Writing On Your Blocks – Part Two on Writer’s Block

What we learned from our five year podcastThis blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

There is nothing more daunting than a work in progress.  Works in progress (sometimes called the WIP, as if we needed more acronyms) often knock at your door loaded with baggage:  Great expectations, Fame, Money, The Futility of It All.

Our  first impulse is to take  in the bags.  Drag them into the house.  Spend the afternoon unpacking all the cases and finding the correct places in which to store all the emotions and thoughts neatly away. Only after it’s all tidy do you think to converse with the visitor who delivered all  that luggage.   

Stop.  Don’t unpack.  Leave the bags at the door, let the Work in Progress inside.  Talk to him or her.  Ignore the bags.  Even if it starts to rain.  Leave  them.

What do you say to your WIP guest?  Nothing until you manage to think differently about the whole damn thing.  In other words – re frame the project.

Instead of sitting down before the big, blank glowing computer screen (and thinking, hey, I need a better screen photo for the background, where did I store that great sunset photo I took on our last vacation?  It should be in this iPhoto album . . .)

Instead of thinking, Okay, I am WRITING THE BOOK. RIGHT NOW. TODAY.

Instead, think:

For ten minutes I will organize my material.  Trick your monkey mind.  Unearth all the  speeches, presentations, sketches and ideas you’ve created over the years and place them into a brand new file on the desk top.  That’s it.  It’s a perfect, low impact way to start THE BOOK.

Tell the Muse you aren’t really writing, you are just sketching out a couple of  memories.   Memoirs can be difficult to start.  Maybe you have already begun yours with your birth date  and the weather.    After that portentous event, there wasn’t much to say about the first 12 years or so. Re think the approach. Start again simply by writing down random stories as they come to mind – one story a day.

Claim to your subconscious (and the flying monkeys of distraction) that you are simply recording a few impressions.

Transcribe that popular story you always tell your friends or audience – I start many of my non-fiction writers this way.  Are you working on your nonfiction work?  Either as a very expensive (and effective) business card or back of the room sales, what sells most business books are the examples and stories.  The best way to start a business or nonfiction book is to capture those stories first.  That’s all, just write down your favorite client examples and stories.

Outline two or three features critical to the overall project. What would you say if – say – you wrote a book?  It sounds twisted, but it works because it takes the pressure off.  Your Muse is more likely to help you out if you are just noodling around.

Convince your Muse that you are doing little more than just filling in some character motivation.  For fiction writers that dreaded middle, the word count between 50,000 and 80,000 can be overwhelming and induce serious blockage.  Instead of thinking, I’m dragging my sorry ass through the sloppy middle of this novel, think instead of telling the reader more about each character. Check in and make sure your favorite characters have been adequately described. Can the reader visualize them?  Can you?    Once you start describing your characters, they have a chance to speak, as well as move forward.  They may surprise you.

Reframing the activity can trick your brain and that monkey mind, into thinking you aren’t really doing anything amazing at all, just working a bit here, jotting down some ideas over there.  Nothing to see here, move on.

The less portentous the project, the easier it is to approach. And even a half hour of work in the face of paralysis is a win.

Breaking down that block can be as simple as naming the project something else. Something smaller. Work on what you can work on and continue to ignore what’s packed in all those bags of expectations.  Don’t focus on the outcome, or the imagined consequences or accolades the finished project will bring.  Stay with writing the next paragraph. You’ll get more done and as a result, will have conquered both boredom and the block.

Newbie

I don’t care what anyone says, writers’ block exists. Maybe we can focus that term down a bit. Writer’s block for the current story exists. As I write this, I am stuck on my medieval fantasy story. It sits on the virtual shelf for a few reasons out of my control, but one is also that I’m stuck. I can re-read the 20 odd thousand words and am happy with it, but I can get to the end of the half sentence I left and literally just shrug. One cannot explain why I am stuck where I am. Perhaps I need to sit and sort out another part of the story first and join the dots to make it convincing.

Also, my brain refuses to just write anything down. It needs to be correct in my head first before the words can flow.

There are many tasks/tips on how to break writers’ block and many involve writing something else, writing anything, but in the end, that is writing something else and not your story. Perhaps the best way to overcome it is to spend some time writing around your story, follow another character, or develop some back story. You can keep this in a separate folder later, but maybe, just maybe you’ll hit that connecting dot and run with your imagination until you hit the next block.

Or drink a lot. I know I do.

Prompt

Listen to your favorite song – take the lyrics and turn them into a story.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Share This:

Playing with Unhappy Blocks – What we Believe About Writer’s Block

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

There are some authors who do not believe in Writer’s Block and some do.  And most believe that if you believe in Writer’s Block the condition will immediately manifest in your life evidenced by the blank screen before you.

Writer’s block can be very real.  But there are ways to understand it and conquer it.  Because at Newbie Writers,  we are all about conquering fear. Advice for Writers

There are three categories of non-writing:  thinking about, blocked by it, unhappy about it.   Thinking is self-evident, you must spend time thinking about the writing in order for more ideas to emerge and insights to come to light. We aren’t discussing that here. We are talking about unhappiness and  blocks.

I came across the idea of unhappiness after reading the Seven steps on the Writer’s Path by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott.    And if I could have hunted these two fine ladies down, I would have booked them as guests on the show. No luck.  Surprising there are some authors who don’t want to be found.

They write that the seven steps to writers block are:  Unhappiness, Wanting, Commitment, Wavering, Letting Go, Immersion, Fulfillment.

