Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 26 & 27, 2013

Well, here it is: the last Great Stuff post on the Cochise Writers blog. OK, not quite. I’ll put up a reminder so everyone knows these posts and my Critique Technique posts have moved. As of Friday, March 1st, everything will be over at my new web site, www.rossblampert.com. Great Stuff for Writers and Critique Technique will have their own menu items and pages. You’ll have to resubscribe, I’m afraid, but the RSS feed links and subscribe-by-email boxes are up at the top of the sidebar so they’re easy to get to. Every site is a work in progress, so I’ll be adding new features as I can and as they become relevant. I hope you like the look and feel of the new site. I’m pretty excited about it and I hope you will be too.

Meanwhile, there’s lots of Great Stuff here as well.

CRAFT

Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. @GrammarGirl, clears up once and for all (you believe THAT, don’t you?) when and whether to use the Oxford/Harvard/serial comma with an graphic from OnlineSchools.com in The Oxford Comma, in Pictures. You may want to ensure you’re reading the post and graphic at a relatively large screen expansion because the color contrasts in the image aren’t the strongest, but the information itself is clear, concise(,) and easy to absorb.

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) has a post today on words that writers consistently confuse with others that are similar: Never Confuse These Words Again. Her list of doubles and triples is short—only 10 sets out of many—but still a good review. The one of her commenters pointed out a blog called Homophones Weakly (notice the “mis”spelling) that covers this topic in a fun way.

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) deals with a problem we all run into once in a while: Episodic Storytelling. When writing is called “episodic,” that’s generally not a compliment. It happens, Katie tells us, because the scenes that make up these episodes don’t seem to matter to each other—one doesn’t build into the next. The solution is straight-forward (to describe if not necessarily to do): make sure each scene contributes to the overall story.

BUSINESS

Every so often the issue of “traditional” copyright bubbles up (I’m putting traditional in quotes to distinguish it from the Creative Commons copyright) and it has again on Writer Beware ® Blogs, in Victoria Strauss’s (@victoriastrauss) Why Not to Register Copyright for Unpublished Work. This piece has two parts: one clearly related to the title (short form: it’s not necessary and does nothing for you) and the other about why it can actually place you at risk. Say what? It turns out, Strauss reports, that there are various unscrupulous companies (she names one) that troll copyright and Library of Congress registration lists looking for naïve unpublished authors to scam with offers of “services” (exorbitant fees not mentioned, of course).

Here’s an important one for you: Thomas Ford’s Common Creativity: Understanding the Rules and Rights Around “Free” Images on the Web on ProBlogger. As Ford discusses, “free” isn’t necessarily an absolute term when it comes to images—or documents, for that matter—and if you’re going to use a “free” image, you’d better know exactly what you’re allowed to do under what circumstances. Just because something is available at no charge doesn’t mean there are no restrictions on what you can or can’t do with it. This is a long and detailed piece, particularly when it comes to the Creative Commons kinds of copyrights, and may be more than you can absorb in one reading, so bookmark it or flag it as a favorite and check out the resources the Creative Commons folks have put together for your use.

TECHNOLOGY

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) has a terrific post on 7 Ways to Look Good on Your Webcam. As I noted in my comment, I’m not an ENT doctor—I really don’t care to be looking up your nose—so her #1 suggestion to put your webcam at eye level or a little higher is a biggie. Her other points and those of her commenters are all good. With Google Hangouts, other video chats, vlogs, and podcasts all becoming more common, these pointers are all necessary for looking at least decent on camera.

THE WRITING LIFE

Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) continues her writing community series with the start of a sub-series on how to Build Your Online Writing Community, the key word being “Online.” While she discusses the blogosphere and Twitter in a bit of detail here, she promises more posts on other parts of the online world in the future. As she notes, there are so many options that it’s hard for someone who’s just getting into social media to know what to do first. Let’s hope this series will help people like that (like you?) make that choice.

See you next time at our new site!

Critique Technique, Part 42—The Dreaded Expository Lump

Old car stuck in the mud

photo credit: Toronto History via photopin cc

Ah, the dreaded expository lump, that moldering mass of minutiae, that exhausting example of authorial excreta, that soggy swamp of supercilious sentences that sends the reader straight into the Slough of Despond. (Yeesh, enough with the purple prose.)

You know what the expository lump is, of course: that paragraph or page—or worse yet, pages—in which the author stops the story to tell you everything he knows about a particular character, setting, situation, etc. His intent is good—there are things the reader needs to know—but not all of them, not right now. And not all at once.

Unfortunately, this lump, also known as an info- or data-dump, isn’t the exclusive province of the novice writer. We all risk writing it. As we get better, perhaps our lumps and dumps are shorter and a little less obvious: a sentence or two, rather than a paragraph or three.

New writers make two mistakes. First, they haven’t learned to trust the reader to figure things out. Second, they haven’t learned that the reader is their partner in creating the story, filling in what the writer leaves out. As a result, the new writer takes it upon himself to describe and explain everything.

Driving a story into an expository lump is like driving a car into a deep puddle of thick, gooey mud. First there’s the shock of the sudden loss of momentum, then that sinking feeling as the mire swallows the story car. The drive wheels may still be throwing around lots of mud words and making a mess but the story’s going nowhere. Finally, when the writer driver takes his foot off the gas, even for a moment, the mud words flow back into the story tailpipe and the engine vapor locks and dies. The passenger reader is left stranded, wondering how she’s going to get out of the mud, rather than looking forward to dinner at Grandma’s.

As a critiquer, you play the role of the friendly tow truck driver, come to pull the hapless writer motorist out of his self-made morass. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wade down into that muck yourself to find where to place the hook so you can pull the story car out without ripping the bumper off.

The first thing to do is assess the situation: what happened here? As I noted above, the author’s intentions were good. He wanted the reader to know important stuff! But alas, he misjudged what was important and what wasn’t, like misjudging the depth of the puddle.  Or maybe he didn’t know what was important.

All right, then, time to pull our hapless writer out of the fine mess he’s gotten himself into. Sometimes this is easy. The puddle isn’t very deep and just pulling the car straight out—that is, deleting the lump altogether—is all that’s needed. At other times, though…

Oh, no! The winch cable snapped! Everyone’s okay, but now what? It’s time for some some serious mucking to shovel out all those mud words that are stalling the story.

But here’s the thing: not all mud words are bad. The story needs some to be interesting. The key is figuring out which ones need to stay, which need to be gotten rid of, and which need to be put in a bucket in the trunk to make mud pies with the grandkids later. (Boy, this analogy is getting really messy!)

The mud words that need to stay are the ones that give color and life and depth (in other words, traction or at least interest) to the story at that moment.

So how much is the right amount? That’s a tough question. In part it depends on the nature of the story; some genres expect more description and hence a slower pace than others do. Another part of the answer depends on the needs of the story at that moment. For example, when introducing a character for the first time, it may be important to reveal not just some of his physical characteristics but some of his motivations, let’s say, or his perceptions of his surroundings.

Deciding when the piece you’re reading is getting stuck in the mud is easy enough. You’ll start saying to yourself, “All right, already! Get on with it!” But to decide what needs to be taken out, you may have to get to the other side of the puddle, if not all the way to Grandma’s house—that is, to the end of the scene, chapter, or piece—before you can look back and make that determination.

Let’s sum up, then. The expository lump or info-dump has two main problems: it delivers too much information at one time, most of which doesn’t contribute to the needs of the story at that moment. Second, it slows the story’s momentum, even bringing it to a dead stop.  As a critiquer, your job is to identify which details should stay and which should be pulled out, perhaps to be used later, when they can be sprinkled in at the places where they add to the story. Be sure you fit your suggestions to the genre and style of the story and what the reader needs to know. With your help, the author will turn story-strangling mud into a fine and rich loam from which the flower of the story will bloom.

How do you tell when you’ve hit an expository lump? How do you help the author fix it?

