Agent Friday: Agency Gatekeeper

Is it possible for an agent to be more honest if they're anonymous? To write unapologetically if no one knows their name? Miss Snark was certainly one of those. And today we have another.

The Agency Gatekeeper.

I don't know her name. Have no idea which agency she works for. But I appreciate her candid advice.

On rejection and acceptance. Did you ever long to see a pie chart that details the main reasons why agents say "no" to your query? Or another chart showing reasons agents say "yes"?

On querying. Let's say you've submitted a query to an agent, and subsequently revise the manuscript. How do you tactfully ask an agent to look at the revision? Want to get feedback on a query before sending to your top tier agents? Try a new method for timing your queries. She also shares a list of things not to say in your query.

On pronouns. If you've ever been annoyed by the overuse of pronouns, Agency Gatekeeper helps you recognize when they're overdone, and shares tips on how to replace them.

On other topics. How to send a proposal for non-fiction. And a couple of posts on romance: the Gatekeeper's "rules" of contemporary romance (worth your time if you need a laugh), and a short quiz to help you decide if your manuscript is romance, women's fiction, or chick-lit.

For a fun interview with Agency Gatekeeper, check out Taherah's blog.

Writer's Groups: Critique

Don't be a lonely writer. Why? Lone Ranger writers can't look at their work objectively. They clutch their manuscripts in fear of a negative word, which means they'll never submit the project they've poured their heart into. That definitely lowers the chances of publication.

Joining a critique group makes for a stronger writer. A writer who hones his craft. Who learns to take criticism, and discovers how to analyze the work of others. Writers in critique groups are training for the day their words will land in the hands of agents, editors, . . . and readers.

Critique Circle is one option for writers looking for an online group. With over 2500 members of the free site, each submission of your work will garner between seven and ten critiques.

If you're just beginning to see the need for a critique group, the site has links to all the training you need to be an excellent critique group member. Like How to Cope With Critiquing, and How To Critique Fiction.

I believe it's worth it to join Critique Circle just for the amazing free tools they offer members. There's a storyboarding tool to help you plan your story. Writing exercises and writing prompts to get your brain moving. Progress meters to keep track of your word count. A fantastic outlining workshop, plus a name generator, and submission tracker.

Of course, the site maintains an active forum for members to talk about everything to do with writing. But there's also a page of links that kept me busy for a while. There are too many to list here, but you'll just have to check the links out for yourself.

And if this group isn't the perfect one for you, don't worry. There are lots more.

Book Review: Novel & Short Story Writer's Market

Every writer needs concrete sources of information. But with the vast array of books to choose from, it's hard to make a decision. Here's one book you can add to your shelf with confidence.

These kinds of writer's reference books are too often overlooked beyond their lists of agents and publishers. But each one is packed with as much information as you'd find at a pricey writer's conference.

The bulk of the Novel & Short Story Writer's Market is made up of its lists of 1200 literary agents, publishers, magazine publishers, contests and conferences. Each of these is described in detail, telling writers who wants what. If you are considering submitting to an individual or company found in the book, always double-check the information online before you send.

What else will you find in this hefty volume? An excellent collection of articles written by industry professionals on the craft of writing and the business of writing. Interviews with four debut authors. Specific sections on writing mystery, romance, and speculative fiction.

The bonus for purchasers of the book is access to a searchable database of the information online.

To really benefit, you'll need to purchase one of these books every year--or check the copy at your local library. However, the older ones still have value. Keep an eye out for similar books at used book stores. While the market lists will be out-of-date, the articles and craft sections will give you a gold mine of information.

Here's an encouraging quote from author Elizabeth Moon in the 2009 edition, where she explains one of her biggest mistakes when she started writing:

"A . . . bad mistake was waiting for lightening. Before I committed the time and effort to getting serious about writing, I wanted some sign, some proof, that the time and effort would be worthwhile. It doesn't work that way. The proof comes later: Lightening does not strike the altar of talent until a lot of sacrificial hours have been  piled up there and sweat-equity poured over them. Do the work. Do more of the work. Then . . . maybe lightening will strike. But the work itself creates the fire."

Is your work creating a fire?