I will not belabor the points here; you can read the book yourself.  But I do want to point out that the authors cover something that is sometimes over looked and misunderstood:  unhappiness.  I think this unhappiness or restlessness is a critical step and key to the writing process.   I appreciate  Pickard and Lott for addressing it.

Newbie Writers interpret unhappiness as failure. Other writers and creatives consider this unhappiness as an inadequacy or worse, a sign they should quit creative work and take up insurance sales, just like their father told them to do.  I even lost a client because she wanted me to fix her unhappiness right now, rather than work through the steps that would have taken her from unhappiness with her creative project back to writing (or commitment if you like to follow your steps in chronological order).

“Unhappiness, to one degree or another, is where all creativity begins.”  And the even more interesting observation:  “Boredom is a dead giveaway to the probability that creative is lurking in your psyche.”

What does unhappiness look like?  You aren’t crying, you aren’t tearing your clothes and lamenting, tossing ash into the air and spilling your guts out during a book club meeting.

Unhappiness does often look like alcohol in inadvisable amounts.  Or chocolate in Ben & Jerry’s amounts, or the family size pizza for one.  But none of those options will really do the trick – sorry.

Unhappiness isn’t quite like Writer’s Block, although it can develop into a block fairly easily, which should be prevented at all possible. And unhappiness isn’t exactly the problem we have with our internal editor – those flying monkeys of our conscious mind.

Unhappiness, in the writing world, is closely associated with boredom.  You hate the book; you hate the project.  You hate your hero, he is boring and does nothing but fight in a pub all night and never steps out for  a breath of fresh air.  You are bored with your own mind –  that is why you are unhappy.

But the trough of despair doesn’t have to become a permanent, deep, rut.  It can be just a brief resting place.

So how to manage this?

Crawl  out of the trough, and jump right back onto the same path.

Step away from the project.

Boredom and unhappiness is your brain revving up, about to launch again, it’s closely aligned to creative  thinking.   Your brain, (I say this from experience) is on the verge of delivering a break through.  Your Muse is hovering, ready to descend.  It’s about to happen, which, ironically, is why you are so upset and yes, unhappy.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, for my Scandinavian family, it’s a contact sport, but knowing that will not help you here.  Don’t deny you are unhappy, admit it.  If you don’t, you will stare at that computer screen for hours, picking away at a plot you hate – one tiny letter at a time.  You will most certainly feel dry and used up. You most certainly feel like a failure.   

Walk away.  Like writer’s block, like the internal editor, unhappiness is best managed off the court.  Go find another creative outlet that is different – sometimes very different, then what you are trying to create.  Just the inattention will sometimes do the trick and reduce the unhappiness time and lead you to the solution.

So if you write, dance, sing, collage, paint.  If you dance, write your memoirs. If you paint, write poems.   Walk instead of write.  Sports are even good – run, kayak, play a game involving any number and shapes of balls. Do something that makes you happy again.  The release will not only make you feel immediately better, but when you show up to work the next day, you’ll be surprised to discover that the work you hated yesterday afternoon looks pretty okay in the morning light.  You forgive, you forget, you will write again.

Look at your unhappiness and restlessness as outwards manifestations of your inner turmoil. Once you see it and feel it, and after you indulge in an activity that takes you out of yourself, you will feel better.  After a few days consciously avoiding the page, you will be able to return and say what you really want to say – take your heroine where she really needs to go, and do it all faster and more easily.

Okay, that will help with unhappiness.  What about Writer’s Block?  Real?  Imagined?  Well, if you can’t write, if you are stuck, then it’s real.  More on Writer’s Block in the next blog.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Share This:

Finding the Right Wizard: Social Media Strategies for Authors

One of the most challenging projects writers face is promotion. How to describe our beautiful books?  How to break down the book into effective social media posts?  Why didn’t anyone mention this in the creative writing seminar?

I have a broom and a bucket, here are some ideas on how to defeat the witch and discover your own happy social media place for your book.

Here is how Frank L Baum may have initially  described his first book:

I wrote a book set in Kansas but it doesn’t stay there, a big tornado takes the heroine, Dorothy to the magical land of OZ.  No, you can’t find it on a map.  There, Dorothy meets a good witch and a bad witch, the good witch is very pretty.  From Munchkin land she must travel to the Emerald city, which isn’t really emerald, everyone just wears green glasses, anyway, she meets colorful characters along the way, a lion, tin man and scarecrow and they all have adventures as they travel to OZ where even though they reach Oz, and meet the Wizard of Oz, which is the title of the book, now they learn  they must kill the witch and so they have more adventures in order to kill the witch so Dorothy can go home.

Is the killing dramatic?Don't Write LIke We Talk

Oh very, Dorothy throws water on the witch.

Sound familiar?  We have spent all our time and energy creating the narrative and following our heroine through one adventure after the next and we have that nailed.  But now we’re asked to describe our platform to an agent and it’s a totally different mindset. And most of us would rather hold our breath while jogging through a  field of poison poppies.

Let’s say Frank attended a social media/platform seminar.  Here is what he learned to say:

The Wizard of Oz is about a plucky American girl who adventures through a foreign land. But despite its many temptations and colorful characters, she only wants to go home. This is perfect adventure for Depression era readers still reeling from the Great War.  Dorothy embodies the hopes and dreams that our young people will want to stay home and on our farms but does it without preaching.  For the kids, there are flying monkeys and witches.

Now here are some platform themes that can be used to promote the book and find the likely audience for the book:

  • Plucky American girls
  • Adventures in foreign lands
  • Importance of home
  •  Depression era readers wanting escape.
  • Flying monkeys and witches.

