Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Time for Donkey's Shame

For myself, sometimes it feels like my entire gas tank of creativity turns to fumes the moment I sit down, pen and stationery in hand.  Yet, I do appreciate it when someone gives me a gift or does something kind.   And I love getting thank you notes, myself.

I also know that I feel resentment and, okay, somewhat bitter when I have gone out of my way to find the perfect gift for someone, or done a huge favor, and I get... no thanks.  Dead silence like when a bad comedian really, really bombs.  Crickets.  Certainly doesn't make me want to knock myself out getting a gift for that person again, or doing any big favors.

So, I always write my thank you notes, and with a little help from my friends (good books and great websites), can usually get through it without too much blood, sweat and tears.   Sometimes when I do, I even hear back, "You've made me so very happy," about my note.

from Wikihow:
State what the person did for you and the impact it had on you. If someone did something kind, tell them the effect it had on your day, week etc. If someone sent you money, tell them how you plan to spend it. If you are thanking someone for a gift, write about how you will use it. Little touches like mentioning how a lamp you received from the person matches the color-scheme in your room perfectly and so forth, go a long way here.
  • Take this opportunity to write about something else you appreciate about the person.
  • Wish them well. If the person in question is not a relative, you can say that you hope their family is doing well too if this seems appropriate in the context.
for more great tips:  http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Letter-of-Appreciation

Here's another couple of great sites:

I can also recommend Robyn Spizman's The Thank You Book.  (ISBN 1-56352-141-5)

Go ahead, get creative.  Draw a little sketch.  Write a poem, or a song.  Or if you can't, do what my son did one year - dragged me in front of the TV and said, "Watch this, Mom.  They're singing everything I want to say to you, only they did it first."

Awwwwh!  Still makes me get all misty.

So what are you waiting for?  You've got a golden opportunity to make someone you love (or, if not somebody you love, at least somebody you want to work with in relative harmony) feel very good about you.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Guest Post: negativespace: Trojan Wedding Shower Commercial - Triphoria Gift ...

Sometimes, inspiration comes from the weirdest places...

negativespace: Trojan Wedding Shower Commercial - Triphoria Gift ...: "I was gathered with my husband and daughters on Christmas day. We were celebrating Christmas in our pajamas, watching the original Star Wars trilogy on the Sci Fi Channel. Can you imagine? This was the first commercial to play! On the Sci Fi Channel! "

What blows your hair back?  Literally or figuratively?  If you see or hear something that's absolutely ridiculous, do you use it in your writing?  If not, why not?  It can be a great way to set up conflict - one character thinks something like this is hysterically funny, and another is mortally offended by it.

You can use TV or radio commercials to give a time clue as to what era your piece is set in.  Not a single ad for Erectile Dysfunction during a major sporting event?  Gotta be more than ten years ago then.  If Virginia Slims are telling you we've come a long way, baby, or she's wearing Charlie, it's got to be in the 1970's.  If it's modern day and the network news are on, you know there will be ads for pharmaceutical products.

Use the little everyday things - like ads on TV - or like TV, for that matter - that we normally take for granted, to give your piece color, and to help the reader or viewer know when you are, in time.

Have you ever gotten 'lost in time'?  Let a character make a call on a cellphone ten years
before they were in common use?  Tell me about it in the comments, below.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guest Post - In a Flutter about Twitter

I don't know Twat about Twitter.  But I knew who would - Paula L. Johnson.  Because Paula knows about everything - marketing, websites, copywriting, adwriting, you-name-it.  And what Paula doesn't know, Paula quickly finds out.  And Paula shares.  

Have you guessed that I have a teen-girly, non-lesbian kind of crush on Paula, along with breathless admiration for her breadth of knowledge and lightning-fast execution of just about anything?  

As stolen borrowed from her blog:
In a flutter about Twitter
I started posting on Twitter in late 2008 at the request of a client who wanted me to evaluate it for his business.While I was a bit late to the Twitter party, I'm now hooked on microblogging. Now when other clients quiz me about Twitter, I point them to:
TwiTip.com, a site devoted to all things Twitter.
Twitter lists and the Twitter news channel on Mashable.com (which is a great resource for information on all social media technology).
I'll add additional articles and resources to this post as I find them. If you have links to share, please do so in your comment.

