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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Frazzled, Overwhelmed, Swamped? A Writer's Guide to Mental Health

by Ruth Harris

You’re swamped and there are alligators in that swamp. They have sharp teeth and they bite. Their names are Stress, Clutter, Distraction, Disorganization, and Interruption.

You’ve got a book to write, a cover to create, tweets to tweet, promos to set up, blurbs to polish, and pins to Pin. There’s metadata, pricing decisions, giveaways, keywords, tagging, liking, formatting, blogging, Instagramming and facing FaceBook.

Your phone is pinging and your computer is beeping. Your lists have lists, your eyes are crossed from staring at a computer screen all day (and night), and carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t just something that happens to other people.

Frazzled doesn’t even begin to describe it. You’re irritable and short-tempered. You’re working hard but never experience the satisfied feeling that you’ve actually finished something. You can’t think much less think straight. You’re overwhelmed, overcommitted, and in a state of perpetual exhaustion.

You are not alone. Anne and I confess.


Your social media accounts are growing mold and/or they are covered with cobwebs? You got lured in/carried away and signed up for accounts you haven’t visited since the last century?

Ruth blushes and raises her hand.

Your email is a tsunami of the unanswered, unfiled, and/or undeleted? Your in-box overflows with requests for quotes, newsletters, mass mailings and triggers feelings of guilt, fear, panic, and inadequacy?

Anne sighs and raises her hand.

Anne and I have both been feeling overwhelmed lately. We recently compared notes and agreed that we were probably not alone. We decided it was time to take a step back and figure out How To Be A Writer In The E-Age (title alert!) and have a life, too.

Here’s a little of what we learned and what we’re doing about it.


Clutter is toxic. That ready-to-topple stack of messy papers, print outs, scribbled notes you can no longer decipher, remnants of yesterday’s ham sandwich, unsorted receipts, unpaid bills, and that drooping plant gasping for water are the enemy.

Clutter will (literally) fry your brain and torpedo your memory. Not only does a messy desk (or desktop or work space) look unprofessional, clutter is a scientifically proven source or stress.

In a recent study, neuroscientists at Princeton University found that each piece of physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention. Each item shouts “me first!” and the consequence is decreased performance and increased stress

Different people have different definitions for how much clutter is “too much.” Sentimental Sam’s treasured collection of five year’s worth of birthday and Valentine’s Day cards will send Neatnik Nancy shrieking into the abyss.

Still, there are alerts that will let you know when you’ve reached your own limit. A few hints:
  • Need to walk the dog but can’t find him/her anywhere in the chaos?
  • Surprise! You’re almost fifty and you find your high school prom dress lurking in a file drawer?
  • Wow! You’ve been looking high and low for your lawn mower and find it right there, under your desk.
  • Your home office looks even worse than Steve Jobs’s home office?
  • Your Significant Other confuses you with the Collier Brothers?

Sound familiar? If so, develop a realistic system for controlling the clutter. Some like to shovel out the mess straighten out their desk/office first thing in the morning. Others use breaks throughout the day to tidy up as they go along. Still others take a few moments at the end of the day so they can start the next day with a clear mind, ready to go to work.

Some let the chaos build for a while and then set aside a morning, an afternoon, a day if necessary, to dig out.

There is no one way to tackle clutter but whatever approach works best for you, stick to it and make decluttering a habit you incorporate into your daily routine. The reward will be increased peace of mind and an improved ability to concentrate.

Here are a few specific declutter and de-stress how-tos:


Organize and automate.


Writing by its nature is a messy business with notes, ideas, snatches of dialogue, plot points popping up in random order. All need to be organized and eventually wrestled into usable shape. Olde Faithful word processors like Word are powerful and reliable and work perfectly for many.

Newer writing apps take a deeper look at writers’ needs and offer tools to help control and organize the mess.

Scrivener, beloved by many (including me) comes in both Mac and PC versions. Scrivener is an organizing ninja that provides space for your manuscript plus character and place descriptions, and all manner of research including web links, images, audio files and videos. There’s an easily accessible cork board complete with index cards and an outline function. Thanks to Scrivener’s “binder” concept, moving scenes around is quick and easy.

There’s a learning curve but you can easily start with the basics and go on from there with the help of Scrivener’s own videos and tutorials plus loads of on-line info. Scriv offers a generous trial and, if you decide Scrivener is for you, the purchase price is $45.

Ulysses (Mac only) is another, newer but highly-respected writing app and presents the writer with a distraction-zapping interface. Author David Hewson is a fan and has written a number of helpful blog posts about how he uses Ulysses including why it’s so easy to write in Ulysses.

You will find a Ulysses-Scrivener comparison here and another here. Ulysses, like Scriv, offers a FREE trial and will cost $45 if you decide to buy.

Both Scrivener and Ulysses will export your manuscript into pdf and ebook formats.

Atlantis (for PCs) is a full-featured, moderately-priced MSWord lookalike. Comes with a generous FREE try-before-you-buy trial, offers on-line help, and user’s forum. Atlantis can do much of what most modern writing apps do including turn your text into an epub or mobi file.

Evernote and Microsoft’s One Note are both FREE downloadable on-line notebooks that will help organize the clutter. They are fast, searchable, and can be set up in whatever way works best for you.

Backing up your work is critical and being able to do it automatically means one more thing you can delete from your to-list. Some are FREE, others paid. Each takes a slightly different approach and each has its fans. To decide which is best for you, check out:

Dropbox

Carbonite

Backblaze

GoogleDrive

ICloud

CrashPlan

Mozy


Distraction and Interruption


Whether it’s the phone, IMs, emails, texts, a friend, a spouse, a neighbor, those interruptions add up and not in a good way. According to a New York Times article distraction actually makes you dumber.

Other data show that the stress of the distraction or interruption causes cognitive fatigue, which leads to omissions, mental slips or lapses, and mistakes.

A 2007 study by Basex estimated that distractions cost $588 billion per year. To compound the issue, the time required to reestablish your focus after an interruption takes even more time out of your productive day.

Another survey found nearly 60% of disruptions come from email, social networks, and cell phones.

Nora Roberts has said that she permits distractions only in the case of “blood or fire.”

Some writers (including Ruth) wear earphones to block out noise and others set timers to carve out no-interrupt writing periods. Still others close the door and post “Do Not Disturb” signs.

MindTools offers an in-depth look at distractions and lists ways to curtail or minimize them.

Laura Stack, a personal productivity expert, looks at the negative impact of self-sabotage and the downside of multitasking. She offers strategies for staying on focus and in the zone.

Anne and Ruth Shape Up And Pare Down


Anne is spending less time on Facebook and she’s taking Thursdays off from all social media. The volume of requests for her time make it impossible for her to deal with them.

From now on she’s decided she’s not going to respond to mass mailings or cold queries. If she doesn’t have time to read newsletters or online magazines, she deletes them immediately. No saving for “later” because she’s found she never gets back to them.

I ration my social media to Twitter (where I’ve made lots of friends and which I enjoy) and indulge in one brief, catch-up session in the morning and another in the evening. Whenever something catches my eye and I think of it, I share it on Pinterest. Otherwise, my moldy, cobwebbed accounts are doomed to stay that way.