Put a Lid On It: Silencing Your Inner Critic

How long did it take you to own up to being a writer? In public. For most of us, even those who wrote since childhood, the step of asserting, "I am a writer", is a big one.


Because there's a little voice inside that says, "No you're not. You haven't sold anything. It couldn't possibly be any good."

That's your inner critic.

This voice pops up whenever you sit down to write. As your finger is poised to send a chapter to your critique group. When you stand up to read at an open mike. It showers writers with self-doubt, poking pinholes in the fragile balloon of literary confidence.

What to do about it?

Accept it. And write anyway. If your inner critic is going to show up, just expect it and distract yourself by writing. Every time you write, your writingimproves. Each time you share with a critique group, your craft gets refined. So write despite the critic.

Analyze it. Imagine that your fears and insecurities are attached to a series of extension cords, one connected to the other, snarled in a pile like a plate of spaghetti. Your job is to follow the cord until you find what it's plugged into. Is it a fear of success? A fear of failure? Where are the negative ideas actually  starting from?

QueryTracker has an excellent article to help you analyze what is holding you back. Part One focuses on your beliefs and their consequences. Part Two encourages you to dispute what your inner critic tells you.

Embrace it. Let's face it. You may be able to tie up your inner critic, or ignore it for awhile, but sooner or later, it will rear its ugly head. So prove it wrong. Every writer, no matter how successful, wonders if their next manuscript will prove to the world that they're not who everyone thought they were. So if the bestsellers face it every day, we might as well use it to our advantage, and put ourselves out there anyway.

How do you tame your inner critic?

The Writer's Room: What Does Yours Say About You?

I'm fascinated with peering into the spaces where writers create. Whether it's a pristine cottage look, or a cluttered space dominated by stacks of books and papers, I feel I get a glimpse into the personality of the author.

How about you?

Light. Some writers, like artists, need large doses of natural light in which to work. Others find a dim, cave-like atmosphere conducive to getting words on the page. Large windows with spectacular views dominate the spaces of certain authors, while another group finds the view distracting.

Clutter. Writing is an activity that naturally creates clutter. Multiple drafts, writing and research books, maps and scribbled notes. They all add up. Not to mention, there's little time to clean up when one is under deadline. Some writers thrive on this atmosphere, while others need a clean desk, with every pencil in place before the muse can strike.

Noise. It's a rare writer who enjoys a silent writing space. Kids, phones, traffic--the wise writer will learn to tune out extra noise. Some enjoy background music as they type, and a few need tunes blaring before their words come pouring out.

Comfort. Whether you type at a computer, or curl up in an armchair, comfort is both a necessity and a curse. An uncomfortable chair keeps you from the writer's goal: BIC (Butt In Chair). On the other hand, too much comfort induces sleep or daydreaming. It's not easy to find a happy medium.

I looked around the web to find examples of writer's spaces to inspire me. These rooms, some beautiful, some quirky, some questionable, may give you ideas for your own space.

The Guardian posted a long-running series of famous author's writing rooms. From Roald Dahl's writing hut, or see the table where Jane Austen wrote longhand. For Victorian-only writing spaces, check this site. A fascinating site to spend some time. Similarly, Writer's Fest has a series on writing spaces.

Artist Elena Climent has painted murals of a series of writers' rooms. A beautiful way to learn more about particular writers. And Jennifer Bertman collects photos of the creative spaces of children's writers and illustrators.

Perhaps you'd like to see the homes of famous writers for yourself. This site lists five author homes if you're planning a literary vacation, from Louisa May Alcott to Ernest Hemingway. P. D. Smith has more in A Writer's House.

Maybe you'd like to visit some famous literary bars in New York City, or tour literary Dublin. A particular place connected with a famous author may be the perfect spot to inspire you. Check Literary Locales for over 1300 photos of places important in the lives of literary figures.

Is your environment holding you back, or does it free you to write? If you've posted photos of your writing space online, feel free to link to your post in the comments.

Agent Friday: Lucienne Diver

You may not be in the market for an agent right now. But one of the best ways to improve as a writer is to listen to the advice agents give. If so, when you decide to shop for an agent, you'll be ready.

