Always Prepared: What to Bring to a Writing Conference, Part 2

Well, I survived the first day of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, even with a severe lack of sleep. [Hello to anyone I met today!] Since I probably left out a few things to bring (one of them was pain reliever for my headache), I thought I'd let some other chime in with their wisdom.

Of course, if you're flying across country as opposed to driving to a local one-day conference, there will be some differences. Here are some good lists I've come across.

Editor and writer Terry Whalin shares what he brings, what he leaves at home, and how he wished he had prepared.

Writing teacher and novelist Randy Ingermanson interviews conference veteran Meredith Efken to glean her tips.

The Writers Store has a detailed explanation of how to get the most from your conference dollar.

If you want to know what to wear and how to prepare, Marilyn McCaw gives the lowdown on what to expect.

When I read 10 Ways to Prepare for a Writer's Conference, I immediately noticed that I broke rule number one.

And if it's your very first conference, Angela Dion's list of seven essentials will come in handy.

Anything you'd like to add? I'm heading home to watch my daughter's play and then get some sleep before day two tomorrow.

Always Prepared: What to Bring to a Writing Conference, Part 1

The Boy Scouts' motto is "always prepared". If you're heading to a writer's conference, you pack a little differently than for another trip.

I'm heading to a conference this morning. The next four days will be nonstop, full from morning till night. And I'm operating on four hours' sleep. My daughter flew home from college and the plane was delayed. Not ideal, but you never know what contest attendance might throw at you.

Today I'll give you a list of what I'm bringing in my shoulder bag. You know, the one you carry at the conference as you head from workshop to workshop.

In my bag:
A stack of business cards: an essential networking tool at a conference. Make sure to order these in advance. Cards with your photo can be helpful, since they remind someone of who they talked to. Keep a handful inserted in the plastic sleeve behind your nametag, ready to give to new acquaintances. When someone gives you a card, as soon as possible, write a note on the back. Something like "YA writer at PPW Conference" to help you place the person.

A notebook: Some people like to bring a laptop for taking notes, but remember, you're going to be toting this on your shoulder all day. Not to mention you'll be aware of all the times you set it down. Writers are great people, but conference venues are public places, and worrying about a computer may be distracting. If conference notes have been emailed to you, print them out and insert them into a folder or binder. A handful of pens is essential, too.

Also pack a small notebook where you keep track of writing expenses. A cup of coffee, the purchase of a writing book, are tax deductible. Save all receipts.

My pitch: If you plan on pitching, have your pitch typed and ready in a plastic sleeve inside your notebook. Peek at it frequently to refresh your mind (hopefully, you've been practicing already).

Energy items: I bring my travel coffee mug along. You might prefer a water bottle. A few granola bars or a tin of mints to keep you going.

Tomorrow I'll have some links to what others feel are the essential items to pack. What about you? Did I miss anything? Remember, I'm operating on four hours' sleep. Let us know what you'd pack.

Book Review: A Writer's Survival Guide to Getting Published, by Terry Burns

Don't you wish a publishing professional would take you aside and tell you all the tips you need to know? How to pitch and query and build a platform?

It's time to get to know Terry Burns., and his book A Writer's Survival Guide to Getting Published.

He's an agent with Hartline Literary Agency, and an author of more than thirty books, including ten novels. He is consistently distinguished by the fact that he takes on many debut authors every year. 

And he's a nice guy.

So when a person with those kinds of credentials pens a book for writers trying to get published, it's worth a look.

Burns teaches some of this material in conference workshops. He began the book after teaching an online course on the subject, and over 600 writers signed up to take it.

What does it include that makes it so popular? Think about the list of things prepublished writers really want to know:

How can I survive a pitch interview at a conference? What if I'm the most shy writer on the planet?
What are the steps to writing a great proposal?
How do I start building a platform?
What are the ways I can promote both myself and my book?
How can I be sure I prepared my query so someone will actually take a look at it?
What is an acquisitions editor really looking for in a manuscript, and does mine have it?

If you'd like to hear a little more about Terry Burns, check out this interview and this blogpost.

If you could ask a publishing question, what would it be?

