Saturday, January 13, 2018

So You Want to be a Writer...

I get a lot of private messages from people wanting to write books. I try to answer as well as I can. I don't really have the time or the patience to devote to mentoring, but Hey...we all have to start somewhere. It is NOT lost on me that if my former critique partners hadn't given me a chance and taken the time to show me how it's REALLY done, I wouldn't be the writer I am today.

I wouldn't be just 'average'. I'd be worse than average. I'd be the painfully average writer who didn't understand why she sucked. Having straight A's in English and Literature doesn't automatically make you a good writer. It's more complicated than that. Also, if you want to be a writer, prepare to be humbled, no matter your skill level.

So the next time I get a message asking me about how to write a book, I think I will direct them to this blog. Here's a few pointers:

1. First of all: Accept criticism and advice. Especially if you requested it. Put your ego away. "No one became great by being told they were great." Stephen King. Even Mr. King himself doesn't get it right on the first draft.

Example: "Donna, you are not the narrator. Lose the 'God' voice. Real writers don't do that. You need to learn what a POV is." Incidentally, POV stands for 'Point of View'. I discovered I had to write from the character's viewpoint, not mine.

2. Do some research: Writing a fictional story in Egypt? Research their clothing,food, belief systems, everything. Is your book set in Salem, Massachusetts but you've never been there? Better Google Map it and  learn everything you can about the history--even if it doesn't coincide with the story you're writing. You'll still need atmosphere and texture. Writing about Dukes and Duchesses? Study everything about their caste system for starters. If you don't...someone who knows about it WILL call you out on it, and you are cheating your readers who are relying on you to give them a thorough experience through fiction. NOTE: If you are writing NON-fiction, based on your life and experience? Read books and quote others besides yourself. Why would anyone buy your advice based solely on your own experiences?

Example: Real Vikings never wore horns on their helmets. That's a movie thing. Real vikings were only about five foot six tall. They ate venison, duck, and berries. They were the first known humans to be able to consume milk from other animals--and that was goat milk.

3. Build a platform and practice: I give this advice a lot, but what does it mean? It means you start a blog or a newsletter and develop a social media presence. (Facebook, Twitter, Scrivner, Linked In, etc.) You let people know that you're out there in the world of writing and you have serious intentions. You will need a following and to connect with writers of your genre. You will also learn how to hone your craft and what your demographic/audience wants from you. This will also train you to write regularly. If you can't commit to a blog, how will you write a book?

Example/Personal Experience: Dive in. Don't be scared. PROMOTE yourself and advertise. Use the free social media at your fingertips to your advantage. Use it often. My biggest downfall in marketing is I have a hard time selling myself. I don't want to be that person, who is constantly hounding you to buy my book. Well...that's why I don't sell a lot of books. Don't be afraid to pass out bookmarks to everyone you meet and say, "Hey! I have a book and a blog and you should check it out!" NOTE: Vistaprint is a great, inexpensive way to create bookmarks and other promotional materials.

4. Believe in your own work:  I don't subscribe to the idea of "Never be caught learning to write." If you do that, you will never have the courage to publish, and you'll spend years working on something that will eventually outdate itself. Or worse? Someone else has the same idea and publishes first. Give it your best shot NOW and cringe later. This won't make you feel better, but most writers are highly critical of their own work--even after it's published.

Example/Personal experience: I know someone with a brilliant idea for a zombie series. He's been on it for over ten years. It's just not good enough yet. I told him to commit. Make it happen. Don't wait a few more years for it to be perfect, because there's no such thing as perfect. Do you want your legacy to be "Could have published a great zombie series?" Get an editor, or at least beta readers,  and get started.

5. Use better verbs and less obvious adjectives. Avoid cliches. Why say, "He hated her like the plague., and he wanted so badly to kill her. " When you could say, "He despised her and fantasized about burying her belly to the hilt of his sword." Much more graphic. Why say 'run' when you can say, sprinted, tore, raced or charged? The Thesaurus is your friend. Why use a worn metaphor? Why not use your own disgust to create one? Like, "I hated her like vermin on my last loaf of bread." or  if you're writing a modern piece, something like--" She drove me to madness, like the consistent drizzle of the bathroom faucet. The unrelenting hiss always reminded me of my grandmother's resentment." Something like that. Make it sound personal.

