Your Writing Career: Are You Waiting Passively or Actively?

Let's face it. Writing involves a lot of waiting. We wish we could hurry up parts of the process, since it took so long to actually write the book. Yet we face waiting for critique group feedback, beta readers, contest results, agent and then editor responses.

It's almost enough to make a writer give up. The dreams of rapid publication vanish like the mist they are. Writers wonder if they should even bother starting another book if they can't interest anyone in the first.

But it's good for each of us to hear a dose of reality. That first books are rarely sold first, if at all. That writers ought to have a "practice" book in the drawer before trying for publication. That at least five years will pass from the moment we really imagined we might become published writers.

Why? Because with reality, comes the decision. Work hard, or give up. And years of waiting is the fertile soil for the hard work of becoming a published writer. Yes, you could sit back and wait passively for someone to recognize the genius of your writing. Or, you can wait actively, improving your writing to the point that the wheels of publication begin to turn in your direction.

Start your next project. Novel, article, short story--it doesn't matter. Start something. Don't be content to rest on the project you've completed, even if you believe it's your best. And if you're worried you don't have what it takes, keep writing anyway. It's the only way to get better. Remember, writing can be learned. They say it takes a million words to become an accomplished writer. How far are you to finishing a million?

Pull out a book. Make it a habit to always have a writing book that you're working through. Leave it on the nightstand, or in the bathroom (for busy moms). Even reading just a page or so a day will help to strengthen your writing. Tackling a few of these books a year is like going to a writing conference. If you need some suggestions, I've got a few.

Find a group. Whether you try an online group, or one that's in-person, joining a critique group is one of the best ways to become a stronger writer. You'll learn to write better from the feedback of others, but giving critique will teach you even more. Not every group will be perfect for you, so try some out before you settle in.

Consider a conference. I can't tell you how much I've learned from each of the conferences I've attended. Learning, in person, from agents, editors, and authors is inspiring, but so is being part of a large group of writers who have the same mindset. Save up, apply for scholarships, and go. There are some free online conferences (check here and here), but if you can manage a live one, go for it.

How many of these are you doing right now? Is there a way you're waiting actively that I haven't listed?

How To Keep Track of Your Story Ideas: Be An Organized Writer

I don't know about you, but it happens to me all the time. I'm busy writing a novel, and another story idea pops into my head. Sometimes three of them.

They usually get written down on the back of grocery receipts or fast-food napkins, but I run the risk of losing a fantastic idea. Who knows which of these flashes of inspiration will be the seed for my next novel?

My issues were solved when I found Its author, Julie Hood, is one of my heroes.  She's got a free writing calendar to download, to can keep track of deadlines and goals. 

But the best part is this: Anyone who signs up for her newsletter (right side of her web page), gets the free "Sidetracked Writer's Planner". This is a 30-page document with twenty excellent organizational forms for you to copy and assemble into a binder. My binder is well-used. A couple of examples:

  1. Projects Index- Keep track of the different projects you are working on.
  2. Clips Index- One sheet to keep track of all your clips (articles that you've published).
  3. Clips Detail Sheet- One sheet for each clip where you can record who it was sold to, and any reprints sold.
  4. Submission Tracker- If you are submitting articles, many magazines take a long time to get back to you (one of mine took nine months!). Don't forget about any submissions with this form.
  5. Query Index- Similar to the Submission Tracker, it keeps a list of who you've queried, and when.
  6. Income and Expense Record- This is very important if you need financial information for tax purposes.
My favorite form is her Idea Index. I list the names of my story ideas on the index sheet, and each of them gets a number. Following the index, I have numbered pages with the details of each story idea. If I'm looking for, say, a short story idea, I just scan the index and jump to the page with my description. It has saved me valuable time.

So pull those scraps of paper with ideas that are languishing in your purse or briefcase, and put them where you can use them.
    Julie has links to many other articles and resources. Spend a little time there--it's worth your while.

    How do you keep yourself organized as a writer?

    Agent Friday: Suzie Townsend

    I have to say that Suzie Townsend just went up several notches in my estimation. Why?

    She says that the synopsis is evil.

