Saturday, September 29, 2007

Part Three: Street Signs For 'Seat of the Pants' Writers

One of the most daunting things a “seat of the pants” writer will frequently face is lack of direction. These writers start with an instinctive sense of what will make a good story. They may have a skeleton character concept or an intriguing ‘what-if’ situation and will run with the idea. Working in this way can be wonderfully freeing, the ideas flow and page after page fill.

Novels, however, are a marathon and this technique is better suited to short sprints. So how do you sustain your story when a myriad of dead ends, round-abouts, cul-de-sacs, and no through roads bar the way between the beginning and ‘the end’?

Pay Attention To Where You Have Been
When writing without a street map it’s important to keep track of where you’ve come from. Take note of significant details along the way. This will save you from having to backtrack. As ideas come to you, note them down. Forward ideas can help keep you moving when you’re unsure of your path.

Learn To Identify Signs
Novel writing is often formulaic. Once you’ve worked out the way the roads usually turn at any point you’ll learn to predict their coming. You might also notice your mental state changes at various points. If you learn to recognize these, you can be prepared to alter your course to avoid dead-ends.

Pull Over For Coffee
You may exert yourself writing a particularly intense few pages over a number of days or weeks. When your mind is exhausted it is important to give yourself a chance to recoup. Pull over for coffee, have a hot bath, go for a jog, iron laundry, or bake a cake. Do something that doesn’t require your mental process to give your mind some space. You’ll often find it fills with your story and you can return to writing, fully charged.

Ask For Directions
If you’ve written yourself into an endless loop and don’t know how to get out, ASK! While you mightn’t approach humans with your current project’s issues you should at least spend time addressing them with your characters. Sometimes, talking things over with your goldfish is enough to free your mind and see outside of the current situation. Perhaps have an interview with your characters and discuss where they feel the story has faltered and what can be done to rectify the situation. Don’t forget you can get help from the human factor as well; ask your friends and fellow writers for advice. Just talking about the issue is often enough to clarify the problem and find a solution.

Retrace Your Route
If these suggestions haven’t already set you back on course, retrace your steps. Read over your last few pages, or even further back if you need to. Focus on what brought them to this point and what your primary characters’ goals are. You may need to rework the current point and take a different route to get to a new destination.

The Road Trip Game (What If?)
Play the "What If?" game to decide where you could go from here. If you’ve come up against an intersection and don’t know which road to take, play it out in your mind. See the various options and run with them as a story concept to see where each will lead. You could even mark this point and choose any road at random, if you don’t like the outcome return to the intersection and choose a different route.

Take A Deliberate Detour
If there aren’t enough choices at an intersection or if you’ve snagged against a dead end and can’t bring yourself to turn around, it’s time to take a deliberate detour. Throw in a new plot element. It doesn’t have to work into the final draft. At this point you just need something to clear the way. If that means having superman fly in and rescue your characters from the teeth of a T-Rex, have this unlikely event occur. Free your character to continue their story and know that you’ll have the opportunity to clear that section up later.

Skip It!
Instead of taking a deliberate detour you can skip it. If your character is worked into a corner and has no way out, skip it! Jump right out of that situation and put them someplace else on the road. You don’t need to maintain a linear path. During the first draft it doesn’t matter if there are plot holes. You can fill those in later. For now, the important thing is to continue moving forward. Don’t labor over a pointless intersection, just write on, skip it and you can come back to it later.

For ‘seat of the pants’ writers the first draft is all about finding out what your story is going to be. It’s about getting to know your characters and walking a blind road. If you look to the street signs when you feel lost you will find the journey to your novels end far easier to face. You will keep moving forward and enjoy the adventure along the way.

Other Ways To Avoid Other Road Blocks

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Part Two: Seat of the Pants vs. Planning

Two writing techniques, "Seat of the Pants" and "Planning", expose writers to a wealth of opportunities depending on what works best for their individual preferences. As with all methods, there are advantages and disadvantages. One system will work for a particular writer but may not work for another. Finding a way to write (that works for you) involves a great deal of trial and error but finding your method and developing it, is the key toward successful productivity and an enjoyable writing experience.

"Seat of the Pants"
One technique some writers prefer is thought of as 'seat of the pants' writing. These writers start with a character or rough story concept and leap into the writing. Most of the time, these writers focus on the linear creation of their novel, from page one through to 'the end' but others find their creativity focused in random scenes which they put together like a jigsaw puzzle.

These writers tend to spend time preparing long before they begin to write. They get to know their characters, brainstorm about them, and become familiar with what they expect from their protagonists. Planners usually outline their story. They know their theme and story-worthy problem. They know how the book will end and they know at least the major steps on the path to getting there.

Which Are You?

1. The Freedom to Just Write
Pantser Pro: Writing in this manner gives writers the freedom to let there imagination roam.
Pantser Con: The uncertainty and lack of direction can lead to writer's block.

Planner Pro: Planners proceed with more confidence because they know where they're going and they know what steps to take to get there.
Planner Con: These writers need time to focus on where they are and what each scene needs to accomplish to tie into the scenes around it.

2. The Adventure of Discovery
Pantser Pro: Writers enjoy the journey of discovery, watching the story, plot and characters reveal themselves as they write.
Pantser Con: The plot can meander without purpose, be virtually non-existent, or not contain enough conflict, emotion and connection to be story-worthy.

Planner Pro: Planners have a story outline and include intricate details long before they begin writing. They have the opportunity to weave vital clues and connectivity into the plot from the first page of the first draft.
Planner Con: Already knowing the significant details can sometimes lead to a sense of boredom.

3. The Ebb and Flow of Creativity
Pantser Pro: Writers can often experience extended periods of creativity that lead to pages of finished writing in a single sitting.
Pantser Con: These bursts are usually followed by inaction and stagnation.

Planner Pro: These writers often find it easier to find their flow. They tend to schedule time to write and get into a grove, developing the habit which allows them to write what they need to write when they choose to do so.
Planner Con: The structure and routine can become repetative or restrictive giving writers pressure to perform which often leads to writer's block.

4. Linear or Random Method
Pantser Pro: This technique lends itself well to both linear and 'out of order' creation that gives writers flexibility in both time and scene focus.
Pantser Con: Stories can feel piece-meal or disjointed if not carefully rewritten and well edited after the first draft.

Planner Pro: With their outline in hand, writers can choose which scene to write when and have the knowledge of the scenes that will eventually surround it to weave it into the story.
Planner Con: Planners can feel rigid and may avoid following an instinctive urge to deviate from the outline and feel obligated to write a specific scene, even when it is not flowing for them.

5. The Creation of Real Character
Pantser Pro: Writers enjoy discovering their characters as they develop slowly through the story and run less risk of revealing too much too soon or too little that readers never grow close to the primary characters.
Pantser Con: Sometimes, not knowing your characters can leave them without the depth needed to keep readers interested.

Planner Pro: Writers are familiar with their characters, know them deeply and predict their responses to situations. They often feel like dear friends and can develop a strong connection.
Planner Con: These writers run the risk of revealing too much or too little of the characters to readers, are so close to their characters that it becomes hard to 'do what needs to be done' if the plot calls for their demise or even become candid, taking their character for granted or simply get tired of them.

6. Structure and Discipline
Pantser Pro: This method allows writers to write when they feel inspired which often makes the process of writing much more enjoyable.
Pantser Con: Lack of structure and discipline can lead to an inability to plan ahead for deadlines or focus on other writing projects.

Planner Pro: Planning writers often feel a great deal of confidence. They know before they begin dedicating weeks to writing the first draft that they have a solid, worthy story to write. They also tend to be the sort of people who can structure their time and discipline themselves for regular writing.
Planner Con: Rigid structure and a logical approach may stifle creativity.

Do you know other pros and cons of the two techniques? What have you found works for you and what doesn't? How do you deal with the disadvantages of your technique?

Have Your Say!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Seven Steps by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott

Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott When I first stumbled across "Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment" I REALLY needed it. It was one of those, 'my dreams are going down the toilet' months when I was struggling to put two coherent words together and was seriously considering getting a REAL JOB!

Writing was hard. Much harder than I thought it should be. I assumed that if I was supposed to be a writer I could just, you know, be one. I thought that once I’d started writing it would all happen. I had never thought of myself as anything but a writer and I figured, by twenty-four, I should be well on my way.

I was deep in the realms of despair, regret and recrimination. I was on the verge of calling it quits when I came across this beautiful book in a second hand bookstore. It winked at me from the shelf, calling out with that "Writer" word that is always so tempting.

I'm so glad I spent the $15.98 (AUD) to buy that book that day because I read it, cover to cover and felt this amazing sense of rightness. "Seven Steps" helped me realize that what I was feeling was entirely normal. It was all a part of the process and if anything, had I not been reaching that point I'd have been either, far earlier into the journey or on the wrong path completely.

Photograph: Lynn Lott In "Seven Steps", psychologist and self-help author Lynn Lott and mystery writer Nancy Pickard go into detail about each of the steps all writers face on the path of their individual writer's journey. They show readers how each of the seven stages can be recognized and overcome.

Photograph: Nancy Pickard Nancy and Lynn use anecdotes from their own lives, quotes from experienced writers and real-life situations to show how each of the seven steps affect all writers and how you can move past the challenges on this intense 'journey from frustration to fulfillment'.

The seven steps, uncertainty, wanting, commitment, wavering, letting go, immersion, and fulfillment are fantastic markers to help you feel confident about your journey. It's like having a road map to the way you're supposed to feel and having permission to feel that way.

These two authors really know what they're talking about. It is incredible to feel a sense of unity between writers; a sense of cosmic connection and belonging to a greater family who understand us. We all go through the same emotions and turmoil. We are not alone and every stage is not only normal but expected and will not last forever.

"Seven Steps" is a fantastic book for writers who need to recharge their inspiration and rebuild their sense of hope and accomplishment. No matter what stage you are at there are true methods to bring you along the path and to avoid those nasty detours that tempt us on the way.

If you are stalled on your own journey this book can help focus your mind and heart so that you can turn the key and get the car back on the road of a writer's life. Even before I finished reading this book I was writing again. As I turned the pages I felt reenergized and could sharpen my focus, reaffirm my goals and get my schedule back into order. I came out of hibernation and started living, and writing.

If you haven't read "Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment", I recommend you get your hands on a copy. It's a must-have for any writer's bookshelf.

Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment
by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott.

First published in 2003 by Ballantine Books,
an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

7 Surefire Ways To Commit Blog Suicide

Please excuse this unscheduled interruption to my regular blogcasting schedule but I'm not one to refuse a challenge. (Thank you Michele for the fabulous linkage.) I'll return to the regular schedule with a Book Review on Tuesday and then parts two and three of the six part series on Thursday and Saturday respectively.

But first, can I come up with seven ways to commit blog suicide that aren't on Michele's list of seven? It might take some brain wracking but I'm sure I can. Let’s see now:

1. Use Excessive, Gimmicky, Inappropriate, and Off-topic Advertising
ICK! If you want to monetize your blog all well and good. I'm one of many who depend on affiliate programs and pay-per-click for my morning coffee (actually I drink tea) but I can't stand attempting to read blogs that have gone crazy with their advertising. I think blogs that put blatant advertising inside their actual entry look terrible. If the content is incredible I might still read and ignore the eyesore but it is a mark against you in my book. Advertisements should be sedate, topical, informative, accurate, ASR rated (on non-adult-only content blogs), and classy. They should also remain minimal. Don't fill every spec of white space with advertising.

2. Write Short & Pointless
Have nothing to say. Write a single sentence entry that says nothing interesting. Write about subjects that no one cares about. NO! Write what people will want to read. Write about what you love and express in detail why you love it. Have a point and follow it strongly through every line of your post. Write at least two hundred words so I'm not wasting bandwidth loading useless garbage.

3. Be A Doomsayer - Predict Armageddon
Write about how bad your day was. Write about it every day. Write about the imminent end of the world. Write about how horrible people are in general. Write lists of people you hate and are going to kill. *grimaces* Just writing this is depressing me. I don't want to read blogs to get depressed. Jazz yourself up, be happy, force a smile if you have to but you MUST write with an upbeat tone. If you're having a bad day that's fine by write about something that's going to cheer you up, not about how every moment was agony. If you have occasions when you really do just need to have a whinge and get a hug and a pat on the back do it, but do it once, don't keep going on, day after day in the same rut.

4. Be Super Religious
Ok, well in blogs that focus around religion this is ok. Any other time be aware that not everyone who wants to read about your topic wants to be 'saved'. Some of us aren't that into God. Being a preaching blogger is one of the fastest ways to get me bouncing well away from your site. I know there are others like me. Be aware that the world of blog readers is a diverse culture. Write for everyone and keep your religious judgments out of your blog or at least toned right down. You can sign off with God Bless or Jesus Loves You but don't try to convert me to your religion.

5. Use Internet Jargon, Leet Speak, and Yuppy Yapping
U R A QT! *grimaces* I was going to write this tip completely in jargon but I seriously just couldn't. It hurt my brain and killed at least two dozen brain cells just attempting to. Yes, the internet has lead to a whole new language but English is such a lovely language to begin with, why don't we just keep using it? I don't want to have to exhaust myself trying to translate your gibberish and I certainly won't hang around for it.

6. Don't Use WhiteSpace
Stack your sentences together and together. Don't use any line breaks, don't double space your paragraphs, don't leave room either side of your text, and don't, whatever you do, forget to fill up every inch of your left over page with images and ads and glaring backgrounds. Look, the internet is visually tense. Reading for extended periods from our monitors is hard on our eyes (even when web pages are stylish and uncluttered). When you add the pressure of zero whitespace you're causing serious problems for readers. Especially for those, like me, who have dyslexia. I NEED WHITESPACE! It's vital!

7. Write Meaningless Titles
Ok, well this isn't an automatic click away for me. If the actual posts are informative and interesting I'll keep reading. Titles are very important. I want to know from your archives if I'm going to be interested in reading a particular post. You need to offer enough detail in your title so that I'll know what to expect inside. It also helps to be eye-catching and stimulating.

Well, look at that. I did make it to seven after all. *chuckles* This was a great challenge. Am I supposed to tag people now? I think so. Ok, you're it:

Silvia Acevedo
Anne Creed
Geraint Isitt

Oh, and for those of you interested I wrote 10 Tips To Blogs That Get Read several weeks ago. Now you've read seven 'what not to dos' check out ten things you can do that encourage your readers to stick around.

What is it that turns YOU off a blog? What do you like and dislike? Feel free to be specific to this site if you like; anything about it that grates on your nerves? anything about it you really appreciate? Do you know any exceptional blogs you'd like to share?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Part One: Are you a Pantser or a Planner?

Most writers have some idea how organized they prefer to be when writing but the techniques of ‘Seat of the Pants’ writers can differ greatly from ‘Planners’. You might feel more comfortable with a routine and plan in your every day life but find this structure stifling to your creativity when you write. Maybe you go with the flow from day to day but need to have solid goals and plans to make progress with your novel. Take this short quiz to find out if you’re a Pantser or a Planner.

  1. You get the idea for a character while washing dishes one evening.

    1. You immediately dry your hands, take note of every detail, branch off, brainstorm and freewrite to explore all the possible characteristics and potential stories this character could be involved in.

    2. You dry your hands and swiftly note down significant key points as memory joggers then return to the suds.

    3. You continue to ponder the character as you wash, rinse, and dry then write down your final findings and concepts.

    4. You think it over but continue with the dishes and decide to write about it at some unspecified time in the future.

    5. You go off (either immediately or after the dishes) and begin a brand new story with this character as the star.

  2. You’re asked to write a play for the Pre-K’s at the local community center.

    1. You stare at a blank page for a few hours (or days) then right before the deadline rush together a few pages the kids will have fun with.

    2. You go to the center, talk to the kids and teachers to get an idea of their interests, abilities and individual characters.

