Blog

Book Babies and Low Sales

A fellow writer recently lamented how discouraged she was when she went to check her sales numbers two weeks after releasing her second book. She said it was hard to justify to herself and her spouse the amount of time spent on the craft when those statistics seemed to indicate she should quit and move on.

This got me thinking. We writers often talk about our books as our babies because they’re a part of us, and they seem to take on a life of their own. However, I think the parallels between a book and one’s own flesh and blood go even further than that.

An idea for a story can take months, if not longer, growing inside us. Long after a writer gives birth to that first draft (which is an agonizing process!), then comes the even harder part of raising that story and polishing it, getting it to the point it’s ready to face the world on its own. But even once it’s out of the house, we still find ourselves worrying about it. Will people like it? Will it be able to take care of itself?

But as parents, we don’t expect our kids to move out and start making tons of money right away. We don’t expect that they’ll be able to buy us elaborate gifts their first Christmas living on their own. We don’t set a goal that they’ll find someone who loves them and get engaged within three months of moving out. Yet we writers will unfairly expect that of our book babies and then get disappointed when they don’t live up to our expectations.

Books really are like kids. It takes them a while. The oldest one might not settle down and really get established until the last one is out of the house. But eventually, they will get there. And what they accomplish with their lives and the people they touch will be inspiring and make you proud as an author/parent. And it might take years, but eventually they won’t come around asking you for money and having to do laundry at your house. And maybe, just maybe, in your old age, they’ll be able to take care of you.

First Chapter Contest Results!!!

I had the privilege of recently attending Storymakers – a fabulous writing conference with about 750 writers, editors, and more in Utah County, UT.  The friendship and support I gained was awesome, the instruction in the classes was top-notch and in some cases down right bind-blowing, and I even had the opportunity to participate in their first chapter contest with two of my WIPs (Song of the Sapien, and Types, Shadows, and Casseroles: Finding Christ in All Things). The contest deadline was back in the beginning of February, and it cost $20 per entry, but everyone was was a winner because for only $20, you were guaranteed at least three industry professionals would read your chapter and give you feed back on it. What a bargain!

I had to wait three months from the time I submitted until the winners were announced, and I was a little disappointed when Song of the Sapien, didn’t place in the YA Sci-fi/Dystopian category. (Not that I was surprised though. The contest had over 300 entries  spread out over 10 categories.) But I still “won” that feedback, and it revealed some pretty interesting things.

First, there was one judge who in the seven categories scored me as follows:
10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 9, 10.  That’s right. 69 out of 70 possible points.

Now, if you’re like me and that’s the first judge’s marks you see, and there is glowing praise written out next to each score as well, you might be inclined to think: “How the heck did this not place?”

Another judge said: 10, 9, 7, 8, 9, 9, 10.   62 out of 70. Still not too shabby!

Cue the last judge’s page: 10, 5, 5, 6, 7, 8, 7.  Only 48 out of 70. That’s a solid D+. Ouch!

Wait. Back it up. You mean to tell me that where the first judge gave me 10s, this other one gave me 5s and 6s? And the one category the first judge marked lower than the others, is the one category this judge scored higher than the others? What the heck does that mean?

It means that in writing, as well as life, we won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. Because while we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, we will eventually find that we are somebody’s cup of tea. And that’s the only person who matters.

So does the discrepancy bother me? Not at all. It’s life. And it’s an important fact of life to be reminded about because some manuscripts will be rejected by agents and editors over and over again. But it just takes one who likes it. This is why we have genres, this is why there is room for everyone in this industry. Because art isn’t a limited field. Tastes vary from person to person and there is room for every unique flavor.  And the judge that gave me the lower scores? I think they pointed out some very valid things. Once I finish the manuscript and start editing, I think implementing their suggestions will only strengthen the story and quality of my writing.

Now, those of you still paying attention might recall that I entered two chapters. Well, I am happy to report that while Song of the Sapien didn’t place in the YA Sci-fi/Dystopian category,  Types, Shadows, and Casseroles: Finding Christ in All Things took third place in the non-fiction category. Woohoo!

contest

You are officially reading the blog of a contest-winning author. Woohoo! Aside from the obvious fame and glory and the epic certificate you see above, I also won a small cash prize which was just enough to recoup the cost of entering the contest in the first place. Which means I have enough to enter again next year…once I implement the judge’s advice of course!

,

Tag, you’re it: A look a dialogue trends

In writing, there are trends. Some people like the trends, others don’t, but knowing the trends and what following them (or not) says about you as a writer can make the difference between getting traditionally published or not.
One trend is in regards to dialogue tags. There used to be a time when people wanted variety, not just “he said” and “she said.” So more authors would use phrases like “she questioned” “he commanded” “she responded” “he replied” “she barked” “he stated”. However, these days professionals look at all those words as signs of amateur writing. The current trend is to only use “said” and “asked” (and maybe an occasional “whisper” or “shout” if the volume they are using is important to note and is otherwise unclear from context.)
The reasoning behind this is that words like “said” and “asked” become invisible to a reader. They are merely there to remind them who is speaking so conversations aren’t confusing. Putting a variety of synonyms in your dialogue tags draws attention to the dialogue tags themselves, which weakens the impact of the actual dialogue. Another reason the industry has trended away is that these synonym words are often considered lazy cheats for the writer, a way of telling how the character was feeling or acting instead of showing it.
Consider the following example.
1- Marge looked across the street, eyeing the empty space in the driveway next to Carol Smith’s van. “He hasn’t been home since Tuesday,” she gossiped.

2 – Marge looked across the street, eyeing the empty space in the driveway next to Carol Smith’s van. She leaned over to me and raised her hand to shield her mouth, but made no effort to lower her voice as if welcoming the world to hear. “He hasn’t been home since Tuesday.”

See the difference? One tells you Marge was gossiping. The other shows it and reveals more about Marge’s character by letting you see the way she gossips.

Which brings me to another point. You’ll notice in the second example above, I didn’t use any dialogue tags at all. I didn’t need to. It was clear from the action description before that Marge was speaking. This is another tip from the pros: get rid of as many dialogue tags as you can through context, action description, etc.
So what do you think of this trend? Do you like variety in your dialogue tags? Are the words “said” and “asked” invisible to you when you read? I’m also curious to know who your favorite author is, when they published, and if they follow this rule or not.

Done is Better Than Perfect

The title of this blog post comes from advice given to a fellow writing friend of mine by his mentor, Kirk Duncan. It is something I have struggled with a lot this last year as I’ve decided to pursue my writing with real intent.  As someone who has always had school come easy, and who has grown up being told I am “smart” and “talented,” it kills me to think I might ever produce something sub-par. I am capable of learning the correct way to write, learning all the tips and techniques upfront, so I should be able to plug all that in as I go, making a scene perfect before moving on, right?

Wrong.

On so many levels.

First of all, there is no one correct way to write. It is an art, as subjective as any other, and while there are general guidelines, there is no one right way to do it. Which means there is no perfect.

As a person of faith, I love the Bible. One of the verses I find most interesting is during the sermon on the mount when we are commanded to “be ye therefore perfect” (Matt 5:48).  I personally don’t believe God would command us to do something impossible, so there has to be more to the commandment than meets the eye. And there is. In the LDS edition of the KJV bible, there is a footnote showing that the word translated as “perfect” comes from the Greek word that also means “complete, finished, or fully developed.” So basically, I am taking that as God’s permission to stop being a perfectionist and just finish the manuscript already! Haha!

Secondly, so many nuances of the art of writing can not be learned just by listening to podcasts and going to critique groups. Yes, you can greatly improve your writing when you edit it, but the most improvement, the most growth as a writer, is going to come by getting more words under your belt. Some lessons can’t be learned until you have a whole manuscript finished and can look back on it in its entirety.  There isn’t much purpose in trying to edit and perfect a scene with a limited perspective. Once a story is finished, you can edit with the whole picture in mind, and those edits will be so much better for it.  I’m not saying editing as you go is wasted time, but it has the potential to be if what you edit is just going to have to be re-edited once you finish the manuscript and have a better idea of pacing and theme and characterization.

That’s all fine and dandy, but knowing I shouldn’t be a perfectionist doesn’t automatically stop all my perfectionist tendencies that are slowing down my writing. They’re habits. Horrible perfectionist habits like reworking a single sentence for twenty minutes so it flows just right or taking a two hour research detour so my character can sound like an expert when they discuss something science-y… for two whole lines.  So how do you get rid of bad habits? By replacing them with good ones.