Take quotes from the book or the above meta-themes of the book and post them on three of the big five social media outlets (yeah, 3 out of 5, there is bound to be a couple of social media channels you don’t relate to, then don’t feed them, it’s okay) :

  • Facebook Page  – Specifically for the book (you can have many pages)
  • Linked In – your own account
  • Pinterest – boards dedicated to the book
  • Twitter – your own account
  • Instagram – your own account – but you can change the bio to reflect the book
  • Blog from your own web site – do this and drive all the other social outlets to your web site and/or the blog.  Alternate between this and your direct link to the book on Amazon.

Plucky  American Girls

  • Blogs interviewing plucky American Girls
  • Pins celebrating young heroines
  • Connect with plucky girl Instagram accounts
  • Tweet about female heroines
  • FB Group for American Girl heroines or adventurers

Adventures in Foreign lands

  • Pinterest on travel
  • Pinterest on fantasy places
  • Blog about fantasy places
  • FB group, adventures

Home

  • Celebrate home
  • Blog stories about families or children finding their home
  • Pinterest on home
  • Tweet about home stories
  • FB Page about the book, which can cycle all the above on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

This is perfect adventure for depression era readers still reeling from the Great War.

  • Pinterest – photos of happy military coming home
  • Tweets – Domestic pleasures:
  • Pinterest – boards on homes and comfort
  • Instagram – favorite home spots

For the kids, there are flying monkeys and witches.

  • Pinterest board on Witches
  • Pinterest board on monkeys, flying and otherwise
  • Blog about monkeys and or witches
  • FB posts with a contest for ugliest witch photo
  • Contest through FB on who has the scariest story

I recommend:

  • Blog twice a month
  • Instagram three to four times a week
  • FB three times a week (just for the book page, your personal account can be updated up to twice a day if your life is particularly interesting which mine is not which saves me a lot of FB time).
  • Pinterest – every blessed day,  or twice a week.
  • Twitter – five to six times a day
  • Goodreads –  every day depending on your tolerances

Some pundits will tell you that Pitching and Promoting your book is as easy as following the yellow brick road, but the effort often devolves into a fight to the death against flying monkeys.  It’s easier if you first deconstruct the book, identify the larger themes of the book and create social media posts from that effort – If you work up front to focus on who you want to reach, it will simplify your work times ten.

Do this, and maybe the flying monkeys will leave you alone.

 

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Share This:

My life is so interesting . . . I should write a book

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a Don't Write LIke We Talkcompilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

My life is so interesting . . .

No, it’s not.

No one’s life is all that interesting, fortunately, we think our own lives are pretty fascinating but if you’ve ever listened to someone on their cell phone, you know that isn’t true at all.

So why write a memoir if we just decided you aren’t that interesting?  No one’s whole LIFE is interesting but you may have something that happened during your life that is true and has a story arc that would be worth sharing with readers and the public at large.

Or say you survived an interesting period of history in your area and you want to share that time with your children and grandchild.  That is a good reason to write.

What if you have family history to pass along?  Please do, but not through all the genealogical research, write up the information in narrative, story form, or no one, not even your favorite grandchild, will read it.  Oh, they will say they will read it, but after you are gone, how are you going to know?

We recorded an in-depth podcast – episode 45 –  with Linda Joy Meyers, the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and author of the Author: Power of Memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother http://memoriesandmemoirs.com   www.thepowerofmemoir.com 

Linda recounted the time she visited her great- grandmother and realized the only way to discover how history was lived, was to ask.

“Great grandmother was 80 and I was 8.  She remembered Custer’s last stand.  And how people baked bread and delivered each other’s  babies.  It blew my mind that she lived all this. It was that moment that I realized that everyone has a story inside of them.”

It took her many years to write her memoir and during the process she founded the National Association of Memoir Writers to help others write their memories.  Along with Linda, we offer up some of the concerns and solutions for newbie memoirists.

Does everyone need to die before you can write your memoir?  No, but it helps.

Do you change names and details?

Write the memoir using the right names, if anything, to keep it all straight.  Remember, the memoir needs to be true to your memory and your experience.  Most people change names to protect the guilty, that said, if you write a memoir about your family, no matter what you write, they all know who you are talking about. Damien pointed out that in his memoir, which is about his father, he didn’t change the names because, at the end of the day, his father’s name is still dad.

And sometimes family members want to be in the book and are deeply insulted if they are left out.  Don’t tell people early on you are writing a memoir, or they will start bugging you early on.  Keep it private for a while.

Write the book first, deal with the family in question, second.

If you have a committee standing around talking in your head, you will never get started You need to start!

Memoir by definition is a perception of what happened according to you.  The memories and repercussions belong to you alone. When writers worry about telling the truth, in the memoir world – the truth is your own point of view about what happened.  A sibling may remember the same incident differently.  If so, they can write their own damn book.

How do you even start a memoir?  Remember that a memoir a part of your life and experience, not your whole life – that’s autobiography, which can be more unwieldy and may lack a clear story arch.  You are telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Sometimes the easiest way to start your memoir and to get going is to consider not only the big events in your life but also the small, seemingly insignificant memories.

Why do we remember these at all?

Damien had some big memories that he began writing about, and they are very powerful.  But what about the smaller ones?  Here’s why I bring that up.  The small memories, add to your work and give depth to the memoir as well as give the reader a brief rest from the intensity of the stronger or more dramatic scenes.

I would also argue that these trivial memories are not as unimportant as they first seem as we write them down.

