Friday, June 30, 2006
Ever feel like stretching your abilities as a writer is like teaching an old dog new tricks? I think most of us feel that way. You have written a certain way for so long, changing something about it is automatically the wrong thing. It’s scary. It’s the unknown.
When we take writing classes or attend seminars, we are taking that chance. I attended a writing conference once with the idea that I wasn’t sure what I was going to learn. I felt I had pretty much polished my abilities and was just biding my time until a publisher snatched up something I had produced. What a big head, huh?
Boy, did my eyes get opened. It was as if someone had dumped me in a pool of cold water and told me I’d been swimming the wrong way. It was as if my eyes were forced to see all the things I had been ignoring about my writing that needed to be changed, or could be changed to make it better. We can always use information and advice. That is something writers always seek, if my association with writers bears out the rest of them. We are always seeking for better ways to express ourselves, or better information to add fact and foundation to our plot.
Knowledge is the key to all writing, and what separates great writing from the poor stuff we occasionally find. The books we have all picked up after reading and thought, “Gee, I could do way better than this!” You can. And if you are doubting yourself, it just takes exposure and practice. Like everything else.
It’s like trying to teach an old dog new tricks. Sometimes it just takes a bigger and better treat. What kind of treat drives you? What is it that will take your writing to the next level? Just something to contemplate as you write. Are you writing the best you can? Or could a seminar or class be something you need to kick-start the next association that gets you noticed by an editor or agent? I don’t think any of us are too old to find out.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
By C. L. Beck
Ah, the old-fashioned typewriter. What? You’ve never used a typewriter? You must be a babe-in-the-woods, because anyone born before 1965 grew up knowing that nothing could ever put words on paper faster than a typewriter.
My first typewriter was an old, manual Royal, and since that’s the one I know the best, I’ll confine my remarks to it. A good typist could punch out 50 wpm—that’s whacks per minute—with only two errors. No wait. It’s been so long since I’ve used one that maybe wpm stands for words per minute. At any rate it doesn’t matter, because I was never able to get 50 whacks or words per minute out of it. My average was 20 wpm, with fifty mistakes.
Do you know why keyboards are not arranged alphabetically, in an order that actually makes sense to the human mind? According to my vast research—ok, I’ll admit it, I don’t remember where I heard this useless bit of information, it was probably on Paul Harvey—keyboards have the letters scrambled to slow the typist down.
Does that make sense to you? If the object is to type as fast as possible, why set up the keys to slow you down? The reason was this. With a manual typewriter, when you hit the keys too fast, they’d slam into each other and get all tangled. Yes, really, it’s true. They’d kink together and the typist had to reach in and unsnarl them. You could always tell a fast typist by the copious black ink smudges on his/her fingers, acquired from untangling inked keys.
Let’s not forget the inked ribbon. You’d be flying along, whacking out sentences, finally getting the rhythm when your words on the paper would grow dimmer and dimmer. However, only really good typists knew that was happening, because they actually looked at the paper as they typed. Everyone else looked at the keyboard, because they couldn’t remember the scrambled order for the letters. By the time most people realized they needed to change the ribbon, they’d typed three pages of invisible words.
There was also the matter of mistakes. There was only one way to fix a mistake and that was to get the Liquid Paper. If you don’t remember what that is, it’s a correction fluid created in the kitchen of Mike Nesmith’s mother.
You don’t remember Mike Nesmith, either? Oh come on, you’re making me feel old. He was a member of a singing group called The Monkees.
Back to the Liquid Paper. To describe it, it’s a tiny jar of white paint with a teeny brush. You dabbed it carefully on the mistakes, allowed it to air dry, and then retyped over it. If the typist was doing multiple, carbon copies, he/she had to remember to make the correction on each copy. It was only after you retyped the words that you realized you’d forgotten to let the Liquid Paper dry, and you had a messy white blob on your keys and carbon paper.
Liquid Paper is still available today, and I use it quite frequently. Somehow, though, it doesn’t seem to work as well. I spread it on my computer screen, but the mistakes seem to print out from my printer, just the same.
Despite all their problems, manual typewriters had one really neat aspect. Their sound was mesmerizing. You’d zip along, hearing clickety-clickety, clackety-clackety, BING! The ‘bing’ was the signal that you had reached the edge of the paper, and you needed to hit the carriage return lever to start on the next line.
Hitting the carriage return did have its potential problems, however. Once, after typing half a line, I made the mistake of putting my water glass at the right-hand side of the typewriter. All went well, until I came to the edge of the paper. I’d been punching along, typing at the whopping speed of at least 15 wpm and was so engrossed in my writing that when I heard the familiar ‘bing’, I hit the carriage return lever without thinking. The carriage flew back to the right and slammed into my glass, flinging ice and water all over the desk, curtains and walls.
I have to admit, after thinking back on the era, that typewriters were interesting but computers are so much more practical. My computer has never flung my glass of water across the room. No longer do I have to untangle keys, or get my fingers smudged using carbon paper. I can get my thoughts down much more quickly and never have to return the carriage to start on the next line.
Despite the advantages of a computer, I still have one problem. It seemtth that even with compooters, I still make mistakes. Until I find a way to fix that, Maybe I’d betterr buy stock in Liquid Paper.
By Nichole Giles
On the second day of the BYU workshop I recently attended, author Martine Leavitt lectured us on “How to make your reader love your character.” I thought this was a fitting lesson, since our readers must love our main character in order to keep reading. One person mentioned she had once read a book in which she absolutely hated the main character, but kept reading because the plot was so engrossing. I think that book was probably either extremely well plotted, or the exception to the rules. Maybe it was both.
Before we can make our readers love our main character, we should take time to get to know them. “Learn about your characters by hanging out with them,” Martine said.