    Don't believe me? Check out her post, The Dreaded Synopsis, and read all the gory details for yourself. I like that she explains why the synopsis actually has a purpose, and she shares how to "attack" your own synopsis.

    Suzie Townsend is an agent at Fine Print Literary Management. Her blog is a collaborative effort with two others in the business. Meredith Barnes, assistant to literary agent Janet Reid, and literary agent Joanna Stampel Volpe, with Nancy Coffey Literary Agency.

    Some of the blog posts you may enjoy:

    Waiting is a huge part of a writer's life. But agents do a lot of waiting, too. Read all about it in On Waiting.

    Suzie Townsend's tips on How to Query. And if you get a chance to pitch to an agent in person, get prepared by reading  If You're Going to Pitch to An Agent. If you meet an agent at a conference, you probably wonder how aggressive versus friendly you should be. And if you should hand the agent a business card. Suzie answers these questions in Writing Conference 101.

    Before querying, it's important to know where your book will fit in the market. Check out Know Thy Genre/Category Classification to help figure it out.

    Young Adult (YA) books are hot right now. Do you wonder if your book might fit into that classification? You're not alone. Read The YA Query to see if you're a match.

    Do you wonder if agents ever get tired of reading? It happens sometimes. Check out this post: Because there's only one main problem with working with books.

    Find more Agent Friday posts here.

    How You Can Help a Pilgrim Writer

    When the Pilgrims arrived in America, they were woefully unprepared for life in a new land. Short on supplies, and with a skill set that belonged in another culture, they suffered a devastating winter that cut their numbers severely.

    Enter the native Americans. Already acclimated to the New World, and successful at surviving, they had no need for the Pilgrims. Yet they shared their knowledge, skills, and food willingly with the newcomers who arrived from over the sea.

    And the first Thanksgiving feast was a celebration of that community of generosity.

    I'm a writing pilgrim. Four years ago, I landed in the world of publishing with little idea of what I was getting into. Few of the skills I possessed would transfer to a writing career, and the only supplies I brought were a desire to write and a computer.

    Along the way, so many "natives" have given their time and energy to keep me from giving up. Authors, agents, editors. Writing books, blogs, giving workshops, leading critique groups. Successful people who don't need to share what they've learned. But they do it anyway. I've learned from each one, and hope that even now I can give back to other "pilgrims" just arriving.

    So,  on Thanksgiving Day, I'm giving thanks to all those who help us newbies get acclimated to the world of writing. And then I'll go make some pies.

    Book Review: The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner

    I've reviewed quite a few books that give advice on how to write. This book is different. In The Forest for the Trees, Betsy Lerner uses her experience as a writer, editor, and agent to give advice on the publishing industry, but more importantly, the psychology of writing.

    Understanding ourselves. As writers, we are often our own worst enemy. Lerner divides writers into five groups, and analyzes their motivations and fears so expertly, you may suspect she's been peeking over your shoulder. Our different personalities deeply affect our writing and whether or not we get published. Lerner grasps these varied types of writers for two reasons: she's a poet herself, and she's worked with so many writers over the years.

    Here's a quote from the introduction: "There is no stage of the writing process that doesn't challenge every aspect of a writer's personality. How well writers deal with these challenges can be critical to their survival."

    If Lerner had stopped writing after the first half of the book, it would still be worth the purchase price. Understanding ourselves is a huge milestone in a writer's goal of publication.

    Understanding the business. Once we wrap our minds around the way we tick as writers, we need to grasp the dynamics of the business we are attempting to become part of. Through stories and anecdotes from her career, Lerner shares the inside scoop on how to get an agent, what to do about rejection, and what editors want.

    Lerner does not sugar-coat the publishing industry, and readers will learn both the wonderful and not-so-pretty aspects of this complex world. But who better to lead writers through it, than someone who has been on both sides of the desk?

    For more on Betsy Lerner, check out her agent website, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner, or  spend some time on her excellent blog. Some time ago I featured Betsy Lerner on my Agent Friday post. That post is the most searched-for post on this blog. She's one amazing lady.

    So, what writer personality are you? Ambivalent, neurotic, a self-promoter, wicked, or natural?

    Want more writing book reviews? Click here.