Example/Personal experience: While looking for another word in the dictionary, I tripped on the word "Perspicacious." I love that word, and I did realize that people would probably have to look it up if I used it. Then again, describing Dr. Thompson's perspicaciousness lent him memorable, creepy insight that made the reader aware of his uncanny intelligence and ability to predict the outcome of his plan. 

There are MANY more tips for writing, but it really comes down to this: How bad do you want it? If you think it's easy, think about the measly five points you've read here and whether or not you want to do them.  If you've skimmed over this blog and shirked them off as unimportant then maybe professional writing isn't for you.

If you're still excited, and still interested...Well...Welcome to the frustrating, mind-wracking, insomnia-inducing, yet still incredibly rewarding world of writing. I'm wishing you luck!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Bad Dreams/New Year

I'm having a midlife crisis brought on by a bad dream.

I dreamed I was seventeen again, and back at my high school  locker. The locker between the Industrial Arts class and the Home Economics class. Mr. Chichak was still alive, but I never saw him.

There was a massive jukebox blocking the exit. I would go to that jukebox everyday, spending money on songs I liked even though I was wearing my Sony Walkman with my favorite Metal cassettes in my pockets. I approached it everyday, noticing that every week the songs changed until I didn't recognize anything in the selection. The titles became gibberish, and all that was left were guitar instrumentals on mix tapes.

That upset me, but I made a decision. I could learn to LIKE those songs. I could change my mind. Maybe....I could change who I was, adapt. Conform. Just a bit.

MAYBE I could suck things up and stay home. Maybe I could graduate. Maybe if I just kept quiet and sucked it up, I wouldn't have to work minimum wage jobs with maximum physical effort that caused me to drop weight at alarming speeds and force me to work even when pulled muscles and aching tendons screamed at me to rest.

Maybe I'd already be a successful writer with more than four titles. Maybe I'd be a BETTER writer. Maybe I'd be someone else, and just father would still be alive. Or maybe it wouldn't have been such a vicious shock when he died. Maybe maybe maybe.

I cried for two days. I'd like to thank Colleen and my mother for making it stop, but it's still bugging me. Who would I have been?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Earth to Thoeba: Re-Start

Earth to Thoeba: Re-Start: This will be my third attempt to write a Christmas/New Year's blog. I found that as Christmas approached and winter closed in it got h...


This will be my third attempt to write a Christmas/New Year's blog. I found that as Christmas approached and winter closed in it got harder and harder to stay upbeat and not to leak my anger and self pity into this blog.

The truth is, this year, all the fiction I wrote was one single Drabble. 100 words. Don't worry, I've still been editing a bit. Until I spent two months working graveyard shift at a toy store. (Oddly rewarding and educational.) Then edits fell by the wayside.

I only have one New Year's resolution this year. I need to rekindle my passion for writing. I need to let go of my guilt and regrets. I need to give myself permission to be kinder to myself. There's so much I haven't said, but I'm not here to bring people down. I'm here to tell you I will write again. I'm here to tell you I'm returning to my edits in the hopes that I can get 'Her True Name: Volume Two' out soon. I'm going to continue work on my anthology about my dreams.

Thank you Sharon, Sherri and Judy,  Jesse and Michelle, and always Mel, Colleen, Sylvia, Rita, Kevin and Ashley for being there when my father passed, and for sticking with me and supporting me. Thank you to my husband Dan and my perfect cats Freya and Spartacus for the much needed cuddles.

Happy New Year and I'll see you all in 2018.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

For the Love of Pears!

It was a cold and rainy summer. Somehow, the pear tree that grows next to me--the one my neighbor has almost decided is mine produced a scary abundance this year. It's good that I wasn't working.
I have no idea how many I picked. I gave away seven bags to friends. I canned, and gave away countless more.

Pinterest was my precious tool...until the end of pear season when I discovered EVEN MORE pear recipes I really could have used. At least I'm fully armed for next year. And I'll be calling Fruit by Sherbrooke as soon as they start dropping.

That's less than half of it.

