Gifts for Writers

Writers are like Black Sheep. Everyone knows a writer. In the family, a friend, a giftkooky coworker… we’re common. And in one way or another, we’re all loved. That means with the holidays screaming around the corner, everyone has a writer for whom they need to buy at least a small gift. Here are some gift suggestions for writers (including ones to avoid).

Paper – Reams and reams of it. Because we go through that much. Either for brainstorming, rough drafts, character sketching, revisions (*raises hand*) or querying. We use a lot of it.

Ink – See paper. (With one caveat: it is essential to know the kind of printer the writer has, of course).

Coffee – Most writers need this fully stocked in IV bags. But don’t get them needles- that requires a prescription.

Dragon Dictate Software – For writers on the go, moving around a lot, this dragonwill help. You’ll need to find out if they have a PC or Mac. Downside: it’s a bit pricey.

scrivenerSrivener A fantastic new software that most writers love, no matter what they write (fiction or non fiction).

Pens – Like paper and ink, we use these a lot, and therefore run out of ink in the middle of jotting down a great idea, and then chuck the pen across the room, chipping our favorite coffee mug while we desperately search for lipstick or marker to write down said-great-idea before we lose it.

Coffee Mugs – To Replace said-broken-mug from above.

 The Latest Edition of Writer’s Market – This may be baffling for those of you who are not in publishing, but this is the first step to a golden ticket in the Willy Wonka’s Factory of Publishing.

Elements of Style from Strunk & White  – See note above.

Books – Duh. Bonus points for knowing which genre they prefer, but they’ll pretty much take anything. Especially books on writing or autobiographies from serious writers. (FYI- Snooki’s recent book does not count).

Comfy Clothes – Any funny shirt or pants specific for writers. There are so writershirtmany websites offering screen-printed quotes on shirts like ‘Don’t Piss Me Off Or I’ll Kill You In My Novel’ or ‘Grammar Snob.’ We need something comfortable to write in and what better way to be motivated to write than to wear the reminder. CafePress has some great ones.

Slippers or Socks – See clothes. No writer can write with cold feet.

Computer Accessories – A laptop case, wireless mouse/keyboard, thumb drive. Again, helpful to know what kind of computer they have to make sure the case fits. But a thumb drive is universal. As are screen cleaners and cans of air to blast out the dust from our keyboards.

The Writer’s Block – Nuff said.writersblock

Lap Table – A bunch of different kinds, depending on whether they like classic wooden, or contemporary chic, or funky bumbo style. But a cup holder is essential.

Air Fresheners or Wickless Candles – For writers who spend hours sitting in one spot desperate to get the dialogue out of their brains, sometimes we tend to forget to shower. Something to mask the stench in the air is helpful (Scentsy is popular). But nothing that includes a flame where we’ll forget to blow it out and burn down our masterpieces.

Massage – To force us out of the house and relax our writing muscles. Spa gift cards are a great way to achieve this.

Magazine Subscription  – Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Journal, The Writer (any of these are precious jewels in the mailbox).

Don’t bother with these:

Journals – Every writer has a million of these shoved away in drawers and closets. Don’t add to their clutter. Plus, it’s a cliché. Lesson #1: all writers hate clichés.

Laptop – Come on! These are so freakin’ expensive, with way too many variables that are too personal to each individual writer. Unless you want to take them to the store to pick out their own, don’t do it. They’ll just end up exchanging it for something that suits their query personality more. It’s like women and shoes. We’re just too picky.

E-Readers – See laptop. Though gift cards to purchase e-books are good.

Thesaurus – Again, every write already has one. And every good writer knows not to use it.

Digital Voice Recorder – Every phone has something that meets this need. My iPhone came with 3 of them. And there’s about 30 more apps they can download for free.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas. Have a great holiday!

Rules of Fiction Writing

A friend’s daughter recently asked for help on a report for school. She needed to asked a writer about their profession. It brought to mind some of the various ‘rules’ I learned over the last several years of being a fiction writer.

Oh wait, this is an entirely different lesson 😛

I know there are dozens of subjective ‘rules’ out there, including every genre maintaining their own unique set of laws, but here’s what I’ve found to be universal. These are rules I’ve learned either the hard way or being in the right place with the right people.

* Say as much as you can in as few words as possible. Then cut the word count by half.

* Adverbs are spawns of Satan. Don’t use them. Find the right verb.

* Adjectives aren’t evil, but they are sinful. Use sparingly. (Damn, I used an adverb!)

* Head-hopping is just as confusing as it sounds. Keep to one point of view at a time. If you have to change heads, best option is to only do it by chapter.