Your readers don’t necessarily need to know your character’s favorite foods, or colors, or movies—but maybe you should. What do you really know about this person? How will they act when put into a conflict situation? You’re telling the story of his or her life; don’t you think you should take some time and really know all about it?
In the spirit of getting to know your character, here is your next homework assignment (courtesy of Martine Leavitt): Interview your character using the following questions.
1. What is your happiest memory?
2. What are you most afraid of?
3. What is your biggest regret?
4. What is the one thing you’ve never told anyone?
This can be done in the form of a question answer session, or a letter from the character to you. Do this in no more than one page.
You might be surprised at the insight you can get from asking your character such personal questions. I thought I knew my main character as well as I know my children—I did create her after all—until I did this exercise and learned a few things. Once again, the extra work has paid off. I am able to use some of this insight into my character’s daily life to help shape the person she is. I now know her reactions to certain situations, and the reasons for her feelings.
If we take the extra time to get to know our characters, we will be better able to share that knowledge with our readers. And the readers will thank us for it.
How well do you know your main character? Isn’t it time you found out?
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Do you need to get rid of bad habits that are preventing you from writing? Following is a list of things you might consider.
1. Become more organized.
2. Don’t check your e-mail a dozen times a day.
3. Write something down so you can see it in front of you. Be as specific as possible.
4. Don’t avoid writing by making excuses. If other people sidetrack you and you don’t write for a couple of weeks, catch up! Learn to say “no, maybe next time,” but catch up on your writing.
5. You can write a poor draft. Remember there is a delete key on your computer. You don’t always have to be grammatically correct.
6. Don’t wait for inspiration. Develop a potential idea that would help you break that dreadful habit of not writing.
7. Take time to relax.
8. Don’t give up.
After trying, some of the above ideas for a few weeks take the time to relax and reflect on the changes you have made. Do you need to make any adjustments? Perhaps a little more time writing will be necessary. If you have an already hectic workload, try cutting back. Don’t become stressed.
Old habits took time to develop so it will take time to eliminate them. Everyone has something to work on since none of us is perfect. It’s a process and sometimes does require a new strategy.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
In case you haven't noticed, we have a new blogcker at LDS Writers Blogck: Keith Fisher. We would like to officially welcome him to our group. I expect to see great things from Keith, both here on the blogck as a regular staff writer, as well as in the publishing world.
"If at first you don't succeed, hire another writer." -- Author Unknown. (Sigh. Just like me.)
Monday, June 26, 2006
I hate exercise.
Did I ever mention I hate exercise? It’s one of those necessary evils in life that seems to take up more time than accomplish anything useful. I’ve recently started walking at the high school track in the morning again but it’s a struggle to complete my mileage every day. The first few laps are OK, nice even, but I have to drag myself most of the way. I hate the way my legs begin to turn to jelly and my pace slows the further I go. What starts off at a healthy clip ends in me pushing myself through the last bit on sheer willpower.
The fact that I have to get up far earlier than I would otherwise need to doesn’t help either. I’m much more of a night owl than an early bird, but if I wait too late to get out there it becomes too hot to complete my three miles—the goal I have been working up to.
In some ways writing a novel is like exercise to me, I love writing the beginning. One day last week I sat down and wrote nearly four-thousand words of a new story. OK, so maybe this isn’t a real viable story, maybe it’ll sit in the file of partial stories forever. On the other hand, maybe some day I’ll decide to pull it out and work on it more for the national market. The fact is I had this ear worm that wouldn’t let go, so despite the fact that I really ought to be editing, I wrote something else instead.
Most of my stories are like this one—the first couple of chapters, maybe even forty-thousand words. Seldom do they reach novel length, or get completed before I run out of steam and call it quits—for the time being. This is probably why I only have four completed stories and close to thirty that are partially done.
On the other hand, most of the stories in my file have real potential and I intend to use them. I have eight stories in various forms of completion for one loosely tied series, and the more I work on the later ones, the more I see things I need to change or fix in the earlier ones to put all the background in place. I tell myself that is progress, After all, if I hadn’t written most of Danielle’s story (fifth in the timeline), how would I have known in the earlier books that she was a vivacious journalist who ran her school paper as a teen?
On the other hand, if I didn’t push myself through those last few laps on the track, I would feel as though I had cheated myself by wimping out and if my writing is so important, why do I let myself be a wimp and not finish my stories?
So today I vow to get back to my real work, push myself through the editing so I can stop feeling like a wimp. It’s time to go the distance.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
I reached a point the last few weeks where I've completely run out of ideas. I felt like a sponge that had been squeezed dry and forgotten in the sun until every ounce of creativity was baked away. So, instead of trying to write about what helps me to write, I thought I'd celebrate somebody else's creativity instead: my six year old son, Robert.
About a month ago, his school had what they call "The Night of a Thousand Stars". All of the students above third grade wrote a book for display, including illustrations, and the younger kids did it as an optional activity. Well, my little guy did it. He wrote a book about Scooby Doo and Space Aliens. His teacher typed it for him as he told her the story, and he drew all the pictures and made the cover. I have never seen anyone so proud of a book. On awards night, he received a ribbon saying he is an author. He uses it as a bookmark for everything he reads now. He walks around the house saying, "I'm an “Arthur”". It tickles me to death, and I'm so pleased that he has found the joy of writing.
The thing he is teaching me here is how important it is to celebrate every accomplishment in our writing and recognize every stage of our development. I think we as artists get down on ourselves too often and don't see the joy in being a simple "Arthur."
