Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Being Creative on the Computer

blog10 I’m doing my best to eliminate paper from my writing process. At this point, the only paper that’s still around are the notebooks (and Post It notes) for my car and purse. I need those for writing on the go (because I grab every second I can.) But at the end of the day, the paper I wrote on is transcribed onto the computer and thrown away. Why am I doing this? Well, I’ve discovered that as much as I love paper, it’s slowing me down. And I don’t have much time to spare. I used to do a lot of writing on paper. But then I discovered that A. I frequently lost the paper and B. I had to transcribe everything onto the computer—I was effectively writing the material twice. My revising? It was all done on paper. I’d print it out (and this would be 270 pages, single sided) and then go through and mark it up like crazy. Then I’d have to go back and page-by-page make all the corrections…looking back and forth from the printed, marked up text to the computer, finding the right place… It was just too slow. Now, if you’re not in any hurry or under any deadlines, then do what works best for you! But if you do want to go paper free, then here are my tips-- How I weaned myself off paper: Never let myself get too far ahead on paper…maybe 2 pages…before I made myself transcribe it. This kept me from having 20 or 30 pages that needed to be put into Word. And, after a while, I thought how much quicker the process would be if I just wrote on the computer. Remembered my deadlines—self-imposed and publisher-imposed. That tends to spur me into action. Learned how to do revisions on the computer with Track Changes (all editors want to work with Track Changes now). Since the editors were using Track Changes, I got more practice doing revisions on my computer. Practiced brainstorming on the computer (trying to generate new ideas while looking at a blank screen. It wasn’t easy….) I remembered how much it cost me to print out all those pages I used for revisions…in paper and printer ink. But, what’s the biggest thing to remember if you do all your writing on the computer? BACK IT UP!!!!!! Use a thumb drive, USB, external hard drive, or email it to yourself. Just make sure it’s somewhere. Because it won’t be on paper anymore for you to piece together. Now I’m more careful than I used to be (although I still screw up and end up accidentally losing text.) I’m thinking there’s an age gap with the writing on paper thing. It’s VERY easy for my kids to be creative on the computer, but I had to really work at it. I’m thinking that the younger you are, the easier it might be to make the change (if you haven’t already.) Which is easier for you—paper or word processing? In other news--I've murdered my comment widget. :) It comes easily to a mystery writer. Too many problems for many of my Blogger friends and when I discovered that several people had tried to comment and couldn't, it had to go. I'm still looking for the perfect universal commenting system that's compatible with Blogger...when I find it, I'll let you know!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Long and the Short of It

When it comes to writing, we all tackle things different ways.  We outline or don’t outline.  We focus mainly on plot or mainly on character.  We revise as we go or wait till we’re done.  We watch our word count closely or worry about it later.

Our process is different, but we all end up with the same result—a finished manuscript.  But how long did we spend on each part of it?  What took us the longest during the process?

So I’m curious—out of the list below, what takes you the longest? Or is there something else that takes longer?  What’s the easiest for you?

Coming up with the original idea
Brainstorming the original idea
Outlining (if you do it)
Organizing the story
Creating individual characters
Character development
The beginning of the book
The ending of the book
Developing the conflicts…internal and external
Revising the first draft
Revising subsequent drafts

For me, character development takes the longest. I think that’s because I change so much of it through the revision process—a character will start out one way, and end up being completely different by the end of the book.  So I have to go back and do quality control.  :)  Also, I have a pretty difficult time with book endings.

The easiest thing for me is coming up with the original idea, followed closely by organizing the book (mine tend to follow a particular format.)

Your turn!


I'm running this same survey today over at Inkspot (the blog for Midnight Ink writers), if you're interested in seeing their take on it. Also, if y'all could continue giving me feedback on this commenting widget. Is it remembering you? Is it hard on Blogger folks? Is it a royal pain or not too bad?  I like the threaded comments, but I don't want any hassle. :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Getting Our Point Across

Henri Matisse - Mlle Matisse In A Scottish Plaid Coat, 1918, Mr. & Mrs. Albert Taubman Collection, Switzerland.My mother is, right now, my only first reader.  I think only a mom will put up with being asked to drop everything and read a book from start to finish because the writer is right up on top of a deadline.

Mama just finished reading my second Memphis book which I emailed to my agent Friday afternoon. Her technique is to print the manuscript out, read it, and put sticky flags on pages where she has questions or corrections.  Then she calls me on the phone and goes through the corrections page by page.
She called me twice this time—once for the corrections for the first half of the book and once for the second half’s corrections.

During both phone calls she had at least one time where she said, “I didn’t understand what you were trying to say here. Were you trying to say…?” then she’d trail off.

Both times I read the paragraph.  And read it again.  “I meant…Well, I meant…” I’d pause and read it again.  “Okay, I don’t know what I meant.”

I ended up ditching both paragraphs and rewriting them.  Because, if I can’t even explain them, that’s not a good sign.

Usually these paragraphs are really awkward. Frequently this is because:

*It’s got a passive voice construction and is a big was/had past participle mess. 
*It’s hard to tell who is talking.
*It’s hard to tell to whom they’re talking.
*The sentences are too long.

Usually I just chuck the whole thing and start over. But if there were a lot of paragraphs, that would get old, fast.  Other ways to address it are to:

*Make it active.
*Include dialogue tags (keeping it simple…said or asked is fine)
*Divide long sentences into shorter ones.
*Consider a different way to deliver the info in the paragraph—like including it in dialogue, instead.

Catching these awkward constructions?  If you’re doing the revision process solo, reading aloud would be the best solution (clearly I didn’t take my own advice and do that!)  Otherwise…it is something that a first reader would probably catch.

Thanks, Mama!

