Great Stuff from the Writers’ Blogs, August 1, 2012

A bit on craft, today, a bit on business, and a bit of silliness in service of a serious–OK, make that a real–business.

  • Let’s start with Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) reminding us on her WORDplay blog, “Don’t Forget the Dialogue.” You mean, like we could? Well, yes, like we could, or get it out of balance (whatever that means) with our narrative. As Kim says, “…dialogue [is] sort of like salt. It perks up the readerly taste buds…” And who doesn’t want tasty fiction?
  • Donald Maass (@DonMaass) continues his Good Seed series on Writer Unboxed with a piece on surprise–in the premise of the story, in the opening, in the characters. Don’t hold back the surprises, he says. Spring ’em on the reader right at the beginning. Why? Surprises make us curious, make us want to read on. And that’s what we writers want our readers to do, now don’t we? ‘Course it is!
  • In the transition from craft to business, we have a guest post by Peter DeHaan (@Peter_DeHaan) on Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) blog that wants to know, Are You a Rookie or a Professional?  The answer depends on whether, in querying or pitching, you make rookie mistakes like not spell-checking your work, pitching to agents who don’t represent your kind of work, or are a pill to work with, or whether you produce quality work, meet your deadlines, and generally act…wait for it…like a professional. It seems like this shouldn’t be hard, but I’m continually amazed at how many articles there are on the topic, which means there are a lot of people who just don’t get it. Geez.
  • Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) writes about how We’re Moving from a World of Gatekeepers to a World of Influencers and what that means for us in terms of getting our writing read widely. Because inflencers range from your friends to Oprah, the range of how much power each one has varies widely, and that’s going to mean–already means–having to think and act differently about how we market our work and to whom. Oh, the times, they are a’changin’.
  • Yesterday, Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) provided a list of resources he uses to support his blogging. One of the resources he mentioned was Google’s Feedburner service. Today, Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) tells Why I Stopped Using Feedburner to Serve My Blog Subscribers. Jane has quite a few reasons, including the fact that Google has stopped supporting the service (that is, it is no longer updating the software, among other things) and that she’d found another (not free) service called FeedBlitz that better met her needs. This is a fairly technical article but if you have a newsletter or a blog, you may need to know this.
  • And finally, some silliness in support of a business. Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) and her husband Dean Wesley Smith (@DeanWesleySmith) have long been writers of science fiction and many other genres. They’ve also been editors. Kris edited The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for many years. They swore they were done with that, but now Kris announces The Return to Editing, in the form of a new anthology series called Fiction River, which they’ve crowd-source funded as a Kickstarter project. (I won’t explain Kickstarter here. If you want more info, click on that link back there.) Anyway, the silliness is the video they’ve put together on their Kickstarter project page. If you’re in need of a giggle, have a look. The video’s only 3-1/2 minutes long.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 4, 2012

Today is July 4th in America. Well, it’s July 4th everywhere that uses the western calendar, so that’s nothing unusual. But July 4th in America is our Independence Day, the day we celebrate our decision to break away from the British Empire and strike out on our own. Just as we writers wish to do–quit the tyranny of our day jobs and strive, unfettered, for a great ideal.

America’s founding fathers framed their decision to declare independence on some tremendously high ideals: the “inalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They codified these ideals in the Constitution, then went even further with the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution–the Bill of Rights–including the First Amendment, which guarantees we writers the ability to write whatever we want without fear of persecution or prosecution by the government, with certain very limited exceptions since defined by the Supreme Court.

With high ideals come high risks, though, and a very high risk, indeed a near certainty, of failure to achieve those ideals.

And we have certainly failed, something our critics, internal and external, never fail to point out. Pointing out others’ failures is hardly a difficult thing to do or a high standard to meet. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.” So true.

We fiction writers understand something about failure that those critics of America do not: that failure is necessary on the way to success. Look at what we do.

  • We make our characters try and fail, try again and fail again, and again, and again, until they succeed in the end. Or not.
  • We, ourselves, try and fail, try again and fail again, and again, and again, as we work to improve our skills at our craft and seek markets for our work. Eventually we succeed to some degree. Or not.

“To some degree”: that’s an important phrase. America’s critics take an all-or-nothing approach. If America hasn’t totally succeeded at reaching her ideals, they consider her a total failure. Any intermediate progress she, and we Americans generally, might have made toward those ideals is useless and irrelevant because the ideals weren’t achieved.

What rubbish.

If progress along the path toward greater achievement has no value, why begin the journey in the first place? Why even try?

We know why.  We know that the journey’s important, as well as the destination. We know that success comes from trying and failing. And trying again and, as Samuel Beckett advised, failing better. Making progress. Moving forward, one halting step at a time. Even taking steps backward at times. Perhaps taking steps backward is necessary in order to have room to make a running start at the next attempt.

That’s America’s greatest secret strength–that we keep trying. Our goals and ideals are lofty, maybe unreachable in the end. But we continue to seek, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, that “more perfect union,” all the while knowing that perfection is beyond human reach. It’s a shame America’s critics don’t seem to understand that fact, or won’t accept it, or won’t do their part of the work to help the nation get closer to her ideals.

If you live in America, I hope you’ll take the day to celebrate not only the nation’s ideals but also the progress we’ve made toward them, even while being fully aware of how much farther we have to go. No matter where you live, as a writer, take this day to celebrate your own ideals and goals and your progress toward them, no matter how much farther you, too, have to go.

Happy Independence Day!

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog…”

Three items for you today.

  • The first comes from Donald Maass (@DonMaass). It’s the fourth in his series on Writer Unboxed called The Good Seed, in which he discusses story beginnings. This time he writes about the “inciting incident” and how to make it so powerful that not only does the character to whom it happens have to act on it, but the reader has to keep reading because they has no idea how they would react if it happened to them.
  • And finally, Sharon A. Lavy (@sharonalavy) asks, Will Reading Fiction Turn Men Into Sissies? Her answer, in case you’re wondering (spoiler alert!), is “No, it’ll actually make them better men.” I’d like to think she’s right but I admit to being amused by her piece’s motherly “Do this, it’s good for you” tone. Thanks, Ma. 😉

So what’s great in your world today?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, June 6, 2012

Not a blog entry yet, but I’m sure there’ll be many: RIP Ray Bradbury, who died yesterday at age 91. When people ask me who my favorite writer is, “Ray Bradbury” is, and will remain, my answer. The highest praise I could ever hope to get as a writer would be, “Your work reminds me of Bradbury.”

On to the blogs, now, with a heavy heart.

  • I missed this Guest Post by Jude Hardin on Joe Konrath’s (@jakonrath) A Newsbie’s Guide to Publishing. No need to go into the reasons why. Hardin’s just made the decision to try to make his living by writing full time. That’s a big decision and not right for everyone, as both he and Konrath discuss.
  • Two posts on characterization:
    • Donald Maass (@DonMaass) suggests in The Good Seed III on Writer Unboxed that we turn our story’s problems into characters. Shazam! Instant showing-not-telling, at least as soon as the characters start acting.
    • Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) returns to a topic she’d covered before: Signs Your Story Has Too Many Characters. Oops! But there must be some synchronicity at work here because her piece presents a useful counterpoint (or amplification, or both) to Maass’ piece.
  • I’ll close with a happier reference to a recently-deceased author. On 101 Books, Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) relates the story of Maurice Sendak On His Greatest Compliment. Which was: “He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.” Really??? Go read this quick little post, and smile.