I got off easier when I found this canning recipe: The Easy Way to Can pears  But I also made my famous Pear Liqueur:http://DIY Pear Liqueur But do you think I could find real vanilla bean anywhere? I used cinnamon sticks until that ran out. Then I went to my local Halal store and purchased real cinnamon, which I can't find now. The universe is telling me to 'Stahp!'.
Not all of it. Just the cool bottles.

I made four of these: Pear Custard Pie and my husband was addicted, until he wasn't anymore. STAHP. And I literally made ten loaves of this: Pear Loaf and a few Pear Dump Cakes, which is a layer of pears with a pre-boxed cake batter and some cinnamon thrown in.

And There's still a third of them lying on the ground, too abused to use because it was also windy this year and they hit the sidewalk and other various concrete garden fixtures with ferocious velocity.

I'm glad it's over before I started dreaming about them. It's true that the last few days have seemed strange because I have not done any pear related chores. Now I can go back to editing.

Oh RIGHT!!   I almost forgot! I can now go back to writing and writing related things that don't involve pears! Enjoy the recipes. I for one don't want to see another pear until next year.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Earth to Thoeba: The Thing About Edits

Earth to Thoeba: The Thing About Edits: Yay! You've finished your novel! It took you months, maybe a year or so. You've overcome the dry spells, the self doubt, and const...

The Thing About Edits

Yay! You've finished your novel! It took you months, maybe a year or so. You've overcome the dry spells, the self doubt, and constant revisions. You've added extra details and removed superfluous sentences. You gave some characters more to say, and eliminated others. You remembered to show, not tell.

Or did you? Now that you're gazing lovingly at your finished manuscript, it's time to look it over and berate yourself on what a clumsy, amateurish job you did. Oh, edits are fun.

You give it a good once over. Check your spelling, and count the sensory details. (Crap! Excuse me, I have to check Freya's reaction to her new environment in the Prologue. Don't forget to describe the setting.) Make sure the five senses are represented, and if applicable, include the sixth sense hunches and feelings.

Another run. This time you read it outloud, checking for grammar and flow. Did that sentence make sense as you read it? Did everything mesh together properly? Or were there pieces that pulled you out of the moment? Would an Old Norse Viking use the word 'demented'? No. They use the word 'beserk', and it's okay to use it more than once. Put the Thesaurus down.

Third run. NOW, we're in the thick of it. Read it like a reader, not a writer. It looks different. Are you pulled in? Are you bored? Why? Today, it was show and not tell. Fix it with a dialog between the characters about how they're feeling about arriving on Earth for the first time. Pick apart every sentence. You find a sentence you don't like, and you realize it's because it uses a lame cliche. Why say 'incomprehensible babble' when you can say 'words that fell from his mouth rolled, pitching high and low in an incomprehensible deluge. Like a song.' Answer your own questions. Like why doesn't anyone believe Heimo when he tells the villagers that naked strangers have arrived? Because one sentence claims Heimo has seen fairies. No one believes that either.

When that exhausting exercise is finished, you'll probably go over it again. Just to be sure. Because you're going to send it to Beta readers, people who love to read and will give you important feedback about your carefully polished offering. If they care about you and your work, they'll be brutally honest. Put your ego aside. This is your audience. If they find flaws, examine and correct them. Remember--"No one ever became great by being told they were great." --Stephen King (I think.) 

So we're done now? No. Hand it all over to a professional editor, and squirm as they take your baby and manipulate it into something palatable for the masses. Anyone who trusts their own objectivity and publishes without this step is an arrogant fool. Besides, it will only enhance your work, and make you look that much more talented. If you have a good editor, you'll barely be able to see them in the final product. 

I'm in the third edits of Her True Name: Volume Two. I just finished Chapter One, and it took all day. Here's a sad fact about edits...You'll never quite be satisfied. While I'm here writing advice, I'm clicking back to those pages I did today and tweaking them as I am reminded to practice what I preach. (Ooh...such a bad cliche! This blog is full of them.) 

Here's a happy fact about editing. It's hard work, but I'm glad to be doing it. I feel like myself, and I feel accomplished. If you wrote the book, edits are just a good way to make it the very best you can offer the world. Don't rush. Just enjoy the improvements, and know it's worth it.