An agent for seventeen years, Lucienne Diver has sold over 700 books to every major publisher. She currently works with The Knight Agency, which has it's own group blog. And, she's a published author, to boot. Someone with that kind of experience should have solid tips for emerging writers. Let's check it out.

Are you ever confused about genres and subgenres? Diver takes the time to explain them all in Genres, Subgenres & Memes, Oh My!

In Diver's opinion, there are five important things that make a character unforgettable. Find out what they are in her column at Magical Musings.

Ever had trouble liking your own characters? Diver has. The main character in her two novels is so far apart from who she is, she needed to do something about it. And it made for a better character. Read all about it in Better Lives Through Fiction.

If you're considering using a pseudonym now, or in the future, you'll want to read Diver's four reasons for using a pseudonym.

Have you ever been hit by a story idea, but you know you don't have the time or the emotional energy to tackle it? Diver's been there recently. Read the story of her reluctant writing in A Happy Holidays Kick in the Pants. It just might inspire you.

The first pages of your story will gain you representation or rejection. Find out Diver's do's and don'ts of story beginnings.

And finally, Diver shares the three things every writer should know to maintain their sanity. Go ahead and check them out. They're really good. Especially number one.

Can't get enough agent advice? There's lots more here.

Free Resources from Terry Whalin

Terry Whalin is a friend to writers. Why? He gives away so much valuable writing advice, from ebooks to webinars. Sure, he sells a couple of things, but the volume of free information is amazing.

Whalin has written over 50 non-fiction books, and is published in dozens of magazines. Past roles for him include acquisitions editor at a publishing house, and literary agent. Presently, Whalin is a publisher at Intermedia Publishing Group. His goal is to encourage writers of every level.

And he does.

Website. First off is Whalin's website, Right-Writing. There are separate pages for fiction writers, non-fiction writers,  freelance writers, and magazine writers. Each of these contains links to dozens of articles on every aspect of writing.

You'll also find pages on building a website, writing your own newsletter, and tips for creating a great website.

Newsletter. Whalin's newsletter, Right-Writing News is packed with information for writers who need to know how to be ready to market their work. Signing up for the free newsletter also nets you three of Whalin's ebooks.

Blog. I read Whalin's blog via email, and like his other resources, it's full of information I can use. Like his recent post, Running Into a Brick Wall With Your Writing, where he share how writers can turn rejection into opportunity. Since Whalin has been blogging since 2004, there's a lot of valuable tips in the archives.

Ebooks. On the website, you'll be able to download Whalin's free ebook, Straight Talk from the Editor: 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. This book is packed with six keys why books are rejected, six keys to guarantee rejection, and six keys to gain an editor's attention. Thirty pages of great ideas.

I've  downloaded Whalin's free ebook, Book Proposals That Sell: 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. You might also be interested in the free Platform Building Ideas for Every Author.

Twitter. If all that's not enough, Whalin shares links to even more resources via his Twitter account. I just downloaded a great free ebook this way.

I honestly don't know how the man has time to do everything he does, but I'm glad he does it. How about you?

Book Review: Manuscript Makeover

Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon is my new favorite self-editing book. Even if you're not finished with your first draft, this book will help you deepen your characters and come up with plot twists you might not have thought of otherwise.

Manuscript Makeover was recommended by the amazing writing teacher Margie Lawson, known for her classes on Deep Editing. I knew that if Margie promoted it, that the book would be worth the money. You can see her interview with Elizabeth Lyon here.

The subtitle: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, explains the value of the book. I read all of Amazon's sample pages before I made the decision to buy the book, and I'm so glad I did. Elizabeth Lyon has taught writing classes for years, and is well-known as an editor and author. This is her sixth book on writing.

Each chapter begins with a short paragraph describing what you'll learn, so you can decide whether to read the chapter, or skip it if it's something you feel you've mastered.

At the end of each chapter you'll find a detailed checklist that covers each of the points from the chapter. I like to make a copy of these and post them on my bulletin board so I don't forget the great ideas I just learned.

One of my favorite chapters is Character-Driven Scenes and Suspense. By thinking through the questions Lyons poses about character stakes, motivation, strengths and weaknesses, I discovered so much more about my evolving characters. These, in turn, inspired plot points that would not have entered my mind. If you don't know your characters well, or you don't have enough for them to "do", this chapter could solve both problems.

