A Boost Up!

By Jackie Houchin

Boost up2“A boost up”….when someone holds their clasped hands together next to a horse, and you put your foot in like a stirrup, and they propel you upward into the saddle.

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Sometimes a beginner (or lazy) writer needs a boost up into the writing saddle.  That’s where The Write Practice came into the picture for me. (I’m one of those lazy ones!)

The Write Practice

”If you want to become a better writer, you need to practice,” says Joe Bunting, creator of The Write Practice organization and blog. What’s involved? Fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, practicing with fresh writing prompts, unique lessons on technique, and getting feedback from a supportive community.

There are over 1000 practice exercises and lessons on the blog in such categories as; better writing, genre & format, characterization, grammar, journalism, plot & story, writers block, inspirational writing, publishing, and blogging. And it’s free.  http://thewritepractice.com/about/

I’ve attempted two lessons so far in the Short Story category. The first lesson was to read at least six short stories from the many magazine links supplied. The second lesson was to free-write for at least 15 minutes, post what you wrote in the comments section, read three of what other people wrote, and give them brief feedback.  Simple as that; practice writing and give feedback. It’s really the basis for everything Bunting does.

I wrote a short ditty on ‘Pig, Porcupine & Pineapple.’  It was totally fun!  Now to see with my fellow writers say about it

The Becoming Writer Community & Challenge

 If you are ready to go to the next level and start writing finished pieces (and get published), then the Becoming Writer community is the next step. Bunting compares this with what the “Inklings were for Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the expats in Paris were for Hemingway, and the Bloomsbury group was for Woolf.”

I discovered Becoming Writer because membership in it (yes, it does cost a little) was a requirement to submit to The Write Practice’s quarterly short story writing contest. But what you get with membership is a lot more than the contest.

Like the free practice lessons above, you share your writing with a community of writers to get and give feedback.  Actually giving feedback on another’s work helps you when it comes time to edit your own piece.

The Challenge is to write ONE piece EACH WEEK, submitted on Fridays.  It can be a short story, blog post, poem, essay, or a chapter in a book.  This is what us “lazy” writers call accountability.

And finally, besides actually finishing your pieces (Yay!), you get opportunities to submit to magazines like Short Fiction Break, Wordhaus and others.

The feedback on my first piece, an essay I wrote about Africa, brought a suggestion for submission to a specific online magazine. I submitted it and am waiting to hear.  http://thewritepractice.com/members/join

The Fall Contest

This is what caught my attention at first, a writing contest that promised cash prizes, free books, and publication. The theme was “Let’s Fall in Love.” Stories had to contain the two elements FALL and LOVE and be no longer than 1,500 words.  I told myself, “I can do that.”

The name “Autumn Gold” sprang to my mind and I quizzed my writer friends on Facebook as to how a girl with that name might look. The first answer – a stripper – caused me to cringe because that’s not what I had in mind. But when another person confirmed what he said, it left no doubt.

The story I eventually wrote keeps the title “Autumn Gold,” but the girl’s name is Audrey Gould.  I wrote an outline of sorts, showed it to a friend for her opinion, and then pounded out a story about LOVE that takes place in AUTUMN. It was 1,948 words. Lots of cuts and edits later, I submitted it to the Becoming Writer Contest community.

For the contest (548 entrants) the community is divided into ten groups, A–J, with about 40-50 writers in each. I landed in Group D. There are 46 of us, and we’ve become a close-knit group.

I’ve gotten about nine feedbacks on “Autumn Gold,” and I’ve given at least many more on other stories.  Some are VERY good! Others will need some work.  Reading my story’s feedback and the feedback on the other stories has opened my eyes to what works and what doesn’t, and what readers “get” from what you write, even if it’s not what you intended.

Invaluable!

I’m considering rewriting the ending and running it past them one more time. The final deadline to submit the story to the judges is September 4.

Other Programs

The Write Practice offers other programs for writers and authors on building a platform, publishing & marketing, Twitter, and the 100 Day Book challenge.  http://thewritepractice.com/products

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Now I’m up in the saddle. I’m trotting around and loving it. I can’t wait to press my calves against my steed’s sides and rise into a canter.  I needed that boost up.  Do you?  Perhaps you should consider a writing community.

I suggest The Writing Practice. Take advantage of the discipline and the getting and giving of feedback.  Pick the lessons you are interested in and go for it. They are free! You might also consider Becoming Writer.

Or join a critique group and begin giving your work over to new eyes and opinions.

Get up there and get galloping!

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Currently the Becoming Writer and the 100 Day Book programs are closed until next semester.  Future contests in Becoming Writer will be on Flash Fiction, Essay writing, Novels, and Poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloodbath at the Keyboard

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Bonnie Schroeder has been a storyteller since the fifth grade, when her teacher suggested she put her vivid imagination to work as a writer.  She took the advice to heart and has pursued the craft of fiction ever since. In addition to her women’s fiction novel Mending Dreams, she is the author of numerous short stories, screenplays, and nonfiction articles. She lives in Glendale, California.

