Tag Archives: writing tips

Awesome Events Ahead from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Attend a Class

Online Class
Editing and Revision
for Fiction Writers
Presented by Cindi Myers
3 Week Course

Start Date: Monday, February 3
End Date: Sunday, February 23

$35 Members – $40 Non-Member

Register

E.B. White said “The best writing is rewriting.” No matter how much care you put into your first draft, only when you’re done and you’re able to see the book as a whole will you be able to give the work the polish it needs. If you’re a rough draft writer like Cindi Myers, the editing and revision process is where the real magic of creating a book happens. Cindi will share her process and techniques for taking a story from a messy rough draft to a polished gem ready for submission. Exercises and class interaction will help you address your particular editing and revision problems and learn techniques for making the daunting task of editing a complete manuscript more manageable.

In Person Class
RMFW Screenwriting 101 with Trai Cartwright
Tuesdays, 6:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M.
Start Date: March 4
End Date: April 22
2369 Trenton Way, Suite M
Denver, CO 80231

$225 Members – $250 Non-Member

Register
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Submissions for 2014 Conference Workshop
Submit Workshop Proposal
RMFW is now accepting workshop proposals for Colorado Gold through March 31, 2014.

If you have any questions, email Susan Brooks at conference@rmfw.org.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RMFW Anthology 2014 Submission Guidelines
Download PDF of Theme and Guidelines
Anthology Theme: Crossing Colfax
Submissions are due by March 14, 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Attend the 2nd Annual RMFW Writers Retreat

With Special Guest, Agent Kate Schafer Testerman
Organized by Angie Hodapp
March 16-21, 2014
Table Mountain Inn,
Golden, CO
REGISTRATION CLOSES FEBRUARY 15TH

The 2013 writers retreat was a smashing success! It’s back in March of 2014 and will become an annual spring event. How much does it cost to attend the retreat? We are pleased to introduce flexible registration options. Attend for two days (minimum), three days, or all four days, and pay only for the days you attend. How do I register? Go to the RETREAT EVENT PAGE for more information and the link to register.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
New events and other announcements are available on the Home Page of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.

Gadgets and Spreadsheets and Apps, Oh, My!

By Katriena Knights

Like most of us writers, I’m always looking for a way to increase efficiency and up my wordcount. All this while trying not to aggravate my carpal tunnels and managing to spend a couple minutes here and there with the kids. My latest quest for the perfect productivity combo has led me to what I’m finding to be a neat combination of apps on my relatively new iPad and my favorite writing program, Scrivener.

Some history on some of these items first. My best friend introduced me to Scrivener a few years ago, and when I first fiddled with the demo it was like a revelation. I switched from PC to Mac for Scrivener, which I think is a little like converting to a new religion so you can marry that hot guy who’s not the same religion as you. That move alone made writing faster and easier, but it still tethered me to the computer. The next move, when my carpal tunnel started acting up, was to write by hand, then dictate into Scrivener with Dragon Dictate. Which helped my wrists but slowed me down.

I’d resisted getting an iPad for a long time, even though I really really wanted one. I mean I wanted one with the kind of intense lust I usually reserve for broken-nosed, big-shouldered, hockey-playing men. But I couldn’t justify the expense. Finally, my daughter got a hand-me-down iPad for Christmas one year, and after fiddling with it for a while, I decided I could get some use out of it aside from playing Bejeweled for hours. So I bought myself one for Mother’s Day last year.

Well, boy-howdy was that ever a good investment. I started writing ALL THE TIME. I could pop that sucker into my purse and get set up at Starbucks in a quarter of the time it took me to set up with my MacBook Pro. I even liked the touch keyboard for the most part. But using the touchpad plus Notes or Google Docs wasn’t quite cutting it, either.

Enter my BFF yet again, who ran across an app called Werdsmith. I installed the free version, fiddled with it a bit, then decided I didn’t like it and deleted it. I started working in Notes so I didn’t have to have an Internet connection to write. After I wrote a section, I emailed it to myself and dropped it into Scrivener. But that wasn’t covering my bases well enough, either. I wanted to know how many words I was writing in a session, and Notes doesn’t have a wordcount feature (if it does, I never found it, so don’t mock me or anything in the comments if it has one…). Out of curiosity, I downloaded Werdsmith again. For some reason, it made complete sense to me this time. You start with an Idea, then you add a wordcount goal to it and it becomes a Project. Werdsmith tracks your wordcount as you go. Now all I needed was a spreadsheet app. I also got a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard to reduce my weird autocorrect errors and so I could type faster.

