Please excuse any mess around here while blog is undergoing damage repair.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

What I've learned in 2009, Part 4

The greatest lessons I learned in 2009 was that good writing comes from the heart. I spent a good part of the last month discussing contradictions that aspiring writers come across. There are plenty of them, but do they really matter? To an extent, yes. But the most important thing about writing fiction is that it has fire. The rules are secondary. In other words, I've learned not to sweat the small stuff, but to embrace the fire within in me and try to transfer that passion onto the page. Now I'm not saying to throw the rules to the curb, but you should learn when to break them--learn when to let your passion overpower them. A couple of months ago, I did a series of posts on The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. This book truly changed the way I approach writing, and I have to say that it is the best book on the craft that I've ever read. I highly recommend it for any writer at any stage of the game. The series can be accessed by clicking on The Fire tag in my sidebar. Here is the first of these posts: As I mentioned yesterday, last weekend, I read two books on the craft of writing by literary agent Donald Maass: Writing The Breakout Novel and The Fire In Fiction. Both were excellent reads, but I'm going to focus these discussion on The Fire In Fiction. In this book, Mr. Maass points out that there are no truly original ideas. "Every novel has antecedents. Every author has influences. It is impossible to be wholly original; even so, some novels feel fresh and shake us with their insight." So, if this is true, what makes the difference? Look carefully at that quote. Mr. Maass states that 'Every author has influences.' That, my friends, is where the fire comes from. It doesn't come from the plot, the characters, the setting, or the voice. It comes from the author's passions, which have developed over time because of life experiences. How do we find that passion within ourselves and transfer it to our writing? This is exactly what Mr. Maass answers in The Fire In Fiction. He talks about two types of writers: the status seekers and the storytellers. The status seekers start out with all kinds of passion, the main goal being publication. They settle for good enough. This kind of passion fizzles out over time. The storyteller, on the other hand, has one goal at heart: making his novel the best it can be, and each successive one even better than the last. This passion never goes away. I think, it's possible to be a little of both. Don't most of us writers dream of the day we will be published? Of course we do. But this can't be our only motivation. We have to strive to become better, stronger writers, and we have to be passionate about the art of writing, not just about the dream of publication. I'm guilty of being a status seeker at times, but I want nothing more than to be a storyteller. What about you? What kind of writer do you want to be? This is obviously my last post for 2009. I'll be back next week to talk about what I hope to learn in 2010. For now, my good blogging friends, Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I've learned in 2009, Part 3

These boots have thick skins. When we put our work out there to be critiqued, our skin needs to be just as thick. One of the greatest lessons I learned over the past year is that my mom and my daughter telling me my writing is fabulous means nothing. An objective eye is key. Having fellow writers read my work was the best thing I ever did. Here is a post I did after putting my writing out there for scrutiny: Do you remember the episode of Seinfeld when they go visit a couple who has just had a new baby? The parents gush over how beautiful the baby is, and Jerry, Elaine, and George are polite and agree, even though the baby is the ugliest baby they've ever seen. Finally, Kramer says the truth. Now, I'm not saying our writing is the ugliest thing ever, but it is flawed, and we all need a Kramer to read it--someone honest enough to tell us the truth (perhaps in a kinder, gentler way than Kramer), even if it isn't what we want to hear. This is what our critique partners are for. That being said, we need to be prepared for the negative. We need to thicken up our skin and be willing to take the bad comments right along with the good. I'm not going to lie here; the first negative comment stings like the devil, but after you step back for a little bit, you can look more objectively at it. Without the negative comments, we can't improve. Those are what drive us to do better, to try harder, to pay more attention to our weaknesses. The negative comments are what make us better writers. For those of you who have been involved in a critique group, do you embrace the bad comments? For those who haven't hit the critiquing stage, how do you envision yourself reacting to the negative?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What I've learned in 2009, Part 2

If you are wondering why I chose clogs for today's picture, I really don't have a reason, other than the fact that "clogs" rhymes with "blogs", which is what I'm posting about. Another thing I learned during 2009 is how much I love blogging. It started out as one thing, but has turned into something entirely different. I've also learned the benefits of blogging for aspiring authors and, therefore, the importance of being professional. An agent actually visited and commented on my blog, so please put thought into your blogging. You never know who might be reading. That being said, I thought I'd share with you something I posted way back when I first started blogging. Back then, I had no idea that blogging meant anything more than making new friends, which I still think is the best thing about blogging by the way. Anyway, here was my take on blogging a few months ago: So, why am I doing this? Because I like to hear myself talk. No, seriously, there are two reasons why I'm doing it. #1: It's a diary of sorts. It is a tale of my journey through the publishing jungle. In other words, it's a place where I can vent my frustrations, and hopefully, some day, celebrate my successes. #2: It's a chance to share with other writers (if they should visit my blog) my experiences on the road to publication. If I ever reach my final destination, it's a testimonial of what I did right. If I never make it there, it's an example of what not to do. Either way, it could be useful to someone. Today, I have to add a couple more reasons. #3: I love connecting with people who have similar interests. I learn so much from my fellow bloggers, and this on-line community has become a support system for me. #4: It's free entertainment. I laugh at your blogs. I cry at your blogs. I am inspired by your blogs. Your blogs make me think. Bottom line is: I LOVE YOUR BLOGS! So why do you blog?

Monday, December 28, 2009

What I've learned in 2009, Part 1

I've never made the mistake of wearing two different shoes, but I've made plenty of others. I'm posting a little late today because my internet has been down. Go figure. It's my first day back to blogging, and my internet doesn't work. Anyway, I'm glad to be back. I missed all my blog friends, and I look forward to catching up with you today. Before my break, I was posting about contradictions aspiring authors come across. I was going to pick up where I left off, but I've decided to spend this week recapping what I've learned in 2009 by re-posting some of my older material. The first lesson I learned this year was not to query too soon. Back in January, I sent out my first round of queries. Big mistake. I wasn't ready. My work wasn't ready. And, obviously, my query letter wasn't ready. Here's a post I did a while back about some of my query mistakes: I'm a night person and always have been. I hate mornings, and it usually takes at least three cups of coffee before I can function. My wake-up-at-the-crack-of-dawn husband just doesn't quite understand this, but we manage to get along anyway. At any rate, I often find myself querying after midnight. Apparently, my head isn't as clear as I think it is at night. Here are some of my late-night query mistakes: I sent three chapters in the body of an e-query to an agent whose guidelines specifically state: QUERY ONLY. I knew this, but I meant to send the query to a different agent. I indicated that I was enclosing a SASE for the agents response in an e-query. It's kind of hard to send an envelope with an email, wouldn't you say? In my defense, when I checked the agency guidelines, they specifically asked for snail mail queries, but upon further investigation, I learned that this particular agent preferred queries by email. So I copied and pasted my original letter from Word into an email. Unfortunately, I forgot to take the part about the SASE out. I sent five e-queries with the same typo. Keep in mind that I read, re-read, and re-read again without catching the mistake. That is, until I hit send on the last one. I addressed and e-query to someone named Mitchelle. Yeah, it was supposed to be "Michelle". Again, my midnight mind didn't catch it until the next morning. By the way, did I mention this query also contained the same typo discussed in the previous example? Now, here's one about a snail mail query. I enclosed an SASE or, actually, an SAE. Yes, I forgot to put a stamp on it. How do I know? Well, because I was out of stamps before I even wrote the query. Now, why I didn't realize it until after I went to the post office, bought stamps, put them on the query to mail, and stuck it in the drop box is anyone's guess. Apparently, my head isn't so clear in the morning either. So, what about you? Care to share any of your mistakes?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Too Many Shoes, Part 2

