Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Writing Without a Safety Net

by Matt Sinclair

In our busy lives, it's often hard to maintain a routine. I'm a creature of routine, yet I am often guilty of letting even important tasks fall through a crack.

For me, a simple approach is often best: a list of tasks to do for a day and perhaps another for the week ahead and just the weekend. Bullet points riddle my life:

  • Edit 10 pages of manuscript
  • Finish article
  • Write 500 words on new manuscript
Those types of things sound like work. Not only am I not necessarily getting paid for all of them, they are in addition to what my day-to-day job entails.

A single minor catastrophe -- a sick child, an unscheduled meeting, a flat tire -- can quickly put the kibosh on writing time.

Are you a creature of routine? How do you rejigger your schedule when the real world interrupts your fictional ones?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which is hours away from publishing Battery Brothers, a YA novel by Steven Carman about a pair of brothers playing high school baseball and about overcoming crippling adversity. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why You Should Read Your Genre: A Correction

by S. L. Duncan

I know what you want to know. You come here, browsing our various posts, searching for that elusive answer to the question we all asked ourselves (and whomever else would throw us an answer) when first starting out.

What, above all else, can I do to improve my odds of getting published?

There are a lot of answers to this question. A lot of books have been written that offer pages and pages of tricks of the trade and career advice. I've paid for one or two myself. Some of them may work for you, most will not.

But I want to offer you something more simplistic: buy a book in the genre in which you wish to write, and read it.

Revolutionary, right? Okay. Maybe not. You've probably heard it before. If not from me, then from any number of other authors. I’ve been giving that answer every time I’ve sat on a literary panel because, let’s face it, that’s usually the first question you ask. But I’ve come to realize, you’ve been taking my meaning all wrong.

And that’s my fault for not being clear. When I tell you to read a book in your chosen genre, I don’t mean do it so you can learn how those authors did it.

No, no, no. 

First, I’m not even sure by reading a book, you can figure out how that author writes. I could be wrong, here, but if you read my stuff you’re not seeing the process that got me there. The crap sentences. The cut pages. The endless redlining. Don't even look at my trunk. Not to be too cliche, but the journey is everything.  It's the hours learning your craft, the dedication and sacrifice. It's the party you missed and the nights of trial and error. The wadding of paper and the full waste basket. 

Let’s suspend belief, though. Let’s say, somehow, in reading an Andrew Smith novel you figure out how to retro-engineer his writing and learn how to write just like him. His nuance. His voice and word usage and sentence structure. That’s fantastic! Congratulations. The problem is, there’s already an Andrew Smith out there, and he’s doing just fine.

So, let me clarify and restate my answer. If you want to better your chances at getting published, go read a book in the genre in which you wish to be published. Read two. No, in fact, read a shelf worth. Now, in truth, you should be reading them already. And if you have been...well, you've had the answer all along.

And here, dear friends, is why:

You should be reading books in the genre in which you wish to be published because you should love those books; be dedicated to them. Starved to read the next one from your favorite author - if you can even pick a favorite author from the stellar line up of talent sitting in your bookstore's window. Because, here's the deal: if you’re unable to find joy in the books you read, there’s no way you’ll be able to instill that sense of joy in the books you write. That’s what distinguishes good from great.  This is a business of knife-edge margins. Publishers aren’t looking for good. They want the genuine article. They want great.

It boils down to being passionate about your work and passionate about the work your peers are doing. It’s the difference in the Sunday fried chicken dinner your grandmother made and the KFC value box number two.

Put your pen down, pick up a book, and turn a few pages. Find your joy in the words on them. Then take that joy and let it inspire your own words.

If it’s natural and real and honest, you’ll know it. As will everyone else that reads your work.

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, The Revelation of Gabriel Adam, releasing August 12th, 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and on Twitter.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Avoiding the Voiceless Query

by Jemi Fraser

One of the biggest challenges in writing a query seems to be maintaining Voice yet this is probably the biggest key to grabbing the attention of an agent.
  • What makes a query stand out from the rest?
  • What gives the agent the best feel for your story?
  • What is your best marketing tool (after all, your query is your first attempt at marketing your story)?
It's your Voice that makes your story special. And it's that Voice that needs to translate to your query. So how do you do that?

It works differently for everyone. Here are a few tips that might help:
  • use the same kind of sentence structure you use in the novel - echo your tone and style.
  • focus on the Show not Tell - Tell sucks the Voice out of queries.
  • forget the details! Think big picture. What's your character up against? What's his/her biggest fear? What's in the way? What are the stakes?
  • practice saying out loud what your story is about. Don't worry about making it sound like a query at first, just find out what sounds good, what sounds draggy or convoluted. Keep it short, sweet and interesting. 
  • time yourself. Start with a one minute time limit. Then cut it back to 45 seconds. Then 30. 20. 15. This works well with pitches too.
  • find the emotion. If your query doesn't evoke some kind of emotion in the reader then it's not doing its job. I think Voice elicits an emotional reaction in the reader and that's what you want here. A laundry list of plot points isn't going to attract anyone's attention. Punch them with some emotion instead!
Any other tips that you've used? How do you get your Voice into the query?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Slow Writing Memes

by J. Lea López

Uh oh... Guess what day it is?

Okay, I won't go there. (But I bet you just said it in your head, didn't you?) Today's post is just a little something fun to get you over those mid-week blahs. Who doesn't like a good meme, right?

My writing process is a little different than some other people. Aside from writing by hand, I'm a slow writer. Quick and dirty drafts don't fly from these fingers. It simply doesn't happen. But there's so many tips, tricks, snippets of advice, etc. encouraging exactly that. I bet you can name a few.

It doesn't have to be right, it just has to be done.

Don't think, don't edit, just write.

Pretty much anything you'll read on a NaNoWriMo message board.

Don't get me wrong, this is a great approach for plenty of people. But it's also a dreadful approach for others. I think it's high time we slow writers have a few sayings or memes of our own to give other slow writers a bit of support.

A lot of effort goes into every word. And I'm okay with that.

We all have to find what works for us with writing. We judiciously apply the writing "rules" because we come to realize they're guidelines more than anything; we find ways to strike a balance between things like genre expectations and the story waiting to be told; we experiment and learn which word processing software works best for us based on what we want it to do. The same goes for pacing ourselves with our drafts.

I've been working with a friend as she works on her current WIP. She's used to the hard and fast word vomit sort method of drafting and can churn out 100,000 words or more in an insanely short amount of time. But she's had trouble editing that down later into something cohesive. With her new story, she expressed some frustration to me about taking longer than usual to get the first draft written. However, she felt more confident about what she had written so far and felt more confident that she was going to avoid the massive wordiness that had plagued her previously. She'd never really considered the possibility that slower could actually be better.

When it comes time to give advice about first drafts, we've all apparently forgotten Aesop's famous moral: Slow and steady wins the race.

I would rather think a little longer and get it mostly right the first time than spit out a bunch of words I'll end up cutting later. Sure, it takes me twice as long, maybe even three times as long, to pen a first draft than some other writers. But I tend to write very clean first drafts. I don't say that to brag. I say it to make the point that it's ultimately the end result--the book--that matters. How you get there is a journey all your own. My pace might not work for you. Yours might not work for me, or for someone else. There's nothing wrong with that. If you're a slow writer, don't feel pressured into adopting a fast draft style if it's going to drive you nuts (which it would for me). I felt awful the first time I attempted NaNo because I couldn't achieve the high word counts the way some other people did. The next year I stopped beating myself up over it because that will never be my process and trying to force myself to do work that way is counterproductive. And guess what? I wrote twice as much that year.

Are you a slow writer? If you are (or even if you're not) hop on over to a meme generator and make some funny, encouraging, or silly writing memes and share them with us! Tweet them to us or share them on our Facebook page.

J. Lea López is a published author of character-driven stories that focus on relationships, from the platonic to the romantic, and never shy away from the bedroom. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Realistic vs. Logic

by Charlee Vale

"That's not realistic."

Have you ever heard this said about a book? I have. Honestly, it's one of those things people say that drive me crazy, in all it's many variations. "That wouldn't happen." "People don't talk like that." "That's not the way things work."

The reason this makes me go a little batty is that the last time I checked, I didn't go into a novel looking for reality.

When I go into a novel I go looking for a story. I want it to engage me and sweep me up and make me believe in fantastic things and feelings; shock me with unspeakable horrors and make me shiver. No matter what genre you apply this to it is the same. Books aren't reality, so why they should be bound by the same set of rules?

But sometimes when I hear these things, I know they're not saying what they mean. They say 'that's not realistic,' and what they mean is 'this doesn't make sense.' And when something doesn't make sense, that's a problem.

Even though fiction isn't bound by the rules of reality, it's bound by it's own set of rules: the ones you create. In the realms of your writing you always must construct how things work--a structure for the audience to rely on. If you don't create a strong enough framework, or break the rules of the world you created, your audience will become confused and disconnected.

A perfect example of this is Shakespeare. Shakespeare's plays cannot be considered 'realistic' by today's standards; after all, the people wear funny clothes, say funny words, and do funny things. But do the they make sense? Yes. Each Shakespearean play has an internal logic and structure that allows us to understand, follow, and empathize with the characters. We don't care that it's not realistic.

If you make sure your world works, no one will notice it's not real.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, bookseller, agency intern, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and trying to make sense of her worlds on paper.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Writing: Do It Because You Love It

Sounds easy, right? Of course you write because you love it. Or at least, that’s how you started.

Do you still?

Are you writing the book of your heart every time? Or are you chasing trends because you’re in love with the idea of selling a book – any book – to the highest bidder?

It’s surprisingly easy to slip into the latter situation, usually without even realizing it. And more often than not, it doesn’t result in our best work nor pan out as we hope.

So how do you know if you love that book? I don’t mean do you love drafting or revising or the many stages of building a book – I mean, do you love the story? Does it resonate with you? Do you have to write it?

There was point when I was deep in the seemingly endless query trenches that I stopped and started several possible books over the course of a few months. At first, I thought they were great ideas. Why wouldn’t they be? I’d recently read books just like them! Of course they’d get snapped up. But I couldn’t finish them.

They didn’t feel right. They didn’t feel like mine.

It took me a while, but I finally figured out (for me) which ideas are worth pursuing. It’s the ones that grab hold of me and shake until words come out my ears. It’s the ones with characters who wake me up in the middle of the night demanding I listen to them.  Or whose voices are so persistent I can’t follow a real conversation and end up so startled a human is speaking to me, I spit water out on the floor of a fancy restaurant (fun fact: this actually happened the night the idea for MONSTROUS landed in my head. Yes, I am the smoothest person you know.)

For me, it's the ones that I can't not write that I keep forging ahead on, even when drafting feels like pulling taffy from my brain, and revision like hacking my way through a jaguar-infested jungle. If I didn't love them, I'd never get through with all my gray matter and limbs intact.

How about you? Do you love the book you're writing now? How do you know?

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper MG fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books in Winter 2015.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Accessing The Dark

by Mindy McGinnis

I recently did a school visit where a student asked me how I get into a darker frame of mind to do my writing. It's a great question.

I'm an outgoing person. I like to flatter myself that I'm a funny person. Most people that meet me after having read NOT A DROP TO DRINK are surprised to find me approachable and easygoing. People that meet me before reading NOT A DROP TO DRINK sometimes walk away from the book wondering where the disconnect happened.

I warn people who are coming to the book after having met me that my book is not funny. It definitely has elements of dry humor interspersed here and there to help alleviate the (I hope) overall tension and dark tones, but it is not written to make you laugh.

Quite the opposite.

So when I was asked this excellent question (by a teen, mind you) I had to be honest. The truth is that accessing the dark has never been difficult for me, and I think most writers who handle murkier material would say the same. According to a recent health survey, writing is one of the top 10 professions most likely to suffer from depression.

Why is that?

My own opinion is that as writers we are keen observers of humanity, and unfortunately what we see isn't always pretty. We are emotional sponges, feeding off of others (and ourselves) to inject lifelike qualities into our characters. And sadly, the most resonating, strongest "feels" are often not the joyous ones.

So is this a bad thing? I don't think so.

It's a dark gift, yes. But in my own case I can say that I make it work for me. It's a monkey that is always going to be on my back, so I might as well hand it a blowtorch and a wrench and give it a job. The darkness that feeds my writing is coming directly out of me, because I won't allow it to live inside me anymore.

Funneling the darkness is both therapeutic and creatively lucrative. I often wonder if depression were to be magically removed from me, would I still be able to write? And if so, would I ask for that chance? A hard question to answer.

So instead of answering it, I keep writing. And I advise you to do the same.
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent. The companion novel IN A HANDFUL OF DUST releases September 23, 2014. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and has a serious social media problem. You can find her on TwitterTumblrFacebookInstagram, and Pinterest