Tag Archives: Author

Words of Wisdom on Writing from the King

Yesterday I published, Reading Fiction: Guilty Pleasure or Worthy Pursuit? In that post I stated that I only read fiction. Well it’s just one day later and I must retract that statement.

I received a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing in the mail yesterday afternoon. Yeah, it’s obviously not fiction but it’s a book on writing fiction so cut me some slack, okay? I’ve read several excerpts in the past but decided I needed to read the entire book. Well, I couldn’t put it down.

Cover of "On Writing:  A Memoir of the Cr...
Cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

It’s a book on writing but it doesn’t read like an instruction manual and that, is a lesson on writing right there. It felt like I had sat down with a wise, yet fun-loving uncle as he imparted nuggets of wisdom, but first hooked me in by sharing funny anecdotes from his childhood.

The section where he offered advice on writing is a must read for any aspiring author. There are many great tips but I’ll highlight just two (sorry, but you’ll have to buy the book to get the full benefit).

King believes “plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” His advice was reassuring because I’m not big on plotting and I’d wondered if that was somehow a weakness. I have a general idea of the story I want to tell and create very detailed character bios, but they are mostly for my reference only. Once I’ve completed the character bios it’s almost as if I have breathed life into them. They become real and end up telling me what comes next and it’s often different from what I had originally imagined.

He also believes that factual information belongs in the background of your story unless you’d like your book to read like a user’s manual or history text. He mentioned a couple of authors who are a little heavy on the factual information and then made this statement:

“I sometimes think that these writers appeal to a large segment of the reading population who feel that fiction is somehow immoral, a low taste which can only be justified by saying, ‘Well, ahem, yes, I do read {Fill in the author’s name here}, but only on airplanes and in hotel rooms that don’t have CNN; also I learned a great deal about {Fill in appropriate subject here}.’

It’s interesting that I just published a post on this topic yesterday. I love it when that happens. It’s like the moon and stars are aligning for some future event.

At the end of the book he tells about an accident that occurred during the time he was writing it. While going on his afternoon walk, he was struck and almost killed by a reckless driver. This part was mesmerizing because I was almost killed in a car accident too. Then he said it occurred the third week in June. Hmm…my accident did too. What are the odds it was on the same day? Well, what do you know? We were both almost killed by drivers who couldn’t control their vehicles…on the same day, June 19th, but eleven years apart, mine occurring in 1988 and his in 1999. But there was another similarity: the driver who caused his accident was reaching behind his seat, trying to prevent a dog from opening a cooler full of meat and the driver who caused my accident was reaching behind his seat, trying to open a cooler for another beer.

As he talked about the long road to recovery, I recalled my own. Maybe I’ll write about it? No, not today.

Instead, I closed the book with a smile on my face and thought, “That was a good story. Thanks, Uncle Steve.”

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How the Life of a Writer Resembles a Bee

On this journey to becoming a published author, I’m discovering that the life of a writer resembles a bee, a very busy bee. I’m not referring to a queen bee or a drone, but a worker bee.

Honey Bee in Sunlight
Honey Bee in Sunlight (Photo credit: Scott Kinmartin)

The worker bee buzzes from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen to make honey, but that’s not her (yes, a worker bee is female) only job. She builds the honeycomb and keeps it clean. She makes wax. She cares for the babies and protects the hive. When she finds a good source for nectar and pollen she buzzes back to the hive and communicates the good news. She is a social creature that shares her discoveries for the benefit of the hive. She collaborates with others to make something sweet. She is a very busy little bee.

So how is the life of a writer like a bee?

The days when a writer could simply collect thoughts and ideas and write a novel (as if writing a novel were simple) are long gone. No, writers, that is not your only job. You need to do your homework.

  • Read books on the art of writing.
  • Read books on formatting your manuscript, query letter and synopsis. I’ve read a dozen or so over the last few years and recently ordered several more.
  • Read the top rated novels. I started a project over a year ago to read the Modern Library’s Top 100 novels and recently merged it with Time Magazine’s Top 100.
  • Read current bestsellers.
  • Read books within your genre.
  • Read books outside your genre.
  • Research the submission process.
  • Research agents too. Read their blogs and get to know their likes and dislikes. After all, you hope one will represent you some day.
  • Read the blogs of authors they represent.
  • Read those authors’ books too.
  • Read…A LOT.

Of course most of you know that already, but did you also know that you are expected to market and promote your work? I’m sure visions of book tours and interview flash across your mind as you think, “Uh, duh. I knew that.” Let me rephrase that then. Did you know that you are expected to market and promote your work before your book has been published?

I didn’t know that. I neglected to read anything on social media. I skipped those chapters in the books I read. That comes later, after you’re published, right? Wrong. A writer needs to create a buzz, a following, prior to becoming published. In this technology driven world the best way to do that is through social media. Agents are more likely to take a chance on you if you can show that you have a presence on the internet.

Take a lesson from the honey bee. She visits several different sources (species of flowers) to make honey. Writers should do the same when writing and publishing a book. Don’t trust just one source for information. Read about the mistake I made doing this in my post, Word Count for Novels. Be social, like the bee. Flutter among the cyber flowers (blogs, online forums, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, author and agent websites, etc.) and make friends. Collect all that you have learned and create something that, like honey, lasts. Then go back to the hive (the internet), do the crazy bee “waggle dance,” and share what you’ve learned.

If you don’t have a blog yet, start one. I know. It’s a little intimidating at first. Creative people tend to be more introverted so this “social media thing” can push us out of our comfort zone. You may wonder if anyone will be interested in visiting the microscopic spec in cyberspace that is your blog. If you are like me, you may feel more like a bumble bee: poorly designed for flight. Sure, it may be a little difficult to get off the ground at first and you may wonder if your paper-thin wings can support your awkward body. You may fumble a bit, but remember:

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.” Mary Kay Ash

Defy physics and reason and soon you will be soaring high. Plus, I’ve learned that writers, by nature, are generous people. The followers will come.

Oh, and by the way, my name means “honey bee.” So, you see, I have been a very busy bee, indeed.

Against Idleness and Mischief

How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!

How skillfully she builds her Cell!
How neat she spreads the Wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet Food she makes.

In Works of Labor or of Skill
I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still
For idle Hands to do.

In Books, or Work, or healthful Play
Let my first Years be past,
That I may give for every Day
Some good Account at last.

Isaac Watts

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. 🙂

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…

View original post 1,066 more words

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.