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Terry3 I’ve had a few people ask me to run more writing links here—and for some reason I keep forgetting!  I post probably 25 or more writing links a day on Twitter, but that doesn’t help if you’re not a member.
So, here are some links from the last few days.  :)  Good thing I’m a skimmer!
The one-line book pitch: 5:45 AM Mar 24th via web
Give your characters cabin fever and change your setting:
How novelists are entrepreneurs: 5:44 AM Mar 24th via web
Gaining authenticity in our writing: 5:43 AM Mar 24th via web
7 things one YA writer has learned so far: 5:07 PM Mar 23rd via web
Memorizing poetry: 5:07 PM Mar 23rd via web
Overusing protagonist names: 5:06 PM Mar 23rd via web
An agent on spammy query letter subject lines: @NathanBransford
Why YA romance needs to change: @inwhichagirl 5:02 PM Mar 23rd via
The 5 protagonists you meet in YA: @yaHighway
A few thoughts on 1st person: 1:29 PM Mar 23rd via web
Required--the crappy first draft: @merylkevans 1:28 PM Mar 23rd via web
Cleaning up our manuscripts: @katmagendie 1:25 PM Mar 23rd via web
Using irony in your novel: 1:23 PM Mar 23rd via web
A tool to help you track your queries: 1:22 PM Mar 23rd via web
One writer's thoughts on fitting in backstory: 9:47 AM Mar 23rd via web
SF cover art: 9:44 AM Mar 23rd via web
Being fearless with our writing: 9:43 AM Mar 23rd via web
Does your novel pass the p. 69 test? 9:42 AM Mar 23rd via web
How to find your agent (researching): 9:41 AM Mar 23rd via web
Writing characters from the inside out: 9:39 AM Mar 23rd via web
Mixing past and present tense: 9:38 AM Mar 23rd via web
World-building--the foundation: 6:01 AM Mar 23rd via web
Writer as career vs writer as identity: @JustineLavaworm 5:54 AM Mar 23rd
Learning from a first rejection letter: @suvudu 5:53 AM Mar 23rd via web
Writing a make-out scene: 5:50 AM Mar 23rd via web
What makes a novel crumble? 5:50 AM Mar 23rd via web
Fiction without borders--blurring the line between genres:
Un-American thrillers--why are Scandinavians dominating the field?
2009 bestsellers lost ground to the long tail of online retailing (PW)
Cappuccinos in your local library? It's all just froth (Telegraph, UK) :
Picture books as vitamins for infants born into a digital age:
Forming your critique group (getting members, location, format):
Each character has a story: @bookviewcafe 5:36 AM Mar 23rd via web
Ted Hughes joins lit greats at Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey (Guardian, UK) : 5:35 AM Mar 23rd via web
Borders stores want you and your book club: @hopeclark 5:34 AM Mar 23rd
The importance of putting your contact info on your blog, etc:
The Gr8 deb8: 5:32 AM Mar 23rd via web
Zombies are not the new vampires: @johnottinger 1:23 PM Mar 22nd via
"Oh, it's only an e-book..." : 1:22 PM Mar 22nd via web
for a great story: @dlschubert 1:22 PM Mar 22nd via web
Pride and sensibility--Austen's literary ambitions (NPR) :
Effective dialogue in novels: 1:20 PM Mar 22nd via web
Agent research: 1:20 PM Mar 22nd via web
Tech news for nerds--living in the future with smart phones and e-readers:
The mirror technique for describing characters: 1:18 PM Mar 22nd via web
Is true translation of poetry impossible? 1:18 PM Mar 22nd via web
How to play nice at writers' conferences: 1:17 PM Mar 22nd via web
One writer's method for creating an outline: 1:16 PM Mar 22nd via web
10 quick tips for concise and compelling writing: 1:15 PM Mar 22nd via web
Squinting modifiers: 1:15 PM Mar 22nd via web
Another take on getting more blog comments (not recommended!):
Bio on poet Ted Hughes who had relationships w/ 2 women who killed themselves (Sylvia Plath and Wevill) Guardian, UK : 10:12 AM Mar 22nd via web
A blog tip to get you more comments: @alexisgrant 9:57 AM Mar 22nd via The class structure of British lit--who's at the bottom? At the top?:
Back to the basics of novel pitching: 9:54 AM Mar 22nd via web
Don't let readers hang up on your story: 9:53 AM Mar 22nd via web
The vorpal copy editor: 9:53 AM Mar 22nd via web
The power in a character name: 9:52 AM Mar 22nd via web
Prioritizing blogging and blog visiting: 9:52 AM Mar 22nd via web
Why Austen would never win a Booker (Independent, UK) :
5 tips for becoming an early riser (and maybe getting some writing done?) :
5 things to avoid in query letters: 7:34 AM Mar 22nd via web
Free online marketing help for the technophobic author: 7:34 AM Mar 22nd
Reading writing tips--is a little knowledge a dangerous thing?
Story design--the right narrator for your book: 5:45 AM Mar 22nd via web
Getting real--does your voice have credibility? 5:44 AM Mar 22nd via web
An agent says that perseverance is key: 5:44 AM Mar 22nd via
The bargain book business by the numbers: 5:22 AM Mar 22nd
Don't settle for being published badly: 5:22 AM Mar 22nd
Best tweets for writers (wk ending 3-19)--Writer's Digest: How one YA writer landed 2 multi-book deals: 5:39 PM Mar 21st
No time to read? One man's experiment to break free from TV:
Cover letters and why you need an elevator pitch: 5:38 PM Mar 21st
Demystifying lit agents: 11:16 AM Mar 21st
Anatomy of a multi-author blog: 11:16 AM Mar 21st
Something to dream about: upcoming lit festivals and workshops in Paris: What the Dickens--why genius is only human: 11:14 AM Mar 21st
Characters and Margaret Mitchell: 11:14 AM Mar 21st
Reviews on banned books--via @micheleemrath: 8:42 AM Mar 21st
Texts without context (NY Times): 8:10 AM Mar 21st
Revisiting '7 Habits of Highly Effective People': 8:08 AM Mar 21st
Chris Brogan on not being able to keep up (social media): 8:06 AM Mar 21st
Kids' reading and the question of age-appropriate: 8:05 AM Mar 21st
An agent gives tips for growing as a writer: 8:01 AM Mar 21st
5 big ways to add time to your days: 5:51 PM Mar 20th
Querying blunders (more agents share): @OPWFT 9:26 AM Mar 20th
How 8 Writers Do It: Deepening Your Characters

Famous writers and their day jobs: 8:35 AM Mar 20th 

On another note, I'm trying to see if I like this new commmenting thingy.  As y'all know, I don't ever change my blog at all.  :)   Please let me know if the commenting thing is obnoxious or not.  I thought threaded comments might be interesting to do, but I don't know if this is the widget for me or not. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Yes, I *Am* at a Book Signing Today

blog32 What is it about writing that makes us reluctant to admit to doing it?

You’d think I could easily explain that I’m a writer by now. But usually a couple of times a week someone either asks me what I do or something similar. And I choke EVERY time.

Yesterday, it was the mother of a child that my daughter has recently started playing with. We were at the bus stop, waiting for our girls to come home from school.

“Do you have any plans tomorrow?” she asked.

And, yes, I have a book signing at an outdoor festival that’s taking up a good chunk of my Saturday afternoon. But I’ve really only talked to this lady twice and she has no idea that I write.

“I…yes, I think there’s something on the calendar. I haven’t really looked at my day planner,” I said weakly.

Which means, of course, that later I’m left wondering why I avoid talking about my books and writing in face-to-face exchanges. And I’ve also missed an opportunity to sell a book or spread the word about my signing. And, believe me, I can use all the help I can get when it comes to signings! Otherwise I’ll be sitting at the table daydreaming and surreptitiously jotting down notes for the next book because no one is there.

Why I think I usually don’t mention my writing: It’s not what people are expecting to hear when they ask what I do. And I like filling expectations. It leads to an avalanche of further questions, which I’m usually uncomfortable answering. “Where do your ideas come from…?” or “I have the best idea for you to write about!” They have the most startled look on their face when I tell them…they’re not sure what to say. It sounds like I’m bragging. Dropping a book signing into conversation sounds contrived, not casual.

Although much of my life involves interaction with other writers, I only know a few writers in my non-virtual life. So, although sometimes I feel like everyone writes because it’s such an important part of my life…actually very few people write. It’s unusual enough to stop a conversation in its tracks. No one has ever just gone right on with the conversation: “Really? That’s great. Hey, do you think the kids would like to see the new movie that’s out?..” Nope! It’s always more like, “Whaaa?? Why didn’t you tell me you’re an author? When did your first book come out? Five years ago?!?”