For those who read yesterday's post on query letters, here's a link to a video where Elizabeth Lyon explains the specifics of a good query letter.

Research Links for Writers

You're starting a new novel, perhaps for NaNoWriMo, and it's time for a little research. Whether you're writing a historical, a fantasy, or a crime novel, there's a good chance some research will be involved. You'll find some sites by doing a search, but wouldn't it be nice if someone else had collected the links you need ahead of time? Let's face it. A few million search results takes time to comb through.

I've done a little strolling around the virtual world to find who has done exactly that. I hope you've got more sites to add to the list. If so, leave a link in the comments.

Research Links for Writers. This site is an amazing collection of resources for writers of many genres. There are links for writers of the old West and the new West, the Middle Ages, the Civil War, and the Regency era. You'll find a list of websites describing medicine, old and new. For the paranormal writers, there are resources about vampires, witches and werewolves. Do you need to know about historical modes of transportation, or ancient contraceptives? This site has the sources, and much more.

Happily Ever After. This site contains links similar to the one above, but also has lists for writers of crime fiction, and colonial and Revolutionary War history. There are also sites that deal with science and technology for the sci-fi writer. This site will mainly be of interest to those writing historical fiction, but writers of other genres will find links to some fascinating calendars and almanacs. Another page on the site contains links for sci-fi and fantasy, horror, crime/mystery, and romance.

Writer2Writer. Heavy on links for mystery writers of historical periods, this site links to a name generator, and has fascinating timelines for different countries, including a military history timeline. You'll also find a website where you can connect with a professor in a particular field, and a spot to discover how anything works.

The Romance Author's Page. Despite its name, since romance writers pen stories in every genre, writers will find a goldmine on this site. Astrology, weather, mythology, diseases. It's all here. You'll find some more excellent sources on the Virginia Romance Writers page.

WritersWrite. For the history buffs, this site not only gives links, but helpful suggestions for writing a historical. Also, check out Writer's World, for further explanation, and links to libraries in other countries.

Where the Map Ends. Tons of resources for writers of fantasy and sci-fi from writer and teacher Jeff Gerke.

Any sites you'd like to add to the list? Go ahead and leave a comment.

Agent Friday: Jennifer Laughran

Jennifer Laughran, an agent since 2007, is one of the agents at the illustrious Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She represents YA and middle grade authors, and also began a popular event series, Not Your Mother's Book Club!

Even if you don't write for children, there's a lot you can learn from Laughran's blog.

Have you ever needed to write a short bio for an article or anthology submission? If you have little or no publishing credits, it can be difficult to come up with something to say. Laughran explains what to write (and what NOT to write) in A Little Something About You.

As you learn more about the publishing world, specific vocabulary comes up that seems unfamiliar. Have you wondered about the differences between Frontlist, Backlist and Midlist? Do you believe everything you've heard about agents and editors? If so, check out Mythbusting 101 for the lies . . . and the truth.

As writers, we cringe at the prospect of being rejected. But agents get rejected, too. And not only by the publishers to whom they submit. They get rejected by us. Writers. Laughran compares it to a Beauty Contest, and details the decision making process writers wade through when *gasp* more than one agent is offering representation.

If you are rejected, and you're wondering if you're deluding yourself thinking your work is even publishable, read Laughran's post On Rejection. It may give you some hope.

Perhaps you've wondered if you'd make a good agent yourself. Many writers have chosen that career path instead of (or alongside) a writing career. To help decide, read How to be an Agent, or You Want a Piece of This?

Want to see great blog posts from more agents? Click here.

Got a favorite blogging agent? Leave their name in the comments, and I'll feature them in weeks to come.

Writer's Groups:

Thanks to my writing friend Anna L. Walls, I've discovered a great writer's group. It's called, and whether you write fiction or non-fiction, online or in print, there's something for everyone. The site has been recognized as one of Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers six years in a row.

I like it best because it's free.

Why should you consider joining AgentQuery? Let me count the ways.

