Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, December 13 & 14, 2012

Happy Friday, everyone, from snowy southern Arizona. You read that right—snowy. Not Minnesota-snowy, but we are getting snow showers today. Nothing’s sticking—the ground is much too warm—but yes, 10 miles from the Mexican border, we do get snow. The mountains should be gorgeous once the clouds lift enough that I can see them. Anyway, that makes today a good day to stay inside and WRITE!

CRAFT

Ever find your story wandering off not just into places you never intended but into the deep, dark, dismal forest, just lost, lost, lost? Yeah, me too. Lisa Cron (@lisacron) offers a path out of those woods (or a way to avoid getting into them in the first place) in How To Keep Your Story On Track: Chart “Who Knows What, When” on Writer Unboxed. Outliners may love this method, since its character-knowledge-lines tie directly to a story’s scene-by-scene outline but even pantsers will find it useful, although at a later stage in the development process.

Another way stories get slowed down is when the author inserts “filler”: sentences, paragraphs, scenes, even (gasp!) whole chapters that add nothing to the story. Fortunately, editor Laura Carlson comes to the rescue with How to Cut the Filler and Tighten Your Book on KM Weiland’s WORDplay blog. If you’ve ever written anything that turned out to be filler (c’mon, of course you have J), this post will be helpful.

Last Wednesday, after I’d put up my post, Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) put up a 4-page Writing Goals Sheet, a downloadable PDF file that covers near-term and long range goals, funding and resources, and more. It’s all very pretty but you need to know how to turn on the typewriter function in Adobe Reader if you want to type directly onto the document. (To do so, in the latest Reader version, click on Comment on the right side of the screen, then click on the big capital T. That will give you a special cursor that you can place in the document where you want to start typing.) Of course, you can always print out the sheets and fill them in by hand.

BUSINESS

Writer Beware® Blogs! hosts guest blogger Mridi Khullar Relph (@mridikhullar), who provides useful information on International Writing Scams and How to Protect Yourself. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the overseas scams Mridi discusses have kissing cousins (or identical twins) here in the U.S. but working outside your home country always adds additional complications, so if that’s something you’re contemplating doing, or already doing, be sure to give this post a look.

The cover of your book, irrespective of format, is critical to whether it’ll be purchased or not. I know that seems unfair—that some graphic artwork can have more influence on a potential reader than your own words—but it’s true. If you’re publishing independently, what do you do? Design it yourself? Hire someone to do it? If so, who? Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) has invited guest poster GX (@graphiczsdesign) to discuss this in Want Professional Ebook Covers on a Budget? Try Ready-To-Go Options. GX discusses his (?)/her (?) own company’s work and how authors can use ready-to-go covers, and one of the comments also suggests three other sources.

THE WRITING LIFE

Jurgen Wolff (@jurgenwolff) retells a story originally told by Tim Ferris, the author of “The 4-Hour Work Week” in How big should your next writing or other creative goal be? (The missing reasons) on his Time to Write blog. The basic point is that if you aim for mediocre goals, that’s the most you’ll achieve. Aim higher and you have the chance (nothing guaranteed but the chance) at something far better. Thanks to my friend Lucinda for pointing out this piece.

Of course, if you aim high, there’s the risk of doing nothing but leaving a big splat mark on that tall building you tried to leap over in a single bound. Two posts address this fear: Nathan Bransford’s (@NathanBransford) Living on the Edge of Confidence and Self-Doubt and Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) 5 Ways to Deal with Failure on the Books & Such Literary Agency blog. Both discuss living with the fact that failure is a part of doing and that how you deal with failures is more important than the failure itself. If you’re needing a confidence boost about now, check out these two posts.

Rachelle then comes back with a post on her own blog about creating a realistic Holiday Writing Plan. Her five suggestions are nothing but common sense, but as the saying goes, sometimes common sense ain’t so common, which makes reminders like these valuable.

So what do you think? Have any thoughts or observations about any of these posts? Share them in the Comments below.

 

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?