    Free Resources from Author Jody Hedlund

    You've probably never heard of Jody Hedlund. That's because she's a debut author just getting started in her career as a published writer. But if you're hoping to become a debut author in the future, wouldn't it be nice to follow the ups and downs of someone walking that path right now?

    Jody worked hard on her book, and was rewarded when she placed as a double finalist in a writing contest. This brought her to the attention of agent Rachelle Gardner, who helped Jody secure a three-book contract. Besides writing, Jody is married, with five children she teaches at home (a woman after my own heart!).

    I had already bookmarked Jody's site as a great example of an author website--which I  hope will become a reality for me someday. But even though she's busy with family, writing, and marketing, she takes the time to share with writers. I love that. If you want to read how she manages, check out My Chaotic Writing Life.

    Jody's website has a fantastic list of fifteen articles of interest to writers on topics like 5 Ways to Get an Agent's Attention, What Does It Really Take to Get Published? and  5 Ways to Increase Querying Success.

    Here are a few more articles you shouldn't miss:

    Want to avoid writer pitfalls? Read 3 Mistakes Writers Make in the Quest for Publication.

    Step into the world of a newly-published author in A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Published Author Life.

    What is the number one thing you'll need to see your book in print? Find out in Writers Need this Quality to Reach Publication.

    Having trouble fitting writing into your life? So does Jody. She shares what she's learned in When Writing Demands Cut Into Other Priorities.

    And I love Jody's 4 Steps for Organizing Plot Ideas Into a Novel.

    Scrolling through Jody's blog, I keep bookmarking one after the other. Really, you must check it out for yourself, because I've only scratched the surface.

    Have you found an excellent author website that writers would enjoy? I'd love to hear about it.

    Why I'm Thankful for Writing

    In anticipation of this week of Thanksgiving, I've given some thought to why I'm thankful that I'm writing. Way back in 2006, a story started to percolate inside me, and life has never been the same since. Here are a few things that generate gratefulness.

    I'm thankful to have a passion. I'm passionate about my faith and family, but my writing is something different. It's something I do for myself. It doesn't save money, or pay the bills, or do the laundry. I used to feel unsettled that every one of my interests were connected to providing for my family (cooking, scrapbooking, sewing, etc.), but writing is in a league of its own.

    I'm thankful for the power of words. Writing has given me a greater appreciation for the ways in which authors combine words in powerful ways. I've realized how difficult that is to accomplish. And I'm thankful that I'm learning to wield a little of that power myself.

    I'm thankful for the writing community. I'd be hard-pressed to find a more generous and welcoming group of people. Those who take the time to help along others who are just beginning their journey. Each one makes me more determined to give back myself.

    I can't forget to mention how thankful I am for my family. My long-suffering husband, and my four teenagers patiently put up with my passion. They endure "leftover leftovers", a dusty house, and a distracted mama--all the while cheering me on. I love you guys.

    My list could go on, but I'll stop here. Now it's your turn.

    How has writing made you thankful?

    Writer's Groups: Writers Cafe, The Online Writing Community

    The next writer's group is yet another good one. It boggles the mind how many excellent writing groups exist in cyberspace. Writers Cafe bills itself as "an online writing community where writers can post their work, get reviews, befriend other writers, and much more".

    No matter whether you write poetry, novels, short stories, novels, scripts, or screenplays, you'll find similar-minded writers at Writers Cafe. And it's free.

    Connect. You can join one or more of a dizzying number of groups in every genre you can imagine. Or hang out in the forums, chatting about craft, publishing, and genres. Search their list of publishers, literary agents, and literary magazines.

    Craft. Choose from a variety of free courses on everything from dialogue to defeating writer's block. Post your work for critique, or sharpen your skills by critiquing others.

    Contests. There are hundreds of free writing contests available at Writers Cafe. Poetry. Short story. Graphic novel. You name it. The list of contests is searchable by genre so you can find exactly the one you want.

    Want to check out the many other writing groups we've featured so far? Click here. If you've joined an online group worth checking out, let us know in the comments. 