The habit I have developed over the past two months that has been working well for me is to have a daily word count goal. Personally, I have to write 500 new words each day on my current WIP. I don’t get to go to bed, and I can not go back and do any editing, until those 500 new words are done. Some days, I am falling asleep and having to splash water on my face to crank out the last fifty words. Other days I have gotten so into a scene I finished a 2,000 word chapter. I’ve averaged far more than 500 words a day, but that is m minimum goal and at this point, its a habit. I do still go back and get to edit occasionally as I think of cool things that I can add to prior chapters.  But only after my 500 words are done for the day. Your goal may be more or less than that, but for my life as a mom of three active boys, 500 words a day is what I could handle. And so far, it’s worked. With the exception of a few days with illness or unforeseen family emergencies, I’ve met my goal, and I’m so much further ahead in my novel then I thought I would be at this point.

But what if you realize something while you’re writing that needs to be changed and you don’t want to forget it before your 500 words are done? For me, typing notes of things to edit is fine, I just can’t make the actual edits. So if I am working on my 500 words for the day and realize I need to fix something in previous chapter, I will go back and type something like: <remove references to _____ and replace with ____> or <add explanation about _____> . And that’s it. Then I go back to my spot and keep plugging along to my 500 word count goal.

Other ideas that often help if you are a slow writer plagued with the habit of rereading every line you write and researching the perfect details for your work:

  • Turn off your wi-fi access to prevent distractions from social media or research tangents. If you can’t think of a better word for a particular sentence, highlight your mediocre word in a specific color to come back to it later when you grant yourself access to thesaurus.com again.
  • Try having whatever scene you are working on be in a separate document or window from the rest of your story and have it be the only document or window open. It’s easier to scroll back in a document and get lost in previously written text than it is to deliberately select and open a document from a drop down menu.
  • Shrink the size of your window down to 10%, or some other small percentage, so that you can’t see what you are writing in order to go back and reread it.
  • Do word sprints. This is where you set a timer and try to write as many words in that time frame as possible. You can compete against a friend, or try to set record for a new personal best each time.
  • Track your progress. If your goal is to hit 70,000 words, keep something in your writing space that lets you mark off every 1,000 words you hit, so you can visually see yourself approaching your goal.

Those are some of the tips and tricks I’ve heard of. Do you have any others you recommend for helping slow, perfectionist writers break their bad habits and finish a manuscript in a timely manner?

 

 

Show, Don’t tell

One of the most common phrases in the writing world is: show, don’t tell. And it is pretty sound advice. But what exactly does “show, don’t tell” mean?

Let’s start with what you want to avoid. Novice writers often default to telling the readers the emotional state of the character. They will spell out his or her feelings by saying, “He was so mad” or “He said angrily.” While this kind of telling may have its place in books for very young readers who don’t know how to pick up on emotional context, for any kind of mature reader, this style of storytelling feels patronizing. Readers are smart, and they want to be treated as smart. So instead of telling them your character is mad, give your character something to do, and reveal the character’s anger through his or her action, i.e. “He slammed the door” or “he said, clenching his fists.”

Not only can readers infer from the slammed doors and clenched fists that your character is upset, but by using specific manifestations of anger, you are building a richer world for the reader to immerse themselves in. When we read about a door slamming, we can hear the sharp sound of the wood colliding. When we read clenched fists, we can feel the tension. In addition to letting the reader feel smart by piecing things together and immersing the reader’s senses in the world more, showing instead of telling also reveals more about your character. Stating he or she was angry does little to give us insight into his or her personality, because everyone reacts to anger differently. Some get violent. Some plot revenge. Some get scary quiet. Giving your characters something to do that reveals how their emotion is manifest in them will help your readers understand your characters better.

In addition to giving your character an action, there is also another great way to show his or her emotional state instead of telling it, and and that is how you describe the environment. Whether your story is in 1st or 3rd person, the way the environment is described has the potential to reveal a lot about your character’s mood, and in turn, set the mood for your reader. (Remember: the goal is to make the reader feel what the character feels).

Let me show you an example. Our basic story: A prince is riding through a forest on his way to fulfill a prophecy and save a princess.

Ex 1: A light breeze waltzed through the leaves, the branches of trees seeming to bend and bow as he rode passed on his steed. Drops of golden sunlight trickled down through the canopy, speckling the path ahead of him like the promised kisses of his heavenly fate.

Ex 2: A cold wind brushed by his cheeks like a whispered warning urging him to turn back. The trees towered around him like sentinels, weaving together their lofty branches like bars on a prison door, allowing only a few desperate arms of sunshine reach through.

