Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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Fear and keeping your head

May 20, 2011

My husband and I were talking about fear the other day and he mentioned the saying that’s painted over the player’s entrance to centre court at Wimbledon: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same…” It’s a small section of poet Rudyard Kipling‘s poem If, and it reminded me of the ups and downs writers face every day.

If you don’t know If, you can find it at EveryPoet.com, and it’s worth reading. A lot of lines fit what we go through:

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you / But make allowance for their doubting too

We get lots of opinions about our writing, from critique groups, family members, friends (you know, when they inwardly roll their eyes when you say you’re working on another novel), agents, editors, etc., and it can be hard to digest. Even from those people we trust, we sometimes get conflicting ideas. But as writers, our loyalty has to be to our writing. Our job is to take in all the approvals and criticisms, process them and use only what we feel will help our work get to a new level. We have to take all the doubts and push them aside, fully believing in ourselves and our work, while also recognizing that we can always learn more.

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master

If we didn’t have the dream of being published, we probably would never show our writing to anyone. Dreaming is a big part of writing, not only for our creativity but also to power our drive, but the challenge is to not get so caught up in our dream that we don’t enjoy our lives. Writing requires a lot of waiting, and in that time, we must live — and write even more.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew / To serve your turn long after they are gone / And so hold on when there is nothing in you / Except the Will which says to them “Hold on”

I’ve read about and talked to a lot of writers who’ve had moments when they’ve thought about quitting, not wanting to face any more disappointment, but if they didn’t, they would miss out on the best part of writing: the creation — not to mention the book signings when their book is finally in print.

If we can do all that and more, as Kipling says:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it / And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

(Or woman!)

So writers, fear will always be with us, we  just have to keep our heads.

Write On!

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Beautiful first paragraph: Myra McEntire’s Hourglass

May 3, 2011

I had a blast volunteering for my local Austin SCBWI chapter a few weeks ago at the Texas Library Association. It was my first time at the conference, and the rumors of all the free advanced reading copies of upcoming books were not exaggerated. I saw people walking out with big bags full of books. Very exciting!

I was working our SCBWI booth, promoting our awesome children’s book authors in Texas, so I didn’t walk out with armfulls — plus, I gotta admit, as it was my first time, I was a little too much in awe to move! But, I did visit the Egmont booth and the kind ladies there happily shared the books in Egmont’s upcoming line.

HourglassThe first one I’m reading was called by one Egmont lady her “favorite” and after starting it, I can immediately see why.

Hourglass is the debut novel by Myra McEntire, a YA paranormal/science-fiction book about Emerson Cole, a young lady who, since the age of 14, has been able to see strange things, like Southern Belles, soldiers and eerie apparitions. When she meets Michael Weaver, she learns that there are others like her and she can get help at an organization called the Hourglass. The more she delives into that world, the more she learns about her past, her future and her life.

I’m on page 44 and totally hooked, but I was hooked from the opening paragraph. It immediately set the book’s tone, pulled me into its world and intrigued me enough to want to keep reading — exactly what a good opening should do.

Here it is:

My small Southern hometown is beautiful in the haunting way an aging debutante is beautiful. The bones are exquisite, but the skin could use a lift. You could say my brother, the architect, is Ivy Spring’s plastic surgeon.

Gorgeous! I can totally see why Egmont picked up this book, and that beautiful imagery continues throughout — at least for what I’ve read so far.

I’m one of those people who reads first pages in the bookstore before I take a book home with me. Sure I read the jacket cover, but then I look at the opening of the novel. If it doesn’t immediately pull me in, I put the book down.

At conferences, I’ve heard from agents and editors that they’ll give a manuscript 150 words. That’s all they have time for. If they’re not interested in 150 words, they’ll stop reading and move on to the next. There are enough manuscripts out there.

You might think, that’s not enough. 150 words is nothing. But you’d be wrong. Myra McEntire set up her book in 38!

And of course, this isn’t the only example. Charlotte’s Web anyone? Best first line of a book — ever!

So, if you want to stand out in front agents, editors and ultimately readers, make sure your first paragraph is amazing, then follow it with hundreds more. That’s how you write a great novel. Take Hourglass as inspiration.

The back of the ARC says Hourglass will debut in May, but Amazon says it’s coming June 14. So, either it has been delayed or some other retailer has an exclusive for a while. Either way, get it when it comes out. I know you won’t be disapppointed.

Write On!

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Patience, perseverance and a whole lotta reading

January 17, 2011

Pile of booksSaturday was the monthly meeting of the great Austin chapter of the SCBWI at the awesome independent bookstore BookPeople, and all who attended got a healthy dose of inspiration.

The speaker was author Jessica Lee Anderson, who taught about dealing with the ups and downs of publishing through songs — and yep, she even sang.

Jessica reinforced the idea I wrote about in my last post, that the writing is the best part of the journey, so stop worrying about publication. But how to do that? Well, with a little Patience (from Guns ‘n Roses), R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (from Aretha Franklin) for ourselves as writers and people, and the knowledge that I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor). (Jessica’s talk had a wonderful soundtrack!)

Jessica also reminded us that reading is one of the best ways to become a better writer, and she said she had set a goal for 2011 to read a book a week. A book a week! And she’s running ahead of that goal right now!

I was amazed. I can’t read that fast. (She did admit to me later that she listens to a lot of audio books in her car and has to drive a lot, so that’s one way you can fit them in.)

Although I won’t be matching Jessica’s pace any time soon, she did inspire me to push harder to get more books read. Spurred on, this weekend I picked up my book whenever I had a few spare minutes, instead of browsing the Web. I was determined to finish the novel I was reading and start another. I finished on Sunday afternoon and immediately went to my unread pile and picked up a new book. I’m already racing through that one — as often as I can at least. We’ll see if I can finish it in a week.

So, stop worrying, be patient, keep writing and make reading a priority.

Do you have a reading goal?

Write On!

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The writer’s journey is the best part

January 14, 2011

Peaceful Warrior movie posterMy husband and I watched the movie Peaceful Warrior last night — based on the book by Dan Millman, whose life is supposedly the basis for the book and movie — and I found myself nodding and smiling a lot. Not that I’m half as wise as the movie’s Nick Nolte character, but I understand the film’s main message, which is, the journey is the best part.

In the film, a college gymnast (Millman) is on track to get it all; he already gets the girls, but he’s aiming for Olympic gold too. A chance encounter with an odd older man (Nolte) makes Millman think he’s missing something and that he could be even greater. Along the way, he discovers that gold medals are not the most important things in life and that being the best you can be is really about letting go of your worries for the future and concentrating on the present.

It made me think of writing. I’m halfway through my third novel and, like many writers, I think ahead to the time that it will — hopefully — be published. The story is a bit experimental, a 10-year-old protagonist with some pretty heavy — adult — issues, and often my thoughts question whether a publisher will take on the book because of it. But it’s a story that I like, that I feel and want to write, and ultimately that’s what counts.

The journey we take when we’re writing our books is the best part. Although I’m not yet published as a novelist, I have been a journalist/editor for 19 years and have seen my name in print over and over again. It was thrilling the first few times, but then it’s over. What stays with me most from my career is the moments when I’ve written a particularly poignant lead and learned something really amazing during research for a story, like when I wrote about an art exhibit by Croatian children who used their painting as therapy. I wrote that story some, hmm, 13 years ago? And yet it’s one of the closest to my heart. And it’s not because of when I saw my name on top of it in the newspaper. It’s because of the journey I took for the article.

I imagine it’ll be the same when one of my novels is finally published. Sure, it’ll be thrilling for a while — a long while — but that will fade, as writer Anne Lamott describes in her great book Bird By Bird. The best part of my novel will be the time I spent writing it.

So, if you’re worrying about publication and looking ahead to seeing your words in print, stop. Don’t dwell on that, because if you do, you’ll miss the best part of your work — right now, when you’re writing.

Write On!

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Fun writing news

January 6, 2011

Lots of fun publishing news out the last couple days, so I thought I’d compile it for you:

Invasion book coverThomas Nelson has launched its science-fiction fantasy Chaos series for young adults with Invasion by Jon S. Lewis. Here’s the jacket cover:

When sixteen-year-old Colt McAllister’s parents are killed in a car crash, he learns it was no accident — his mother, a journalist, was writing an expose of the powerful biotech corporation Trident Industries.  Now, Colt has been targeted, and he and his friends Oz and Danielle find themselves battling the same sinister forces that took his parents’ lives.  A gateway between worlds has been opened, and Earth is in mortal danger.

Thomas Nelson says Invasion has “crackling plot twists, cliffhanger chapter endings, cyber attacks, alien invaders, and an undercurrent of teen romance.” As a sci-fi fan and writer, sounds good to me!

New York Times best-selling author Emma Walton Hamilton has launches the children’s writers’ salon Children’s Book Hub, a membership-based forum to provide information, resources and support for aspiring and established children’s book authors. There is a fee, $19.95, and members will reportedly have access to regular teleseminars with authors, editors, agents and other members of the children’s book industry. The site also will offer monthly newsletters, a members’ forum and lists of publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts, among others. The industry has lots of other places to get info and support, but another can’t hurt.

And in September, I wrote about the MeeGenius contest. They’ve now picked their winners:

Grand Prize: Pajama Girl by Sarah Perry and Ingvard the Terrible

1st Runner Up: The Cat Just Sat in the Chair by D.T. Walsh

2nd Runner Up: Floppity Phillip Flaut, words by Gary Guthrie, illustrations by Sunyoung Kim, characters by Taylor Lewis Guthrie

3rd Runner Up: Who Is the Most Beautiful Bird in the Barnyard? by Sharon Mann

and 4th Runner Up: The Little Green Bubbles by Kevin Malone, illustrated by Lee Hadziyianis.

Congratulations!

Got any news to share?

Write On!

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A Winner and Character Naming

November 15, 2010

Thanks to all for your best wishes during my crazy move. (We should be finally getting settled at the end of this week. Phew!)

And thanks to all the commenters on the great guest post from editor Sherri Woosley. Sherri is giving away a copy of her Coffee House Fiction 2009 Anthology, and the lucky commenter (chosen by Random.org) is Cathy! Congratulations! I’ll email you for your address.

With my life turning into a roller coaster the last few months, and my brain pretty much turning to mush, I haven’t been writing, and the break from my story has not been good to my creativity. I’m still busy with lots of house stuff swirling in my head, but I wanted to get back to writing. The problem is, I’m having a hard time getting back into my story.

Over the weekend, I decided to try a new tack and write a few scenes as my protagonist, to try to get back into his head. When I started, I realized I wasn’t sold on his name. It’s not sticking the way I’d like. So this morning, I spent my writing time trying to figure out what name would be best for this boy. After many searches for meanings, I still haven’t come up with anything — but I’m still working on it — but I did find a good article on character naming on BabyNames.com.

It has eight tips, many of which you’ve probably already thought of, but some that you might not have. Either way, they’re always good reminders.

As I’m not having much luck finding a name through the meaning route, after reading these tips, I’m going to try the social security registry for inspiration.

How do you name your characters?

Write On!

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Guest blogger: Sherri Woosley with 3 rookie writer mistakes

November 5, 2010

Huge apologies for not being around. I’m still busy moving house, and my brain is fried with a bunch of things. But I keep thinking about all the things I want to write on here… then don’t get around to doing it. Lame, I know.

Sherri Woosley headshot

Sherri Woosley

I’ll be back really soon. But today, Sherri Cook Woosley is visiting DayByDayWriter with a great guest post about the top three rookie mistakes writers make most often.

Sherri is the editor of The Coffee House Fiction 2009 Anthology and The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010. She has an M.A. in English literature from University of Maryland.  She wrote academic articles in the field of comparative mythology before switching to fiction writing.  Her stories have been published in ZoneMom, Mount Zion Fiction Review, and New Lines from the Old Line State. She accepts editing work through http://www.coffeehousefiction.com. Check out this video of Sherri reading the winning story.

Thank you to Sherri for being here today. Let’s all give Sherri a big round of applause: clap clap clap!!!

Plus, Sherri’s giving away  a copy of The Coffee House Fiction 2009 Anthology to a lucky commenter from this page. So make sure you leave a comment!

Here’s her post about the writers three rookie mistakes:

Three Rookie Contest Mistakes

I’ve been chief editor at Coffee House Fiction for over six years now, which means that I’ve read a lot of contest entries.  Read the following list and make sure these rookie mistakes don’t tank your chances to win a writing contest or see your short story in print.

1.        The Mistake: Wrong Point of View

The Reason: Author thinks his or her entry will stand out if told from an unexpected source.

Worst Offenders:  A story told from a parrot’s POV.  I wanted to stop halfway through when the narrator (bird) called 911.  Really?  With its beak?  Did it know to press the ‘talk’ button first or was the phone on the wall?   Another story was written as if a horseback riding saddle was telling the story. Hard for a master storyteller to pull off, impossible for a novice.

The Fix:  POV should be a conscious decision.  Who is the best person to tell the story?  Who was the most affected by the events?  Finally, who has a decision to make?  It is much more vital when the audience experiences with a character rather than hearing about it from someone else.  A short story is also not the place to use multiple points of view.  There just isn’t time for the reader to connect with different narrators.  Instead, pick from classic choices like first-person, third-person limited, omniscient third, and stick with it.

2.       The Mistake: Neglecting the story for purple prose or over-description

The Reason:  The writer is infatuated with the writing and his or her own arabesque creation.

Worst Offenders:  “In a teary-eyed nostalgia, he wistfully recalled the halcyon days of his youth when, with an innocent eye rapturously fixed upon an idealistic mark, the ardent romantic had defiantly stood upon desks and dismissively ripped up texts, had passionately promoted Dead Sappo Societies and dramatically….” (the sentence goes on for a total of 61 words).

The Fix: The story is the first priority.  It may take several drafts before the writer knows what is trying to come out.  That’s fine.  But, once a writer knows, he or she must work to make the story as clear and clean as possible.  It doesn’t make you look smarter to use big words.  Nor should descriptive passages be in the story for their own sake; they must add to the story.

3.       The Mistake: Starting at the wrong place

The Reason: Author is telling the story in chronological order, the way it happened

Worst Offender: We met in first grade when we exchanged friendship bracelets, etc…

The Fix: If this is what you need in the first drafts, that’s fine.  But, then you need to find the actual start of the conflict/resulting choice, the meat of the story.  Love this description:  an egg is rolling across a table.  The story starts at the exact moment the egg reaches the edge and hovers before falling.  The friendship bracelet image from the example can go into the story, but as background once the *real* story is underway so that instead of ending with a short story trying to span fifteen years, you have action over a twenty-four time period with a clear conflict and resolution.

I remember my pastor once telling a story about a bank president who was unmatched at catching counterfeit bills.  When asked, the president said he didn’t try to learn all the different feels of counterfeit bills; instead, he always handled real money so that anything else felt wrong.

Reading about rookie errors is helpful, but don’t write trying to avoid mistakes.  Go for the real deal and get the entire first draft out before editing yourself. Read the winning stories of contests, like the anthology, The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010, read stories published online, or go to your library and read literary magazines or journals (except Playboy;  I’m not authorizing you to read it for the fiction!).

Do you have any examples of rookie mistakes from your first stories?

Seize the Dame!

Sherri Cook Woosley

www.coffeehousefiction.com