    Writing Rules are Just Tools, by Rachelle Gardner

    Of the many blogs in my reader, agent Rachelle Gardner's is one I read every day. If you are a writer on the path to publication, her blog Rants and Ramblings is one you should consider keeping  up with. Gardner educates writers on the publishing industry in an easy-to-understand way, and she encourages writers on what seems like the never-ending road to publication.

    Last week, in the Show, Don't Tell post, the question was asked: Why can published authors get away with breaking the "rules" of fiction. This post from Gardner answers the question far better than I can.

    Writing Rules are Just Tools by Rachelle Gardner

    If you’ve been studying the craft of writing for long, you’ve heard all the “rules.” You know that you’re supposed to show not tell, use active not passive verbs, eschew adverbs, maintain consistent POVs, avoid repetition, and all the rest.

    But it’s easy to get too caught up in the rules and get frustrated at trying so hard to follow them that you find your creativity stunted. In addition, some writers are actively resentful about the rules, feeling like the Writing Establishment is trying to keep everyone in a little box and not allow writers’ artistic visions to shine through.

    I just want to share a few thoughts about writing rules. First, they’re not meant to be slavishly followed. They’re meant to be thoughtfully considered and used when appropriate.

    Second, the time to apply “writing rules” is usually not in your first draft. That’s when creativity reigns. Only think about the rules in your revision process. Writing is more a creative, right-brain process. Editing and applying rules is more a left-brain process. Try not to get your brain too confused by doing both at once.

    Third and most important, writing is not ABOUT the rules. The rules are just TOOLS to help you write effectively. The goal in writing is to engage your reader, draw them in, make them want to keep turning the pages, whether you’re telling them a story or giving them information. So writing rules are simply the means of helping you do that.

    The only time “rules” ever come into play is when you or your editor recognizes that something’s not working. Maybe the book is getting boring, the characters don’t feel believable, the arguments in your nonfiction work are falling flat, the reader isn’t engaged. It’s pretty easy to identify what’s wrong. However, figuring out how to fix it—that’s where the rules come in. Rules are a means of identifying how to fix a problem so that the reader remains engaged.

    The only reason to maintain consistent and strong POVs is to keep your reader deeply involved with your characters. The reason to show not tell is to keep your reader’s imagination active, keep your story alive and visual in their mind. Each of the rules serves a purpose – it’s a tool to help you create a written work that others want to read.

    So whenever you get frustrated by the rules, or can’t figure out why or ifyou should follow a rule or break it, go back to the reasons behind the rules and ask yourself: Does following this rule strengthen my work? Can adhering to a rule make my manuscript more readable and enjoyable? Do I know enough about the reasons for the rules to effectively break them?

    By going back to the purpose of writing rules, you can save yourself frustration, and focus instead on the goal: powerful and engaging writing that people want to read.

    Q4U: What’s your opinion of “writing rules”? Do you find them challenging, helpful, frustrating? How do you decide when to break them?

    Four Tools to Help You Write Your Novel

    I've found the coolest resource over at The Bookshelf Muse. Every Thursday they add an entry to either the Emotion Thesaurus, the Setting Thesaurus, the Symbolism Thesaurus, or the Color, Shape, & Texture Thesaurus.

    This collection, which is constantly expanding, is the place to turn when you need a fresh way to describe your characters or setting. The introduction gives you some great reasons to bookmark the page.

    The Emotion Thesaurus. In my novel, one of my characters is a spoiled princess (hey, if you've had a curse hanging over you all you life, I'm sure everyone would treat you with kid gloves). Sometimes I run out of ways to describe her condescension. Enter the Emotion Thesaurus. I clicked on the link for Haughty/Smug/Superior, and found thirty-four different ways to show this specific character emotion. So far, there are fifty-six different emotions on the list.

    The Setting Thesaurus. No matter whether your setting is a space ship or a subway station, a  pirate ship or a pool hall, the authors have you covered with the Setting Thesaurus. There are ninety-one settings to choose from. Planning a scene in a medieval castle armory? Don't worry. Clicking the link will take you to the page where an armory is described with all the five senses. Exactly what you need.

    The Symbolism Thesaurus. Symbolism is a way authors can infuse their novels with meaning, keeping readers thinking about the story long after they've turned the last page. The Symbolism Thesaurus lists twenty-five different examples, like coming of age or sacrifice. Each entry lists ways to show the symbolism through nature or society.

    The Colors, Shape, & Texture Thesaurus. At first, I didn't think I'd need the Color, Shape, & Texture Thesaurus, but once I checked out some of the forty-four entries, I changed my mind. The texture and shape entries give both natural and man-made examples of words like crumbly or spiral, and include synonyms and examples. Color words, like blue, give lists of blue things in light, medium, and dark, and also share shades of the color.

    This site is already on my bookmark list for research tools, along with the visual thesaurus. Have you found any sites that are particularly helpful to you?

    Distilling Your Book:Three Different Summaries You'll Have to Write

    I've spent the last week slaving over my synopsis. You'd think I know my novel well enough to distill it's essence into a couple of pages. You'd think reading about how to write a synopsis would prepare me.

    You'd think wrong.

    Just because I wrote the novel, doesn't mean I can easily capture its substance. As the author, I'm too aware of all the details, the cool subplots, the minor characters I've fallen in love with.

    And I have to leave them all out.

    If it weren't for my intrepid critique group, I wouldn't have a synopsis sitting in front of me today. It took many tries (and the first one was more awful than I can express), but it's done. Having four other pairs of eyes on it was the most important part of writing it.

    Working on this synopsis got me thinking about the other ways we summarize our books, whether they're fiction or non-fiction. Here's a run-down of what you can expect.

    One-sentence summary. This is one of the most important summaries you'll create, and also one of the most difficult. It's often called a log-line, tag-line, hook, or elevator pitch. Writing teacher Marilynn Byerly defines it this way, "The log line is a one-sentence statement of your premise or high concept." If you'd like to see some in action, Byerly recommends this post. Aim for fourteen to twenty-five words. Your intention is to spark interest in the reader, without giving away the ending. Not an easy task.

    Work on your one-sentence summary as soon as you have the idea for your book. You'll use it often. Every time someone says, "You're writing a book? What's it about?" When you go to conferences, and meet agents and editors. It might find it's way into your query letter, and will be included in your book proposal, as well.

    Back-cover copy. This is exactly what it sounds like. The short paragraphs found on the back of a book that entice the reader to buy it. It introduces the main character, plot, and the story question, but leaves the reader wondering how the story will work out. Marilynn Byerly has a great article on this in How to Create a Blurb.

    You'll use a form of back-cover copy in your query letter, and once your book is done, you may also use it to create a one-sheet, basically a one-page advertisement for your book. Back-cover copy is usually included in a proposal, as well.

    Synopsis. The synopsis differs from the other summaries in two ways: it's much longer, and it gives away the ending. It's a stripped-down version of your story, introducing the main characters, the main plot, and the motivations and outcomes.

    Authors often write two or more synopses of different lengths, as some agents, editors, and contest organizers require different word counts. Start with one synopsis, and then add or take away words to come up with at least a short and long synopsis. The one I wrote this week had a maximum word count of 1250. Some synopses are required to be 750 or less.

    If you're querying agents, and they ask to see your work, many will ask for several chapters plus a synopsis. Your synopsis will also go into your proposal, and if you submit your story to a contest, it's common for them to ask for a synopsis, also.

    Have you written any of these? I'd love to hear any tips you have.

    Agent Friday: Barbara Doyen

    After nearly three decades of agenting, Barbara Doyen has a few things to say. Her website contains links to dozens of articles designed for writers trying to learn the business of publishing and the craft of writing.

    Doyen's agency, Doyen Literary Services, specializes in adult trade non-fiction. A quote from the website: "Barbara has authored many instructional materials for writers, including published articles, books and an audiotape series that was endorsed by James Michener. Her Write To $ell® seminars have helped many beginning and experienced authors to further their writing careers."

    For writers who are just beginning the journey, Doyen has written a succinct article on the first steps. Write It Down, Make It Happen: How to make your dream of a writing career become a reality. Follow that one up with Get Published in the New Year, seven tips to get you on your way.

    You're probably a voracious reader, but do you know all the parts of a book between the covers? Check to see what you know and what you're unfamiliar with in Anatomy of a Book: The Contents, and Anatomy of a Book: The Physical Parts.