Image by Telegraph via Softpedia
I have yet to Tweet extensively.  Right now, my feeling about frequent Twitterers?  Twits? is that same mixture of admiration and puzzlement for women who wear high heeled shoes to walk around Universal Studios all day.  Sure, it looks impressive - but why would anyone want to do that?  Why?  Why?

But I'm thinking when I have a book to promote - perhaps even this blog, or my website, Twitter will be a tool I'll want to use.  I'm going to read up on all these great sites over the holidays, now that I have all the info in one handy place.

And now, so do you.  :-)

Do you Tweet?  What do you Tweet?  Let me know in the comments, below.
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

You Talkin' to ME?

Who you talkin' to, anyway?

Deciding who your audience is, is one of the biggest and most important choices you need to make, before you even begin writing your novel, your blog, your screenplay.  Even a poem. 

"But," you sputter, "My audience is everyone.   I don't want to restrict myself to just mystery fans, or action fans, or left-handed pro basketball players."  You have these secret dreams of being the next JK Rowling, Nora Ephron or Stieg Larsson (only you'd prefer not to be dead, so as to better enjoy your fame and popularity.)
Photo by tkksummers

Come back from Fantasy Island, my friend.  No, I'm not trying to burst your bubble - only you're prematurely focused on who you hope to sell to.  You may, in fact, achieve crazy crossover popularity beyond Stephen King's wildest fantasies, but first you have to tell a story.

Do you have a five-year-old?  Or, do you know a five-year-old?  How about your grandma - or a friend's grandma?  Work with me here.

Let's say you want to describe your hot new boyfriend to your five-year-old niece, your grandma, and your most intimate friend.

To your five-year-old niece, you might include, "And he has the biggest... smile I've ever seen.  Besides yours, you cutie pie."

To your dearest friend, you might say, "OMG, he's got the biggest d--k I've ever seen.  I swear, the thing is like an anaconda, it's kind of scary."

To your grandma, you might say, "He's got the biggest, warmest heart I've ever found in a man."  To which Grandma might reply, 'That's all well and good, but how big is his d--k?"

The way you tell a story will change, in tone, vocabulary, and pace, depending on who you are telling it to (and why you are telling it - more on that, later.)

Think about these possible audiences (out of thousands):
  • Your future self, perhaps five or ten years from now
  • Your current self
  • A teenager
  • A five-year-old
  • Your best friend
  • Your rival at work
  • A cute neighbor you have a secret crush on
  • Your big brother that you utterly love and trust
  • Your sister who was always taking your clothes without asking
  • Your peers for a scientific journal
  • Your rather uptight boss
  • The cop who just pulled you over
  • Your beloved of thirty years
  • Your future grandchildren or great-grandchildren
  • Your therapist
  • Your hair stylist
  • Your potential client
  • Your girls' night out posse
  • Your fifth period science teacher
  • A potential lover you're chatting with on the Internet
  • Your parents
  • Your favorite aunt
  • A jury
  • A parole board
  • The President of the United States
  • Your cat Fluffy
  • Your dead cat Fluffy (okay, that's a little creepy)
But maybe creepy fits the kind of tale you want to tell.  Maybe what you're telling is Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The second part of storytelling is figuring out why you need to tell this tale.  (You in the sense of you the author or storyteller, not you the human being.)  Are you looking for understanding or validation?  A pat on the back? To clear your name?  To justify yourself to yourself?  To find kindred spirits?

Are you telling it on behalf of a third party - your best friend, Sherlock Holmes, because you want the world to see how brilliant he is?  Or how nefarious someone else is?  Do you just want to blow off steam, or incite the people to revolution?

You can start a story without knowing the answers to the questions of who and why... but you'll be doing it the hard way.  It may well sound flat, with little vibrancy, bite, and or interest.  Unflavored tofu.

By knowing who your audience is, and what you want them to feel, the language and word choices will flow, the tone will feel right, and the pace will sort itself out naturally.

You'll also have to choose a POV (Point of View) from which to write - first person, singular or plural, third person, etc., but we'll do more on that in a future blog.
Work with schools : Dan Beard telling a story to a group of ...
For now, just figure out who your audience is, and why you're talking to him/her/them.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Come On, Get Happy! (And Get Feedback)

A bunch of really cool people are going to help you polish your writing.  So, yes indeedy, it's time to Come On, Get Happy!

The following are guidelines some very smart, extremely talented people in a group called the AWG helped me develop during my time as a member.  So, since they're still pretty pertinent, they're going to be our ground rules for our upcoming critique group.  (If you'd like to borrow them for your group, feel free - just remember to give the credit to the AWG.)

Feedback Guidelines
The following guidelines are given:
1) So that the maximum number of writers can be productively accommodated at each session, and
2) Most importantly, to ensure that the sessions themselves are emotionally safe places for expression, both for writers and for critics.

When Offering Feedback:
As a writer taking a turn as a critic, please keep this in mind as you offer your suggestions.

All writers are vulnerable when it comes to criticism about our work, regardless of how self-assured and confident we may appear. In everything we write, we reveal our personalities, hopes, fears, traits, longings, and personal history. While feedback is essential if we want to sell our work, it is also a great act of daring and trust to reveal these very intimate things before others.

photo by Graur Codrin
at FreeDigitalImages

  • Write down your name on the pages, so that if the writer has questions about a comment (or can’t read your handwriting!) he knows who to ask.
  • Jot down your thoughts and ideas as the material is read, so you remember your suggestions when the feedback session begins.
  • Take turns commenting. Listen and participate at the appropriate moments. If three people talk over one another, the writer can't hear and take notes through the noise.
  • Organize your thoughts before speaking. Be concise and to the point. Redundant comments and babble use up valuable time.
  • Avoid revising the entire story. The writer isn’t looking for a collaborator.
  • Don’t confuse the writer with his characters or subject matter. For example, because an author writes a story about child molestation does not mean that she herself is a child molester, or was a victim of one. We all want the freedom to bring in offensive or controversial material so we can get feedback, without being judged by our subject matter. (This includes religious or political material.)  If you have "hot-button" personal issues from which it is impossible to distance yourself and be objective, don’t offer feedback on that particular work. A personal attack on a writer is inappropriate in any form, whether it is verbal or written on the manuscript pages.
  • Offer feedback about the work, not the message. Whether the viewpoints expressed by the writer are something we personally find offensive, unappealing, or unbelievably stupid is not the point. Our job is help the writer articulate his ideas clearly and with good literary style.
  • It’s fine to mention a book, or movie, similar in tone or storyline, that might benefit the author to review. Don’t drone on and on about the entire history of cinema or classic literature. Better yet, simply write down your recommendations as notes on the writer’s pages.  She will need the correct spelling anyway.
  • Don't make vague negative comments. "I hate stories about boys and their dogs," is not helpful. Consider the fix before offering a comment, or at least pinpoint the problem (and try to be diplomatic!) "This story is well-written, but I feel like I'm missing an element here that would separate it from the many other stories about boys and their dogs I've read in the past."
  • Praise the author’s strengths. Make positive comments if you truly liked the material, even if you have no suggestions for change. "Stories about boys and their dogs have been done a million times, but your story was still very fresh and interesting."
  • It is not necessary to offer an opinion on every piece of work presented.  (In other words, STFU once in a while!)
    Image via Ambro at FreeDigitalImages
When Presenting Your Work:
Make sure you have read through the formatting guidelines and your material is ready for review. This means pages numbered, double-spaced if fiction, proper screenplay formatting, collated, stapled or clipped, screenplay reading parts highlighted, circled, or underlined, enough copies for the expected number of attendees, etc.