I’ve cut down on my blog and basically use it only to announce sales, reveal new covers or introduce new books. If I get a zippy idea I can write quickly, I’ll post it but, otherwise, my blogging is focused here with Anne.

I’m also planning to turn off those annoying email notifications but I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

Too busy. ;-)


What about you, Scriveners? Are you feeling a tad frazzled and overwhelmed? Swamped? Are you paring down on Social Media? How about dealing with desk and office clutter? How do you deal with your tsunami of email?


BOOK OF THE WEEK

DECADES: It's FREE!!

"The songs we sang, the clothes we wore, the way we made love. Absolutely perfect!" ...Publisher's Weekly



Kindle  |  iBooks  |  Nook  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay

THREE WOMEN. THREE DECADES. Spanning the years from the optimistic post-War 1940s to the Mad Men 1950s and rule-breaking "Make Love, Not War" 1960s, DECADES is about three generations of women who must confront the radical changes and upended expectations of the turbulent decades in which they lived.

Evelyn, talented but insecure, is a traditional woman of the Forties. She is a loyal and loving wife and mother whose marriage and family mean everything to her.

Nick, handsome and ambitious, a chameleon who changes with the changing times, is her successful but restless husband.

Joy, their daughter, confused and defiant, a child of the Sixties, needs them both but is torn between them.

Barbara is the other woman, younger than Evelyn, accomplished but alone. She is a transitional woman of the Fifties who wonders if she can have everything--including another woman's husband.

DECADES, sweeping in scope yet intimate in detail, is the emotional, compelling story of family, marriage, crisis, betrayal and healing.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


VIGNETTE WRITERS, here's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

8 Bogus "Rules" New Writers Tell Each Other

by Anne R. Allen


We get lots of questions from new writers who have spent time in forums and online writers' groups where they've been given advice by other newbies. Some of that advice is fine, but a whole lot is dead wrong.

Unfortunately, the wrong stuff is usually delivered with the most certainty.

That's because the most ignorant people are generally the most sure of themselves. This phenomenon has been scientifically proved. It's called The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Nobel Prize winners David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University did a study in 2000 that proves the least competent people really are the most likely to overestimate their own competence.

I remember feeling perfectly confident I knew everything worth knowing at age four. Then I went to school and it ruined everything.

I do still encourage the use of critique groups and beta readers as a first step in learning the ins and outs of the craft and business of writing, but keep in mind that most of what you hear in a critique group needs to be taken with a grain of salt. And now, with the rise of social media, the chances of getting bad or misleading information has increased exponentially.

So make sure you cross-reference if a suggestion for a change goes against what you've observed or heard from respected authorities.

Some of these "rules" are pretty comical—the opposite of what the publishing industry considers good writing. I have a feeling some frustrated new writer may have made them up to justify bad writing habits.

When in doubt, ask a professional or look it up. There are many, many good books that teach the basics of how to write fiction. One of my favorites is How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey (not the James Frey who who wrote the bogus memoir.) I also like The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (nice and short). Screenwriters' bibles Story by Robert McKee, and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder are great for story structure, and of course every writer's library should have a copy of The Elements of Style.

If you have a favorite nuts-and-bolts writing book, do tell us about it in the comments.

I hope you'll pass this post on to new writers who may be led astray by "the blind leading the blind" syndrome that can happen in social media.

Here are eight bogus "rules" I've heard recently.


1) When writing something inspired by your own life, every incident must be told exactly as it happened, or somebody will sue you.



If you know somebody is likely to sue you if you include them in a memoir, it's safest to disguise them with a name-change. Better yet, fictionalize your story. For advice on how to fictionalize a "true story," read Ruth Harris's great post on the subject from earlier this month.

But even if you're writing a memoir or a piece of creative nonfiction, you still have to craft it into a story with an arc. That's a story with an inciting incident, conflict, and resolution. That's never going to be exactly "the way it really happened," because real life is a meandering journey, not a tidy story. Plus real life has lots of boring bits. Do NOT include them if you want anybody to read your book.

A memoir has to tell a story. That means it has dialogue and scenes. You can't help putting less than accurate words in people's mouths unless you recorded every word ever said to you.

For advice on how much "truth" to put into a memoir, here's an enlightening post from Jane Friedman: How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Have to Be?

She points out how subjective all memory is, so no one person's memory is going to provide 100% absolute provable facts.

2) Novels can not contain contractions.


This one floored me. A writer had been told this by an "editor". (Which shows you should carefully vet freelance editors. As I said last week, anybody can call herself an editor, so do your research before you hire somebody.)

If you follow this editor's advice, every person in your novel will sound like Star Trek's Mr. Spock.

People who speak English as a first language (and are not robots or space aliens) use contractions. If your characters don't use them, your novel or memoir had better be set in a robot colony or the planet Vulcan.

3) "Said" is boring. Use more energetic tags like "exclaimed","growled", and "ejaculated."


Whoever thought up this one is treading dangerously close to Tom Swifty territory.

"Said" is invisible to the reader. Any other dialogue tag draws attention to itself. Use other tags judiciously, the way you do with exclamation marks. You do use exclamation marks judiciously, don't you!!?

4) In a memoir, everyone in your life must be given equal time.


Somebody has been telling memoirists that even if they were personal friends with Elvis, the king shouldn't get any more space in a memoir than Great Aunt Myrtle Mae, if the two people were "equally a part of your life."

Sorry. Unless you're writing an autobiography for your family's eyes only, this is the worst advice possible.

First, a memoir is not an autobiography. Autobiographies are a chronology of a life from the cradle to now.  Nobody's likely to read them unless they're written by heads of state, tech moguls, or members of the Rolling Stones.

A memoir should be the story of a particular incident or related series of incidents in your life that will be of interest to the general public. Maybe how you overcame a disability, had Elvis's love child, or invented Post-It Notes.

So unless your Great Aunt Myrtle Mae was Elvis's date for the prom, or a crazed fan who broke into Graceland and stole a leather jumpsuit in which she wants to be buried, only give her a walk-on part in your story.

A lot more people want to read about Elvis than want to read about how much you loved your Auntie. Sorry, but that's the way human beings work. We've always been suckers for royalty.

5) Head-hopping is necessary if you have more than one character in a scene.


You don't need to tell us what everybody is thinking in every scene. That only confuses the reader. Good writers can show the reactions of other characters through the eyes of the scene's point-of-view character.

After all, you're seeing your entire life through the eyes of one point-of-view character: you. And you probably know what's going on. Or think you do.

Learn to use body language, facial expressions, and dialogue to let us know how key characters are relating to the action.

The exception is a story told from an omniscient point of view, which is not the same as head-hopping. Omniscient POV uses a god-like voice that knows everything. You'll often see it in high fantasy, which is told in a "bard's" storytelling voice.

An omniscient voice also works well in a humor novel, because it makes the story sound like a stand-up comedy routine. Carl Hiaasen does this brilliantly. So does Dave Barry.

But be aware omniscient POV in most genres seems old-fashioned, is hard to pull off, and is often taboo with agents.

For a hilarious take on the omniscient narrative voice, here's a brilliant video by Nick Offerman in which the characters in a Western movie rebel against that all-knowing narrator.