    3. You head straight home and pull out a dusty script about your pet dog that you wrote in grade school.

    4. You craft an outline and consider the various roles and the ramifications of a moral theme.

    5. You scratch out the first page of a dozen ideas but can’t settle on just one for the kids play.

  3. You’ve just finished the final installment of a fantastically detailed trilogy.

    1. You are still ga-ga over the characters and the intricacy of the plot and have been totally swept away by the story.

    2. You allow your mind to play connect-the-dots with the plot and enjoy the intricate and careful crafting involved.

    3. You start experimenting with fan-fiction off-shoots because you’re hooked on the characters and want more adventures for them.

    4. You gape at the astounding beauty of the piece and give up writing because you ‘know’ you couldn’t possibly match it.

    5. You start reading the books again; making notes in the margins and underlining notable passages, dissecting the book to see how the author accomplished it.

  4. Your midway through writing chapter five when you decide you really can’t stand your protagonist.

    1. You quit writing immediately, shelve the manuscript and decide you’ll come back ‘someday’ when you understand her better.

    2. You stop writing and start examining your mood, the more recent events and the character to first determine why you no longer like him and then how to ‘fix’ him.

    3. You keep writing and decide to see where she’s headed before you act.

    4. You keep writing but add a dramatic death scene within the next couple of pages turning your focus on a new or secondary character instead.

    5. You spend a short time giving your character an interview to discuss her thoughts and see if you can work out, together, what to do next.

  5. A new family move next door and you hear strange noises at night but see nothing of them during the day.

    1. You call the police to report the weirdo’s but later discover that the mother is simply a shift worker, the father’s a novelist and the oldest child is a rap-loving teenager.

    2. You watch from your upstairs office window, trying to see their vampire teeth or wolves fur in the moonlight.

    3. You start playing the “what if” game and generate some great story ideas based on what this family could be if they were characters in a book.

    4. You start writing blog entries or shorts about them, each with a wilder explanation than the last.

    5. You go over, introduce yourself, offer a cup of sugar and hear all about their recent trip to Brazil and her obsession with photography – all fodder for your next book.

Tally Your Points:
  1. a. 5, b. 4, c. 3, d. 2, e. 1
  2. a. 3, b. 5, c. 2, d. 4, e. 1
  3. a. 3, b. 4, c. 1, d. 2, e. 5
  4. a. 3, b. 5, c. 1, d. 2, e. 4
  5. a. 3, b. 2, c. 4, d. 1, e. 5

        5 – 7 points [Pantser]

You’re a true Pantser. You can fly with any idea and love to leap before you look. You’ve got pages of stories started but rarely finished and love to play around with new concepts, tying it all together with creativity and an exciting flare for adventure.

        8 – 12 points [Pre-Pantser]

You’d love to throw caution to the winds but often hold back from just diving right in. You prefer to consider multiple options but can go along with any challenge and turn any good idea into a potential story.

        13 – 17 points [Middle Grounder]

You’re in the safe zone and often struggle to write anything at all. You enjoy exploring ideas but want to find the best ones and don’t like wasting time writing about things you aren’t passionate about. You’ll start stories with some planning but also enjoy the adventure of taking detours.

        18 – 22 points [Pre-Planner]

You like to do the legwork in your mind. You’ll sometimes plan things out and often have the basic map laid out in your head but keep adding to your plans and are flexible for changes. You generally have a solid destination in mind when you begin writing but aren’t sure of all the roads you’ll need to take to get their. You’re familiar with your main characters but often face blocks caused by being unsure what course they would most likely take in a given situation.

        23 – 25 points [Planner]

You like to brainstorm and outline every detail before you begin. You know your characters intimately and understand their deep motivations. You can be a little pedantic and often spend so much time planning and researching that you don’t leave enough to actually spend writing. When you do write you know exactly what to expect from every scene and work intricate details across our novel like knitting a sweater.

[Disclaimer: This quiz is not scientific and results may vary. It would be wonderful to share your results with you. What answers did you give and do you feel your result is accurate? Did you enjoy the quiz? Would you like me to put together more in the future? Would you like this one to be more detailed?]