I poked around the app store and tried out a few spreadsheet apps until I settled on iSpreadsheet (there’s a predictable app name). I’m still using the free version. I just make a new spreadsheet for each project, or, with longer projects, for each week of work. When I’m done, I export it, email it to myself as a .csv, convert it in Excel, then file it in my folder with the rest of the story files. Here’s an example, converted to a .jpg for your viewing pleasure.

Spreadsheet from iSpreadsheet

iSpreadsheet isn’t all that dynamic, but it does what I need it to do, and it’s free. Also I can put pretty colors on it, and it does a limited number of formulas. I’m not sure what the upgraded version adds other than the ability to create a larger number of individual spreadsheets and no more ads, but for now I’m doing fine with the free one.

So now my wordcount has increased to the point where I can knock out over 1,000 words in a half-hour session, as you can see on the spreadsheet. The Logitech keyboard is for some reason easier on my wrists than my laptop keyboard—maybe because I don’t bang on it as hard when I type. And with the spreadsheet and Werdsmith to keep track of my wordcount, all my tracking and goalsetting needs are in one place. I email my Werdsmith files to myself, drop them into Scrivener, then when the first draft is done, I chop the file into scenes while I’m doing my first edit. When I’m done editing, I export to Word and shoot the file off to my editor. It’s a great system for me so far, and I intend to keep using it until I find another fun gadget or app to add to the workflow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

 

Achieving Your Writing Resolutions

By Kris Neri

Neri_Revenge cover artSure, January 1st is just a date on the calendar. Still, there’s something about a new year that makes us want to reboot our hopes and dreams, and bring a new determination to achieving them. For us writers, often resolutions include taking our craft to new levels, or finally finishing that WIP that’s dragged on too long.

But with determination comes pressure, and too much pressure can make writing sputter to a halt. To help you to achieve 2014 writing resolutions, I’d like to take a look at writer’s block.

First of all, if you find yourself stalled, don’t panic. You’re not the first writer this has happened to. Writers practically invented procrastination. Many of us would rather perform the most dreaded household chore, instead of writing a paragraph or two. Whether your writing has sputtered to a halt, or if you simply can’t begin, the inertia you’re experiencing can be overcome. Here are some things to consider:

•  Identify the cause: Perhaps the problem isn’t with you, it’s with the material. Maybe your mind is trying to tell you that the way you’ve planned to write the next scene isn’t working. See if taking the book in a new direction eliminates the problem.

•  Perfectionism: Sometimes the problem isn’t that you can’t write — it’s that you refuse to accept the level you’re writing at. Writing is a craft that develops with effort over time. If you’ve shut down the flow of your creativity with your own unreasonable demands, you must allow yourself to write a flawed first draft. Remember that cliché: All writing is re-writing. You’ll perfect it later; for now, get it down.

•  Fears: If anxiety is hobbling you, you need look at what you’re afraid of. Loads of writers before you have let fears overcome them: fear of success, fear of failure, fear of telling the truth, and so many others. The thing to remember is that all of those fears involve something you may have to deal with in the future. Can you put them aside for now and just concentrate on the work before you?

Here are some tips to get the process started again:

•  Write something: Even if you throw it away later, at least you’ll have begun. Sometimes even copying something you’ve written before can help.

•  Start small: set yourself a goal as modest as just writing a paragraph. If you can comfortably expand on that, do it—but continue to keep your goals manageable, until you’re past your discomfort.

•  Start from a strength: every writer has some area that come especially easy, be it dialogue or action scenes, etc. Start writing in the area where your confidence is strongest, even if it’s a scene that will never make it into your manuscript. If you’re able to successfully write something unrelated to your WIP, that might demonstrate a hidden fear.

Here are some other hints that might prevent blocking in the first place:

•  Establish a routine: Set aside a time to write, and treat this period with the importance it deserves. You’ll feel more prepared when you start.

•  Reward yourself: Promise to reward yourself with some treat when you manage to write. No cheating! And no denying yourself the reward once you’ve earned it, either.

•  Turn off your critical editor: If you know perfectionism is a problem, be alert to the presence of that overly critical voice in your head. Shut it down the instant you hear it. And don’t say you can’t—you turned it on, and only you can turn it off. Try giving your critical editor a stupid name and poke fun at it.

