A Poetic Pep Talk

Everyone has an off day. One where the writing won’t come, the words won’t cooperate. One where you can’t even get to your writing because your kid has the measles or your boss slams you with a project that keeps you working overtime all week, and the only thing you truly want to do once you finally get a break is to fall down on your couch with a pint of ice cream and a spoon and something cheesy on TV. And that’s fine. It’s human. Just remember that the writing will be there the day after, and you will get up and go write.

For anyone struggling today, or just in case you want a bit of poetry in honor of National Poetry Month, I’ll leave you with the wondrous Maya Angelou and her words of wisdom.

 

Friday Links: The Language of Writers

Welcome to April! I must say, April 1st — April Fool’s Day — is one of my least favorite days of the year, because when it comes to pranks, I rarely see them coming, and so I tend to walk through this day with my shoulders hunched around my ears in anticipation of something annoying happening. Today, however, I’ll be wandering the Los Angeles Convention Center with thousands of writers, editors, agents, and other publishing types, and so I’m hoping that everyone will be too preoccupied with the bookish goodness going on to worry about fooling anyone.

So without further ado, I bring you this week’s Friday Links, no jokes or pranks included. May they inspire you on your way to writing greatness. Have a terrific weekend, and happy writing!

From Idea to Novel – Some award-winning novelists share how they deal with the blank page.

First Draft with Sarah Enni: Victoria Schwab – A wonderful podcast interview with the author of A Darker Shade of Magic, Vicious, and much more.

34 Compelling First Lines of Famous Books – Fun graphics highlighting some terrific book openers.

What Literary Discourse Offers in an Age of Extremism – Thoughtful look at why we should talk about writing and books when the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

On the 13 Words that Made Me a Writer – Fantasy author Sofia Samatar talks about making the turn from reader to writer.

The Forgotten Secret Language of Gay Men – In the mid-twentieth century, when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain, gay men apparently spoke a secret language to communicate in safety. Interesting on both linguistic and cultural levels.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Creative Breakthroughs:

Friday Links: Recommit to Your Writing Goals

Happy Friday, everyone! And a very happy Easter to those of you celebrating this weekend. I suspect anyone dealing with bunnies and eggs and midnight services might not get a whole lot of writing done over the next few days, but that still leaves a few days on the other side of the weekend to address what I’m going to talk about next, which is the end of the month — and therefore the end of the first quarter of 2016.

Ah, snuck up on you, didn’t it? Kind of hard to believe we’re just about three months into the year, but we are. So I challenge you to take an hour or two between now and April 1st to take a peek at your list of goals for this year and see how you’re doing. On track? Need to recommit? Can you cross anything off? Maybe things have changed and you need to rework one or more goal in light of those changes. Only you can say for certain, but now is the perfect time to make those decisions and figure out where you go from here. And for those of you who didn’t make any writing goals for 2016, it’s never too late to start! We still have nine months ahead of us and it’s amazing how much you can do in that amount of time.

As for this week’s links, I hope they inspire you in your commitment to your goals and maybe help you get them done. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Lynn Steger Strong On Writing Characters Too Nuanced to Be Reduced – An interesting article with some thoughts on making characters deep and true.

Opportunities for Writers: April and May 2016 – A list of fellowships, competitions, etc. where you can submit your writing in the next couple of months.

Before You Blow Up Your Life, Do This – Jonathan Fields on knowing when not to quit your day job.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon – Sign-ups are now open for this fun readathon scheduled for April 23rd. A great way to set aside some time specifically for catching up with your reading.

The Life of a Book: An Interview with Editor Brant Rumble, Part 1 – The first in a series from Penguin Random House tracing the book’s journey from manuscript to bookstore.

On Terrible Writing Advice from Famous Writers – A humorous reminder to always think for yourself and filter what you hear.

Want to Write for Book Riot? – The bookish site is currently seeking new contributors.

 

On Writing, Publishing, and Ideas

The last few weeks have been particularly busy over here, which means my brain cells are very slowly draining out of my skull from overuse. So rather than blabber at you myself, I offer you Neil Gaiman, with thoughts on where ideas come from and other writerly things. He will be far more entertaining than I will right now. So take a gander, then go write something. Enjoy!

Friday Links: A Few of Publishing’s Many Faces

Happy Friday, everyone! This week flew by, which means I’m looking at a busy weekend of things I didn’t quite manage to fit into my week. I hope you all had a good one and that your weekend looks a little bit more relaxing than mine.

