Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The same word!

It occurred to me that many times we’ve mentioned editing, proofing and polishing but there hasn’t been a great deal of pointers diving a little deeper into it.  I am not fabulous at self-edits, so anything I suggest in this area I have learned the hard way in the last few years.

One thing to watch for beyond the spelling mistakes and comma mishaps is over using the same words.  It might seem completely necessary to use the word ‘smile’ as often as you do or ‘look’ while you’re writing the story but when it’s finished it distracts or possibly bores the reader to see the same words close together.

A quick way to check for this in MSWord when going through your manuscript is to do this:

Click Ctrl F and then type in your word.
 Put a check in the box that says “Highlight all items found in:”   
Click <More>
Check the box that says “Find whole words only”
Click <Find All>
Choose a highlight color on the top right of your menu.  
Close your Find box and look through your document to see how often you have used the same word.

I was completely thrown the first time I did this.  After proofing the ms ten times I thought surely I’d found all the words that appeared too often.  I was wrong.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Waiting Game

Once you’ve gone over your manuscript with a magnifying glass, received feedback from your betas and crit partners, typed up your synopsis, finessed your blurb, and compiled your submission package, the road can seem a little empty. You hit “send” to your selected publisher (or publishers), receive the automated receipt for your submission, and sit back and wait.

Response time varies from publisher to publisher. Some turn around within a matter of days with a yes or no. Others quote a time period of anywhere from two to six weeks. The publisher to which I sent my latest manuscript quoted a time of 12-16 weeks. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s three to four months!

I submitted at the beginning of November. It could be March before I hear anything. What do you do in the interim? You could submit to another publisher, but if you’re anything like me, you have the one you really, really want.

So what do you do while waiting for a response?

Don’t think about it.

It’s hard not to think about it. It’s hard not to hold your breath every time you login to check your email. Believe me—I’m a month deep, and this post is as much a lecture to myself as anything else. Do whatever you need to do to get your mind off the wait, even if you have the patience of well, me (that’s to say not any).

So here’s what I’m planning to do in the wait.

1) Write!
2) Read
3) Outline

There’s a sense of completion that follows the end of every story. I like to ride that high as hard and fast as I can. Take the time between now and whenever you receive word from one publisher as a free period for your muse. Who knows? You might just love the outcome.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I planned on talking last week about short cuts in Word that can help you while writing your manuscript. I'll get back to that next week. After a very long drive last Friday and Saturday, we finally arrived at my in-laws in Florida. So Happy Thanksgiving from the Sunshine State! All those dealing with harsh weather, please be safe and have a happy holiday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pushing Through

We’ve talked about writing roadblocks and exercises, and getting through those times when words don’t come as easily as you’d like. It can be excruciatingly difficult getting anything committed to paper, much less anything you consider good writing.

If you're anything like me, you come up with little scenarios for stories all the time -- sometimes knowingly, but not always. These aren't always obvious, but the writer's mind never rests for want of creativity. Maybe it's while you're in line at your local bank drive-thru, and you wonder why the car ahead of you is taking so long to complete its transaction. You then envision a robbery happening inside. What-ifs are great starting points for a good story, and even if you don't turn it into your next masterpiece, these small distractions can prove endlessly useful in overcoming whatever is otherwise blocking your muse from speaking.

So next time you're at a loss for words, try writing something fresh based on your own particular what-if. Don't worry so much with semantics or how feasible it is; just try to get the blood flowing. Also, keep your expectations reasonable and realistic. Author Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words, and only 500 words, each day. That might not seem like a lot, but he published more than thirty books this way, so he obviously found a method that worked for him. Your method may be better; if you find something that works, stick with it! It'll lead you where you need to go. Something is always better than nothing. And who knows? Maybe one of your what-ifs will turn into a real barn-burner. Inspiration is a tricky thing. You might want it aimed at a certain project, but it keeps driving you to something else. Listen to your muse and allow your creativity to take you where it will. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Do you have a CP?

I'm in the midst of edits on two books - along with finishing up another for submission - so I'm time crunched at the moment but I wanted to give a brief shoutout to my critique partners (or CPs.) They've helped me so much. Taryn has been there from the beginning and has saved me numerous times, while some of the others are newer but still so helpful. It's so nice to have another couple sets of eyes to go over your story before you submit. And believe me, editors appreciate authors who have others give their manuscripts a read before they hit send! Even the most seasoned author is too close to their story to see all the potential holes. True, sometimes it's just not possible to have someone take a look before you sub, especially once you're a published author with close deadlines. But whenever possible, it's a good idea. They'll see things you never thought of...and if you're lucky, help you make your book the strongest it can be before it has to compete with all the other books in your editor's inbox.

Do you use CPs or beta readers? Have they helped you along the way?

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I'm so sorry I'm short on time, but this says it all about reviews. Hope you enjoy! ;-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Smokin' fingers!

I know I missed my day last week - at least I
think it was last week. This month is a blur for
me so far.
I had to attend to some details in life that we
always would prefer not to have to handle.
But such is the real world outside of writing.

Of course after that I fell into NaNoWriMo
(National Novel Writing Month) and my fingers
have been smokin' since then.  
November is the one month of the year many
writers around the world try to forget proper
formatting and constant self editing and see
if they can make that goal of 50,000 words in
30 days.  I'm roughly half way there - which 
reminds me I need to update my word counter.

Does anything ever come out of this?  Besides the
nifty 'finished' certificate at the end, yes many 
actual novels are the result of challenging yourself
to meet this goal.
My own 2008 NaNo novel was published in
September - as are many others.  There's a list
under media kits on the NaNo site.

Sometimes it's just wonderful to forget all the 
details and HAVE FUN writing.

Has anyone else accepted the NaNo challenge
this year????

See you at the finish line!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing exercises

Sometimes when you’re at a loss for ideas, basic writing exercises can help get the creative juices flowing. Here are two of my favorites.

The following are a few kick-off sentences. Write what happens next.

1) She had run as far as she could go. The door at the end of the hall was locked.
2) She had never jumped out of a moving car before, but there was a first time for everything.
3) The child’s eyes widened as he approached the coffee table where his father’s matchbox sat unobserved.
4) It wasn’t as though he didn’t know these woods, but they had never seemed darker than they did right now.
5) Whatever came next didn’t matter. She just needed to wash the blood off her hands.

Another one of my favorite tools is a character interview. For both developing characters and characters you know well, interviews allow you to get inside the head of your creation or help them form views, beliefs, and opinions. Here are a few sites with form interviews. If you're anything like me, your characters will take the interview out for a spin and not bother returning.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pre-editing Part Two

In last weeks post, I talked about some of the more obvious things to look for when editing your manuscript. Now I'll point out some of the issues that can be harder to spot or seem to go against how as children we were trained to write.

First off, all the unnecessary wordage that when cut can clean up your manuscript:

1. Directionals: up, down, and out; words that imply direction aren't needed. Example, she sat down should be she sat. These can be overused.

2. Could: She could hear change to she heard.

3. Redundant words: she nodded her head, he shrugged his shoulders, her heart beat in her chest. These are all obvious when you think about it but it is something you might have a tendency to automatically add without giving it any thought. So, she nodded, he shrugged, her heart beat.

4. Wandering body parts: these can be a little harder to spot. Body parts cannot move independent of the character. Eyes can't roam, hands can't move, etc.

5. Dialogue tags: first time writers especially can be susceptible to the pitfalls of overusing said and asked. Instead of he said, have the character perform an action to show he is the one speaking. And if you end the sentence with a question mark, it's kind of self-explanatory. Also watch for impossible dialogue tags. Voices don't shout, people do.

6. Felt, heard, know: you might find yourself relying on these words to express POV. Here is a wonderful example from my editor, Heidi:

She could hear the sound of rain pattering on the roof, a relaxing chorus that lulled her to sleep.

She heard the rain pattering on the roof, a relaxing chorus that lulled her to sleep.

The rain pattered on the roof overhead, a relaxing chorus that lulled her to sleep.

The last sentence is the tightest with the deepest POV and practically drags you into the scene.

Lastly, keep a lookout for repetitive words or actions in a scene or throughout the manuscript. Does your heroine like to toss her hair a lot? Or your hero fold his arms while arching his brow? And does she giggle or he drawl through half of the book? Correcting these simple and common mistakes can tighten your story and hopefully help you get that publishing contract you've been striving for.

Stop back by next Thursday. I'll be going over some of the tricks in using Word that might make your writing experience easier.

Monday, November 8, 2010

You Probably Think This Post Is About You

In this industry, self-advertising is a big key to success. New releases are issued every week by numerous e-pubs, and unless you have a built-in audience, it’s easy to disappear in the mass. For a new author, this can be incredibly overwhelming, and likewise, it can take a few publications before you get the swing of how to promote yourself and your work.

Here are a few ways a new author can get their name “out there”:

1) Set up a Twitter account.
2) Set up a FaceBook account.
3) Create a free blog.
4) Create a website.
5) Contact other authors.

There is nothing more rewarding for an author than being approached by someone who has read what you’ve written and enjoyed it. It can forge truly rewarding relationships within the writing community.

Another way to get your name out there is to offer free writing samples. Aside from synopses and blurbs, offer some free short stories or glimpses into an upcoming work.

You are the key to your success. What you do or don’t do will determine your future in the publishing world.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Developing A Thick Skin

Rosalie wrote a great post about reviews a few weeks ago, but they've been on my mind this week so I decided to talk about them briefly. I think criticism - constructive or otherwise - is something we all face in life and it's one of those things that can help make us or break us.

As someone who works in graphic design for her “day job” and writes for her “I hope will someday be full time” job, I know well how sensitive creative types can be. I'm definitely not exempt. It's hard when someone doesn't like your design or your book. We put so much of ourselves into them that it can be difficult not to get hurt feelings. But the important thing is what you do with those feelings. Do you bottle them up until you find yourself staring at the blinking cursor, paralyzed at the thought of sending something new out into the world? Or do you go online and defend your creation, because surely if you just say the right thing, they'll take their criticism back? After all, you've worked so hard.

The answer? No and no. The world is full of critics, and as tough a cookie as it may be to swallow, once someone pays for your design or your story, they feel justified in reviewing it. That is their right, just as we would feel comfortable complaining about a burger we ordered that was undercooked. Our creation is their consumable good, and if they aren't satisfied, they may tell people. Does that mean you did something wrong? Not necessarily. Everyone sees things differently. That's a good thing. Sometimes a review will point out something you could have handled better, and that's a bonus. That happened with me recently. I'd like to thank that reviewer, because now I'll be on the lookout for the potential problem she raised in my future manuscripts. But I didn't get into a discussion with her, because that can be a slippery slope. I just thanked her (in my head, in this case) and moved on. And my skin got just a little bit thicker.

I thought my first 1-star review or “poor” rating would hurt like hell. It did. I thought it would stop me from writing. It didn't. I search for what will help me from my reviews and return to my job, whether it's designing or writing. And each time I try to improve.

We've all been there, and really, I look at reviews as a badge of honor. To get your work reviewed means you're putting yourself out there. Some people will love your work. Some people will hate it. That's okay, because it means you've done your job. You've written the best story you could at that time. Take what you can use from reviews and leave the rest. Then go write your next book!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pre-editing Part One

Before I started the editing process with my editor at Samhain, she sent me a pre-editing guide of common mistakes. I thought over the next couple of weeks, I would share with you some of them because getting published is difficult enough. Why make it any easier for them to reject you?

1. Numbers within the manuscript should be spelled out. This includes chapter headings.

2. Garbage words: so, that, then, and then, just, really. These tend to get overused. I know I have to keep an eye out for just, I seem to like it a lot.

3. Watch for multiple as, and, then, and while phases in a sentence.

As Jack turned away, Judy frowned, folding her arms across her chest and watched him move across the room as if he were mad at her while she could think of nothing to have drawn his anger.

A sentence like that has too many actions happening simultaneously; therefore, they lose impact on the reader.