•  Use your sleep hours to prepare yourself for the next day: Many writers have discovered the unconscious hours spent in sleep can be used to ignite their creativity. Before falling sleep give yourself commands for the next day, or ask the questions for which you need answers.

•  Keep a journal: While it’s true that journaling will eat up some of your writing time, your daily musings, if you’re honest about your feelings, often prevents blocking or dramatically shortens its stay.

•  Gaining strength from support: Don’t hide your block as if were a secret shame. Turn to your writer friends for help. Odds are some of them have suffered the same fate, and they might have good ideas for overcoming it.

Mostly, take the long view. You know this block will pass. Besides, for all you know this little respite might provide the insights needed to make your lagging WIP spectacular.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kris NeriKris Neri writes the Tracy Eaton mysteries, the latest of which is Revenge on Route 66, a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award finalist, and the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical mysteries, the most recent of which, Magical Alienation, is a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner and a Lefty Award nominee. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School, as well as working as a freelance editor with many writers. She and her husband own The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ.

What, Precisely, Are Your Intentions?

By Kerry Schafer

Setting Yourself Up For Failure

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. More often than not, I think they set us up for failure rather than success. Some of us start out great with whatever it is we’ve decided to do: write 2000 words a day, go to the gym 5 days a week, lose 20 pounds, whatever. And then we have that day where we don’t write any words. We get busy and miss a couple of days at the gym. We fall to temptation and eat a box of chocolates. Some of us never get started at all. A week goes by, then two or three, and it’s already February and we haven’t even started on our resolution yet, or we’ve failed to follow through.

And then the self talk starts.

Why do I bother? I’m a failure. I’ll never be able to do this, I don’t know why I try… And this gives us the excuse not to try, to fall back to the old ways, which are always more comfortable than change.

For some people resolutions do seem to work. I’m guessing these are people who don’t have a tendency to listen to the negative self talk. They can fall off the exercise/diet/writing wagon, pick themselves up the next day, and carry on. And I’d guess this has everything to do with their focus, which is on the goal and not on the failure.

You Go Where You’re Looking

Remember learning to ride a bicycle? Part of the trick to balancing and driving in a straight line without crashing into the trash cans or parked cars is picking a spot somewhere ahead and keeping your eyes on it. If you turn your head to look at that parked car for very long, chances are good a collision is in your future. Actually, this applies to pretty much anything – skateboarding, driving a car, even walking. You end up where you’re looking.

What Are Your Intentions?

So what is your goal? Often we don’t end up where we think we want to go because really we want to be somewhere else. Our subconscious minds are powerful things. So if you walk around saying that you really want to finally write that novel this year, but really there are ten other goals that are more important to you, chances are the writing is never going to happen. I like the idea of setting intentions because it takes that goal idea one step farther. An intention is, simply, a statement of what you intend to do. This is, incidentally, the best predictor of human behavior. The old standby question asked by fathers of their daughters’ suitors in every comic strip everywhere, “What are your intentions toward my daughter?” is actually a good one. Not that most of those boys will answer honestly, mind you, but if their intention is marriage their behavior will be vastly different than if it’s a one time tumble in the haystack.

Try This

I believe in the power of the written word. Taking a half formed intention that’s simmering in your brain, half conscious, and writing it down (preferably with pen and paper) is a powerful action. It can also help bring you to an understanding of where you really want to go.

1. Fetch a notebook and a pen, clear a half hour somewhere in your busy day, and find some place where you can be undisturbed.

2. Now, imagine that it is December 31st, 2014. You are taking a quiet moment on New Year’s Eve to review the past year and all that you have accomplished. In the present tense, write quickly and without stopping, detailing your successes of the year and how you feel about them.

3. Take that page (or pages) that you have written, and put them in a place that acknowledges the importance of this intention to you. Ideas include: under your pillow so you can dream of what you are going to accomplish, in a special container on the windowsill, in your jewelry box with other treasured items.

4. Let simmer, and see what happens.

Next month: taking it one step further with an action plan

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

Scrub Your Mindscape Clean … by Mark Stevens

This post was previously published on August 6, 2013

Skip the tips.

Forget everything you’ve learned.

Put down your copy of 100 Fabulous Secrets to Better Writing Now!