Sequels and Trilogies: Should You? Do You Even Want To?

So your manuscript is going along great, and suddenly you have an idea. Why not plan for a sequel? A prequel? Even a trilogy? Isn't that what all the publishers are looking for these days?
Sometimes. Maybe.

Since I've been pondering this question with my own manuscript, I thought I'd check to see what the conventional wisdom is on the topic.

First off, some positives and negatives for the author:

On the plus side: You get to use the same storyworld you've already spent so much time working on. You don't have to dream up new characters, they're all ready to go into new adventures. You can make use of some of that backstory you've been dying to reveal. Your readers (who liked the first book) will probably stick with you for the next.

On the minus side: You use the same storyworld and characters you've spent so much time on (story fatigue anybody?). You've got to come up with realistic adventures once the big climax is finished in the first book. Multiple books have individual and overall arcs. If you haven't kept that in mind, you may not have planted enough information in the first book to take advantage of in the third. In addition, some readers just don't like them.

Think about J.K. Rowling. There were props and incidents in the first book that weren't fully revealed until the last one. That took some serious planning.

For those of us awaiting publication, it's fine to make notes for a sequel (some publishers are more anxious for them than others), but it's better to hold off on the actual writing of a sequel. Once you've made a sale, you can talk about subsequent books. Of course, if you're self-publishing, you get to make the decision.

So here's what different authors have to say about what they like and don't like about sequels, and a few tips and tricks to keep in mind.

Nicola Morgan, from Help! I Need a Publisher! has a very comprehensive post on the topic.

Veronica Roth shares her two biggest challenges when working on a sequel.

And Michelle Knudsen wrote a three-part series on sequels (would that be a trilogy?). Here's part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Maybe the trick is to be prepared for a series, be committed to a stand-alone, and let the readers decide if they want more. What do you think?

Useful Tool for Contemporary & Urban Fiction Writers: The Urban Dictionary.

 Stand still long enough, and you'll be a witness to the constant change in the English language. Like water in a rushing river, it constantly swerves around rocks and fallen trees, creating new currents and eddies. If you're a writer of contemporary fiction, or urban fantasy, it's important to keep up with current slang and terminology.

So one of the tools to keep handy is the Urban Dictionary. Created and maintained by users of urban terminology, it's a fluid dictionary that is constantly expanded and redefined.

Contributors supply a word, its definition, and use it in a sentence. Readers rate the content by clicking on "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", depending on whether they agree with the use of the word.

Readers can sign up for a new word each day sent to their email. The archives are searchable alphabetically at the top of the web page. You can also search by images or, interestingly, by sounds.  Use the search box to look up any topic, or even look up a particular city, to find out what people are saying about it. Note: Be prepared to see quite a few misspellings on the site.

Here are a couple of definitions from the site you might enjoy:

Googleheimer's The condition where you think of something you want to Google, but by the time you get to your computer, you have forgotten what it was.

Writer's crap Derived from 'writer's cramp', writer's crap refers to a stage when one is only capable of writing utter crap.

Textually Frustrated When texting with someone over IM or SMS that takes too long to reply, leaving you waiting and frustrated.

Retard in aluminum foil  What a lady's knight in shining armor becomes when she really gets to know him.

Maybe we need a site like this just for writers? Have you got a good definition for something?

Agent Friday: Hartline Literary Agency

 Why is Hartline Literary Agency called "the agency with heart"? Why do they have an amazing blog? Why did they just hit the Writer's Digest Top 100 Sites for Writers? Because they care, and it shows.

The four agents that make up Hartline Literary Agency are hardworking individuals. Joyce Hart is the founder, and she makes up a team along with Tamela Hancock Murray, Terry Burns, and Diana Flegal.

I met Terry Burns at a writing conference several years ago, and was impressed by his easy-going friendliness (and his ever-present cowboy hat!). It's interesting to note that Burns is listed as a top agent who helps debut authors to publish, and he's an author himself, with almost 40 books published.

The team of agents take turns blogging on From the Heart. Here are a few posts to let you see what you'll find: 

Everyone is talking about self-publishing these days. Are you a good candidate for the do-it-yourself route? Find out in Which Authors Should Self-publish?

