Writing Advice: Better Done than Perfect

Complete confidence is not a common trait among writers. I assume that statement applies to people who work in any creative field. It’s not that we’re neurotic. Usually. We are often charming people if you can drag us out into public. Did I mention that we are typically introverts who prefer the company of animals?

So, why the lack of confidence?

When a writer brings a character to life, builds a world, and plots out an entire novel, it’s personal. The character’s thoughts, words, and actions are driven by the author, so they are a peek into that person’s mind. Not necessarily an expression of his or her own thoughts on a subject, but what he or she is capable of thinking about a subject. Writing is an act of exposure, and there is always the fear that someone will—wittingly or unwittingly—cause harm.

When a wolf exposes its belly to the pack, no other wolf will touch it, not even a pup. The same can’t be said of the reading public. Once that short story, essay or novel is out there, it becomes fair game for comments, criticism, and the dreaded internet trolls.

Sometimes the criticism is correct.

I’ve looked up the spelling of names and words when writing only to find they are spelled wrong in the final draft. How does this happen??? It’s a mystery, but it does happen. And I once referred to a shoe string necktie tie as a bolero rather than a bolo. Never mind that an editor and four proof readers missed it as well. When the book came out, a sharp-eyed reader caught it and left a scathing review on Amazon. I immediately corrected it, and I would have reached out and thanked the reviewer had it been possible to contact him.

Sometimes people will simply disagree with you.

In my second pet psychic mystery, A Bird’s Eye View of Murder, Frankie Chandler’s Aunt Gertrude is visiting from Arizona. Auntie can be overbearing at times, which made for some funny situations. Don’t we all have relatives who test our patience? A reader commented that Frankie was just another weak female character because she put up with her aunt and didn’t tell the old lady off. I don’t think self-control and respecting one’s elders are signs of weakness, so I moved on.

The natural response to a fear of making mistakes is to never, ever publish, and this may be why completed manuscripts still languish on some writers’ computers.

Recently, I was lamenting the results of a new jewelry technique I wanted to master. An artist friend told me Better done than perfect.

What a freeing thought.

This doesn’t mean an author should send out a submission or post a book on Kindle without a thorough proofread. (Note: You are your own worst proofreader, because you will fill in the blanks as you read with what you wanted to say. Find an expert if you can afford it. If not, remain friends with former classmates who delighted in comma usage.) It also doesn’t mean that half-baked efforts are okay. It’s only a first draft, but I really want to get it published. Someone will like it.

What it does mean is that after you’ve done your best, after you’ve taken all necessary steps to ensure mistakes are fixed and formatting meets industry standards, you need to let it go and move on to the next project.

Every time you reread a page, you will think of a new and—possibly–better way to say it. Know that and decide to end the loop.  You will never stop learning new techniques and tips. Your style will develop, and you will become a better writer, but only if you keep writing. (And not the same thing over and over.)

Once you complete a few projects and let them go, you may even see an increase in confidence. It’s not a guarantee. Those niggling thoughts may always follow you around. Is the finished product perfect? Are the clues too obvious? Did I misspell mononucleosis? Just remember, you’re in charge. You can ignore those thoughts, do your best, and move on.

Do you suffer from paralysis by analysis? Give us some examples. Sharing your demons and having a laugh over them destroys their power!

 

 

Why Write? by Linda O. Johnston

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Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her most recent release is her 44th published novel, with more to come.

Why write?

That’s a pretty basic question for authors, and yet I don’t always think about it.

Why do I write?  And, if you’re an author too, why do you write?

For me, I suppose the answer is both simple and complicated.  It’s who I am. 

I’ve always written something.  I started out enjoying writing essays for my classes in school, and then a touch of fiction, in grade school, then junior high and high school.  College, too, though what I usually wrote there were assignments rather than just doing it for fun.  My undergraduate degree was in journalism with an advertising emphasis, so my classes involved a lot of writing.

Later, I wrote articles for a small newspaper, then actually got a job in advertising and public relations–working for my father.  One of the most enjoyable things there was writing articles for a house organ magazine for the firm’s largest client, a men’s hairstyling and hair products company, though I could write nearly anything for the magazine.

Shift, while doing that, to law school.  I had a couple of articles published in the Duquesne Law Review, which was both prestigious and enjoyable. 