Move away from the stack of books you slowly acquired ever since you first had the thought that you might want to write fiction. (Spoiler alert: all those books pretty much all say the same thing. They are as repetitive as magazines about how to swing a golf club. Or how to diet.)

That’s right.

Forget it all.

Put it aside, shove it to the back of your brain or, even better, scrub the whole mindscape clean. Lesson-free, worry-free, anxiety-proofed. Silence the inner coach.

Oh yeah, one more thing: don’t even think about your favorite author or some writing style you’d like to emulate.

There. Got it?

Now, tell me a story. Only, pretend I’m in a soundproof room and you’re going to have to slide me pages under the door as the story unfolds—as you write it down. In your writing voice. With your words.

Okay, there you go.

Here’s what I want: I want to know your character—inside and out. And, well, it would be pretty cool if something actually, you know, happened.

There must be a reason this is a story and not just an account of some random, meaningless day. Or week. Or series of connected events.

My point? My point is sometimes you have to get back to basics. And those basics are:

1. See clearly.
2. Describe honestly.
3. Keep things moving.

Sometimes (drum roll, please) you just have to write.

And write some more.

(Of ALL the writing advice you’ve received over the years, isn’t that the most common refrain? “Write every day.” “Keep on writing.” “Write, write, write.” “Write a million words.” Or some such variation. Has one writing coach or respected elder of the writing community ever suggested that you think more or suck your thumb harder? Didn’t think so.)

And after you’ve written, have some other readers check what you’ve written, to see if they get the story you’re trying to tell.

That’s it.

Your voice, your words, your damn story.

It’s bound to be one of a kind.

But if you do need a jump-start or if you’re looking for that one magical moment of inspiration, come to Colorado Gold, RMFW’s massively brilliant three-day conference in September in Denver.

For more information about the conference, visit the RMFW website.

I can promise you one thing: you won’t starve for advice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Getting Physical: Ways to Make Your Characters Come Alive … by Lori DeBoer

This post was originally published on September 12, 2013

Whether you write genre or literary fiction, you must be able to bring your characters to life. When characters are first conceived, they invariably seem a little wooden, too recognizable as constructs of the author’s imagination. The people that populate your stories need room to grow; they do so by going out into the material world and inhabiting it.

Here’s some strategies:

Ditch the Headtrip
Interiority—revealing the inner life and thoughts of a character—is what sets novels apart from screenplays, but don’t overdo it. If you spend too many pages inside a character’s head, you’ll give your writing a case of claustrophobia. You want your readers to fall into the dream of your story, not want to claw their way out of it. Do so by giving readers recognizable physical anchors: bake some literary brownies and readers will buy into the fictional house.

Buddy Up
Scenes that feature a character going it alone—driving, drinking, lounging, brooding—quickly go flat. Introduce another character into the mix. Having two actors on a story’s stage provides a physical and emotional interplay that increases drama, conflict and unpredictability.

Do or Die
The most memorable scenes occur when the task at hand is active and unusual; even better if it’s uncomfortable for at least one of the story’s players. In the short story “Emergency” by Denis Johnson, the action opens with one of the characters mopping up blood in a hospital operating room, while the point-of-view character rifles through his pockets for drugs. In the short story “The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link, the main character peruses thrift stories, hoping to find her grandmother’s (metaphorical?) magical purse and, in it, her missing friend.

Make Meaningful Gestures
Are your characters all talk and no action? Break up blocks of dialogue with expressive body language and movement. Since 80 percent of communication is nonverbal, every shrug, twitch, nod, wave, grimace and clenched fist adds depth. Summer Knight by Jim Butcher opens with the wizard Harry investigating a rain of toads. While he is collecting specimens, he is confronted by a friend for isolating himself after his girlfriend was harmed. Though his words are terse, Harry reveals his grief: “I closed my eyes and tried to remember not to crush the toad in my hand to death. ‘Drop the subject.’“

Set the Stage
One of the first things theater directors learn is stage blocking—the choreography of the character. This applies to fiction as well. Where do your characters enter and exit your scenes? How close are they are to each other at any given time? Determine how large a space your scene occupies and write accordingly. If you have one character rapidly approaching another, but you draw this action over several paragraphs, that person better not be crossing a tiny room. Author Elizabeth Strout moves characters deftly, as you can see from this excerpt from The Burgess Boys. “Turning his head, Bob saw through the grated windows his brother walking up the sidewalk, and a small rush of anxiety came to him at the sight of this: his older brother’s quick gait, his long coat, the thick leather briefcase. There was the sound of the key in the door.”