So, we've talked about exclamation points and adverbs this week. We also need to be careful about using too many dialogue tags, especially non-said ones. But, like we discussed with adverbs, some authors get away with the overuse of dialogue tags, so why can't we? Again, it's another one of those contradictions. The use of tags like 'he screamed' or 'he demanded' is in a sense telling rather than showing. The dialogue itself, in most instances, can be worded so that the reader gets the idea of what tone the speaker is using. If the dialogue doesn't quite get it across, then the characters actions might be able to do so. For example, you could say this: "I don't want to go to school," she screamed. Or you could say this: "I don't want to go to school." Her face reddened as she clenched her fists. Both sentences portray the same meaning, but the second one shows instead of tells. Don't get me wrong; there will be instances when a non-said dialogue tag will be the only way, or the best way, to get the meaning across, but like with adverbs, their use should be limited. Now, on a final note, I will be unplugging next week, but will be back the week after for a few more posts on contradictions. I want to thank those of you who have given me awards recently, and I hope you all enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate. See you on the 28th!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Too Many Shoes, Part 1

Some of you out there may argue that one can never have too many shoes, but I beg to differ. When your closet becomes so cluttered that you can't find what you're looking for, perhaps you have too many shoes. Most of us know that the use of adverbs in our writing is frowned upon. Yet we read many books (some of which have made their way to the NYT's Bestsellers list) that use adverbs in abundance. So why can't we use them? Well, it's just another one of those contradictions. In case you want to know, here's my opinion: Adverbs in and of themselves aren't bad. What makes them bad is when they are used to tell rather than show. In other words, if a sentence can be rewritten without using an adverb and still get across the same meaning, by all means, get rid of the adverb. For example, you could say this: I stepped lightly across the living room carpet. Or, you could say this: I tip-toed across the living room carpet. (Okay, I know not great examples, but I'm not quite awake yet.) Anyway, my point is that you can have too many adverbs. One way to avoid that is to try to rewrite sentences without using the adverb. I think you will find that your writing is stronger and is more likely to show and not tell. I'm not saying that every adverb needs to go, but I do think their use should be limited. What do you think of adverbs? Do you have a love/hate relationship with them like I do?

Monday, December 14, 2009

These Shoes Make a Statement

Kind of like the exclamation point. We've talked about the comma controversy, and I have to say that the consensus is, there is no consensus. As with many things, though, I doubt a misplaced comma is going to make or break you as far as signing an agent is concerned. The key is to follow the rules the best you can, and when in doubt, go with what you feel best. There are many other inconsistencies about punctuation including the use of the exclamation point. Most say that it shouldn't be used, and I'd have to agree. The words in the dialogue or the actions surrounding the dialogue should show the tone. In other words, the exclamation point isn't needed to make a statement. On a completely unrelated note, what about the spacing at the end of a sentence? Should there be one or two spaces? I learned two, but my kids have learned one. One agent's website recommended two, while another expected only one. So, which is right? I'd have to go with one. Why waste the room? I never did understand why there were two spaces. But, it is a habit which I must break. I automatically space twice. So, what do you think? Exclamation points or not? One or two spaces after the end of a sentence? I can't wait for your feedback.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Comma Controversy

Based on your comments to my last post, issues over the use of the comma seem to be in abundance, so I thought I'd spend one more post discussing it. One of you brought up using the comma in lists such as this: I bought apples, bananas, and grapefruit. Is that last comma necessary? I learned a long time ago that it wasn't, but lately, I've heard differently. Someone else mentioned the use of the comma before a person's name in an instance like this: I spoke to my friend, Susan, and she said it wasn't true. Should the comma before 'Susan' be there? I always thought so, but maybe not. What about when you use a name as a direct address as in this sentence: I wouldn't do that if I were you, Susan. Should that comma be there? I say yes, but what do I know? And, lastly, there is the whole issue of conjunctions that separate two complete sentences like this: My son plays baseball, and my daughter dances. Is the comma before 'and' needed? I put it there, but not everyone does. I'd love to hear your opinions on these issues, and I hope you have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Don't These Shoes Remind You Of Commas?

(Warning: This picture and the topic of this post are both repeats.) I've been discussing information we writers find on the Internet and how, often times, it's contradicting. The proper use of the comma is no exception, and the contradictions over its use expand beyond the Internet, especially when it comes to whether or not it should proceed the word 'too'. I've read on a couple of agents' websites or blogs that there should be no comma. Say what? I learned there should be, and after seeing this, I picked up several best sellers off my bookshelf and flipped through them. Some used the comma; some didn't; and some used it sometimes and not others. I also started paying attention to other agents' and editors' websites and blogs to see what they preferred, and although not specified, most used the comma in their own writing. Now, obviously, if I were submitting to one of the agents who specifically state not to use the comma, I wouldn't, but what about when submitting to others? I'm really not sure. What do you think? Should there or should there not be a comma before the word 'too'?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Yep, that's right. You've seen this picture before.

I warned you that during the month of December you'd be seeing recurring shoe pictures. We've been discussing information writers come across on the Internet, and like these shoes, it doesn't always match. When I first started to query my manuscript, I had no idea what I was doing. (And, I probably still don't, but I'd like to think I know more than I did back then.) I did a ton of research and found that everyone had something different to say. And, now, even the things I thought were consistent turn out to be questionable. I've focused my last couple of posts on manuscript formatting, so I'd like to continue with this topic before moving on. I've heard that a chapter should start halfway down the page, and I've heard it should start one-fourth of the way down. I've also heard that a scene break should be designated with one or three asterisks, one or three number signs, or with just a blank line. I, personally, start the chapter one-fourth of the way down, and I mark a scene break with one asterisk. Who knows if I'm right, but that's just what I do. So what do you think? Where should we start a new chapter? How should we indicate a scene break? I'd really like to know what you think.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Son's Basketball Shoes

Why do I have a picture of them on my blog? No worries. I'm going to tell you, and I will tie it into writing. My thirteen-year-old son, Cody, tried out for his Junior High basketball team this week. Big deal, you might say, but oh, it was a big deal. You see, Cody stands six inches shorter than even the smallest kid in his class, and he's at least a foot smaller than the boys who tried out for the team. Eighth grade is hard enough for a boy going through puberty without the added pressures of basketball tryouts. Not to mention being little. But, I'm happy to say, he made the team. No one thought he would. Everyone thought he was too short. He proved them all wrong. Why did he make it despite his size? Well, I'll tell you why. The coach saw past his small stature to his heart and his stellar ball handling skills. (I'm his mother, okay. Let me brag just this once.) His size didn't' matter because he could still play ball. But this post isn't just an excuse for me to talk about my personal life. I have a point to make. I started this series about contradicting information we writers find on the web, and before I continue with the topic of manuscript formatting, I want to point out that, although there are many conflicting requirements out there, I don't think any of them are going to make or break you. If an agent or editor sees the heart and the stellar writing skills, how you submitted it to them isn't going to matter. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to put our best foot forward, but it does mean that we shouldn't get too hung up on these little details. That being said, I'd like to summarize what everyone thought about page numbering. It seems the majority feel that the number should go in the upper right hand corner. I'd have to agree. Others added that they also put their name and working title up there. I agree with this too. The top of every page of my manuscript is headed with this: Susan Mills/TICK-TOCK/1 (It's right justified and the number coincides with the page, of course.) Now, my friend, Shelli, commented that her agent, who happens to be Alyssa Henkin of Trident Media Group, prefers 11-point Times New Roman font. Huh? I thought 12-point was standard. See ...even the font size is up for discussion. Go figure. So, what do you think? Will agents forgive less than perfect manuscript presentation for a good story? And, what font do you consider standard?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Perfectly Good Pair of Boots