The other hot button topic is ebooks, and how cheap it is to publish them without a traditional publisher's overhead. Think again. There are many expenses to consider, even for "just" an ebook. We Can Publish Ebooks for Free? will help you navigate the areas you'll be paying for out of pocket.

Another sizzling subject is social networking. One of Hartline's clients tackles the issue, giving guidance for sites like Facebook and Twitter. The Twitter links are invaluable. Check them out on The Value of Social Networking.

Interested in an agents numbers? How many submissions do they read, and what percentage of those end up as clients? While these statistics will differ from agent to agent, it gives writers a glimpse into the odds they're working with. Read all about it in A Numbers Guy.

And this one caught my eye, since I'll be attending a writer's conference next week (the Pikes Peak Writers Conference if you're interested in a fantastic one--this will be my third year). This post, written by a Hartline client, details three reasons why you need to go to a writer's conference.

If you're looking for more in the Agent Friday series, there's lots to check out. This happens to be the fiftieth post in the series.

I'm pretty tired here in Colorado. I managed 3000 words today, and I'll be doing at least that for the next six days. My eyes are at half mast. Any writing goals for you this weekend?

Can Understanding Psychology Really Help You As a Writer?

To go along with yesterday's book review by a psychotherapist, today we have a site with tons of resources for writers who want to tap into psychological information to improve their characters. It's called Archetype: the fiction writer's guide to psychology.

The site is run by Carolyn Kaufman, who has a doctorate in psychology. Kaufman has also written a book, The Writer's Guide to Psychology. This site is so chock full of information, it's difficult to give you the entire scope. But I'll give it a try.

Using psychology in your writing. The more I read on this site, the more I want to read. So many articles that will strengthen my story. How about things like: what will your character do when disaster strikes? Of course, we plan trials for our characters. Understanding how they ought to realistically react will help the story resonate with readers. Another great article is: the other in fiction--creating wonderfully wicked villains. There are many more articles on this page. Articles for writing romance, understanding archetypes, and forensic science & forensic psychology. And if you've ever wanted to feel comfortable using "shrink lingo", this is the place to practice.

Villains and Heroes. Hopefully, your characters have some depth. You've thought through their backstory and have created realistic internal issues that cause their external motivations. The Archetype site helps you visualize some of that with a psychological analysis of media characters. Ever wondered what Anakin Skywalker's diagnosis would have been? Check out the fascinating case study. How about the villains in the Batman movies? You'll find profiles of them, as well.

Writing Essentials. The writing essentials page collects articles on strong stories, characterization, and genre writing. It includes an 8-part series on finding your novel's pulse by the fabulous Holly Lisle, and a 3-part series on urban fantasy.

You mean there's more? Yup. You can ask questions specific to your story, or read the questions others have posted. Things like "What would it take to set off a killing spree in two angry teenage misfits?" There are story starters and idea generators. Visual prompts and help for those struggling with writer's block. Information on editing your story, how to query and find an agent or publisher, and even a fantastic blog.

So, I'd better stop blogging and finish reading some more articles. How about you?

Book Review: Breathing Life Into Your Characters, by Rachel Ballon

Are your characters lifeless, cardboard, or boring? It's time for some literary CPR. And who better than licensed psychotherapist Rachel Ballon? Imagine getting your characters to sit down on the psychotherapist's couch, and really finding out what makes them tick. That's the idea behind Breathing Life Into Your Characters.

The author of multiple books for writers, and the founder and director of the Writer's Center in Los Angeles, Ballon is uniquely qualified to assist writers to understand their characters.
A list of specific chapters explains the scope of the book best: 
-Writing characters from the inside out
-Ghosts of the past: your characters’ backstories
-Pulling the strings: character motivation
-Less of you: creating characters different from yourself
-The psychology of characters and the writer: what makes them tick
-Creating your villain: tapping the shadow
-The heart of drama: injecting feelings into your characters
-Coping with conflict: characters’ defense mechanisms and masks
-Dysfunctional families: secrets, myths, and lies
-Creating real people: disorders and troubled personalities
-Lasting impressions: body language, dialogue, and subtext

I'm particularly fascinated with the chapter on creating characters different from the author. We're told to "write what you know", and we feel we know ourselves best. But no one wants to read a dozen books where the main character is always the same. Ballon explains how to circumvent this, while still capitalizing on your own strengths.

Ballon illustrates her points with examples from fiction, and liberally sprinkles the chapters with exercises. These assignments help writers tap into their own experiences and capitalize on them to improve characters.

For more on Rachel Ballon, check out her website, and this interview where Ballon wrestles with the question, "Do you want to be a "writer", or do you want to write?"

So how about you? Do you think your characters need a little psychotherapy?

Are You Blind? Digging Out Cliches in Your Manuscript

Recently, I posted some great resources to help you find overused words and phrases. But what if your manuscript is riddled with cliches? As writers, it's easy for our eyes to skip over them in our own work in progress. We're blind to them.

What's wrong with cliches? They're expected. Predictable. Readers (unconsciously) skip over them. And the last thing an author wants to do is encourage readers to skim.

Fresh writing is far better. It engages your readers. Makes them wonder what you're going to say next. Like the author of The Book Thief. His writing is fresh and unpredictable (see this post for more). Read further about avoiding and altering cliches in this article from Writer's Web.

One way to find the cliches you've used is to join a critique group. Several sets of eyes going over your writing will likely highlight most of the cliches you use. Don't stress about cliches in your first draft. Just get the story down. There will be plenty of time later to yank out the cliches.

And here's a great tool to help you do that: The Cliche Finder. Like the overused word finder mentioned above, writers just copy and paste a section of writing in the box, click the "find cliches" button, and any cliches will be highlighted in seconds. If you want to check it out, click the link, and you'll see a sample passage ready for you to try it on.

So don't worry about blindly inserting cliches. There are ways to yank them out. Do you have other ways to avoid cliches?

And More Amazing Blogs

On Friday,  I posted links to four great blogs. Here's another four, and an idea. If you come up with a post helpful to writers between now and April 30th, leave a comment with a link on this article. On Monday, May 2nd, I'll link to those writing posts. It can cover craft, motivation, time management, helpful tips--whatever you think emerging writers can use.

Here are today's blogs:

Our first blogger is Andrea Mack, a children's writer. Her blog, That's Another Story,  should not be discounted by writers of fiction for adults. Many of the issues writers deal with are the same, like her post on top writing frustrations

Here's what Andrea says: "Thanks for the opportunity! On my blog I share thoughts about issues specific to writing for children. I also have a weekly feature, the ABCs of writing for middle graders, where I encourage discussion about an aspect of writing for this tricky age group."

Josh is a fantasy and science fiction writer, who keeps up with two blogs. Both are excellent. On Through a Glass Darkly, he posts personal viewpoints, like his struggle with validation as a writer (don't we all?). Write Strong is a great site I'll be visiting regularly. The most recent post is 9 Must-Read Blogs for Writers, by Agents and Editors.

Josh says: "Very much a fan of the blog, and am glad it has remained active so long. Hope you don't mind, but I've got two on my end. One is my personal blog at, where I share in my writing adventures. The other is, where I compile resources and tools for aspiring writers to hopefully take advantage of."

Next up is Jenn, one of my fellow SCBWI members. She has a unique twist on her blog that I haven't seen anywhere else--taking readers into the workspaces of writers and illustrators. I'm completely jealous of this one, where the author writes in an adorable trailer in her backyard.

Here's a hello from Jenn: "Congratulations on your 300+ posts! I love your blog. I always perk up when a new post from you pops up in my Google reader. My blog has mostly been featuring interviews with children's writers and illustrators about their workspace (Creative Spaces interviews). Occasionally I add posts about something else (often writing related) and I have intentions to update with more of those and add more variety to my blog in the near future (but priority #1 for me with my writing time has been finishing my revisions right now)."

And last, but not least, is Kenda, journeying the writing road with the rest of us. I love reading about the writing road of others, and Kenda is no exception. Recently, she shared Think Small: An Exercise to Help Grow Your Writing.

A couple words from Kenda: "Congratulations, Debbie, on reaching--and surpassing--300 posts! Your place is a great source for writing helps and tips. Hats off to you :-) At my blog, Words and Such, ( I share a bit of my writing journey on the way to publication while passing along some of the things I learn as I go. In this way I hope to encourage others in their journeys, too..."

It was so fun featuring these blogs. I'm really looking forward to sharing your writing posts on May 2nd. Are you in?

Your Amazing Blogs

So sorry, everyone! I had this post scheduled to post automatically, and somehow it didn't. Here they are!
On Monday, I asked you to share your blogs with the rest of us. I felt kind of selfish enjoying these wonderful blogs, and now I get to showcase them so you can see what you're missing. I'll share four bloggers today, and four on Monday.

First up is Sonia, whose writer name is S.M. Carrière. I'll tell you that she's a hard-working writer (for example, on Tuesday she wrote 3000 words). She can probably beat the pants off most people on word counts. If she ever sold some of that motivation, I'd be first in line. Her latest post was really fascinating--she examines how characters have a mind of their own.

Here's what she says about her blog, An Author's Journey: My blog is a chronicle of my writing and what it's like trying to get published - everything about it. The fears, frustrations, triumphs etc. Sometimes it's a dull road, so there's filler - a book or movie review, a comment on something else that's happening in my life, or something else.

The primary focus, though, is my writing.

Next is Stacy S. Jensen, with her blog Writing My Way Through Life. She's got a great post up right now, which asks the question, Are You Willing to Get Published? Stacy's description: I share writing topics that interest me as I work on my memoir in progress.

Meet Terri Forehand, a busy writer with two blogs. On her writing blog, Writing and other ways into the heart of the matter...for kids, she's going through the alphabet, sharing writing ideas for each letter. The latest was J for Journaling. She says: Hi, I'm Terri. I have two blogs. The first is for those interested in writing for children, and beginning writers. It is under my real name so that it is the beginning of a writer's platform for writing for children.

The second blog, Heartfelt Words 4 Kids, is about children who are ill and their parents. It started out as just a blog about children, cancer, and terminal illness in kids but it has broadened to more childhood illnesses and resources, book reviews, and some generic nursing advice... some of the stuff your nurse may not have time to tell you. I have a passion for children who deal with life threatening illness and I think more stuff honest and age appropriate, should be written at the kids age level. My goal is to write children's books that address some of their fears and successes and feelings that they don't feel comfortable talking with adults about.

Esther Feng's blog is new to me. It's called For Such a Time As This. I really like how she calls herself a "recovering perfectionist". I can relate. I really connected with her recent post, Stolen Moments, about a day when things really didn't go as planned. Here's how she describes her site: My blog is the place where I write about what my life looks like as I live fully for Jesus. 

I really hope you take a minute to check out these blogs. I'm saving the other four for Monday, because I didn't want them to end up at the bottom of a long post. They need their moment in the spotlight, too. Maybe these blogs will inspire a few of you to start blogging. If so, I hope to feature it one day.

Book Review: The Synonym Finder, by Nancy LaRoche

For writers, there's always a search for the right word. My strategy is to just get the story down in the first draft. Later, when I read it over, invariably I find I've used the same word more than once in a short space. 

So it's time for a synonym.

However, the list of synonyms that comes with a computer, or a word-processing program are limited, at best. I've used Roget's Thesaurus, and a few other paperback volumes, but I generally fall back on the computer list because it's easier.

But the other day, a writer I love, Tosca Lee, made this statement on Facebook: "My favorite thesaurus. If I could endorse this book, I would." She was talking about The Synonym Finder, by Nancy LaRoche.

Such praise sent me over to Amazon, where I love to use the "look inside" feature to check if a book will make it on my wish list. The back cover explains the main features best:

~more than 1 million synonyms
~simple alphabetical arrangement--no separate index necessary
~separate subdivisions for the different parts of speech and different meanings of the same word
~expanded to include thousands of new words and expressions that have entered the language in recent years
~includes clearly labeled slang and informal words and expressions, as well as rare, archaic, scientific and other specialized terms
~minimum cross references

It's amazing that one thesaurus can help writers of all genres. Of course, you'd expect it to have contemporary words, but there are scientific words for the sci-fi writer, archaic words for the historical writer, and rare words that might appeal to the fantasy writer.

Can a computer thesaurus do all that? I doubt it. This book is on my list to purchase.

For the visual writers among us, you might enjoy the Visual Thesaurus, a free online application. How do you find synonyms?

They've Done It Again: Check Out the Weather Thesaurus

The talented ladies of The Bookshelf Muse don't seem to rest. You may remember the post a while back about the emotion thesaurus, setting thesaurus, symbolism thesaurus, and color, shape & texture thesaurus.

Well Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman are cooking up something new. It's a weather thesaurus. Weather can be such a huge part of a novel's setting, and these bloggers remind us that weather can also play into, or reflect a character's mood or the level of tension.

It makes me wonder where I'm missing opportunities to use weather more in my novel (though we do have to be careful not to go overboard). In one scene, my main character is leaving everything she knows and heading off on a journey she's certain she's not qualified for. I chose to have a steady rain reflect her thoughts.

Words puddle in my head, drowning out the fat drops pounding about me, gluing leaves to the path and spattering my gown and cloak with muddy water. I’m thankful the downpour prevents conversation, for I need time alone with my thoughts. Were I able, I would pluck each idea like polished river stones and line them up for examination. But they are caught by the current in my head, and I can scarcely think on one for a moment, before another takes its place.

I need to think through my finished chapters to make sure I haven't made the mistake of having sunny days throughout the book. Maybe I'll write in a little fog, or a hailstorm. I'll definitely be checking The Bookshelf Muse for ideas.

How have you used weather in your writing?

And don't forget, if you'd like me to mention your blog on Thursday, leave a comment with a link and a description.

Time for The Spotlight On You: Share Your Blog

I'd like to celebrate. After over 300 posts, I still think blogging is pretty fun. So I'd like to take some time to honor my readers--because without encouragement along the way, I wouldn't have kept going.

So here's the plan. Leave a comment with your blog link, and a brief description of what you blog about. I'll post the links on Thursday, so you've got a couple of days to comment. If there are more links than I expect, I might post some this week and some next week.

I know that quite a few of you have amazing blogs that don't get the press they deserve. And I'm sure I'm missing others. So here's your chance to let the world know why your blog is awesome.

I can't wait to check them all out. Don't be shy!

Agent Friday: Laura Rennert

I love agents who blog. But not all of them have the time. Some of them are busy agents who are also authors. Like Laura Rennert.

A senior agent, at the prestigious Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Rennert considers herself a "literary omnivore", taking on projects from picture books to adult fiction and non-fiction. She's been with the agency since 1998, and her experience includes a Ph.D. in English Literature, along with nearly a decade of experience teaching as a faculty member in several English departments.

Her own books so far are picture books. The first, Buying, Training, and Caring for Your Dinosaur, was illustrated by Marc Brown, creator of the Arthur books and PBS TV series. The next to appear will be Emma, the Extraordinary Princess, coming in 2012.

While Rennert obviously has little time to blog, her author website has links to articles and interviews that share a lot of helpful information for writers. Check them out.

Rennert includes two fascinating lists on her website. One is a checklist for picture book authors. Picture books are far more difficult to write than they seem. The list Rennert provides tips on word count, word choice, and how to get the story going. She also has a .pdf article for picture book writers: Big Deals for Little Books.

The other list is advice for fiction writers. Rennert's tips cover fiction of all types. I particularly like this point: "External pressures leading to internal ones inherently make for a fascinating read."

Rennert also compiled a great list of do's and don'ts for how to find an agent. It includes some great links to other writers' websites.

On the CBI Clubhouse, Rennert has a podcast (which can be downloaded as a .pdf file) on What Writers Need to Know to Succeed.

Interviews with agents are a great way to find out more about what they're looking for and advice they share. Here are three of Rennert's interviews:

Check out the rest of the Agent Friday posts. Forty-nine and counting.

Pet Peeves: Don't Let Frequently Used Words Get You Down

We all have them. Pet phrases or words that crop up like weeds in our manuscripts. I use Scrivener software to write, and one of my favorite features lets me check my word frequency. If you haven't been won over by Scrivener yet, there are a couple of other websites that will help you target overused words and phrases.

I found two free sites that help with finding frequently used words. WordCounter is an application that will search for the most frequently used words in a body of text. You copy and paste a section of text in the box, and hit "go". The user chooses whether or not to include small words like "the" and "and". Withing seconds, the site generates a list of the most-used words, beginning with the most highly used.

While the site is not capable of handling large documents (like an entire novel), I pasted an entire chapter. My most frequently used word was one I wouldn't have guessed. Time for a couple of tweaks.

The second site is similar, but this one tracks the overuse of phrases. WriteWords will identify recurring phrases in a document. The user chooses whether these are two-word phrases, or up to ten-word phrases. This was really helpful for me. Some of my phrases are used several times because it's a part of my character's speech pattern, but other times, I just didn't think of a fresh way to say something.

If you're a more visual writer, you may enjoy checking your word frequency in a more artistic way. Wordle is the tool for you. It's amazing how many free tools are out there for writers to use. Check back next week for a great way to find cliches in your writing.

Did you find some overly-used words? What other tools do you use to keep your writing fresh?

Book Review: Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card

For science fiction fans, the name Orson Scott Card is held in high esteem. The author of books like Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead has won both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award, among many others. So it stands to reason that a book on writing might be worthwhile.

Elements of Fiction Writing--Characters & Viewpoint is a book for authors of all genres, who want to breathe life into their characters. Card helps the writer invent characters (part 1), construct characters (part 2), and teaches how to make characters perform (part 3).

Card, in conversational style, explains the ins and outs of character in ways that new writers can understand, while experienced writers still find something new.

From keeping a "character bible" to raising the emotional stakes, from transformations to the finesse of which tense to use, Card covers a lot of ground. Not sure about whether to try writing an unreliable narrator? (or maybe you feel the need for a definition of it) Or maybe there's a need for explanation of the differences between minor characters and walk-ons. You'll find it here.

I like this part of the back cover copy: "This book is a set of tools: literary crowbars, chisels, mallets, pliers and tongs. Use them to pry, chip, yank and sift good characters out of the place where they live in your memory, your imagination, and your soul."

For more about Orson Scott Card, check out his main website, with links to all his online activities, or his fascinating site, Hatrack River. Writers might also be interested in his two-day writing class, or his week-long writing boot camp. Both sessions are held in August.

Need more book recommendations? Check them out here.

Encouragement for Writers: Quotes for When Writing Gets Tough

 Some days writing is tough. It can be draining to pick up a pencil and string words together. Sometimes as writers, in the swirling confusion of wordcounts and query drafts, we forget why we're doing this. 

So today is a day of encouragement. Enjoy.

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing. ~Benjamin Franklin

I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it. ~Ernest Hemingway

I always wrote with the idea that what I put out there is going to stay there. Once I publish something, it has been published. I've never deleted more than one or two posts from my site. I don't think that there are takebacks. I don't feel right about it.
~Alison Headley, Digital Preservation and Blogs, SXSW 2006

If the weak hand, that has recorded this tale, has, by its scenes, beguiled the mourner of one hour of sorrow, or, by its moral, taught him to sustain it - the effort, however humble, has not been vain, nor is the writer unrewarded. ~Ann Radcliffe (1764 - 1823), The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1764

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.  ~Ray Bradbury

I love writing.  I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.  ~James Michener

Writing is my time machine, takes me to the precise time and place I belong.  ~Jeb Dickerson

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood.  I'd type a little faster.  ~Isaac Asimov

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.  ~Ray Bradbury

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.  ~Anaïs Nin 

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.  ~Toni Morrison

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.  How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?  For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.  That is where the writer scores over his fellows:  he catches the changes of his mind on the hop.  ~Vita Sackville-West

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.  ~Vladimir Nabakov

Easy reading is damn hard writing.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne    

Writing is my time machine, takes me to the precise time and place I belong.  ~Jeb Dickerson

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood.  I'd type a little faster.  ~Isaac Asimov 

Quotes come from BrainyQuote, QuotationsPage, and QuoteGarden.