Use Your Props
Author Anton Chekhov famously wrote: “If a gun is on the mantle in the first act, it must fire in the last.” Actually, there are various versions of this quotation floating around, but they all advise writers to use their props. Let’s extend this to mean that fictional characters have a relationship with the physical objects around them. If you have a prop in your scene, how do your characters respond to it? In Flannery O’ Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” guns are central to the tale of family with children that encounters criminals. All three men have guns, which the young boy notices and asks about. A few paragraphs later, one of the criminals “drew a little circle in the ground with the butt of his gun.” Spoiler: O’ Connor follows Chekhov’s advice.

Simulate the Senses
If you want to ground your characters in the scene, have them respond viscerally, emotionally and intellectually to the sensory information around them. In “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather, the main character wants to avoid facing his father one night: “Meanwhile, he was wet and cold. He went around to the back of the house and tried one of the basement windows, found it open, raised it cautiously, and scrambled down the cellar wall to the floor. There he stood, holding his breath, terrified by the noise he had made, but the floor above him was silent, and there was no creak on the stairs. He found a soapbox, and carried it over to the soft ring of light that streamed from the furnace door, and sat down. He was horribly afraid of rats, so he did not try to sleep, but sat looking distrustfully at the dark, still terrified lest he might have awakened his father.”

I’d love to hear more ideas on how to get physical with your characters.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach whose work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, The New York Times and Arizona Highways. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She founded the Boulder Writers’ Workshop and is a homeschooling mom. She and her husband Michael and son Max live in Boulder.

For more about Lori, please visit her website and blog.

Down The Rabbit Hole of Research

by Terri Benson

This post was originally published on September 9, 2013

Just about any form of writing requires research, some more than others. Being a historic romance and cozy mystery writer, I do my fair share of research on a wide variety of topics. And that’s a lot of the reason I write – I love history and digging out tidbits of fact I can use in my fiction.

When I wrote An Unsinkable Love, I found literally hundreds of websites dedicated to the Titanic. I was like a kid in a candy store, flitting from one brightly colored jar to another. And that brings me to the Rabbit Hole.

It’s really easy to get caught up in research. With the WWW at our fingertips, everything is within reach from the comfort of our own homes, the local coffee shop, or a smart phone sitting on a park bench. The problem is, all that time spent researching, you’re not writing.

And almost as bad (or possibly worse), is there’s an awfully good chance those “facts” you’re gleaning, aren’t really. Facts, that is. Any Tom, Dick and Harriet can set up a website and populate it with keywords and whatever they want, and sit back knowing that someone, somewhere, will read it and take it as gospel.

Even with the Titanic, which has been written about adinfinitum for a hundred years, there is a huge amount of conflicting data.  What time the ship sank, even how many died. You can avoid that by finding multiple sources of the same information, taking even more time. Better yet, get around it by not using a specific – i.e. “in the dark moments before midnight” instead of at exactly 11:54 p.m. Readers won’t quibble. They’re reading a (hopefully) compelling story, not a dry press release. This issue leads into another quagmire:  too much research ending up in the story.

Research is a means to an end, not the end. While some of us are fascinated by Victorian architecture, our readers don’t care about every corbel, pilaster, Palladian detail, or intricate pattern in that Rocco furniture. So, unless your hero is a Victorian architect who is being pursued by a villainous building inspector, less is probably more.

I also have to fight the tendency to just keep gobbling more and more research.  Invariably the information I really need for my story is muddled with unnecessary stuff, and if I didn’t make notes of where I found it, I spend more time trying to find it again. Note to self:  start making a note of the sites you visit!

In a recent workshop put on by Cindi Myers, she talked about how she avoids getting sucked in to the Rabbit Hole.  She writes from start to finish before editing—which clearly works for her since she has more than 55 published books under her belt. When she finds a place that needs researched, she puts in a series of asterisks. I use a long blank line. This works wonderfully to remind you to check a date, or maybe include a description of clothing, a vehicle, a location, etc.  It can even be a space-holder for an entire scene, but it keeps you moving.