We all are guilty sometimes of procrastinating, rewriting our material, and waiting to photocopy it till the last possible second. However, finishing up your stapling, collating, or other preparations while the group is ongoing is extremely rude and disrespectful to the other members of the group. You cannot expect other writers to be good sports about your lack of concentration on their projects, then in turn give your work their full and complete attention. If your work isn’t ready, it’s not ready. Learn to plan ahead and have your pages fully prepared before you walk in the door, or hold them till the next session.
  • When presenting the latest chapter in your novel in progress, the second or third part of your long short story, or the middle section of your screenplay, include two short paragraphs summarizing 1) an overview of the work as a whole, the genre and what you are trying to achieve, and 2) what went immediately before this section. You don't want the time spent explaining the set-up to take more time than actually reading the work!
  • Take notes. You won't remember every comment, so write everything down and decide what advice is worth taking later on.
  • Be patient while waiting your turn, and don't pout if time does not allow for your piece to be read. Our feedback sessions focus on full and comprehensive comments for each piece presented, rather than a quick slap-dash job on all material brought. While it can be hard to sit though someone else's dull piece when you're eager for feedback, you will appreciate the courtesy and attention when it is your turn. The moderators will make every effort to keep things moving and to ensure that everyone gets read in fair order.
  • Don’t take feedback personally. Remember, you are not your work! Sometimes, people will not like or understand either your characters, or the story you have written - this does not mean they do not like you, only that, in those people’s opinion, this particular piece of work falls short in some ways.
  • Do not defend, do not explain. Listen attentively, and for the most part silently, unless the critic asks you a direct question. What you intended in your head when you wrote, and what resulted on the page may be two different things. If you defend your work, you may miss valuable alternatives and solutions for improving it.
  • Respect the person giving feedback. We are all good people doing our best to help. Some in the group are learning how to give feedback, so keep this in mind. Even if a comment is a little rough, remind yourself the person is doing his best. Avoid heavy sighs, eye rolling or storming out of the room while the critic is speaking. We hope none of these will happen often at our feedback sessions, but hey, anyone can have a weak moment.
Thanks for playing... and hope to see you at a critique group, near me, soon!

Got a Critique Group Horror Story? 
Share it in the Comments, below, so we can avoid repeating it.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm Brilliant in Bed

It's not bragging if you can back it up.

Of course, I'm not brilliant in bed all the time.  Sometimes I'll wake up with what I think is a terrific idea, and jot it down.  Later when I'm fully awake I reread it, and all it makes me do is snicker.

via IdeaGo on FreeDigitalImages.net
Because in the rereading the idea might be like the way people who are stoned think that they're just, like, so creative, man, they've got all these really groovy ideas, man, and it's, like, they thought of a plot that nobody has ever thought of before in the history of the universe, it's like, mindblowing, man, like, come here (whispering) there's this guy, and he meets this girl...

Ye-ah.  But it's true that a lot of great ideas either come to us, or gel when we're in that wonderful, drifting, not really asleep but not yet fully awake state, and this is why it's a great idea to keep a pad and paper by the side of the bed.  So you can flick on the light and write them down before they go -pop- like a soap bubble.  (This works best if you live alone, or with a very and supportive understanding partner.  Or one who's a heavy sleeper.)

In fact, I keep a steno pad and pen with me pretty much at all times.  (I don't - usually - take it in the bathroom with me, but that's about it.)  I often get ideas when I'm driving, and jot 'em down (only when I'm safely stopped!)  I get ideas when I'm at work, or in a restaurant with friends, or the doctor's office.  Sometimes I get an idea when I'm standing in line at the grocery store (and my g. list is on the pad anyway.)

You may be more high tech and prefer to use a small voice recorder.  The only drawback with those, is later you have to discipline yourself to play it all back and transcribe it.  Or you may have a Blackberry or iPad or some other device.  For me, even though I'm a fast typist, I wouldn't want to try texting myself on the road at stoplights.  Scribbling my ideas down seems faster (and safer, and less likely to score me a ticket.)

(Texting while driving is illegal in California, as is using a handheld phone while driving.)

So what do I scribble down?  Anything and everything.  I might have an idea for a new story I want to write.  More often, it's some detail about a character (one blue eye and one brown), or a place, or a song I think a character should love or loathe, or a backstory incident I want to weave in to explain why somebody behaves a certain way.  I'll see something in a shop window, and decide one character already owns it, or one character gifts it to another.  I'll think of a car a character is driving - and if it has some unusual kind of body damage that she keeps planning to have fixed, when she has enough money.  I might write down "carrots & broccoli."  This could be a character's favorite veggies.  (Or something for my personal grocery list.)

Hey, it's a multi-purpose pad.

The point is to keep myself open to creative ideas as they flow to me and around me.  To let whatever I'm working on be present in my thoughts - not necessarily on the front burner, but simmering in the background.  To stir it occasionally, or spoon out the contents for a little taste.

I find that when I do this, even if I'm not able to work on my current novel or short story for a while, when I do get a free block of time to get back to it, it doesn't feel totally alien.  If I am having a hard time writing new material, by going over my notes and working in the bits about the eyes and the car and the music to the already written material, usually by the time I get to the glaring white page again, I'm ready to keep rolling.

And speaking of the dreaded white page - which is still a white page, even if mostly it's onscreen instead of rolled into a typewriter...

The one big mistake some of my perfectionist friends  make, that causes them to become figuratively constipated, is they try to edit as they write.  (notice, friends, plural.  I can name three people off the top of my head who do this to themselves, and probably more if I concentrate.  This blog is not aimed at any one person - though it may well apply to you.)

I can scold because I've been there.  I used to plug myself up, too.  I expected the words to drip painlessly and effortlessly out of my pen, each one a golden pearl, each sentence an exquisite work of art.  I would cry, curse, and throw away what I'd written so far, because surprise, surprise, it didn't work that way.
image via Yair Haklai at Wikipedia

Screw the golden pearl fantasy!  I don't know a single writer who edits as s/he writes who is a) successful, or b) prolific.  Think of Michelangelo chipping away at David.  You have to start with a big block of material, which looks like nothing, and slowly shave off chunks and bits and pieces to get to the finished work.  Think of a carpenter - you don't sand and finish the pieces before you assemble them.

Of course, you do have to have the marble (raw material/ideas), and tools.  Maybe you work best if you develop a stunning plot, and use the characters to serve the plot.  Maybe you work the other way around; you get to know the characters really, really well, and that tells you what your conflicts will be and how they'll play out.  Maybe you're writing a historical piece and you need to understand the period, the pivotal event or events, and the characters and plot are simply a device to showcase as much of that as possible.  (Think James Cameron's Titanic.)

If you've always written plots first, and it's been a struggle, try characters first and then plot.  Or vice versa.  If you blog, try surfing the 'Net for free use pictures or videos or even weird news that inspires you.  Read an unusual book, or script, blow the dust off that book of poetry you've had since grade school and crack it open.  Keep your ears open at work and in line at the g. store and you might hear a funny story about somebody's in-laws.  Now that's writing gold, baby!

Image via Pixomar at FreeDigital Images.net
The point is, to think of yourself as a writer.  Even if it's been months since you wrote an entire page.  Tell that nagging negative voice that says you don't have it anymore (never did, never will) to STFU, or send him on a Starbucks run or something.  The inner critic has a place, and needs to be given a voice, but not too early.  Or s/he can become an evil midlife, strangling the baby before it's even fully born.

Be open to the idea that you're a fertile little idea nursery, that projects and seeds of great ideas are sprouting and growing in you all the time.   Even if nothing appears to be breaking through the soil right this second.  So what?  Keep fertilizing, keep watering, and always keep at least a little time set aside to sit down in front of a white page, and magic will happen.

Just write.  Remember, if you write it, they will come.
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Rosarita by Any Other Name...

Image via Just Our Pictures
...might be Rosaleen.  Or Ruzina.  Or Roseanne.

Naming our characters well is one of the most important things we can do as writers.  We can use names, as in the rosy samples, above, to indicate not just gender, but ethnic origin.

We can use names to indicate character age.  When we meet "Aunt Gertrude," we do not picture a young woman, do we?  A boy named Zachary, Tyler, or Austin was probably born a few years ago when those names were very popular - and he's probably got at least one or two boys in his class with the same name.   To check naming trends over time, go to the Social Security Popular Baby Names website.

Names can be timeless classics:  Michael, Paul, John...   Thanks to the wonder of "Find and Replace" we can easily change a novel or script where Stan starts out as our character name, and we decide later on that Billy Bob works better for him.  (Just don't forget to change any knicknames, as well, like Stannnie-wanny.)

Names can be ambiguous, if we want the character to appear ambiguous.

Don't we all love Pat?  And Lee, Chris, and similar boy-girl names.

Names for villains should be chillin'.  Didn't we all get shivers of fear from Lord Voldemort, Sauron, and the Wicked Witch of the West?

Witchiepoo... not so much.  Not an accident, there, softening the baddie's name to make her less threatening.  Or, perhaps, slightly ridiculous.  (I loved the ridiculousness of Witchiepoo, didn't you?  And the high quality sets and costumes.  They must have had an extravagant budget of tens of dollars per episode.  Maybe even hundreds.)

Ease off on the romance novel names - unless we're writing a romance genre novel, and even then realize that showing some originality in naming may make us stand out.  Not every male character need be named Luke, Clint, or Slade, and haven't we all had enough Skyes and Jennifers and Clitorias?  Let 'em all stay in bed, rockin' each others' worlds, for a little while.

Consider names that denote position, either social or professional, or a mix.
The Professor, Mary Ann, Gilligan, Ginger, Thurston Howell III, Lovey and the Skipper
Was there ever any question which character played which role on Gilligan's Island?  "Gilligan" was actually that character's last name, and the names are a mix of first names, job titles, nicknames (Lovey) and last names.  (In retrospect, wasn't Ginger's ongoing crush on Rock Hudson a hoot?  Undoubtedly an insider joke.)

Having a name to overcome can help the story arc, or can be a needless distraction.  I named a character Carol Burnett Jones, and although her father picked that name in honor of a beautiful, brilliant comedienne, the character herself felt ugly, untalented, and bore a serious chip on her shoulder.  That story had a humorous, coming-of-age theme, so it worked.  Beyond the pleasure of Johnny Cash's gravelly voice, A Boy Named Sue draws us in to listen to the story and sympathize with a rough-and-tumble yet internally wounded character.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a fabulous way to catch attention and highlight the tongue-in-cheek humorous tone of the movie.  These kind of contradictions can work, if they're deliberate (rather than accidental,) and if it suits the material.  We need to avoid using silly, funny names simply because we think they sound clever.  (Alas, what's witty and hilarious on the first ten reads can get so done by the thirteenth.)

Twins are cute in a Doublemint commercial, not so much on the page.  We want to avoid naming our characters names that rhyme (Shari and Terry), or are too close in pronunciation (Mary and Maria,) because that will confuse the reader, and anything that takes the reader out of the story is a bad idea.  We can make it work, if there is a good story reason (their parents were schmaltzy idiots, perhaps) and create siblings named Jason, Justin and Jeremy, but then we will have to work that much harder to imprint the characters as distinctive in other ways. 

Sometimes we can be wonderfully creative in other ways, and absolutely draw a blank when picking names for our characters.  Once we've run through all the names in the family, then what?!

We can get a "Name that Baby" book, or check online to add more options.  But there should be an (iPhone) app for that - and actually, there is.

[Editing - there was.  Sadly, Nameshake has now been discontinued as an iPhone app, which is unhappy news, because it was very cool.  But surely there'll be another app soon.]

Gadgets aside, what about last names?  The Internet is a fabulous source, as are local phone books.  We need to decide if we want our character to have something generic - like Rodriguez, or Jones, or something that points to a city or ethnicity.  Is our character one of thousands of Schmidts in Milwaukee, or the only Zmitrovich in a small Texas border town?  We need to make sure the last name we pick suits

And again, no funny business combining the first and last names: no "Olive Greens," no "Ima Stones," no "Marky Marks," unless there is a plot or character reason to mate the two.  We can't do it simply because we are feeling sadistic towards these characters who just won't behave as we want them do.

But character feeding and training will have to wait for another blog.

What were your best character names?  Your worst
Bonus question - what was "Skipper's" real name?  (no fair Googling it!)

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Blogway (It's a Sing-Along!)

Blogging needs a theme song, IMO, and I thought this would do.  All you have to do is change the chorus from "On Broadway" to "On Blogway," and it works perfectly.
Go on, get out of your chair and dance.  At least do that goofy chair-dancing thing with your butt.  Go on.  I won't tell anyone.

You know that from here on out whenever you hear this song you're gonna think "On Blogway."  Sorry, George.

Okay, back to bidness.

I have been accused by some of not ever reading directions.  On electronic devices.  On toasters.  On blankets (seriously, what's there to know?  Does it say "Dry Clean Only"?  If not, then it's all good.)

It's not that I don't read directions.  I do.  But they mostly don't stick in the place in my brain that says "Permanent Records kept HERE."  Once upon a time, I even knew how to make a Pivot Table in Excel - a useless skill for daily life if ever there was one.  Glance to your right - but look away, quickly, before your brain freezes.

So, when I started to blog, I should have first looked up and seen how it was done.  Oops!  I figured, I kinda knew how to write, and what I wanted to say, and the rest could sort itself out.

And you know what?  That actually worked.  I read some blogs I liked, decided to go with Blogger rather than WordPress because it looked purtier to me.  Seemed easier to fill with pictures and video clips when I was short on words.  (There are other free blogsites, but those are currently the big two.)

Despite my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-dancin'-pants approach, I am discovering I can blog better if I consult some resources.  Here's some good ones.

5 Blogging Basics by Nate Moller.  It's actually six, because he asks you in the intro to ask yourself why you want to blog.  As the blogger, you need to know, if you're (potentially) writing for the entire world, or just for your family.  (Did you know blogs don't have to be public, but can be private - ya gotta know the secret password to get in?  I did not know that.)  Nate's five points include tips about pictures and video, making your blog scannable, and keeping it short and simple (oops again.)  More links to more good articles, too.

BlogAngel on writing great Blog Titles  (yes, another one I shouldda looked at before I began.  Oh well!)

5 Blogging Tips from Hubpages.  This one talks about the idea of doing scheduling - so if you're feeling super-creative, you can crank out several blog posts in one sitting, and dole them out over time.  About the use of linking in your blogs.  About turning your blog into a book.  About sticky power (which sounds like a not-very-appealing superhero.)

Ten Commandments of Blogging from Pimp My Novel offers tips specifically for authors and wanna-be authors.

And by Dumb Little Man, 10 Hard Truths About Blogging and what it takes to be successful.  A must-read.

One more essential - Independent Fashion Bloggers on using photos without breaking the law.  (Uh, you can be busted for that?  Yep.)

image via Pioneer Woman

Then there's Pioneer Woman, who's kind of like a Renaissance Man, except she's female.  And funny.  She does everything - blogs, cooks, and I think I saw somewhere on her site that she castrates calves.  Now that's talent.
Anyway, she offers Ten Tips, including:

9. If you have writer’s block, push through and blog anyway.
  • I posted the first chapter of Black Heels on a morning when I woke up with the most raging case of writer’s block, I couldn’t even type my name.
  • I was sure you’d hate it, but I posted it anyway.
  • I went on to write forty-plus more chapters.
  • What if I’d given in to my writer’s block and decided not to blog that day?
  • I would never have written my Green Acres-meets-War and Peace romance novel.
So, if I can write a blog, you can write a blog.   If that's what you want to do.  Or, perhaps, what you're already doing.  On Blogway...

Leave me a comment with your blog URL and I'll come pay a visit.
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is A Long One Better Than A Short One?

T'aint Necessarily so.  As most females can testify.

How long your piece of writing is (what did you think I was talking about?!) depends on what you're writing.

We've all read a book that was meant to be a short story, but somebody put it on the rack and stretched it (and us) out to torturous novel-length.  We've also read short stories that were meant to be book-length.  So, if you want to be a good writer, pay attention to the needs of your material.

Sometimes you need to identify what it is you're writing, and sometimes, you need to identify what you've already written.  Either way, the chart below may be a helpful guide.

How Long is A...
Average Words

Approximate number
Typewritten Pages
Short-short story
Short story
Novel - hard cover
Novel - paperback
Children’s picture book
Juvenile book
Nonfiction book
TV Script - ½ hour
TV script - 1 hour
Play: one act
20-30 min
Play: three act
1-1 ½ hrs.
Movie scenario
1-1 ½ hrs.
Radio feature copy
1 min. + 15 double-spaced lines
3 min. = 2 pp
2-100 lines (most magazines prefer 4-16 lines)
Query letter
1 full page, single-spaced
250 words = 2 min.
12-15 pp = ½ hr/

I would love to give credit where credit is due.  However, I got this from a mentor many, many moons ago, who had no idea where she originally got it.  (You'll notice it doesn't list blogs on it, so that alone tells you how ancient it is.) 

For now, I'm considering it stolen so many times it's gotta be public domain - but if it is your baby, and you want credit, please let me know.

What's your favorite piece length?  Are you a poet, an essayist, a novelist?
Have you ever tried to stretch your talents and write something of a different length?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to Use i.e. in A Sentence

Do you ever use "i.e."?  Of course you have.

No no no, that's e-i, e-i (o)!

How to use i.e. in a sentence (from The Oatmeal, which has the funniest stuff.)

To find out where you went wrong, follow this link...

Mind you, I'm still not sure I'm going to get it right in the future, i.e., right after I save and post this.  But, now I can keep coming back here and refresh my poor, fading memory.

Do you feel smarter now?  Amused?  Hungry for a squirrel taco? 
Post a comment and let me know.
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If You Write It, They Will Come

"They?"  Readers?  Dollars?  Fame & Recognition?

Well, maybe.  But what I am talking about is ideas, plots, characters.  Words in a row.  Nobody writes only for fame and fortune (nobody successful, anyway.)   We write because we have something to say - something only we can say, in our own way and style, whether we are saying it to ourselves, in a journal, in pages tremulously shared with our writers' group, in a blog, or in a best-selling novel.

We write because we have an internal drive, to get it out - on paper or on screen.  And yet... there is a part of us that wants to destroy that joy.  An evil queen who wants to kill the happy, singing Princess, to cut out her heart and seal it away in an elaborate jeweled box.

Procrastination is one of her huntsmen.  We can always think of an excuse not to write.  We have so much to do!  I once made a list of 50 reasons excuses to put off writing, and I didn't have to stretch much.  We could do 50, or 150, or 250 excuses, easy.  By the time we have cleaned the toilet, reorganized the closet, and fed the cat (okay, ya gotta feed the animals, otherwise they will bark and meow you into madness) and sit down at our computers, the inspiration is gone.

Another weapon she uses is poison, that slow drip, drip, dripping of "You're not good enough.  Why waste your time on this?  No one will ever want to read anything you have to say.  It's all been said before, and better."

Perhaps - but it's never been said by us before.  And here's the thing - writing is about REWRITING.  Again: writing is about REWRITING.   What's writing about?  REWRITING.  (Glad you were paying attention.)

Writing is not about getting it perfect on the first draft.  That's why it's called the first DRAFT, d'uh!  Every writer we've ever heard of has revised his/her work.  We can churn an idea in our heads forever and a day, but sometimes it's only in writing something down, in writing towards an idea, that where we are trying to go becomes clear to us.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to hear Chilean author Isabel Allende speak in person.  (Btw, her first novel was written and published when she was over 40, for late-bloomers!)

One of the things Ms. Allende said when I heard her speak, which is not in the clip above, was that she will often begin a novel and throw away the first fifty pages.   What?!?  That idea filled my soul with horror at the time, and it's still something I struggle to accept.  Lady, do you have any idea how much work goes into my first fifty pages?

But since she's written over a dozen best-sellers, several made into movies, and I do envy her evocative, poetic prose, I thought I should at least hear her out.  She went on to explain that the work is not wasted, because those fifty pages help her learn things she needed to know about her characters and their story. 

And you know, it does make sense.  Michael Phelps may be the greatest swimmer on earth right now, but his training is not 100% pool time; he does weight training and other activities, as well.  When you date someone for a year before deciding to marry, that time is not "wasted."  (Well, depending on who you marry, but that's another issue.)

Of course, the research/background/pre-story can become another trap, too, one I've personally fallen into many a time.  I have to read 15 books in the same genre and know how my characters' great-grandparents met and at least 1 billion of the 19 billion names of God, before I can possibly sit down and write.

Back to our happy Princess, once gathering flowers in the forest and singing tra-la-la, now lifeless in a glass box.  Understand, we are the princess - and we are also the evil queen, the dwarves (how, I'm not quite sure), the huntsman, the bunnies and raccoons....

If we want a happy ending, we have to wake ourselves up, in the guise of the Prince.  In dreams and Jungian psychology, men and princes stand for masculine energy, the life force of action and carrying things to fruition.  We don't need to wait for an outside rescuer - we are right there, ready to "rescue" ourselves.

We have to throw away all the poisoned apples, and bring together the Princely force of doing with the joyful, creative spirit of the Princess.  Look how happy they are together! 

That means sitting down at the computer in front of that dreaded white screen, or the typewriter, or in the park on our laptop or iPad, or in the library on their computer, or with a big yellow legal pad and a fistful of sharpened pencils, or speaking into a recording device and transcribing later.  Whatever our style is to write, we need to go Nike and Just Do It.

If we make time to write, if we sit down and allow ourselves to write, imperfectly and without worrying about spelling and grammar and all the BS that can be fixed later, the words will come.  Words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters.  A short, private letter to one's dead grandfather can become a 500 page best-selling novel. 

And even if it doesn't, even if what we're writing is private poetry no one else will ever see, we'll still have created our own happy ending.

Yes, M, this one's for you.  And for me, and for everyone else who's ever put their Princess into a deep sleep. 
Leave me a comment and let me know what your biggest "poison" is.
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