    Are you ready for the query process? Make sure to read Doyen's ten tips in When You Query an Agent.

    Many writers are struggling with the decision of whether to self-publish or try a traditional publishing house. Check out Doyen's article Do I Have a Trade Book, or Should I Self-Publish? Other articles on this topic include eight questions to ask before you self-publish, and things to consider before starting your own publishing company.

    There are dozens more articles on all aspects of writing and publishing on Doyen's Article Page. And her Books About Publishing page has lists of tips gleaned from some of her favorite books.

    Want more Agent Friday? Click here.

    Free Resources from Cynthia Leitich Smith

    How much can you learn from a children's book author? Don't tune out, because Cynthia Leitich Smith offers an amazing amount of resources for every author. Let's dig in.

    Smith writes books for young children through young adults, and is a New York Times bestselling author. Her blog, Cynsations,  is one of the most popular for writers of children's literature

    I spent a glorious hour roaming around Smith's well-planned website. One page contains links to dozens of articles on the agenting and query process, and links to agent interviews. No matter what genre you write, this information is valuable.

    She has collected numerous links to interviews with editors, and tips on publishing, contests and conferences. And there are even more links on the writer's page; articles like 30 Days to Stronger Characters, How to Write Dialogue, and The Art of Revising a Novel.

    A few of her excellent blog posts:

    Giving and receiving critique is difficult, but most writers find it's a way to give back. How to dish it out, and how to take it.

    Have you ever wondered what style and voice mean? Maybe you're puzzled when a review mentions an author's "fresh voice".  Smith explains it all.

    Want a peek into an author's life? Check out Why I Write, and A Day in the Writer's Life, and Rituals.

    Sometimes we're afraid to write what is on our minds. Sometimes being a woman affects what we write as well. Check out Smith's post on Writing, Fear, and Gender.

    Make sure you spend some time on Cynthia Leitich Smith's website. I'm sure I only scratched the surface.

    Question for you: what makes you afraid to write? Is it the subject matter, your abilities, a fear of success?

    Show, Don't Tell Tips from Jeff Gerke, Part 2

    Today's post is a continuation. If you missed Show, Don't Tell Tips Part 1, you may want to read that first. I'll share Jeff Gerke's do's and don'ts for converting telling to showing.

    Once you've determined that a section of your manuscript is telling (see Part 1), it's time to make some changes. You've taken away the reader's curiosity. Now give it back.

    What NOT to do:
    Remember to ask yourself, "Can the camera see it?" Gerke says there are three ways writers try to "show", when they're really telling. Check to see if you've tried these inadvertently.

    Telling in quotation marks. This is dialogue solely for the purpose of explaining something you think the reader needs to know. Usually, it's two characters who both know the same information and talk about it anyway.

    Like this example: "As you know, Sally, John Smith was a medic in the war." And Sally responds, "Right, Jim. He endured some difficult situations."

    Sneaky telling. Usually only a few words, but they slip in information that the camera can't see. Like: "Of course," said the former war medic. Sneaky telling undermines your reader's curiosity.

    Flashbacks. Though some are done well, others are just long passages of telling in quotation marks. Flashbacks are usually not as necessary as the writer thinks they are. Ask yourself, "Does the story really need this?" If so, Gerke suggests considering a prologue. He believes chronological storytelling is stronger.

    What TO do: 
    Which do you prefer: an informed reader, or an interested reader? Interested readers don't put books down. Informed readers glean enough details to satisfy their curiosity, and stop reading.

    Action. Have the character demonstrate the information. Gerke mentioned that in the first Indiana Jones movie, a narrator does not tell the audience that Indy is an archaeologist, and talented with a whip. We see him in action. Our medic above, could rush to assist in a car accident.

    Scene. For information that is very important, Gerke suggests creating a scene around the information that needs to be revealed. The more important the information, the more time you can spend in this scene.

    The Dumb Puppet Trick. Gerke advises using this technique only five percent of the time, and using the first two most often. A "dumb puppet" is any character who genuinely doesn't know what's going on, and has a reason to ask. This could be a child, a reporter, a tourist, a student or intern.

    A variant of the "dumb puppet" is to make your characters argue. People blurt out all kinds of information they both know while arguing.

    Is it ever alright to "tell"? Gerke pointed out that there is only one time where it's ok to tell. Two conditions must be met: the reader wants to know, and the story can't go on without the reader understanding this information. In order to get to this point, the writer puts in a lot of hard work getting the reader pulled into the story.

    Gerke says it's like a bank account. The writer puts in multiple deposits of reader engagement before they can make any withdrawals (telling), or they will overdraw their account.

    E. Stephen Burnett asked this question yesterday:
    Still, one question: everyone says "show, not tell," but so many published authors (even good ones, even classic authors) violate that "rule." Are there perhaps some exceptions Jeff mentioned? I also wonder if he listed reasons -- besides the obvious, "they sell books so it doesn't matter" -- why published authors are able to get away with explaining their characters and exposit the plots all the time.

    It's true that published authors have a wider latitude in "breaking the rules". But I often wonder how much better their books would have been if they had followed the rules more closely. What do you think?

    For more info on Jeff Gerke:
    His personal website, Jefferson Scott.
    Gerke's speculative fiction imprint (with fantastic books): Marcher Lord Press.
    The speculative fiction website, Where the Map Endsand the Anomaly Forums, where writers and readers can connect.
    Don't forget Gerke's other writing book, The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction.

    Show, Don't Tell Tips from Jeff Gerke, Part 1

    I attended an excellent workshop last night given by Jeff Gerke, publisher, author and editor. Billed as "The Last Class on Show vs. Tell You'll Ever Need", it was full of concise explanations and fun exercises. Jeff is also the author of a brand-new Writer's Digest book, Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction, where he helps both plot-first novelists and character-first novelists overcome their weaknesses.

    The workshop was hosted by the Springs Writers group. If you live anywhere near Colorado Springs, Colorado, they offer a free conference-quality workshop each month. Click on the link to keep informed of what's coming up next.

    Gerke started out with two pieces of advice:
    Don't summarize--dramatize.
    Don't narrate--illustrate.

    Telling. Gerke explained that telling is when you stop the story to explain something. He asked, "When does the reader want the story to stop?" The answer is "never". Telling is easy, economical, and fast, but it's boring, like a lecture.

    In normal conversation, we explain what we mean, so it's natural to do that in fiction. But as writers, we want to make the reader curious, which keeps them from putting the book down. Gerke says, "Resist the urge to explain."

    There are three types of telling:
    Backstory, where the author tells anything that happened prior to the current action.
    Exposition, where explanation is inserted into the story.
    Explanation of character motives, where authors don't trust the reader to understand why a character acted as he did.

    Showing. This requires thinking like a filmmaker. If the camera can't "see" it, we don't know about it. Instead of telling the reader that a character feels nervous, show the beads of sweat on his upper lip, and his hands trembling. Showing makes the writer work harder and spend more words, but  as Gerke says, "What you sacrifice in exactitude, you more than gain in reader engagement."

    Gerke quoted author Tim Downs: "Lecture [telling] hands people the answers. Story [showing] makes readers ask the right questions." Downs also mentioned that showing and telling is like an easter egg hunt. Telling is where you leave the eggs in plain sight for the smallest children. Showing is where you hide the eggs for the older kids, and they have to work harder to find them. Readers who "figure things out" feel much more satisfied.

    Stop by tomorrow for the rest of Gerke's workshop, where he explains the wrong way to show, and several excellent ways to share information without telling.

    Do you write like a filmmaker?

    For more info on Jeff Gerke:
    His personal website, Jefferson Scott.
    Gerke's speculative fiction imprint (with fantastic books): Marcher Lord Press.
    The speculative fiction website, Where the Map Ends, and the Anomaly Forums, where writers and readers can connect.
    Don't forget Gerke's other writing book, The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction.

    The Road to Publication: Backroads vs. Superhighway

    It's a dream most writers have. Shaking hands with an agent at a conference, showing a sample of your work, and receiving an instant offer of representation followed by rapid publication. Who wouldn't enjoy getting on the fast track, not to mention receiving a check for the years of work already put in?

    But I believe a short-cut to publication can actually short-change authors. Why?

    High Speed. On a highway, your speed keeps you from absorbing the nuances of the scenery. In the same way, getting published quickly can mean you miss working on important elements of the craft of writing. A delay in publication forces writers to work harder. They join critique groups, read writing books, and excellent examples of fiction. This makes for a deeper writer, rather than a quick success who has trouble with subsequent books.

    Smooth Pavement. A smooth road means you can travel faster, but if you hit a pothole at that speed, it can be disastrous. On the bumpy back roads to publication, writers get very familiar with rejection. Critique groups, contests, and the query process all help to develop the thick skin necessary for future success. Without this rhino skin, authors can be in danger of writer's block, or even depression when they discover that not everyone enjoys their book. Reviewers and readers are not shy about expressing their displeasure in books they've read. As writers, we need to get accustomed to criticism early. Bring on the bumps.

    Anonymous Travelers. High speeds keep drivers from interacting with others who share the road. In fact, it causes drivers to see other travelers as competition, people just getting in the way. On a back road, drivers expect the trip to take longer. They have time to wave at those they pass; even offer a hand to someone that needs it. 

    If you get published rapidly, you are immediately thrust into a world of rewrites and marketing that precludes much of the time you might like to spend helping other writers. Those writers who experience a lengthy path to publication have the luxury of developing deeper relationships, and cheering each other on.

    None of us knows how long our journey will last. Some writers have labored for decades, others just a few years. The important things to spend time on are craft, accepting rejection, and befriending one another. Enjoy this part of the journey. All too soon, you'll be looking back wistfully. And telling wonderful stories about the years of waiting.

    Are you content on the back roads?

    Agent Friday: Lori Perkins

    All agents manage to keep multiple balls juggling in the air. Submitting manuscripts to editors, managing rights and contracts, reading full manuscripts, and wading through piles of queries. Agent Lori Perkins adds an editorial director hat and author to the mix.

    Specializing in paranormal romance and horror, Perkins has been agenting for over two decades. She started the L. Perkins Agency in 1987, and has sold over 200 vampire novels alone. Perkins is also the editorial director of a publishing company, Ravenous Romance.

    Perkins has also published her own book, The Insider's Guide to Getting an Agent, which based on reviews, has much to do with the author-agent relationship.

    Here are some of Perkins' blog posts that caught my interest:

    It's always fascinating to find out how an agent got her first break. Perkins' story of her first sale is definitely an interesting one. Complete with real ghostbusters!

    If you're ever tempted to "speed up" the query process by harassing the agent who has requested your manuscript, don't. Read this actual exchange between Perkins' agency and an author behaving badly, to find out what not to do.

    A recent article took the position that agents and editors are loathe to look at NaNoWriMo novels, and that writers shouldn't bother with them. Perkins, fortunately, has a much healthier view that she explains in Can Nanowrimo Novels Be Any Good?

    Three-book deals are often seen by authors to be the prize to shoot for. But Perkins explains when a writer does not want a three-book deal. It's all in the timing.

    And if you're just getting started, Perkins answers questions in Some Answers for Beginners, and also shares advice for new authors.

    Want more Agent Friday? Click here.

    Remembering My Muse: A Goodbye to a Faithful Friend

    Nine years ago, a wriggling puppy landed in my lap. A golden retriever full of smiles and fun, who loved chewing on pumpkin stems and slept curled up next to the vacuum cleaner.

    Nine years ago, writing was a dream that didn't make it to the forefront of my brain very often. My kids were 4, 6, 7, and ten, keeping me too busy to string sentences coherently.

    But as time went on, and the desire to write grew and even became reality, one thing was constant.

    My furry muse.

    A warm, doggy body curled up beneath my desk.

    Expressive brown eyes that seemed to understand when the words just wouldn't come.

    And immediate forgiveness for the times I kept on typing and took for granted that he was there.

    Six weeks ago, a rare form of leukemia reared its head. He fought hard, but today Aspen was given a well-deserved rest.

    But the space under my desk feels awfully empty.

    Thanks for listening. Here's hoping that there's a muse in your life.


    Related Posts with Thumbnails