If you use an outline, story board, or bible, you probably have an idea of the types of research you’ll need—an untraceable poison, the latest in DNA identification, what kind of airplanes flew in 1914, the titles of officers in the British military in 1830, or who ruled in Bulgaria in 1620. Spend a specifically allotted amount time before you start writing getting needed details lined out, then keep yourself from going back and forth to research small tidbits as you’re writing. You’ll have a lot more words on the page at the end of the day.

One downfall of doing end-of-story research is that finding some really great piece of research might change the direction of your story just when you think you’re finished, but that’s part of the fun and interest in writing. I don’t know about you, but my characters often decide to go off on their own tangents.

And don’t become a hermit who never leaves the house to do research. Remember libraries and museums? They have vintage photographs, actual items you can look at up close and personal, and knowledgeable staff who can get you “just the facts, ma’am” in less time than it takes you to boot up your computer. If your story takes place in a fictional home town, local desert or mountains strangely similar to your own, get in the car and drive around. Chances are, you’ll see things that make your story more real.

So unless Alice is your name and Rabbits your game, stay out of the Rabbit Hole and keep on writing!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Terri Benson was born and raised in the Grand Valley of western Colorado.  Married for nearly 35 years and counting to the same very unromantic man, and having raised 2 sons, she enjoys reading and writing historic romance and mystery to get away from the day-to-day realities of life.  In addition to writing dozens of published articles in local, regional and on-line newspapers and magazines, and award winning short stories, she enjoys camping, boating, hiking and gardening.  She doesn’t enjoy housework.  Find more about her at www.terribensonwriter.com.  Member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of American, and a great critique group.

A Very Happy Query Days!

By Julie Kazimer

*Keep reading for a very special holiday gift from me to you! No skipping ahead or you’ll be on the naughty list.

Oh, the holidays. Goodwill toward our fellow man. Gingerbread houses. A half-finished novel left over from NaNoWriMo. And of course, the dreaded New Year’s Resolution.

I bet I know what yours is. No, I’m not psychic (or any variation on the word like psychotic).  I know what your resolution is because you’re a writer, and we all want one thing—peace on Earth, but barring that, we’d love a major book deal with a movie franchise, and a few million readers.

Not a lot to ask, but how can our New Year’s Resolution get us there?

It all starts with a query.

Every year, for many years, my resolution was to query agents and editors in a quest for the aforementioned book deal. And every year, for so many years, I’d quit by February. Why? Because I was either being rejected outright or ignored.

Looking back, it makes complete sense.

There wasn’t anything wrong with my novels (for the most part). But there was something very wrong with how I was approaching those agents and editors. My queries sucked. Bad.

This past month, I was asked to judge a writing contest where the writers provided a query with their submission. It occurred to me while reading the queries that they all fell into three categories:

1)       Well written, interesting, unique concept, and appropriate for the agent/editor. A winning query. One guaranteed to pique the interest of an agent enough for a partial or full request.

2)      Well written, but lacking spark, either with voice or concept. These queries only get a request if the sample pages included are far more interesting.

3)      Poorly written (structure, grammar, typos, run-ons, etc), which, no matter how great the concept is, can’t be overcome.  No requests.

Sadly my queries often fell into the 3rd option. That’s why I’m going to give you a special gift (or not so special depending on your viewpoint). I’m offering to critique your query before you get ready to hit send in the New Year.

Here’s the deal, you can post your query in the comments, and I will read it, and comment on things I would change. Why would you listen to me, you might ask? Because I’ve made every query mistake known to writers. I’ve written hundreds, read double that, and am willing to read yours, for free.

If you are worried about someone stealing your idea if you post your query, you can email it to me at jkazimer at msn.com. If you’re worried about me stealing your idea, I’m terribly offended and think I might cry, right after I finish plagiarizing JK Rowlings.

This gift only will last from today until December 12th. So get to posting those queries, and, if you read the other queries and would like to comment on either the query or what I’ve said about it, please do so. It takes a village…minus all that reindeer poop.

Happy Holidays!

———————————

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming book, The Assassin’s Heart. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website and blog.

Connect with Julie on Twitter and Facebook.

Me? A Procrastinator?

 

By Kerry Schafer

Procrastination.

A fascinating topic — one I can spend hours discussing, analyzing, and lamenting as a lovely (and valid) evasion from whatever task I’m procrastinating from.

Now, I know procrastination has a bad rap, and a lot of people think its roots lie in sheer laziness. This is a myth that must be dispelled forthwith. Proper procrastination is a skill, indeed an art, which generally requires much more energy and creativity than would have ever been expended on the original project.

