Category Archives: Unsolicited Writing Advice!

How did you get along without it?

Writers Gotta Write, Writers Gotta Read

Read a quick but great article in the New York Times by Tina Jordan yesterday, “Some Dos and Don’ts From Famous Writers.”  There were tips by Delia Owens and J. K. Rowling, from John Grisham and William Faulkner, the latter who spouted the line that really got to me: “You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader.” This should come as no surprise to anyone that thinks of themselves as a writer, because truly, where would you get the inspiration to write without the very prose (or poetry or play or lyric) that drove you to it? I’ve always had a lust for reading, starting from that very day in first grade when the nun easeled an oversized, laminated book in front of the class. (Yes, I am the product of a Catholic elementary school education. Don’t start with me.) LOOK — was the only dialogue on the page, but when I sounded out the L-O-O-K with my rudimentary phonics knowledge and my agile young brain connected the synapses to form look–well, it was a discovery so profound, I jumped out of my desk to cry I CAN READ THAT! And I’ve been doing it ever since.

As I look around my office I see four tall bookcases, a basket of magazines containing academic and trade periodicals, a couple of New Yorkers on my desk with another journal underneath, and atop the table next to my favorite reading chair, Becoming, by Michelle Obama, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (this month’s Book Discussion pick), a book on back pain (from sitting on my ass at this desk too much), and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. At the top of my TBR pile is Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, and just below it, Something Wonderful, by Todd S. Purdum. If you know anything about these books, you can tell what an eclectic reader I am. Does that say anything about my writing? Maybe it does.

One thing’s for certain. If I don’t read, it definitely affects my writing. It plods along, my characters lose their edge, the dialogue becomes stilted. There are certain schools of thought that say you shouldn’t read and write at the same time, because if you do, you’ll unconsciously steal the style of whomever you’re reading. I don’t happen to buy into that. For me, reading breaks loose my inner competitor, and I find myself wanting to outdo them. If anything, I get inspired–if they can do it, I can do it better, and the more I read, the more I want to write. I remember a time when I was deep into deadlines, that I didn’t even come near a screen outside my laptop for a month. But every day I found the time to read, over breakfast, over lunch, after a writing session, before bed. Now, I must admit I do a fair amount of reading from my laptop and my phone. But there’s still nothing like the visceral touch of the printed page, the pure joy of row upon row of embedded ink slowly unfolding a story. And no such thrill as when that story’s your own.

But enough about reading. Writers got to write, too. Best get back to work. Unless, of course, you’ll be reading.

 

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Write a synopsis or stick pencils in my eyes? Hmm…

I gave a workshop this past weekend on pitching your work, and there was some interest in writing a synopsis. Here’s a post from a couple of years back on that very same thing I thought I’d rerun, because, you know, why have a new original thought…

It’s a sad, sad fact of the writing life that every book needs a synopsis if you want to sell it. I’m sorry, but synopses to me are like carbuncles on top of boils, about as compatible to my literary mojo as coconuts are to refrigerators. When I know I have to write one, it’s like I have creative mono I’m so not able to start. Fact is I hate hate hate the little bastards, as after all these years, my brain still fights writing one. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then welcome to Writer Hell, sweetheart. Your angsty little life is about to get so much worse.

A synopsis is your book boiled down almost to its skivvies. At the most it’s about five pages, but lately the going length seems to be around two. With such a tight page count, you might think it makes the writing easier, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Actually, it makes it so much harder. How hard? Let me search for a difficult enough analogy. Have you ever tried to gather a bunch of peeled grapes with one hand? That’s kind of what it’s like. (Actually, the literal version of that would be easier, but don’t let me disillusion you). You need to encapsulate all those slippery plot points from start to finish, naming your major characters, their conflicts and motivations, holding nothing back.  Don’t want to divulge everything? Then just include something like, Intrigued? Then request the full manuscript to find out what happens next! and you’ll win the race to the ‘delete’ button. (Please, just–no.) Do include a hook at the beginning and a satisfying ending, and no being cagey or overly creative, either. It’s just the facts, ma’am, and do remember to keep it in the present tense, and state your word count and genre under the title at the top. Also, it should go without saying to make sure it’s proofread, spell-checked, grammar-checked and formatted until it’s pink and screaming.