4. This leads to one of my favorites, the simultaneous action.

Walking across the room, Jack opened the door and drove downtown.

You might see this quite often, especially in much older romances, it is a big no-no.

5. The use of he's and she's: when you have more than one person of the same sex, you need to be really careful it is obvious of whom you are speaking. The last person mentioned is the one who gets the pronoun attributed to them. If you have more than two individuals, you should probably stick to using their names.

Well, there are a few. Next week, dialogue tags, redundant actions, and the dreaded wandering body parts.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month

It's something few authors partake in because they know the task is daunting.  Create a 50,000 word novel in the course of a month.  Some are able to meet this goal and send their stories off (and achieve publication), while others come close or cave in early on.  It's a lot to ask for, that's for sure.  However, it is something that brings authors together from across the world, united in their desire to create a story that shines even as they push themselves to meet a word count goal each day.

This year, I'm using NaNo to finish up a story that is long past due.  I've set a goal per day that allows me to have the weekends off (of course, I can always write during the weekends if I'm inclined, but this gives me some wiggle room with my family).  2.5k words per day, Monday through Friday.  Will I make it? I sure as hell hope so.  My story is all but thought out, it just has to be brought to paper.

Which brings me to my question:  Are you participating in NaNo this year?  Have you participated before?

For those of you who haven't heard of NaNoWriMo, you can learn more by clicking HERE.  I wish you all good luck, speedy writing, and fantastic stories.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stealing The Show

While writing is my primary literature-bound occupation, I also edit and review books when I can. This gives me wide exposure to material I might not otherwise encounter, as well as a broader understanding of how various writers find their stride. For all aspiring authors, there are certain dos and don’ts that will go far in separating your book from the mass.

Characters begin life one-dimensionally: a name on a page, a vague face in the author’s head, and a murky idea where the character’s story will lead them. As you begin to outline or place setting and conflict around your character, he/she gradually assumes two-dimensional form. For the sake of pronoun abuse, let’s say our character is Penelope Grindle. She’s a thirty-one year old accountant from Nevada and has just discovered her sister, we’ll say, Lydia, was bitten by a werewolf.

Penelope has a job and a sister. We know where she lives, and after a few paragraphs, we discover she has short, curly brown hair, a few freckles, and is maybe ten pounds overweight according to societal expectations. Her clothes have a way of hiding her assets and she doesn’t date much since her college boyfriend—let’s say, Scott—dumped her for her best friend. Penelope is quiet until provoked—then she’ll tear your head off. She’s intelligent and witty, if not slightly insecure.

There are writers who are satisfied with this level of development. Penelope's story goes from here, a bit chaotic, undoubtedly, but very much according to plan. She says everything she's supposed to say, according to the author, and does everything she's supposed to do. She nods and frowns and smiles and cries exactly on cue. She falls in love with one of her sister's new werewolf friends, and gets her HEA. The conflict is neatly tied up.

Does this make Penelope anything more than two dimensional?


Characters who behave are boring to write and, at times, boring to read. I'm not talking about their actual behavior within the manuscript, rather their inability to rebel against the author's wishes. These characters have no heart and soul whatsoever: if they get in trouble, it's the sort of trouble the author intended. For your characters to be truly three-dimensional - that is, to feel like the sort of characters you know and could picture running into on the way to the supermarket - they have to not kowtow to your every demand. You might want to end a scene with sex, but true three dimensional characters have a MUCH better understanding of their world than you do, sorry to say. They know whether or not they want sex or if they'd rather cuddle on the sofa and watch television. They veer off script frequently, and give you the finger when you try to lasso them under control.

Don't be fooled, two-dimensional characters please a good number of readers, and there's nothing wrong with that. I have enjoyed numerous books with characters whose names I couldn't remember the next day, and I've recommended them to others. However, the books to which I return are always the ones that have characters I'm sure caused the author a lot of trouble during the writing process. Those are the ones that stick out and warrant a second, third, fourth, and twelfth read-through. Characters who feel like people - that's the dividing line, and the one toward which I strive every time I start a scene. Whenever my characters take over, I know I'm onto something good.