Sometimes procrastination makes perfect sense. If the task to be avoided involves removing green food from the fridge (and by this I mean foods that were never intended by nature to be green), or if the bathroom needs cleaning, or a teenager’s room needs to be mucked out with a shovel and a rake – then procrastination makes perfect sense.

But we also procrastinate when the project on the agenda is something that we love. Take writing for example. Most of us who write are passionate about the process. We talk about how we love writing, how we couldn’t live without it.

I asked my writer friends on Facebook a simple question: Why do you write? Here are some of the answers:

“I write because I have stories in my head that need to get out.” ~ B.e. Sanderson

“I’m not right if I don’t write…there’s some piece of happiness in the process for me. If there’s no work in progress, momma ain’t happy and if momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody gonna be happy ~Linda Robertson

“1) I love telling stories and weaving tales. 2) I’ll read a book or watch a show and think, ‘Not bad, but it could have been better if they’d done this.’ 3) There is a story in my head and it will drive me nuts if I don’t get it out of me.” ~ Todd Leatherman

“The voices! The voices in my head!!!” ~Trudy Morgan Cole

“It’s what I was put on this earth to do.” ~Aurelia Blue

“I love to paint with words.” ~Judy Phillips

“Because there are still books I want to read that only I can write.” ~James Ray Tuck Jr

You’d think with this level of drive and enthusiasm (and possibly mental instability, given the number of people who mentioned the need to silence voices) we’d all be typing away at every possible moment, getting those stories down on the page with vim and vigor and great enthusiasm.

Alas, this is not so. Writer procrastination would be a national sport if writers were a nation. Come on, admit it. As much as you’re driven to write your story, to get the voices out of your head or the words down on the page, how often do you find yourself doing something – anything – else?

Honest answers now:

Which is your preference :

a) Facebook b) Twitter c) Pinterest d) Other

Which is your default procrastination game: 

A) Spider Solitaire  B) Farmville  C) Candy Crush  D) Other  E) I don’t waste my time on stupid games, I get real with WOW and the equivalent

True or False: I’ve been known to do housework to avoid writing, possibly even cleaning green things out of the fridge.

Bonus Questions: sneaky procrastination activities that look a lot like writing, but aren’t.

Do You:

  1. Engage in IM chats that are supposedly about writing but delve deeply into other inanity?
  2. Engage in plotting that goes on and on and prevents you from writing?
  3. Engage in writing preparation activities like making coffee or other beverages/snacks to consume while writing, setting up music playlists, cleaning off your desk, until your writing time is over?

If you are not a procrastinator, go away. We don’t need your overcharged, driven, annoying type here. If you are a procrastinator and you actually took the quiz: good for you! You have earned a cookie.

There are a lot of reasons we might procrastinate on writing, but I think the biggest bugaboo is perfectionism. We care deeply about the story, about the words. We feel a responsibility to the characters we create and want to portray them accurately. We also want readers to love or hate them as much as we do. We want readers to love our work. The whole project sometimes looks too big, too scary, too much. If only a novel could spring fully formed from head to page, as beautiful and complete as we envision it, then all would be well.

But the words come out rough and bumpy, characters fall flat, plots lack in pacing and suspense. It’s damn hard work to fix and polish and bring the story anywhere near the shining thing we want it to be.

And so we delay. After all, if the story is still perfect and lovely in our heads, then we haven’t yet failed to bring it into being.

What is a procrastinating writer to do?

Well, you can suck it up and power through. Install internet blocking software on your computer and lock yourself in a barren room without distractions. Chain yourself to a chair. But where’s the fun in that?

Ann Lamott pretty much nailed it with her book Bird by Bird. If you’re a writer and haven’t read this book yet, click the link, buy the book. Read. Read again. Do it NOW. Yes, I know you plan to do it later. I also know how that will likely turn out.

Some of the best resources for overcoming procrastination and perfectionism come from SARK. She has written a couple of wonderful books for creative people: Make your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day; and Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper.

If you’re anything like me you probably don’t have time to read a book to help you with procrastination right now. You’re busy. (Checking your Twitter feed, cleaning the fridge, etc. These things take time.) So here is a link to what I’ve come to believe is the best cure ever for most varieties of procrastination: SARK’s Micro Movements.