Agents. Literary agents are encouraged to create their own profile. Consider the site one-stop shopping for agents. Often in the forums, if the subject turns to a particular agent, the agent will chime in on the discussion.

Browse the searchable database of agents to find the individuals who may be interested in your work. Subscribe to Agent Updates to keep track of new agents, and agents who open or close submissions.

Writers. Learn about finding the agent who fits what you write. How to submit to an agent, including the specifics of writing a query. What to do if an agent makes an offer, and how to recognize a scammer.

Network. AgentQuery's AQ Connect is a social networking site for writers. The forum has a unique visual way to show writers who have similar interests to yours, making it easier to connect.

Publishing. AgentQuery provides information on all aspects of publishing, from major publishers to small presses, from literary journals to ezines.

Resources. In addition to all the other content on the site, you'll find links to websites for writers, lists of contests and conferences, literary organizations, and grants for writers.

AgentQuery is touted as a writer's "one-stop shop" for information. Check it out for yourself.

And if you want your own copy of the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers, it's free when you sign up for the informative Writer's Digest Newsletter.

Book Review: No Plot? No Problem!

In honor of the impending arrival of NaNoWriMo, it stands to reason that I should highlight the book written by NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty: No Plot? No Problem! When he dreamed up the first National Novel Writing Month in 1999, he had no idea how to write a novel.

He also could not foresee the tens of thousands of writers who would eventually join him each year.

Baty, with his trademark sarcastic wit, has collected the tips and wisdom he's gained in novel-writing--and surviving the month of November--over the years. If you need a book to teach you about writing, and enduring a marathon like NaNoWriMo, then this is the volume for you.

Learn from the past. After an amusing history of the early NaNoWriMo movement, Baty explains everything you need to write your novel, from your environment, to your schedule, to your story arc.

Survival guide. A chapter is dedicated to each of the four weeks of November. Each one is chock full of exercises, survival strategies, and pep talks to keep you going. After all these years, Baty knows exactly when writers will decide to quit their endeavor, and how to get them excited about their manuscript again.

The wacky and the weird. This is probably the only writing book with a section titled "How Do I Get Rid of My Children?". Baty compares the pros and cons of different writing environments, from the coffee shop to "the can". He'll help you find inspiration in strange places, and teach you to use the "TimeFinder" to discover more moments to write.

If you're considering NaNoWriMo this year, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better cheerleader than Chris Baty. Yes, you could learn how to write a novel from other books, but it won't be nearly as entertaining.

Where do you turn for NaNoWriMo inspiration?

Writing in the Dark

I do a lot of writing in the dark. The house is quiet. No one asks questions. The phone never rings. It's perfect.

Except for the handwriting. A little hard to decipher in the morning.

But I can't stop my nocturnal scribbles, for a few good reasons. Want to know why?

Brain connect. I'm not sure if there's any science behind it, but I feel like both sides of my brain are on better speaking terms when I'm half asleep. I'm able to tap into creative areas that seem to be locked during my waking hours. I try to have a particular scene in mind as I lay my head on the pillow, and I'm often surprised at the results.

Editors don't work at night. When I record the ideas that come to mind--snippets of dialogue, character descriptions, and plot surprises--I don't turn on the light. My pad and pen are on the nightstand, and I try to be careful to leave space between my lines. If I don't document what came to me, it's gone in the morning.

The best part of this, is that my internal editor has gone home. I can't visually look over what I've written and analyze it. There's no way to cross out, or check the spelling. It is what it is. And I can't wait for morning to rediscover what I jotted down.

Technicolor dreams. Try as I might, most scenes are hard to immerse myself in when I'm sitting in front of a keyboard. But falling asleep or waking up? They're in living color, and their twists and turns take me by surprise.

During one of these "dreams", I discovered one of my characters was deaf. Wow. He'd never let on. What might your characters tell you?

The best part of writing in the dark comes the next day. I wake up, and I have no idea what my great thought was the night before. I can't wait to grab my spiral and find out what it was. In turn, reading these scribbled notes gives me something to start on for the day. No more blank page issues.

What about you? Have you ever tried to write in the dark?

