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Archive for October, 2012

Let’s begin with a bonus today: By

It’s the preposition of the wRiting Effort DoUbled by Concentrated Educational Details, but let’s not forget the little things. And that’s it – don’t forget the little things:

  • The importance of proper formatting for manuscript submissions:
    • Times New Roman
    •  size 12, double-spaced
    •  1 inch margins
    •  new paragraphs indented (tabs) not an additional space between paragraphs
    • Running headers are expected: your last name, title, page # (i.e. Schaub/Gateways/14)
    • Resource for formatting: http://www.writingworld.com/basics/manuscript.shtml
  • How to write a query letter
    • Writing a great query letter is as important of rockin’ that little black dress on the red carpet. It’s the first and sometimes the only impression you make. It must be flawless, as intriguing as your story, and it must be formatted correctly. Each agent, editor or publisher will ask for different submission packages, but query letters are pretty standard. The best resource I’ve found on-line is http://queryshark.blogspot.com/  It’s funny and direct.
  • Using the Writer’s Market to find agents and editors. That’s a no brainer.
  • Read books they have represented. It’s time-consuming, but necessary – know to whom you are sending your work. Visit their website. Follow their submission guidelines to the letter. Track your submissions.

Concentrated. (Pack a punch in fewer words – how)

Like orange juice and soup from the can: just add water. In writing, that means we grant the reader some intelligence and don’t spell out every single detail. Find the words that fill in the gaps without running margin-to-margin for three pages.  Excellent writers give readers the concentrated pulp. Readers add their own vision. End result: literary joy.

Three out of four suggestions of what follows are some excellent writing points I found in Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers.

The book oozes ideas, reminders, reviews, new concepts. And just when you think you’ve read it all, there’s another zingy hint that punches up the quality of your writing.

The first two are terms I had never been introduced to before …and I called myself a writer!

1. ASYNDETON

Put simply, this is a list without a conjunction. I’ve already used this in this post. Do you see it?

I learned something new right on page 27 of Roger’s book even though I’ve studied writing, practiced writing, edited writing. (There I did it again.) The technique of listing a series without a conjunction creates multiplicity, despite that only three things are listed. Computers are programmed to dislike the asyndeton as the word ‘edited’ in the previous sentence is underlined in green. Be brave. Ignore the green line.

Another example:

The house of a homeschooling family is busy; not only in the flourish of activity from numerous children, but the books that clutter the tables, the art projects on the walls, the kitchen that serves lunch with a side of algebra.

The image given shows the reader – without so many words – that there is more going on in that homeschooling household than just those three things. The list goes on in the readers mind, allowing he/she to bring a piece of their own imagination to the sentence without me, the writer, stuffing it into their heads. This first sample gives the reader ownership of the image this sentence evokes.

However, in school, I was taught to put a conjunction at the end. Read that again with changes that make the inner editor happy.

The house of a homeschooling family is busy; not only in the flourish of activity from numerous children, but the books that clutter the tables, the art projects on the walls, and the kitchen that serves lunch with a side of algebra.

Written in this way, there are only three things happening in the house. My home has been a homeschooling home for years, but I’m certain that any parent will agree that any house with kids has more than three things going on at once.

2. POLYSYNDETON

If you guessed that a polysyndeton is a series with a conjunction between each and every word, you are a genius! The effect of the polysyndeton is similar to the asyndeton in that an image is strengthened and given a feeling of endlessness.

Her day included laundry and diapers and groceries. It didn’t matter if she was tired or sick or had no matching socks. She was a mother and a daughter and a sister. Nothing else mattered.

The use of commas between each phrase is optional – I like it without sometimes because of the restless mood it creates. This mother is so busy a sentence about her doesn’t even have time to use commas. But if you want to slow down the pace of the polysyndeton, use the comma. For example:

We drank wine on the deck, and on the beach, and in the hot tub. Lunch was taken in front of the T.V., or by the campfire, or in bed. Delicious slices of sleepy silence filled moments between meals, between walks, between sight-seeing. It was their first vacation since the last child went to college. If only they knew it would be the last.

An example Cindy Rogers uses in her book is from Isaiah 24:1-2

Behold, the Lord makes the earth empty, and makes it waste, and turns it upside down, and scatters abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with the master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him.