For a great overview of POV, read this post from Kristen Lamb: Point of View: How to find the perfect voice for your story. It's a must-read for anybody having POV issues (and most newbies do.)

6) All internal monologue must be put in italics.


I've even seen this in guidelines from small publishers. It's not wrong, but it's not the norm.

Putting internal monologue in italics is a convention that comes from mid-20th-century pulp fiction. You especially see it in thrillers. Some literary authors, like William Faulkner, also experimented with it. Some contemporary authors like to use italics to show alternate points of view. I've seen both Terry McMillan and Marian Keyes do this. They're both brilliant authors, and they used the device well.

But italics are on their way out. I've seen agents say in their guidelines they won't read anything that's italicized. That's probably because italics are harder to read and cause havoc with electronic formatting, especially for ebooks.

These days, writers generally use the "deep third person" point of view that allows for inner monologue without dialogue tags. Here's a great post on deep point of view from Rhay Christou at Writers on the Storm.

7) Good writers never use sentence fragments: all characters must speak (and think) in perfect English.


Oh. My. God. If all your characters speak in complete sentences, they'll sound as if they're living inside a school book report.

Where they're probably cohabiting with those Vulcans from #2.

Even Jane Austen's characters speak in sentence fragments. Shakespeare's do to, as in: "But Soft!"

When you write a novel (or a memoir or a play), your aim is to to present realistic characters, not impress your third grade teacher.

I've met some people who insist that even fictional five-year-olds must have a perfect understanding of the subjunctive mood and never, ever mistake a gerund for a gerundive.

Do I have to say why this is a recipe for snoozerific, inauthentic, bad fiction?

Or farce. It could make a pretty funny farce. Otherwise, do not listen to these people.

Nobody uses perfect grammar when they speak. Not even Ph.Ds. (My parents both had Ph.Ds: one in English and the other in Classics, so trust me on this.)

The rules for writing fiction are very different from the rules for writing a scholarly essay. If you confuse them, you're going to end up with a pompous, comical mess.

8) Never use the word "was."


This is my unfavorite piece of writing advice and you see it everywhere.  I wrote a whole post about the "was police" in 2012. They're wrong. Using the verb "to be" in any tense is perfectly fine.

"Was" is not always "passive." The past tense of the verb "to be" is also used in creating the past progressive tense in English.

Passive: "The book was read by me..." Passive voice tends to sound pretentious and annoying. (But sometimes the passive voice is necessary, so don't try to eliminate it entirely. )

Past Progressive: "I was reading the book when some idiot came in and told me the word 'was' is taboo for writers."

If you change the construction to "I read the book" instead of "I was reading the book" you have no sense of timeline. It would be dumb.

Yes, doing a search for "was" is a handy tip for self-editing. It helps to weed out passive construction (when it needs weeding.) A "was" search can also pinpoint lazy writing habits like starting descriptive passages with "there was." But there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the word. People go way over the top with their hatred of the past tense of the verb "to be."

Let it be.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a favorite nuts-and-bolts writing guide? Have you heard any of this bad advice? What's the worst piece of advice you've been given about writing? How do you react when somebody tells you, with great conviction, something you know to be wrong? 


BOOK OF THE WEEK



Sherwood Ltd is only 99c for two weeks! 

It's #2 in the series, but can be read as a stand-alone.

This is the one where Camilla Randall a.k.a. "The Manners Doctor" goes to England. 

She and Plantagenet will be returning to England in book #5, coming up in the spring: So Much for Buckingham, which will tackle the controversies surrounding Richard III, the way Sherwood Ltd deconstructs the Robin Hood myth

At Amazon US, Sherwood Ltd is 99c, at Amazon UK, it's 75P, at Amazon CA it's $1.13, Amazon AU it's $1.12 and Amazon IN it's 49 rupees (yes, India gets a special deal.) And in all international Amazon stores. Here's the link to the International Amazon Landing page.




"Camilla realizes that here is a gang of modern day outlaws. At first, she’s disgusted by their foul mouths and sexist macho ways, but she comes to see among Peter’s disreputable but loyal friends personifications of all the members of Robin Hood’s gang of old – Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and all the rest; yet does she want to play Maid Marian?

[She] finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue, and has no idea who in this surreal world of latter day outlaws she can trust; who are the villains, who are the heroes, and who are both?

…it’s a wonderful spoof full of absurd synchronicities with the Robin Hood legend, incongruous happenings, over-the-top yet fully believable characters and a whole series of twists to the plot. I was particularly impressed by the excellent background details; this US author reproduces the speech patterns of various sections of UK society perfectly."
…from a review by UK reviewer "Mary Ann."

And Food of Love is now available as an audiobook, narrated by C.S. Perryess


Part thriller and part screwball romantic comedy, Food of Love tells the story of Regina, a former supermodel, now princess of a tiny European principality, who has lost her skeletal figure and finds herself threatened by an unknown assassin.

Fearing her royal husband wants to kill her now that she's not model-thin, she seeks protection from her estranged African-American foster sister, conservative Christian television pundit, Rev. Cady Stanton.

Reverend Cady has some serious weight and romantic issues of her own, compounded when an "accident" intended for Regina leaves her temporarily blind. But when Regina is declared dead and Cady's seventy-year old secretary is wrongly arrested for smuggling a small nuclear bomb to the funeral, Cady takes control.

With the help of a porn mogul, a Russian spy, a rap diva and her fierce hairdresser-girlfriend, Cady is able to save Regina, restore the bomb to its proper owners, and unearth the long-buried family secrets that hold the key to her own happiness.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Looking for an alternative to Goodreads? BookBzz is a brand new site where you can present your books in an attractive online format. It comes with a "Tell a Friend" Book Marketing and Reviews Engine and audience management system and you can (optionally) gateway to other marketing services (reviews engine, price and discount management, newsletters, reward promotions and affiliate programs).

VIGNETTE WRITERS, here's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Feel Like Popping Your Editor? Keep Calm and Read This.


Most writers know we require editors. The need for editing is drummed into us from the time we venture into our first writing class, blog, or forum. We know if we're offered a contract, we'll be assigned an in-house editor, and if we self-publish, we'll want to hire a freelancer.

These days, agents do a lot of editing too. (This is done on their own time before a book is sold, so it's one of the big pluses of having an agent.)

We've heard for years about the fantastic symbiotic relationships superstar authors have with their beloved editors.

So when we finally get an editor to take us on—either on a freelance basis or assigned by our publishing house—we might imagine the editing process will be all Kumbaya and hugs.

We picture getting our pages back from our wonderful editor covered with positive comments and little hearts. Maybe they'll catch a few typos and suggest we embellish the story of the house elves getting into the mulled wine for a few more pages and ask for a little more of the mechanics involved in the sex scene with the three-headed trolls from Alpha Centauri. 

And perhaps they'll mention it's one of the most entertaining, well-written books ever.

Or not.

The truth is your pages are probably going to come back bleeding with red ink. Or yellow highlighter and little multi-color comments if your editor uses Word to edit the way mine does.