ANNOUNCEMENT

This is the last installment of Critique Technique that will be posted on the Cochise Writers blog. Starting next time, these posts will appear on my own site, www.rossblampert.com, on the Critique Technique page. As time permits, I’ll bring all of the other posts in this series over to the new site too.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 14 & 15, 2013

The weekend is upon us—a 3-dayer here in the U.S., for “Presidents’ Day” on Monday—so you’ll have plenty of time for today’s posts. Enjoy!

PRE-ANNOUNCEMENT

Changes are coming to Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs and Critique Technique, starting Friday, March 1st. Watch for more news as we get closer to the big day.

CRAFT

Lisa Cron’s (@lisacron) 5 Reasons Why Readers Love Your Story is pretty dense, especially for a blog post. Not dense as in “stupid”—I wouldn’t be mentioning it here if that was the case—but dense as in giving you a lot to think about. Four of her five reasons get into the psychology of readers and reading—well, the fifth one, “you give readers hours of just plain flat-out fun,” is psychological too—so it’s all pretty deep insight. Not a light or quick read, by any means, but worth the time for a slow, thoughtful one. One other thing, though: don’t let it pressure you into thinking your every word has to be intensely personal and perceptive and meaningful and powerful. Remember that reason #5.

Amy Wilentz’s (@amywilentz) terrific How to Bring Subjects to Life in Your Nonfiction Writing is absolutely NOT just for nonfiction writers! Her discussion of how details about each character —and which details— not only tells but shows the power and value of the technique. If you, like me, have trouble building character descriptions in fiction (or nonfiction), this piece is for you. And while we’re on the topic of nonfiction, Alice Crider (@AliceCrider) offers a dozen or so questions to keep in mind (all reader-oriented) to help you with Powerful Non-Fiction Writing. Note that here too the questions can be reframed and applied to a fiction protagonist.

Okay, time to get your grammar geek on! Today we welcome Mignon Fogarty (a.k.a. the @GrammarGirl) to Great Stuff. Her post addresses parts of the question, Where Do I Use Commas? Part 1: The “Oxford comma” (the one before “and” at the end of a list). “It’s a style choice.” In other words, be consistent about how you use it. Part 2: NOT between a subject and its verb. Ever. Part 3: Pauses DO NOT equal pauses. (Harvey Stanbrough has discussed the relationships between punctuation marks in general and pauses in greater detail here.) Part 4: whether to use commas around appositives, those words or phrases (like this one) that name or rename the noun they follow. (Space doesn’t permit me to even summarize the answer here.)

BUSINESS

Michael Swanwick hasn’t weighed in much on business but this time he does, at length, with How Does a Writer Make a Living Today? His approach and view is much more measured, especially with regard to self-publishing, than say Joe Konrath, primarily because Swanwick still publishes primarily in print. But he ends with this point: every time someone has predicted that some change will mean that writers will no longer be able to make a living writing, we find a way.

TECHNOLOGY

Wow, where do I put this post? It could fit in Craft, or Business, maybe even Social Media. I’ve decided to put Harry Guinness’s (@harryguinness) Creative Penn guest post Why And How To Use MultiMedia To Enhance Your Ebooks here, because it’s about using technology to add additional dimensions, specifically photos and videos, to ebook storytelling. To be sure, this isn’t a new idea, but as Guinness notes, it’s becoming easier, cheaper, and more easily available every year. Will this technology change storytelling? Of course. How much? That’s very much still to be determined. For better or worse? That’ll be a matter of individual opinion. But check out what’s possible.

FUN

Haven’t had the chance to point to anything by Writer’s Digest editor Zachary Petit in a while but Bug-Out Bags for Writers is just too fun to pass up. The good news: none of the bags are very big. The bad news: well, you had to bug-out, after all. That’s bad enough. 😉 What would go in your bag?

Critique Technique, Part 41—What Was That Again?

Confusion!

photo credit: Richard Scott 33 via photopin cc

Ever had one of those moments when you’re reading through a story or article and the author’s description of a place or event or person makes you stop and say to yourself, “Wait, did I miss something?” Sure you have. We all have.