Sometimes I’m good to mention it. If I’m in a situation, like a party, where I know I’m going to be meeting people for the first time then I’m prepared. I’ll be as chipper as possible and say, “I’m a writer. I write mysteries.” I’ll say this in a practiced, casual way, but it still leads to a series of questions: are you published? Who is your publisher? Can I get your book at the library? At the bookstore? Do you write under your own name? What’s your name again?

This might be a reason why I don’t go to many parties. :) Or, I just completely avoid the question by answering that I’m a stay-at-home mom. Until the party’s hostess comes over and fusses at me, “No, you’re not! You write books!”

If I have my business cards with me, I can handle the situation easier. Otherwise, I’m going to get out of that conversation as fast as I can.

I know there are at least two outgoing people who read this blog and are excellent at marketing (Diane and Marvin, you know I mean you!) Any tips on face to face promotion or at least just mentioning writing?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Making a Long Story Short

ShotToDeath300dpi Today I’d like to welcome author Stephen D. Rogers to the blog. Stephen is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more than six hundred stories and poems. He's the head writer at Crime Scene (where viewers solve interactive mysteries) and a popular writing instructor. For more information, you can visit his website,, where he tries to pull it all together.

People who think nothing of writing a novel but turn white when they're asked to produce a short story often come to me looking for tips.

That's understandable. A short story is not a novel in miniature. A short story is not a chapter of a novel. A short story is not the novel's poor illegitimate cousin. So what, exactly, is a short story?

A short story is a form as precisely designed as a poem or an automatic weapon.

The power of a novel comes from a cumulative effect of many disparate ideas. The power of a short story comes from the cumulative effect of those same ideas boiled down to concentrated word choices. While a novelist may devote many chapters to a character's college experience, the short story writer captures the flavor and result of that experience in a single word, a word that also moves the plot forward ... and perhaps acts as a clue. Writing a novel is a journey of discovery. Even if you have an outline, a stack of index cards, you learn about your character as you write the book. You learn what decisions your characters would make and what actions your character would take and you alter the story accordingly. Writing a short story, you need to know all that before you begin so that you can layer in those qualities. The key to knowing "all that" (since most people don't want to write a novel as research for a short story) is to know your characters. Know their desires. what do your characters want? What do they want over the course of the story? What do they want in each scene? What do they want in every paragraph and sentence? Know their motivations. Why do your characters have these desires? Why do your characters think they have these desires? How do the subconscious motivations and the alleged motivations play into each other? Know their weaknesses. What keeps your characters from attaining their desires? What keeps your characters from addressing those weaknesses? How have those weaknesses made your characters what they are at the beginning of the story? And, finally, know the consequences. What happens if your characters don't get what they desire? What happens if none of their needs are met? What happens if they don't learn their subconscious motivations and how to manage their weaknesses? SDR Knowing all that, writing the short story is fairly straightforward. :)


SHOT TO DEATH contains thirty-one stories of murder and mayhem. "Terse tales of cops and robbers, private eyes and bad guys, with an authentic New England setting." - Linda Barnes, Anthony Award winner and author of the Carlotta Carlyle series "Put yourself in the hands of a master as you travel this world of the dishonest, dysfunctional, and disappeared. Rogers is the real deal--real writer, real story teller, real tour guide to the dark side." - Kate Flora, author of the Edgar-nominated FINDING AMY and the Thea Kozak mysteries "SHOT TO DEATH provides a riveting reminder that the short story form is the foundation of the mystery/thriller genre. There's something in this assemblage of New England noir to suit every aficionado. Highly recommended!" - Richard Helms, editor and publisher, The Back Alley Webzine

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Big Picture

Sky--Charles Harold Davis--1856-1933 A couple of days ago, I was busily clearing out the weeds and grass that encroached on the kids’ sandbox in the backyard. “What are you doing?” asked my son.

I frowned at him in confusion. It was pretty obvious what I was doing—I had yard clothes on, ugly gloves, and was yanking up weeds by their roots. “I’m weeding around the sandbox. Then I’m thinking about putting flat pavers around it to help keep the grass and weeds out. I’m going to get some hanging baskets of flowers to put on the fence here, too.”

I kept working and he said, “Mom? Do you think Sister and I still need a sandbox?” He said it hesitantly like he didn’t really want to burst my bubble. I sat back on my heels. Oh! The 13 year old doesn’t need a sandbox. Why didn’t I realize this? “Well, but Sister does,” I said. “She’s just eight.”

“But for how long, Mom? Maybe you shouldn’t put too much time in it.” He looked sadly at me as if he were telling me the truth about Santa. Children grow up, Mom. Don’t turn the sandbox into a major landscaping project.

It got me thinking about my different manuscripts and the times I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Especially for the first couple of books, there were so many times where I was picking apart the grammar, spelling, the pace, the style, my voice—but didn’t look at whether the plot worked.

The Big Picture:

Is the plot logical? Are there plot holes? Is there enough conflict? Is it boring? Had I obviously manipulated the plot at any point?

Is the story good?

How do you alternate between looking at the big picture and the smaller ones?


Please join me tomorrow when author Stephen D. Rogers will be guest posting on “Making a Long Story Short.”

Paper Management

Le Stiratrici--Carlo Cressini-1864-1938 Y’all have caught me at a bad time—I’m really feeling the need to do some spring cleaning (it’s very springy here now in North Carolina), but I’m smack dab up against a huge deadline. Actually, make that 2 deadlines.

So I have cleaning on the brain. :)

There are certain kinds of messes that drive me crazy. If the laundry or the dishes aren’t done, I’m not going to be able to focus on anything until I’ve started a load.

Paper? It can wait a little while. But when it becomes a smallish stack, it starts bothering me, too. Plus I won’t remember to take action on whatever is on the paper if I’ve got it covered up with something else.

The writers that I know all seem to have a paper entourage. Maybe paper realizes it has a safer haven with us.

So this, for what it’s worth, is my method for dealing with paper (and remembering the importance of whatever was on the slip to begin with):

Act on paper as soon as it comes into the house: RSVP, write the date on the calendar, pay the bill, write the check for the school yearbook, etc.

Write down all the information off the paper onto the calendar or another central location and then throw the piece of paper away.

Open the mail over the recycling bin.

My reminders go in at least one place—sometimes two. I’ve been known to lose my day planner. :)

My writing papers are gathered up at the end of each day and transcribed onto the computer.

I go as paper-free as possible. I unsubscribed myself from the junk mail people, I’ve opted for electronic bills and statements when possible, etc.

I keep only a few back issues of magazines. I can usually find the articles that interest me out of the magazines online when I need them.

Do you have a good clutter-management solution? Please share them with me! :)


While I have housekeeping on the brain, here’s some quick blog housekeeping. I’m trying to keep updated---if you’re a Mystery Writing is Murder reader, your blog should be in my sidebar--are you there? Also, I'm open on Fridays for guest posts on the 'writing process.' I’m currently booking for April 30, May, and June. For more information, please check the post:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tips for Skittish Sellers

cookies My children are both in Scouts. It’s been a great experience for them—they get to try new things and build self-confidence and self-reliance.

