do a final run down of the experience. Was the conference a good one for you? Just as you did when selecting a conference return to those important questions:

a. Location: Was the location good for you? Price certainly feeds into this these days because of the price of gas.

b. Genre: Did you find the things you needed for what you write? Were there agents who represent what you write?

c. Price: Consider the costs of everything from travel to hotel to food to cost of the conference. Was it cost-effective for you?

d. Presenters: Were the presenters good? Were they speaking about things of importance to you as a writer? Did you return with more than you left home with?

Once you’ve answered those questions you’ll know whether you want to attend that conference again or not. For us, after attending OWFI, all those answers were good ones.

What do you want to return from a conference having accomplished?

Be sure to check out Natasha’s post on what to do before the conference and Leatrice’s upcoming post on what to do during.

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Home of the Brave

We live in an age of heroism. It’s in our films (seen a comic book based film lately?) and our novels and our news reports. Unlike the sixties, we have revered our troops for their bravery in the field. We take these boys (for the most part) from their video games and attempts to nail pretty girls and place them in the worst that hell here on earth has to offer. From deep within the human psyche, they find the courage to do things most of us could not even conceive. When we think of bravery, there’s a common list: police officers, firemen, soldiers,  people who risk the ultimate daily for the rest of us.

When we think of bravery, it’s easy to think of the obvious. I don’t want to diminish that, but it’s not the type I want to talk about here. If you look at those comic heroes, Peter Parker?  A nobody until a lab accident makes him Spiderman. Bruce Wayne? A rich orphan whose psychopathy turns him into the elusive crime fighter in an attempt to right the type of wrong that robbed him of his parents. What’s the point? Bravery is a trait inherent in all of us. It is circumstances that awaken it.

When I place my character in the right set of circumstances, it doesn’t matter who he was before. It doesn’t matter what traits he exhibited or how he manifested himself in life. In the right set of circumstances, he can find that gut entrenched trait that will cause him to rise against the largest of foes. David didn’t take on Goliath because of who he was, but because of what he had within him.

When you place your protagonist in the right circumstances, he or she will display the type of heroic behavior one would expect. We see it everyday. I have a friend battling breast cancer. Her courage amazes me. I know single mothers struggling to raise families with no help. I couldn’t do that, I say. In the right circumstances, maybe I could. Until the circumstances are right, we don’t know. Until you give your character the opportunity, you won’t know either.

Brace yourself though. Once you give them the chance to shine, the book is all theirs. You’ve lost control to a certain degree. Feel good about it.

What circumstances do you provide for your characters that require the inner reserve and strength we call bravery?

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Retreat Activity on Steroids

My critique group took a short retreat last weekend to a casino. No, we didn’t gamble. We didn’t even drink. Our full focus was on writing. We gathered in our (gratis) room and buckled down. I had purchased The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, and he made me an instant fan. Eventually everyone bought the book so we decided when we took this excursion, we’d bring the book and work on the exercises he provides.

Everyone brought the first five pages of a WIP and Lukeman’s book, and we set to work. Our group is highly disciplined, but in this setting I didn’t expect that we would accomplish as much as we hoped. So much for low expectations. We nearly completed the book selecting the exercises possible in the limited time we had. (One exercise called for four hours which we knew would need to wait for another time.)

Noah’s book offers some advice that will strike the experienced writer as, “Well, duh.” However, even experienced writers make beginner mistakes in first drafts. It never hurts to remind yourself what you’re looking for when you go to revise. It also offers advice that writers wouldn’t know because they aren’t privy to the mindset of editors and agents.

Lukeman walks the walk in his book by keeping it short and concise. He makes his points and moves on. He covers everything from submission problems like presentation to big picture problems like characterization and pacing. He addresses common problems with language like clichés and excessive reliance on adjectives and adverbs. Through it all the tone is that of a professor who wants his student to succeed but won’t tolerate any skating on the important things. And, he reminds us, it’s all important.