"Wha....???!" you say as you wipe tears from your keyboard and reach for the chocolate and/or vodka. "But this is polished stuff. I worked years on this. How dare he say I need to cut it down to 100,000 words and eliminate half the house elves? I NEED 47 named elves to show the chaos that reigns in the House of Nevermorish!" 

Welcome to the club.

All authors have to go through the process. The truth is that the glorious stories we have in our rich imaginations don't usually make it onto the page in the first try. 

But as writers we can only see the work as it exists in our heads. 

Unfortunately editors see the actual pages. And so will readers. That's why we need to go through this. 

Without readers, we're just crazy people making up stories.

(And if you're doing NaNo right now, keep on being crazy. It's the crazy that makes it all happen!)

But the editor is our bridge from our own fantasy of brilliance to the reality of actually entertaining our readers.

Judy Probus is a new author whose first book debuted in January of 2014. Today she tells us about her own journey through the editing process.

I'm glad to see she's using some of the material her editor made her take out for a supplemental book of related stories. A lot of what you take out of one book can be used in another: either as a novella with backstory about your world or characters, or a series of short stories. Those eliminated elves might be able to star in a whole series of their own. These days, we have lots of options. No writing is wasted.

But before you plunge into the editing process, here are some tips for choosing a freelance editor:


Tip #1: Try a critique group, beta reader, or self-editing software first.


Judy took a raw, never-workshopped manuscript to a professional freelance editor for a complete developmental edit. You can save money by first doing some self-editing using editing software (which Ruth Harris discusses here), workshopping your book in a critique group, or sending it out to beta readers (check out Jami Gold's great post on betas here.)

Those methods can soften the blow considerably, so maybe you won't feel the way Judy did when you get your first edits, although I think almost all published writers have felt that way at times.

Tip #2: Know what kind of edit you need.


Judy needed a complete developmental edit. Some authors need a line edit, and some only want proofreading/copy-editing. For a breakdown of the types of editing available, and how much they cost, here's a helpful post from author/editor Meghan Ward

Tip #3: Get a sample edit. 


Anybody can call him/herself an editor. Many may know grammar, but not the conventions of writing fiction. That type can be great for proofreading, but not for developmental edits like Judy's.

Or they may be English majors who don't understand genre fiction who will try to turn your fast-paced thriller into a bad imitation of Karl Ove Knausgaard.

A sample can help you see if the editor is the right fit for you and your genre.

Tip #4 Look for red flags.


These days there are probably more people making money off new writers than there are people making money from their own writing, so watch out for these red flags. (For more on editing scams, see Writer Beware.)

Bad grammar on the webpage: Don't laugh. I've seen people who claim to be editors who don't know where apostrophes go. You don't want to pay them your hard-earned money.

Lots of testimonials from unknown, unpublished authors. A good editor will want to let you know about successful clients, and the site will probably include some testimonials, but if there are pages and pages of over-the-top praise from people who who are unGooglable and haven't been published anywhere, you could be in scammer territory.

A recommendation from one writer you know is better than praise from 100 unknowns (especially if they're fictitious.)

False claims. Scam editing services often tell newbies that agents don't accept work that hasn't been professionally edited. That's not true. In fact, if you've hired an editor, don't mention it in your query. They want to see your work, not your editor's.

If you're referred by a publisher or agency. This scam isn't so big in the age of self-publishing, but there are still bogus agents and vanity publishers who own "editing" services and use one to feed the other. People caught in their web not only get bad editing, but the "agent" won't represent them to anything but scammy, high priced vanity publishers. (Sometimes the "agent", "editor" and "publisher" are one and the same.)

Vagueness. If an editor won’t give you a firm pricing scale or a list of clients and a resume, you want to move on. Here's a link to the standard pricing for editing as given by the Editorial and Freelancers Association.

Condescension. Everybody makes typos. If an editor says stuff like, "Obviously you're too stupid to know that a sentence ends with a period, not a comma," or "the article 'the' is not spelled "teh"; you need to go back to kindergarten, kitteh," you should run. Disrespectful remarks of any kind should send you out the door. There is NO place for verbal abuse in the editor/author relationship.


But sometimes simple truth can sting. Especially if you've been working in a self-protected bubble like Judy. But if you listen and learn, you can work your way through it to a popular book, the way she did....Anne


What my Editor Did that Made me Want to Pop Him (and why that’s a good thing)

by Judy Probus


While I wrote the first draft of my Middle Grade fantasy, ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm, my anxiety skyrocketed every time I thought about having it edited.

The mere idea evoked emotions similar to how I feel when I watch the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Jones steps off a ledge into thin air, hoping not to plunge to his death.

You see, in the early days of writing my story, I guarded it from strangers.

For a couple years, I created and lived in my own writing world. In it, I invented my characters, sharpened my writing skills, and developed the plot.

On occasion, I invited my husband in to read bits and pieces of the story that I was especially proud of or to talk through parts I was particularly hung up on. But for the most part, the story lived in a temperature-controlled, highly protected environment. As you can imagine, working in this environment was rewarding because it gave my imagination the opportunity to run wild and free.

When I put a period on the last sentence in the story, I wanted to throw a party and wait for a standing ovation. Yes, there’s no doubt it was an accomplishment worth celebrating. But there was also an elephant in the same room my story was locked in, which was that my story was indeed locked in a room!

My inner voice finally spoke up and vetoed my desire to claim I had reached the finish line. “Yo, writing warrior, you forgot something. Hold up and get a grip. Before the story becomes a book, you need a kick-butt and objective editor to proofread your text, lest you reveal all of your unintentional errors to the world!”

I had to come to grips with the fact I had been experimenting in a vacuum. I knew I had to open myself up to criticism if I wanted to grow as a writer and develop the story, but the thought of doing so was terrifying.

Nevertheless, like a courageous little Hobbit, I ventured out of my writing hole on a personal quest to find an editor who would rival Indiana Jones’ search for the holy grail. While sifting through my options on the Internet, to my surprise, an editor crossed my path via a mutual acquaintance.

I met Matt Langan, a technology entrepreneur and editor, when ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm was two-thirds complete.

(Anne here. I'm not sure this is the best path for everybody. I think it's generally better to wait to hire an editor until after the book is complete. That's because you can't usually write the best opener until you've written the end of the story, and each rewrite will cost money. But obviously it can work, as it did for Judy.)

After an initial read, he decided to edit twenty pages at a time.

At first I was thrilled. But then when he returned the first twenty pages covered in red ink… I was devastated.

I returned home to vent to my dog, Buster. I paced, I ranted, and yes, I cursed once. I assumed I hired a madman for an editor. I found his directness and honesty offensive and assumed that we would never get through the text without parting ways on unfriendly terms!

Later that night, I took a deep breath and I read through the text he had pored over again.

While churning over each and every one of Matt’s comments, I realized that Matt devoted a substantial amount of time and thought to his critique of my fledgling manuscript, a true mark of a professional interested in realizing the story’s potential.

I asked myself, “Isn’t that the caliber of editor you were hoping for?”

So, I swallowed my bruised pride and scurried back to my laptop to make corrections while Matt put the next twenty pages under his editing microscope.

And so it went until over 400,000 words were shaved back to approximately 130,000.

Once a week, Matt and I met to discuss the next twenty pages. Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we didn’t, but we always maintained respect for one another’s abilities and the desire to create a top-shelf story.

During the editing process, Matt did more than find grammatical errors. He challenged me to rethink, rework, reimagine, and reinvent to the best of my capability. He never allowed me to slump into mediocrity.

Sometimes in the beginning, Matt’s candor got on my nerves, but when I realized it came from an honest attempt to better my story, I began to see things in a new light. I realized I wasn’t angry at him… I was just feeling the growing pains associated with getting better.

Sure enough, as the ink changed back from red to black and the story became tighter and faster, grunts changed to grins.

Three grueling edits and rewrites later (to date, Matt has read the book more than nine times), our working relationship and zeal for the project grew stronger. After we sent the manuscript to beta readers in several states and received unanimous thumbs up responses from them, I made a final sweep through the text before the story was published.

When positive reviews came across the wire from Amazon and reputable sites like NarniaFans and MuggleNet, the fire we went through together seemed like a cool fall Kentucky morning.

Below are some of the rigors and rewards Matt and I encountered during the editing process.

If you are an author, my wish is that by sharing my experience, I can help you feel more comfortable with the path you’re on or even inspire you to raise the bar and accept nothing but the best from your editor.

To my fellow readers, I hope the following thoughts make you feel as if you were peeking over my shoulder during the process so you can further appreciate the effort that authors put into crafting the final stories your imaginations love so much…

Rigors of Editing



      The most challenging part of the editing process for the writer is to remain objective and open to constructive criticism. The writer must set aside any emotional attachment to the story that may have been forged with the characters during the write and analyze the story in a new light.
      The editor’s largest challenge is to amend the text for details with the eyes of a hawk and the objective nature of a detective.
      Depending on the length of the story, the time-consuming process can take weeks or months. Quality cannot be rushed. If you’re committed to excellence, adopt a long-term perspective.
      Editing a novel is an eye-crossing, hair-tugging, one-page-at-a-time agony.
      Never settle. Always be willing and able to rewrite a scene over and over again until it feels just right.
      Red ink can be harsh on the writer’s eyes. Dear editor, please use another color.
      Toss your ego. It hinders progress like a series of speed bumps in the road.
      Editor and writer need to stay objective, tactful, open-minded, on point, and professional. The writer and editor’s personalities must be compatible.
      During the editing process, it’s important that the editor respects the writer’s voice/style. The writer must stay true to the characters’ voices when amending the text.
      Despite differences of opinion, stay strong through honest and open communication.


Rewards of Editing



      The reader’s version of the story is purged of extraneous words, grammar errors, disjointed scenes, and typos.
      Keen inspection of the text requires concentration and attention to every detail that results in a stronger text.
      The editing process unearths and polishes previously undiscovered diamonds in the rough.
      It challenges the writer/editor to perform at their highest levels.
      A worthwhile editor wields a merciless iron quill, an asset to be cherished.
      Iron is forged from fire. A good story is forged from fired up exchanges between editor and the writer.
      The write/edit collaboration doesn’t require an office. A coffee shop chat will produce powerful insight for both editor and writer.
      When you work on a book, many people will question you (strangers, friends, even family members). Although a good editor will question elements of your story, they will never question you as an author or human being. A great editor may not start as your friend, but he or she will become one. He or she should be there to bring clarity to your vision when you’re second-guessing yourself, inspire you when you’re stuck, and celebrate your breakthroughs.
      Striving for excellence requires dedication, sweat, and teamwork. There are no shortcuts, which means eventually there is no greater feeling of satisfaction upon reaching the conclusion of the process.

One of the best writing tips I ever read warned against using your family or friends to edit the story. I agree.

What started out as a rocky working relationship between Matt and me developed into a rock-solid friendship and professional relationship. I am extremely fortunate and happy to have met such a dedicated and diligent editor. I can only hope every writer finds a similar editor and friend.

Got story? I like to say, “Choose to edit or you’ll regret it.”

There is no magic formula for success as a writer, but there is writing magic to be discovered during the editing process.


PS: I know finding a terrific editor can be extremely challenging, which is why I put together a list of editors I’ve either personally worked with or have heard very good things about from writers I trust - you can see that list here. Just so you know, I’m exclusively offering this to Anne’s readers. I expect these editors might be overwhelmed with requests for work (and they deserve it) as a result of this post, so I apologize if this link is taken down shortly after it goes live. If you want to work with them, I recommend reaching out to them quickly...Judy


What about you, Scriveners? Have you reached the editing stage with your work? What has your experience been? Do you have an editor you'd like to recommend? Do you have any bad editor horror stories to share?



BOOK OF THE WEEK

ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm
a Middle Grade fantasy by Judy Probus






A once peaceful planet is under siege by an evil sorceress, an exiled member of the royal family, and the growing army they wield.

In a last ditch effort to put an end to the evil, a crystal wizard scans the solar system for help. He pinpoints three earthlings he thinks have the unique traits needed to complete a secret mission to find the three pieces of the Crystal Heart, a mysterious weapon that was broken and scattered throughout the ImagiNation centuries ago.

As if the task isn’t tough enough as it is, the earthlings are the Edwards siblings who are only 8, 11 and 17 years old. And they would have to fly to the four corners of the alien planet where magic, danger, and fantastical creatures lurk. But even if they succeed in their quest for the Crystal Heart, they’ll have to use it in an epic battle that seems destined to take place on the Crystal Castle’s lawn.

Notable reviews
"I think this could have the potential to be this generation's answer to The Never Ending Story." - NarniaFans.com

"A fascinating fantasy novel ... Reading this book felt very much like I was watching an episode of Avatar meets Indiana Jones in space." - MuggleNet.com

Judy Probus is the author of the adventure fantasy novel ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm and its supplement, full of backstories, character descriptions and illustrations. Her husband Bill and extended family reside in Kentucky, “the unbridled state” – a perfect place and state of mind for a writer of adventure fantasy tales. Discover Judy’s imagination and what inspires her to write at ImagiNationUnveiled.com.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


NPR SELECTED SHORTS CONTEST. First Prize is $ 1000,  plus a scholarship for a 10 week course at the Gotham Writers' Workshop. Your story will be read to a national audience by a well-known actor.  Deadline March 15, 2015

Looking for an alternative to Goodreads? BookBzz is a brand new site where you can present your books in an attractive online format. And once listed, for bookbzz.com to promote them for you. Listing is quick and easy... and it's free (and always will be, they promise!). Despite being simple to use it has some sophisticated marketing tools built in. It comes with a "Tell a Friend" Book Marketing and Reviews Engine and audience management system and you can (optionally) gateway to other marketing services (reviews engine, price and discount management, newsletters, reward promotions and affiliate programs).

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

First Crime Novel Competition: Sponsored by Minotaur Books (St. Martins) and Mystery Writers of America. Prize: $10,000 advance. Open to any author who has not published a novel (self-published novels OK). Must have a murder or other major crime at the center of the novel's plot. Deadline December 15th, 2014

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

New York Times Pulp Fiction Contest. They want 150 words of your best pulp noir. To submit, and read the other hilarious entries, visit their website. But HURRY. Contest ends at midnight, New York time, on Friday, November 21.

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Is Talent Overrated? 8 Things that are More Important than Talent for Writing Success


by Anne R. Allen


I often run into new writers who want to be reassured they have talent. They sometimes ask me to read some fledgling work in hopes I'll pronounce them "talented."

I always decline. (A wise author never goes there.) It's not simply that I can't fit one more thing into my already jam-packed schedule—it's also that I have no way of telling if people have talent.

I can only tell if they have skills. And if they don't have skills—which they probably don't if they're newbies—their job is to acquire some, not rely on some stranger's opinion of what abilities they were born with.

In fact, sometimes I think the most insulting thing you can say to an author is, "you're so talented," although I know I've said it myself, intending to praise.

But when most of us say an artist is "talented," we actually mean "skilled".

Lots of people are born with creative gifts—but very few have the ambition and determination to use those gifts to create anything meaningful. Many talented people sit around in cafés and talk about the great art they're going to create someday.

But skilled people are more likely to be at home actually creating it.

I believe everybody comes into this world with certain talents, and the talents you're born with will probably determine the path you take in life (assuming you live in a society where you're allowed to choose.)

You find out what your talents are by what you're drawn to. Nobody else can tell you that.

But even if you do have loads of talent, that and five bucks will get you a Venti Caffe Mocha. What you need is talent plus skills.

And acquiring skills takes time.

I have known lots of wannabe writers who sabotaged themselves with magical thinking about their own talent. Usually some teacher or mentor told them early on that they were gifted in some way, and this made them feel special.

Feeling special is great, if it motivates you to work hard and acquire skills.

But unfortunately, for a lot of people, this "special" feeling either makes them feel entitled to a fast-track to success, or it paralyzes them with fear they can't live up to the promise.

This is because so many people believe talent alone is all that's required to be good at something.

It seems to be true of writers more than musicians, visual artists, or athletes. I suppose because there's a prevailing feeling that "anybody can write." But that's simply not true. Nobody's born knowing how to write strong, compelling prose. You need to study and practice.

What aspiring violinist wouldn't take violin lessons? What painter doesn't learn how to mix and apply paint to canvas? What golfer doesn't constantly work to perfect a golf swing?

But writers think we can hit a hole-in-one on our first day on the course without so much as a lesson.

Some seem to feel too entitled to bother to study the craft and business of writing at all, and others seem embarrassed to admit how much they don't know.

It's as if they think they're betraying that talent by going out and learning how to use it.

Agent Jo Unwin, talking to the Bookseller in October said something I don't think I've heard voiced before: "it seems to me that the people who find it easy to submit to agents aren’t necessarily the best writers." She added: "Some people feel more entitled to write than others."

I recognize the two types of writers she's talking about. And I fear I may have once been in the ranks of the "entitled." I queried way too soon and expected agents to recognize my talent even though I hadn't studied enough about the marketplace to know what today's readers are looking for.

I'd spent most of my life reading the classics and shunning the bestsellers my academic family considered "beneath" them. And yet I wanted agents to see my work as the next bestseller. 

 Obviously I still had a lot of skills to acquire. 

Mostly I learned them the hard way. But you don't have to—if you put the idea of your "special artistic talent" aside and work on other things that are more likely to steer you onto the road to success.

8 Attributes That are More Important than Talent for Writing Success


1) Drive


To become successful writers, we need the determination to overcome the obstacles our subconscious will erect for us. Sitting down and actually putting those first words on a page can be one of the toughest things you'll ever face.

Our fired-up NaNoWrimos out there are showing that determination. Good for you!

We all need the courage to put butt in chair (or if you're super-health-conscious, get behind one of those standing desks) and start typing words. And make sentences of those words. (Why sentences? Here's a hilarious piece from the New Yorker on how (not) to write a sentence: guaranteed to make you laugh.) 

After that, you have to make the sentences into stories. With characters. Who are not all idealized versions of you. Stories with scenes in which something happens. Something that propels the reader into the next scene.

Sounds easy. But many "talented" people never get there. I have known tons of talented sentence writers who never learned to write a story. On occasion they may write poetic, reflective vignettes. Usually about sitting in cafés. But anything more would take away from their sitting-in-cafés time.

They lack drive.

These days we also need the drive to build a social media presence and author platform while we're learning craft, or all those lovely stories won't reach readers.

2) Passion


You need to be in love with writing. You have to fall in love with the process itself: not just your characters and story and what's going on in your head. Not just the praise you get from your critique group or your readership. You need to adore the day-to-day work of putting the story on the page.

If you don't feel the passion, your reader won't either.

3) Listening Skills


This may be the most important ability of all. If you can't listen to other people—and work to truly understand them—your stories will be flat and repetitive.

If you only write about yourself and your own thoughts and experiences, you'll bore your readers silly. You also won't have much to say. As Nikki Giovanni said, "If you wrote [only] from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy."

You need to tell stories about other people. How do you find out about other people? By zipping your own lips and listening to them. And caring about what you hear.

This is true of listening to your fellow writers, too. Sometimes they can give you insanely stupid advice—more on that in a future post—but usually you can get some pretty solid tips.

4) The Desire to Learn


I'd say about 50% of wannabe writers don't actually want to learn to write. They want to BE writers, but they don't want to acquire the skills to do it effectively.

I've actually heard newbies say stuff like, "I don't need to read a book about how to write. I got A's in English all through high school and I'm a great speller."

There's a word for people who think they know everything already: ignorant.

Writing is like any other craft. You need to learn the rules. And then practice, practice, practice until they are second nature to you.

I love to quote Somerset Maugham's great observation about writing rules: "There are three rules of writing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are."

But actually we do know what some of the rules are—up to a point. We have rules for grammar, spelling and word use. (They're slightly different for fiction writing—more on that in another post.)

There are also some fairly firm rules about point of view, story arc, and character development. And the necessity of conflict. Not to mention believable dialogue and non-snooze-inducing inner monologue. We need to learn them.

We also need to learn to make the words flow on the page without sounding as if we're robots, illiterates, or pretentious asshats.

Plus we need to learn these rules tend to evolve according to changes in the marketplace and new technology.

Those aren't "talents" you're born with. They are skills you have to learn.

5) The Ability to be Alone


I suspect a lot of those café sitters are simply extroverts who have a tough time being alone.

I'm not saying you have to be an introvert to be a good writer. Many great novels have been written by extroverts. Many have even been written in cafés.

But these are people who are actually writing, not talking about it. And when they write, they're creating their own "alone" space. You can't write without it.

And no matter where your "room" is, you have to be able to tolerate your own company.

Columnist Michael Ventura wrote an iconic essay on the subject for The Sun literary magazine over two decades ago, called The Talent of the Room, and it is all still true:

"Writing is something you do alone in a room. Copy that sentence and put it on your wall because there’s no way to exaggerate or overemphasize this fact. It’s the most important thing to remember if you want to be a writer. Writing is something you do alone in a room."...Michael Ventura

6) Understanding of the Marketplace


You wouldn't open a dress shop or a hardware store without visiting a lot of similar retail establishments. And you wouldn't open a restaurant without noticing what other restaurants are located nearby.

Publishing is a business, and if you want to sell a product, you need to know what's selling and what customers are buying.

This means reading the books on the bestseller list. Or at least knowing about them. You don't need to read a one-off viral phenomenon like 50 Shades of Grey as much as you need to read the writers who top the list consistently. Especially bestsellers in your genre. It's the only way to understand what readers are expecting right now in terms of style and content.

It's also important to read the classics, of course. If you don't know what has gone before, you're going to waste a lot of time re-inventing the wheel.

Mostly you need to read, period. As Stephen King said...and I keep repeating:

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."...Stephen King

7) Gratitude


If you reject information that's offered to you, and stubbornly cling to bad writing habits—or take lessons as personal insults, you're in for a grim time.

It's good to remember that every failure—as well as every success—can be an opportunity for growth and a way to acquire the skills you need to succeed.

When some beta reader sends you back your ms. bleeding with comments about your misuse of commas, this is not the time to stage a temper tantrum. It's time to buy a grammar book and learn something about that pesky punctuation mark.

You should also be glad you now know why all those agents rejected your pages. Maybe your story is great, but they saw 20 misplaced commas in the first page and hit delete.

I'm not saying you should be grateful for every pointless, mean review, or the idiot critique that is only about the critiquer's agenda.

And I'm not saying a little wallowing in hurt and anger isn't therapeutic when we're in the stage of gathering rejections or getting those first one-star reviews. (Yes, everybody gets them.)

But after that, figure out what you've learned (sometimes, of course, what you've learned is that the world is full of asshats whose opinions are based on ignorance and/or malice, but that's important stuff to learn, too.)

Then be grateful, accept the lesson and move on to the next level.

8) Persistence


You knew I was going to say this, right? Yeah, there are thousands of Internet memes with inspirational messages like, "The difference between success and failure is persistence."

Things get to be clichés for a reason. People think they're worth repeating.

Here are some of the more popular ones:

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. Thomas Edison

A successful man is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him.
David Brinkley

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Confucius

Failure is just a resting place. It is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently. Henry Ford

It’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get back up. Unknown


Is Talent Important? 


Sure. Talent helps. But less talented people who are willing to work and learn are more likely to succeed than wildly talented people who aren't willing to put in the time to acquire skills.

In a 2008 essay titled The Myth of Talent, photographer Craig Tanner said,

"Conventional wisdom says that it is not enough to dream. You need talent. And definition of talent lifted straight from the dictionary describes talent as 'a natural ability of a superior quality'. In other words, you either have it or you don't. I call this cultural flaw in our self-awareness the Myth of Talent. And buying into this dead end myth about ourselves is where it goes wrong for many people – particularly people who have a dream of becoming an artist."

His essay argues that the real talent is indeed skill, which can be acquired, and is not not an accident of birth. "the truth about talent is this – talent is a set of skills you develop over time through desire."

What about you, Scriveners? Have you ever worried whether you have the "talent" to be a writer? Were you told you were talented and found it hard to live up to the title? Have you known wildly talented people who never produced anything meaningful?

BOOK OF THE WEEK


ROXANNA BRITTON: A BIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL 

by Shirley S. Allen  (my mom)
(1921-2013)

A woman who had such determination that she published a novel at age eighty-five and another at age eighty-nine. 

"Jane Austen meets Little House on the Prairie"

The true tale of a powerful woman who pioneered the American West: Anne's great-great grandmother,  Roxanna Britton, born in Western Reserve, Ohio in 1833. This gripping novel based on Roxanna's extraordinary life was written by Anne's mother, novelist and scholar, Shirley S. Allen.



Widowed as a young mother, Roxanna breaks through traditional barriers by finding a husband of her own choice, developing her own small business, and in 1865, becoming one of the first married women to own property. We follow her through the hard times of the Civil War to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to a homestead in Nebraska to her final home in Elsinore, California. 

"This has become one of my all time favorite stories of "real" people. Ms. Allen's adept use of dialogue and her clear eye for drama and suspense kept me compulsively turning the pages. Her evocation of a bygone era, rich with descriptive details--the historical Chicago fire is one vivid example--is absolutely brilliant. I will never forget Sanny and her family, especially her struggle and her daughters' struggle to become individuals in a male dominated world. 

"But it is family that triumphs in the end; and the need for it to survive resonates most deeply in my mind and heart. An excellent novel that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading true stories about people who not only overcome adversity with grace and integrity but through strength of character also prevail. Well done, Ms. Shirley Allen!"...author Ann Carbine Best

Roxanna Britton is available as an ebook at  Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CAKobo, Nook, iTunes, Inktera, and Scribd.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Looking for an alternative to Goodreads? BookBzz is a brand new site where you can present your books in an attractive online format. And once listed, for bookbzz.com to promote them for you. Listing is quick and easy... and it's free (and always will be, they promise!). Despite being simple to use it has some sophisticated marketing tools built in. It comes with a "Tell a Friend" Book Marketing and Reviews Engine and audience management system and you can (optionally) gateway to other marketing services (reviews engine, price and discount management, newsletters, reward promotions and affiliate programs).

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

First Crime Novel Competition: Sponsored by Minotaur Books (St. Martins) and Mystery Writers of America. Prize: $10,000 advance. Open to any author who has not published a novel (self-published novels OK). Must have a murder or other major crime at the center of the novel's plot. Deadline December 15th, 2014

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

MUSEUM OF WORDS MICRO FICTION CONTESTNO ENTRY FEE. The competition is for very short fiction pieces of up to a maximum of 100 words. The winner will receive a prize of $20,000, with three runners-up each receiving $2,000. This contest is open to writers from all countries and entries are accepted in four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. All stories entered must be original and unpublished. The last Museum of Words contest attracted 22,571 entries from writers in 119 countries. Deadline November 23, 2014.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

How to Turn "Real Life" into Bestselling Fiction...and a Word about Memoirs

by Ruth Harris 

Writing a novel based on the lives of real people is much more than simply recounting their story—even if it’s a whizz-bang, humdinger of a story. 

The challenge is turning real people and real events into fiction.

Having no guidelines at the time I wrote Decades, I figured it out as I went along. I made plenty of mistakes along the way but had several advantages even I wasn’t aware of. 

1) Master the abc’s of craft.


It’s basic but bears repeating: learn the nuts and bolts of creating compelling fiction. Decades was my first “big book,” but prior to writing it, I had been writing professionally for over ten years—free-lance blurb writing, articles for men’s adventure magazines and for women’s magazines. I also wrote original paperbacks, mostly Gothic romance and romantic suspense, under a variety of pseudonyms.

In the process—and hardly intending to—I learned how to write action, emotion, and sex, how to grab a reader from the first sentence and how to create a cliffhanger. That knowledge of the craft would be the invaluable underpinning of the novel.

2) The Rashomon effect.


Real life—and coincidence—provided me with the initial spark for what would become the story of an extra-marital affair and a marriage in crisis. The coincidence was that I happened, quite by accident, to know each of the three people involved, two much better than the third.

The three were: a successful but restless husband, the shy, insecure, rich girl he marries on his way up, and a fashion editor who becomes “the other woman.” Two of them confided “their” versions, giving me two different points of view and invaluable perspective. 

None of them knew—nor did I at the time—that years later, haunted by their story, I would turn their dramas into fiction.

3) Beware the “it really happened” trap.


In writing a novel based on real life, I faced the same challenges a writer does with any novel—the need to create believable characters and a dramatic plot—with the added twist of having to structure the formlessness and irresolution of everyday life into the demands of a novel.

Knowing the “real people” turned out to be both a blessing and a hurdle, a limitation and a spring board. I found that the real events that seemed so compelling when told to me often either fell flat in fiction or else were quite literally unbelievable.

After getting bogged down over and over because I kept thinking “it really happened” was important, it eventually dawned on me that ignoring “it really happened” was even more important. 

The incidents and encounters I invented served the demands of a novel much better.

4) Privacy and liberation.


Of course I changed names but, as I began to write, I realized I had to go further and change initials, too. It wasn’t enough to change John Doe into Jack Dawson. The initials “JD” kept triggering unwanted memories of the real person and interfering with the creation of a believable fictional character.

A radical name change—to Mark Saint Clair, for example—guaranteed JD’s privacy and, from a writer’s point of view, had the secondary effect of freeing me from any reminders of the real John Doe/Jack Dawson.

The liberating consequence was that I felt free to change the husband’s ethnicity, physical appearance, the details of his childhood, and entirely fictional military and educational experience. I made him taller, handsomer and more successful than he really was, changed his profession, and invented a fictionally significant relationship with his daughter.


5) Help your reader relate.


The fashion editor was a stylish Manhattan single woman who led a hectic, quite glam social life. In the novel, I wanted a character more representative of everyday experience so fun and gossipy fashion-world details went mano a mano with the delete button and lost.

Instead, I portrayed a woman more characteristic of her times who marries young, has two kids, goes thru a drab, depressed, is-this-all-there-is? period. She divorces the husband who was her college boy friend and, as opportunities for women opened up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, learns (the hard way) how to conduct herself in a challenging and competitive business world.

Each of the other characters received a similar makeover. I invented parents for the fictional wife, created a sexual history for her emblematic of post-World War II cultural attitudes, and gave her a talent even she didn’t recognize—a talent that, in the end, rescues her. 

6) The geographical imperative.


The events took place mainly in Manhattan but, as my draft took shape, I realized the setting was too limited and that I needed to give my characters breathing room. 

The characters in Decades do live in Manhattan, but I added important scenes set in Florida, Nantucket, and the Caribbean.

Using different settings helped me show how the characters behaved away from their usual routines. Trust me, a week in the Caribbean with a wife is much different from a week in the Caribbean with a girlfriend in the middle of a steamy affair! For the novelist, pure gold.

7) Raise the stakes.


Almost any “real life” story by its nature, tends to be limited to the people directly involved and their immediate circle. (Unless your story is about someone you know who happens to be President of the United States whose actions have global consequences.)

As I drafted the novel and its plot and characters took shape, I wanted to show how the consequences of what started out as a casual affair between consenting adults affected people not directly involved. 

I ultimately created a teen-aged daughter torn between her charming, straying father, her loyal, devastated mother, and the come-hither lure of contemporary culture, in this case, the go-go Sixties.

8) Theme and variations.


The final element that transformed real life into fiction occurred to me as I was halfway through an early draft and paused to write what passed for an outline to the end (outlines aren’t exactly my strong suit!).

I realized that the age difference between the married couple, the younger “other woman,” and the teen-aged daughter led naturally to portraits of three transformational, mid-20th Century decades. That realization gave me a theme that supported the fiction—and the title.

By the time I was finished with my makeovers, plot twists, and search for a more substantial framework for the story, the characters had taken on their own, living, breathing albeit fictional lives. The plot moved with its own energy to a far different conclusion from the one in real life, and I was able to portray massive cultural and social changes that readers could relate to in an entertaining and story-appropriate way.

I certainly didn’t plan any of it in advance. All I knew when I began was that life had handed me a fascinating story. The false starts, tough decisions, and dead ends ultimately led to an international bestseller that explored dramatic personal dynamics set against an era of tumultuous social and cultural change, the repercussions of which we still feel today.

Wasn’t easy but definitely worth it.


A few words about writing a memoir.


Unlike fiction in which the reader has no expectation of a “true story,” the memoir promises the opposite: an approximation of real life. The decisions the writer of a memoir must make come down to "how much do I want to reveal" and, considering the vagaries of memory, "how far can I deviate from the truth?"

Jane Friedman addresses some questions memoirists must answer in How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Have to Be?

If you want to tell your own story but are undecided about whether to present it as a memoir or a novel, Leslie Lehr lays out the advantages of each.

Dana Sitar, author of This Artists’ Life, details seven mistakes to avoid when writing a memoir.

My DH, Michael Harris, required fifty years to write his bestselling memoir, The Atomic Times, about his experiences as a young soldier assigned to “observe” the US H-bomb tests. In an interview on this blog, he explains what took so long and discusses the importance of voice, perspective, and POV.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you tried to write fiction based on real characters and situations? How did it work for you? Have you been thinking of writing a memoir and wondered how much you could bend the truth? Have you found you got hung up in "the way it really happened?"


BOOK OF THE WEEK


DECADES: 2014 edition revised by the author for today's reader.

And it's FREE!!

"The songs we sang, the clothes we wore, the way we made love. Absolutely perfect!" ...Publisher's Weekly



Kindle  |  iBooks  |  Nook  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay

THREE WOMEN. THREE DECADES. Spanning the years from the optimistic post-War 1940s to the Mad Men 1950s and rule-breaking "Make Love, Not War" 1960s, DECADES is about three generations of women who must confront the radical changes and upended expectations of the turbulent decades in which they lived.

Evelyn, talented but insecure, is a traditional woman of the Forties. She is a loyal and loving wife and mother whose marriage and family mean everything to her.

Nick, handsome and ambitious, a chameleon who changes with the changing times, is her successful but restless husband.

Joy, their daughter, confused and defiant, a child of the Sixties, needs them both but is torn between them.

Barbara is the other woman, younger than Evelyn, accomplished but alone. She is a transitional woman of the Fifties who wonders if she can have everything--including another woman's husband.

DECADES, sweeping in scope yet intimate in detail, is the emotional, compelling story of family, marriage, crisis, betrayal and healing.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

JANE LUMLEY PRIZE FOR EMERGING WRITERS NO ENTRY FEE.  The Prize is awarded annually to a writer who has not published a full length book of poetry or prose. This year is poetry. The winner will receive a prize of $300 and will be featured in Issue 6 of the Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal. Deadline November 30th.

 to be published in January 2015. Publication will also be awarded to the first two semi-finalists. In addition, all the entries will be considered for publication. Deadline November 30

MUSEUM OF WORDS MICRO FICTION CONTESTNO ENTRY FEE. The competition is for very short fiction pieces of up to a maximum of 100 words. The winner will receive a prize of $20,000, with three runners-up each receiving $2,000. This contest is open to writers from all countries and entries are accepted in four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. All stories entered must be original and unpublished. The last Museum of Words contest attracted 22,571 entries from writers in 119 countries. Deadline November 23, 2014.


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