May 31, 2011

Finding What Works for You: Writing Longhand

Today, most writers use a computer to work. Why wouldn't you? It's faster and easier to edit.

At least, that's what your brain tells you.

I've been writing new scenes out by hand. (Crazy, I know.) It's been really helpful. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe my brain just has more time to throw out the junk words and cliches before my hand can write them out. Maybe I'm using a different part of the brain. Maybe my muse just likes writing by hand, so she throws out the good stuff when I cooperate. Who knows?

What I do know is that my writing is much richer. The settings come to life, the voice comes naturally, and the conflict is everywhere. (I also haven't gotten writer's block yet, knock on wood.) I hardly feel like I can take credit for it. It's like something takes over and gives better words to my pen.

After I get a few chapters down, I type up what I've written. I do a little editing in the process. Mostly, I make sure the rhythm is right and the descriptions aren't too long. Sometimes I catch a place where my character notices things she shouldn't (like when she's injured--why would she have the presence of mind to count the windows?) or where the villain gives too much information. (He likes to hold back a little. It makes him feel in control.) So this method works in more than one way.

It doesn't take as much time as I thought it would. I can type 4,000 words in one day without too much trouble. That's a crazy number of words if you're weaving a story from scratch.

I'd highly recommend it. Just to try. :)

May 28, 2011

Building Your Brand with CJ Lyons Part 2

Here's Part 2 of How to become a Bestseller and Preserve your Sanity

You can find CJ's (absolutely fabulous) writing resources at her website No Rules, Just Write!  If the ideas in the handout are helpful, there's more on this in her Break Free from the Slushpile e-book.

I'm going to tell you to ask yourself three questions.

Here we go!

1. Why did you write this book?

2. Who did you write this book for?

3. What are you willing to do for this book?

Dig deep with your answers! Why? Because the answers will frame your entire marketing strategy--and make it a custom fit tailored to you and your readers!


Why did you write this book? Answer that truthfully and you'll find yourself telling all sorts of stories about what the book meant to you and what inspired you and why this character did that and how you researched various things, etc, etc, etc.

Key word in all of that? Stories!!!

Right there is the heart of every answer you need for interviews, guest blog posts, QandA's, press releases, etc, etc, etc.

Look at your answer. If you dug deep you'll find that you've placed a human, emotional face onto dry facts whether you're talking about your research or how you juggled your schedule to find time to write this book you were so passionate about.

Let that passion and emotion shine through--it's how we connect to an audience!

Answer that question truthfully and you'll never have to worry about a paint-drying-boring press release or interview or feature article again! Because you--the "real" you, authentic and passionate and honest!--will be at the heart of each story written about you (or by you).

Okay, so that's pretty much all the content you'll need. Now, you need to decide who to send that content to.

Sounds like the answer to question #2, doesn't it? Who did you write this book for? That's your target audience.

It might be one person, say your mother. That's fine, but dig deep, ask yourself why? Is it because you've been estranged and you're reaching out through your characters for a chance to reconnect?

Guess what? A large number of people have been there, done that! Use them, reach out to them via blogs, online groups, etc.

Did you add a Calico Cat character because you wrote the entire book with your calico cat sleeping on your lap and the keyboard (kinda like I'm writing this article, lol!) Then reach out to all the Calico Cat lovers out there!

Does the book wrestle with a social or political issue that you feel passionate about? Then reach out to the others who feel the same way!

This is targeted marketing. Reaching out and connecting with PEOPLE, not just anonymous blogs or websites or demographics. You want to connect, start conversations, tell stories.

Do not simply post a bunch of tweets, blogs, comments and turn tail and run….in other words, it's NOT about YOU--it's ALL about THEM!

With every audience you aim to connect with, first ask yourself: what do I have to offer them? What can I give them? What do they want?

Which brings us to question #3: what are you willing to do?

Knee jerk answer for any debut author is: ANYTHING or EVERYTHING.

Great way to burn out, fast!

Answer this one thoughtfully and honestly.