Plotting With Scrivener

When writers write, it's not just about the words on the page. Many of us collect pictures of our characters and storyworlds. We have links to videos and webpages from the research we've done. And we have all kinds of documents to keep track of--previous drafts, already-critiqued chapters, and downloaded research files. No matter if it's fiction or non-fiction, we are trying to keep track of so many pieces of information, that it's sometimes difficult to manage. And then write, of course.

So, I thought I'd tell you about my favorite writing program. It's not free, but it's not expensive, and you get to try it for free for a while. It's called Scrivener. The name comes from a word meaning "scribe", and it has become my favorite way to write.

Scrivener used to be a Mac-only program, but in January, they'll release the PC version. And if you want to buy it for 50% off, find out how in this post.

Imagine your writing room has a giant corkboard. You have room to tack up index cards for each of the scenes or chapters in your book. You post all the pictures that inspire you to write, and run strings of yarn between the pictures and the scene in which those characters appear. Use more tacks to attach the various pages of research files and previous drafts, and you might feel inspired--or overwhelmed.

Scrivener does all of this on your computer screen. You've got actual-sized index cards on a virtual corkboard. Give each one a title, and write in a summary of the scene. Is this scene in the point of view of your female protagonist? Change the tack color to pink. If the next scene is in the male protagonist's point of view, you might choose a blue tack. At a glance, you can see if you might have too many scenes in one point of view. I can also drag any card to another spot if I choose to rearrange my scenes.

Since my current novel is set in a real place, I've got many photos of my storyworld (you can see a few of them here). I've also collected photos of my characters. Not only can I keep these images in a file within Scrivener, I can attach any picture to any given scene.

Let's say I'm writing a scene set in a particular castle, with two of my main characters. As I'm writing, those pictures are enlarged on the side of my screen to inspire me.

There often is a scene in which I want to make some significant changes. But I'm not really sure they'll work. Scrivener allows me to take a "snapshot" of that version of the scene. Then I go ahead and make all the changes I want without worry, because I can always revert to my earlier snapshot. I can even compare the two versions side-by-side.

And Much More
Scrivener allows you to keep track of your word count, even if you've added words to many different documents in your project. It identifies the words you use, and you'll be able to see at a glance which words you may have overused. Scrivener will estimate how many pages your project will have in paperback and hardback. And to help you focus, you can black out your entire computer screen except for your document and photos.

If you'd like to read testimonials from published authors (both fiction and non-fiction) who use Scrivener, go here.

Check out these video tutorials so you can see how Scrivener looks and works.

Has anyone else tried Scrivener, or other writing programs? What do you think?

Agent Friday: Sarah Crowe

Sarah Crowe is an agent for everyone. Working with the Harvey Klinger Agency since 2005, she represents fiction and non-fiction in both the childrens' and adult category. She successfully puts her skills in foreign rights and film options to use for her clients.

In 2008, Crowe began a blog in an unusual way: she invited her clients to blog with her. Crowe's Nest was born, and offers both the agent and the writer's perspectives.

Here are some of the posts you may like:

Have you ever put a book down part way through? Have you ever come to the end of a chapter at one in the morning and reason, "I'll just read one more."? Find out how to end your scenes and chapters with a bang, and hook your reader for good.

Find out the 8 things it takes to succeed as a novelist. One of them might surprise you.

How can you deepen your main character even more? Get to know them well enough that you are aware of your character's controlling belief.

An author looks back at the agent search, and shares what she did right, and what she'd do differently.

And finally, why you should never write to an agent who rejected you and inform them, "You'll be sorry, one day!"

For more info on Sarah Crowe, check out her website.

For more Agent Friday posts, click here.

Writer's Groups: Nanowrimo Forums

Before you whip me with a wet noodle for mentioning Nanowrimo yet again, hear me out. I've featured quite a few writers groups in the last year, and this may very well be the one that's a perfect fit for you.

And whether you participate in Nanowrimo or not, you'll find an amazing group of like-minded writers, and might even solve some of your writing issues at the same time.

And remember, you don't have to wait for November to access the forums.

Here are some of the highlights in the forums:

The Reference Desk: this is the place to ask all the questions you can't find answers to yourself. Remember, Nanowrimo participants live all over the world, and you could connect with a person who has the exact first-hand knowledge you need.