Too bad they're covered in mud. No one will want them in this condition. Well, I take that back. My sons wear boots that look just like this every time they go to work on the farm with their dad, and they never complain. But cut me some slack. I'm trying to make a point here. A perfectly good manuscript might be overlooked if it is muddied by poor presentation. The problem is, there is so much conflicting information out there about proper manuscript formatting that it's hard to decipher exactly what 'proper' is. There are some things that remain constant, though. A manuscript should be double spaced. There should be a header with the working title and author's name (unless you are submitting for a contest). The pages should be numbered. There should be at least a one-inch margin on each side. And it should be typed in at least a 12 point font. Pretty straight forward, right? Not so fast. There are plenty of discrepancies, too, so I thought I'd start my discussions about contradicting information off with the topic of manuscript formatting. Because this post is already long enough, let's talk about page numbers today. It seems the issue that will require the least amount of discussion. Some say the page number should be at the top right corner of the manuscript in the header, while others say it's okay for it to be centered in the footer. One thing that's for certain, though, is that each page should be numbered. What do you think? Where should the page number go?

Monday, November 30, 2009

These Shoes Don't Match

But they are both cute, aren't they? It's kind of like the information we find on the Internet; it doesn't always match up, but it makes sense. The blogging community is a great resource for the aspiring author. It's also a jungle of information that must be navigated through to get to the other side. So, I thought I'd spend the next couple of weeks discussing various contradictions I've come across in hopes that you will weigh in with your opinions. I'd really love to know what you think. Also, if there is something you would like to see discussed, please let me know either in a comment or through email. There is so much information to wade through out there that I think we can all benefit from each other's knowledge. That being said, I'd like to tell you how good it is to be back among my fellow bloggers. I came back to a couple of awards, and thank you, ladies. They were a nice surprise. My break was great, but I missed all of you and can't wait to get back into the swing of things. I did, however, accept the fact that the holiday season will be busier than other times of the year, and, if I want to get any writing done, I have to cut back on blogging for the month of December. So, I'll only be posting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and don't be surprised if you see recurring shoe pictures. Is it just me, or do any of you feel added pressure this time of year? And remember, if you have any contradiction you've come across that you'd like discussed here, please let me know. I can't wait to reconnect with all of you. I'll be by soon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Break

Due to the upcoming holiday and some family matters that I need to attend to, I've decided to take this week off from blogging. I look forward to reconnecting with you all when I return next Monday. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful week, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 5

As most of you know, I've been taking a more relaxed approach to blogging this week. I'm not posting new shoe pictures, and I'm writing about the five words my friend Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me. Today's word is: SUNSETS. Most people think of endings when they think of sunsets. Which is true. After all, they do signify that the day is drawing to a close. But I prefer to think of a sunset as a sign that I made it through till the end of that day, good or bad. When we finish a novel, it's always bitter-sweet. It feels like something has ended, but, at the same time, it gives us confirmation that we can, and actually have, completed something. It also marks the point of a new beginning. How do you feel about sunsets? Are they a dreaded ending, or do they give you a sense of accomplishment? Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 4

My friend Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me five words to blog about this week. Today's word is: FOUNTAINS Well, lucky for me, I live in a suburb outside of Kansas City. One of the biggest tourist attractions around here is The Plaza (well, it used to be, anyway, until the casinos and the race track came along). The Plaza is known for its fountains. Who knew water falling could be so beautiful? This is what listening to the wisdom of others has done for my writing. Now, I'm not saying it's as beautiful as that fountain, but it's getting there. Thanks to my beta readers and books like The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass, my words are starting to flow like fountains, rather than just fall flat from the sky. I want people to stop and admire my words, not rush for cover or shield them with an umbrella. What about you? Do your words fall on the page? Or do they flow?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 3

If you are stopping by for the first time this week, I should warn you that I'm taking a pseudo-break, and all my posts are short and simple. I'm blogging about five words that Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me. Today's word is: WISDOM. Now, I don't consider myself a wise person, but I do consider myself someone who soaks up knowledge and learns from her mistakes. To me, wisdom is relative. There are plenty of people who know way more than I do, and some who undoubtedly know less. The key to wisdom is to accept our limitations and listen to those who know more than we do. What does this have to do with writing? Well, you know I'm going to tell you, don't you? When I wrote my first manuscript, I celebrated through the times when the words flowed effortlessly. I growled when they didn't, but continued to write anyway. And I jumped for joy as I wrote 'THE END'. So I was done, right? Well, I thought I was. This is where wisdom failed me. I ignored all the advice from those who knew more than me, and proceeded to query agents. Guess what? Not a good idea. I soon learned that the masterpiece I'd spent months laboring over wasn't as good as I thought it was, and I finally accepted my limitations and sought out knowledge from those wiser than me. By doing so, I embraced my own wisdom and have grown not only as a writer, but as a person as well. What does wisdom mean to you? Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on what is possible when we embrace the wisdom of others.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 2

If you were here yesterday, you know that I'm doing short, mindless posts this week. I'm blogging about five words that my friend Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me. Today's word is: MILESTONE So, you are writing along, the rain falling on your paper (or keyboard, these days), and BOOM!, you've got nothing. You trudge along anyway, just so you can make it to the end. The words are slow and labored, but eventually, you get to the last chapter, the last word, the last period. You, my friend, have hit a milestone. You have completed a novel. Whether it's your first or your fifteenth, it still feels good. But every milestone comes with a life lesson. It's up to you whether or not you learn from it. What milestone have you hit during your writing career? Join me tomorrow when I share the lessons I've learned.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 1

Yes, it's the third week of the month. It's the week B.J. Anderson calls 'Unplug Week'. It's the week I call 'I'm Hanging Up My Shoes Week'. Unlike B.J., I don't unplug from blogging completely, I just take a step back. I don't scramble to find interesting shoe pictures to go with my posts, and I don't spend a lot of time coming up with a topic to write about. So, please, accept my apology in advance. Before I get on with the rest of this post, I'd like to thank Donald Maass for stopping by here and leaving a comment on my post about hyperbole. (Who says agents and editors don't read our blogs?) He was one of the last to comment that day, so if you missed it, you can read it here. He was the anonymous commenter toward the end. He offered some additional insight that I think you will find helpful. If you get a chance, go take a look. Okay, so this week, I'll be blogging about five words that my friend Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me. Today's word is: RAIN. Rain reminds me of the days when I first start writing a manuscript. (You knew I'd take the writing angle on this, didn't you?) The words just seem to fall on the page effortlessly. Ah, if only the rain would last forever. What part of writing does rain remind you of? Tune in tomorrow for what happens when the sky dries up.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tension With Every Step

If this tightrope slackens, the person walking on it could lose balance and fall. She may regain that balance and make it across, but why risk it? Why not ensure it by keeping the rope tight? This is the same for our stories. If we don't keep the line taut, our readers could fall and never make it to the end. So what keeps a reader intent on making it to the end? Well, in The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass says that it's micro-tension that keeps a reader reading. It's not the major conflict in the story, although we need that too, but it's the constant tension. It's making the reader anticipate what's going to happen in the next few seconds, not just what's going to happen at the end of the book, or even the end of the chapter. Maass gives great suggestions for adding micro-tension into even the most ho-hum scenes, but it all comes down to conflicting emotions. Dialogue, exposition, and even action scenes often lack the punch they could have because they lack the micro-tension, they lack the emotional conflict, they lack the fire. Over the past three weeks, I've been discussing what I've learned from Mr. Maass. I saved this for last because I think it is the most important. Micro-tension can bring any scene to life, and it's what makes a reader not want to put a book down. After reading The Fire In Fiction, I not only have a whole new outlook on writing, but I also have a new zest for writing. I hope you feel it too. Have a great weekend free of micro-tension, unless, of course you're writing. And in that case, I hope it's filled with it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

These Shoes Make Me Laugh

Okay, they really only make me giggle, but still, they get a reaction out of me. I can just picture the poor woman walking down the street, tilting backward because it's impossible to stand up straight. Seriously, is that Barbie wearing them? Every novel, even the most serious one, should at least garner that--a giggle or two. So how do we manage to bring in a little bit of humor? Donald Maass gives us some suggestions in The Fire In Fiction. Hyperbole: Take similes and metaphors; then exaggerate them into the outrageous and unexpected. Irony: Don't be afraid to point it out, build it up, and have your characters react to it. Overreaction: Let your characters have over-the-top reactions to the little catastrophes. These are only a snippet of what Maass talks about, but the bottom line is, exaggerate at some level. Maass says, "Even a serious novel needs to occasionally exaggerate for effect." Well, you heard him. Go exaggerate!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are These Shoes For Real?

Interesting, aren't they? I have a hard time believing anyone would wear them. But, what do I know? Maybe the woman is wearing them out of respect for her recently departed grandmother who designed them. Or, perhaps the man sitting across from her threatened to kill her if she didn't wear them, and she believed him because he killed her best friend last week over the same thing. It could be that, in the society she lives, these shoes are common. If we have unbelievable scenarios in our writing, it is our job as authors to answer these questions for our readers. Otherwise, they won't ever believe. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass discusses this issue in reference to suspense/thriller, but I think his concepts hold true for any genre. To make a reader believe the unbelievable, we have to do three things: 1. Make our protagonist's motivations clear and give them a reason to feel whatever it is they are feeling, which in turn gives them a reason to act the way they do. Then, in the words of Maass, "Pump it up." 2. Make our antagonist's motivations clear and understandable (they can't just be evil for the sake of being evil), and then put some obstacles in his/her way. 3. Come up with every possible argument against the believability of plot and negate it with proof (even if contrived) that it could happen and is, in fact, happening. I've had to work with this issue. Again, just ask my beta readers. But, I'll tell you this: Any far-fetched story can become believable with a little work. So, do you write safe in the believable? Or do you test the waters? If so, what have you done to make your readers believe?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Voice

Yes, I've used this sock puppet picture before. It was lame then, and it's lame now, but it does have a voice. Where does that voice come from? Well, it comes from the person whose hand is inside it. Same goes for our writing. Voice comes from the author. According to Donald Maass in The Fire In Fiction, this voice is often stifled for some reason or another. Maass discusses our character voice and our narrative voice, but the bottom line for both is that every single one of us has opinions, so let them show instead of trying to hide them. This is where the fire comes in. This is where our stories stand apart. It's in the way we tell them. Our voice doesn't come from our words. Maass says it comes from our "outlook, opinions, details, delivery, and original perspectives". What I take from this is that there is no secret formula for creating voice. It's something that we each need to come up with on our own. There is no right or wrong here, but there is interesting and boring. Which one do you want to be?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bringing Our Settings To Life

This picture wouldn't be near as interesting without the feet. It would just be a picture of a big, ugly mud puddle. The feet make us feel the dirt and the water, the glee in the young boy's heart as mud cakes to his toes, and the freedom of summer. It may even create anticipation of what the poor boy's mother is going to do when he comes in the house and leaves muddy footprints across her newly installed white wall-to-wall carpet. Have you ever been reading a book and come across a descriptive passage about setting and skimmed right over it? I have. Many times. So how do we describe our settings without boring our readers? Well, according to Donald Maass in The Fire in Fiction, the key is to bring the setting to life through our characters eyes. Much like this photo is brought to life by the feet running through the mud, our settings can come alive by how they affect our characters. Ask yourself this: What emotions does the setting invoke in my characters? How do my characters' feelings about this place change over time? Do my characters' opinions about the world they live in affect how they view this setting? If you can answer these questions and convey the result, you'll be off to a great start. This is a struggle for me. I have to work hard to make my settings come alive. Just ask my beta readers. Lucky for me, Maass devotes a whole chapter to this and includes some invaluable exercises to help us through this. How do you make your settings come alive?

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Tornado Effect

Growing up in Oklahoma and Kansas allowed me to witness the effect tornadoes have first hand. Whether it passes over you, touches down briefly, or barrels through relentlessly, it has an impact on every single person who experiences it. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass, talks about the importance of 'big' events in a novel. He indicates that many of the manuscripts he's read over the years lack a big event. So, what makes for a big event? Well, Maass describes it as one that causes a tornado effect. A big event is one that impacts multiple characters like a tornado affects many residents of the town it plows through. To make a big event meaningful, though, the author must portray the changes it causes in everyone in its path. Do you have a big event in your novel? Have you portrayed its effect on everyone involved? As you ponder that, go buy the book, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

These Shoes Draw Attention...

...coming and going. The leopard print toe is odd enough, but the heel with the fish in it? Really? We all know that the first and last lines of our manuscripts (even of our chapters) are important. They should leave a lasting effect on the reader, and unlike these shoes, it should be a good one. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass points out that the first and last lines of each and every scene are just as important. A good first line should create anticipation (tension) in the reader, and a good last line should not only close out the scene, but it should also leave the reader wondering what will happen next. I've tried to make the first and last lines of each chapter memorable (some attempts more successful than others), but what about every scene? This is another area I'm focusing on during my revisions. How much attention have you paid to the first and last lines of each and every scene?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

These Shoes Are Going Somewhere

They may be going toward something, or away from something, but they are going somewhere. This is how our scenes should be. One of my favorite quotes in The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass is this: "Most instruction in writing scenes begins with the sound advice, send your character into the scene with a goal. Well, duh." Of course we all know this, but do we always apply it? According to Mr. Maass, many manuscripts fall short here, especially in the middle. So, why does this happen? If I understand Maass correctly, it is because we fail to define what it is that our POV character wants out of the scene, and, thus, our readers don't go into it with any expectations or hope for the outcome. In other words, something has to be on the line for our character, or the reader isn't going to care. Bottom line is, we need to clearly define what our character's wants are for each and every scene, and the outcome should either advance he/she toward that goal or push he/she further away from that goal. But there has to be movement in some direction. Have you looked closely at your character's wants? Is each scene a step forward or a step back in satisfying those wants? I don't know about you, but this is something I will be paying close attention to.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inner and Outer Appeal

These shoes have both. I know. I know. I've already used this picture before, but it's perfect for today's post, and I thought you were all forgiving people. These shoes look good on the outside and are so comfy on the inside. How many shoes can you say that about? According to Donald Maass in The Fire In Fiction, our middle scenes should have both outer and inner turning points. In other words, each scene should cause two things: an outer change that everyone can see, and a change within the POV character. Maass thinks this can make the difference between a scene that can be cut and one that must stay. He suggests that we break each scene down and pinpoint the exact outer turning point, and then match it with an inner turning point. It makes sense, doesn't it? Especially when you have these scenes in the middle that are only there to advance the plot. You can breathe fire into them by revealing how the POV character is changed by the scene, thus giving it a whole new purpose. I have many scenes in my middle that are necessary to advance the plot or shed light on the situation at hand, but they are bland. In looking at them, if I take this advice to heart, they could become crucial, unforgettable scenes. What about you? Are your scenes loaded with both outer and inner appeal?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shoes I Must Keep

Do you remember my series of posts about organizing my shoe shelf and how it reminded me of revisions? If not you can read them here, here, here, here, and here. Anyway, this picture is the result. (Well, partial result. I couldn't get the whole shelf in the picture, but you get the idea.) Every single pair of shoes that I kept had to stay. They each served a purpose. This is how the scenes in our writing should be. Each one should serve a purpose. In The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass discusses this at length and points out that authors often fail at this, especially in the middle parts of the book. It is drilled into our heads how important beginnings and endings are, so we tend to focus on these areas. But aren't our middles just as important? Maass gives us tips for making our middle scenes just as unforgettable as our beginnings and endings, and I'll be discussing this topic for the rest of the week. According to Maass, dialogue is a powerful tool during our middle scenes. It can help define the purpose of the scene; it can help build tension; and it can pump fire into otherwise forgettable scenes. Yes, it can do all of this, if it is strong and taut. So, how do we accomplish that? Well, Maass suggests stripping our dialogue down, and then pumping it back up. In other words, get rid of all incidental action and any unnecessary attributives. If the action doesn't tell the reader something, and the attributive isn't needed for clarification, it only bogs down the scene. Are your middle scenes as pumped up as your beginnings and endings, or could they use a little work? Have you tried tightening up the dialogue? On another note, I'd like to thank those of you who have recently given me an award. I am flattered and grateful. You guys are the best!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Secondary Shoes

My daughter only wears her dance shoes for about fifteen hours a week, but boy, they are important to her. She takes good care of them and loves the way they feel on her feet. They could never take the place of her street shoes, though. This is how our readers should feel about our secondary characters. In The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass spends an entire chapter on secondary characters. The bottom line is, they shouldn't overshadow our main characters, but they should be special. One way to achieve this is to show their impact on our main characters. What about them draws our protagonist to them? What makes our protagonist want to be around them, or not be around them? He suggests thinking about our own lives and who has been special to us. Who do we choose to surround ourselves with? This is where the fire comes in. This is where the passion comes in. Apparently, according to my beta readers, I've succeeded here. Yay, me! No, not really. One of my secondary characters seems to be more appealing than one of my main characters. I can't have that now, can I? I think what Mr. Maass would suggest is to make the secondary characters special to the extent that they are useful to the main characters. In other words, our readers should care (or not care) about our secondary characters as much as our main characters do. No more and no less. What do you think? How do you develop your secondary characters without overshadowing your protagonists? Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

These Shoes are Just Creepy!

Seriously, who would wear them? If the point is to scare, they don't accomplish it. They do nothing for me. Well, they do kind of gross me out. But other than that, nothing. In The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass discusses the antagonist, the villain, the doer of all evil. He says that in the work submitted to him, most of these mean-spirited characters fall flat. Why is that? Well, because they have no depth. He or she is just bad by default without explanation, and just really aren't that scary. Mr. Maass suggests that one way to fuel fire into our writing is by giving the villain some human characteristics and a reason for acting the way he does. He can't just be bad for the sake of being bad. The reader won't buy into it. Maass even goes so far as to suggest that we make him somewhat endearing to the reader. This adds great depth to a story. My primary antagonist is somewhat ambiguous and needs to stay that way, so this is difficult for me. I'll be thinking about it during my rewrites, though. In the mean time, I'll be applying it to my secondary antagonists. Is your antagonist just bad for the sake of being bad? Or have you given him some motivation for his behavior? Please share.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

These are the Shoes of Heroes

Yesterday, I mentioned that passion comes from within the author, and not from the plot, setting, characters or voice. That's not to say, though, that it doesn't manifest itself in these elements. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass tells us how to channel our passion and breathe life into these areas of our writing. For the remainder of this week, I'll be talking about putting our passion to work through our characters, starting with our main characters. Mr. Maass discusses the difference between heroes and protagonists. Heroes are larger than life, while protagonists are everyday people. Maass points out that neither is bad, but both should be multi-dimensional. Otherwise, the reader won't care about them. If your main character is a hero, then give him some flaws to make the reader relate to him. On the other hand, if your main character is just an everyday guy, give him some strengths that the reader wishes he had. Mr. Maass goes on to suggest that this should be done in the first five pages. Aye! I really messed up there! My main character was a big, old, everyday wimp. At least until, oh I don't know, like the twenty-first chapter. During my revisions (um, I mean rewrites), this will be a huge focus of mine. So, tell me...who is your main character? Is he a hero or an everyday Joe? Either way, what qualities have you given him to make him endearing to your reader?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where does the fire come from?

As I mentioned yesterday, last weekend, I read two books on the craft of writing by literary agent Donald Maass: Writing The Breakout Novel and The Fire In Fiction. Both were excellent reads, but I'm going to focus these discussion on The Fire In Fiction. In this book, Mr. Maass points out that there are no truly original ideas. "Every novel has antecedents. Every author has influences. It is impossible to be wholly original; even so, some novels feel fresh and shake us with their insight." So, if this is true, what makes the difference? Look carefully at that quote. Mr. Maass states that 'Every author has influences.' That, my friends, is where the fire comes from. It doesn't come from the plot, the characters, the setting, or the voice. It comes from the author's passions, which have developed over time because of life experiences. How do we find that passion within ourselves and transfer it to our writing? This is exactly what Mr. Maass answers in The Fire In Fiction. He talks about two types of writers: the status seekers and the storytellers. The status seekers start out with all kinds of passion, the main goal being publication. They settle for good enough. This kind of passion fizzles out over time. The storyteller, on the other hand, has one goal at heart: making his novel the best it can be, and each successive one even better than the last. This passion never goes away. I think, it's possible to be a little of both. Don't most of us writers dream of the day we will be published? Of course we do. But this can't be our only motivation. We have to strive to become better, stronger writers, and we have to be passionate about the art of writing, not just about the dream of publication. I'm guilty of being a status seeker at times, but I want nothing more than to be a storyteller. What about you? What kind of writer do you want to be?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Transformer Shoes?

Pretty cool, huh? If only we could make our writing amazing as easily as these shoes turn into transformers. Okay, I've got a couple of things to talk about here before I get into the whole transformation thing, but I promise, I'll get back to it. First of all, I'd like to thank you all for making K.M. Weiland feel at home here on Friday. In case you didn't stop back by after leaving a comment, you might want to pop back over here. She responded to each of you individually, so I'd like to give her a big thank you too. And, the lucky winner of the copy of Behold The Dawn is: Tamika. Congratulations, Tamika. Shoot me an email (smills1@att.net) with your address and we'll send it to you. Thanks for participating. Now, I want to talk about NaNo for a minute. I've been all over the blogosphere talking about how I'm going to participate this year. Well, I lied. Okay, maybe I didn't so much lie as change my mind. You can call me a chicken, or you can call me lazy (I wouldn't deny that), but after a great deal of soul searching this weekend, I've decided to skip NaNo. Perhaps I'll have my own version when I'm ready. (I could call it SuRoMiWriMo for Susan Rochelle Mills Writes Month.) You see, I'm just not ready. Which brings me back to the whole transformation thing. Most of you know that I've been hard at work on revising a manuscript. Well, last weekend, I had the opportunity to read Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction, both by literary agent Donald Maass. After reading these two extremely helpful books on the craft, I realized my manuscript needs more than just revisions. It needs a transformation. This is where my heart is. This where my focus is. So this is where my efforts will be. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be talking about my experiences during this process, along with my take on the information I learned from Mr. Maass. If you haven't read these books, I highly recommend them. And for those of you still participating in NaNo, I'll be cheering you on. So, where is your heart? Where is your focus? And where will your efforts be come November 1?

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes...Again! Day 5

This is the last day of my 'partial' unplug week, and I have one more word to talk about from my friend Kristen Torres-Toro. Today's word is: Travel. Since I don't do much actual traveling, I get my fix from literature. I love reading about other times and places. And what better place to travel than to the Holy Lands during the Middle Ages? I'm thinking Russell Crowe in Gladiator. (For my male followers, you can think of whatever actress played his love interest.) Who wouldn't want to go there? That's where we are going today. Author K.M. Weiland has so graciously agreed to interview here about her newly released Behold the Dawn. Please welcome her with lots of comments. If you comment, your name will be entered into a drawing to receive a copy of the book. So here it is: 1. What inspired Behold the Dawn? I happened to pick up a children’s picture book about William Marshall, the “greatest knight who ever lived.” He was a second-born son who had to make his fortune by competing in the tourneys—the huge mock battles which were the predecessors of the slightly more civilized jousting tournaments. Despite being repeatedly banned by the popes, tourneys remained wildly popular until high mortality rates forced the sport to evolve into the more familiar (and much safer) jousting tournaments. After a long career as one of the most renowned tourneyers of the age, Marshall finally hung up his spurs and headed for the Holy Land to seek absolution. I’ve always been drawn to the Middle Ages, and I was instantly intrigued by these gladiatorial battles and their juxtaposition with the Crusades. From there, my imagination just took off! 2. Who is your favorite character? Oh, Marcus Annan, my main character, definitely! He dominated every page and absolutely took charge of the story. He was one of those special larger-than-life characters who are definitive to a writing career. His strength, his courage, and his haunted past… he was a blast to write. In fact, he’s easily one my favorites out of all the characters I’ve ever written. And that’s saying something, because this story, in particular, gave birth to quite a cast, including Annan’s smart aleck servant Peregrine Marek, the fugitive countess Lady Mairead, a conflicted Templar named Warin, and a triad of very scary bad guys! 3. What does your typical writing day look like? Fast and furious! I get up at the absolute earliest I’m physically capable of dragging myself out of bed (which is *ahem* 7 o’clock), have my morning devotions for about an hour, work out for half an hour, eat breakfast and hit the shower, check email, then head to work (which happens to be just as far away as my own desk chair) and put in my time for the church ministry I work for part time. Around two, I check emails once more, then dive into whatever “extra” project I may be facing, whether it be blog posts, editing, critiquing, or cleaning the house. My official writing time starts every afternoon at four o’clock. I spend about thirty minutes warming up—scribbling in my writing journal and proofreading what I wrote the previous day—then I pick a soundtrack and dive into the magical world of fiction until six o’clock. 4. What’s the best review you’ve ever gotten on your writing? They’re all good—even the bad ones, since they let me know what I need to improve. But anytime someone tells me I made them laugh or cry out loud, I know I nailed it. Dreaming about my characters and not breathing during tense scenes are also special reactions. But I think the ones I tend to remember most are the ones that come on bad days, when I happen to be doubting myself and my worth as a writer. I got one of those earlier this year, when someone told me they’d added my book A Man Called Outlaw as one of only three books on their “must-read list.” That one meant a lot. 5. What’s next? I have several projects in the works. I have a completed fantasy, Dreamers Come (about a man who discovers that his dreams are really memories of another world) waiting for another round of edits. I also just started outlining my next project, a historical novel called The Deepest Breath about the passion, betrayal, and vengeance that dog two men and the woman they both love through the trenches of World War I, corruption in colonial Kenya, and the criminal underbelly of London. And I’m also working on a fun co-writing project that asks, “What if Robin Hood met Sleeping Beauty?” You can also view the trailer for Behold the Dawn here. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes...Again! Day 4

Boy, this week is flying by. It seems like just yesterday, I explained that I was "partially" unplugging for the week and that I'd be blogging about the five words that my friend Kristen Torres-Toro gave me. I'm blogging about a different one each day. And here it is, already Thursday. Where does the time go? Anyway, today's word (or phrase) is: Caffeine Fix Well, that's easy. Coffee. No doubt about it. I have loved coffee since the very first time I tasted it (I think I was ten). I used to drink tea and diet coke, too, but I gave those beverages up. I could never give up coffee, though. It's a bad habit. I know. But I'm not pleasant until I've had my coffee. I did, however, give it up when I was pregnant (all three times), and I was fine. I had to be, you know, for the good of the child. So why can't I give it up now? This has got me thinking about my writing habits. How many of them are necessary? How many are all in my head? My worst habit when it comes to writing is editing as I go. It slows me down, and I waste a lot of paper, much to the chagrin of my eco-friendly daughter. With NaNo coming up, this just will not work. Why can't I just kick the habit for the good of my new baby (manuscript) and write, write, write, without editing, editing, editing? Do you have any bad writing habits? Please tell me you do so I don't feel all alone. Also, please pop in tomorrow for my interview with K.M. Weiland, author of the newly released Behold the Dawn. Now, I'm not trying to bribe you or anything, but there will be a giveaway.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes...Again! Day 3

So, I've been given five words to blog about during this week of "partial unplugging" by Kristen Torres-Toro. Today's word (or phrase) is: Favorite Word. I thought long and hard about this, and considered talking about something really deep like 'GRACE', or 'FORGIVENESS', or 'LOVE'. But I think we all have our own convictions when it comes to those things, and anything I had to say about them would be redundant. So, I had an impartial judge decide what my favorite word is. I turned to wordle.com. I entered the last ten posts on my blog, and it spit out this collage of words. It was quite fascinating actually, and I tried to upload it here, but I couldn't for some reason (probably because I'm technically challenged in that way). It was in the shape of the sole of shoe. Imagine that. Anyway, according to Wordle, my favorite word, at least when blogging, is WRITING. That's a good thing, considering that's what this blog is supposed to be about. I was smiling for a moment, but then I thought about my manuscript. What word would stick out there? So I entered the first chapter, and my new shoe collage showed in huge print the names of my two male lead characters. But not much smaller than that was the word 'back'. Hmm? I suppose I might have overused this word. 'I turned back', 'I looked back', 'I glanced back', and my favorite, 'He placed his hand on the small of my back'. Aye! What about you? Do you have a favorite word that you overuse when writing? If so, how do you keep yourself from doing it?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes...Again! Day 2

As most of you know, I'm taking a break from new shoe pictures this week to channel some of my creative energy into my writing. I'm still posting, and I'm still reading blogs, but I'm sparing myself from the task of searching out new pictures of shoes. While I'm partially unplugging this week, I've decided to do something I was supposed to a while back. Kristen Torres-Toro has given me five words to blog about, so I thought I'd blog about one of the words each day. Today's word (or phrase) is: First Job. My first job was at Tippin's Pie Pantry as a cashier. I was fifteen years old and loved working with money as much as I loved writing (which would explain why I went on to major in accounting, a thought I'm seriously reconsidering right now). Anyway, you may think that the best part of this job was the free pie. Well, that was good, but the best part was the people watching opportunity. You see, Tippin's was also a restaurant, and the waiting area for diners was right in front of the cashier station. I remember making up stories about the people waiting to pass my time on the job. Of course, it might have been great fodder had I remembered anything when I got home. I didn't, but it sure made working there a lot more entertaining. What about you? Have any of your jobs inspired stories? Don't forget about Friday's interview with K.M. Weiland. There's also a giveaway involved.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes...Again!

As most of you know, last month I joined in on B.J. Anderson's unplug week. Well, I did partially, and by partially, I mean that I didn't post any new shoe pictures. It freed up my creative energy for writing, which I need to do now, so I'm going to partially unplug again. I will still post and read all of your blogs, but I apologize in advance for the lack of new shoe pictures for the week. Anyway, I have a few things to talk about today, so bear with me. I'll try to make it as short and sweet as possible. First of all, I need to announce the winner of last week's drawing. Please congratulate Janna Qualman who chose Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. Congratulations! I'll be in touch with you. Second, I want to thank Shelli for the Lemonade Award, and Nicolette for the Head In The Clouds Award. Thanks, ladies! Third, I hope you can all join me on Friday for an interview with K.M. Weiland, author of Behold The Dawn. I'm thrilled she chose to stop by here as part of her blog tour for the book's release. I hope you all pop in to hear what she has to say. Now, finally, Kristen Torres-Toro has given me five words to blog about, so I thought that while I'm "partially" unplugging this week, I'd do one word a day. So, today's word (or phrase) is: RETREAT. Since it has been unseasonably cold here, my answer to this is: in front of the fireplace after everyone else in the house is asleep. It's quiet. It's cozy. And it's my time do whatever I want. I usually end up writing because I consider that a retreat in itself, but if I don't feel like doing that, I read or watch television. Either way, I feel like it is a part of my writing life. My spot in front of the fire is either used for writing or as a break from writing. It's a win/win situation. So, what about you? Do you have a spot that facilitates both writing and a break from writing? If so, please share.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Shoe Cake Anyone?

As many of you already know, I celebrated my 100th post a couple of weeks ago. I had deleted a few posts, so on record, it was only my 88th post. Well, today, it is official. According to Blogger authorities, this is my 100th post, and my side bar even says so. Because I love parties, and I hit 200 followers this week, something I never imagined possible and am so grateful for, we are celebrating again. This celebration is in honor of you, my blogger friends. So, kick off your shoes, grab a piece of cyber shoe cake, and enter my very first drawing ever. Just leave a comment telling me the title and author of a book you really, really, really want to read but do not already own. On Sunday, at high noon (I always wanted to say that), one of my little pests, who most people like to call children, will draw a name from a bucket. The lucky winner will be announced on Monday and will receive the book they named in the comment (as long as it's available and not some collector's edition that costs a fortune, that is). I want to say thank you to all of my followers, commenters, and occasional stopper-byers. You've made my blogging experience more than I ever expected it to be. I love you guys! Have a great weekend! And if you want to order a cake like that or some other novelty cake, visit cakecentral.com.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Time Factor

Note: This is part repost from August and part new thoughts added in. I have to admit that I could spend all day blogging. But I don't. Aside from the kids taking over the computer regularly, I have other things I have to do. I follow over 100 blogs. If I were to read and comment on every single one of them, assuming it took five minutes for each, that would take more than 500 minutes. That's over 8 hours, and it doesn't include writing my own posts or responding to comments on my posts. Would I love to be able to read and comment on every blog? Absolutely. Is that possible? Absolutely not. Thankfully, not everyone posts every day. That helps. But I also have my priorities. The most important thing (aside from my family) is writing. If I spend too much time blogging, I lose out on valuable creative time. You know those people we've been talking about who know all about networking for writers? (You know who I'm talking about.) Well, they all agree that the unpublished writer should spend most of their time writing. That's not to say they shouldn't do some social networking like blogging, but their efforts should be focused primarily on writing. I take this advice to heart. Several people have asked me recently how I manage my blogging time. So, I thought I'd post about it. I spend an hour in the morning blogging, a half-hour in the afternoon, and another half-hour or so in the evening. It's two hours out of my day, but I consider it time well spent. The rest of my day is devoted to my family and my writing. This is the only way I know how to handle it. No one should allow blogging to overwhelm them, so we each need to find a way that works for us and go with it. What about you? How do you manage your blog time?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

If You Can't Say Something Nice... (Repost)

The other day, someone (I won't mention any names) says to me, "Your hair really is getting gray, isn't it?" Now, I'm making a big confession here to all of you bloggers. I have gray hair. Well, I would if I didn't color it. On this particular day, it had been quite a while since I had done it. In fact, the box of hair color had been sitting on my counter for several days waiting for me to have a chance to use it. Did I know my head was starting to look like a skunk? Yes. Did my mother-in-law (oops...I wasn't going to mention any names) have to point it out? No, but she did. I've never encountered any rude bloggers, but I know of people who have, and I can't believe it. Someone might argue that if the world was a perfect place, everyone would be kind, but it's not, so as bloggers, we have to deal with it. I disagree. I think being part of a community like this comes with the responsibility of interacting in a positive and respectful manner. It does not come with the right to say whatever you want. What do you think? Have you ever come across any rude bloggers?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To Follow Or Not?

Last week, my son received an invitation to a birthday party from a boy who he was not friends with and never had been. Convinced the boy had only invited him to get more presents, my son did not want to go. I made him, though, because I thought it was the nice thing to do. We'll never know for sure what motivated the boy to invite him, but my son ended up having a great time and making a new friend, too! This situation reminded me of the whole follower business on blogger. Yesterday, I talked about how much I like getting comments on my posts. Nearly everyone who responded admitted that they, too, love the comments. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that you all also love followers as much as I do. We've been told time and time again by people who actually know what they are talking about how important it is to develop an online presence. These same people all agree that in order to build up your own following, you must follow other blogs. While this seems a tad bit on the insincere side, it is true. And, I'll admit, I have followed blogs with the hopes that they would in turn follow me. I've also followed blogs because they followed me first. Now, is this really such a bad thing? I look at more like the birthday party my son went to. Perhaps the boy only invited him to get more presents, but they both gained a new friendship out of the deal. In the few short months I've been blogging, I have developed some awesome friendships. I've found so many blogs that provide valuable information. I've found so many bloggers who are on the same journey as I am. I've found blogs that make me laugh, and who couldn't use a good laugh sometimes? My point is this: The following game doesn't have to be insincere. The key is to follow blogs because you find some value in what the person has to say, not because you are trying to build up your own following. Chances are, they will also find value in what you are saying and will follow you, too. Okay, that's my far-from-expert opinion on the matter. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

You Light Up My Life!

Many of you will recognize that this is a version of a post I've already done. Since we were on the subject of blogging, I decided to re post bits and pieces of a series on blogging that I did back in August. This shoe lights up. And so does my phone. When I have a new email, a flashing red light appears in the corner of my phone. I used to look forward to seeing this light because I hoped it would be a response to one of my e-queries. On more than one occasion, this light saved me from the typical refresh-every-five-seconds syndrome so many writers suffer from. Since I stopped querying three months ago, I now look forward to seeing the light because I hope it is a comment from one of my blogger friends. Every time it is, I smile. I've spent the last couple of weeks talking about the importance of maintaining a professional blog. Just as important, though, is the concept of sincerity. It doesn't matter how professional your blog is. If you aren't sincere in your interaction on it, no one will want to come back. Commenting on other's blogs is one way to show your sincerity. Your comments bring me joy, and for that, I want to say thank you! Is it just me, or does anyone else love the comments?

Friday, October 9, 2009

These Aren't My Shoes!

They are the shoes of the fabulous Shelli Johannes-Wells. And she has so kindly agreed to an interview on my blog. Please welcome her with lots of nice comments. Feel free to leave questions for her. She may stop by to answer if she has time. Shelli writes children's, tween, and young adult, and is represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media. She is also a marketing consultant for several large, well known businesses in the United States. To learn more about her, please visit her web site or her blog. 1. Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I think my readers could benefit from your marketing knowledge. But first, everyone would like to know if agents really visit the blogs of potential clients. Based on your numerous interviews with agents and editors, do you think they do? If so, what do they look for? YES they do! First of all, if you go to my blog and read my weekly Monday interviews with agents and editors on marketing, you will see most of them Google writers online and expect writers to have an online presence. I also speak at many SCBWI conferences and end up hanging out with faculty. I can't tell you how many editors and agents goggle writers and scour the Internet looking for information on potential writers. I have at least 5 friends who got "found" on their blog. I think they look for voice, personality, good ideas, and optimism. They want to see if they can connect to this author and work with them. You can tell a lot about someone's personality by reading someone's blog. I think they are turned off by boring material, negativity, and detailed reports of submission rejection. 2. Okay, now on to marketing. How important is social networking to marketing? And what role does blogging play in this area? Social networking is very important. Especially online. You can control the marketing of your book, but you cannot control the PR you or your book gets. PR is free. And that word of mouth comes from readers, friends, and your professional network. Blogs are just one way to network. As you know, we bloggers find other blogs we connect with and then somehow in a strange way become friends. Sometimes, I feel like my blogger friends know me better than anyone and that they 100% support me in my writing and journey to publication. I think and hope my bloggie buddies feel the same way about me. If you do not like to blog, find another way to build a network. You can use Facebook, Myspace, Ning, Xanga, Good Reads, Shelftalker, message boards, listserve groups, Twitter, or others. There are so many ways to network, so find a couple that work for you and do them well. 3. At what point do writers need to start considering the marketing aspects of social networking? Do unpublished, unagented writers need to worry about this yet? In my professional opinion, yes! I do think it is extremely important to build those relationships way before someone is selling books. It's no fun having someone push their book on you when they don't even know your name. Social networking relationships are like any business relationship. It is better to build them over time and with authenticity. Building a network has many advantages to unpublished authors: 1) You find out about other people's agents/journey, which can help your own 2) You have time to build up a relationship without jamming your book down people's throats. 3) It helps you stay connected in this crazy journey. It's nice to find like people who experience similar struggles and achievements. Many unpublished authors seem to think they cannot do a web site before they get published. That is not true - you can! Even if you don't have books published, you can pitch them on your web site. Why not? I am agented but not yet published. You can check out my web site and see how to do it. 4. Since teenagers don't typically blog, how effective is blogging as a marketing tool for the YA author? Wait - who says teens don't blog??? According to Pew studies, in 2008, more than half (58%) of all teens maintain a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace, 27% have an online journal or blog, and 11% maintain a personal website. Girls dominate the teen blogosphere and social networks. 66% of girls have a profile (compared with 50% of boys), and 34% of those girls (versus 20% of boys) keep an online journal or blog. A lot of teens also review books on their blogs. I follow a few, and they are amazingly knowledgeable about authors and books. Therefore, I say blogging is effective - if you do it well and often. Now are you blogging for the teen audience prior to being published? Probably not. In the beginning, your blog targets other writers, bloggers, editors and agents. But later, when you are published, that audience may change, and teens may follow. Just look at Meg Cabot's following! 5. What is the best advice you can give in regards to using social networking as a marketing tool? Do it! Online Social networking is to writers what the after hours parties and team events are to businesses. You have to network to get noticed. Your writing should always come first, but you need to get out there if you want to be out there. :) Shelli, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with me. You've definitely given us all something to think about. Thanks for having me! Well, there you have it. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Marketing Madness

NIKE came up with one of the most memorable marketing slogans in the history of the shoe industry. When someone says, "Just Do It", we immediately think of NIKE. I've been talking about various aspects of blogging for the last couple of weeks, and you may be wondering what my sudden obsession is all about. Well, it isn't exactly sudden. I've been thinking about it for a while now. At some point, every writer is going to have to think about the marketing aspect of social networking. My blog has always been a means of connecting with other writers. I never considered it a marketing tool. And, why should I? I'm not published yet, so I have nothing to market, right? Well, according to a great number of people who know a lot more than I do, I've got it all wrong. It's never too early to start thinking about marketing. Just like we all recognize the NIKE slogan, we want people to recognize our name when we are finally published. I hope you all can join me tomorrow. I'll be interviewing fellow blogger and author, Shelli Johannes-Wells. Shelli is not only an author, but also a marketing consultant who has interviewed numerous editors and agents. She has spoken at conferences all across the country, and I'm sure she will have some great insight on this issue. What are your thoughts on marketing and social networking? Oh, and I want to thank you all for your input on my name dilemma. You guys are the best. I haven't decided what to do permanently, but for now, you will see the user name of Susan R. Mills in your comments. Good-bye, Lazy Writer!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Part 2: What's In A Name?

When I Google 'Converse', I get a zillion results related to the shoe company or the products they offer. When I Google my name, I get a zillion results related to anything but me. In fact, I discovered that there is another author named Susan Mills. YIKES! I can't have the same name as another author, can I? Yesterday, I discussed my user name, Lazy Writer, and how I thought I should change it because of the impression it gives. I want to thank you all for your feedback on this. I guess I've always known I would have to change it some day, and I think that day has come. Now, I have a new dilemma. What do I change it to? I could come up with another catchy name (many of you had some great suggestions yesterday), but I think it would be best to go with the name I intend to be published under. The problem is, though, I don't know what that is yet. Given the fact that 'Susan Mills' is common (not to mention boring) and that there is another author by that name, I've decided I need a pen name. What do you think? And what about your name? Are you happy with what you find when you Google it?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Part 1: What's In A Name?

My answer to this question is: A LOT! The name of this shoe store defines exactly what you are going to find inside--affordable shoes. I've been thinking about my blog user name, Lazy Writer. I chose it back when I had no idea what blogging was all about. The more I learn about blogging, the more I question this name. It doesn't convey what I'm about at all. For my newer followers, I posted here about why I chose this name. In summary, I'm not lazy when it comes to my writing. I'm lazy when it comes to other areas of my life because of my writing. I don't think that's the message it sends, though. If an agent or editor were to visit my blog (or any of yours that I comment on for that matter), I wonder what impression they would get. Although I am quite fond of the name, I'm thinking it needs to go. What do you think? What about your name? What do you want it to say about you?