A synopsis, above all, is a selling tool. You need one to get an agent as after you do, she’ll need it to sell your fabulousness to an editor. A synopsis not only spells out your book, it tells an editor you’re capable of finishing one, as very rarely will she have your whole manuscript in front of her at the first pass. Because of their brevity, synopses, at least when they’re written well, can be succinct little works of art. With a well-written synopsis, you’re straddling the fence between novelist and journalist, as it’s a sign of polish and skill to write eye-catching florid-free prose when you’re concentrating strictly on the main points. When it’s done effectively and efficiently, it can make all the difference between rejection and acceptance.

Oh, and if you’re looking for some actual people to send that fabulous synopsis, to, try…

Now go get ’em, tiger. I hate suffering alone.

 

(To) Kill (or not to kill) Your Darlings

I’ve reached the point in writing my latest book where I have to make a decision: do I kill a character or not? He’s not a particularly nice person, really a kind of a dick, and there may be a point where people would probably cheer if he finally gets his due. But if I leave him in, he really won’t have much to do in the subsequent books I plan on writing after this, as he’s pretty much served his purpose. I could probably just write him out of the action instead of offing him, but that would leave open whether he’d return or not, but I really don’t like that. (See, I’m old enough to still be kind of jaded by Bobby walking out of the shower.) So I’ve been thinking about what to do for a couple days now, and I’d really like to move forward. So after a hard think I believe I’ve made my decision. I’m gonna whack the guy. Now I just have to figure out how to do it, which presents a whole other set of issues.

The first one being, how to do it? Which of the characters has a big enough beef with him that may want to accomplish the job for me. He is a bad guy, so will another bad guy do it? Will he get in a struggle and a gun goes off? Maybe someone runs him over with a car? With murder being so messy, my perhaps it’s better I let the guy off himself. Would that fit into the plot? Is there reason enough for him to do it? I think so. He really is at the end of his rope. So with that decision behind me, then how to accomplish it? There’s all kinds of ways to do it–gun, overdose, train tracks, drowning–you name it, the possibilities are endless. But again, you also have to consider the plot and characters. Is this a well-thought out action? An act of desperation? Would he be suicidal? Is he truly at the end of his rope? Would it be a spur of the moment action? Would he resist all attempts to save him? Would it be believable that he’d attempt it at all? And people as not as fragile as they appear sometimes, so would the attempt at offing himself actually work? That’s when the research come in.

When you’ve been writing for awhile, you tend to accumulate experts who you can tap for information, and they become invaluable. The internet is a handy go-to, but if you’re serious about your craft, to need to find primary sources, real live human beings that can give you first hand information. I’ve gotten to know a former homicide detective and a forensic chemists who’ve I’ve sourced now and then. And when I have, I’ve researched my questions, taken notes, and asked them for the best places to go if I need to know more. These people are invaluable, as they lend a realism to your writing that’s unmatched by a Google search. Only after I’m certain will I proceed, as trust me, there’s always someone out there who will challenge you on what you write, always someone who thinks they know more, and you want to be read for them.

As I think I am now. Welp, Mr. Man, it looks like your days are numbered. Enjoy all that sliminess while you can.

Once bitten, twice stupid

My own fault really, my NaNoWriMo fail. No one to blame but myself. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo in the past, but I didn’t get too far then either, as in keeping up with their schedule. What is nice is if you join the state or local chapter, and they have local writing events but I’ve never been very good at writing in public. Writing for me is a very private affair. I close my door, turn on an air cleaner I have, that makes more noise then an ascending 747. But that’s just me. For others, NaNoWriMo is a solid kick to your writing pants. If you also get on their email list, they’ll send you encouragements to keep you on course. If you keep up with their online site, you have your own page where you log in with your progress every day, putting in your word count. It’s definitely for people who want to keep motivated, plus get you in touch with other local writers. I did write a book in a month once, and you have to be pretty dedicated, but I had a deadline and didn’t have a choice. One takeaway from that month was I learned how to eat really good with one hand!

Liberty States Fiction Writer’s Annual Conference Registration is Open!

This year’s Featured Speakers

Mark Your Calendar for the
10th Anniversary
Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference
March 30-31, 2019

Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel
in Iselin, NJ

Whether you’re indie published, traditionally published, not quite published, or simply love to read, we have something for you. Join us for this exciting, fun, and informative event!The Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference features a line up of more then 20 authors and industry professionals who will share their expertise and experience. Located a in New Jersey, just a short train ride from New York City, we offer a weekend of education, networking, and fun in a relaxed setting.

Love to read? Want to write? Join us March 30-31, 2019.

For More Info go to Liberty State Fiction Writers Conference info.


Tips From the MFA Pit, Part 5 – Reading like a Writer

This week it’s another installment from the MFA Pit, where we’re looking at the things we read to write. Sometimes our reading material can take the form of books on craft, the other times on our genre of choice. Sometimes that’s not even the genre we write, but what we simply enjoy reading. But when what-we-write converges with what-we’re-reading, we seem to take on a more critical eye…
You certainly don’t have to like everything you read, and sometimes that’s good. You find out what NOT to do, what works and what doesn’t. And you learn to read like a writer, not so much for the story, which definitely runs in the background, but for craft—what tools and techniques the writer uses to write a compelling story. In my Comp One classes, we do what’s called a Rhetorical Analysis of an essay to accomplish much the same thing. We look at four things: the situation, or what prompted the writer to write, the purpose, what the writer wanted the reader to think or do, the thesis, the main claim, and the audience, who the writing is directed toward. Of course, this analysis is wasted on 90% of most of the students (sadly), as once they get out of my class and/or Comp Two, they’ll more than likely never write anything beyond a text or instant message, or maybe an email when they get into the work world. But we can also apply some if not all of these principles to creative writing too, when we’re directing our story to a particular genre. In the fantasy or romance realm, audience is all important. When you combine the two, even more.
In fantasy, we concentrate on the world the writer’s building. It has to be different and compelling to draw your audience in. They need to leave the ordinary world and venture into something where the rules of of the ordinary world can flex. But that flex has to have its own logic, and after it’s established, you need to stick with it or your readers will call you on it. For example, the perennially logical Dr. Spock of Star Trek could never suddenly turn sentimental. Fans would call foul. Then again, if he did it for a single episode it could be fun, because he’s stepping out of his ordinary world. But his fans would definitely want such a sojourn to be temporary, as what’s the fun in a weepy Spock?

With romance, the “rules” are definitely a bit stricter. There ALWAYS has to be a HEA – a “happily ever after,” or at least a HFN – a “happy for now” if you plan on sending them on some hijinks in the next book. And there are definite stages to their romance—when they first meet, when they first kiss, when they first make love, when they fall in love, when the fall OUT of love, when they face the Dark Moment, when they fall back in love, then when the commit to each other, then lastly, the HEA or HFN.  All romances mostly follow the same progression, and romance fans look for and expect each stage. What keeps them interesting, and keeps the pages turning, is how the couple reaches each stage and goes beyond it. You see, the trick to writing a good romance is the couple is not supposed to fall in love—yet against all odds, they do. It’s this struggle romance fans look for. And as a Romance Writer, it’s up to your to deliver. When it’s too easy, it’s not a romance. When they meet, it’s fate. When they kiss for the first time, it’s mind-blowing. When they finally make love—it’s a nuclear meltdown. It’s that easy!

As we venture more and more into our own writing, we almost subconsciously view other writers’ works through the filter of our own. Sometimes we view it with intimidation, sometimes with awe, sometimes with jealously, sometimes with a smugness when we’re convinced ours is so much better. What we should always do is keep reading though. Just like a chef never stops tasting, a writer can’t ever stop gazing at the worlds around them, in a continual effort to improve their own.

A day of writing, writers, and Red Bank

During this retreat like full day workshop authors have the opportunity to attend various Presentations, pitch Literary Agents and Editors (Optional), get a book signed by Bestselling Author Megan Erickson during our Mixer, get work critiqued by Agents and Editors (Optional), attend the Critical Mass: First Page Critique Literary Agent and Editor Panel, and Network with authors and industry professionals all day long and during a Networking Mixer after hours.

8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturday, October 13, at The Oyster Point Hotel, Bodman Place, Red Bank, NJ 07701.
Phone: 732.759.9175
Conveniently located about one hour from NY City.
​Valet parking complimentary.
Train Station: Red Bank – North Jersey Coast line located just 5 minutes away.

For full info please visit the Corvisiero Agency Website!

(Barely Awake) ass in chair, baby

I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m drinking too much caffeine in the afternoon but I’ve been waking up way too early in the morning lately. Or maybe I’m just of that certain age, but I really don’t want to go there at the moment. In any event, I’ve been writing really, really early in the morning these past few weeks, and for me that means at my desk by six-thirty or seven. I write until around  eight or eight-thirty, then it’s off to get ready for my first class at ten-thirty. I’ve been patting myself on the back for being so dedicated, then I heard about this group of people, and I have a whole new reason to feel inadequate.  The 5 AM Writer’s Club according to their website, is “…a dedicated group of writers who cheer each other on when it’s needed, and pass donuts around when they’re hungry. (BTW Check the #5amWritersClub hashtag to find a fantastic group of people to follow on Twitter.)”

But what it means to me is a bunch of dedicated writers who actually find their muse up and awake before the crack of dawn. I find this completely admirable, as although I’ve been know to get up early,  it’s usually not by choice, and I just take advantage of the situation. Still, what it says to me is if you want to write, if you need to write, you WILL find the time to do it. No excuses. Writers write. Ass in chair. And if you want some cheering on, well now you know where to go to find it.

Tips from the MFA Pit – Part 4 – A room of one’s own

Another school year, another entry from the MFA Pit. This time it’s all about process, about conjuring up your creative muse, about getting that perfect writing space, about finding the time to write. This semester MFA Candidate One is studying Aesthetic and Process, about why we write what we write, and how to go about bringing that process to fruition…

Here we are again, this time, examining your writing process as well as—and we’ll get to that soon enough—why you write what you write. Sometimes you can’t exactly say why you’re drawn to a particular genre. You may like romance because you like an HEA (happily ever after), or you like fantasy as you’re always drawn to other worlds. Whatever captures your imagination is something very individual to you, and it’s something that you’ll explore as well as you go along. You discovered this a bit in a previous semester, when you started out writing a straight romance, then found out you’re so much more comfortable adapting those romantic concepts to fantasy. More revelations we come along soon enough this semester, and this will become more apparent when you write a closing paper at the end.
Process is something we’re sometimes slow to discover. It’s the “how” of what we’re writing. You mentioned in the beginning essay you don’t find outlining as helpful as it could be. Well, I’ve discovered over the years there’s really two basic kind of writers out there—the pantsters and the planners. The pantsters write by the seat of their pants—start the story and then let the characters take them where they may. The planners find this process horrifying. They outline, they use index cards, bulletin boards, collages—anything to keep them in sequence and on track. Most writers fall somewhere in between. Your using a journal is a good example of this. I always have what I call my story guide. It’s a kind of a journal in which I list my characters, their names, occupations, descriptions, characteristics, etc. I list the main plot of the story, the conflict, the dark moment, mostly all the things I need to keep straight as the story progresses. For example, you forget how old one of your characters is, or in what town they’re to meet the villain at the end. This gives you something you could always refer back to. It’s also a handy place to list changes you want to adapt in later chapters when you’re editing a draft.
A place to write can be tricky at times when you live with other people. Unless you have a dedicated space at home, you sometimes have to shift around our make compromises. But it could also be outside of where you live. It could be a favorite bench in a park, a table at Starbucks, or in the 3rd floor lounge in the Student Center (I wrote a flash fiction piece there once!) It’s anyplace where you can wrap your head around your story. And that’s only up to you to decide.
Until next time — Writers write!