Recent questions about college in a socialist country, colorblindness, and Australian beach towns are answered.

Plot Doctoring: This section gathers creative minds to solve writers' plot issues. Questions range from creative ways to kill a husband in the 1800s, to pickup lines during a zombie apocalypse.

There are "word wars", where participants race to rack up words, a coffee house, and threads for every possible genre and age group imaginable. You really have to check it out to get the full effect.

Need more incentive? Nanowrimo recruits top novelists to email pep talks to participants during November. The lineup this year is impressive, as usual. Sometimes, when I'm hitting a wall with my writing, I read through the archived pep talks from previous years. You'll be surprised at the list.

Neil Gaimon or Sue Grafton, anyone?

One final lure is the bonus offers for Nanowrimo winners. Amazon's CreateSpace gives winners a free proof copy of their book. You'll get a 50% discount on Scrivener writing software (20% off if you're just a participant). And you can take 25% off Storyist software (try it out by taking advantage of the free Nanowrimo trial version).

Have I convinced you yet?

Plot Outline Mini Course from Author Holly Lisle

In the spirit of preparing for Nanowrimo next month, I'm posting about several different plotting methods. Hopefully, like Little Red Riding Hood, you'll find one that fits "just right". Last week, we took a look at Rubik's Cube Plotting. This time, I'm letting you know about a fantastic course on plotting, by a prolific author.

And it's free.  Sadly, it's no longer free, but almost! It's now just $0.99.

I've already written a post about the very generous Holly Lisle, author of thirty-two books, so let's take a look at her plotting course. Nearly 600 writers have already signed up.

Why is this course such a fantastic one for Nanowrimo? Read this quote from Lisle's sign-up page: 

"Even if you have NO story idea, NO characters, and NO experience, you can finish a complete working plot outline in just 7 lessons . . . for free!"

What will you learn in just seven downloadable lessons? This is part of the description on Lisle's site.

Lesson 1: What is NOT a Plot
Discover a secret about plots that even most professionals don't know---a secret that has led way too many writers, including countless full-time novelists, in circles trying to figure out why their story is going wrong.

Lesson 2: Mix 'n Match Conflict
Even if you have no idea what you want to write about, you can build a solid foundation for a good story in just minutes.

Lesson 3: Questions and Answers
Once you have conflict under control, you'll find out one technique for giving your story and characters depth, and making your story unbelievably richer and more interesting.

Lesson 4: Candy Bar Scenes
You'll discover and apply one critical technique for keeping your story flowing and keeping your interest high from beginning, through treacherous story middle, to gripping ending.

Lesson 5: Ordering Scenes for Conflict
In your fifth week, you'll experiment with structure to discover how you can best present your story to your reader.

Lesson 6: Filling in the Blanks
In week six, you'll hunt down empty spaces between your candy bar scenes, and fill them with story that MATTERS---not with pointless wandering, characters who sit around thinking, or dialogues that go nowhere.

Lesson 7: Plotting as You Go
Stories change as you write them. In your final week of class, you'll learn how to adapt your plot outline to bend with the changes---without breaking your story.

Are you hooked yet? I'm signed up. Lisle recommends spending only 15 minutes per day planning your story.

Check out The Free Plot-Outline Course page for more details and testimonials before you decide. Who's with me?

The Seven Heavenly Virtues for Writers

Two weeks ago I posted a list of writer Bruce Coville's Seven Deadly Sins for Writers. As promised, here are the seven heavenly virtues for writers.

If you didn't get to check out Bruce Coville's website last time, you'll want to visit today. And for all you fans of fantasy (which is only one of the genres Coville writes), he's just finished his four-book Unicorn Chronicles.

The Seven Heavenly Virtues for Writers, from Bruce Coville

1. Passion. Great work arises out of passion. Find whatever it is you are passionate about it. Don't worry about what's "hot" in the market. What is burning inside you?

2. Temperance/Sensuousness. Coville calls these "loving descriptions of the temporary world". Texture and style pull in the reader. In every scene, try to use at least three of the five senses.