If you're terrified of public speaking and getting up to give a talk would make you lose a week of sleep and decrease your ability to work (remember your main job is to write the next book!) then acknowledge that and incorporate it into your plan: I won't do any live presentations.

Doesn't it feel better just to say it? Feel that weight off your shoulders? And hey, you're not ruining your career by focusing on the things you're comfortable with--in fact, you are PROTECTING THE WORK!

That's right, your job isn't to promote your work, it's to PROTECT it.

So make a list of promotional possibilities and impossibilities….play to your strengths. You may find only a few things under the "I know I can do this and rock it!" column--that's fine, then really focus on those.

They might not seem like promotion at all. They might be more along the lines of writing short stories, things totally in your comfort zone. No worries. As long as you're doing something to keep your name out there (and short stories are a great promotional tool!) you can count it.

You'll probably find that you have a third column: I'd like to do…but I'm not very good at…type of things. Great! Those are fun to try--as long as they don't get in the way of your writing.

For instance, you're an Introvert but really, really want to go to RWA so you can walk around smiling and wearing your First Sale ribbon.

Figure out a way to do it that won't sap your creative energy. Partner with an Extrovert friend who will introduce you and keep the small talk flowing. Schedule down time alone in your room so you can re-charge. Prepare a few topics of conversation ahead of time so you don't feel like you have nothing to say. Make appointments to meet people for meals so you don't end up eating alone in a crowd and feeling left out.

Bottom line: very, very, very few debut authors made it "big" because of their own promotional efforts.

BUT, if you know your strengths and play to them then you'll not only have fun but you'll be able to write the next book and build name recognition with YOUR audience.

And that's how bestsellers are made…one reader at a time.

Thanks for reading!


May 27, 2011

Building Your Brand with CJ Lyons Part 1

Bestselling Thriller Author CJ Lyons had some fantastic seminars at the Pennwriters Conference. She was kind enough to let me share her handout from her Branding Workshop. You can find her (absolutely fabulous) writing resources at her website No Rules, Just Write! 
If the ideas in the handout are helpful, there's more on this in her Break Free from the Slushpile e-book.

How to become a Bestseller and Preserve your Sanity

CJ Lyons
There are tons of places debut authors can find information on building a brand or platform--so many that it's often overwhelming. It's easy to feel like all you want to do is hide in your hermit cave and write the next book.

No worries--even I feel like that most of the time!!! You see, I'm an Introvert and my strength comes from my ability to sit alone and focus, get the job done.

I can put on a "party face" when needed, but it takes work and a lot of psychic energy--so much so that often for days after a convention I can't write.

Now, Extroverts--they usually don't need any help with promotion, they're walking/talking promotional powerhouses. Which can be a good thing as long as they learn to channel that energy and focus on the real work: writing the next book.

Because here's what I'm going to tell you that is different from all the other how-to-promote advice for debut authors:

Number one thing a debut author should do to promote their work and build their career? WRITE THE NEXT BOOK!

Number two thing? WRITE THE NEXT BOOK!

Number three? Repeat after me….WRITE THE NEXT BOOK!

Okay, you guys got that. Now, what else should you be focused on while preparing for your debut?

Most how-to posts will give you a checklist. In fact, I have a pretty good one that I wrote a few years ago called Birth of a Book: What to Do While You're Expecting. It's a pdf and you can download it here

But I'm not going to give you a checklist here. Instead, I'm going to tell you to ask yourself three questions.
Here we go!

1. Why did you write this book?

2. Who did you write this book for?

3. What are you willing to do for this book?

Dig deep with your answers! Why? Because the answers will frame your entire marketing strategy--and make it a custom fit tailored to you and your readers!

(I'll post Part 2 tomorrow, where CJ tells you how to use the answers to these questions.)

May 25, 2011

Writing Pointers from Pennwriters -- Dialogue

A few little things I learned about dialogue and point of view.

  • It's okay to zoom in and out of your character/change POV as long as it's for a good reason. (To show a character's thoughts, for example.) Your english teacher would tell you it's not technically correct, but this is fiction.
  • Cut junk talk like "Okay", "Fine", or "Yes"
  • Avoid having a character answer a question directly. It's a great way to increase tension.
  • Read it ALOUD!
  • Try to make your characters sound unique. You should be able to take a random line of dialogue out and know who the speaker is without dialogue tags.

May 23, 2011

Writing Pointers from Pennwriters -- The Query

Here are a few tidbits I picked up about querying:
  • Make it personal. Agents want to know why you chose to query them, specifically.
  • Your blurb needs to have voice and style (the same voice and style that's in your book).
  • Be polite!
  • Remember contact info!
  • May is a good time to query. Fall is also good. Summer is a busy time for agents, so don't expect a quick reply. (I personally don't think you should sit on a book just because it's summer, though.)
  • Send your query to yourself first to make sure it translates correctly. You don't want weird characters and formatting going out to every agent you query!
  • Be specific. Too many times, the inner conflict is described as "his demons" or "inner struggles". What does that even mean? Give details to show why this character's struggles are specific to him and your story.
  • More is less. One paragraph, maybe two. You're not writing a full synopsis. What you want to do is hook the agent by giving a few specific details about the conflicts. Show just how impossible your character's situation is.
  • Remove all the telling. Don't tell me the book is exciting. Show it in the blurb.
  • Agents say they want you to compare your book to other authors, but they really don't. Nine times out of ten, it'll hurt you more than help you. (Either you'll come off as overconfident or unclear, or you'll show the agent that you really don't know much about the current market.)

May 21, 2011

Getting A New Novel Idea ... Zombies

One night during conference weekend, I was trying to fall asleep, when I heard one of those voices in my head. A new character. A new story. I heard the opening to a book I never thought I'd write. A zombie book.

Not being one to take lightning for granted, I wrote down the 150 words or so. Lightning struck twice. Three times. More and more. (I didn't sleep much that night.)

Over the rest of the weekend, even more until I had layer upon layer of conflicty goodness.

Since I was at the conference with a master of zombie writing, Jonathan Maberry, I talked to him about it. He said the idea was really good, and to his knowledge, hasn't been done before. (Wow)

I'm building it, all while working on getting Ivy ready for submission. I'm enjoying working on both. They're in such different stages, I don't feel like I'm spread too thin. The books are so different, they don't blend together.

So there you have it. Be on the lookout for my new zombie book. I'm pouring everything I've got into it.

May 19, 2011

Pennwriters: Character Driven Stories

I'm (finally) home from Pennwriters! Can I just say: I love this conference. You can smile at anyone and start a conversation because you know you have something in common with them: You're both crazy.

But that's another post.

My adventures at Pennwriters started on Thursday, a three-hour workshop with CJ Lyons. Not only is she a national bestseller, CJ has insight into how she got there. Her classes don't disappoint and this workshop was no exception.

The class was based on her e-book No Rules, Just Write: Crafting the Character Driven Novel. I can guarantee you I'll be reading this book. The class was so helpful!

Here are some highlights:

Your main character should have an outer goal (the main conflict of the novel) that's concrete and easily defined. This is what he wants.

He should also have a weakness or flawed way of thinking, some way in which he needs to grow over the course of the novel. This is what he needs (although he probably doesn't know that he needs it).

So, what does your character keep doing that's holding him back? Maybe he's quiet and reserved because in the past, getting attention has always led to bad things in his life.
Maybe she distances herself from people because she's afraid of being vulnerable (or, she's afraid of getting hurt if she made herself vulnerable).

What is it that your main character really fears? Abandonment? Poverty? Not being in control?
And what does your character do to avoid it?

Once you have that, you can use it to motivate his actions as he works toward his outer goal. (Cool, huh?)

CJ used techniques like this to explain the three-act structure in a way I've never seen before. I've read about it dozens of times. It's always seemed like more of a checklist to me. Set up the character. Bring him into the conflict. Make things worse. Have him lose hope. He triumphs. Blah, blah blah.

This was different.

This made sense. And when I broke my WIP into the right pieces, I saw rich conflict that I didn't even known was there. Now I know what to emphasize. Ivy is going to be so much more compelling and real.

After this workshop, I was a little torn. On one hand, I was excited that I'd learned so much and that I knew how to tear my book apart to make it better.

On the other hand, now I have to tear my book apart to make it better.

May 17, 2011

Pennwriters done! Heading home now.

Okay, it's disgusting how difficult it is to get internet on this trip. I know I'm supposed to be camping and it's a chance to "get away" from technology, but this is ridiculous. I had internet for a short time yesterday and I couldn't even get through all my email.

But the Pennwriter's Conference was incredible! I've posted a few things on Twitter under #pennwriters.
I have a few posts coming, but unfortunately, I just don't have enough internet time!

So my apologies, everyone.

May 11, 2011

More Goodies to Come!

Well, what a week!

I went to the hospital, so I don't have much planned as far as blog posts go. (I'm fine. Just got one of those pesky non-essential organs removed.) BUT I don have Pennwriters tomorrow!

I love writer conferences. You learn so much and get a feel for where the market is right now. But more than that, you get a sense of commradere. You realize that a lot of people are going through the same thing you are. And it's encouraging. I leave feeling like what I'm doing is worthwhile. And it reminds me how much I love writing.

I'm going to take lots of notes at my Pennwriters conference (which, did I mention?, starts tomorrow!), but I'm not planning on posting until I can get those up. Hopefully, there won't be any gap and I can post in a couple of days.

May 8, 2011

Re-Post: More Crackin' on Character Building

By the way, if you're not an avid reader of this blog and you need help with your characters, I have more than a dozen posts on the subject.

But, if you've read all that and are thirsty for more, here you go!

It's all about the villain, right? I've posted about villains before, but this article was fantastic: Beyond Bastards, Bullies, and Bad Girls breaks down just what an antagonist is, why an antagonist is not necessarily a villain, and how to make their roles pivotal and complex.

Taking it down a notch, here's an article on the basics of Character Development. Maybe you think you need to know more about your character, but are unsure of which questions to ask. This can help.

I've written about this one before and how it helped me, but I gotta share it again. Mary at Kidlit posted on Character-Driven Plots and has a phenomenal list of questions to ask your characters. Seriously. Go. Now.

Do you love your main character? Why? Author Becky Levine shares Why She Loves Her Main Character. I thought this was just so inspiring. This is how I want to feel/write my characters.

May 5, 2011

RePost: Let's Get Crackin' : Character Building

Big topic, I know. But I have so many links and goodies, I'm busting at the seams. So let's get to it!

First off, if you want to build good characters, you HAVE to read everything you can from the blog Plot to Punctuation. This blog has a number of series on character development, all of which are worth reading all the way through. But, here are my favorites:

How to Revise Your Character's Attitudes: consider complexity and consistency when creating your character's beliefs and attitudes. Includes a few methods and techniques for getting to know your characters and why they behave/believe the way they do.

Great Characters are Like Origami: A step-by-step on how to create believable, authentic characters from the ground up.

The Five Stages of Grief: The latest series on this blog. Fiction is all about having your character's world come crashing down. So, how should your character react to crises? These posts have the answer.

How to Revise Your Character's Mannerisms: this is something I struggle with. We all have our own ways of moving, our habits, our ticks, our quirks. Here's how to make your characters' mannerisms consistent and believable.

Why You Sholud Steal Your Character's Shoes: Why heroic, perfect characters are boring, and how to fix it.

Whew! That's probably enough for today. (A BIG thanks to P2P editor!)

May 2, 2011

How to Create Better Characters

Yes, of course I have more on characters. (Because what writer doesn't need better characters?)

Miriam Forster did a 6-part series on character building, but my favorite is the Edward/Bella dilemma. How much better would the Twilight series be if it were told from the POV of a character that struggles with larger-than-life problems?

Arguably one of the best posts by The Great Nathan Bransford: What Do Your Characters Want?
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