[Note: You're welcome to discuss the quiz on your own blog/website if you have one. If you do, please link to the quiz rather than copying it and post a comment with a link to your site/blog so we can visit you.]

[Link To This Quiz:]
[Invite your friends to check it out!]

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Six Part Series: Street Signs and Plot Humps

There seem to be two slanting points of view when it comes to how much planning and preparation writers should take before beginning their novel. Some are firmly in the "Seat of the Pants" category. These writers start writing and enjoy the adventure of finding out what will happen right along side their characters. The "Planners" however, can only begin when they have a firm idea of their destination and at least a rough sketch of their road map to get them there.

In the following six part series I'll discuss the various pros and cons of both techniques, offer tips on a few of the 'dead ends' seat-of-the-pants writers come upon, point out ways seat-of-the-pants writing can give depth regardless of your preferred technique, share advice for planners with plot humps and explain the close and dangerous rim between the 'random messenger' and the suspension of disbelief.

Part One: Are you a Pantser or a Planner?
Which one are you? Do you write character profiles? Do you struggle to find a title? Do you know what your protagonist’s story-worthy problem is? Try this quiz find out if you are a "Seat of the Pants" writer or a "Plot Planner".

Part Two: Seat of the Pants vs. Planning
Deciding which strategy will work best for you is something you can only discover through trial and error. I lead a seat of the pants kind of life and yet wander about in a maze of insecurity when I try to write this way. Others need order and routine in their lives but the freedom and suspense of the unknown in their writing. Both techniques have their pros and cons and every writer tends to customize their technique to suit their personal preferences and lifestyle.

Part Three: Street Signs For 'Seat of the Pants' Writers
One of the downfalls of the "Seat of the Pants" technique is the myriad of dead ends, round-abouts, cul-de-sacs, and no through roads. Navigating the streets of your novel without a map can be scary. It can even lead your novel straight to the garbage tip. Sometimes you'll need to follow the street signs, or at least find them along the way to make sure you’re still on course.

Part Four: When Wrong Turns Go Right
Part of the interesting benefit of "Seat of the Pants" writing is the wrong turn that goes very, very right. The excitement and adventure of the journey through your novel is often what many writers find most appealing and stumbling upon a detour or feeling like you've made a wrong turn can cause writers to slam on the breaks or shift into reverse. But what if that wrong turn, is a short cut to the real treasure, and an even better destination?

Part Five: Plot Humps For Planners
"The best laid plans of mice and men…" It’s a famous quote and seems very closely tied with Murphy’s Law. When you’ve laid out your map carefully and you’ve followed your directions exactly why do you keep slamming against that pot hole? It’s a plot hump, and all planners come across them, it’s time to learn to be flexible and take a note out of the wrong turns guide for "Seat of the Pants" writers.

Part Six: Mr. Random Messenger Meets Suspend-able Disbelief
One nasty enemy of the "Seat of the Pants" writer is "Mr. Random Messenger". He’s the exploding volcano that sinks your enemies battleship just as they were about to blow you out of the water, or the assassin who took out that bothersome official who was barring your search warrant, or the anonymous lead that puts your squad in the right warehouse on the right dock at the right time. If it doesn’t make sense in the greater scheme of your story then the suspension of disbelief just went down the toilet.

I have to give my sincere thanks to Anne! Her comment/suggestion (September 16, 2007) sparked my interest and while I’m personally firmly in the "Planner" camp I hope these entries offer Anne (and all my readers) some useful strategies for dealing with problems when using your own writing styles.

Stay tuned for "Part One: Are you a Pantser or a Planner?" available Saturday 22nd of September 2007.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hooked by Les Edgerton

“Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs the Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go.”

I bought a new book yesterday from Dymocks and began reading it late last night. The writing is so wonderfully relaxed with just the right tone of professional insight and friendliness that I’m already in love with this book. I’m only half way through chapter two but I may have finished reading if I hadn’t fallen asleep, exhausted, just after midnight, mid page.