The same exact action is happening in each story–a prince is riding through a forest on his way to rescue a princess. And the same aspects of the environment are described–a breeze, the trees, dappled light. But the way in which those elements are described in the first example set the tone that the Prince is excited about his destiny, while the second example depicts him as dreading it.

So as you write, avoid using any emotion words like excited, happy, nervous, impatient, etc. Instead, describe what the character DOES to manifest those emotions, and describe the character’s surroundings THROUGH THE LENS of that emotion. If you do, you will be showing, instead of telling. And your readers will thank you for it. 🙂

I AM a Writer

There is a power in words. That’s why I and so many others choose to write. And yet, for all we writers know about the power of words, we often use the wrong ones, especially when describing ourselves. We say “I am an aspiring author” or “I want to be a writer”. And we put those conditions on the words author and writer because we haven’t been published yet, or haven’t even finished our first draft. We hold the ideal of a completed, published story on a pedestal and don’t dare compare our meager, novice efforts with those who have achieved this lofty rank. They are the authors and the writers we aspire and want to be.

But we are wrong!

The very definitions of the words “author” and “writer” do not contain any clause or condition regarding completion or publication. That’s because writing isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. And if you, like me, have decided to take that journey and penned your first word, then you ARE a writer. Right now. And so am I.  We need to own it. None of this aspiring or wanting business.  I don’t have to achieve some literary milestone to earn the title of writer or author. It’s what I do, it’s who I am. Right here, right now.

I AM an author.

 

writing journey

Weird Words Writers Use

So for my inaugural blog post, I thought I would start by posting a few of the weird words, phrases, and abbreviations that writers use when they talk and write, so those just joining their first writer’s forum don’t feel completely over their heads. If you think of more I missed, please add them in the comment section below, and I will update with new words as I stumble upon them.

*Updated on 5/18/17

————————————————————————————————————–

Alpha Reader – A person who you allow to read your work when it is in the rougher stages. Sometimes it is a critique partner, just giving your feed back on a few pages, other times it is someone who reads your full manuscript and gives you their thoughts before you jump in for edits. It is often better if your alpha readers are fellow writers, or at least have some knowledge of the writing world.

ARC – Stands for Advanced Reader Copy.  The publisher will usually give the author a few hard copy books prior to the official release date for the author to give to select readers in advance, as a promotional tool.

Beta Reader – After finishing your manuscript and editing that manuscript based on the notes from your Alpha Readers, your manuscript is now ready to be given to a Beta Reader who will read your polished manuscript and give you their overall comments. While fellow writers can be beta readers, it often works best to make sure your beta reader is a non-writer, avid reader of the genre you are writing.

Critique Partner – This is a fellow writer that you swap short sections of your work-in-progress with for the purpose of giving each other feedback, suggestions, and critiques.

Darlings – Phrases, characters, scenes, or anything else in your story that you have grown to love.

Killing Your Darlings – Cutting out a phrase, character, or scene from your story, despite feeling really attached to it, because you have painfully realized the story works better without it.

MC = Main Character

MS = Manuscript

MG = Middle Grade (this is not a genre like mystery or romance, but rather a sub group within a genre where the stories are usually written for readers ages 8-12, feature main characters in that same approximate age range, and deal with themes appropriate for that age group.)

NaNoWriMo – Stands for National Novel Writing Month. In the month of November, authors strive to write 50,000 words. Those wanting to take on the challenge can sign up on NaNoWriMo.org.

Purple or Purple Prose – If something is described as “purple” in the literary world, it means it comes across as overly flowery and showy, as something that is ornate just for the sake of being ornate.

Save the Cat = A phrase referring to a heroic or kind action preformed by a character in order to have readers like that character more. The phrase comes from the  book “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder that authors of all kinds (not just screenwriters) often recommend.

Story Bible – A collection of outlines, setting descriptions, character profiles, research, background information, and any other pre-writing documents used to plan your story.

WIP = Work in Progress. Whether you are brainstorming additional plot points, outlining it, writing your first draft, or editing, if you have an idea for a story you are working on at all, you can call it your WIP.

YA = Young adult (this is not a genre like mystery or romance, but rather a sub group within a genre where the stories are usually written for readers ages 13-18, feature main characters in that same approximate age range, and deal with themes appropriate for that age group.)