3. Wisdom. As writers, we transmute our life experiences for the reader. Coville suggests making a list of the top six experiences in your life where you learned something important. Chances are, these memories are somewhat painful, yet we are hard-wired to remember them. By writing about these difficult times, we kick open doors in the minds of our readers, helping them to access and understand their own experiences.

4. Guile. This is where a writer uses the element of surprise, or springs a trick on the reader. Coville promotes "smacking" the reader with something they did not expect. Remember the movie Star Wars, and Darth Vader's line, "Luke, I am your father."? While it may not have as much impact if you've seen the film multiple times, the first experience was surprising.

5. Humor. Coville wants writers to remember to use humor whenever possible. His example brought down the house, "Even God has a sense of humor. If he didn't why did he put the plumbing and the playground so close together?"

6. Courage. As writers, we need to demonstrate courage in life. Courage to face those tough life experiences, and learn from them. According to Coville, courage is freedom. What do you have the courage to write about?

7. Joy. Give joy to your readers. Celebrate everyday happiness. Help others recognize those moments and experience them. Our stories are mean to heal. Remember, Coville says, joy is not cheap--it's free.

Coville ended by stating, "We are storytellers, dream makers, and heart healers." Which of these seven virtues are active in your writing, and which do you plan to work on?

Cloud Editing: See Your Story With Different Eyes

Editing your work is a tough job. It's painful to realize that some words are overused, or that your work is full of cliches.

Perhaps you'd like to make sure your work is passable before you bring it to a critique group, or post it online somewhere, but you've reread it so many times you're not confident about the decisions you make.

Try a little cloud editing.

Cloud editing will not replace spelling and grammar checks. You still ought to read your work aloud to yourself (a great way to catch stilted language). And it's helpful to put your manuscript away for a few weeks and read it with new eyes (on paper, if possible, since we often miss errors when reading from a screen).

In cloud editing, all you do is copy a passage from your manuscript--whether a page or a whole chapter--and paste it into the text box on Within a few moments, a beautiful graphic will appear containing all the words you pasted. The words (in random order) will be all different sizes, depending upon how often it was used in your sample.

Wordle gives you the option to change the font, color and arrangement of the graphic, so you can tailor it how you like. The clouds at the top and bottom of this post were created with identical words (the first chapter of my novel).

The word clouds can be saved to your computer with a screen shot (instructions in the frequently asked questions), printed out (imagine framing your writing), or posted in the online gallery.

The greatest value of the cloud, besides playing with your words, is to notice words you hadn't realized were so repetitious. Grab a thesaurus and find some substitutes. You'll notice that I use the word "eyes" quite a bit. I'll rework my chapter, and make a second word cloud to compare the results.

You may notice some of the smaller words in your cloud are especially descriptive, and decide to use them more frequently. Best of all, it's free.

How might you try to use it?

Agent Friday: Chris Kepner

Chris Kepner, a new agent in the past two years, has begun blogging recently. Though his blog, The Writer's Advocate is relatively new, it looks like one to visit in the months to come.

A member of the team at Victoria Sanders & Associates, Kepner is busy making deals, and answering questions on his blog.

One of the big questions for pre-published writers is when to begin looking for an agent. How do you know you're ready for that next step, so you won't be flooded with standard rejections? Kepner weighs in on this question in Getting Started.

Kepner recently began a series of interviews with publishing professionals. The first one is a fascinating look at how an editor works with an author, and makes sure to represent the author's vision to the publishing house. A real eye-opener for me. Make sure to take a look at The People of Publishing.

If you've got questions you'd like Kepner to ask a publishing professional in a future interview, post it in the comments of his post Have Your Questions Answered By an Editor at a Major Publishing House.

Ebooks and digital rights have brought all kinds of questions into the minds of everyone involved with publishing. Find out Kepner's take on some of these issues in The Shirky Principle.

Do you even need a literary agent? What do they do for you that you couldn't do for yourself? Read The Evolution of the Literary Agent, and find out a few things you didn't know.

On Wednesday, I reviewed Donald Maass' book, The Career Novelist. Kepner's post, Real Careers Are Built Stepwise, fits right in.

And finally, are you terrified of writing--or sending--your query? Find some reassurance in Scared of the Query.

For a little more information, read Kepner's guest blog on The Debutante Ball, where he talks about social media.


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