Why did we remember that particular Halloween?  Why did we forget the details of our prom, yet can recall, with spooky clarity, that campout?

Because as unimportant as they may seem, our remembered moments are revealing, and often we don’t understand how revealing until we begin writing about them.

Consider one of your clear even cherished memories?  Why do you remember it at all?   What is telling about that memory?  Why is it lodged so deeply in your brain, in your sense of smell, in your mental catalog of evocative sounds?

One reason we remember these moments is because they came before.  If you reflect back on big events of your life, you can often remember the day, the hour, the moment before just as clearly. So it becomes a two-part memory.  What you were doing before the divorce, the death, the accident.  You can recall those moments just before everything changed.

Call up the odd particulars of your childhood.

Toys and games from your childhood.  My favorite example of this is when we were kids, a popular game was Lawn darts.  Big, pointed darts we hurled at a target set on the grass.  Great fun, imagine when your little brother got in the way.

During my childhood, two plastic relief maps that hung in the hallway leading to my bedroom.    One was a map of the US, the other was a map of the world.  Stopped by often to trace our trip from California to South Dakota, fascinated that the black hills were these isolated little bumps in the center of essentially flat states.

I loved to examine the world map and imagine where I would go when I could finally grow up.

This is a small, isolated image, but one that can be used to launch a memoir, a short story or launch a whole novel.  Your memories and impressions can be used, stretched and manipulated into great fiction if you want.  And this may be another option as you explore your memories.

In all deference to Woolf, sometimes recalling calm, unimportant moments are exactly what we need to do in order to launch the bigger life changing moments.  The average can set the stage for the remarkable.

Some good memoir examples:

The Glass Castle: A Memoir  by  Jeannette Walls

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Don’t let’s go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

These are good because they do not over analysis or even editorialize their own story, they do not give away the ending, even though you know the author survived if only to write the book.

As a contrast, what books are not good examples of good memoir writing?

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey   

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

When you write about your past or childhood.  Avoid blame and editorializing.  Just write what happened and what you felt at the time, not thirty years later in hindsight.

First, you lose the immediacy of the narrative and scene if you write from a high perspective your work will become pedantic and dull.

Choose one scene, one time and experiment.   It took me a few tries and about 30,000 words before I realized I was REALLY BORING.  I mean, startling, elaborately, unbelievably boring.  I have a happy marriage and happy children and a mostly happy mother.  Really, my husband’s siblings are all lovely people.  See the problem? I have no problems.

Good memoir needs more than just happy all the time.  What was a difficult time for you? If you write about it will it help others?  Is your story strong enough to build a platform on?  If not, don’t panic, just makeup stuff.  That’s called fiction.   

Newbie

I’m not sure on memoirs for the everyday person. I certainly am against memoirs of famous people who are yet to reach their 30’s as I don’t need to be reminded about those talentless sods who win the life lottery.

If you are considering writing a memoir, have a look back on your life and take note of the events in your life that are truly different, or extraordinary. Pick one or two of these events and explore that for your memoir, not your whole life. We (Maybe more like I) don’t really when you were born and why you were upset because Daddy didn’t hug you enough. But what is interesting is that time you were sent off to war and what happened there, or perhaps the time your wife had a baby that was severely disabled and how your life changed, the lessons you learned.

Focus down your memoir and cover that. If it’s not enough for decent length book, then write it down and share it with your loved ones. Not the world.

Prompt 

Write your own Wikipedia entry.  Describe yourself, your career, or what you want your career to be. Who do you want to be?  Rock star, super star. Newbie Writers Wikipedia

Write your own

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Share This:

Editor, Editors Everywhere

Warning

Don't Write LIke We TalkThis blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

Editor, like Publisher, has become a broader category than it once was in the past.  It used to be that the editor/writer relationship looked like a scene out of Spider-Man.  The Editor in charge wants a photo of Spiderman, and Peter Parker better get one or be fired.

Editors have evolved.

The best way to think of an editor is a good editor will prevent you from inadvertently upsetting your reader.

I was discussing the books of a very popular writer with another   NaNoWriMo writer who had just read the most recent publication.  My friend complained that some of the simplest continuity in the book failed. (And this is an author that attracts massive advances and has a phalanx of editors).   The sin is not the inconsistency itself, in this book the heroine runs out of butter in one paragraph, makes a big deal about not having any butter, then uses copious amounts of butter on the very next page.  As readers, we were not really concerned that the butter in question seemed to magically appear in the refrigerator, although that would be handy in real life, our complaint was that such a careless oversight succeeded in wrenching the reader (my friend) out of the literary fictional world and out on the cold street, now conscious she was holding a book of paper or electronic bits exclaiming, I thought she was OUT of butter!

You the author have a responsibility to maintain your contract with the reader.  The reader promises to suspend disbelief and you promise to not suddenly jerk them back to reality before they are ready.  The editor helps maintain this contract, because he or she is a reader, they can catch situations and discrepancies that you cannot see.  Don’t yell at them, be grateful.

An ACQUIRING EDITOR buys the book from an agent or author. When you attend conferences and talk with editors, you are most likely speaking with an acquiring editor.  Acquiring editors come in various shapes and sizes.  Blog editors are acquiring editors.  We are editors in the sense that we vet potential guests.

To be guest blogger, to see your work published in an anthology.  To become part of a publishing house collection, you are working directly with that acquiring editor.

Study the periodical, and /or develop a relationship with the blog editor, if you want to write for Newbie Writers, be nice to Damien and listen to the pod casts so you have an idea of what we’re about.  The more you know, the better you can tailor your work to what the editor wants and needs, the better your chances.

