Names

I spent Saturday afternoon in Loudoun walking through historical cemeteries looking for names to use in my next novel. I never lift anyone’s entire name from a gravestone, but it’s a good place to get a feel for realistic local names. The history of African American cemeteries in Loudoun isn’t the best, but there are a lot of people trying to rectify past mistakes and make sure they don’t happen in the future. I love doing this kind of research. It really gives me a feel for the county and its history.

The Pros and Cons of Writing Classes/Groups/Workshops

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Tools of the trade. (chew bone not necessarily essential)

I see a lot of posts about the joys of writing groups, or classes, and on fewer occasions, workshops. Like a lot of writers, I have my experiences with those, but they often conflict with what others have said. I think it depends on what kind of writer you are and where you are in your writing journey. Because of this, I thought I’d add my two cents to the clamor.

Writing Classes

Who are they for? People with little or no experience writing who are doing this for the first time. If for example, you have an English degree, don’t take a writing class unless you really love doing prompts and sitting around talking to other people about what they wrote for their prompt. If you’ve done any writing at all (advertising copy, reviews, essays, the trifold info guide to your company, your church bulletin) you don’t need a writing class. If your grammar is bad, a writing class will not help you unless you are taking a writing class in high school. If you need to brush up on your grammar, get a good book and then pay a copy editor to check your manuscript before you submit it to agents. Although, chances are if you’re taking a writing class, you’re a long way from that point. That’s not a put down and it’s not meant to discourage you, it’s just writing is a lengthy process.

Writing Groups

Who are they for? More experienced writers who are looking for people to read and critique their work, which sounds like a good thing and sometimes it is, but often isn’t, and here’s why. First of all, it’s difficult to find a good writing group that has people interested in reading and critiquing what you’re writing. Even the Inklings were notorious for being sick of each others work. I believe “not another damn elf” was said to J.R.R. Tolkien on more than one occasion by his writing group. It’s also difficult to find people who are on your skill level, or better yet better than you, who are committed to the publishing process. A lot of writing groups are really more social clubs and their commitment to the work can be minimal. That’s not a problem if that’s what you’re looking for, but if you’re seriously looking to publish, it can be a real problem. For example, if you find a writing group on Meet Up that has fifty members, avoid it. If you actually critique the work of fifty other writers, you won’t have time to write your own stuff. Of course, fifty members aren’t going to show up for every meeting, so you never know if the person you gave your partial to last week will be there this week to critique it. Smaller is better when it comes to writing groups. Serious groups are usually closed though and by invitation only. Finding and working your way into one of those can be time consuming as well, and you have to ask yourself if it’s the best use of your time or should you just be writing. Most of the time, the answer is stop procrastinating and go back to writing. That said, there are some stellar groups out there and certainly literary history is peppered with some famous ones, but most professional writers aren’t in one.

Workshops

Who are they for? Very serious writers. Or they should be. Workshops are money making ventures, so keep that in mind when you’re looking at them. I’m not against making money. I love money, but I’m picky about where I spend it. If you don’t have to submit a manuscript to be accepted into a workshop, it’s not worth your money. I learned this the hard way when I took a novel workshop that didn’t have a manuscript requirement only to discover that they pretty much accepted anyone despite what it said in the brochure. One person actually said she was hoping to come up with an idea for a novel by doing the workshop. Why was she accepted? Her check cleared. I went a couple of times and then bailed on the whole thing, because it was not all what it was supposed to be. I’m even pickier about my time than I am about my money, so it was not the place for me.

What most writers need is a handful of people that are willing to read their work and give them an honest opinion. And they need one person who is getting paid to give them an honest opinion. Then they need an agent and an editor and a publisher. All of whom will definitely give their honest opinions. Since it’s difficult to get the last group, it’s important to cultivate the first group. It doesn’t have to be a formal group, but it can be. Just keep in mind as you go through the writing process that there is money to be made on people’s dreams. Lots of things will take your time and your money and give you very little in return. Publishing is a business not a dream factory. If you want to write, write. Like any of the other arts, practice is the only thing that really makes you better. Like any other art, some people are better at it than others. Like any other art, some forms of it are more marketable than others. Write because you love it. Write because it’s what you do. Don’t expect to be J.K. Rowling and don’t assume you’re Shakespeare and then the rejection that is an inevitable part of the process won’t crush your soul. Then go back to writing.

 

 

Rules for Writing

Rules for Writing

Rules for Writing

Robert Heinlein famously had six rules for writing. I used to have them framed in my office, but after a conversation with my nephew, I realized I now have my own rules. I have ten.

Rules for Writing

• Fingers-on-keyboard is the only way writing happens.

• Inspiration is nice. A high daily word count is nicer.

• Writing is challenging, not hard. Digging ditches is hard.

• Don’t start revisions until the first draft is finished.