For this week’s links, I have a few interesting looks at the publishing industry from very different angles — writers new and experienced, a long-time reviewer, technical innovators, and more, along with a few other fun odds and ends. Together I hope they form an intriguing mosaic and illustrate the way that there is no single story when it comes to this industry. You have to find the journey and the space that works for you.

Have a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

Moneyball for Book Publishers: A Detailed Look at How We Read – How e-books report back to publishers, and what they might do with the data.

24 Things No One Tells You about Book Publishing – Author Curtis Sittenfeld on her publishing experience.

The Rumpus Interview with Jessa Crispin – Crispin, the long-time publisher of Bookslut (which I am sad to say will be shutting down in May after 14 years), discusses her two recent books and her take on the publishing industry.

The Literary Fiction Drinking Game – From the pages of McSweeney’s. Because it was there, and I was amused.

A Fairytale for all Aspiring Writers – Amazon.com interviews Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest, about her “overnight” success.

2015 RT Award Winners – Romantic Times announces this year’s winners of their Reviewers’ Choice and Career Achievement Awards.

How to Beat Writer’s Block – An interesting article that might help you shake your story loose.

Making Room for the Reader

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As children, we fall in love with books that take us along for the ride, stories where we can close our eyes and easily imagine ourselves into the adventure. Book lovers never really lose that urge to join the story, to fall into the romance between the pages or head out on the dangerous quest. The writer’s job is to craft their tale in such a way as to allow the reader this mental insertion. But how does that work? What makes a novel that accessible?

Writers of otherwise polished, well-paced stories often hear back from agents or editors that they could not “connect” with the protagonist. Or that they weren’t “feeling” the voice. In some instances this is a case of personal taste, but in others it can mean that the writer has held back from really delving into their main character, especially if they are writing a limited third-person narrative. The character might be portrayed in great detail — lots of showing and not too much telling — but what’s lacking is the why behind the actions. If the reader is going to be able to walk in the character’s shoes and feel that connection, the writer must walk there first, and showing the details of that character’s journey includes conveying their thoughts and motivations and making sure they have direct correlation to their actions.

A writer who puts themselves inside their character’s head and asks whywhy are they doing this, why are they saying that — will soon find their story changing. Filler actions, such as smiles and sighs and other character twitches that often serve no purpose, will get deleted. Dialogue might become more meaningful, or more sparse, or more snarky, depending on the character and the point in the story. Emotions such as fear and anxiety get ramped up. Characters might be less likely to faint or cry without true provocation. Complications could arise, making the text richer and more layered. All of these things help pull the reader into the story. The character will no longer be shuttered and closed off, keeping the reader at bay.

First-person narratives might seem like an easy fix to this issue, but the truth is that writers can fail to dig deeply into the character even when writing in first person. The danger with first person can be the temptation to ramble on inside the character’s head, creating overly long monologues that cover every nuance of their thoughts. As with real life dialogue, which features far too much chit-chat to include in character dialogue, a real person’s thoughts include more tangents and fluff than is interesting in a novel. A writer must still crawl quite consciously into their character’s head and sort the important details from the detritus. Again, it’s important to ask why the character thinks these things, how they connect to their actions in the story, and to make these things shine through in the writing so that the reader feels welcome in that character’s head as well.

Knowing the character, drilling down, strengthening motivations, taking it further — all ways of referring to this opening up the details of the story in order to make it accessible for the reader. The goal is to pull that reader in on an emotional level, make them wish they were part of the action on the page. A well-written novel is an invitation to fall in love, to catch the killer, to find the treasure, to slay the monster. A completed novel might be an accomplishment, but it only truly comes to life when someone opens its pages and dives into the world the writer has created.

Friday Links: The Public Face of Writing

Happy Friday! It’s been a very busy week around here and it promises to continue right through the weekend. I’ve got back-to-back writers’ events, serving on the faculty for the Los Angeles SCBWI Writer’s Day tomorrow, and then speaking to LARA, the local chapter of RWA, on Sunday. Sunday afternoon I plan to curl up with some client manuscripts, so it’s safe to say my weekend has a theme. Though given that we’re setting the clocks an hour ahead this weekend (Spring forward!), there might end up being some nap time in there, too.

Have you got your weekend all mapped out or are you going to take it easy and wing it? Whatever your plans, I hope some reading/writing figures into them. Time keeps galloping along, so think about your goals and try to do at least one thing this weekend that helps you progress with your plans.

Now to this week’s links. They feel a little bit all over the place, but I think if there’s a unifying concept it’s that many deal with the appearance of things in the writing world: publicity, trends, social concerns, etc. Writers start off in their little bubbles, but it’s no longer possible to stay there. So take a look and I hope you find something edifying, inspiring, or just plain entertaining. Happy writing!