Always query an editor with your idea and don’t attach anything, attachments make editors break out into hives and that’s not an auspicious start to your relationship.   Queries should give the editor a complete picture of what your blog, article or idea is about. Include what they ask for. Don’t send anything they don’t ask to see.

DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR.  This editor helps the author, if needed, with plot, structure, pacing, and writing style.  Coaches (like me) are essentially developmental editors.  We help with the structure of your book.  We walk you through the process of creating the book.

We will also help you polish the work before submitting your book to a publisher or agent.

Content and development editors are big picture experts with degrees in literature and/or creative writing.  They will find structural challenges in your story but likely they will not find typos, for that you need to hire a copy editor.

Copy editors are emergency response teams. These fearless editors are the people who can spot a typo at fifty paces and know how to resurrect a sentence.  You only need these experts in an emergency.  And the last round of edits for your book often seems like an emergency.

You will either get an assigned copy editor through your publisher (and this is not a suggestion) or you will hire a copy editor to save you from yourself before you publish your book yourself.

If you hire a freelance copy editor, find out what they usually look for, and add in what you want them to find.  Do you need to make sure the plot hangs together? Or do you just want to make sure the heroine’s eye color doesn’t change between chapter 2 and chapter 46.

Be specific, the more you want to be checked, the more expensive the work will be.  Which makes sense.

If you are assigned an editor by your publisher, he or she will check for grammar, punctuation, spelling and typos, all the usual stuff.  They will also make sure the book fits the publisher’s editorial style.

This where authors and editors come to blows.

You’ve heard authors say phrases like – editorial hell. Authors will lament that they are arguing with their editor.  They will claim that their editor knows nothing.  Or post on social media to not bother them, they are working on their damn edits for their book.   

When the edits for Future Girls (Eternal Press) were finally, finally, finally returned, I figured I would spend at least two or three weeks in editorial hell with the manuscript.

It wasn’t that bad.

And I credit a relatively easy final editing session to my Beta readers.  Making the edits the readers suggested before sending the manuscript to the publisher made all the difference.

But nothing is ever perfect. I still had work to do.

My book – Future Girls had to follow the editorial style that (the then)   Eternal Press books had to follow.  I was no different.

According to the editor, or in this case, the style guide she employed: “No beginning sentences with “And,” “Or,” or “But”.  Sigh. I start sentences with “And” all the time. And I because I start sentences with “and” I don’t penalize my students for doing the same. It was a tick I had learned to ignore.  So it was a foreign thing to hunt down those ands and change them all.  Pain in the ass.  (Running a search and replace for the word and is not an activity I recommend). But I did it.

“Em dashes. Our formatting program recognizes a double dash as an em-dash with no space before or after. Also, no spaces before or after an ellipsis.”  So I hunted down the damn spaces.  Picky picky.  But that’s the hell part.  Some authors, sorry, often new authors, will argue that they don’t want to change a single one of their sentences because it is part of their art – their style – their message.  That is silly.  Once you delivered your novel to a publisher, it’s now part of that publisher’s collection – they are responsible for the look and feel of their own products.  You can go along with this, or you can, like Virginia Woolf who never allowed anyone to edit her work – publish it yourself.

You’ll still need at least a copy editor.

Mark Twain suggested that every time you use “very” in a sentence, just change it to “damn” and the editor will subsequently remove all the damns and your sentences will be in good shape.

Editors are wonderful and important members of your team.  Be kind to your editor, keep him or her around.  I was thrilled when the editor of Future Girls came out of retirement to edit Future Gold.  She already knew the story; she knew my style – the editing went well.  I also attribute that to changing all the sentences starting with AND before I sent her the manuscript.

I can be taught.

Prompt

Rewrite the end.

Have you ever been dissatisfied with the ending of a book?  Take the end, or the last chapter, and rewrite it.  This is of course, how fan fiction is created, but you don’t need to post it or do anything with it.  Just create an alternative ending and work from there.  You may well begin another story!

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Share This:

Got My Period

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

After a breakneck presentation to authors on how to stay calm and deliver a great presentation to agents. My friend Betsy Fasbinder (guest as well) commented to me that I needed to talk more like I wrote.  Stop at those periods, she said.  Take a breath at those commas.

Take a breath?  I had only half an hour to deliver all the information these newbie authors needed and I wanted them to have everything!  I wanted them to present themselves and their projects so clearly and well that they would walk out of Pitch O Rama, the event we coordinated for authors, with an agent’s card and a promise to review their manuscript.Don't Write LIke We Talk

Of course, Betsy was right.

That pause, that comma and period was invented for breathless people like me to help us when we speak.

After all, that’s what they were invented to do.

Early Latin texts were written with all the letters jammed together with no breaks between. Just evenly spaced letters filling the page, and elegantwallpaperr certainly, difficult to read, most assuredly.  So as priests started to read, it was necessary to create some kind of symbol to help them with pauses and stops.  Writers haven’t looked back.

The comma allows the reader to break for just a nanosecond, and that helps embed the meaning of the sentence even better into their tiny brains.  Periods allow everyone to take a breath.  My trouble is I’m a fast talker, one deep breath and I can belt out two or three paragraphs talking much faster than my poor audience can listen.  I need to or three periods at the end of each sentence to get the point across to me.  Stop.  Take a breath.

The best way to think of a period is to re-name it like the Australians.  Full Stop.  It sounds like reading a telegram out loud.  Full Stop.  But that period has some drama in it.  The sentence is done; the act has been accomplished.  The question: to be or not to be.  Full stop.  There’s a lot to consider in that one statement.  Let it stand.  Move on.

If I can learn to do this, so can you.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Share This:

Who is Talking? Trouble with POV

Don't Write LIke We TalkWarning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

POV, Who to Blame?

Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the character.  Point of view is the story as seen through the eyes of the narrator.  The most common narrator is Third Person Limited, (not his real name), followed by Third Person Unreliable, which was someone I once dated.   Third person POV is the simplest way to tell a story.  But writers can still get it wrong.

We are reasonably intelligent, even talented people. Why the confusion over point of view?

Film and Video games are part of the confusion; they are hell on   POV.

Film gives you the long shot, shows other people that the main character cannot possibly know or see.  Film gives you zooming perspectives close-ups ups.  Film mixes it up.  Film shows us who and what is around the corner.  Film gives us the character motivation visually.  We are used to knowing everything.

Video games are even better at violating POV.

You already know the cast of characters and their motivation and strengths because you reviewed them all before starting the game. When they pop up, you already know stories, motivation, and moves.

Great for a game.  Great for a film

Crappy for a novel.

If we already know everything, what is the point of the journey?  So how do we keep the point of view clear in our novel?

Here are some ideas:

Cleaning up POV

  • Does your character suddenly know what the other character is thinking?
  • Are you creating scenes of action or explaining motivation?
  • Is there action that accompanies the dialogue?
  • If the view from above a little mixed up?
  • Have you decided on who is filtering the story and sticking to it? Readers will forgive a great deal, but not an author who violates his or her own world.
  • In reviewing your second draft, ask the question, how does character A know that about Character B?

Solutions in the first draft

  • Write the action from one point of view, all the way to the end of the story.
  • Then write the same story from the other character. Now put them together. Sometimes all it takes is for us to be clear in our own heads who is talking to whom.
  • If each character has a secret, and a history, that helps keep each one clear in the reader’s mind.
  • Also if the other characters do not know the secret, then that will help notify you as you write if you’ve overstepped the POV and suddenly switched to mind-reading.
  • Be clear. Stay in the right head, stay with the right character. And everything will be okay.

First, let’s confuse the whole issue.  In her great book – Shoot Your Novel, CS Lakin advocates that writers behave more like directors and “shoot” scenes in your books.

One, because it will help make for a more interesting book and two because your readers are quite familiar with the jump cut, the fade out, the high point of view, the close-up.  We are steeped in visual storytelling, so if you can capture some of that essence in your book, you will be well served, and we hope, well read.

To summarize:  Is the scene a fully formed scene?  Can you clearly “see” the action or is there something lacking?  Did you mention the right things that will pop up in later scenes?  Is the heroine described well enough, is the villain described well enough?  And of course, in the second and third edits, did you write it all down or did you assume a few things because they are so embedded in your head?

That said, as you view your work with the eye of a director, what are the pitfalls of this approach? One of the pitfalls is point of view confusion.

Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the character.  Point of view is the story as seen through the eyes of the narrator.  The most common narrator is Third Person Limited, (not his real name).  Followed by Third Person Unreliable, which was someone I once dated.   It is one of the easiest ways to tell a story.  But writers can still get it wrong.

The third person view “sees” all the actin and knows what each character thinks and feels.  The trick is to make sure the thinking and feeling happen in different paragraphs.

So the problem becomes:  Glen opened the door, oops, there was Melissa, awake, fully dressed and angry that he was once again, late.

How does Glen really know what Melissa is thinking?

Glen opened the door, there was Melissa, still fully dressed, clutching an empty glass.  She lifted it as if to throw it, but changed her mind.  “Late again.”  She spits out.

Third person limited is akin to Third person omniscient, which, just as the label indicates, means that you, the reader along with your handy God-like narrator, know everything.

Glen knew that Melissa would be angry, he had of late, made it a habit of arriving home at all hours, this could be because of his growing ambivalence about the relationship, this was clearly his way of rebelling against Melissa’s controlling nature.

Mellissa waited at home, frantic because Glen was late. Why did she always take up with unreliable men?  There must have been some issue in her early childhood.

But First Person Unreliable is the most fun.  The story is told by an idiot signifying . . . sorry.  The story is told by a character deeply entrenched in the story itself.  The only views the reader knows are those of the narrator. The narrator cannot read minds, he or she can only respond to what they think they see and what they observe.  This helps build characters and keeps the plot on track.

I was late.  I’ve been late a lot, but Melissa didn’t need to take it so personally, I just like being out with my mates.

“Where have you been?”  She shrieked as soon as I opened the door.  I ducked as a scotch glass hurled by my head.  It crashed on the far wall.

“Not that late.”  I protested.

She dropped her hand and looked at me with what?  Pain?  Disgust. Sex, she definitely wanted sex, I could tell.

See?  How much more fun, especially when the narrator is so very, very wrong.

Seems pretty straightforward.  Why all the confusion?  Just pick a character and stick with him or her.

Ah, the reason we have such a difficult time with POV – Point of View, is movies.

Film gives you the long shot, shows other people that the main character cannot possibly know or see.  Film gives you zooming perspectives and close ups.  Film mixes it up.

And so we reasonably try the same in our novels and stories.

Doesn’t work as well – the grammar police, our editors call us on it every time – if we are lucky.

Newbie

I think that just about covers it.

Prompt

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

What do you write for publication?  What do you write for the heck of it?  Are they two different activities?

Give yourself a couple minutes and write exactly what you want.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon
Like us on Facebook – Newbie Writers Group

Share This:

Why Egypt – What Inspires Travel

Rickshaw in Luxor, EgyptMy Grandmother died Christmas Day. Some would say, finally.  She herself would say, finally.  With grandmother’s death, my mother was mysteriously free.  She immediately booked a trip to Egypt for March – three months away.

There was no good way for Western women to travel in this Muslim country without a tour, without the protection of a group and frankly a male leading the group. So we booked with a great deal of trepidation and consternation, a tour.   

Mom, who spent ten years traveling with Dad making travel films and touring them  (in the late 80s early 90s, they hit this business  at exactly the right time.  Now it’s all video of course)

considered tours anathema. Tours were terrible, restrictive, crowded, uninspiring and boring.  Tours were not the way a real traveler worked through the world.

But if you want Egypt, you must travel with a tour.

Sphinx, Cairo, EgyptWhy Egypt?  Why not Disneyworld?

Elizabeth Peters that’s why.

Starting with The Crocodile on the Sandbank, we read and collected all 19 books in a series that followed 19th Century archaeologist  Amelia Peabody and her husband through excavating and adventuring through Egypt.   The author herself holds a Ph.D. in Egyptology and knows what she’s talking about.

We loved the books, and we were mad to see the tombs, the pyramids, Shepards Hotel (which had burned to the ground, so we had to make due)  the dusty Cairo museum (which did not disappoint, it is dusty and as cluttered as it probably was in the 1800s).  We wanted to see it all.

And we could.

That was another thing.

We could.  Again, I give my mother some credit, her motto is travel to unstable countries when they are stable.  This from a woman who traveled through Spain during Franco and doesn’t remember seeing the Sagria Familia, which makes sense as at the time, the cathedral was closed and in disrepair.

So, peace in Egypt, relative stability.

Luxor Temple, Egypt

We went.

What books inspired your travels?  What films locations did you want to see with your own eyes?  It’s the start, these films and books, and the more you read, the more you know, the more exciting and interesting the trip will be.

Promise.

Follow me for more random comments about travel and writing and how to do both successfully.  For no other reason that it will make your life that much more interesting.

Join the group!  Join us on Travel/Write on Facebook, post your writing photos and inspirations.  Nothing celebrates travel like more travel!

Share This:

What Sells? Genre

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

  

Genre sells Don't Write LIke We Talk

Non-fiction/ how-to sells.

How to make money sells.

Non-Fiction books on how to write genre books and make lots of money  sell the best.

We don’t get many questions about genre, and the essence is covered in the price of a best seller. I think because I write genre fiction, both mystery and science fiction and, if you will, YA – Young Adult, I assume that since I know and write the material of the genre, most of my readers are familiar with the types, the rules and how to do it.
There are more books than is probably prudent to shelve on the subject of genre. How to write a killer mystery, For Love and Money, etc. Follow the writing advice of CS Lakin in the Twelve Pillars of Fiction or Beth Barany’s Adventures of Writing, or Elizabeth Sims Writing a Book is Easy and you’ll be covered in the genre field as well.

Genre fiction falls into the same category as Doritos Nacho tortilla chips. Compelling, delicious and addictive. You must eat until the bag is empty. A well-written genre book is exactly the same. And who wouldn’t want to produce an established addictive product? It worked for Starbucks, it can work for you.
Genre fiction is not famous for its insights or erudite comments on the human condition. These books are not novels in the way we understand literary fiction. Genre books are plot driven. The characters are big and beautiful. The story is fairly straightforward. The narrative is linear, there are few tricks or sleight of hand. Tell us a good story. Tell us again and again.
Women are the readers of genre fiction. Some read 3 or 4 books a day (many are reading romance at this rate). They love the books, they are loyal fans, they show up at conferences and cheer their authors on to write more and more.
These fans are online. They will talk with you and deliver feedback. It’s all beautiful and it can be overwhelming.
The secret to genre writing is you must love the genre. You must read the genre yourself and know your favorites and know your competition.
You must be absolutely sincere and entrenched in your genre both to create a decent book and to create a decent existence. If you are not prepared to troop down to Comic Con in San Diego dressed as your lead character in order to hand sell your latest book, don’t write in the genre.
Reading the genre also allows you to absorb the tropes and conventions of that genre. Ideally, you know, in your very bones, what a good romance or horror novel entails. It should come naturally and it’s a deep knowledge that is difficult to fake, difficult to follow along in a how-to book. Dare we suggest that it should be fun?

I tried writing romance. I tried it for all the wrong reasons, it was supposed to be easy, it was selling, it was a way to break into publication.  I bought a couple of how -to books. I followed the formula.  What could be easier?
Winning a monkey knife fight would have been easier.
Giving birth to large-headed children was easier.
It was a total failure. Because I did not believe in the redemptive and total triumph of love over common sense. I did not believe that the strong, silent, misunderstood hunk of a man could be changed by the lovely, spunky girl. I did not believe in sincere dialogue and wet weepy eyes.
It did not work for me at all.
But finding a dead body in the bathroom of an empty house? No problem at all. I realized, after many starts and stops that I should write what I love to read. And I loved mysteries and science fiction books.
I knew the rules of those games. And played them much better.
Know the rules, know the styles, then rush out and invent your own twist on an established genre.
For writers, genre is an easier format to attract an agent.
It’s easier to find an indie publisher.
It’s easier to publish yourself and still get the attention you need.
It’s easier to sell.
It’s easier to find the conferences to attend
It’s easier, much easier, to find your audience.

