Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo: tips for a quick first draft.

Here's a post from Rachelle Gardner with four tips for writing a fast first draft. 

I suspect my biggest struggles are going to be not editing as I go along, and finding uninterrupted stretches of time in which to write. How about you?

I'm nervous, you guys. Give me a pep talk in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Critique contest!

I'm writing this on Monday, from my West Coast home, while the East Coast hunkers down waiting for Hurricane Sandy. Hang in there and stay safe, guys. I'm sending lots of good thoughts your way.

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to do a critique contest when the comments on this post hit 25-- which I'm delighted to say they have. Thanks for spreading the word, and for leaving a comment, too!

So here's the deal on the contest:

What's the prize?  I will critique the first two pages of your manuscript (maximum of 750 words), here on the blog. All genres welcome, though you might have a look at my submission guidelines to see what I'd say are my areas of expertise. In other words, I'll happily critique your military thriller, but I'm not as well-versed in how it fits into its genre.

How do I enter? Leave a comment on this post. You've got till Friday, November 9 to enter. I'll use a random number generator to pick the winner. One entry per person, please!

What's the catch? If you enter and are chosen as the winner, you agree to let me post your pages here on the blog; this is a public critique. You needn't use your real name if you'd prefer to stay anonymous, but if you'd like me to I will include a link to your website as part of the post.

Who's eligible to enter? Everybody except my clients and the clients of my SJGA colleagues. Sorry, guys. I think this will be most useful to those writers who are as-yet unpublished, but I'm not going to make that decision for you.

What's the deadline again? Friday, November 9-- the contest is open till I close comments on this post. I'm giving you a bunch of time because I'm guessing many people are a little distracted by the hurricane/the election/the impending NaNoWriMo start date.

Spread the word, and don't forget to leave a comment to enter. Good luck!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday morning thought.

Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Fridaydream: your Sunday project.

I almost never talk about it here, but I am a total nerd about craft stuff-- most recently quilting. I read a lot of quilt blogs, which I recommend for the pretty pretty pictures even if you have no interest whatsoever in making your own quilts.

A blogger I've been reading for a while had a fantastic post last week about "planning for someday," and told  a great, funny story that I don't want to spoil here. Go read the post and come back.

It really struck a chord with me. How about you? What's your Sunday project?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Age-appropriateness and children's books.

Here's a lovely, thoughtful article from the Horn Book on the pros and cons of "reading up," i.e. when a precocious reader gets into books that may be beyond her, content-wise.

Are you a fan of age recommendations for books?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


We're up to 22 comments on last week's post about lies writers tell themselves-- only three more comments to go before we hit the magic 25 and do a critique contest.

Spread the word, and don't forget to comment on that post, if you haven't already done so!

NaNoWriMo: call for guest posts!

So we talked about NaNoWriMo a lot here last year-- but I admitted publicly then that I've never actually participated, myself!

Well, a number of my clients are dedicated NaNo-ers and have been pressuring me to try it.

Deep breath.

I'm not going to formally sign up (I don't think?) but... I'm in.

In the poll we did last week, about two-thirds of you said you were planning to participate in NaNoWriMo (hooray!), either formally or informally. I'm going to use that 2/3 split as a guide for November's blog posts: we'll do about two days of NaNo content, then one day of other stuff, and so on.

I need help with this, though, for two reasons.

1) Trying to write almost 1700 words a day of fiction is going to keep me pretty busy-- and I can't exactly quit the day job, can I?  So give me some ideas (NaNo-related or not) for posts I can pre-schedule, so I don't have a blog post AND my word count hanging over my head every day. What's a topic you wish I would cover? Maybe an advice column would be fun? Give me your best ideas for keeping the blog fed.

2) I'd also like to try doing guest posts for the first time. Let's keep them NaNo-related for now, but if you've got a great idea for a non-NaNo post you'd like to do, let me know that too. I'd love to hear from NaNo veterans, maybe with some words of advice or funny anecdotes, and from NaNo n00bs too, on the experience of participating for the first time.

I'll write some here about my own experience too, I imagine, but I'd rather hear from you.

I'll accept guest posts of most any length, but probably keeping it under 750 words is best. I'll link to your blog or your Twitter or whatever else you like. Email me if you'd like to participate!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Mad Libs query letter.

Any formula tends to get tiresome after a while, but one could do a lot worse than to follow the step-by-step query letter plan from this post on Writer Beware.

Fun fact: when I sell a book to a publisher, parts of my original submission letter to editors often end up as part of the flap copy or the back-of-the-book copy.

Even funner fact: particularly when I'm selling an author's first book-- the one that author originally queried me on?-- I often "borrow" large chunks of the original query when I'm putting together said submission letter. It got my attention, didn't it?

In other words, there's a decent chance that your query letter could end up on the cover of your book. But, y'know, no pressure to make it good or anything! Hah.

Can you give an example of cover copy that works? What sorts of descriptions make you want to buy a book, or check it out from the library? Can you learn anything from those examples?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday morning thought.

“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, 
what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” 
― Joan Didion

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fridaydream: the book you read again and again

This is a long-running joke in my house, though I've mis-remembered it for years as a Kids in the Hall sketch:   

better than Cats

I think a lot of "book people" take a lot of comfort in rereading a book they love. Gretchen Rubin talks about this a lot on The Happiness Project. Benjamin Disraeli famously read Pride and Prejudice seventeen times. My parents once bought me a new box set of the Little House books, because I read my first copies so often that the pages came unstuck from the bindings.

Do you have a book that you read over and over? What makes a book worthy of the reread?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

NaNoWriMo Poll

Quick poll: how many of you are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo next month?

EDITED Friday 19 October: the blog poll was doing something weird and yucky to the formatting, so I've deleted it (about 2/3 of you are planning to participate, in case you were interested!), but I'd still love to hear in the comments about your NaNoWriMo plans or lack thereof.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An editor's pet peeves.

The marvelous Lucia Macro of Avon has a guest post up on Romance University today, detailing her top five pet peeves.

Because Lucia edits mainly romance and women's fiction, some of her points are specific to those genres, but there's a lot of universal truth to what she has to say. Here's my favorite:

 Stop overthinking!  Because here is what I’m not thinking about:   your formatting (just double space and have page numbers and we’re good to go); shifting pov (if it’s jarring, it’s wrong; if it’s not jarring, I don’t care); your font (just don’t use this); the number of times your characters have sexytimes (make it right for the plot);  the ‘dark moment’ (I don’t even know what that means);  what your betareader (don’t know what that means either) says.

Notice that these are not really "pet peeves" at all; they're suggestions for how you as the writer can find more success.

Which of these do you need to paste to your computer monitor?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lies writers tell themselves.

There's advice in this Alexander Chee piece on The Awl for writers at every stage of their careers.

I worry that you guys worry about #21, for reasons that are perhaps obvious.

Which one of these are you guiltiest of?

I vacillate between #16 and #17, personally, so now is as good a time as any to do a shameless plug: tell your friends about this blog! If we can get to 25 comments on this post, I'll do a critique contest later this month.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday morning thought.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, 
the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fridaydream: the perfect fall day.

Is there anything like a crisp fall day, to a writerly or readerly type?

I live in Southern California, and "crisp" is a relative term, but I've got my slippers on this morning and am starting to think about hot apple cider and getting the sweaters out of storage. Delicious.

Does the cooler weather make you want to write? What's your favorite autumnal tradition?

For our Australian pals: are you feeling reinvigorated by the signs of spring?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On big advances and publishing math.

The always thoughtful Jason Pinter on why a big advance, like the rumored $3.7 million Lena Dunham will receive for her book with Random House, is often a good bet for a publisher. (Hint: if the book sells reasonably well, the publisher can make money even if the advance will never, ever be earned out.)

You guys are a sharp bunch, I know, but are there any publishing terms (like "earn out") you'd like to see me explain in a future post? Let me know...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More rules of writing!

Today we're continuing the fun from last week's post on rules of writing from twenty-nine different writers.

Here are some more of my favorites. I'd love to hear yours!

Hilary Mantel: Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else? Don't write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book's ready.

Michael Moorcock: Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).

Michael Morpurgo: Ted Hughes gave me this advice and it works wonders: record moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sadnesses and bewilderments and joys.

Andrew Motion: Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly.

Joyce Carol Oates: Don't try to anticipate an "ideal reader" – except for yourself perhaps, sometime in the future.

Annie Proulx: Proceed slowly and take care.

Ian Rankin: Stay lucky.

Will Self: You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Zadie Smith: Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

Colm Tóibin: Stay in your mental pyjamas all day.

Rose Tremain: In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.

Sarah Waters: Respect your characters, even the ­minor ones. In art, as in life, everyone is the hero of their own particular story; it is worth thinking about what your minor characters' stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with your protagonist's.

Jeanette Winterson: Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

And the winner is...

Last week we had a CONTEST, for the first time in a long time. I had fun and hope you guys did too. 

Everyone who participated had great tips on dealing with procrastination, and you should definitely read all the comments on that post, but my very favorite was Kaye Draper's:

I don't know that this is an amazing secret tip or anything... but my way of avoiding procrastination is similar to what you just mentioned above. I have a list of projects lined up. If I feel "stuck" on something, then rather than sit and wait for inspiration to hit, I move on to the next thing on the list. Usually once I've let the "stuck" thing sit for a while it will come unstuck all by itself. 
In terms of writing, this means never getting writer's block. If you aren't making progress on a project (or even just a certain aspect of the project) then make good use of your time by getting something else done. Move on to another story for a day or so until something gets jarred loose and you can come back to what you were working on. I've found this to be very effective when I feel like I'm losing momentum on a project.
Congratulations, Kaye! Email me with your mailing address and I'll get that fancy notepad in the mail to you. :)

Meanwhile, should we make contests a "regular thing" around here? What sorts of "prizes" would you like to see?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday morning thought.

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, 
and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” 
― Neil Gaiman

Friday, October 5, 2012


Today's the last day to enter the contest for the super-cool notepad that I got for free.

Even if you don't like notepads, you should come check out the entries-- maybe someone's procrastination tip will strike a chord with you.

I'm certainly taking notes. Ha, ha.

Enter the contest here!

Fridaydream: your writing soundtrack.

I am sure lots of writers have a "soundtrack" for their writing time: a collection of musical pieces you listen to when you sit down to work (or, y'know, get on your treadmill desk.) I don't remember ever seeing anyone specifically mention it in their acknowledgments page, though, until Stephenie Meyer's acknowledgments for the Twilight books, where she lists the band Muse as an important influence on her writing. 

How about you? What's on your soundtrack? Do you create a specific playlist? Do you write to the same music all the time, or does each work get its own "album?" 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ten rules of writing, from twenty-nine different writers.

Via, here's a great article from The Guardian in which  prominent writers each give their rules for writing. Some favorites: 

Elmore Leonard: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." 

Margaret Atwood: "Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page." 

Roddy Doyle: "Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy."

Helen Dunmore: "Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue."

Geoff Dyer: "Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire."

Anne Enright: "Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand."

Richard Ford: "Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself."

Jonathan Franzen: "Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting."

Esther Freud: "Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too."

Neil Gaiman: "Laugh at your own jokes." 

PD James: "Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other ­people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted."

AL Kennedy: "Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go."

I'll detail my favorites from "part 2" of the article in another post. 

Which ones are your favorites? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Productive procrastination, and a contest!

I'm getting a lot of hits on last week's post about procrastination , so I thought I'd share a little more about the technique I'm most fond of right now.

There's a lot of talk in productivity circles lately about "productive procrastination," which basically just means that you stall on one task by working on something else instead. There's a new book out called The Art of Procrastination (not one of mine), which offers some clever advice on this tactic. It's worth checking out, if procrastination is something that you struggle with.

My personal favorite system at the moment is called the Autofocus System (PDF link), in which you basically write up one very long to-do list, and then when it's time to start a new task, you scan the list for something that appeals to you. You work on that task for as long as you feel like, then cross it off the list and, if it's not complete, write it again at the bottom of the list. Just making progress on something is often enough to break my procrastination streak. I find that when I'm using the system diligently, I really do get a lot more done.

But how, you may ask, does this work for writers? Shouldn't there be only one item on your list:
"write the &*^%&* book?"

Well, yes and no. I think any large task (like, uh, a manuscript) is made up of smaller tasks (this is the wisdom of David Allen's bestselling Getting Things Done), and those smaller tasks tend to feel a lot less daunting, especially if you can break them into pieces that you know how to tackle.

How about a novel set in the American Civil War, as an example? This author's list might include:
-research Confederate soldiers' rations in 1864
-brainstorm plot arc for [secondary character]
-revise opening scene to put us more in [protagonist]'s head
-select an excerpt to take to critique group this week
-do a book map of Cold Mountain to analyze story structure
-consult a linguist about rural West Virginia dialect

And so on. Do you see how much more manageable each of those items looks than "write a novel about the American Civil War?" Completing this list is not the same as finishing the novel, true, but it's quite a bit of progress in the right direction, and sometimes that's enough.

It's been way too long since we've had a CONTEST, so let's do this. At BEA this year I picked up a great promo item from the publisher of The Art of Procrastination: a "to-do list for procrastinators." Look!

So leave me a comment on this post with your best-ever tip on how to beat procrastination, no later than Friday, October 5, and I'll  pick my favorite. If yours is the best tip, I'll send you the notepad and feature your suggestion in a future post. Enter as often as you like.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday morning thought.

"You have to write the book that wants to be written.
And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, 
then you write it for children."
--Madeleine L'Engle