Do you have a favorite quote that keeps you writing?

Here’s the Drill: Five Ways a Contest Entry Can Hone a Novel, Part 1

What are contests good for? They often cost money, and might seem like they’re taking time away from writing time. Are they really worthwhile?

Think about it this way. A writing contest is like a fire drill. It’s good practice for the moment an agent or editor says, “Send me the manuscript.” Each contest entry is honing a writer’s professional skills.

Hear are the five ways I’ve found contests help me to be a better writer:

Polishing. The first job is to edit and re-edit the entry (which consists of part or all of the first chapter, and sometimes a synopsis). A critique group can really help here. It’s difficult for writers to view their work objectively.

Formatting. Usually, manuscript samples are formatted with one-inch margins, double-spaced, in 12-point Courier or Times New Roman. Double-check before hitting “send”. Some contests ask for a synopsis to be single-spaced, others prefer double-spacing.

Following. Guidelines, that is. Just like formatting, contest planners ask for entries to be sent a specific way. Usually the writer’s name is kept off the entry, to ensure objective judging. Some submissions are sent via email, while others are requested by snail mail. Physical entries usually mean multiple copies are sent. With email entries, some organizations want the chapter and synopsis in one file. Read the instructions carefully, and get advice if they seem daunting.

Waiting. This is a good skill for all writers to develop, as the publishing process takes even more time than contest judging. During the wait, try to keep writing and learning.

Reacting. When those score sheets arrive, take a deep breath. Just like an author receiving a revision letter, writers won’t like every comment. Realize that these are opinions, but take some time to let the advice sink in. And if it’s allowed, write thank you notes to the judges. Remember that they did this for free.

Choose a contest carefully. Most contests have score sheets that give specific feedback. This is valuable information for writers trying to figure out what they’re doing right and what they need to work on. If I’m going to spend money on a contest, I’d like to know how I’m doing.

On the next three Mondays, I’ll be posting examples of what contest judges are looking for. Part 2 will focus on aspects of the story itself. Part 3 covers the synopsis, and Part 4 examines the overall features that can make or break a novel.

What has been your experience with contests? Good or bad? Let us know in the comments.

Agent Friday: Steve Laube

Some agent blogs are little more than an interesting bulletin board of client's books. Not Steve Laube. Laube has been involved in publishing since the late eighties. He's been involved in bookstores, worked as an editor, and has been a literary agent since 2003. He's won numerous awards, including Editor of the Year, and Agent of the Year.

Laube has his own agency--The Steve Laube Agency. He represents both fiction and non-fiction, primarily in the inspirational category.

After three decades in the business, Laube could let new writers find their own way. But the busy agent generously spends time on his blog sharing his experience. Here's a sampling.

If the prospect of rejection seems daunting, check out Even the Best Get Rejected. You'll be surprised at which authors are on the list.

My favorite thing about Laube's blog is the way he explains the inner workings of the publishing industry in a way that's easy to understand. Ever wondered Who Decides to Publish Your Book? There are quite a few people involved. Another interesting post is Six Questions for an Agent.

With conferences on the horizon, writers all over are preparing to pitch to agents. Laube helps with the preparation with That Conference Appointment, tips on surviving a ten-minute face-to-face. And The Ultimate Sound-Bite is a great post on distilling your book into a one-sentence summary.

Writers gearing up to work on a query letter will really appreciate Laube's four-step guide in his hints for a great cover letter. And one of the most helpful and unique posts, Writer Beware, lists five important ways writers can protect themselves as they pursue the writing business.

Though I can't highlight all the great posts, here are two more. The first is Ten Commandments for Working With Your Agent, a light-hearted but true list. And the second one is just for fun: a list of creative texting shortcuts for writers, found in New Author Acronyms.

Laube also has links to quite a few resources on his site as well. Check it out. And if you'd like to see the rest of the agents highlighted so far, click right here.


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