So, let's remember to celebrate each word, every paragraph, the finished chapters, and the blessed "The End" when we are done. Take joy in the edits and love your story. Remember the joy you felt when you first began to write? Cling to it and let it carry you through the hard times. Isn't that why we started to write in the first place? I did, and seeing my son's excitement over a simple book has made me understand what a blessing books are.
So, whether you are writing a children's book, romantic suspense, or anything in between, remember to look beyond the imperfection of your work and do it because you love it. Find the joy.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Back in March, while I was attending the LDS StoryMakers conference, I enjoyed the lessons and speeches given by the authors. They were there to lend a hand to us young upstarts. I am still digesting all the information I received.
I was pleased that there are so many people who feel a need to write. They don’t just need to write, but they want to write for the LDS market. It was gratifying to be with kindred spirits that have made some of the same covenants that I have made. I enjoyed a comment made by someone (and I hope I quote it correctly).
"It is so nice to be in the company of people who understand me when I say, I’m having a hard time getting my characters to be reverent in Sacrament Meeting."
I think that Ben Bracken said it best: After sitting through Tristi Pinkston’s class on dealing with inspiration in our writing, he was asked how the class went. He was obviously touched and said, "What can I say? It was like being in church." I think he was saying that he felt the spirit, and he was right.
That evening, Janette Rallison spoke to us and I enjoyed her thoughts. During and after her talk, I was given insight that I have attempted to share with others. I want to share it with you because I think it may encourage you, as it has me.
Unlike others, I did not Always want to write. In fact there was a time in my life when I intentionally avoided it. Like many of you, there was something prodding me, something (or someone) that pushed me toward the belief that I could tell a good story. Now here I am, a middle aged man, trying to learn grammar lessons that I should have learned in High school with characters who won’t leave me alone until I tell their story.
Getting back to Janette’s speech; She acknowledged that we may wonder why she would come and try to teach us how to be her competition. She explained that she had a personal reason for doing so and told us what it was. She had been involved in a public debate about decency in children’s literature and felt a need to have more people like her on the side of light, more authors writing books that reflect righteousness.
When I thought of the increasing numbers of those who have a desire to write in the LDS market and those who are LDS that publish in the national market, it occurred to me that perhaps we are all standing on a precipice being prepared to help fight the battle. To spread the love and good news of the Gospel, even if we do no more than keep the content clean.
For want of a better image, remember the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind when all those people suddenly had the same desire?
The thought that I may be of service in a small way gives me encouragement. It certainly explains why after 30 plus years, I suddenly had a desire to write. And why I still want to, after 15 years of struggling.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
By Nichole Giles
I spent all of this week attending a writing workshop at BYU. In the coming blogs, I am quite certain much of the information I am trying to take in will process, and I will be able to share some of what I’ve learned.
I have been in a rigorous daily workshop with author Martine Leavitt, who has taught me a great deal. She has also been giving us nightly homework. When I first learned this, I was a bit taken aback. Homework? What about all the work we’re already doing? What about the work we’ve already done?
It only took one day for me to learn the value of these exercises. Completing them has given me, and my classmates—who are also my critiquers—a better glimpse into my story. I’ve learned so much; I have decided to share these assignments with you.
Remember to consider this project as important as those you were assigned in high school or college, because it could make a difference in the outcome of your story.
Assignment one: Take a setting from your book and describe it. Make clear the time period and the world, describe the mood of the person in the setting. This should be done through the character’s own eyes.
The trick? You get a maximum of two short paragraphs. No more.
What does this tell you about your story? How do you feel about this description? Would it make a good beginning? If so, go ahead and use it. A good beginning is essential, not only to getting published, but also to grabbing your reader’s attention. If the scene you chose is further into the story, that’s okay too. Ask yourself what you have learned by this piece of writing.
I may be only a lowly author-waiting-for-my-big-break, but in passing on what I’m learning while it’s fresh, maybe you can learn something too. Then we can all be better writers.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
I spent most of last Saturday helping my sister load boxes onto trailers and then unload them in her new home. This has been a wrenching move for her children, and more than likely for her. They were leaving a home that they had lived in for over 15 years. I helped unpack most of the kitchen, contemplating as I unboxed spices, that if it hadn't been for my scum-sucking ex-brother-in-law, this would not be happening. As I was thinking this, it struck me that he would be the perfect character in a book.
Have you discovered that there are family members that would make great people in your latest novel? Or perhaps someone you know? Often the characters we read have been a real person the author has met at one time or another, and evolved into what we are reading. Jane Austen is a perfect example of this--several of her stories were based on family and or situations. They are seldom exactly as we read, because no one is totally wonderful or totally awful. Well, perhaps some of them are. . .
Anyway, let me say my brother-in-law (did I say he was soon to be EX?) was the guy you would love at the beginning, then hate at the end--wondering how you ever got pulled into his charm and charade. He certainly had all of us fooled. He would make a great villain for one of my romance novels. . .and I fully intend to use him. Of course I won't use his real name or initials (which I have been known to do) because I don't want him thinking he can come after me for royalties, but it will be him.
You'll fall in love with him at the beginning and wonder in the middle where it all went wrong and by the end you'll be wanting to huck tomatoes at him. I promise. We had to keep three family members from taking his baseball bat back to him Saturday. . .
Perhaps if you are struggling with a character that you need an example for, you need to look around you. Have you got the perfect villain in your realm of acquaintances? Maybe someone in your family or one of your neighbors? They'll never know you used them, and I'd love to read about it.
Most writers love to write. For some it’s what they live for. When they write it’s their artistic way of expressing how they feel deep inside.
Are you having fun while writing? If not, try to get back to what you love to write. It's often when writing becomes too much of a job that we start to have problems. What you write for fun might actually end up being your best work.