The basic idea is akin to Lamott’s advice to take things “bird by bird.” You set yourself a micro task that will require no longer than five minutes of your time. For example, open a new document and give it a title. Write one paragraph. Or even one sentence. That’s it. You’re done. You can carry on if you feel like it, but you don’t have to. You get to feel the satisfaction of crossing something off your list, rather than looking way down the road to a long year of thankless writing…… ahem. Sorry about that. But you do see my point – it’s easy to get so mired in the epic scope of what you’ve undertaken that you can’t ever get anything done.

I used to do hour long writing sprints to get my word count in. This was highly productive IF I managed to make myself sit down and do it. Not so long ago my critique partner got me started on 15 minute sprints. You know, I can concentrate for that span of time even on a bad day. And if I do about four 15 minute sprints, it often works out to about a thousand words. 

Here’s an opportunity for you to try micro movements on your own. Come on, give it a shot. All you have to do is click this link to have a look at SARK’s micro movements. Who knows – maybe you’ll be inspired to give the method a try.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

Wrapping it Up—Finishing Up a Series

by Katriena Knights

No matter how much you love a series, sooner or later it has to end. Well, this is true for television—in series fiction, you could probably keep going until you expire in front of your keyboard. However, there are plenty of reasons you might want to wrap up a book series, and when you do, you want to be sure you do it right.

I think the most effective way to wrap up a series is to know where you’re going from the beginning. In the old days, when people rarely went beyond a trilogy, this was easier. Now, when you can go to thirty or more books (see J. D. Robb and Laurel K. Hamilton, who I keep talking about), you might never have to plot out an ending. (See above, expiring on your keyboard. Then your daughter can continue your series like Tony Hillerman’s is doing right now.) However, if you don’t trust your offspring, you might want to be sure your book’s main story is brought to a conclusion before you are.

On television, this kind of planning is fairly rare. Generally, the showrunners find out they need to wrap up a story at the beginning of a season at the earliest, and that’s usually because they’ve made the decision to end the show. When the network makes the decision, often they don’t get to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion at all.

A couple of shows do come to mind, though, where the plan was in place from the beginning or at least from close to the beginning. One of the best examples of this is Babylon 5, where showrunner J. Michael Straczynski had a five-year plan in place from day one. Even this didn’t quite go as planned, since key characters had to be redone on the fly when actors left or didn’t work out, and the network put the kibosh on the last season by cutting it short due to ratings. Still, it remains one of the most fully realized genre plotlines on TV. (There might be other examples, probably from syndicated shows, but they’re probably not things I’ve watched.)

I’m not sure Lost is a great example of anything, although I did enjoy the show, but during the second season into the third, ratings slipped to the point where the network told the showrunners to build a plan to be done after the end of season five. They did, and managed to answer most of the questions that had built up over the course of the five seasons, though whether they were satisfactory answers mostly depends on who you talk to.

In the book world, a few series also come to mind where the author planned the storyline to run to a certain length. Rachel Caine’s Weather Wardens was intended from the beginning to run to twelve books, and the spinoff series was planned at only four. Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series will end when she runs out of alphabet, and based on interviews, she also has a plan for how her adventures with Kinsey Milhone will come to a close.

In addition to having a plan for how you’d ideally like your series to wind up, I think it’s probably a good idea to build your underlying plot in arcs so that it could conceivably end at several different points. Say you write the first three books and end a major story arc there—then if for whatever reason you’re unable to continue the series, you’ve still given your readers a mostly satisfactory conclusion. The showrunners of Supernatural mentioned this strategy at the end of that show’s second season, when they were uncertain of renewal. They answered most of the major questions that had lingered through the first two seasons and set up a new plot arc that would carry the third season if they actually had one. Now in its ninth season, Supernatural now blithely drops massive, life-ruining cliffhangers at the end of each season because they know they’ll have another year to work them out.

In general, it’s important to know what questions you’ve raised throughout your series and have answers to those questions. Your ending should match the tone of the rest of the series—don’t have a massive, apocalyptic siege of destruction at the end of a comedic romance series. Avoid deus ex machina type solutions, and try not to handwave questions that have taken on greater importance in the story than you might have expected at the beginning. If you like the idea, set up story arcs within the longer series so you can end at earlier points if necessary. If you keep these issues in mind, you’ll be likely to construct a series ending that both you and your readers will be happy with.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog.