Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Bonified

In Lucy Worsley’s biography of Agatha Christie, we learned that Christie always wrote “married woman” in the “occupation” line on her passport. How did you navigate going public with being a writer? 

by Dietrich


Around the time of my first novel, Ride the Lightning, somebody asked me, “So, what do you do?” And it felt odd saying that I was a writer. It had taken many short stories and a completed novel for me to say it aloud — more importantly — believing it myself. So, I had to adjust my own definition of myself, at least in terms of what I did for work.


Sure, we all go deeper than what we do for a living, and writing feels like more than just an occupation. It’s a passion — an occu-passion. I think any creative endeavor is that, coming from our depths, from our hearts and souls. It may be work, but it never feels like a job.


Telling somebody that I’m a writer is usually followed with, “So, what do you write?” And then, “What’s your book about?” The first time I was asked that question, I had trouble answering it, and it taught me to always have a pitch ready. It’s not that I expected the person to rush to the bookstand and buy a copy. It’s just that it felt dumb to bumble through the storyline with a lot of uhm and ahh, and with a good chance of sounding like I didn’t know what the story was about myself —  one that I just spent the better part of a year writing. So these days, I always have a short pitch ready for when somebody asks.


Another thing that felt strange was putting that down on my income tax form for the first time. Occupation: writer.  

With the first novel out there, I got to work on the follow-up novel. It just felt like a natural thing for me to do, and I was eager to get to it. And that eagerness has stayed with me every day since.


There were other affirmations that I was going down the right road, like seeing that first book on a store or library shelf. Being asked to sign a copy. Then along came some positive reviews, followed with kind comments from readers, followed by interviews, getting asked to give readings, and being invited to participate in writers’ festivals.


Then there’s also the tremendous support of the writing community — folks who’ve gone done the same road. 


And there’s the support on the home front — something I’m fortunate to get in spades. In fact, I don’t think I would be writing now without that. Where would any of us be without that kind of support?

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Writer, What Else?

 

Terry here, with the topic for this week: In Lucy Worsley’s biography of Agatha Christie, we learned that Christie always wrote “married woman” in the “occupation” line on her passport. How did you navigate going public with being a writer? 

 It’s hard to imagine that the prolific and unendingly popular Agatha Christie identified her occupation as “married woman.” By that standard, I suppose Jane Austen was “unmarried woman.” Dick Francis was “retired jockey.” Wallace Stevens? “Insurance salesman.” No matter how many mystery novels Bill Clinton could write, he will always be “former POTUS.” 

 Can you imagine a male writer, even one who has never published, as dubbing himself “Married man” as occupation? 

Is it possible that Miss Christie wrote that tongue in cheek? 

I never had any qualms about dubbing myself “writer” in the line for “occupation.” That was after I had burned out from being a computer programmer/analyst. Long before I was published, I proudly wrote “writer,” because in fact that’s what occupied me. I suppose there was a time when I could have written “mothering a horrible child,” which at one time seemed to take up all my time, but I didn't.




 I even wonder why “occupation” is listed on passports. Is it to weed out spies? Assassins? Smugglers? (“Oh, thank goodness we asked for occupation on the passport form! This guy says he’s a smuggler. We’re going to have to have a chat with him.” Cue ominous music). Maybe it’s to trip up people. (Oh, God, I’m actually a spy, but I can’t remember what I put on my passport. Chef? Horse trainer? Philosopher?) 

At one time I read a ridiculous argument about whether a published writer should call herself “writer” or “author.” My thought? Who cares? The occupation of a writer is to write. From the time I was a kid, I always declared that someday I would be a writer, so making the leap to actually saying that was my occupation was never a problem. 

What was a problem is that it took years of writing before I was published. People I hadn’t seen for a while would say, “Still writing?” (Uncomfortable moment follows—for me, at least). Then the miserable, “yes.” Hoping fervently that there would be no more questions on the matter. I was actually grateful to the occasional person who would tell me confidentially that they had a great idea for a story, and that they’d be glad to share it with me. Anything to divert attention from the fact that yes, I was endlessly writing, with nothing more than several “close, but no cigar” moments to show for it. 

I even had one friend who said to me as kindly as possible that she didn’t think she could continue to strive at something that never brought any rewards. My husband said the same thing. Ouch. And yet, I continued to think of myself as a writer and call myself a writer. 

Will I ever write “retired?” I don’t think so. I picture myself with the doctor standing by my bedside pronouncing me dead and me muttering, “Not yet. I have another paragraph to write.”

Sunday, February 5, 2023

In the Public Eye

In Lucy Worsley’s biography of Agatha Christie, we learned that Christie always wrote “married woman” in the “occupation” line on her passport. How did you navigate going public with being a writer? 

Brenda at the keyboard.

One only has to hear the intrusive stories of exploitation that some people in the public eye have suffered to know that privacy needs to be protected. Fame can be an incredible burden.Think of Princess Diana, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck (first time around), Harry and Meghan ... cautionary tales all. The trick is to balance publicity and getting your name/book out there, with keeping your private life private -- to draw a line between business and personal.

Luckily, authors usually maintain anonymity, even the famous ones. I recall a story where someone was on a bus and kept looking at this woman sitting alone, wondering could it be? The woman finally stood to get off the bus but before she did, she leaned in to the person who'd been staring at her and said, "Yes, it really is me." Margaret Atwood then stepped off the bus and that was that. Urban legend made. So even Canada's most famous author still maintains a normal life and travels around Toronto in relative anonymity.

I write a weekly blog (taking the summers off) and decided early on that I wasn't going to get too personal. I write about 'the writing life' and the odd thing going on in my life, but I don't go deep. I keep personal opinions to myself when it comes to politics and the myriad of topics impacting our lives. I don't talk about my family, except surface-level stuff, and am always aware that once information is 'out there' in this social media society, you can't take it back.

Speaking of social media, I have a public Facebook author page as well as a private Facebook page where I connect with friends and post the odd more personal photo or comment that I do not post on the public page. I have two Instagram accounts with much the same set up, although I use the personal page rarely. I'm mainly posting on Twitter and Instagram for publicity.

As for being recognized by strangers for my writing, it's happened a few surprising times, but I wouldn't say this is the norm by any means. Even in my own neighbourhood, unless people know me, they have no idea I write murder mysteries. My first book was released in 2004, and I've been featured many times in local media, but still walk around unrecognized. I don't anticipate this will ever change :-) One thing that helps is that I kept my own surname when I got married, and many don't realize my husband's and daughters' last name is different from mine (which is also my author name).

On a final note, being Canadian, people in this country respect people's privacy for the most part, whether famous or not. There's generally a strong desire not to interrupt, intrude or offend. On the other hand, people here are strongly supportive of writers and help to quietly spread the word about books they like, especially if they know the writer personally, have seen them at an event, or met them out and about. It's not fame exactly, but heart-warming nonetheless to have a community of people cheering you on behind the scenes.

Website: www.brendachapman.ca

Instagram & Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman


Friday, February 3, 2023

Everything is Personal, or Should Be, by Josh Stallings

Q: Now that 2022 is well and truly "in the books" (!) did you learn any business tips you can pass on?


A: Many years ago at Bouchercon I was asked to read at a Noir at  the Bar; I said yes. Writer’s tip #1, always say yes to readings. The bar was stacked with loudly drunk non-crime readers. The first couple of readers couldn’t be heard from five feet away. As my turn came, Tom Pluck, friend and writer extraordinaire, yelled in my ear, “Fuck the mic, be loud.” He had sussed out that the PA was garbling more than helping the readers. Tip #2, make friends with fellow writers, they will cover your back even when you don’t know you need them to. I set the mic on the bar, filled my lungs and projected into the room. Tip #3, part of a writer’s job is public speaking, if it doesn’t come naturally take some speech classes. What I didn’t know was that Scott Montgomery was in the bar. I knew of him but I’m not sure if we’d met yet. After the reading he came up to me and complimented my work. I thanked him, and gave him a copy of my book. Tip #4, always carry copies of your work and give them away. Scott has since become a good friend, he knows more about crime fiction than almost anyone I know. For many years he was head honcho of Mystery People, a book store inside Austin’s massive Book People. He hand sold over two hundred copies of TRICKY. I have been honored to do events in Texas with Scott and the likes of Terry Shames, Joe R. Lansdale and many others. 


For us writers who haven’t become household names, we need to make the personal outreach. Wether in a bar, from a panel stage, or at a bookstore we need to reach readers, intrigue them, make them cry or laugh. To do this we need to be our genuine selves. Life is full of hucksters and pitch monsters. They fill our phones with their robocalls and texts. We are immune to their sales tactics. Readers are smart critical thinkers, so I always try to be myself. Both when I’m “pitching” and when I’m writing. My personal view of the world, my odd syntax, my open hearted hard man is unlike anyone else's.


Ideas are easy. Find your voice. Own it. Your  approach will ultimately set you apart from others.


NOTE: I feel like we toss writerly words around without knowing if we all agree on their meaning. When I say VOICE, I mean more than word choice or short or long sentences. How we write is part of voice, but what we write about, how we feel about the world is a huge part of a writer’s voice. Part of my writing time is spent stringing words together, and part of my day is spent thinking about the world I’m writing about. The hardest part about writing Tricky was all the interviews I did and the nonfiction books I read to come to an understanding of how I felt about the current state of policing in America.


Last tip; I often think when in the middle of a book, if I get hit by a train tomorrow will I be glad I spent my final days working on this book? If not then I dig deeper. The book I chose to write isn’t wrong, I just haven't discovered the true heart of it yet. 


What does this last part have to do with business tips? 


Um, everything. Agents, editors, publishers and most importantly readers scour the shelves for pages that will move them. We all want to discover something new yet familiar, unique and yet universal. That begins with the writer’s voice and passion.


Don’t waste any more time trying to understand the market. Dig deeper. Discover your corner of the quilt and get to stitching.




Thursday, February 2, 2023

Simon Says: Don't be Trouble (or Strife), by Catriona

Now that 2022 is well and truly in the books (!), did you learn any business tips you can pass on?

You know how tins of food used to have "serving suggestions" depicted on the labels? (Maybe they still do.) And it was always stuff like "Why not serve this Spam on a plate with some side vegetables?" or "Why not serve this soup in a bowl with a bit of parsley on top?" 

Well, asking me for business tips is like looking at soup tins for recipes, instead of reading a cookbook. Seriously, Cathy, Gabriel and Susan are your best bet till Josh weighs in tomorrow.

But I'll try. 

The KJV has a quote for everything!

1. Last year, I hit on the brilliant idea of writing down in a wee book how many payments I was due in a two-book deal or whatever, along with the rough dates to expect them, so I could cross them off when the money arrived. That's the level I'm starting from, folks.

2. If your books are issued in large print, always give the spare copies to a public library. Large print books are really expensive and library budgets are tight. If you save them the money on your LPs they might spend some on your ordinary hardbacks. Even if not, they will spend it on books, which keeps people reading, which is good business for writers.

My favourite large print edition

3. Trick yourself into dealing with your admin however you have to do it. Set aside an evening every week; clear your inbox every morning; deal with receipts on the last day of the month; email yourself a note of everything you have to do and keep a TO DO tab that you check regularly . . . It doesn't matter how you organise yourself, but get organised.

It's an extension of the old "write drunk; edit sober". We could call it "write drunk; edit sober; admin anal." But let's not. Apart from anything else, you can't have two semi-colons in a sentence without a colon to introduce the list.

It's a sub-tip of my main tip which is:

4. Be like Simon Wood. Simon is a Brit in NorCal, like me, whom I've known for years and who has the best business advice for traditionally published authors I've ever heard. We share nothing about process when it comes to the craft of writing, but Simon's approach to the business of being a writer in the world of publishing is gold. Basically, he says never blow a deadline, never ignore an email, never flake on a commitment, never be obnoxious at an event (and know if drinking makes that likely), and always treat everyone at the publisher with unfailing respect and professionalism. make sure that if your book is good but the publisher is swithering, nothing about working with you tips the scales the wrong way.

Keep reading for a giveaway!

It's the other thing we're in control of in this wild world: we can write our best books and we can make sure we're not a heartsink of myopic entitlement artistic temperament for the people who're in charge of the rest.

Are there multiple examples of writers who wrote solid enough stuff but ensured that no one would want to work with them? Oh yes. Find me in the bar at Left Coast Crime or Malice Domestic and I'll tell you.