It’s okay to confuse a reader if it’s done intentionally and in a way that makes them want—no, need—to read more. But confusing descriptions that stop the reader and in so doing, interrupt the flow of the story, are another matter.

When these kinds of problems show up, it’s a good bet the author either knew what they meant and didn’t realize it hadn’t come out that way on the page, or they had no idea what they were trying to express. As a reviewer, you’re likely to be the first person to pick them up, so it’s your job to identify the problems and help the author fix them.

Confusing descriptions can come in at least these four forms:

  • Vague or insufficient detail;
  • Contradictory or inconsistent information;
  • Inappropriate or irrelevant information; or
  • Details the narrator or POV character shouldn’t know.

Let’s look at each.

Vague or Insufficient Detail

I covered vague descriptions in Part 40. Insufficient detail is another matter. Here there’s simply not enough information for the reader to build a picture of the character, object, or setting of the current moment of the story. An easy example is when the writer doesn’t identify the time or place when a scene begins. Another might be when he places a scene in a hotel room but give no other sense of what kind of hotel it is: a Motel 6 or the Ritz Carlton. Or, to continue the image of the river valley from Part 40, it might be wide and shallow or narrow and deep, lush and verdant or barren and dry, but the author never tells the reader.

If these details are important to the story, whether they’re setting mood, placing the piece, or revealing something about a character, if there aren’t enough or clear enough details to do the job, they need to be added or fixed.

Contradictory or Inconsistent

These kinds of details can cause the reader to laugh when the author didn’t mean for her to. Contradictory details can be useful for revealing character—the muscular he-man who’s afraid of germs, for example—but if the contradiction shows up without a clear purpose, such as to signal some kind of change, that’s a problem.

What often happens is that one detail shows up in one place, and then the contradictory or inconsistent detail shows up some time, maybe even chapters, later. In my first novel, I had a character who in one chapter stood 5 feet 11 inches tall. Several chapters later, she was 6-foot-2, and no, she hadn’t put on heels. Oops!

These kinds of problems can be hard to catch, especially if you’re reading a work a chapter at a time with weeks in between chapters. There’s no easy fix for this. If you have the kind of mind that will retain those details, that helps but even that’s not a guarantee. Catch them if you can.

If the problem is a contradiction, and you catch it, make sure you discuss it with the author to determine whether it was intentional or not. If it was intentional, then he may need to make the purpose of the contradiction clearer.

Inappropriate or irrelevant

These kinds of confusing details show up when the author isn’t clear in her own mind what she’s trying to describe or what she means to do with these details. In this case, she may throw lots of things at the wall to see what sticks, or have no idea that what she’s doing isn’t working.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I read part of a first draft of a memoir from a member of my writers’ group. She spent several pages describing things she and a friend had done. Her intent was to illustrate aspects of this important character’s personality, but the collection of vignettes was a tangent at that moment in the story and that much of that kind of detail was out of place. Not entirely irrelevant but certainly inappropriate.

The good news is that these kinds of details do a great imitation of a sore thumb. As soon as you find yourself asking the author, “Why are you telling me this,” you’ve found something you need to flag. Be sure, though, that you also explain why the details in question aren’t appropriate or relevant and, if possible, suggest where he might use them instead.

Details the narrator or POV character shouldn’t know

These problem details can be very tricky. Let’s say the work you’re reading is a murder mystery and the character (who we’ll learn later is actually the killer) comes into a detective’s office, looking to hire her to “solve” the case. Let’s say the detective is also the narrator and reports noticing that the potential client had a hole in the sole of her left shoe. So far, so good, except that the client never stood, sat, or walked in a way that would have let the detective see that sole! Even if that’s the sole problem with the scene (ahem), it does put a hole in the author’s credibility.

Like some of the other problems I discussed above, these details are likely to show up when the author hasn’t thought through the scene well enough, or hasn’t realized what he’s done. He knows what he intended!

Let’s sum up, then, with a few questions to keep in mind as you’re reading:

  • Do I have enough information here to give me a clear mental image of the person, place, or thing I’m supposed to be sensing? (Remember, details aren’t just visual but can engage several senses.)
  • Do any of the details contradict each other in ways that confuse me rather than revealing something important?
  • Are any of the details here inconsistent with what I was told earlier in ways that are not meant to reveal a change?
  • Do the details I’m seeing here distract me from the main story?
  • Do I wonder why I’m being given this information now?
  • Is the narrator or POV character telling me something he shouldn’t be able to know at this moment in the story?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, identify the nature of the problem and what the author can do to fix it. Next time around, the writing should be much better.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 2-4, 2013

Wow! Busy weekend out there on the blogosphere, and Monday morning, too: rules and tools, emotions and responses, Star Wars attacks and attacks on Amazon. It’s all here, and more. No time to lose! Let’s get started.

CRAFT

CORRECTION! Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) workshop is on Tuesday, February FIFTH,  (that’s tomorrow) at 1 PM Eastern. Sorry for the confusion!

Anyone who’s been at this business a while knows that there are almost no rules to writing, beyond maybe, “Get your butt in the chair! Now!” So when a post is titled The Rules of Writing, naturally that’s going to raise some concerns. Fortunately, French super-bestseller Marc Levy’s (@marc_levy) “rules” on Writer Unboxed aren’t rules so much as guidelines, and wise and practical ones at that. A couple examples to whet your appetite: “Stop trying so hard to find a subject” and “Don’t show too much, don’t tell too much.”

Along these same lines, Joanna Penn’s (@thecreativepenn) guest post on Write to Done on 5 Ways To Take Your Writing Further includes some techniques I’ve heard before but haven’t seen mentioned much recently, namely free-writing and physically copying the work of published authors you enjoy and respect. Not only are these effective techniques for expanding your writing, they’re terrific for overcoming writer’s block. (See the Brandon Yawa post below too.)

I think it was one of the great Russian writers who said, “If there is no emotion in the writer, there will be no emotion in the reader.” Anyone know who that was? In any case, James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) picks up on that theme with his post How To Get Emotional About Your Novel on The Kill Zone. “Emotion in the author,” he writes, “is literary electricity. It’s the X Factor, the game changer… Readers sense it.” Then he describes a couple of methods for finding it and bringing it out in your work. The last part of the post is a plug for his latest book but also serves as an example of how he was able to create genuine emotion in the story.

Speaking of emotion, KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) continues her excellent series on scenes and sequels with Pt. 9: Options for Dilemmas in a Sequel. What does this have to do with emotion? After the emotion of the reaction to the previous scene’s disaster, now the protagonist should face a dilemma in which he or she has to figure out what to do next. This can be an emotional reaction, too, or a rational one, but it needs to start with a review of what’s happened, an analysis of options, and a plan for moving forward, which will lead to a decision, the next scene and, of course, the next disaster… but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Lessons Learned from the Original Star Wars Trilogy to Up Your Writing Game? Seriously? Yup. Lydia Sharp (@lydia_sharp) comes up with them on Writer Unboxed. Specifically, Episode IV (start in the middle), Episode V (destroy everything), Episode VI (expect the unexpected).  Hmmm. Y’know, that gives me an idea…. Thanks, Lydia!

BUSINESS

Joanna Penn’s piece on her own blog, How EBook Readers Shop And The Importance Of Sampling, is a terrific insight into both. Yes, if you own an e-reader, your shopping habits may be different, but if you’re looking to e-publish, even how just one reader shops can be revealing. So are Joanna’s and her commenters’ views on samples: how long they should be, how much time a reader will spend with them, how often they decide not to buy based on the sample, etc. Valuable info here!

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has started a monthly feature called Best Business Advice for Writers, and the January edition is full to overflowing with links to other posts and articles that are full to overflowing with information. The ol’ veritable plethora, right on your screen: GoodReads, cover design, self-publishing lessons-learned, WordPress plug-ins, Kickstarter, and more. Goodness. It’s a week’s worth of reading all by itself! Pick what most interests you.

Whoa, this is a tough one. Clare Langley-Hawthorne reports on The Kill Zone on a series of Concerted Amazon Attacks meant to discredit and kill the sales of a book. The book, an apparently non-sycophantic biography of Michael Jackson received so many 1-star reviews on Amazon (over 100), many of which were factually inaccurate, that despite Amazon’s selecting it as one of their best books of the year, sales were a small fraction of the number of books printed. So, whose free-speech rights prevail in a case like this: the authors’ or the reviewers’? Or is this an either/or decision at all? What do you think?

THE WRITING LIFE

It might be a bit of a surprise to see a post from ProBlogger here in the Writing Life section, but Brandon Yawa’s (@BrandonYawa) How Compassion Cures Writer’s Block fits. Interestingly, his idea is NOT compassion by the author for someone else, but compassion by the author for him- or herself. Self-forgiveness, in other words, when the words won’t come, plus a few non-writing techniques for getting that mental break that releases the block. Marc Levy (above) says not to fear writer’s block because it’s a natural thing. Without the fear, then, the forgiveness should come more easily. Hope so, anyway!

If you’ve ever been in a writers’/critique group, you’ve probably encountered people like those described in Donna Cooner’s (@donnacooner) Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners. If you haven’t, yes, you might well encounter people like these. But don’t assume as some writers and bloggers (NOT Donna) insist that all groups are like this. They’re not, and a good group is worth its weight in ink cartridges.

So, can you name that Russian writer? Have you run into any of those awful critique partners? How about great ones? Tell! Tell! (This is one time you don’t have to “show.”)

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 31 & February 1, 2013

Well here’s a post that will launch you into the weekend with plenty consider—at least, if you live in the U.S. and are an American football fan—when you’re not wrapped up in the Super Bowl. Eight pieces: some challenging, some sad, some practical, and some mostly for fun. Enjoy!

CRAFT

Hmmm. Well, okay, this is different. Editor Stuart Horwitz guest posts on Writer Unboxed under the title Plot is a Four-Letter Word. “Plot,” it seems, is verboten around his office. Instead, he tells writers to think in terms of “series.” Not series as in book 1, book 2, book 3, and so on, but series as in characters, and things, and phrases, or as he puts it, “a narrative element that repeats and varies” within a book. So each book has not just one series, but many, and they operate in series and in parallel. And they interact and together form a net which is the story but does not anywhere contain a plot. Got it? No? Well, check out the post and see if it helps.

It’s been kind of fun to watch Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) web site evolve and now she’s ready to take the next big step with an Online Workshop: Boost Your Writing With Seven Techniques next Tuesday, February 7th, starting at 1 PM Eastern Time. More than just a webinar you passively watch on your screen, this will be a truly interactive workshop. How cool is that? Even better, because it’s the first one, Gabriela’s offering it for free. Click on the link above for the full story or here if you already know you want to register.

BUSINESS

If you’ve wondered what the various kinds of editors do (you did know there are various kinds of editors, didn’t you?) and what the can do for you if you’re self-publishing—and what they can do to you if you let them—then you want to read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (@kriswrites) Hiring Editors. Skip or plow through her de rigeur sliming of traditional publishing and agents because around that is valuable, maybe even vital, information on content editors, copy editors, line editors, and proofreaders (who aren’t editors but can be really important too).

Some people may find this news from Victoria Strauss (@victoriastrauss) on Writer Beware® Blogs disappointing (at least): Christian Writers Guild Publishing: Pay to Play from Jerry B. Jenkins. Why disappointing? Three reasons. First, like companies like Author Solutions, CWGP is offering writers bundles of “services,” some of questionable value, for prices starting at—brace yourself–$9,995.00. Second, a big-name author like Jerry Jenkins is involved. And third, this is proof once again that just because something is labeled “Christian” doesn’t mean it can be trusted to live up to those principles.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Today Robert Lee “My Name Is Not Bob” Brewer (@robertleebrewer) publishes this year’s list of his Best Blogs for Writers to Read in 2013. While I’m pleased to say that many, indeed virtually all, of the blogs I report on here are included in his list, there are many that are not. Why? Because his list is 55 blogs long! Yikes! Okay, so sanity-check time here. No one’s suggesting that you MUST read all 55. What else would you do with your day if you did? But with so many to choose from, I’m sure you’ll find a reasonable number that are worth your time. And THANK YOU for including this blog in your list!

TECHNOLOGY

It’s easy to get intimidated by all of the capabilities your word processing software has, isn’t it? So many of us fall back to a default position of learning a few tools and ignoring the rest. Then, anyone who knows even a few more gets designated an “expert.” Which is a shame because those software designers created those tools to make your life easier. That’s Joel Friedlander’s (@JFBookman) theme in Getting Started With Microsoft Word Styles for Book Layout. Every word processing program has something like Word’s “styles,” although they may call them something else, so this post is well worth your time, no matter what program you use. And by the way, “styles” aren’t just for laying out books. I write this blog in Word and have set up a “WordPress” style that captures not just the header design Joel discusses but every format-related thing I want. With one click of my mouse button, a new document is automatically set up. Shazam!

THE WRITING LIFE

Don’t do it! Don’tcha dare do it! Don’t read those reviews. No, not even the good ones. That’s Michelle Gagnon’s (@Michelle_Gagnon) advice on The Kill Zone, and she’s got lots of good reasons. Not reading the bad reviews is pretty obvious: clearly the reviewer just didn’t get it. J But the good reviews, well, their traps are more subtle. Michelle’s not talking about the ego overload problem, but all those “good ideas” that can lead you into forgetting that the work, especially the next one in the series, is your work, not that gushy reviewer’s. There be monsters. Beware!

Sarah Callender (@sarahrcallender) takes a fun but also serious look at The Writer as Inventor on Writer Unboxed. Sure, we know we invent our (fictional) stories. What Sarah focuses on are the traits of successful inventors: curiosity, focus, loyalty, clarity, fear more-or-less balanced with foolishness (or vice versa), and someone to provide a sanity check without stifling creativity.

So what do you think? Does Horwitz’s idea make any sense to you? What about Callender’s: are you a writer/inventor?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 29 & 30, 2013

 

For a while this morning I thought I was going to have to write, “Nothing Great out there today. Sorry.” Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case, although the final list is short. That’s okay: quantity isn’t quality.

CRAFT

Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) continues his series on writing mistakes with The Next Five (Okay, Six) Most-Common Mistakes Writers Make. If you missed his first installment, you can find it here. This piece deals with assigning human traits to body parts, where to put descriptive narrative relative to dialogue, describing characters speaking to themselves, unnecessary “reaching” verbs, and others. Valuable basic craft stuff here, especially for new writers.

BUSINESS

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) interviews New York Times and USA Today bestselling author CJ Lyons (@cjlyonswriter) today about Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing: Enjoy the Best of Both Worlds. To be honest, there’s really nothing new in what Ms. Lyons says in this long piece, at least not if you’ve been reading this blog or any others for any length of time, but if you need to hear it from a big-name success, this is the piece you want to read.

THE WRITING LIFE

Now here’s a piece that’s the kind of thing writers need from time to time: Angela Ackerman’s (@AngelaAckerman) Success: Is It Happening To You, Only You Don’t Realize It? on The Bookshelf Muse. The subtitle, 7 Signs of Emerging Success, is the key here, or rather, the signs themselves are. They’re a terrific set of sanity checks against the crazy-making hunt for that 100,000th sale or the spot on the big-name bestseller list. None of us are likely to get there unless we had at least a few of these seven first.

I admit I’m always a bit leery of whoever’s the guru-du-jour—I’ve lived long enough to see too many of them come and go—so for that reason I’m not on the Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog) bandwagon. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have good ideas or clever insights, I’m just not going to worship at his feet. That said, his interview with Kelton Reid (@KeltonReid) on Copyblogger, Here’s How Seth Godin Writes, is worth a look if nothing else than for the short and snarky answers to some of Reid’s questions. Example: Q: Do you write every day? A: Do you talk every day? Hmmm. I wonder if Godin’s getting interview fatigue. Or did Reid get the answers he deserved?

What do you think? Is Stanbrough right? What about Godin? Let us know in the Comments.