 

 

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about editing, full of measured and objective advice about reducing one’s word count. I boasted that I had trimmed 5,000 words from my Work in Progress and had “only about 10,000 words” more to cut. I achieved that goal almost painlessly.

Proof that the Universe has a sense of humor: I was offered a publishing contract, but only if I could remove another 3,000 to 5,000 words from the manuscript.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I muttered as I started reading, convinced I had already pared the word count to the bare bone. At this point the manuscript consisted of about 109,000 words.stack-of-papers

This last read-through, performed after the manuscript had “cooled” for a couple of months, was a humbling experience.

There was still plenty of fat left in those pages.

I had apparently developed a fondness for the word “so,”—to the extent that it had become invisible to me on past readings. As in “So,” she said, “what have you been up to?” Or, “So, are you going to tell me what happened?”red-pen

Removing all those “so’s” made a tiny dent in the word count, but I had to get more aggressive.

You know the edict, “Kill your darlings”?

I’d done that, sliced them out with a push of the “Delete” button, and I was convinced I’d purged them all. But oh, no.

The number of darlings I found on this last go-round astonished me.

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Out went some of my favorite paragraphs, ones that looked lovely but added nothing to the storyline.

The bloodbath continued unabated, and this time there was pain. I loved some of those passages—I loved them too much. I’d labored over every sentence, every phrase, every word, and removing them from the manuscript was like ripping off pieces of my skin.

What made it worse, as I highlighted passages and pressed “Delete,” was the realization that no one but me would ever see these words arranged just so, words I’d sometimes had to wrestle onto the page to convey a certain image, a certain feeling. I hated myself for condemning them to obscurity.

“But wait,” cried a tiny voice at the moment of my deepest despair. These precious prose snippets weren’t really gone; they were safely housed in a prior version of the manuscript, safe within a digital file on my computer, backed up to the cloud and three separate flash drives. They could live on, forever if need be, waiting for me to resurrect them in another book, another time.

Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t, but I sleep better knowing they’re there, waiting patiently, and if they never get their moment in the sun, they won’t know.

After all, they’re only words.

Aren’t they?

I did meet my publisher’s requirement, so the agony was worth it. I trimmed another 3,998 words from the manuscript, and it is now a relatively svelte 105,000 words. But I still miss some of those paragraphs. . .

Beginnings, Middles, and Endings

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A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

Beginnings, Middles, and Endings… A Thought or Two

When I start writing a story I usually don’t have the entire story blocked out in my head. Sometimes I have a beginning and an end. That’s the best way because I know how the story opens and blessedly where the story is going to end. Usually I have at least a sentence or a paragraph that tells me what the story is supposed to be about. Sometimes I have a page or two of the gist that provides the flavor of the story. That tells me the sub-genre: a detective yarn, a lighthearted mystery, a darker tale, or maybe a holiday story because I write those, too.

notebookIf you ever come to my house you will see small notebooks all over the place that I can grab and jot down an idea if it drops out of the sky. And they do on occasion. My fellow author, Bonnie Schroeder, gave all us Writers-in-Residence ladies a notebook and pencil set for the shower that writes in the wet. What a concept. So I am covered wherever an idea strikes.

The all-important beginning sets that Tone for any piece of writing. This is when the reader bites off a chunk and chews it to see if they might like to stay around for the rest of the meal. When these ideas strike, they have to grab my imagination, too, or I’ll discard them and wait for another inspiration.

Sometimes the initial idea is a bit of business that sets up a crime. Once I know how it’s done, I have to see who does it. The all-important villain will be the second, if not the first, character I must get to know. Remember, the bad guy or gal is the reason the story is being written. If nothing bad happens, I won’t need my private detective or amateur sleuth or long arm of the law to solve the case.

The Plot might be something that I hear on television that sparks the idea. I seldom rip a headline off the front page because I can almost hear half of the writers out there in “Fiction Land” ripping it off their newspapers and I want to write something new. But I will take a headline and turn it upside down or inside out to get a story.

That’s the old “What if?” game. If there is a story about a politician killing his playmate on the nightly news, what if the playmate sets up the politician instead in the fictional take on that account? I did that in a story in From Light To Dark, a collection of short stories that run the gamut from lighthearted to down right evil.

typewriterStories are everywhere. The writer just has to see the possibilities. But remember, as a writer, you control your world and you can twist the story into something unique if you try. Just try not to twist it into something that doesn’t make any sense. More and more TV shows are turning into pretzels that barely make sense. That’s why I read more books than watch television.