And fiction during this time?  Not a lot of it.  But after I got my JD degree and started working first for a law firm, then in-house for Union Oil Company, I began getting up an hour earlier than anyone in my growing household so I could write.

I soon actually began getting published, and of course that spurred me to write even more fiction, along with the contracts I reviewed and drafted.  In fact, that’s what stimulated me to come up with one of the phrases key to my life: Contracts are just another form of fiction.

My law career ultimately ended, so now I’m a full time writer.  And have you gleaned from all of this the answer to why I write? 

As I said before, it’s because that’s who I am!

I know a lot of other writers.  Some, like me these days, write full time.  Others maintain their “real” jobs as well.  But they’ll always find some time to dig in and write what they want–and that helps to make them who they are, too.

And you…?  

September Song by Rosemary Lord

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Rosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now, English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

* * *

“…The days dwindle down to a precious few…” Sound familiar?  These are the lyrics to Kurt Weill’s 1938 heart-wrenching, “September Song.”

“- and the days grow short when you reach September,” Frank Sinatra sang. And then –

“- One hasn’t got time for the waiting game…”

In Hollywood, the days have at last cooled down after sweltering heat, where the nights were filled with the cacophony of neighboring air-conditioners at full tilt.  And it reminds me that another summer has passed and – in Kurt Weill’s poignant words –  I really don’t have time for the waiting game, any more.

I think of all the unexpected things that happened this summer, the new friends I made, things I learned, expectations I met and sometimes exceeded. And yet all the things I did not get around to, come to mind: Painting my bedroom chest-of-drawers blue, selling that big travel-trunk, attending those Booty-Barre classes, visiting friends in Arizona.

I failed to make it down to the beach this summer. I did, however, go on a watermelon-diet (easier to do during those hot, dry days) and lost a few pounds: the pounds I had gained when devouring English comfort-food such as buttered toast, treacle-pudding with hot custard, roast-potatoes, crumpets. I could go on…

In the summer of 2017, I did not find that perfect literary agent for my mystery novel about Lottie Topaz. Neither did I finish the next Lottie Topaz novel, Seven For A Secret… The days were just not long enough.

But I did finish the updated version of Los Angeles Then and Now and I wrote a 1,200-word article on the Woman’s Club of Hollywood, for the upcoming issue of Discover Hollywood. All was not lost. I was also putting in long, long hours, 6-7 days a week helping to revive and restore the Woman’s Club of Hollywood.

And this summer was not too bad in my cozy apartment. Surrounded by fans (the whirring kind, not the screaming ones), I battled my temperamental old lap-top, wishing I had the time to learn how to use a MAC, in the belief that would solve all my computer problems – like the cursor that jumps all over the place and deletes lines and paragraphs, so I have to keep re-typing, or my Windows Live email program that eats emails and only sends out select emails, seemingly on a whim.

But now that early mornings feel fresher, almost brisk at times and, as Kurt Weil wrote, “When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame…”  and cooler days beckon, I no longer have to spend evenings in front of the open fridge seeking an icy-blast or two. My heat-dulled brain unable to write even the simplest sentence.

As we say goodbye to another summer and Fall approaches, I find my focus improves and once again my mind is tripping over itself to write all those books and articles emerging from my memory and imagination.

‘This time it will be different’ is my mantra, as I make fresh To Do lists of writing projects to be finished and new ones to start.. These “precious days” from September to December I will spend doing…. what, I wonder?

“…These precious days I’ll spend – ”  doing all the things I intended to do during the summer.

And how did you spend your summer of 2017?

Catching Up on Mystery Reads

headshotJacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.

 

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It is so important for a writer to read. Not only will she keep abreast of what’s out there and (hopefully) enjoy the process, but she can discover new writing styles, get ideas for her books, and even learn new vocabulary words.

When my computer crashed a few weeks ago, I had the time to dig out a few selections from my very large pile of books waiting to be read. It was refreshing, like forgetting to drink water for a while and then experiencing the benefits when you finally do. I was delighted by some of the mysteries I discovered as well as by new novels by authors I’d previously enjoyed. Here’s a sample. Check them out. I think you’ll like them.

Quirky Quiz ShowSally Carpenter put out a post about her new book The Quirky Quiz Show Caper. I saw it on Facebook. (Hint: Don’t be afraid to promote your books, gently, on social media.)  I immediately downloaded a copy, realized I hadn’t read the previous book, and downloaded that one, too. (See? Promotion pays off!)

The thing I love about the Sandy Fairfax mysteries is their light-hearted approach. Sandy is a former teen idol trying to get his lifeCunning Cruise Ship Caper back together at 38 after drying out.  The choices available to him at this point in his career are pretty cheesy, but as grandma used to say, beggars can’t be choosers.

The characters and the dialogue and the situations play out like an old sitcom. That’s the genius of these books. With Carpenter’s knowledge of theater and television, the sets come to life.  Simply put, they are fun, and I can’t wait for the next one.

I have to admit I’ve fallen woefully behind on Diane Vallere’s Samantha Kidd mysteries, so I grabbed a copy of Pearls Gone Wild and dove in, which is kind of like eating dessert before dinner, since I had missed a few books between this, her sixth, and the first book in the series, Designer Dirty Laundry.

Pearls Gone WildI’m glad I did, because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the excitement. Samantha and Nick Taylor just may move their relationship to a new level, but will the handsome photographer Dante get in the way? And what’s Dante doing hanging around Samantha at Christmas anyway? He’s lending brotherly support to his sister Cat whose husband has just been murdered. Did I mention Cat is eight months pregnant? If you think it sounds like a soap opera, you’re right. Twists and surprises galore but without the annoying “scene hold” before commercial break.

Then, as I was dropping off my batteries at the library for recycling, I thought I would slip inside for a quick peek. Staring at me, front forward on the shelf, was Louis Penny’s How the Light Get’s In.  I grabbed that and two Donna Leon books and, yes, made my reading pile larger, with deadlines.

Cajun Christmas KillingI’ll have to wait until October for the next Ellen Byron novel, A Cajun Christmas Killing, and I’ve been to several bookstores looking for Ashley Weaver’s The Essence of Malice. Ooh! Did I just see an Amory Ames Kindle Single? Another for the pile!the essence of malice

In case you’re worried that I might be crushed by my growing stack of books, I did make headway on the reading pile with a few novels that I had previously downloaded to “give the author a try,” Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I won’t mention them by name because it’s just my opinion and everybody has to start somewhere. I’d hate to have my first book, written before I had gained experience, trashed online.  The point is that authors shouldn’t limit themselves to favorites. When I recognize something I don’t like, it’s a good reminder to keep it out of my own books.

Are there mysteries that you’ve discovered that you love, love, love? Share them in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Among Genres by Linda O. Johnston

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes one mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries.  She has also written the Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink as well as the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime.  She additionally currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her June release was her 46th published novel, with more to come.

 

* * *

Versatility.  Keeping things fresh.  Using different voices.  Working in different points of view.  Multiple publishers.

Those are some of the good things about writing in multiple genres.

Confusion now and then.  Concern whether readers are focusing on one type of series and not the other(s).  Needing to belong to many different writing organizations rather than just one.

These are some of the not-so-good things about writing in multiple genres.

I should know.  I’ve written in several different genres, often at the same time.

My first published fiction was a short story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I won the Robert L. Fish Award for best first short story of the year.  After that, I had several more mystery short stories published, and have had additional ones published over the years.

But then I moved into time travel romance, where I wrote several novels for Dorchester Publishing.  I got my rights back to those stories, which was a good thing since Dorchester went out of business.  But I knew I enjoyed writing paranormal romance.

Next was romantic suspense.  I wrote several novels for Harlequin Intrigue.

From there, I somewhat segued into cozy mysteries, beginning my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime.  But was I done with romance?  No.  I also wrote some paranormal romances for a different Harlequin line, Nocturne.  That turned into my Alpha Force miniseries for Nocturne, about a covert military unit of shapeshifters, which will be ending next year.  I’ll have one more Alpha Force Nocturne, to be published in November 2018, before the line ends.

Back to cozy mysteries.  My Pet Rescue Mysteries were a spin-off from my Kendra mysteries.  I was definitely hooked on cozies, and when it looked like the Pet Rescue Mysteries were ending, I began writing the Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink.  Then, at the same time, I started writing another series for MI: the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries.  They’re continuing, although the Superstition Mysteries aren’t.

But was I giving up on romances?  No.  As I mentioned, I am still writing Nocturnes.  Plus, I went back to romantic suspense, writing for the Harlequin Romantic Suspense line.   I’m also still writing for HRS and will have a new miniseries starting there next March, the K-9 Ranch Rescue series.

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned yet that all the stuff I’m currently writing features dogs.  That gives my books a recurring theme.

So am I confusing you–or my readers?

One way to hopefully avoid readers’ confusion is to use a different pseudonym for each genre, or use your own name for one of them and pseudonyms for the rest.

I’ve never done that.  I’ve been published by different print publishers, sometimes at the same time, and no editor has even suggested it.  And I like the idea of my own name being associated with me and what I write, no matter what it is.

Would I take on a pseudonym someday?  Sure, if it made sense at the time.  But I’m just as happy remaining me.

In fact, that’s the important thing: being happy with what you’re doing.  If you like writing in one genre, that’s fine.  If you like writing in multiple genres, go for it.  If you’re not sure, concentrate on what you like to read–or just start writing and see where it goes.

That’s something I find especially inviting and exciting about being a writer.  There are no restrictions!  And if you’re settled into one or two genres, whether fiction, non-fiction or both, and get an inspiration to go in a different direction, you can always do it!  You may have to rethink the publication process, with traditional publishers that are major or smaller, or go for self-publishing, or both.  Any way you choose is just fine.

Where am I going?  I’ve got some ideas–I always have ideas–and we’ll all just have to wait to see where the next steps lead me.

OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND….by Rosemary Lord

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Rosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

 

OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND….

… So begins Robert Browning’s poem Home Thoughts From Abroad. Browning extols the wonders of the English countryside and the changing seasons as Spring emerges.

But it’s not the green fields, buttercups and bluebells that I am missing so much lately – although the thought of those always brightens my heart – but I miss the British magazines that I used to read and, indeed, where I was first published as a writer.

When you’re in the midst of writing a novel and you’re stuck at page 218, knowing you have a hundred or more pages to fill, writing a 1,000-word article for a magazine is most appealing.

But then too, reading a magazine is appealing, when you don’t have the time or the attention-span to devour a lengthy novel. Problem is that today’s magazines seem so frivolous; filled with glaring advertisements and little or no content.

We writers start young as readers. Growing up in England, we had a wide assortment of children’s magazines and comics to choose from: Twinkle, Mandy, Judy and my favorite, Bunty. Then we progressed to Schoolfriend, Girl and eventually Jackie – the teen magazine. I suppose the names are a give-away, that these were for us girls.

beanoThe boys had more serious comics and magazines such as The Boy’s Own Paper, The Beano, The Dandy. I guess adding a “The” made them more weighty. But then what about Buster, Topper and Beezer? Not so serious-sounding now, eh boys? As they got older, the boys progressed to The Eagle, Valiant, Look and Learn and Tiger. The Eagle was my older brother Ted’s favorite.

The paper-boy would deliver these treasures every Tuesday. They were a main form of entertainment for children until recent years and stemmed from the 19th century “penny-dreadfuls,” that led to the publishing of serial mystery stories such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes exploits. The magazines introduced pirate tales and adventures of such legends as highwayman Dick Turpin and detective Sexton Blake.

Scottish publishing house D.C. Thompson Inc, started The Beano and The Dandy in the 1930s. The Beano is still published today.

The Dundee-based D.C. Thompson was my first publisher, when I wrote articles for My Weekly, People’s Friend and ended up having my own column in Jackie Magazine for several years – including my Letter From Hollywood column, once I moved Stateside. They were the nicest people to work for and My Weekly and People’s Friend are still going strong.

I also wrote a lot of pieces for IPC Magazines in London, for their teen magazines petticoatPetticoat, Mirabelle  and New Musical Express, as well as the women’s periodicals Woman and Woman’s Own. IPC (International Publishing Corporation) was founded in 1963, but its’ umbrella group goes back to the 1800s and covered the Suffragette Movement, two World Wars, the Swingin’ 60s and today’s revolutions. Taken over by Time Warner in 2001 and renamed Time Inc.UK in 2014, the groups periodicals include Horse and Hound, Woman’s Weekly, InStyle UK, TV Times, Woman, Country Life, Homes and Gardens and seemingly hundreds more.