You just gotta love it or your everyday writing will be a bore and a chore. And since that is what you are really doing all day, make it worth your time. Make it enjoyable. Be proud of what you write.

Newbie
Please don’t write something based on a genre you think will sell, or make you money. We have had plenty of guests who have written a book because it’s the hottest topic out there. Write a genre you understand and most importantly, a genre you like. I am a firm believer in writing what you are influenced by because the resulting story will be more genuine, it’ll have all the common tropes you have read from other stories and most importantly: it’ll be true to that genre.
I would suggest writing the story that is in your head as the genre will shine through during the writing process. It may end up a mixture of genres, horror and romance, fantasy and westerns… who knows. You’ll find a fit for your story.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Share This:

Travel/Write – Why Write While Traveling

For writers who travel and love to write.

Mom at a temple in India

Mom, avoiding the trampling elephants

Travel writing sounds so glamorous; get paid to see legendary places, sample unusual food, sleep in exotic hotels, all on a magazine’s expense account.  Wow right?  Except there are maybe four writers who get to work that way.  The majority of travel writers pay for their trips, write up the experience and work hard to publish those articles on a blog, newspaper or magazine and often receive about  $1,000 for their efforts.   So why bother?

Because Travel and Writing are in your blood and your blood is made of part oxygen, part helium, and part ink. Like all obsessive hobbies, writing about travel is pointless, costly and fun as hell – it can be found listed in the same category as water skiing, sky diving, or gourmet cooking, there is no why there is just expensive equipment.  The goal and you hope, ultimate outcome, is huge, massive satisfaction rather than any product.   Often my only takeaway after three weeks in a foreign country is a small ceramic elephant and a clutch of poorly rendered postcards.  And it’s all worth it.   

Travel will extend your year and extend your life, not those crappy years at the end, but next week.  Spent on foreign soil, next week will last much longer than usual.

But you know all this. There are blogs and blogs and blogs about the joy of travel: climbing Mt. Everest, hiking through North Korea, building schools in Afghanistan.  You can find all those missives, read them, believe them or not.

I love that travel is not a competitive sport. I don’t need to have a count or see “more” than another traveler.  I don’t need to stand in 100 countries.  In fact, that 100 country contest?  I actually counted the countries I did want to visit and arrived at 80.  What countries of you want to visit?  Five?  Ten?  Travel to where you want, not to rack up a number, because no one cares.  Most travelers will not ask your score.

For me, part of the adventure, of you can call it that, is traveling with my elderly mother.  ( I get to call her elderly because it’s my blog).  At 81, mom is no hiker.  She walks like one of those wind-up toys that teeter along,  half step after half step eventually falling off the edge of the coffee table.  So scaling Kilimanjaro is out.

But ushering her across the streets in  Mumbai was pretty damn exciting.

I know it was exciting because I made a note in my journal –  almost killed mom today.    I don’t edit while writing, but I do edit and editorialize on behalf of the blog or in telling the story to friends. With each telling, the traffic becomes denser, the street wider and mom slower.  It’s my story and I’ll enhance if I want to.

What about you?  You may be traveling this summer, do you think you’d like to write down some impressions, take a few notes, write up the draft for a poem that includes the bright summer sky, three new birds and your elderly parent?

All you need is a notebook. (See, this activity is already cheaper than base jumping).

Yes, you can make notes on your phone. Of course, you can.  When I pass by one of you doing this, hunched over, studious chimping away at the world’s smallest keyboard using just your opposable thumbs, I am amazed, impressed and can’t help note that more time is spent figuring out the keyboard and checking that the notes are correct rather than enjoying the surroundings.

Look up (especially if you’re writing about birds).

Bring the phone, but also bring a notebook.  Notebooks free you from the distraction of technology and encourage spontaneity.  Plus, no roaming fees. A good travel notebook is large enough for ephemera:  tickets stubs, postcards, coasters, business cards from the hotel, and small enough to fit in a pocket or purse.  Ideally, you can carry your notebook while wandering through a museum or sitting at a tiny cafe table.   

Don’t spend too much money on a fancy notebook,  it will just terrify you, you won’t want to deface it with your pen.

Pens, don’t assume pens. Take the pens you love and take more than just that one.  As soon as you think, oh, I’ll just pick up a pen at the airport or I’m sure there are pens available in Albania, there won’t be.  Take four or so, and scattered them through your luggage because a cluster of pens rubber banded together makes TSA personnel nervous.

Take a backup notebook.  Sure you found the perfect one, but just in case, throw another into the bottom of your suitcase, that way you won’t restrain your writing just because you have three pages to the end of the notebook, but four days left on the trip.

Should you aspire to create a Pinterest-worthy notebook?  Nope. I follow those boards and am amazed and impressed with the level of talent and creativity scuttling around the world.  I collect them on my travel/write board, but I cannot do it myself. Journals are filled with perfect square writing and elegant watercolors.  Stunning works of art. Impressive, impossible.

If you are worried about your mother pitching off the end of the felucca, you won’t have much time or bandwidth for stunning and beautiful.

But you will have time for notes and impressions.  Embrace the messy notebook, revel in creating something that will never be ready for its close-up.  The fun of a notebook is making the notes. Write a poem around the paper napkin filched from the trendy restaurant.  Make a couple of notes in your lap while your travel partners finish their coffee.

Record the sound of a bird, describe a tree.  Travel.  Write.

And join us on Facebook – Travel/Write.  A group of unrepentant writers and travelers.

Share This: