All posts by melissajanda

Writer.Wife.Mother.Bibliophile.Fitness Buff. Curious, Creative being. Recovering CPA, finally in my right brain as an aspiring author, trying to do justice to the stories in my head.

Writers: What was your first story?

Once upon a timeThe first story I remember creating came after my first nightmare, or rather, the first nightmare I remember. I’m not even sure how old I was, maybe 4 or 5? I must’ve fallen asleep while one of my parents read Goldilocks and the Three Bears to me because my nightmare was a twisted version of that fairytale.

Illustration by David Merrell
Illustration by David Merrell

Mama Bear and Papa Bear had captured my parents. They were restrained outside the bears’ home with thorn bushes. I looked on from a secret hiding place in the woods as they lit a fire underneath a giant black cauldron. Flames licked at the sides and steam rose from the center of the cauldron as my parents struggled to break free. That is where my nightmare ended.

I woke up in a panic. To a young child their parent is everything and both of mine were about to be boiled like lobsters. I calmed down once I realized I’d been dreaming but something tugged at me. I suppose this was the moment my internal storyteller was born.

What offense had my parents committed to deserve such treatment? Had Mama Bear and Papa Bear suspected my parents of eating the porridge, breaking the furniture, and destroying the neatly made beds? Or worse, was it something I had done? Where was Baby Bear? Had I done something to upset him? Were my parents paying the price for failing to discipline a naughty child? How could I save them?

I couldn’t recall the events in my dream that led to my parents being selected as dinner. All I knew was that my parents were in danger. I had to rescue them. I had to finish the story and it had to be brief; after all, my parents were about to become the main course for two ravenous bears.

Somehow I knew Baby Bear was the key. I searched and found him wandering in the woods alone. He was lost and scared. I gave him a cherished toy for comfort. It was a little crocheted doll that my grandmother had made for me. He seemed to understand the value it held and hugged me. We arrived at his home just as my parents were being lowered toward the boiling water.

Mama Bear and Papa Bear were overjoyed to see Baby Bear. After learning I had rescued him they decided I wasn’t a naughty child after all and released my parents. Porridge was warmed over the fire instead of my parents and we all sat down for a scrumptious meal. Mama Bear and Papa Bear swapped stories with my parents and after a while Baby Bear rubbed his eyes and yawned. Seeing that he was tired, I walked him upstairs and tucked him in bed. He fell asleep with my cherished doll held tightly to his chest. I was the heroine of the story and everyone lived happily ever after.

I have created hundreds of stories in my mind over the years. I don’t know why this one has stayed with me while others have faded. Maybe it’s because it was my first story. Maybe the simplicity of it makes it easy to remember. Maybe it was the thought of losing my parents. Who knows? I’ve discarded so many stories over the years because they were “too this” or “too that.” Maybe it’s because this one, at the time, felt…just right.

Do you remember your first story? I’d love to hear it.

WORDLE: A Nifty Little Tool for Writers

I came across this program recently and had tried to recall the name because I thought it might be a useful tool for writers. Well, I was reading through the comments on Kristen Lamb’s blog (if you haven’t been there you must check it out) and, what do you know, there it was: the name of the program that had eluded me.

So, what the heck is Wordle?

Wordle is a program used to create word art from text. Words that occur more frequently are visually amplified (displayed in a larger font).  While this makes for some pretty cool art (just explore Pinterest and you will find all kinds of creative art using Wordle), there are other benefits too. For example, you can summarize survey results to see the most popular answers or pinpoint the main idea of an online discussion.

I’m sure by now you can guess the benefit for writers. It will magnify the words used most often in your writing. This can help you find words you are overusing, like those pesky little adverbs!

After I came across the post with the reference to Wordle, I jumped on the internet to find it. You can find it here: www.wordle.net. You may need to enable JAVA applets in your browser (the website provides instructions), but it’s fairly easy to use. Just paste the text into the window and press the “go” button.

I pasted my MS into the application and generated the Wordle. I discovered that the main characters in my novel were the most prominently displayed words. The next largest word was “back.” Huh? Do I really overuse that word?

I toggled back to my manuscript and read back through the document. I glanced back and forth between my MS and the Wordle. I was puzzled. Okay, not really, just surprised. I had no idea I used that word so often. I went on a search and destroy mission and discovered that in all but a few instances the word was unnecessary. UNNECESSARY! Wow, what a helpful little tool.

I wondered what the Wordle of the work of a famous author would look like. Well, there was no way I was going to type War and Peace into a document but I did happen to have a digital copy of one of Tolstoy’s short stories. I pasted A Spark Neglected Burns the House into the window and waited for a visual representation. Here is what it looks like.

Tolstoy Wordle

Hey, there’s that word again: “back.” It’s somewhat prominent in his story. I don’t feel so bad about my overuse but don’t regret removing it either. I generated a few others for comparison purposes.

The Fiddler by Herman Melville

The Fiddler by Herman Melville

The End of the Party by Graham Greene

The End of the Party by Graham Greene

The main characters were the most prominently displayed words in all three Wordles. You can get a general idea what the story is about by looking at the remaining jumble of words. Okay, well, maybe not, but it looks cool! If anything it would be an artistic way to display your creative work once it’s published. 🙂

ACUBA (Acronyms Commonly Used By Authors)

ACUBA WordleOkay, I just made that one up so don’t commit it to memory. Believe me, there are enough acronyms out there to make your head spin.

When I came across NANOWRIMO, I thought, “Huh? Na-Nu? NaNu?” Episodes of the science fiction sitcom Mork & Mindy came to mind.  Naturally, I wondered if this acronym had something to do with the science fiction genre. I envisioned a conference where science fiction writers came dressed as their favorite book characters. Don’t laugh. It could happen. Lovers of science fiction are a different breed. Ever heard of a Trekkie?

Okay now, don’t get defensive. I’m something of a Trekkie myself. No, I never went to a Star Trek convention but growing up with three brothers (who had control of the remote) I was exposed to it; more than exposed, actually.  I’ve probably seen every episode of the original series and can quote the opening credits.

Unfamiliar acronyms can make you feel like you have entered space: the final frontier. You are certain you have teleported to another planet. Others are communicating with this secret language and you don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. For those new to writing, like me, this is today’s mission: to explore strange new abbreviations, to seek out new words and phrases, to boldly decipher the acronyms we’ve seen before.

ARC: Advanced Reader Copy

BCB: Back Cover Blurb

BIC: But in Chair

BR: beta reader

GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict

CP: critique partner

DNF: Did Not Finish

HEA: Happily Ever After

ICE: Intensity, Conflict, Emotion

MS: Manuscript

NANOWRIMO: National Novel Writing Month

PAN: Published Authors Network

PNR: Paranormal Romance

POV: Point of View

QT: Query Tracker

RS: Romantic Suspense

RWA: Romance Writers of America

SFR: Science Fiction Romance

WIP: Work in Process/Progress

YA: Young Adult

Those are some that come to mind. With the exception of a few obvious ones like WIP (which is a commonly used in the world of accounting) and POV, I had no idea what they stood for when I saw them.

What acronyms have you come across? Are there some you haven’t deciphered yet?

By the way, the volume on my computer mysteriously stopped working after my post on adverbs. I’m certain there is a connection with the Lolly Adverb Shop clip I inserted. I believe my laptop is the culprit. It’s rebelling.

“That’s it. We’re done here; no more sound privileges for you little missy.”

Facing My Fear

I often feel this way but find inspiration in the following:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”

—Marianne Williamson

Lori's Inner Goddess

I am going to admit something that I have never admitted before.  To anyone.  Not even myself really.

I am scared.  Don’t mistake me – – I am no Doomsday Prepper.  I don’t have a bomb shelter and I don’t keep an emergency supply of food, water, medicines and basic necessities that will keep me and my neighborhood going for two years should Armageddon come.  I am so lax in this regard, if there is a natural disaster we’ll starve before lunch.

But I am scared of failure.  There, I said it.  I hate admitting it.  I will freely admit my fear of snakes.  Hate them.  See no purpose for their being in the world, at least as long as I’m in it.  I’m afraid of getting sick in public.  Yes, I am that shallow.  I cannot stand the thought of anyone seeing me sick.   And since last summer, I apparently…

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Right Where I Should Be

Very touching story. I just had to share.

FindingStrengthToStandAgain's Blog

This morning I left to go to the gym and noticed a white car driving away from our street.  Before it reached the next stop sign, the brakes were applied; a woman jumped out from the driver’s seat and started yelling, “Call 9-1-1!  Someone call 9-1-1 quick!”  She was screaming like a woman who suddenly had no control only an intense filling of fear.  A girl jumped from the back seat and started running knocking on doors.  The lady continued screaming and crying out like an injured person.  I heard her yell at the end of a breath, “My son is having a seizure.”  I reached the car as quickly as I could.  Another adult was already looking into the vehicle.  The boy in the car was twelve and just had a tonic-clonic seizure.  He had never had medical problems before and was now unresponsive which placed tremendous fear into…

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How Being Tired Can Make You a Better Writer

Kristen Lamb's Blog

One of the best writing teachers/mentors in the business is Author Candace Havens. This woman isn’t an author, she’s a force of nature, and any writer who wants to go pro needs to take her classes. Recently, she presented for us at WANACon, and she brought up some interesting points I’d like to share here.

Embrace Being Tired

Okay, first I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we do need rest. We need breaks and days off. I’ve been working 16 hour days 6 and 7 days a week since the beginning of the year, and right now all I want to do is curl up and sleep…for a month. I’ve wanted to do this for the past 5 weeks at least, but I had to finish what I’d started.

It’s been almost two years since my last social media book, and it was time for a…

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Are You in Your Right Brain?

I wanted to thank Kristen Lamb for the thought-provoking post How Being Tired Can Make You a Better Writer. I’m a new blogger and just started following her so I haven’t had a chance to read her other posts but based on this one, I’m certain they will be equally brilliant. She has also written two best sellers about social media: We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. Since I’m a newbie I definitely have to check them out!

Now back to Kristen’s post. I especially enjoyed the discussion on the Conscious Mind vs. the Subconscious Mind. It reminded me of a college art class many years ago where we were learning how to draw using the right side of the brain.

As I recall the key was to focus on the negative space, the shapes surrounding the object you were drawing and not the object itself. The moment this shift in focus occurs, you are using your right brain and drawing seems to come naturally.

The right side of the brain processes information intuitively while the left brain processes it logically. People who are left-brain dominant are detail oriented and are generally good with numbers. Right-brain dominant people are good at visualizing and thus are more creative.

Sounds like the Conscious Mind vs. the Subconscious Mind in Kristen’s post doesn’t it? The left brain is the Conscious Mind, the side that wants to analyze everything and focus on the details. The right brain is the Subconscious Mind that doesn’t fret over the details. Who cares? Let’s just have fun, explore, and create.

I think we experience this when we write. Writer’s block feels a lot like our inability to shift from left brain thinking to right brain thinking.

Left Brain: “Wait, hold that thought. There’s a misspelled word.”

Right Brain: “You’re kidding me. Can we just forget about that for now? I’ve got something really good here.”

LB: “We can’t just leave it like that!”

RB: “Oh yes we can. Now move out-of-the-way before I lose this brilliant idea.”

LB: “Hold on. There…fixed it. Oh wait-“

RB: “What now? Will you please stop distracting me? I need to get this idea down before it’s gone!”

LB: “But, but-“

RB: “Not listening. La-la-la.”

LB: “Stop! There’s a dangling participle!”

RB: “Oh for heaven’s sake!”

LB: “Okay, we’re good to go. Now, what was your brilliant idea?”

RB: “I forgot.” {Sigh}

It’s frustrating, right? But when you do make the shift, when right brain (subconscious mind) finally tells left brain (conscious mind) to take a nap, well, that’s when the fun begins. I’m sure you can recall times when the words just flowed and when you finally stopped you couldn’t believe how much time had passed. It didn’t feel like hours, did it? That’s when you were in your right brain. Now if we could just make the switch on command that would be awesome. Imagine the novels we could complete!

I wonder if we could use the technique that I learned in art years ago to train our brain to shift focus?

Okay, I just googled it and here is what I found:

http://www.learn-to-draw-right.com/right-brain-left-brain.html

Follow the directions. If you really want to get the benefit of the exercise, don’t cheat. I did it and can actually recall the moment the two sides of the brain were warring with each other and when the switch occurred. Did you feel it? Let me know!

I also found this on that same web page and thought it was interesting enough to post here (with my edits in parentheses).

“However, by learning to access the right brain, you can learn ways to trick the left brain into leaving you alone quietly to get on with your drawing (writing) with your right brain – the side of the brain that really does know how to draw (write).”

I know I have right brain tendencies because I have always loved drawing, painting, and creating, but I do have a strong analytical side as well. I’m good with numbers. Hell, I made a career out of it. I wonder if I have a dominant side.

I just found a quiz for that:

http://painting.about.com/od/inspiration/a/quiz-rightbrain.htm

The quiz is designed for painters but writers are creative people too so just substitute “writing” for “painting” and answer it from a writer’s perspective. So how did you do? Are you dominant on one side? Let me know.