5. A bit of promotion never hurts. So I'm offering a copy of Simon's short story anthology, with contributions from Steve Brewer, Susanna Calkins, Colin Campbell, Angel Luis Colon, Robert Dugoni, Paul Finch, Travis Richardson, Johnny Shaw, Jay Stringer, Sam Wiebe, Simon and me. Just comment here or on Facebook or Twitter to enter.

6. A bit of topical bragging is okay sometimes too.

This is up for a Lefty!

7.  As long as you don't overdo it.

This is up for a Lefty and an Agatha!

Cx


Wednesday, February 1, 2023

It's called "work" for a reason... by Cathy Ace

Now that 2022 is well and truly "in the books" (!) did you learn any business tips you can pass on?

Business tips are tricky, because, quite often, they are only really helpful given a quite specific set of circumstances. That being said, here are a few things I learned that you might find helpful:

DO NOT get overwhelmed when you’re reading about how phenomenal other authors are at their writing output.

This might not sound like “business advice” but it is, for authors, because writing is their business. Some authors – believe it or not – write and publish a dozen or more a books per year. Bear in mind they might have spent years writing them all, then are using a rapid release strategy because that’s what their target market demands/expects/wants. Other authors will write and publish one book every two years. Again, maybe they have a life plan that means they won’t be writing for the whole of those two years. So – slow release or fast release doesn’t necessarily signify current workload. And we, as authors, need to write the right number of books for us, according to how we want to live our lives. I have learned I can only write and publish a MAXIMUM of two to three books per year and not lose my grip on either reality or sanity – if you can write less, fine, if you can write more, go for it – but I have learned I have to be content to be me.

DO NOT get overwhelmed when you’re reading about how wonderful/active other authors are at their promotional effort.

When I had traditional publishers, they had a whole promotional department to work on my behalf, which organised my international book tours, advertising campaigns, appearances on local and national television chat shows…oh no, hang on, that wasn’t me…that was the author who signed a million dollar contract with one of the Big 5 publishers, who couldn’t be seen to fail! LOL! Silly me – I was the author who got a thirtieth share of the time of one overworked promotional person who did their best with miniscule budgets…and had to do the rest of it myself either out of my own pocket, or for free. Now that I self publish, everything is down to me…and I still need time to write enough to keep new books coming out. So – I have learned to breathe, accept that I cannot do everything, and now try to promote my work “smarter”.

DO consider ways you might be able to promote your work to readers beyond Facebook and Twitter.

As recent events have shown, if an author relies too much upon one channel of communication, they might find the people they need to speak to removing themselves from that platform for any number of reasons. A good author website that’s kept up to date, and building a mailing list for a newsletter that contains special offers, and actual NEWS, as well as an insight into one’s life and writing are both important, and often overlooked. That said, it’s critical to know how to reach your readers/potential readers: my books are NOT read by those who use TikTok, so it’s pointless me using it, for example.

DO whatever you can to try to work out who is reading your books, and how they choose to get their hands on them.

Libraries are important to society as well as readers and authors – I believe this deep in my bones. Do you know how many libraries have your books? Does your country have a way for you to make an income from this (Canada and the UK have funding for authors whose works are found on library stock lists, for example.) If people are buying your books do they buy print or digital? Where do they buy those books? If you have a traditional publisher, work with them to help you understand this – because then you can better target that time-sucking promotional effort. If you’re self-publishing, you can gather this information from your own data. And, boy, have I learned a lot this way – for example, I know that for my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, libraries want hardcover vs paperback, buy them soon after release date, and buy multiple copies; by far the most sales are digital, through amazon vs Kobo vs Nook, with about 50% of sales in the USA, 30% in the UK, and the rest split fairly evenly between Canada and Australia/NZ. And the digital to print sales ratio? About 100:1 Knowing this? Priceless!

Not every writer wants to be involved in the business of publishing...BUT I BELIEVE THEY SHOULD AT LEAST UNDERSTAND IT.

While we all have to do our bit in terms of promotional effort (try keeping a traditional publisher happy without doing this!) for some, the craft and process of writing is where they want most of their focus to be – which is fine. So the business of publishing isn’t what you’re interested in – but that might leave you high and dry in the long run, so I urge you to read about the business you’re participating in and learn as much as you can about it. I recommend Jane Friedman’s website to everyone I can: it contains most of the answers, and direction for those areas where you want to learn more. KUDOS to her!  https://www.janefriedman.com/blog/

As for me? I have ANOTHER new book coming out:

On 20th February 2023, the 7th WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery will be published – the cover is above, and the blurb appears below. 

It’s available for pre-order NOW!

Click here to access pre-order links

‘IT MURDERED ONE OF OUR GUESTS, AND NOW IT’S TRIED TO KILL MY HUSBAND. YOU HAVE TO STOP IT!’ 

When the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency are approached by the desperate owner of a rental cottage in a picturesque Welsh seaside hamlet, they agree to help. After all, there can’t be any such thing as a killer cottage, can there? But a cursed cottage? Isn’t that just as unlikely? They’re about to find out…when Christine and Annie take up residence.

Meanwhile, Carol goes undercover to investigate a day spa at a swish country hotel with some dangerous treatments on offer, leaving Mavis to stake out a man who might be incapacitated because of a work-related accident, or might just be a malingerer; will this bricklayer become belligerent if he spots her on the job?

While our engaging private investigators are busy with paying clients, it looks as though it’s going to fall to Henry, eighteenth duke of Chellingworth, to try to solve the riddle of the missing christening mugs, which is a priority as far as his mother the dowager is concerned.

Early spring in Wales is a busy time for the WISE women – join them to find out how they cope, in this, the seventh book in the series.

Want to get all my news, and exclusive sneak-peeks FIRST? Sign up for my newsletter by visiting my website: https://www.cathyace.com/





Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Lessons Learned in 'The Business' in 2022

 

Now that 2022 is well and truly “in the books” (!) did you learn any business tips you can pass on?

 


This author’s public life has been a work in progress. I created a short listicle from practice areas where I am constantly learning. As I strive to improve my writing, I strive to continuously improve my digital footprint and the perception of my work and myself as an author. Any one of the bullets below are worthy of a full-length post, but I think you’ll get the idea without me having to belabor the obvious.

 

 

The Do and Don’ts of Blurbs

My view on the matter: Asking for them is like dating, you won’t know until you ask. Blurbs are a marketing tool to lure readers to your work.

 

·      Don’t wait to the last minute

·      Don’t make the blurb about prestige

·      Be professional with your request, in person or by email

o   Conferences are an excellent time to request a blurb

o   Don’t underestimate the face-to-face encounter

o   Target authors like or similar to what you write

·      Provide a clean and edited manuscript

·      Provide Word count (so they can estimate time-commitment)

·      Set expectation and propose a Target date

·      Provide a short description of your work (a mini-pitch of 100 words)

·      Never take it personal if a fellow author says No

o   Authors are busy people

o   Authors have their own deadlines

·      Store your blurbs in one place (The Credibility File)

·      Writing a blurb is hard work

o   If you write one, look at the latest fad in wording and avoid them (example: ‘propulsive’)

o   Make comparisons for the reader. It is X meets Y

·      Say “Thank you”

·      Promote the writers who promote you

 

 

Social Media

·      Work the platform where you are most comfortable (FB, IG, Twitter)

·      Check to make sure you tag the right person on Social Media

o   I keep two tabs open when I tweet

·      Use images or make graphics because they are more memorable

o   I use Canva, and search Unsplash for royalty-free graphics

·      Create content as opposed to always Retweeting someone else

·      Don’t scream BUY MY BOOK All. The. Time. (obnoxious)

·      Leverage your tweet

o   Give #shoutouts to:

§  Publishers

§  Authors who blurb the books

§  Fellow authors in an anthology

§  Local writing organizations

§  Local MWA chapter

§  Local Sisters in Crime

§  Other authors mentioned, if in an article (example: Crime Reads)

·      Communicate INFORMATION about Events

o   The 5 W:

§  Who

§  What

§  When (Don’t forget Time Zones)

§  Where

§  Why

·      Use an URL short-link

·      Make your tweet readable and not a string of hashtags

·      Use trending tags strategically

o   Example: I pimp my cat Munchkin on #Caturday

·      Be consistent and CREATE AN EXPERIENCE for the visitor (that is your brand)

o   I use humor on FB because I want visitors to have their first smile of the day seeing my page

 

Be PROFESSIONAL & Positive

·      Avoid political screeds, troll wars, and pile-ons [waste of energy]

·      Be cautious with humor and sensitive to tone in your wording, especially in emails

·      Act as if someone is always watching (readers, reviewers, and agents)

·      Everything on the web lives FOREVER

Monday, January 30, 2023

Two Paths to Getting Your Books Out There

 Q: Now that 2022 is well and truly "in the books" (!) did you learn any business tips you can pass on?

-from Susan

 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned more than I’d known about book contracts and the role of agents. If you’re going the traditional publishing route, I think having an agent to present your manuscript is a great benefit. Then, having her or him negotiate for you is great. I say that knowing 1. how hard it is to get an agent in the first place; and 2. that not all agents have the same experience, skills, and determination to go to bat for you before you sign a contract.

 

What my agent showed me in the last couple of years is, no, you don’t have to settle for the initial offer. Your agent can – and really should – listen to what’s most important to you and then be in direct communication with the publisher regarding the amount of the advance, how royalties will be calculated, and what ancillary rights will be yours or theirs. For audio books, I found out the author can almost always negotiate the right to audition and approve voice actors. She made that happen for me.

 

The second best thing about having an agent is not having to deal with the awkwardness of saying out loud what you want and hearing silence and worrying you’ve just lost the deal entirely. The best thing is having an agent who loves your work and will go out and fight for you. 

 

So that’s what I’ve learned from the traditional publishing route. Now to self-publishing.

 

I’ve gotten the rights back to my first series from the generous previous publishers who didn’t insist I pay anything, and am in the midst of getting an entire new edition of the Dani O’Rourke series ready for e-book and POD sales. I chose to start with an entirely new graphic marketing strategy. My art director is Brian Shea, my son and an active, successful book designer. I chose not to have clip art or cartoon style illustrations and the illustrator he hired is giving the Dani O’Rourke covers a fresh, unexpected look that, along with the marketing I have to do, may pick up new readers, younger readers who are more Dani’s age than mine. Cover reveals to come.

 

It's more expensive to go this route, with custom illustrations and an art director but I’ve learned that doing anything well, when selling is your goal, does cost at least some money. For me, not having to learn a lot of new systems and do all the work while working on other manuscript projects is the right call. I hope other Minds, especially Cathy Ace, who has practically her own publishing empire, is going to share some of her tips. I’ll be reading her post this week!








 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

  

By Abir

 

 

This week’s topic asks us to offer writing tips for absolute beginners.

 

 

I have to start with a confession. I am so ancient now, and it’s been so long since that first fateful start I made to writing, that any advice I might have to give (eg. keeping a supply of parchment or sharpened quills handy) might be out of date, or simply the misremembered memories of a decrepit old fool. I’ll still try my best to give sage advice, but like anything coming out of the UK these days, it’s best to take it all with a pinch of salt.

 

Right, caveats out of the way, let’s get to it.

 

1.Find the time 


If you’re writing a novel, that’s probably 80,000 words or more. That’s a big investment of time, probably with no guarantees that your work will ever be published. If the average author writes between a thousand and two thousand words a day, that’s a commitment of several months at the very least, and that’s writing every day. In practice it might take far longer, especially if you’ve a day job and family commitments. My first draft took over a year to write, and it was hard finding the time to write while juggling all my other commitments. I’d recommend ring-fencing a period of time each week, even if it’s just a few hours on a Saturday, when you can shut out all distractions and just write. The routine will be helpful, and when you’re not writing, you can be thinking about what comes next. I know several best-selling authors who started off writing just a few hours a week because that was the only time they had spare. 

 

2. Find a space


Just as important as finding time to write, is finding the right environment – a quiet place, free of distractions. Maybe you’ll have music on, maybe you won’t. What matters is that you associate that place and that mood with writing. I have a friend who writes in his study, late at night, with only a table lamp for light, and the Batman soundtrack for company. It’s weird, but it works for him. Find your place and set your mood.

 

3. Get your story straight…or don’t


Your first novel can be daunting. It might help to work out your plot in advance, doing your research, filling as many holes as you can before you start, so that the journey of actual writing is as smooth as possible. Even now, I tend to spend a few months researching and thinking about a story before I ever put finger to keyboard (or quill to parchment). I find it helps keep up the momentum of writing, and momentum is important. Having said that, other people prefer just to dive in and see where the story takes them. There’s a lot to be said for this spontaneous approach. I just find it harder.

 

4. Keep Going


You might have the best plot, the best hook, the best story ever, but none of it means a thing unless you get those words down. You need to keep writing, even through the inevitable crises of confidence that all writers suffer from. There will be time to fix whatever you’ve written later; to polish it into the gem of a novel that it can be. Before that though, you need to get the words down, so just keep going.

 

5. Don’t show it to anyone until it’s done


This is important. This is vital. We all have this urge to share our work with others – a partner, a friend, whoever – we want to know what they think; we’d love to bask in their praise; we want feedback etc. so we send them a chapter, or the first five thousand words to read. DON’T DO IT! Wait. Wait until it’s finished. I say that for several reasons. Firstly, a lot of the impetus for writing comes from the wish to share it with the world. The problem is, the minute you show some of it to someone, some of that need is satiated; some of that impetus is lost. Secondly, what’s the point of showing them a part finished work anyway? If they love you, they’ll probably tell you it’s brilliant, regardless of what they might really think. And if they say they hate it, then what? You might go back to the drawing board, or you might stop altogether. Either way, do they know what they’re talking about? 

 

I think showing your work to others before it’s finished makes it a bit harder to keep going. So fight the urge!

 

6. Have Fun


Writing is our love; our passion. When you become a professional writer, it’s sometimes easy to forget that. When you’re starting out, there are no boundaries; no agents or editors telling you what to write or how to write. So, indulge yourself. Write what you want, the way you want. Your first time is special. You’ll never have this opportunity again, so make the most of it. Have fun.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Six Bits of Writing Advice from James W. Ziskin

This week’s topic asks us to offer writing tips for absolute beginners.


TOUGH LOVE

1. Take your writing seriously

Treat it as if it’s a job. Be professional. That means sitting down and writing. You can’t say you’re an NBA player if you don’t play in the NBA. By the same token, you can’t say you’re a writer if you don’t write. I’m not talking about finding a  publisher for your work. And I’m not saying you have to be a good writer or that you have to write every day. But you have to write.


2. Keep track of your production

I’ve written in this space many times before how I maintain a spreadsheet to track my daily word count. I use the data—averages and totals—for inspiration. On days when I’m tired and not in the mood to work, the spreadsheet might show me that I have a good string of consecutive writing days going. Well I certainly don’t want to break the momentum, so I force myself to write something. At least 300 words, even if it’s at the end of the day. The streak continues and I feel better about my writing. Plus the book progresses. It’s a marathon, so you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. (That’s a metaphor for the writing process.) ;-)


3. Revise relentlessly

If you don’t revise, you probably won’t be a good writer. It’s an essential part of writing. As important as the first draft. Revision isn’t something you can leave to someone else to do. “Oh, that’s for the editor to worry about.” No. You won’t even have an editor if you don’t polish your work. If you’re not committed to revising your work, you’re ignoring half the writing process. Think of golf. What if you only like to hit the ball as far as you can? Nothing is sweeter than swinging from the heels and watching that little ball rocket off into the distance. Yes, the drive is important in golf, but what about putting? You hate putting. No patience for it. Couldn’t care less about it. If that’s true, you’ll be a rotten golfer. You’ll reach the green in regulation then three-put, four-put, or worse. Double and triple bogeys will make it hard to break a hundred. That’s not good golf, just as rough, sloppy, flabby manuscripts are not good writing. But they could be with lots of revision.

4. Read voraciously

Let’s be honest. If you don’t read, this isn’t the calling for you. How many chefs don’t enjoy food? How many winemakers don’t drink wine? Read. Then read some more. It will broaden your horizons and you’ll learn. You’ll gain insights into the creative process and writing techniques. You can’t help but absorb those.

5. Know what you don’t know

Easier said than done, but essential nevertheless. This falls under revision and research. Your words and facts need to be correct. And the best way to accomplish that is to doubt yourself at every turn. Every word. Check your work. Make sure what you believe is correct actually is. There are few things more dangerous than thinking you’re right when you’re not. Just ask the bomb defuser—now a smudge on the pavement— who was certain—100% certain—it was the blue wire, not the red one, that needed to be cut.

6. Don’t give up

Have you ever lost anything? Of course you have. Your keys, your phone, your glasses. And have you ever found that lost item? Congratulations! And where was it? In the very last place you looked. If you’d given up your search before looking in that last place, you never would have found it, And that’s how it works with a writing career. You can only succeed for the first time after your very last failure. Don’t give up.


Feel free to add your tips in the comments.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

If it’s in there, get it out.

A lot of folks will have resolved that 2023 is THE year when they write the book they have inside them. Any tips for absolute beginners?

by Dietrich


If you feel the urge to write, don’t let anybody tell you different, especially that little voice in the back of the head.


Don’t put it off, and don’t kick the can down the road. Sit down and get started. Be in it for the long-haul and have fun every inch of the way.


You work at home, so there are plenty of distractions. Don’t play with the cat, switch off the phone, and stay away from the internet. I like to crank up the music before I start. I know that’s not going to be for everyone, I get that, but it’s good to find whatever works to help get yourself into that writing zone.


Don’t aim for War and Peace. Do some trial and error, find what works — find your voice. I wrote short stories, quite a few of them, trying to find what worked for me.  


Read the kind of books you want to write — and read a lot of them. Personally, I love to read fiction, non-fiction, biographies and autobiographies. There’s so much inspiration in any great book. And there are some good how-to books too. If you haven’t, check out Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s like the how-to bible for writers. 


And there are classes and courses that are worth checking out, many of them online. 


Refrain from reading the daily noise, and anything else that might distract, depress, or keep you from planting that bum in the chair.


Find a mentor. Meet some published writers. They hang out at writers’ conferences, festivals, writers’ events. They’re generally a fun and helpful bunch and easy to approach — especially in a bar.


Create your own best set-up for writing. A desk, a quiet corner, and if possible, find the best time of day to write. And by all means, jot down those little ideas that come to mind, and keep them handy.


Don’t be in a rush to send your masterpiece off in hopes of finding an agent or publishing house. Get it right first. There’s nothing worse than sending something off that has potential before it’s ready. It’s like self-sabotage and a set-up for hearing, “No thanks.”


If you’ve been out of school for awhile, you may want to brush up on your grammar. 


When you get through a first draft, set it aside for a few days before going back through it again. And don’t have a total number of drafts in mind. Four, five, six, or more — who cares. Rework it until it feels ready. How do you know when it’s ready? When you write enough, the confidence will build, and you’ll know.


Get set to hear, “No thanks.” Then get ready to hear it again. You’re putting yourself out there, and that takes a certain amount of courage. Go for it.


Last thoughts: When you edit, look for anything that doesn’t move the scene forward, and cut it. You want to make them laugh, and you want to make them cry, but mostly, you want to keep them turning pages. 


When you read a chapter over, read it aloud. 


Never worry about what anybody thinks of your writing. Write it bold.


Lastly, I asked fellow author Eric Beetner to weigh in on the topic, and he had some pearls:


“My biggest tip for new or aspiring writers is to lose the notion that writing a book is a monumental task. I think too many people treat it like scaling Everest or circumnavigating the globe alone in a boat. Go into any bookstore or library and look around you. Books everywhere. Millions of new books every year. How can it be that hard and be done so often by so many people?


Now, writing a good book is no easy task, and that should be where the hard work goes in. But if you free yourself with the idea that starting on page one is the beginning of an arduous journey that will bring you to the brink, then you can focus on the real work of writing a good book. The rest is just typing.”


“Can we please stop this nonsense attitude that a first draft is supposed to be crap? Why would you write a terrible first draft? The work of a first draft, to me anyway, is to get it as close to right as you can. Then the rewrite process isn't spent "figuring out the story" as too many people seem to do, it becomes refining, making it better, elevating what you already have. If you need a whole first draft to find the story, then you're doing it backwards. Make notes, outline, keep voice memos on your phone, but know your story when you start so the first draft isn't awful. So your rewrites and revisions aren't torturous. Writing is supposed to be joyful. If it's a slog then that will come across on the page to the reader.

But, you do you. If you like the tortured artist thing, then go ahead and write a terrible first draft. Just please stop complaining about it.” — Eric Beetner