For anyone on the submission track this is a must read. Take it seriously by keeping it close at hand when you’re working on your manuscript. Your future agent will thank you.

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Five Ways to Focus Your Writing Time

Horses are majestic creatures and being around them has only increased my respect for them. As a city kid, however, my only memory of horses was seeing them wearing blinders. I thought it looked cruel, but my dad explained it protected the horse from being startled or scared by traffic and other distractions. The dictionary definition for blinders is: a pair of leather flaps attached to a horse’s bridle to curtail side vision. It focuses the horses vision strictly on the road ahead. This was on my thoughts a lot this week. We are so ADD anymore – thanks to technology – that we are unable to see the path ahead because of distractions like; the iPad, the iPhone, the iMac, the HiDef TV.  The list goes on but you get the idea. How can a writer ever stay focused? Put your blinders on.

Of course, you can’t bridle yourself to keep out the iPad, iPhone, etc. There are things you can do, however, to keep our social media world from derailing your writing.

1. There are a host of applications out there that will block you from the internet. Find a good one and use it earnestly. Yes, social media can be important to your career but only if you write long enough to have one.

2. Set specific times for social media and specific times for writing. Make these times known to everyone you know and never under punishment of death (you think I’m kidding?) break your own rules.

3. Schedule play time when you hit milestones. You want to hit 50,000 words by next Wednesday. If you do, have a luncheon planned with a friend or do it spontaneously. Just celebrate that you pulled it off. Overdoing it, by pushing on, can cause you to break down later.

4. Make sure you have a support system. It can be writer friends or a critique group or a supportive spouse or family member. Just engage them in keeping you honest. There’s nothing like having someone say, “Aren’t you supposed to be writing?”, to get you back to the desk.

5. Set timers. This is totally old school, but we are also very auditory today. Blame that on technology or music or whatever but sounds get our attention. You’re only going to linger on email for 30 minutes. Set the timer and set it with a truly obnoxious noise that will repeat until you get off and get busy.

While writing with blinders on isn’t a good idea as another definition of it is: something that serves to obscure clear perception and discernment, it is important to approach writing time with it. It allows you to remain focused on your goals and your work. And in the end it is all about the work. Don’t let the iPad, iPhone, iMac world we live in blind you to the importance of the story you are trying to tell.

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Advice to Ignore

We’ve all heard it, read it, even espoused it over the years. “Write what you know.” That has always been the prevailing rule of thought when it came to writing. Unfortunately, I’m proof that this piece of advice is hogwash to put it nicely. Raised in the city, I attended a high school that would be described as rough, and have always had access to the luxuries city living provides. Cultural and sporting events, theaters within a ten-mile radius of me in all directions, grocery stores on every corner, and restaurants more frequent than that. And our own sports franchises, even though they lose more than we’d like.

When I began writing short stories, I wrote “what I knew”. Taking on  city life and the people I understood best. This should have been a total win for me. Imagine my surprise when my professor was totally underwhelmed. Well, if I wasn’t supposed to write what I knew and I couldn’t write what I didn’t know, where did that leave me? It was my second semester of grad school and one of my packets came back with the hope on my professor’s part that things would go better with my next packet. Ouch! There was a glimmer of good in that packet. In a short story that wasn’t quite working, he pointed out to me that I had found my real writing place. Apparently according to him, my writing came “alive” when I wrote about “small town life”.

Me? Someone who has never lived in one? Who has no clue what that’s like? What was it about the story that made it sound like I did? I spent time in a small town. As a writer, I observed life. I took what I witnessed and applied it to characters who could live anywhere. After all, we share human traits regardless of where we live.

That nugget of advice, “Write what you know” isn’t really accurate. What it should say is “Write what you want to know.” That small town fascinated me. It led me to want to tell their stories. I encourage you not to accept all writing advice without your own study of it. If you don’t know something, and you want to write about it, we live in an age where the information you need is right at your fingertips. Take advantage!

What writing advice would you suggest writers ignore?

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