3. AMPLIFICATION

Just like it sounds, amplification brings attention to a particular feature, event, or idea to which the writer wishes to direct your attention. Being a ‘concentrated’ writing technique – using fewer words and no exclamation points – to make a statement, a professional writer knows this trick.

He responded as a two-year-old, with a two-year-old tantrum. A tantrum worthy of Best-Actor performance. A tantrum which broke the sound ordinance.

4. REPETATIVE REDUNDENCY

I recently read a friend’s draft of the first chapter of her first novel. While her concept is top notch and the characters are easy to like, the writing lacked the sparkle needed to make it jump out for agents and publishers. For example, within the first paragraph, she wrote something like this:

He launched himself down the dark alley, hoping the darkness would hide him from his pursuers, hoping the cloaking blackness would hide his fears.

Notice the problem? The words dark and hide are used more than once. If you are savvy, you also noticed that hoping is used twice, but that is the amplification technique, and therefore acceptable.

Every sentence in your novel needs to pack a punch. Using the ‘punch’ concept, what is more memorable? A one-punch knockout or a series of medium slaps on the cheek that really just irritate? If you box, you go for the gusto and land that solid right-hook in the first ten seconds of round one and go home. The same is true for writers. Knock the reader out with amazing upper-cut to the imagination.

The sentence re-written might be:

He bolted down the alley, hoping the darkness would conceal him, hoping the raging beat of his heart wouldn’t give him away.

I changed launched to bolted. This character isn’t jumping off something – he’s not launching. He’s running for his life. I also followed the show-don’t -tell rule (your bonus tip for the day). Instead of using the word fears, telling the reader how he’s feeling, I described his pounding heart. It’s implied that he’s afraid. If he wasn’t he wouldn’t be running away.

Next Time: Educational (no quiz, I promise!)

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The greatest benefit of attending a Writing Conference is the massive amount of information and motivation a writer gains by being surrounded by like-minded muses. In this economy, the cost has been a huge obstacle for me, but in this series of posts about Writing Conferences without the Conference, I’m energizing my writing by focusing on the outcome.

The outcome every writer strives for is the well-written sentence. The secondary goal is the amount of well-written sentences. That leads to the focus of today: double your output, double the fun, double the effort, double your success, double your efforts without doubling the time and money.

Those all sound good, huh?

Double your output. Join NaNoWriMo.com this November for National Novel Writing Month. There is no fee, although a small donation goes a long way, and it helps you track your goals. Essentially, you come to the table (dining, coffee shop, or T.V. stand) with an idea and you write 1,600+ words a day to meet the goal of 50,000 words throughout the month. It’s true that the result can be 40,000 words of blech, but hey, that’s 40,000 words you got out of the way and now you can get onto the good stuff, or mold that blech into gold (because we all know alchemy only exists in the arts).

Double the fun. Find a writing partner or a writing group. Meet once a week, every other week, once a month – but meet and keep it consistent. This is an important part of writing for two reasons:

1. Writing is a lonely, solitary career. A friend, a co-worker is essential part of our successes. Here is my post about my beautiful writing partner, Beth: http://bit.ly/OVUB9I

2. Our writing improves only when it can be read by a trusted friend and fellow word-lover.

Double the Effort. Day two’s post about effort is so important, I’m bringing it up again. Effort is the fuel, writing is the tool. Keep track of your effort and up the motivation by writing in a Writing Journal. Sounds a little redundant, I know, but great minds and authors keep a journal of their work efforts. It looks like this: Before you set down any word of your new novel, short story, memoir, or poem, write a note to yourself about what you are bringing to your writing that day.

For example, today’s note to myself was this: “The to-do list is actually calling out my name. I can hear it. I put it in the freezer so I don’t have to think about it until tomorrow when I take out the meat for dinner. Today I will add the edits from my printed manuscript to the computer. I will finish that blog post and spend 40 minutes on the synopsis. Then I will celebrate my frozen to-do list with a small glass of wine.” See, my writing in my Writing Journal is nothing profound, just my voice, my life, my challenges. Other days have celebration entries when I feel that I’ve really nailed a scene. And, yes, there are a few entries where I toy with the idea of giving up writing…but those are just vent sessions. The idea of giving up writing is as silly as decided to never drive a car again.

Double your success. This will naturally happen when the effort is made. Not only will ‘the writing’ begin to happen, your writing will evolve into something beautiful and your goals will transform into stacks of manuscripts. By doubling your efforts, you will naturally double your success.

Double your resources. Increasing your writing is step one. If your story is written, edited, critiqued and revised, it’s time to send it out into the big world of submissions. Sign up for Hope Clark’s weekly newsletter: FundsforWriters for a weekly boost of information, motivation and submission possibilities. Spend the afternoon at the library with the Writer’s Market 2013, taking note of what agents and publishers are looking for the genre you write. Scour the Internet for magazines, anthologies and e-zines for submission policies. And then take the plunge – submit!

Because today’s word was “Doubled”, it is fitting to provide a second theme for double-the-motivation:

U – You decide

You decide on success or failure.

You decide when to write, when to read, when to take a walk.

You decide if the fate of characters strengthens or weakens your book.

You decide to wake up early and write or to sleep in and deepen the dent in your pillow.

You decide if you will reach your goals by watching movies, meeting up with friends or taking on too much work.

You decide your focus, your determination.

You decide to renew your focus and determination each day.

That’s what will get you to the last edited page.

Next: Concentrated

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Effort.

Effort is a campfire on a December night in Northern Michigan – you MUST constantly feed it or you will freeze. The effort of writing a book will grow cold if you don’t feed your mind the kindling of research and allow the flames of inspiration to change the effort into a story.

Print this out and post it on your wall or in your notebook.

As you can see, there are several days – sometimes a week – between my posts. I’m writing all the time between here and there and in the moments between lessons as I homeschooling my children. How does my schedule help you in your writing, you ask? Never give up, I say. The effort is a marathon, not a sprint. Even though there are kids and diapers and cross country meets, there is time to work on the craft of writing. Between meal planning, shopping and prep, there are moments to read. Before the sun rises, you can sneak out for a walk outside and listen to an audio book.

It’s now nap time for my youngest, so the house is quiet, giving me that necessary space to think. My older daughters are cleaning the kitchen before they finish their school work and leave for cross country practice. They take an active role in my success as a writer and I thank them for it. (So this is for you, girls! I love you and I thank you for being exactly who God made you to be!)

Sometimes the effort of writing is more than finding the time or the space…it’s leaping that tall mountain: Mount  Writer’s Block (lovingly called Mt. Block Head by locals), located in the Valley of Emptiness, navigated successfully with a map. Who has that map? Can we just use the North Star?

Writer’s block isn’t as much of  a block as it is a detour…an Andes mountain bus detour along a road without a guard rail led by a driver sipping on Jack Daniels. Not pretty – or perhaps the opening scene for a cliffhanger (pun intended). Writer’s block leaves a writer scattered on the rocks below, lamenting the short writing career and off to the hereafter in search of the next thing. Learn to recognize a derailed writing project and find a way to get behind the wheel. For me, my map, my North Star is research.

From my own experiences, when I hit a wall in a story, I return to my research and always find a solution. When writing about a scene that takes place in the desert, my research can vary from reading picture books set in the American Southwest to watching documentaries about deserts. Other times my struggles are with the flow of sentences and structure of the story and I turn to books about writing and my writing magazines. Research can also include reading blogs. Note what blogs really impress you and analyze the writing to discover what makes it pop.

To keep the fuel of effort hot:

  • take a little of that writing conference money and buy a subscription to Writer’s Digest, Poets and Writer’s, or the like. Study the genre you write. Children’s writer? Read Calliope House, Ladybug, Highlights. Literary? Glimmer Train and the hundreds of e-zines.
  • Go to the library and borrow Elizabeth Berg’s book on writing (I’d include the title, but I loaned it out), Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Try out Stephen Kings book On Writing. Need help with query letters and submissions? Noah Lukeman’s First Five Pages. For the most entertaining resource for writing query letters, visit: http://www.queryshark dot com
  • Listen to books on tape. Hear the story and the dialogue. Although the voice of each character is performed by the same person, intonation of the actor and the speech patterns from the author create an individual. Do your characters have that same level of individualism?
  • Now record yourself reading your own story. Then listen to it without reading along. You’ll be amazed at the mistakes and weak areas of your writing as you read it into the recorder and you’ll discover undercurrents of strengths and weaknesses as you listen. This is time consuming, but worth every minute.
  • Attend an author visit and book signing. Seek answers to questions about writing that pester you. What better way to stay motivated than to meet an accomplished writer?
  • Develop thick skin and join a writing group (check your local library for meeting times). Remember that all critiques are opinions and you can pick and choose which opinions improve your writing and which suggestions are better swept under the rug.

It’s true that no one will hold your hand during this venture. I do pray that you have someone cheering you on. Keep on keeping on. The effort will be worth it. It always is.

 “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard to make this dream come true” said No One, Ever!

Bonus “E” word:

Evolution. The more you write, the more your true style will emerge. Logic tells us no style can be born without a mentor. Since J.R.R. Tolkien is no longer with us and I will likely never meet Madeleine L’Engle or Kathi Appelt, I must use their writing to learn as a guide toward greatness. Keep reading great literature. Find good stories with descriptions that create images so strong you forget you are reading.

Next: Doubled

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Before we begin… Are you comfortable? Do you have a hot cup of coffee or tea? How excited are you about that new notebook? Is your house empty or full of kids and noise, like mine? Well, either way, plug in the music and make the most of the time you have!

Day One: wRiting

First and foremost, a writer must write. Thousands of people want to write a book. Few do because success of this goal is only accomplished by actually writing. Writing requires time and time is something few are willing to sacrifice. Time away from friends, time early in the morning before the kids wake, time off Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Goodreads and Freshly Pressed Blogs. Time NOT watching the new fall TV season or football.

Instead, a writer must create business hours and show up for work. Invest $10 on a notebook and a really nice pen. Write on paper, leave limrics on muddy cars and steamy windows. Turn off the wireless internet and tap away at the keyboard. Don’t worry about writing beautifully, just write.

Are you just starting out? Need some help for story ideas? Where do writers harvest ideas?

Write about the very first time you rode a bike by yourself. Your first kiss. Your first pet. Write about your friend/sister/brother/mother/father who died of cancer. Write about where you were on 9/11. What would you do if someone drove off with your kids? What is your bedtime ritual? Your favorite song and what memories does it evoke? Why do you always purchase black skirts? What t-shirt do you still have from college? What was your first reaction when a friend was pregnant and you were not?

Start writing. A story will emerge.

What if you have a story in the works? Take a new look at it:

1. Describe your story. Take as much space and time as you need.

2. Check your word count. Now whittle that description down by half.

3. Cut it by half again.

4. Keep going until you have one sentence. This sentence should encapsulate the essence of your story, not give every detail. Make it the strongest string of words you’ve ever written.

5. Read this sentence to a stranger (friends will tell you what you want to here)  Watch their reaction for the raised eyebrow. That’s the sign that they are intrigued and want to hear more. That reaction is something to celebrate!

* What did you notice about your story? Are you focused on one theme or idea? Is your plot a wavering candle near an open window? Every time I do this for a story or novel, I walk away from the exercise rejuvenated by a reminder of what I’m actually writing. My purpose in telling this particular story is dusted off and polished. In the moments I find my writing stalled, this activity is the kick in the pants I need to get back on track.

Where to write: I’m always on the lookout for a quiet place to write. That makes me sound like some kind of recluse or hermit, but for writing successfully, I’ve come to realize that despite the steps I can take forward through my post-it notes and digital recordings of scenes, I do need several hours of uninterrupted time to let the magic happen. Here’s a few outside-the-box ideas (and if you have any new ideas, please share!):

1. Kick your family out. Harsh, but it works. My husband takes our kids to his parent’s house for the weekend and I stay home. This works because his family lives relatively close. If they didn’t I would look into a nearby hotel with a pool where they could go for at least one night. While they are out having fun, I’m home compiling my work, reading through notes for blog posts, scenes, outlines and edits.

2. House Sit. I haven’t actually tried this one, but the thought has occurred to me several times. If you need a place to get away but don’t have the money for a hotel, house sit for a friend. It’s a new location, a quiet and empty house – kinda like a hotel without room service, but after all the money you save not renting a room you might go out to eat. It’s a win-win.

3. Use your camper. I have parked the camper (ok, my husband parked it, set it up, and then left me there) at a campsite and used the quiet time to work. Our camper has a dining room table and electric hook-up, a refrigerator…and a microwave. It really is like a hotel.

4. If you have a day job, consider using 2-3 days of vacation for a writing marathon. Hide out at home or a hotel, bring your computer, notebooks, and printer. Stay up late, get up early. And write to your mind’s content.

5. Sign up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. It’s a month-long exercise in committment to writing with a goal of 50,000 words for the month.

Day 2 of the FREE Writing Conference: Effort

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Last week was supposed to be the week of writing bliss: a week-long writer’s conference on the shores of Lake Michigan. Not only would I have input from published authors, editors and agents on my work, there was a manuscript critique, a pitch tutoring session and 4 full days of classes. From a stay-at-home mom point-of-view that week away offered meals I didn’t make, dishes that magically cleaned themselves (house elves?), a bed to myself, and no noses or rear ends to wipe. Like I said: Bliss!

But times being what they are I couldn’t afford it. I prepared for two weeks, editing queries and pitches to agents until they gleamed (thus the lack of blog posts) all the while hoping the funding would come in time. It didn’t.

I try to find the humor in the cost of writing conferences. I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of four. That’s a gentle excuse for: I have no paying job.

This is particularly painful when agents will only accept queries and submissions from authors they meet at conferences. [sigh]

If you have read any of my previous posts, you are already aware of my “take it in small pieces” concept. I write in the minutes between lessons, I speak scene ideas into my digital recorder while I walk or drive, and I listen to books-on-tape while I drive-cook-walk-bake to keep up with the newest releases. I even go to the extreme of writing bits of stories on post-it notes. (http://bit.ly/RSy2mc  to read the full post) and how I scrape together a few minutes a day of silence (http://bit.ly/QMF25F ).

So I’m taking my “small pieces” idea to a whole new level. The REDUCED writing conference. Now don’t get your pages in a bunch- not ‘reduced’ as in ‘low quality’ – Reduced as in:

wRiting Effort DoUbled by Concentrated Educational Details

Over the next several days, I’ll explore writing resources I’ve tried, ideas to find new places and times to write, tweeking scenes into ‘I can’t put this book down’ experiences. But first, we must write.

wRiting. First and foremost, a writer must write. Thousands of people want to write a book. Few do because success of this goal is only accomplished by actually writing. Writing requires time and time is something few are willing to sacrifice. Time away from friends, time early in the morning before the kids wake, time off Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Goodreads and Freshly Pressed Blogs. Time NOT watching the new fall TV season or football.

Instead, a writer must create business hours and show up for work. Invest $10 on a notebook and a really nice pen. Turn off the wireless internet and tap away at the keyboard. Don’t worry about writing beautifully, just write.

Write about what? Where do writers harvest ideas?

Write about the very first time you rode a bike by yourself. Your first kiss. Your first pet. Write about your friend/sister/brother/mother/father who died of cancer. Write about where you were on 9/11. What would you do if someone drove off with your kids? What is your bedtime ritual? Your favorite song and what memories does it evoke? Why do you always purchase black skirts? What t-shirt do you still have from college? What was your first reaction when a friend was pregnant and you were not?

Start writing. A story will emerge.

Bonus Tips: I’m always on the lookout for time alone to write. That makes me sound like some kind of recluse or hermit, but for writing successfully, I’ve come to realize that despite the steps I can take forward through my post-it notes and digital recordings of scenes, I do need several hours of uninterrupted time to let the magic happen. Here’s a few outside-the-box ideas (and if you have any new ideas, please share!):

1. Kick your family out. Harsh, but it works. My husband takes our kids to his parent’s house for the weekend and I stay home. This works because his family lives relatively close. If they didn’t I would look into a nearby hotel with a pool where they could go for at least one night. While they are out having fun, I’m home compiling my work, reading through notes for blog posts, scenes, outlines and edits.

2. House Sit. I haven’t actually tried this one, but the thought has occurred to me several times. If you need a place to get away but don’t have the money for a hotel, house sit for a friend. It’s a new location, a quiet and empty house – kinda like a hotel without room service, but after all the money you save not renting a room you might go out to eat. It’s a win-win.

3. Use your camper. I have parked the camper (ok, my husband parked it, set it up, and then left me there) at a campsite and used the quiet time to work. Our camper has a dining room table and electric hook-up, a refrigerator…and a microwave. It really is like a hotel.

Next time: Effort

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