It might help if you attempt something new. Start by writing whatever you want. If you want to begin in the middle of your story, do it. The reader will never know you wrote the story "backwards”. Many writers save the introduction until later. It doesn't matter how you do it, just what results you get.
Are you so worried about doing it right that you lose sight of why you are writing? Allow the words to hit the paper without agonizing about whether they are grammatically correct. You can always fix a problem later.
Have you ever thought any of these?
“I don’t know why I thought I could do this.”
“No one wants to read what I write.”
“Where was I when the talent was handed out?”
If so, maybe you should ease up on yourself.
Don’t try to be some other writer, just be yourself. Tell your story the way you want to tell it. Write your story while your heart is pounding and the adrenaline is running high.
Forget about the competition. You are the only person who can write your book. Find the story you want to tell and then write it. Love what you are doing and have fun!
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Well, actually, that’s my real name. And why not? What’s the point of being famous if you can’t rub it in to those people who knew you before you were famous?
For those who don’t know, Dave Wolverton is one of those authors who not only makes a living by writing full-time, but is actually getting rich doing it. Not rich like Dan Brown or J. K. Rowling, but rich enough for my standards.
Anyway, Dave noticed my name badge, which all of us wore like we were kindergarteners on the first day of school. First, he said my name aloud—even pronouncing it correctly by putting the emphasis on the last syllable, as Dar-VELL. Then he said, “That’s a good author name.”
I was pleased to have the approval and decided, right then and there, that I wouldn’t use a pen name. Whichever of my novels gets published first will get my real name on the cover.I’m afraid, however, that since I’m working on a young adult novel, an LDS genre novel, and a thriller novel, that I’ll have to pick a different pen name for whatever novel comes after my first, if I get published in a different genre.
I’m thinking of using Darvell Wolverton. Kind of catchy, huh?
Monday, June 19, 2006
By Heather Justesen
Researching can either be a pain or a pleasure, but it is always a boon. One writer I know said once that research is the most important part of writing; if you don’t do your research, your story will suffer. This is as true for fiction as non fiction.
Case in point, I read a book some months ago where the main character found a baby that had been abandoned and was able to get permission to foster it within a week. Though the romance part of the plot was well designed, that one detail made it impossible for me to completely lose myself in the book. It could never happen. The story was set in
In another book I read a character made a comment about how miraculous it was that a woman got pregnant twice with identical twin boys when twins didn’t run in their family. The fact is it is a miracle that anyone could get pregnant twice with identical twins, regardless of how many other twins there are in their family—identical twining is not genetic in any way shape or form. How do I know that? Research for a book of mine.
In the first place I believe the writer was either woefully naïve or decided to ignore reality in order to make her book come together. In the second place I was able to pass the comment off as a common misunderstanding. There probably aren’t that many people who know about identical twining so I can accept that the character making the comment wouldn’t know it either.
My point? Even little details can distract a reader from the story and break the suspension of disbelief if the proper research isn’t done. Researching for a book may take very little time if it is set in a location you know with the people engaged in activities you understand. I didn’t have to do much research for the book I’m getting ready for submission because I knew the topics quite well from my personal life. On the other hand, I have a book later in the series for which I’ve spent more time than I can count learning about the area, the school, and the culture in which the book takes place because most of it happens in England—a country that fascinates me, but one I’ve never visited.
So get the facts, learn a little about an aspect of the world you didn’t know or understand, and make your character’s world richer—down to the details.
Friday, June 16, 2006
At stake conference, the President of the Jordan River Temple spoke to us about “A Perfect Day.” This started me reflecting on the ideal situations for a writer. I always feel wonderful at the end of a day when I have accomplished my writing goals. There is nothing better than knowing you are right on target.
When I can create a perfect character, I almost jump for joy. My day is complete when I spend hours writing a scene and it turns out just right. Of course, there can be other great days such as when the story you finished has each word fitting perfectly to the one before it, like pieces of a puzzle fitting against each other. This has to be a perfect moment.
For a writer, the ultimate perfect day has to be the day you get an acceptance for your first story or novel. The rejection letters are just one-step to having that happen, and waiting for them is difficult. Sometimes the wait is long, I’ve been waiting nine months now and still no word except, “It is still going through the process.”
The other night I watched an enjoyable movie, “For Love of the Game”. Near the end, they talked about a perfect baseball game. The one thing I have learned is any day can be perfect if we look for the good things in life. If we each count our blessings, we’ll find many things that make a perfect day.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
This week I am attending a Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop at BYU. Though it was costly, I know this workshop will be well worth my money.
In order to attend, I had to submit the first twenty pages of my novel. That was scary to me, as when I registered, I had barely outlined the story I was going to write. Luckily, about the same time I registered for this class I attended a conference with the LDStorymakers, where I received a great deal of helpful information as well as a large dose of inspiration. After that conference, I had my rough draft finished within less than two months.
After I sent my pages to the instructor, she sent me a copy of everyone else’s pages, and instructed me to read and comment on them in preparation for our class. In case you are wondering, that is fifteen manuscripts at approximately twenty pages each.
On top of that, I have devoted at least nine hours a day for five days to attending this workshop. (I’ll mention now that these days happen to fall smack in the middle of my kids’ summer vacation.)
I’ve never attended this workshop before, nor do I really know anyone who has, so how do I know if it will be worth the time, effort and money? Even as I know that going to this conference will not guarantee I will sell my manuscript, I am guaranteed to gain something.
I can’t think of a better reason to go. Yes, I admit I would like to impress an agent or a publisher who is in attendance, and woo them into handing me a contract on the spot, but I know that’s not realistic. The truth is, I believe there will always be something more to learn. If I keep an open mind—and thick skin—I can learn from the instructors, as well as the other students in attendance. How else are my writing abilities going to expand? I can read and write on my own for hours every day, but without the input of other writers, editors, and publishers, I won’t learn anything. Without that extra knowledge, I will probably never get published.