Les Edgerton is writer-in-residence at the University of Toledo and has authored short stories, articles, essays, screenplays, and novels. His writing voice is rich with a delightful southern twang that adds to the charm of “Hooked”. His tone is encouraging and confidence-inspiring. He really believes that if you want to write a book you can, and if you learn how to start with a bang you’ll continue with a book worth reading.

Hooked focuses on showing writers how to develop your books best beginning.

“Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If a novel or short story has a bad beginning, then no one will keep reading. It’s just that simple.” – Les Edgerton
As a former editor Les has experience with what editors look for when they’re deciding if they’ll pursue a particular submission. He recognises the many flags that will have a manuscript scratched in the first line, the first paragraph, the first page. He shows writers the dos and the do nots of the opening scene and explains, more importantly, why.

Les shares his insights into story structure and the changes in what editors and readers expect from literature into modern writing. This specialised topic and fresh outlook, blended with enjoyable and fluid writing, makes it easy to turn the page and keep turning the pages of Hooked. I guess that’s a great sign that Les knows what he’s talking about.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book and am also keen to get my hands on his other writing guide, “Finding Your Voice”.

“The writers who succeed are those who develop a unique and distinctive voice, one that sets them apart from the crowd. Inside, Les Edgerton shows writers how to find that elusive "voice" without years of struggle." – Les Edgerton
Both “Hooked” and “Finding Your Voice” sound like ideal additions to my writing tool chest.

Click here for more information about Hooked

Click here for more information about Finding Your Voice

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

When I COULD be writing...

Procrastination, again... I COULD be writing but I keep wanting to do anything else. ANYTHING ELSE. There isn't even a reason why I don't want to write. It's not painful, I'm not blocked, I have topics I could write about, lots of them, it's just any time I start thinking I should write I get this niggle.

Do you get that niggle too? That whining little voice that says, "But..." "wouldn't you rather play The Sims?" "wouldn't you rather watch a movie?" "shouldn't you rotate the laundry?" "you'd do better to go for a walk while it's not raining." "if you want to lose weight you should spend 30 minutes dancing instead." "you still haven't finished reading that library book."...

It's hard not to listen to that voice. I want to give into it. I don't understand why I want to not write more than I want to write. I know how much I'll hurt, how I'll hate myself, how I'll regret hours wasted, how I'll feel guilty and horrible if I don't write and yet at this moment, not writing feels safer, better, more comforting.

Life passes in these circles. So many of my writing projects could be finished if I didn't keep slamming into this wall every time I think about beginning them. Every time I sit at the keys. Every time I start letting my mind wander on where I want to go. Every time I THINK TOO MUCH!

I know how easy it is if I DON'T THINK! If I could cut my brain out and just act. Don't think about writing just write. Don't think about sitting down to write just start writing. It's the mind, those evil insiduous thoughts that put walls up before my goals. Those thoughts, this mind that wanders too much, that conspires against me. Why does it do that? Why can't my body, mind, spirit, all work together to accomplish what is best for me?

Even when I'm writing, like I'm writing right now, I'm forcing myself to be here. My mind is still spinning through my head telling me all I could be doing instead. All I should be doing. All I'll be doing if I just stop, now. I have to force myself to finish.

This is why writing gets painful. It's not the words, the story, it's not the pain of telling a tale or the agony of not knowing my characters. When I'm there, writing it, living it the whole thing is laid out before me and I just write it down. It's the thinking about it that trips me up.

How can I get my HEAD out of my writing? I just want to write.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

In Whose Shadow Do You Linger?

We absorb so much from the community around us and the greats of the past. As writers we tend to explore and admire the artists who rose to the top of their profession (often post humorously) and have been remembered and revered across generations. Our work is shaped and formed by what we've read and sometimes it's easy to lose ourselves in the voices of others.

I was wandering around yesterday in search of some intriguing insights into the strange cycles of a writer's life and stumbled across a few essays by Phil1861. It looks like Phil wrote these essays in very dark times, when nothing would come and he felt, as most (perhaps all) of us do from time to time, that we would forever labor a meaningless existence. I enjoyed reading his thoughts, so many of them echoing my own, and his poetic, if rather convoluted, tone.