So now you have a great beginning and maybe you are lucky enough to have an ending in your head. As I said earlier, knowing the ending lets the writer know where he or she is going. You don’t want to wander. And this isn’t only for the writer’s sake. If the reader gets lost along the way, they might put the book down and never pick it up again.

Make the ending as stunning as the beginning. When you are having a great meal and the dessert is terrific, too, you know you have had an experience. When someone puts down your book or even finished your short story, you want them to feel satisfied. And you want them to come back for more.

In TV shows, I can usually guess whodunit in the first ten minutes. That’s because of the formula that shows use. Sometimes it’s the lousy actor who plays the part who just looks guilty. He read the script and knows he did it and it’s written all over his face. I hate that.

In a book, I seldom analyze the story as I am reading it to see if I can pick out the villain. I want to enjoy the story and know we’ll get to the end eventually. I never read the end ahead of time, either. I wouldn’t have dessert before the main course, so why soil the meal?

I like to read the set-up, watch for clues, and at the end I’ll go back over the story in my head and see where those clues were if I missed any of them. Good writers leave them in plain sight. Readers just don’t know they were clues. There is nothing better than to say, “Boy, there was that clue right there all the time.” I love that.

The only thing I can caution writers against is dropping the villain and the clues in at the end where the reader had no chance to pick them up. Not fair to the reader or to the story. You can do better.

fat-lady-dancerNow how about the middle? There it sits. Is it a big, hulking middle that the reader has to push around the dance floor with no music or is it thin and bony with no rhythm at all? This middle section is where the reader learns all the little things that hold the story together. Some backstory and some character traits are sprinkled in along with the bulk of the plot. Whether it’s on the high-calorie side with lots of detail or maybe a diet plate with most of the fat is trimmed off, you have to make the middle tasty.

scissorsEditing happens here. Add a little to enhance the story. Cut some off to make the pages turn faster toward the climax. Sweeten it with some good dialogue. Add some choice settings to give it flavor.

Some writers over-write their work. They cut and paste so much that they lose the story completely with all the tape and staples and glue. If your story is ponderous you will lose readers faster than if it is short and sweet.

But don’t shortchange the reader either. They paid for a story, so tell them a story. Give them the details, not an encyclopedia. You want them to know the characters, but remember: some characters are only there for color or to give some vital information before going off stage. Have a few main characters, some minor ones, and everyone else is just there to set the stage.

This holds true for novels and short stories. I have read quite a few mystery novels that packed in so much extra stuff that I lost track of the plot. The characters might be fun and the banter clever, but that dead body lying in the living room still needs to be discovered along with his killer.

Tell me a story first. I’ll get to know the people along the way. Have a beginning that pulls me in. Have a middle that holds my interest. Have an ending that makes me glad I bought your book or read your short story. I’ll look for your books on the shelf again if you can do that.

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Rewrites Are Like the Movie "Groundhog Day" by Jacqueline Vick

Every morning, Phil Connors wakes up in Punxsutawney, PA, and it’s Groundhog Day. He has to relive the same day over…and over…and over…until he finally gets it right. That’s the premise of the movie Groundhog Day.

When Phil first realizes that he has freedom from consequences, he does all the naughty things he’d never get away with if the day didn’t start over fresh at 6:00 AM the next morning, like pigging out on pastries…while smoking. This is the writer at the beginning of the project. Authors read the same thing over…and over…and over again, trying to get the right outcome so they can move on to the next project. When we’re fresh into the rewrites, we might come up with ideas that seem crazy, but we try them anyway.

Then Phil starts to seduce the women of Punxsutawney, sussing out their likes and dislikes day by day so he can bed them. When he finds a woman who is worthy of love, he discovers that he can’t manipulate her into a seduction. It fails every time, and it becomes an obsession until finally he despairs and tries to kill himself every conceivable way, only to wake up in one piece the next morning. In the writer’s next passes through the manuscript, we try to seduce the reader with just the right phrase, but as we work through to something worthwhile, all the manipulation becomes obvious. It reaches the point where we think the whole work is crap and we want to “kill it”and start over.

Phil finally accepts his position,  and he starts to do one thing every day to improve himself. He finds out where danger lurks, and he’s always in time to save the day. He takes piano lessons until he gradually becomes a great jazz pianist. He stops focusing on his wants and looks outside himself, and he becomes the great guy who wins the heroine’s heart.  Eventually, we writers stop working at being funny or pulling heartstrings or making a point, and we just let go and make it all about the reader’s experience, and that’s when things fall into place.

The journey isn’t always as fun as the movie Groundhog Day, but the results are worth the effort. Now if only we could figure out a way to skip the first steps… .

Writing Stuff – A Tough Project

Author Kate Thornton shares her thoughts about the process of bringing new life to old projects. Visit her Author’s Page on Amazon!