But back to the children’s magazines that are so dear to me and others of a certain age. They included cartoon-style comic strip stories, but mostly were filled with how-to articles, history pieces and tales of adventure, romance and mystery – letting imaginations run wild. Yarns of super-heroes, dastardly villains, schoolboys-and-girls-to-the-rescue and hilarious school-days tales of characters like Billy Bunter, filled the boy’s comics. Often very “un-PC” – or un-Politically Correct: Billy Bunter was very overweight and always eating cakes and buns. Not to be outdone, his sister Bessie Bunter turned up in the girls’ magazines, preferring cake to croquet or hockey.

For us girls, there was page after page of  “The Secret Adventures of…” – plucky-heroine stories, romantic tales (often nurses falling for doctors), legends, fairy-tales and Cinderella-finds-her-Prince-Charming stories. There was no noticeable class divide, either. We could all dream of being a ballerina, champion jockey, Olympic medalist, a pilot, hospital-matron or doctor – or a princess. There was usually a moral theme to these, where the baddy gets his or her come-uppance and a good deed gets rewarded. Where honesty and loyalty were the benchmarks for everyone. No wonder our generation grew up to be such virtuous, practically-perfect goddesses!

The backdrop for the girls’ tales were often ballet schools, nursing, Boarding Schools, pony-clubs, gymkhanas, ice-skating – and school-holidays in Scotland or England’s West Country: Devon and Cornwall, home of pirates, smugglers, Agatha Christie and cream-teas.

So, as a writer, this was a great market to get started in and learn one’s trade. The money was pitiful – not that it’s much better today. But there were so many magazines that devoured articles and stories every week, that editors would give unknown writers a chance.

Often those short stories developed into books, like the Bunchy, Milly-Molly-Mandy, Marigold books, for readers who grew into Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfield or Nancy Drew fans. My Aunty Marjory gave me Gene Stratton-Porter’s book, A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles set in the Indiana wetlands. I read Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna, too. (Were they related?) No wonder I ended living in America.

But it wasn’t just the stories we read in those childhood comics and magazines – there were gifts, too, taped to the inside. Perhaps a slim, brightly-colored plastic bangle, a teeny pink lipstick, a plastic ring, a packet of flower seeds for the garden or an envelope of colored sparkly dust for art projects. And the last page of Bunty featured a cut-out doll’s cut-out wardrobe. Such value for money in every edition!

Bunty survived until 2001, Jackie Magazine lasted longer. The Beano lives on.

Today’s magazines for the young seem filled with advertisements and gossip about pop-icons like Justin Bieber.  Not quite the same. Where are the fanciful tales for kids today, taking them to other worlds, other planets, even, to get their imaginations stirring? Harry Potter was the exception, of course. But that was a book – not a comic magazine. Hmmm. Thank goodness we had Bunty, Twinkle, Schoolfriend and Judy….

Methinks I’ll stay with my tales of plucky heroines and lonely ballerinas, thank you very much.

 

Don’t Love Your Characters Too Much

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Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.

 

 

I was working on the next Harlow Brothers mystery.  During a scene where older brother Edward gets arrested, I noticed that I was leaving him with his dignity.

What?!

I had a perfect opportunity to make a screamingly funny scene, and I was letting it go because I didn’t want to embarrass Edward.

Like many authors, I love my characters. We spend a lot of time with them, so this is understandable. However, there has to be a line between caring about what happens to them and getting in the way of the story.

I should tell you up front that I will walk away from a movie or TV show if a situation gets too embarrassing. I have a chronic case of empathy, and the character’s humiliation is just too much to bear.  Still, if I want to write the best scene possible, I’ll have to find a way to get past this.

Maybe if I thought of them as little masochists who reveled in embarrassment and shame. The more I pile it on, the happier they are. No, that’s too creepy for me and would lead to a completely different kind of book.

What if I told them to trust me? That no matter how bad it gets, I will pull them out of the mire, clean them up and set them back on their pedestals.

I just don’t know.  Have you ever had this problem? How would you get past this dilemma?  Leave your suggestion in the comments below.