The Things We Do to Promote the Books We Write – A look at the lengths writers go to in order to get the word out on their books. Creativity isn’t limited to the writing, after all.

“Women Built This Castle:” An In-depth Look at Sexism in YA – About attitudes in the industry, among writers, and within the books themselves.

26 Bookshelves that Will Give You Serious Goals – Basically bookshelf porn for the book lover, but so much fun.

The Fandom Flurry: A YA Reading List – A look at the trend in YA toward books that have characters immersed in fandom, with a list of upcoming titles.

A Former Book Publicist’s Advice to Traditionally Published Authors – Some excellent information.

6 Ways to Spring Clean Your Writing – Tips on how to get organized.

OTHERPPL with Brad Listi – Fabulous podcast with long, in-depth interviews with writers. Most recent 50 interviews are free at all times; for a small subscription fee you can gain access to the entire archive (more than 400 total at this time).

B&N Nukes the Nook with a 15 March Deadline for Customers to Save Content – Heads up if you own a Nook.

Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Webinar for Writers

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Long-time readers of this blog know I occasionally teach a course on synopsis writing through the Writer’s Digest webinar series. The course focuses on how to organize your thoughts in order to distill a full-length manuscript or the plot of a work-in-progress into a brief synopsis — either very short, to be used in query letters, or several pages that can be sent to agents or editors who request it or used to sell a project on partial. The live online format means attendees sign into the course and go through it in real time, but they also receive a file of the completed webinar later by email, including both audio and the slide presentation, to review at their leisure. Anyone who registers to take the live course may also submit a single completed synopsis for critique after applying what they learned in class.

Interested in whipping your synopsis into shape? Feel overwhelmed by the task, with no idea where to start? Join me for Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool on Thursday, March 17, 2016, at 1pm ET. Please keep in mind that, even if you can’t attend live, you will receive the complete course and audio by email, and only those who register ahead will be eligible for the critique.

Check out the course description for complete details, including information on system requirements, etc. I hope to see you in class!

Friday Links: Inspiration and Creative Risk-Taking

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve had a terrific week and that your weekend looks equally bright. Spring has truly sprung here in SoCal, and I have the twitchy nose to prove it. Suddenly everything is in bloom. But that’s fine with me, because I always think spring is a highly creative time. Something about all those new things growing and in bloom, plans formulating for summer vacation, stretching muscles that are stiff from curling up in a cozy spot all winter. It’s a great time to brush off your old, neglected ambitions and get moving. So if you’ve found yourself dragging when it comes to getting your writing done, I want you to shake off those cobwebs, flex your fingers, and get to work. Try something new, aim high, and tell that internal voice-of-doom to take a hike.

To inspire some creativity and perhaps a bit of risk-taking, I’ve got a bunch of fun links for you this week. Even if there’s still snow on the ground outside your window, or you’re in the other hemisphere facing down the start of autumn, take a few minutes over the weekend to dive into a different project or take a fresh look at an old one. You never know what kind of inspiration might take hold. Happy writing!

This Is How to Be Creatively Productive – Thoughts from writer and artist Danny Gregory.

Polygon Map Generation Demo – World-building a completely new land for your fantasy novel or story? Use this site to generate an all-new continent to go with your setting.

Readers are willing to follow writers into risky territory: Alexander Chee on Writing and The Queen of the Night – Some terrific observations about how and when it can pay off to write something truly different.

Wit and the Art of Conversation – Thoughts on what wit is, precisely, and observations on what makes it appealing. Great for writers working on improving their dialogue.

6 Ways to Track Down a Magazine Editor – Advice for anyone in the freelance trenches or looking to get into freelance writing. If you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, what are you waiting for? Go for it.

Second Cousins,” “Once Removed,” and More, Explained in Chart Form – Handy relative definitions, very useful for anyone sorting out a big family drama, on paper or in real life.

A Lifelong Lover of Books Breaks Ground Atop the Literary World – Q&A with Lisa Lucas, who recently became the first woman and first African American to head up the National Book Foundation. Proof that there’s always new ground to break.

Looking for a New Writing Challenge?

(c) Can Stock Photo/alexskopje
(c) Can Stock Photo/alexskopje

Long-time readers of this site might remember the March Writing Challenge I issued a few years back. It’s designed to help you work on different areas of your writing each week and is fully customizable based on your schedule and your personal goals. If you’re looking for a new challenge this month, I highly recommend you zip back in time and take a look at the challenge. The weeks won’t quite line up to a Monday start, obviously, but you can still adapt it easily enough for you to apply the challenge to 2016. Good luck, and happy writing!