The only thing I dislike about it? The selling.

I’m sure the other parents out there know what I mean. In October, my son sells barbeque for his troop. And in January/February, my daughter sells Girl Scout cookies for hers.

And they have a mom who absolutely hates selling things.

This means that I end up buying whatever they’ve got to sell. Yes, I will buy $100 worth of BBQ and $100 worth of Girl Scout cookies just to keep from hovering anxiously behind my children as they sell door to door.

This, however, isn’t such a great idea for books. We’d go broke pretty fast if I had to buy every book I’ve got out, or coming out, on the market.

Tips for the Shy Seller:

Virtual promotion is designed for you. Make sure you’re professional about it. If you’re going to go on a blog tour, have a headshot, pithy bio, and a book description of various lengths (50 words, 100 words, etc.) Try a variety of different approaches on your blog tour: interview your character, throw a contest, post on the writing craft, and do a straight-forward interview. Try to mix it up online if you’re going to lots of different sites.

You’ll need to have more of an online presence than someone who does lots of touring. A website is the bare minimum—also consider a blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

You need materials to mail out—bookmarks and postcards are best. Postcards can be sent to libraries and bookstores. Bookmarks can be left at libraries and bookstores (get their permission first).

Have a business card that speaks for you when someone asks what you’ve written. Practice a brief synopsis of your book that you can say in a confident way.

Promote in groups. I belong to a promotional group here in Charlotte that does signings and panels and workshops together. It helps me out tremendously.

If you’re part of a group, contribute to donations for raffled baskets for conferences. Many writing conferences raffle off baskets filled with donated books, bookmarks, etc. from different authors.

If you’re tour-challenged (a mother of small children, or have any mobility issues), consider an author appearance via Skype. They’re getting more popular and you may be more comfortable giving a talk while you’re in your own home.

Now if I can set up a virtual method of selling Scout stuff, I’ll be set… :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Knowing Enough to be Dangerous

Meredith Frampton--Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins 1938 My husband is a computer whiz. He does something so complicated at work that I don’t even understand it enough to explain it.

I’m pretty good on computers. I’m much better than many people, but I know only a tiny fraction of what my husband knows.

But I can open up a computer control panel and make changes. I pull up the run box and type commands and paths in. I know different things to type in at a C prompt. I can get into a system folder.

Basically, I know enough to completely destroy a computer…unintentionally.

I’ve always believed is that knowledge is power. So I read a lot online—different writing links, mainly.

But I’m good at writing, unlike computers. And I’m practiced at writing—I’ve been doing it for a while now. I take snippets of different writing approaches from one post and tips from another and I mull over my plot and run little experiments.

On Twitter, I tweet the posts I find interesting. I don’t add any opinions on the tweet, I just summarize the post and put the truncated link on there.

I’m not endorsing the approach in the link. In my mind, I’m saying, “Here it is. See what you think. Maybe it will help you.” If I see something I think is absolutely wrongheaded (pointing writers to a scam, or giving incorrect industry advice, etc.), I’d never tweet it.

I got a direct message on Twitter yesterday from a publisher regarding one of the tweets I’d sent.

She was concerned (and she was very polite in her exchange with me) that one of the articles I’d linked to could be troublesome.

The article covered book openings and gave tips for hooking readers (or agents and editors) in the first paragraph.

The publisher implied that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing. That there are writers who are not experienced and will take the advice too literally—and too far. They’ll take the tips one by one and stick them in their WIP until it’s a gimmicky mess. They’ll diligently follow a checklist…and it won’t work.

I did see her point. I’m sure she gets an incredible number of bad manuscripts dumped on her desk and probably a fair amount of it results from formulaic writing.

But—there has to be a mistake-making period for writers to learn. There has to be a period of time where we read up on techniques…and fail miserably while using them. There needs to be a learning curve.

I think the important thing is recognizing when we’re not ready to submit yet.

The dangers of a little knowledge:

Not adapting the advice to fit your writing style or WIP Being too formulaic in our approach Information overload (which sometimes results in paralysis) Overconfidence

The dangers of too little knowledge:

Lack of growth. Longer period of time to improve our writing (we’d be improving it on practice alone.) Fewer ideas on handling problem areas of manuscripts

I still believe that the more we know, the better we get. But the publisher was right to inject a note of caution—take writing advice with a grain of salt. Adapt the ideas, don’t just follow them like a checklist. Trust our gut, practice, and know when we’re not ready to submit our work.

One day I might be a computer whiz, too. I’ll just have to mess up a whole lot of computers to get there.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Taking it Personally

Matthews Library branch, Charlotte-Mecklenburg library system I’m sure that everyone reading this blog has been affected in some way by the hobbled global economy.

Whether it’s a friend or family member who’s lost a job, benefit cutbacks due to employers’ economizing, or a difficult time selling a house—it’s likely hit home.

I’ve read about the different issues people have faced and shaken my head at the craziness.

Then our county started messing with the libraries.

Last week, out of the blue they decided to close 12 out of the 24 local libraries in our county.

Really? Really, now. There’s no waste anywhere else? No county commission lunches on the taxpayer dime? No little bits of foolishness that could be cut back? It’s come down to libraries?!

My own Matthews branch is one of the lucky 12 that will be left open..for now. But they’re talking about closing all the libraries this summer. And they were sneaky about this—I’d have spoken at the board meeting. I’d have taken on an email or letter writing campaign. It just boggles my mind. And Charlotte is a successful city.

I can easily drive to an open branch. In fact, I live close to the county line and can drive over to another county in ten minutes. But—how many people can do such a thing? How many kids won’t have books to read over the summer? How many adults who don’t have computers won’t be able to look for jobs at the library?

So I’ve now donated money to the library system and am on their email list of folks to call if they discover things might get worse. Usually I’m just wandering around in my own happy little creative haze…now I’ve been mobilized! This particular economic hardship has come up and bitten me in the rear.

It should be that way with our characters, too. They’ve had something major happen to them—if they haven’t,then where’s the conflict? How do they react to it—are they passive? Does the conflict happen to them? Are they victimized? Or are they empowered? Do they become stronger characters and find ways to fight back when the conflict hits home?

I have a guest at the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen today--fellow Midnight Ink writer Beth Groundwater will give us a delicious mixed drink recipe...and tell us how to put together a gift basket for a mystery loving friend.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Trying Something Different


Last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I took a trip to the North Carolina mountains with my father. My sister and her husband were in Blowing Rock part of the time, too.

Taking trips without the kids isn’t something I get to do very often, but it’s fun when I do. I definitely miss the children, but it’s nice to pull away for a little while and not have to consider eating at restaurants that have chicken tenders and French fries on their menus.

Daddy is an English professor and was on spring break. He was excited to have time to read a couple of books he’d gotten for Christmas and his birthday. I was able to do a lot of revision work while he read—and I was even able to take some great pictures—including this rainbow we saw out the back of the cabin.

Doing something out of the ordinary is a great way to recharge your batteries. I have to admit that my batteries needed some recharging. I have one book for one series at the publisher waiting to hear what they think, a book for the other series I’m doing a final proof on before its July release, and a book I’m turning in on April 5. Sometimes it felt like all I was doing was searching and destroying my own mistakes—these novels were all either recently revised or currently being revised.

My head felt really clear in Blowing Rock and I don’t think it was only due to the mountain air. I could see some fresh approaches to my book and I think it had a lot to do with being in a different place and doing different things.

It’s easy for me to get in a rut. I’m a pretty quiet person and I frequently do the same things day in and day out. But occasionally I change things up a little and it always seems to help me out.

These are some (really minor) things I’ve done to shake up my routine sometimes (you can see how conservative I am with changes in my routine!) :) ---

  • Abruptly driven down a road I’ve never driven down before.
  • Read a genre or subgenre that’s completely different than something I’d ordinarily read.
  • Listen to different music (I listen to just about every type of music, so to be different I’ll try listening to the stuff my son does. Hmm…it’s different, all right…)
  • Go to different library branches to write (Okay, y’all are laughing at me now. But this is a big change in routine for me!)
  • Try some different activities—I’ve been gardening lately, which has been impossible due to the cold, rainy weather. Now with temps in the 70s, I’m able to get outside—and even write outside after I’ve done my yard work.

How about everyone else? How do you shake up your routine and get out of your ruts? Does it seem to help with your writing?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Edits and Revisions—Guest Post by L. Diane Wolfe

I’d like to welcome L. Diane Wolfe to the blog today. As a professional speaker, Diane travels extensively for media interviews and speaking engagements, maintains a dozen websites & blogs, manages an online writer’s group, and contributes to several other sites. In addition, she’s the author of a YA series, Circle of Friends, and her 5th and final book of the series, The Circle Of Friends, Book V...Heather released March 16th. More information about Heather is at the bottom of the post. Thanks Diane!

L Diane Wolfe Elizabeth invited me to share some tips on editing. Call me weird, but I love this phase! I enjoy revising my work, improving the writing and tightening the scenes and dialogue.

Editing comes with an added bonus - it can re-inspire! If we’ve grown weary or find we are stuck, rereading can ignite our passion once again.

Every time we pass through our manuscript, we’ll discover something that requires improving, changing, or fixing. Allowing our work to sit for a week or two helps us attack it fresh as well. We don’t want to start running circles around our work, but we can’t skimp on this process, either.

What do we need to look for when editing?

· Grammar - Is grammar usage correct? Is the punctuation in the right place and capitalization proper?

· Overused terms - Are there words or phrases we use too often? Do we repeat words in a paragraph? Do we find clich├ęs? What can we fix by consulting a Thesaurus?

· Excessive description - Are we following the adage “show don’t tell?” Are there scenes best left to the reader’s imagination? Do we describe scenes or people that have no relevance to the story? Do we provide details a character wouldn’t notice depending on gender?

· Continuity - Do colors, names, and places vary from one scene to another? Are there glitches in the timeline?

· Staying in character - Is behavior consistent? Is dialogue consistent? Are there changes in personality for no apparent reason? Do characters respond in a manner that’s gender appropriate?

· Point of view - Is our POV consistent? Do we suddenly take on the roll of narrator? Do we head hop too often or too fast? Do we reveal things outside of a character’s POV?

· Story flow and pacing - Do scenes feel rushed or overlong? Does the story move quickly in the beginning and then drag in the middle? Does anything feel forced or contrived?

What can we do to improve our editing technique?

· Read large chunks at a time. Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge flow when we only read a page or two. Uneven lulls in the story become more apparent when we follow a scene from beginning to end. Continuity mistakes are easier to spot as well.

· Read aloud. Uneven dialogue is easier to spot when we hear the words spoken. We catch stilted, unnatural exchanges. Reading with a partner of the opposite sex exposes improper gender words and phrases. Flow of story and narration also benefit when we read aloud.

· Employ a test reader. We are close to our material and sometimes miss the obvious. A neutral test reader often spots flaws and mistakes we may have missed. We know the story by heart, but a test reader can’t read between the lines and will question items and passages that don’t make sense.

We are not the ultimate editor of our work. A professional is still required before submitting or self-publishing. However, we can improve our story and present our best effort if we learn to master the basics of editing. And growing as a writing is what it’s all about!

- L. Diane Wolfe, Professional Speaker & Author





When confidence turns to frustration…

A new beginning awaits Heather Jennings. The position at Clemson means she will finally realize her dream of coaching basketball. Heather is ready to focus on her duties, using sheer force if necessary to prove her independence.

Sadly, her triumph is hampered as her father and greatest advocate lies dying of cancer. Battling her grief, she must also deal with a sister who appears incapable of responsibility or achievement. And once basketball season begins, a talented but cocky player who resembles her in every manner challenges all that remains of Heather’s patience.

Heather’s life changes when she encounters a man capable of handling her bold and feisty attitude. Straightforward and smug, he entices her to date him, and despite his gruff nature shows a great capacity for compassion. However, the last thing Heather needs is a serious relationship with a man equally fixated on work and opposed to marriage…

Release date: March 16, 2010, Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C. $19.95 USA, 6x9 Trade paperback, 282 pages, Fiction/YA ISBN 978-0-9816210-5-0 / 0-9816210-5-8

“Heather deals with real life and real situations.” 5 Stars

- Teens Read Too

“Curl up onto your favorite reading spot and journey along with Heather as she seeks the balance of family and work relationships. Be prepared to be pulled into Heather’s world and you will find yourself cheering her on and wanting to scold her at the same time. L. Diane Wolfe has created amazing characters with believable attributes and flaws; making Book V in the Circle of Friends series a true gem.”

Book Trailer:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chapter Breaks

blog5 I thought I’d do a short post on chapter breaks today—because I’m currently going through my manuscript and sticking them in, so they’re on my brain!

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I write the text straight through and then put the chapter breaks in later. Although this isn’t a technique that works for everybody, it helps keep me from worrying about the formatting of the novel until I’m done being creative.

My books are about 75,000 words, so roughly 230 pages in a regular font like Times or Calibri. I do convert the text to Courier (where it’s more like 285-290 pages) and times the pages by 250 to get a better estimate of my word count…my books have a lot of dialogue and white space on the page.

This text, for me, usually ends up being nineteen or twenty chapters. I also use scene breaks within chapters to break up the material within the chapter. I like having good stopping points in books as a reader (I’m a distracted reader), so I try to put them in my books, too.

I don’t always end the chapter at an exciting moment because that seems a little gimmicky to me. But I do have cliffhanging chapter endings probably 3-4 times out of the 20. I also try to end chapters at points where readers want to read on instead of putting the book down—points where they want to see what happens next. And I try never to end a chapter with something boring happening or else the reader might not ever return to the book.

The length of my chapters varies. I do have usually one or two pretty short chapters and then a couple of chapters that are a lot longer—where maybe there wasn’t a great stopping place in the chapter. I try to break where it makes sense. And I make sure no chapters are excessively long—I’m a reader who likes knowing where the next intermission is, and I don’t want it too far off.

Have you got a chapter breaking method?

Please join me tomorrow when author and professional speaker L. Diane Wolfe guest posts on "Edits and Revisions."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Knowing Our Genre, Audience, and Market

images I love doing small things to recognize holidays---even St. Patrick’s Day.

But I went too far when my daughter was in kindergarten.

Remembering the tradition that involved the leprechaun playing harmless pranks on children, I put different things in unusual places in our house while the kids slept. So my daughter’s toys went into the bathroom, her backpack was moved into my son’s room, several chairs were moved upside down, and my high heels were placed prominently in my daughter’s room.

It backfired.

My 5 year old daughter came into my room, shaking and crying, in the middle of the night. The leprechaun had been in her room! She felt positively threatened, invaded, and scared. She thought my (very large) high heels belonged to the leprechaun. It boggled my mind that she’d envisioned a malevolent, cross-dressing, giant leprechaun in her room.

My son? Snorted when he saw the leprechaun mischief and rolled his eyes a little at his mom’s nonsense.

Where I went wrong with my St. Patrick’s Day fun was that I didn’t take my audience into account. This was the SAME daughter who’d wanted strong assurance the year before that the Easter bunny limited his activities to the downstairs. She wanted no large rabbits skipping around her room. Having a mischievous leprechaun invade her space was terrifying. I could have done this trick with my son, but not my daughter.

I hate the rules that seem to crop up from editors, agents, and other writers—we all are creative people who need to do our own thing…and want to do our own thing.

But I think it’s incredibly important for us to know our audience…especially if we’re writing genre fiction.

If we don’t there are definitely risks involved. The biggest are that we won’t get our book published at all and that we’ll alienate readers who might skip buying our next book, if we do get the book published.

Let’s say I write a cozy mystery that involves graphic depiction of a child’s murder. Then I ship it off to my editor, Emily, at Penguin’s Berkley Prime Crime.

First of all, she’d think I’d lost my mind. She’d tell me to take it all out. It’s not a cozy mystery at all—it could possibly work for a police procedural or a thriller, but not a cozy. And I’d have missed my deadline and messed up their production schedule because I’d have to do a major rewrite. And I’ve labeled myself “difficult to work with” because I’ve cost my publisher a lot of wasted time.

Let’s say that somehow Emily has lost her mind, too and the book gets published (leaving out the whole editorial board at Penguin…they’d have to be crazy, too.) But let’s say it does happen and it hits the shelf.

Berkley Prime Crime is associated with cozy mysteries. The book would be shelved with cozies. It would have my name on it (my Riley name) and I’m associated with cozies. And my readers, who I’m starting to build a relationship with, buy my books—expecting a book without graphic depictions of violence.

The readers? They’re furious. They’ve been tricked into buying a book that isn’t what they want or were promised. It was specifically sold as a cozy and it’s not a cozy and they’re mad. They take our their disappointment and their anger at wasting money out on me with negative reviews at Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing, and DorothyL. It might not be career-ending, but boy, it doesn’t help.

I saw it happen to another cozy writer on the DorothyL list—the readers were absolutely livid with the writer’s departure from cozy standards.

So what have I accomplished? I haven’t done anything to enhance my industry reputation or readership.

It’s important to write what you want to write--but be careful where you send it. If it’s edgy, it needs to be sent to editors and publishers who publish the type of content you’ve written. Don’t think you’ve written a rule-breaking exception to the genre you’re targeting if the publisher doesn’t print stories like yours. If you’ve written horror, don’t send it to a thriller editor. If you’ve written erotica, don’t send it to Harlequin Presents and think that they’re just going to ignore the fact their guidelines weren’t followed.

Finding the right publisher for your manuscript:

Know your genre. What are you writing? Is it horror, fantasy, sci fi, thriller, lit fiction?

Read the genre. Enough to be familiar with it.

Go to the bookstore and spend some time there. Get a bunch of recently published books in your genre. It’s usually fairly easy to tell the gist of the story by flipping through.

Check online. Look at the publisher’s guidelines. See what kinds of things they’re looking for. Now they even have lists of what they’re not looking for.

If you're already a published writer, making a big genre change, consider a pen name. You can always cross-promote under your real name--mentioning each time that the new book is a departure from your others.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our Protagonist’s Self-Discoveries

Lost in Thought--Henri Caro-Delvaille (1876-1926) My husband and I had a rare night with no kids last weekend…our son was camping and our daughter was spending the night with a friend. We didn’t exactly know what to do with ourselves with no kids, so we decided to go to the movies and see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

The 7:00 movie was full, so we bought tickets online for the 9:40 show. It was in 3-D (and it was a Saturday night), so we wanted to go early and get a good seat.

I encouraged my husband to take a book with him so he could read while he waited and I’d take a notebook.

“We’ll look like geeks,” he said.

I completely acknowledged that fact. But then, I’ve always been a nerd.

We arrived at the theater and found some seats. My husband said, “We’re the oldest people here.”

I said, “No way!” Then I looked around and saw that, yes, we were—by FAR—the oldest people there.

I owned the fact that I was a geek. Being the oldest person in a room? That hadn’t happened very often to me. I was so sensitive to it that when my husband asked (about 5 or 6 times during the movie), “What did she/he say?” and I was hollering in his ear, “She said…” I thought about our age. And the fact that my husband had gone to way too many hearing-damaging live concerts as a teenager.

In my books, my characters are really not on a journey of self-awareness or realization. They do make discoveries about themselves and other characters, but the discoveries are not integral to the main plot—finding out the murderer is.

But I read many books where the protagonist is making self-discoveries that affect the course of his or her life. In fact, the internal conflict these characters face is frequently the major source of conflict in the book.

How does the character react to these self-realizations? And how are we, as readers, kept in the loop as they’re happening?

As a reader, I’ve noticed this self-discovery being revealed through:

Internal monologue—Maybe this is most noticeable in first person POV, but works fine in 3rd, too. I’ll admit to only being patient with internal monologue just so far. If it stretches over too many paragraphs, I usually lose interest until it’s really written well.

The character’s actions—Here the character’s shift in perspective is revealed through his actions and demonstrate his self-discovery. The protagonist finally stands up to his father. The protagonist quits the uninspiring day job. The character joins AA or attacks his problems head-on, or retreats from his problems altogether.

Sidekicks (reacting through dialogue)—Sidekicks can be useful for filling our reader in (in a natural way) on our character’s thoughts and feelings. If our protagonist has a close friend that they confide in, then we can relate our character’s progress of self-discovery to the reader, in the protagonist’s own words, through dialogue.

Do your stories concentrate on a character’s self-discovery? How do you reveal it to the readers?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Learning What *Doesn’t* Work

Soleil d'automne For some reason, it took me a long time to figure out what worked for me and what didn’t with my writing.

I kept trying to use techniques that other writers I knew found useful.

Sometimes I thought up new approaches to writing a book and tried them out.

Finally, after failing miserably trying these different things, I discovered what worked. And now that I know, I’m not deviating too much off of that.

What works for me: (but not for everybody!)

Getting an idea—usually about the victim. Mulling the idea over to see if it’s viable. Writing a very short blurb about it—like back cover copy. I look at the back cover copy to see if the story idea makes sense. I come up with the characters that might want to murder this particular type of victim. Why would my sleuth get involved with this? Is her involvement realistic? I start shooting through the first draft. I plan for the next day before I stop (short plans…no outlines.) If I get stuck at a point in the story, I skip it and jump forward to another section of the book (marking the point I defected with highlighter so I can return to it later.) I don’t stop for anything—not research, not chapter breaks, not anything. Finish the first draft.

What I’ve tried before that hasn’t worked so well:

Outlines. And outlines seem to work really well for half the writers I know and seem to mess up the other half. I get messed up. I overthink the text, try to stay the course, and end up with very academic-sounding prose that isn’t my natural voice.

Working through a block. I’ve wrestled with points in the story where I’ve gotten stuck until I’m sick of the book. I’d try working it from different angles, try just writing something. Ick. For me, it’s better to work on a completely different section of the book and come back to the problem area later (sort of like taking a test.) It managed to screw up my momentum if I stopped and picked at it.

Writing nearly every section of the book out of order. Not too bad on the creativity end of things, but when you’re putting the scenes in order and trying to write in transitions? It was a nightmare for me. Now I just write out of order when I’m truly stuck on a section or I’m in the mood to write a scene with a different tone.

Stopping to research. As Alan mentioned in his excellent post on Friday, research and the first draft can be a bad combination. I get so easily distracted online.

Setting up a particular time of the day to write. If anything came up and I couldn’t write during that scheduled time, then I waited until the next day to write. I get a lot more done if I just go with the flow and write when I have a chance.

Putting in chapter breaks as I go. This REALLY messes me up. I think it makes me start looking at the technical side of things (formatting) before I’m done with the creative end.

Have you figured out what works for you? Are you still trying different approaches to writing a book?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Being Midlist


"A midlist author is one whose books are well received but have failed to make a commercial breakthrough; whose work sells solidly but unspectacularly, who's well known within the writing community but the majority of book buyers have never heard his name."

-- David Armstrong, "How Not to Write a Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author," 2003

Some people say that midlist doesn’t apply to genre fiction writers—that we’re our own species altogether. It’s true that publishers have their own set of expectations with a genre book. There’s an established audience for the book. Plus, it’s easy to project sales by comparing the novel with similar books in the genre.

But midlist and genre writers do still face some of the same questions from aspiring writers and readers:

Could I make a living from my books? Wellllll….I wouldn’t quit the day job. I think you can get to a point, though, where you have a good backlist of books with your name on it (you’re collecting royalty checks on those) and you’re continuing to produce books (at least one a year, if not more) that you can get a nice income. I’m not there yet, myself. :)

“Should I know who you are?”

No. Unless you’re an avid cozy mystery reader, then there’s no way you’d know me out of all the other writers in the store who aren’t bestsellers. But it’s a question that always really rattles me. I think it’s because of the person asking the question—they think they should know you. So they feel uncomfortable and it’s a feeling that’s contagious.

The times that someone does know who I am, there has usually been 1) a local write-up with pictures that coincides with 2) me looking as horrible as possible after finishing yardwork.

What’s nice about the midlist? You’re not making so much money from your advances that you have to sell an extraordinarily high number of books for the publisher to reach a sell-through.

What should a midlister keep an eye on? : Sales. It’s not a favorite thing for many authors to watch—we’re not usually business people. But, as literary agent Kristin Nelson put it, success as a midlister

… also depends on where they are in the midlist. There are different levels—the consistently-selling midlister versus the midlister who is now having declining sales for each subsequent project.

Consistent sales are a good thing. :)

For me, writing is something I’d be doing even if I weren’t making money at it. And, really, I think that the fun of it, the challenge,and even the frustration involved in writing should be what spurs us on. Unless we really hit the big time, our biggest reward will probably be the feeling of satisfaction we get from the writing itself.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Undermining Our Protagonist’s Perspective

Chloe and I have coffee This is a meme that’s made the rounds but I thought it made a good point about character perspective—and maybe getting another character’s second opinion on our protagonist’s point of view.

In an amazing feat of synchronicity, Elspeth Antonelli ran the exact meme on her own excellent blog yesterday, so I'll link to her here.

I’m editing this for space, but you can see the entire Dog Diary vs. Cat Diary here.

The Dog's Diary

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing! 9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing! 9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing! 10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing! 12:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing! 1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!

The Cat's Diary

Day 983 of My Captivity

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates my capabilities. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am. Bast**ds!


I don’t know about you, but when I read I usually tend to identify with the story’s protagonist. That can be pretty hard to do—authors sometimes make protagonists intentionally unlikeable.

But usually, I’m the #1 fan/buddy of whatever protagonist I’m currently reading. I’ve even read books where I’m on pins and needles worrying whether a criminal protagonist is going to escape from the authorities.

One of my favorite techniques is when an author pulls the rug out from under me. I can have so much tunnel vision as a reader that I’ll get totally sold on the protagonist’s perceptions and perspectives. The way they see the world of their novel is the way I do, too.

When an author suddenly throws a scene at me where the protagonist’s views are challenged or even derided by another character? I’m totally thrown. It’s like I’ve been seeing life through the dog’s eyes and now I’m introduced to the cat’s point of view.

Whom do I believe? The protagonist is my friend! I’ve been looking at the novel’s world through his eyes the whole time. Does he have poor judgment? Can I trust his opinions and perceptions?

What’s the purpose of the technique? To add some complexity, uncertainty, and a degree of conflict to a story.

Have you ever used an unreliable narrator or protagonist?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Plow Ahead


Thanks Elizabeth, for hosting me on your (terrific) blog. I'll try not to alienate any of your regular readers.

Every writer has his or her own unique style/method/routine. There's not a right way or a wrong way--only your way.

Here's my method for writing the first draft. Maybe you'll find something here to help you (I won't be offended if you decide that doing the exact opposite is your best course of action!).

After I've completed my (fairly sparse) outline and drawn up character sketches for the main four or five characters, the prep work is done. Now it's time to park my butt in the chair and start grinding out the words.

And that's what it is for me--a grind.

My only goal is to meet my daily word quota. I've been known to walk away from my computer in the middle of a sentence, if I've nailed my quota.

First, I'll reread the last few paragraphs to see where I am. If I'm beginning a new scene, I'll make a few notes. What is my purpose in the scene? How will I drive the narrative forward? Who will be in the scene? Where will it be set? I want to have an idea of where I'm headed. My key concern is the scene's conflict. No matter what else happens, it's got to have some conflict, however forceful or subdued, overt or covert (yes, inner conflict counts, at least in my books).

Then I'll start writing. The first paragraph is key. I try to set the scene in an engaging way and imbue the sentences with a good rhythm. I may take a few extra moments to make sure I've got it in reasonably good shape, then I'm off to the races.

I trust myself to write a decent first draft. I think this trust is important because it gives you "permission" not to be perfect. You don't have to go back and make sure everything is exactly how you want it the first time through. Repeat after me: "That's what the revision process is for."

As I write, I'll correct obvious misspellings and bad grammar, but I try not to spend much time on what I've already written--I'm focused on what's ahead. Ever forward. Words, words, words. It's all about the words.

If I bump into a fact I need to know but don't, I'll type "XXX" and keep going. I don't want to interrupt my flow to look something up, and I don't want to waste precious minutes lost in some crazy Internet search for the capital of Mongolia (and my, what cool traditional garb the Mongolians wear, and look, isn't that a neat recipe for Mongolian stew, and is there a place called Inner Mongolia, and, boy, I sure could go for some Mongolian barbecue right about now, and...). I need to keep my eyes on the goal. (Super Tip: Turn off the Internet when you write, or allow yourself only three minutes per hour to check email.)

If I know, right then, that something will need attention, I highlight it in red. Ditto if I make a note to myself. Otherwise, I plow on (in the picture above, that's me, dressed in my typical writing outfit, working the plow, imploring my muses to mush).

Every so often, I'll check my word count. If it's less than my goal (usually 1500 - 1750, depending on what I'm working on), I'll keep going. If I've achieved my goal...I hit the save button and move on to something else.

Usually lunch.

DIAMONDS 72 Alan Orloff's debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, will be published in April by Midnight Ink. The first in his new series, KILLER ROUTINE - A Last Laff Mystery, featuring Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past, will be out Spring 2011 (also from Midnight Ink). For more info, visit

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rearing Writers

Elizabeth in first grade Surprises are one of the fun things about having kids. You just never know what they’re going to do next.

And you sure as heck don’t know what they’re going to grow up to be. One day you’ve got a budding veterinarian on your hand, then next day a corporate lawyer.

I’d never dream of pushing my children to follow in my footsteps—whatever they want to be works great, as long as it takes them on a voyage of discovery.

But there are some basics I expect from them. :)

My friends have always been amazed that I can “get my children to tell me about their day.” This isn’t that much of a trick….I started early and I framed the telling of my day like a story. Now they tell me about their day in storytelling format—some days it’s a funny story, some days it’s a stressful story.

I want them to be able to discuss with me, in a fun way, books they’ve read—the good parts and the bad parts and the times they felt like the author really got off-track.

I want them to be competent writers, even if they never want to become a professional writer.

Here are some things I’ve done to encourage my children to be better writers (and readers. But reading and writing can go hand in hand.)

  • I tell them stories about their life (the day they were born is always a popular one.)
  • I tell them stories about my life and about their dad’s life, too (because he’s not a writer, but I know his stories well enough to tell them in an entertaining way). They love to hear stories about our lives when we were their age.
  • I make up stories at bedtime. My turning-13 year old son doesn’t hear as many of these anymore, but I tell my daughter a made-up story every night.
  • I read to, with, and in front of my children.
  • I spend time looking for books that suit their age and interests for them to read.
  • I tell them about my favorite books when I was a kid. Sometimes we read them together.
  • I share some of my writing with them and answer their questions about how it gets from my laptop to a bookstore.
  • I’m not critical about grammar or spelling errors when they write for fun.
  • I speak to their classes about writing, if the teacher asks me.

Kids are naturally gifted with creativity and it’s so rewarding to see it just bubbling out of them. There’s nothing better, for me, than to have my son ask me why I think a particular author’s recent release wasn’t as good as his others (looked to be rushed out 6 months after the previous book’s release) or to have my daughter ask if I would look at her new story.

They may never become authors, but I know they’ll always love books and know a little bit about what goes into making them.

Do you personally know any budding writers…kids or adults?

It’s Thursday morning—and I’m cooking up po’boys at the Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen. And just about setting my house on fire in the process…

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

15 Minutes to Write: The (Crazy) Writing Life

blog4 With the different deadlines I face, writing every day is a necessity. But even before I had deadlines, I wrote every day—just a smidgeon.

If I didn’t, then it was even harder the next day to get back into the groove. And my short writing session would drag out longer because I was writing slowly.

Writing really is a muscle that needs to be exercised. It’s easier to get back into your writing groove the next day if you’ve written the day before. Every day you skip makes it that much more difficult to pick it back up.

Another important reason to write every day? You get natural continuity of voice, pace, and plotting in your manuscript.

Lack of time is the number one excuse writers give for not writing. But if you can find 15 minutes, you can make progress on your manuscript:

Make a plan. Before you stop writing each day, jot down what you plan on writing the following day. This doesn’t have to be a major outline. Something as simple as “Dialogue—Kathy asks Jenny about her feelings about the murder victim and where she was during crime” will work out great.

Note where you left off the day before. Your fifteen minutes will be shot to Hades if you spend it rereading what you wrote the previous day. Again, a short note works well: “Kathy finished discussing the crime with Sam, left the park, and mulled over the potential suspects.”

Be forgiving and uncritical. This is a quick writing session to move your plot forward as much as possible in 15 minutes. You’re not going to write spotless, perfect prose here.

Open up to writing on the go. We’d all love to have a quiet, scenic little writing cabin to escape to. The reality is that many of us are writing on lunch breaks, while waiting for the train to arrive, in carpool lines, or pediatric waiting rooms. If you can learn to block out the world around you and quickly jump into your manuscript, you’ll get a lot more done.

Come equipped. There’s nothing worse than finding a small pocket of time in your day and not having anything to write on. Make a point of having a notebook in your car, desk drawer, and purse. Make sure to pack pens and pencils. Sometimes it’s just easier to whip out a piece of paper and a pencil than taking out your laptop.

But what if you only have 5 minutes to write?

It can be done! I have done real work on my manuscript in five minutes. Here’s how:

Character development: In five minutes, you can list as many things about your character as you can think of. They’re people---what do they like, dislike, and absolutely abhor? What are their pet peeves? Although this list may never make it into your manuscript, the point of the exercise is to give yourself more insight into your character and provide them more depth when you’re writing about them.

Character description: This is an easy exercise to do in 5 minutes. Describe your character. What do they look like? Sound like when they talk (loud speaker, soft speaker)? Do they smell like peppermints? Use your senses.

Setting description: Again, this is the perfect exercise for a 5 minute session. Pick a setting in your manuscript and elaborate on it.

Brainstorm 5 ideas for the next scene in your WIP: You do have one. This is your perfect time to think ahead and, off the top of your head, come up with five ideas for it. They can be as zany or as sedate as you like. Who knows what direction your story could go in? A little quick brainstorming session can open up new possibilities.

If you’re squeezing writing into a busy day, you’re far ahead of the curve. And just five or fifteen minutes a day can put you on track for finishing your first draft.

How do you squeeze writing into your day?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Out Visiting

Henry Lamb, The Artist's Wife 1933 Hi everybody!

I somehow double-booked myself today with guest posts. :) I’m both at Deb’s Powered by Books blog where I’m posting on the pros and cons of our characters coming to life, and at Inkspot where I’ve written about the trouble we get into when we don’t think things through when we’re writing.

Hope you can pop by for a visit. :)