WRITING STUFF – A TOUGH PROJECT



I finished a Christmas story last week and sent if off to a magazine that has a tracking application online. Of course, I check it daily. Five days in slush and still not read – I may have to volunteer as a slush reader to get it going.


I always write seasonal stories out of season – that way there is really no looming deadline and magazines really like to get their seasonal stuff lined up ahead of time. Writing short stories is not easy – they must be tight, have impact, be satisfying and, well, short.

But the really tough writing project I am working on is a novel I wrote in 1998. Back then, I thought I was a novelist and knocked out 3 or 4 long works – adventure/mysteries – that I thought were really good. Hah! Shows what little I knew! They needed a lot of work. So I shelved them (one was actually agented and had some interest from St. Martin’s Press, only back then I didn’t know enough about revisions to do the necessary rewrites.) The event that triggered this effort was lunch a while back with an old friend, a dear friend, who asked about that particular book and remembered it fondly. Bless my beta readers!

So I am re-reading it first (I have a copy printed on my old laser printer) then doing a page-by-page rewrite into my computer. I used to have this work on an ancient five-inch floppy disc, but who knows what happened to that and what I could use to extract the info anyway. Also, I think it was in one of the very first iterations of Word Perfect. Yes, I am old!

I once heard you must write a million words before you learn how to put them into the right order. I am sure this old effort was part of my first million, and therefore should just be counted as practice, not the real deal. But I want to salvage the basic story, change the main character to one I have been developing, and update the technology (both in the storyline and what I use to write with.)

Maybe it will be a successful project. If so, I have at least three more “Trunk Novels” that could get the same treatment, if they’re worth it.

So, how about you? Do you save your old stuff and use it – or parts of it – later? I like the idea of doing this, but it sure is a lot of work. An author of my acquaintance recommends just ditching it all and writing something new. There is certainly a lot to be said for that approach. But there is also something about an old friend, a character you have created, coming home to the present and being with you again.


So, for now, I want to revisit this person and see if they can get used to the world as it is now. And I think maybe it will help me to accept the world of today as well.

Edits, Rewrites, And Selling Your Soul

Author G.B. Pool has plenty of experience editing her work, and with one novel and a list of anthologies under her belt, her methods must work!

Every “How to Write” book has a chapter on “Editing and Rewriting.” Whatever you write can always be improved by a careful edit, and thoughtful look-over, and a final rewrite to tweak those areas that don’t sound right. You could spend the rest of your life rewriting if you aren’t careful. Hopefully you have a friend who tells you to stop before you rewrite the life out of your work.

Over-writing is a problem we can all have when we are looking for the perfect word or phrase. Maybe you should try looking for the best word, and not worry about perfection. Perfection is stuffy. Walk away from your work, literally, go into another room, and think about what you want to say in that section. The words that come into your head, off the cuff, will be truer than the ones you agonized over. Spontaneity is always fresher. Write it down and then leave it alone.

As for basic editing like grammar, spelling, and punctuation, have someone else do it for you. Just like parents who never see flaws in their children, even the two-headed ones or the ones who wind up in jail, you will miss errors in your own work.

Join a writers’ group, ask a teacher, or pay a professional to go over your work. Even if your Aunt Mabel is a professional editor, too often a friend or relative will be too kind. (They will overlook the two-headed kid, too.) An agent or publisher won’t be kind. They will toss your error-laden manuscript in the trash and remember you the next time as the person who can’t submit a professional piece of work.

Make sure that writers’ group you join isn’t afraid to point out mistakes, holes, or continuity problems. A good teacher will know how to get out the red pencil and correct grammatical errors. And a professional editor has seen it all before and will know how to spot obvious errors. It’s worth the money.

So you rewrite, edit, polish and submit. And an agent likes your work. Hoorah! Your characters are memorable. The plot is appealing. The agent handles that genre. They know a few publishers in that genre. Everything is wonderful…but…

It’s the “but” that will have you asking yourself, “How much of my story will I change to get it published?” If the change doesn’t amount to much, I’d rewrite it in a heartbeat.

But what if your agent loves everything except one of the key points in the story around which everything revolves. Should you tell her she should really read the entire book to see how it fits together, or do you try to adjust the part she doesn’t like to suit her?

A screenwriter will tell you once you submit your script, a thousand hands will rework it, reshape it, and in the end you won’t recognize anything but the title…if they keep the title. Screenplays aren’t novels.

How much of your book are you willing to change for someone else? Granted the agent has the contacts, the clout, the name recognition that could get you published. But what will you be giving up? Your name goes on the cover. You are the one who will be explaining why the plot missed the mark…for eternity. You have to make that decision.

My advice: First, find a way to explain to the agent/publisher exactly why you can’t change that major plot point. Thank them for pointing out the fact you didn’t write that part clear enough and say that you will tweak that section. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself: What do I value most?

And remember: Your agent might be wrong.