One particular essay captured my imagination and inspired me to consider the depth of involvement we have when we read others works. Insight and amazing clarity showed through this piece and he captured a remarkable truth.

"In Their Shadows" by Phil1861

I am destined to always wonder if I will ever cast a shadow as long as Tolstoy, Whitman, Joyce, or Hemmingway.

... the shadows [] teach; they help me reach where I could not reach before. They help me hone my own skills and imagination. Yet the shadows are lonely places, dark and without the sunlight. The shadows are filled with the voices of others, crying out in the darkness and seeking the light for their own shadows. The shadows of the greats prevent our own shadows from being, from existing. It is a place that I cannot stay for long periods of time, as I begin to fall into melancholy and wonder where the sun is...

What I found most profound from the metaphor in this snippet of Phil's essay is that Phil realized, while in the shadow of others he could cast none of his own.

We must step away from mentors and masters; step out of their shadow and into the harsh sun of reality. Ultimately, it is only when we've stepped away from the guides that shape us, when we feel the glare of criticism and risk baring ourselves in the light that we have the opportunity to cast the shadows of our own souls, our own words, perhaps to offer the guiding shade for those who come behind.

In whose shadow do you linger? Whose do you return to for comfort and a burst of refreshing shade?

The world is washed in shadows and while they serve an important purpose on our paths of life there comes a point where we all must step into the sunlight. If only it didn't feel so much safer in the shade...

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reading A Weird Book – Shadow by K.J. Parker

Shadow by K.J. Parker
I’ve been visiting the library more regularly lately with the intention of broadening my book reading base. The latest in my wanderings is a fantasy trilogy by K.J. Parker, the first of which is called Shadow. I’m about half way through the book and I have to say it is very weird.

I’ve struggled to read from page to page and only continue through commitment. Personally, that would be a sign of a bad book to me but this one, although a struggle to read, IS actually rather intriguing. In a way, it reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings. That was hard reading too, wordy, clumsy, full of exposition and very in-depth to the point of tediousness. Shadow is wordy, clumsy, and in-depth but it’s also particularly active and very secretive.

I’ve learnt very little about the protagonist in the 310 pages I’ve read so far. I’ve learnt nothing of an antagonist at all except that he keeps coming up against stumbling blocks that ultimately lead to him killing people without having any clue why they were the enemy (or even IF they were).

In a way it can be frustrating. Readers are left in as much confusion and insecurity as the protagonist and snippets about the world are revealed like removing one scarf from a thousand sheer scarf blindfold. Piece by piece begins to fall into place and like putting a large, complex jigsaw puzzle together things start to make sense, very slowly.

I think part of the reason the book is so confusing is because it is riddled with out of body experiences. Whenever the protagonist falls asleep he dreams of the past. In the past he could be any of a number of people and he never wakes up with any recollection of his dream. It’s like a window into what could have been his life or the lives of other people. It’s like brief glimpses of who he might be and then having it yanked away again saying, “Maybe not.”

Still, the book is compelling. It’s easy to put down each chapter because it’s so challenging to read. I’m thankful for the break because the chapters are fairly long, or at least they feel that way (about 20 pages each). Since it feels like every step is a trudge along the path to figuring out what the story is really about and what the actual plot is leading to. The character and the world are interesting enough to WANT to find out, eventually.

Of course, were I not committed to finishing the series I’d probably have given up a long time ago. It makes me wonder what Orbit Books saw when they held this unknown author’s first few chapters and had to decide if they’d consider publishing it. What is it that takes such an interesting, yet challenging and muddy book from a slush pile to the printers? It’s the kind of book that reminds me the publishing world is mostly about luck, good writing, great story, compelling characters can get you part of the way but in the end, it’s really all down to luck.

Anyway, if you’re interested in checking the book out yourself I do recommend it, if only as a learning experience for writers. Examine what you like and don’t like about the book and use those as guides when it comes to your own writing.

Click for more information or to buy from Amazon.
Shadow by K.J. Parker
Pattern by K.J. Parker
Memory by K.J. Parker

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