So first thing Monday morning, I’m going to put on my bravest smile, and my best looking casual ensemble (whatever I decide that is) and show up on campus for my first official college class at BYU. There are so many material things you can’t take with you into the next life. I’m going to this workshop in pursuit of something that I can.
Knowledge, you can take it with you. Pass it on…
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
There are many kinds of writers-each one differANT from all the others. A good writer will try to overcome their weaknesses and develop their excellANT writing skills. In doing so, they will be exultANT and a recipeANT of becoming a published writer.
A writers schedule will be resiliANT as they are diligANT in telling the story. If a writer shares their talANT, many dormANT stories will unfold, and competANTs will shine.
Of course, if you are defiANT, arrogANT, or ANT i social your readers will know. You can’t hide anything from them. Don’t be an informANT. Instead, be a servant. Readers expect you to be buoyANT, jubilANT, and reverANT in your writing. If you are observANT, your brilliANTs will show through and complimANT your story.
ANT i social – This writer don’t seem to be interested in anyone or anything except finishing his story.
ArrogANT – This writer turns up his nose to anything not written by yours truly.
BrilliANT – This writer studies, and attends workshops to gain new knowledge and uses that knowledge to the fullest.
BuoyANT – This writer is always cheerful, upbeat, and happy.
CompetANT – This writer is full of ability and is willing to take extra training.
ComplemANT – This writer is the first one to notice someone else has talent and uses honest praise to make them feel good.
DefiANT – This writer does what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants without regard for the feelings of others.
DifferANT – This writer makes sure his stories are unique.
DiligANT – This writer works hard and tries to do everything that is expected.
DormANT – This writer is always sleeping or watching television and rarely writes.
ExcellANT – This writer’s story is outstanding because he uses exceptional skills.
ExultANT – This writer is thrilled with every forward step he takes.
InformANT – This writer doesn’t always get his facts straight, but that doesn’t matter as long as he get the word out first.
JubilANT – This writer always has a kind word for everyone.
ObservANT – This writer notices what is going on around him.
RecipiANT – This writer loves to receive critiques from friends.
ResiliANT – This writer bounces back easily when rejection letters come.
ReverANT – This writer knows when to be quiet, when to listen and when it’s appropriate to talk.
ServANT – This writer goes the extra mile in helping those around him, and seeks for ways to be of service to fellow writers.
TalANT – This writer is willing to share his talents with others.
Which writer ANT are you?
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
I thought I knew what I was doing.
I started my first LDS-genre novel in 1989 and have written a total of seven LDS novels so far. I've made the rejection rounds among the local LDS publishers, networked with other LDS writers, and read as many LDS novels that interested me.
Yesterday I attended the first day of a week-long writing workshop geared toward the national children's market. I almost felt like a pro in the LDS market—about as pro as you can get without having an LDS novel accepted. Now I feel like a beginner again and I don't much like the feeling. By the end of this week, maybe the culture shock will have faded, but after only the first day, I'm a bit disoriented and even confused.
Yesterday morning I was chatting with a New York editor from Bloomsbury—the same publisher that gave us Harry Potter. I mentioned to her that up until now, I had targeted the LDS market. She didn't know what that meant. Finally she made the connection that I was referring to the Latter-Day Saint market, probably only because she realized she was on the BYU campus in the middle of Mormon Country. Having to explain the term LDS made my head spin.
I will still write for the niche LDS market, even though I'm beginning to pursue the national market. One of these days I'm pretty sure I'll sell one of my novels. I have no idea if my first sale will be in the LDS market of the national market, but I think it will come someday. I also think that a sale in the “other market” will soon follow my first.
But that doesn't change the feeling I have now of being a fish out of water. I guess it's now my choice if I want to go back into the water or if I want to grow lungs.
Monday, June 12, 2006
“The thing that keeps most people from submitting to publishers is not fear of failure, but fear of success.” This is paraphrasing of something I think I read it in a book about writing, but can’t remember what book it was, or who said it. I can remember, however, thinking the guy was up in the night.
Who is afraid of success? It’s not like I’m going to become JK Rowling and be mobbed in the streets by excited fans or anything, I’m writing for the LDS market—a market obscure enough that I had someone ask me a few weeks ago who Rachel Ann Nunes was. Obviously the woman doesn’t read LDS fiction, or she would at least know Rachel’s name.
Working at the family business a few weeks ago I received a call from a writer who was asking about an item we had listed for sale on the internet. I didn’t get her name until she gave me her e-mail address so we could send her some pictures. When I recognized her name however, I asked her if she was the writer, and her reaction: “Yes. I’ve never had anyone ask me that before.” I suppose that’s the kind of response I’ll be giving after half a dozen of my books have been published some day, so you can see, it’s not adulation that worries me.
Today, however, as I look back over two nearly wasted weeks in which I have not barely opened Microsoft Word for anything besides writing my weekly blog, I realize maybe there’s something to all of this. Despite having thoughts pop into my head about ideas to expand or change several books throughout each day, I haven’t bothered to write them down. I’ve done a great deal of mind-numbing reading, I’ve cleaned the house and cooked dinners, I’ve even (gasp) turned on the television with the excuse that I can work on some humanitarian aid projects while I watch movies.
I hate the television.
So why haven’t I written much of anything? I wonder if this fear of success thing doesn’t have some merit. After all, what if I make those changes to my manuscript and someone great wants to publish it and then I can’t get the second book in my series to work? I’ve already worked on a couple different versions of it, not two drafts, two versions. And though I think I’m getting somewhere, maybe, it still has a way to go. And the two after that—serious rewrites, I don’t think they really even have story questions. Who is going to read a book if the characters risk nothing?
I believe in my book, I know it’s great, I know someone, somewhere, is going to love it—and I’m not just talking about my mother-in-law. But what if I can’t repeat the success, what if nothing else I write is good enough to publish? What if I can’t stomach another minute of television and have to face my writing again, but don’t have any answers?
I guess I’ll just have to kick myself into gear again regardless of my fears, because as much as I fear I won’t be able to duplicate my efforts without making them seem like the same old thing all over again. I worry even more that I won’t make my changes or send the story in at all.
And that would be a crime.
Friday, June 09, 2006
I look up from my manuscript with a frustrated sigh. This is the fourth time I’ve sat down here today and, at seventeen minutes and some seconds, the longest I’ve been allowed to stay at my desk so far. I get up and walk into the living room, which looks as though the latest tropical storm has detoured two thousand miles to invade us. Pillows and couch cushions are strewn everywhere, cat toys littered among them, and my new begonia has barely escaped with its life.
“I CAN’T FIND THE REMOTE CONTROL!”
“I’m standing right behind you, darling.”
“Oh.” Another cushion flies. “Have you seen the remote?”
“You had it last, honey. Where’d you leave it?”
“Right there on the side table.”
He is now on his hands and knees trying to fit under the sofa. The kitten thinks this is great fun, now he has a playmate.
“Dangit.” Out from under the couch he comes, his baseball cap askew. “You don’t think the cat took it somewhere, do ya?” The kitten purrs up against him.
“I don’t think he could,” I try not to laugh. “He’s not a lot bigger than the remote.”
A cushion goes airborne, but at least this time it’s headed in the right direction. Cat toys fly to the corner, the kitten barreling after them like he’s been thrown, too. A few more throws puts the rest of the pillows back where they belong, if not neatly, and my poor, frustrated man flops onto the couch.
“I give up!”
“Sorry.” I offer, “Would you like me to turn on the TV for you?”
“Nah,” he says. “Thanks anyway.” I prefer to sit here and sulk. He may not have said it out loud, but I’ve been married to him for eight years, I can translate.
There’s a Sports Illustrated on the side table, I notice, with a strange lump under it. I pick up the magazine and there, for all the world to see, is a little black box that might just be the center of the universe.
“You found it!” He lunges for it like a dying man for a bit of food. “Thanks honey, you’re the greatest!”
“I know,” I smile and walk out of the room as the television blinks on. I don’t bother to try to explain how I mysteriously find all the things that go missing in this house. Let him have an illusion or two. Now maybe I’ll get that chapter done in peace.
Back to my desk I go, fluttering paper notes and trying to figure out where I left off when the crisis struck.
“Yes?” Hubby saunters in, shrugging his shoulders.
“There’s nothin’ on TV. Wanna go for a drive?”
“Sure,” I say. My writing goal is officially shot for the day anyway, why not? I stand up and grab my purse, following him to the door. He stops, patting his pockets.
“Honey, where’s the car key?”
Thursday, June 08, 2006
The final step in writing takes courage. Consider yourself a success as soon as you've submitted your work to someone for publication. You don’t have any control over whether they’ll buy it, but if you keep writing and submitting, eventually you’ll sell your story. Have you dreamed about what it will be like when they publish your book? Of course, you have. We all have.
Will you feel any different than you do now? I think you’ll be excited and pleased for a short while. Then your memory will linger on the pleasure the writing brought to you while you were writing.
What happens once you finish your story? Will you stop writing once they publish your book? Is that the end of the line? Will that be enough? I don’t think it will be. I think you’ll continue to be driven.
Find joy in your writing. I’ve heard that ultimate and lasting joy is borne out of struggles, anxiety, and determination. When I write I have plenty of struggles, and anxiety, and my determination never wavers, I must certainly have a lot of joy.
Enjoy the creative process. The best stories you write are about those things you love and know. Enthusiasm is contagious and what turns you on will interest others.
D&C 11:13 – “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.”
God wants all of us to have joy. Write each day and capture the joy in your journey because joy comes in the doing.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Being an avid reader, I appreciate really good sensory detail. If, while diving into a story, I have the sudden need to stop and get a snack because my mouth is watering from a food description, the author who made me hungry is successful. While I am lying in bed (in Utah) reading, and I can all but smell the mixture of sand and salt as I listen to the tropical ocean waves crashing on the beach, that author has successfully put me inside the story. When I get a chill from the icy rain rolling down my back, soaking through my clothes and making it hard for me to breathe—all the while basking in the sun in my back yard swing—success!
I want to be one of those writers who can put a reader inside my story. There is nothing I love more than losing myself in a beautifully painted scene, so why would I dare give my readers anything less?
Since I started writing, I’ve learned to pay much closer attention to the world around me. What once was a yellow sunset has become an explosion of color from the horizon, bursting from yellow into orange and then red, pink, purple into a hundred shades of blue. People have more detail, more personality, and more emotion. I find myself describing (in my head) smells, and tastes, and how something feels when I touch it, somewhat like a toddler who is exploring the world for the first time. I’ve begun to realize that a story can be set anywhere, characters can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste anything I want as long as I can ably describe it to my readers.
There is a catch. Writing this kind of vivid description takes patience, skill, and most importantly, practice. So with practicing in mind, here is something for you to try.
Pick a place. Not just any place. A place you remember vividly, but haven’t been for a long time. Picture this place in your mind: What can you see? Hear? Feel? Smell? Taste?
Now that you have a vivid memory, take a moment to write a four or five hundred word description of this place. Now comes the fun part. When you are finished, get out your highlighters. Pick a color for each of the five senses, and highlight each sensory description in the appropriate color. When you are finished, your page should resemble a rainbow. Ask yourself: Is one color more dominant than the others? Did one of the colors get left out completely? Have you alerted all the reader’s senses? If you missed one, think harder to find that specific detail and then go back and add it to your description.
When you feel comfortable that you have described this place accurately, making sure to treat each of the five senses to a color, turn your description over to someone who has never been to the place you described. Ask them to tell you their impressions. Can they picture it as vividly as you? Did you put them in that place? Could they see, feel, hear, smell, taste the things you did? If the answer is yes, you—the author—have found sensory success.
Now that you’ve made yourself hungry, take a break and grab that snack.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
The further I get involved with the LDS niche fiction market, the less I seem to understand about it.
Here’s my dilemma: do I write LDS-friendly material to be published in the mainstream market or do I try to publish my non-specific LDS material in the LDS market?
A few years ago, a representative from a local LDS publisher said at a writing conference I was attending that they wanted to branch into the mainstream market. Great, I said to myself, I’ll send them something to help them do exactly that. I wrote a mostly-mainstream young adult fantasy novel to send them that fit this requirement.
They really liked it, but they rejected it. They told me that I should put more LDS-specific material into it or that I should remove all LDS-specific material and submit to the mainstream market. So now I’m confused.
Deseret Book has published Leven Thumps, which is mainstream young adult fantasy and Cedar Fort has published Jimmy Fincher, which is also mainstream young adult fantasy. These are the same publishers that are telling me that my book isn’t LDS enough to publish in the LDS market, yet they are publishing these “non-LDS” books with great success.
Hence my confusion.
So, I may end up selling my LDS-friendly young adult novel—which I wrote to satisfy the national-market needs of a local LDS publisher—to the national market instead. In the process, I’ll probably sell more copies than the local LDS niche market could even support.
I guess I should thank the local LDS publishers for forcing me into the national market. I should, but somehow I don't feel inclined to do so.
Monday, June 05, 2006
“What does she mean my hook isn’t very strong? Doesn’t she have eyes?” This was my first reaction when I got some feedback on one of my stories recently. After all, if she had read my original beginning, or the second one I wrote, she would certainly have chosen the one I submitted as the best hook, by far. So how could she not realize what a great start it was? The next day I got off my self-righteous streak long enough to read through my first page again and realize she was right. Nuts!
When I got the same reaction from another reader as well, I knew it was time to readjust the first page or two. Yes, it will stay essentially the same, but with a little tweaking, I can strengthen the pull and give my character a reason for some of the things she does.
Unlike the major rewrite I did after writer Josi Kilpack edited it for me, I didn’t cringe as I read through the notes the three women who critiqued the book had written. There are two possible reasons for this 1) I caught enough of the major problems after the edit so these are all minor and therefore, not nearly as painful, and 2) I’ve grown a little more accustomed to having flaws pointed out in my work. I guess it is probably more the first of the two possibilities since Josi is an amazing editor, as is evident when you look at the red-covered copy she sent back to me.
I hate receiving criticism of my work, it often makes me feel like I’ll never get there, like my writing isn’t good enough and it’ll take a serious miracle for it to ever reach that publishable plateau. Then I calm down and look at the notes people wrote on my stories and realize that the majority are completely right. And the only way I can reach that elusive destination of publication is if I clean things up and rewrite.
When I received my first edit from Josi, she wrote a note that went something to the effect of rewriting being the most important part of the job. No, you can’t publish if the original premise is crap, but even if your idea and characters are brilliant, if you aren’t willing to rewrite, to rework and consider different options, to replay your dialogue and keep it from sounding wooden, your book will never sell.
I recently saw a movie, one of those family friendly kind that is never released to theaters, that had a great story line. Unfortunately the acting and dialogue were so flat it was hard to appreciate what could have been a wonderful story. I don’t want my books to be like that.
So, I’ll rework, rewrite, redo, and talk to my critiquers about the plot and when I’m done it’ll be the best story possible.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
When writers get together, they look like any other normal bunch of people. But looks can be deceiving. We are anything but normal, and proud of it.
Who but a group of writers can get excited telling each other about the night they dreamed a great story? Of course, then the discussion veers to the topic of how to record your dreams in the dark. We get excited about that too.
Often we are thrilled when we hear a great line on TV, or when we accidentally eavesdrop on the argument being had by the couple sitting a table away in a restaurant. What kind of people besides writers would get into an hour-long discussion about the last paragraph of a children’s book? Or write pages of emails debating the use of the word “said”?
Why would anyone who wasn’t a writer argue the use of active versus passive verbs? And who but writers would use the phrase, “cut it.” Or the phrase, “lose it” with each other, and have everyone in the group know what they’re talking about.
What kind of diversity we must breed to have running discussions going on about lost socks, character flaws, buried kilts, and dreams of pickled herring and oysters…all in the same day. Not to mention the current debate on the Beatles versus the Monkees. Seafood cravings and boy bands named after zoo animals aside—how many people do you know who would jump at the chance to have a famous name, and an unknown face?
Normal? Not likely. Creative? Absolutely. Published? Future bestsellers. Until then we’ll keep up our unusual chats. Creativity is exercise for the brain, and how much more creative can you be than a plot involving pickled herring and oysters?
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Okay, I have to say not all of my children got the writing gene. My oldest daughter can write up a storm and my oldest son loves to invent worlds of fighting and armies and--ugh. But the second and third daughter could care less. In fact, my youngest daughter hates to pick up a pencil. She would rather read...(I guess that's not necessarily bad)
Case in point–the other night I was helping her write an essay for school. It had to be a ‘self reflective’ essay. It took us a while to figure out what that meant... Anyway, she kept complaining that she didn’t LIKE to write; moreover, she hated writing anything about herself. (This is the same girl that somehow got enrolled in a creative writing class and struggled to come up with anything to turn in.)
We finally came down to where I told her to “write about how much you hate to write!” Sigh. She finally wrote about how she confuses everyone and is a shy person. She started rambling toward the middle of the essay and ended up leaving one feeling a little confused as to what she was writing about in the first place, so I titled it “My Rambling Self Reflection” for her. (I was typing it so she could get the most homework done–did I mention she is a senior in high school?)
So–obviously this daughter missed out. I could have waxed eloquent on all sorts of self reflections. I do it weekly in my other blogs. (Grin) I don’t think essays are my favorite writing medium, but hey–I’d give it a whirl.
My oldest daughter tells me her writing drive is all my fault. I gave all the children little notebooks one summer and said they had to write a story in them by the time school started. She was the only one that did the full story. . .and hasn’t stopped. It’s enough to make a mother proud. In fact, she has written an excellent start to a fantasy story that I informed her she was going to finish and get published–or else. She wanted to know what the ‘or else’ was.
My husband tells me that it’s all my doing–I’ve corrupted the family. (He says this tongue in cheek–he has several story ideas himself.) I figure it’s not necessarily a bad thing. At least none of the children have decided to shave their heads and run off with a commune or expressed a desire to find meaning in the croaking of the rainforest tree frog...
Friday, June 02, 2006
It’s certainly the dream of every writer to become a household name. Most of those who do hit the big time work hard to gain such recognition. Once in a while, however, one of us lucks out and gets way more than they bargained for.
Anyone listening to the news lately will have seen a prime example of what I mean. I try very hard not to watch the news, but occasionally I end up hearing it anyway. The tip of the headline iceberg in the last week has been a rampant outcry about a certain book and its author. Of course, hearing the words “book” and “author”, my ears perked right up and listened hard.
It seems “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown has been causing quite a stir among religious intellectuals the world over.
I was not remotely interested in this particular book until this ruckus started. Just as I did with Harry Potter, I went looking to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Mr. Brown’s book – this heathenistic propaganda - was, in fact, a work of fiction!
That’s right, fiction. Though there are elements in it that are borrowed from reality, the characters and plot are completely made up. The author tells you in a note at the beginning what is actual fact and that the rest is a figment of his imagination.
Yet here are religious leaders condemning this book for leading us all to hell. According to BBC news:
The Roman Catholic Church in Italy has spoken out against what it says are "shameful and unfounded lies" in the best-selling novel The DaVinci Code.
Even BYU professors have joined in the debate. BYU News said:
Three religious scholars from BYU, Richard Holzapfel, Thomas A. Wayment and Andrew Skinner, published a response to Brown's book at the end of April titled "What DaVinci Didn't Know: An LDS Perspective."
Uh, yeah. Maybe someone should explain the meaning of the word “fiction” to these people?
Meanwhile, Leonardo DaVinci is taking a veritable verbal beating. The poor man’s been dead for almost 500 years! He can’t quite speak up for himself. Frankly he shouldn’t have to—neither should Mr. Brown, but that’s another topic altogether.
I wonder how many people, like myself, heard the fuss and went to find out what it was really about. How many people had never heard of the book but ran out and bought it because of the news? It would be interesting to see the sales figures in direct relationship to the caustic media coverage.
As a Christian and a writer, I have only one thought:
You can’t buy publicity like that!
Thursday, June 01, 2006
When I was in high school drama we used to have a saying, “Stick a geranium on your head and be happy.” I figured it was a pretty good motto, so I used it quite a bit. I still do occasionally. Later in life, I found out there was a book by a similar title, which is probably where the motto came from in the first place. Now that I’m writing, I’ve decided a change is in order.
My writer’s group has recently been discussing our sources of inspiration. Some claim to get their inspiration in the shower. Others get great ideas while they are in bed asleep. Many get inspiration while driving. Still others claim inspiration while hiking. (I’ll have to try that!)
I get a great deal of inspiration while at the gym. The blood gets flowing, my muscles get warm, and conversations start happening in my head. Snippets of scenes I haven’t finished, solutions to a dilemma my character might be in, plot twists and secondary characters all begin to take shape as I tone and firm mine.
How do I keep track of these great ideas? I keep a notebook in my car, and thanks to the parking fairy it’s usually not far away. I can always run out and grab it mid-workout. Often I bring the notebook in the gym with me. But someone in my group gave me an idea that I am going to have to investigate further. It has been suggested that I get a hands free microphone to attach to my iPod. That way, I can run around the gym recording my ideas as I work out.
What a great way to kill three birds with one stone. Three? First, I’m exercising. Which is important for someone who spends a great deal of time sitting on her…computer chair. Second, I’m keeping track of the awesome ideas that flow through my brain along with the extra blood. Third, I’m clearing people away from the machines I want to use so I don’t have to wait.
“Huh?” you say.
If I were not a writer, and didn’t know the importance of listening to the voices in my head, I might not understand why someone was walking around the gym with a recorder on her head talking about magic crystals and flying beasts. I might not understand why that person always talks to herself, asks herself questions and then answers. And what is that weird antenna she has sticking out of her hat? Personally, I’d stay far away from that person. I’d probably go out of my way to make sure I wasn’t using any of the machines she wanted, so I didn’t have to wonder what mental hospital she escaped from.
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of the hands free microphone. I’ve always wanted to be able to do three things at once, even if I am misconstrued as crazy. That is why I’ve decided to change my motto. “Stick a recorder on your head and look crazy.” Fitting, don’t you think?