• Laziness is the biggest hurdle.

• Get feedback. Everyone needs help.

• Revisions are not as fun as first drafts. Suck it up.

• Finish.

• Marketing is part of it. Stop whining.

• Start the next story.

Working Backwards

macbook pro 13 inch

I’m not a person who rereads books. There are a few I will revisit, but in general, when I finish a book, I never pick it up again. I like to move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, that isn’t really possible when I’m writing a book. Rereading is a integral part of editing and revision, such that by the time I’m done writing a book, I’ve read it dozens of times. It’s tiresome and confusing. After a while, it’s difficult to judge the quality of a book you’ve read a hundred times as you rewrite it. Nothing is new, nothing is surprising, and I can’t help wondering if it there will be anything delightful left in the thing for readers. This is a critical part in the writing process when you really have to rely on beta readers and your editor to talk you out of burning the whole thing and moving to Nepal. I’m lucky to have people in my life that fill those roles so perfectly and that they are so different from each other.

Michele, who reads everything I write that is even slightly more complicated than a grocery list, is very patient. She says things like “what are you trying to do with this scene” or “I need to know how she’s feeling” or “you’re not setting the scene for me, I need to see it.” And sometimes, on very good days, she says “I love this.”

Jennifer, my editor, takes the carrot-stick-carrot approach. She reads the whole book and tells me she likes it. Then she sends me page after page of edits in red, red, red ink. Then she tells me it’s the best thing she’s read all month and that she loves working with me. I’m fairly certain she says that to all her clients, but it feels nice when she says it anyway.

Kristin, who has actually partnered with me on stories in the past, has a different approach, one that is truly hers and that I haven’t seen mentioned in any of the writing/editing books that I’ve read. Kristin simply writes snake-men into any scene she finds lacking. For example, if I write a scene that takes place during dinner and Kristin finds it doesn’t really move the story forward, she will simply rewrite the scene so that the diners are attacked by snake-men. If she’s feeling lazy, she just adds a note to the text that simply says “needs more snake-men.” This is a unique approach to developmental editing. Sometimes it results in yelling.

Nonetheless, all three of them are an important part of me finishing a book, which I’m trying to do now, which is what brings me back to rereading. I’m doing a lot of that. I did a lot of it before I left for Maine, and while I was in Maine, and now that I’m back from Maine. So, I’ve decided for the buff and polish phase, before I send it out to Michele and Kristin and Jennifer for their opinions, I will be rewriting it backwards. I’m starting with the last chapter and working back to chapter one until it’s all shiny like a new penny.

It seems like a good plan and a way to look at the book differently. Let’s hope it works.

Stephen King Might be on to Something in Maine

I don’t like major revisions. I don’t mind minor revisions, buffing and polishing, but rewriting the bulk of a book is zero fun. It always happens that at the end of the love affair that is the first draft, I have to slog through a major rewrite. When it gets to the point that I’m sorting through all the pens in the house and making big decisions like keep-or-go for the pen we got from the car dealership, it’s time to go to Maine.

My friend Michele lives in Maine. She really likes it there in spite of the snow looking like this.

Michele's House in February

Michele’s House in February

I don’t like snow, so when I’m in Maine, I stay indoors, snuggled under a blanket, typing. I get more done in a week in Maine, in February, than I do in a month at home. But I need coffee, lots and lots of coffee. Michele doesn’t drink coffee, or any caffeine, which boggles the mind. Because she’s a good friend and understands my needs, Michele immediately wisked me away to Coffee by Design to buy coffee. Thus fortified we headed to her house to work.

Michele, for some reason, doesn’t mind going out in the snow and so on occasion, she insisted on leaving the house. There were frequent trips to The Hen House Cafe to what surely must be the best breakfast in the north east. One of these trips, resulted in us also going to Aroma Joe’s in Sanford. This particular Aroma Joe’s has a vault. The vault was where I finished my major rewrites. I have super fond memories of this vault.

The vault in Aroma Joe's in Sanford.

The vault in Aroma Joe’s in Sanford.

So the major rewrites are done, buffing and polishing is proceeding.

Embracing Evernote

evernote

I’ve rarely found a tool as useful as I’ve recently found Evernote to be. I downloaded it a long time ago, but couldn’t seem to use it effectively, so I abandoned it. Then I read this article on LifeHacker and went back to it. I now have individual notebooks set up for all my works-in-progress. I have a notebook for my work with Game Industry News, and I have a personal notebook for things like the name and style of the sofa I want to buy. I have Evernote on my laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad. It syncs easily on all three, so I have access to my notes wherever I am. I can also make notes from anywhere and Evernote records where I was when I wrote the note. For someone like me, with a memory like a sieve, this is invaluable. So, if you’re like me and have a lot of irons in various and sundry fires, check out Evernote. It’s gone from lingering on my phone to being part of my daily existence.