It turns out that my right brain is “quite dominant.” So this is why I was so miserable in my former career. I haven’t been in my “right” brain for years!

Use Adverbs in Moderation

What did I do when I thought my novel wasn’t long enough (refer to my post on Word Count)? I went shopping. No, I don’t mean the mall. I went to Lolly’s Adverb Shop and I filled my cart. Still don’t know what I’m referring to? Watch this.

Didn’t make it through the whole thing, huh? Yeah, me neither. Sorry about that. I hope you don’t have that tune stuck in your head all day.

So I tacked on the adverbs (did I just admit that?), especially in the first three chapters. {CRINGE} Oh the horror!

Despite what we learned from watching School House Rock as kids, adverbs aren’t exactly a writer’s friend. Some well-known authors aren’t fans either.

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” ~Mark Twain

I’m not saying you should avoid adverbs altogether. A few sprinkled in your writing make it more interesting but use them sparingly. Overutilization can bore the reader. If the removal of an adverb weakens the intended meaning of the sentence then consider using a better verb.

So, what is an adverb? The short definition: a word that modifies a verb, adjective, other adverb or phrase and typically (yep, that’s an adverb) ends in –ly. But there’s more to it than that so look up the formal definition and check this out:

http://www.momswhothink.com/reading/list-of-adverbs.html

In addition to increasing the adverb count, I went on incessantly (LOL) about the setting and the characters and blah, blah, blah. I did the one thing that I don’t like to read in other novels. Anyone read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Great book, right? How many of you wanted to toss it after the first twenty pages or so? I wanted to torch it. I had just left the world of finance. The last thing I wanted to do was read about it. I suffered through it because I heard it was worth it but I came close to giving up.

If you are an aspiring author like me, do yourself a favor: chill on the adverbs and the lengthy descriptions. It slows down the action. It can cause the reader to lose interest and if the reader is an agent, well…that really, totally, truly, seriously (okay, I’ll stop) sucks.

Need ideas on how or when to eliminate adverbs?  Visit http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/eliminate-adverbs.aspx

Word Count Guidelines for Novels

Seems simple enough, right? You finish writing your book and then glance down at the word counter at the bottom of the screen and voilà: there it is! Uh, no, it’s not that easy. You need to make sure the word count is right for your genre. What?

Yes, there are guidelines about book length and they are specific to each genre. I thought I had confirmed this by doing {alert: key word coming} a little research on the internet. Okay, in my defense there is not a lot out there, thus the reason for this post. What I read indicated that my novel should be about 120k words. If it were any less than that, an agent wouldn’t even look at it. What’s that? They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true? Oh, I guess I didn’t mention that I’m a French model.

These guidelines are especially important for those who have never been published before. New authors need to develop some “street cred” before considering going beyond these word count boundaries. For example, you shouldn’t write an 800+ page YA novel (well, unless you’re J.K. Rowling). What publisher would take such a risk on an unknown? BTW, JKR’s first novel was just over 300 pages (about 75k words). It all comes down to numbers, people. It costs more to print a longer book which can eat away at the potential profits (and I thought I’d left my nerdy past behind me).

There are many ways to confirm the word count that is suitable for your novel. Take a lesson from me. Look at more than one website for guidance and consider the source. Is it reliable? Can’t find anything online? Study books that have sold in your genre. Can’t convert pages to word count? Use an estimate of 250 words per page to get a general idea. Look at the success stories on querytracker.net (a wonderful little tool, by the way) which lists the genre and word count for each success story in the website’s database.

Biggest take-away? Don’t just read what I’ve learned about word count or any other topic I post. I’m a newbie, remember? There, that’s my disclaimer. Do your own research! I’m not an expert. I’m just providing some food for thought. Here are some helpful posts to get you started.

http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2008/03/on-word-counts-and-novel-length.html

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/07/word-count.html

The Aspiring Author’s Learning Curve

What does my learning curve on this journey to becoming a published author look like? I wish I could say it is an elegant “J” curve, but sadly that’s not the case. It started out as a reclining “J” or worse, a “J” in the prone position. But hey, it has flipped over now so at least it’s lying supine where it can actually lift its little head. Hopefully the rest of the body will follow and it will be standing tall some day.

So, what have I learned so far? There is no possible way to sum it up in one little post so I will break it down into separate topics.  First up: WORD COUNT.