* Likewise, stay in one tense: past or present. Otherwise, it becomes too ‘Back to the Future‘ for people.

* Clichés are such a cliché. Originality is the only way. Ya feel me?

* Showing is better than telling. Showing makes things more active, better paced, and easier to read. Telling has its uses at times, but again, only sparingly.

* Info dumps (also called backstory dumps) belong in the dump themselves. Filter in the backstory in small bits throughout many chapters.

* Most importantly, forget everything I just wrote and do what works for you and your voice. Fiction is subjective.

Can you think of any other rules I’ve missed? That we can throw out together?

How Do Women Write Men?

Interesting topic came to mind during a recent chapter revision.

It’s probably for the same reason you don’t see many male romance authors out there, simply because most men have no clue how to write a woman character and make it believable. Every little detail: gestures, word choice, slang, as well as what a woman would notice first looking at a man, or even another woman.

A lot of earlier romances had the stereotypical male hero: rough, tough, very little emotion, and all action. Either no words at all, or any words were based on the Tarzan psyche (Me want Jane. Me hungry.) I wonder if those male depictions in earlier writing were because most women authors didn’t know how to portray a realistic male character.

I ran into that issue the other week. My male character said certain things and behaved certain ways that didn’t sound believable. So I sent the chapter to a male critique buddy of mine, who helped me ‘man him up.’ (Another reason why I highly suggest joining a writer’s group!)

Such simple things like phrasing:

Original version: “People are mean.”

Manned up version: “People are cruel.”

Or how they refer to their own bodies:

Original version: ‘Thin Man clunked his beer bottle on the bar and jerked up his worn jeans over his hips.’

Manned up version: ‘Thin Man clunked his beer bottle on the bar and jerked up in worn jeans over his exposed whity-tighties.’

(I was told men never refer to their ‘hips.’)

There were several other areas that my critique pal noted were too ‘feminine’ for a male character (or at least the male character I was trying to portray). It’s amazing how different men and women will describe even a setting or what someone is wearing.

These kinds of suggestions are invaluable to me. It helps me learn how to write male characters better (and since my husband doesn’t read my work, I rely more heavily on my writer’s group.)

Women writers: how do you write your men? What tricks do you use to keep them realistic?

Writer’s Reflection of the Year

Christmas lights are up both inside and outside my house, decorations surround me as I type, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is playing the in background on iTunes. My son is asleep in his crib while my husband studies in his office. For once in our household, it’s quiet. And since it’s been so long since I’ve blogged (for several reasons), I thought this was the most opportune and rare moment to reflect.

It’s been a whirlwind year, to say the very least.

Great highs as we watch our son grow, a billion little challenges and a few big ones thrown in there. Same as my writing ‘career.’ Great highs as I improve my skills and learn new techniques, a billion little challenges (mostly just to find the time to write), and a few big road-bumps. Most of my writing goals I set at the beginning of the year I achieved, which I’m very proud with. I set a few stretch goals (NaNoWriMo), and didn’t quite complete those, but I was so close. Again, I’m proud I got that far.

I’ve helped my writers group expand its membership (nearly doubling in size) and learned so much from everyone, I’m so thankful for their help and support. I couldn’t have gotten through my writing goals this year without them. Well, maybe I could have, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun or interesting.

I’m hoping to pick my manuscripts back up in the next coming weeks, after I finish my Christmas shopping and overcome consistent sickness, and finally be in a position to query my 2nd one, and revise the 3rd. Along the way, I greatly hope not to stress out the loved ones around me.

I’ll post my goals for 2012 as soon as I have them created. I strongly advise every writer to have goals for the year, and non-writers as well. Gives you something to strive for every day, week, month.

In the meantime, keep writing forward. And reflecting in the rare quiet moments in between.

On Track for NaNoWriMo

Hooray!

Hooray!

I’m stunned to say it. Yes, I admit, I didn’t think I would be anywhere near this far along in my writing goal for National Novel Writing Month just four days in.

Not that I was rooting for myself to do poorly, but I’m impressed with what I’ve done. I’ve had three GREAT writing days (great for my record anyway, with a 3 year old constantly needing attention). I hope my son doesn’t suffer any trauma by having a slightly less than attentive mother for the next few short weeks.

Granted, I knew I had to over-deliver on certain days because I know there will be times during the month I won’t be able to write at all. (Thanksgiving, for example. What writer can deny that incredible feast and time for reflection. And perhaps a weekend here-and-there for precious time with my hubby). But 16% to goal in just four days, that makes me happy.

And so ensues the Steve Carrell happy dance!

Now back to breakfast. Maybe some writing later. I hope so.

Thick Skin For Hire

Every writer, particularly published authors, know that the publishing industry requires a thick skin for anyone who dares enter their dominion.

I thought I had a fairly thick skin before I even started querying my first manuscript.

*insert cackle laughter here*

Now, I know I don’t have nearly as thick of skin as I should, but I definitely have grown a few dragon scales to protect my vulnerable side over the last two years.

I think joining a kick-as* critique group has definitely helped. Also following editors and agents blogs/twitter/facebook and reading their responses to people’s queries also has helped.

I received my first round of major revision suggestions from my critique partners this past weekend and have let their thoughts percolate in my brain. I’m so glad I’ve grown thicker skin. Because now, I actually want that kind of advice. I need to know where they got lost in the story, what didn’t work for them, and realize its not that I suck and should give up writing. They are not flaws in my personality and I’ve dared exposed the weak points in my inner psyche. It’s areas of the story and characters in which I need to fix.

Or perhaps we’re thinking of it backwards. It’s not that people need to grow thicker skin, or regenerate thicker bone. It’s that we need to shed the vulnerable self-conscious layer of invisible shields we humans use as a self-defense mechanisms.

Get rid of your insecurities. Get rid of ridiculous thoughts that whatever suggestions others say is a ding in your personality, or interpretation of ‘they don’t like me.’

Shed everything down the most base level, where we can actually improve on the inconsistencies in our writing. That’s when we’ll notice the biggest difference on our writing style/skills.

So throw your skin out the window and let the air rejuvenate your writing. Completely open yourself up to improvement.

All right, manuscript. Get ready for rejuvenation. Dive in!

Reading Blitz

All writers (and aspiring authors) need to read. How else are they supposed to know their market? Of course, how else did most writers figure out that’s what they love to do? By reading. Duh. (I know, not a writer-ly word, but it fits).

I’m a big romance reader, if you haven’t visited the other pages on my blog, and also trying to improve my skills as a writer. Since I finished the rough draft and first round of revisions of my manuscript, I’m twiddling my thumbs as I wait for my critique partners to get back to me on what they think. But I’m not twiddling air between my thumbs; I’m twiddling pages. A whole new meaning to twitter! Maybe I should start a new website called Twiddle, and its all about the books!

Anyway, I’ve raced through 3 books in about a month (yes, that’s racing for me. Back off- I have an almost-3-year-old who is faster than most Olympic sprinters). In between books, I also finished plotting my third book and can’t wait to get started on it. I’m saving that storyline for NaNoWriMo in November. It’ll be the first time I participate and I’m seriously excited! (And nervous how in the heck am I going to write 10K words/week with my toddler running around!)

I’ve been on a great streak recently, not just with writing but with the great quality books I’ve picked up this month. I’ve expanded outside of my normal genres and included a few paranormal romances, historical war story, and even a horror/thriller from a critique partner during a beta-read.

The only negative thing I have to say about my reading blitz is that now I think my lasik eye surgery from 2005 needs to be retouched. Or I need reading glasses. (Maybe I’ll choose the less expensive option). My eyes are cross-eyed!

But it’s been a blast! I like to think of it as research, if only the stories weren’t so fascinating that I lose track of the art of writing and instead lose myself in the characters! There are so many good authors out there, that it makes it worth wading through the crummy ones until you find the real jewels!

Can’t Wait to Plot

So, I’ve only gone through the first round of revisions on my manuscript and have sent it out to my critique group. And I’m not stopping there.

I’ve already started plotting and creating the character sketches for the next book that’s twirling around in my head.

Some could call me a glutton for punishment, since I have at least 2 more rounds of revisions on this thing. But I’d rather get these ideas on paper than let them continue to torment me in my head. I’ve had this story idea for a little over a year, but didn’t have enough of a concrete plan to bash it out on paper.

But this time around, I’m paying more attention to the character development than before. Because in this particular story, their personalities are going to be a lot more center-stage. So for the first time in my life, I’m focusing on the characters first, and not the plot.

Even searching several screenshots of people online (Yahoo Images) to see if I can find anyone that closely resembles the image I have in my brain of my characters. I can’t draw for crap, so literally sketching them isn’t gonna work. I’m much more visual.

But I can sketch the rest of them on paper. Their goals, motivations, conflicts (GMC to any of you writers out there). What makes them tick, sing, cringe, and I can find all their buttons (and push them relentlessly!)

A writer friend of mine gave me what she uses for Character ‘Interviews,’ where she gets to know them more by playing the role of a therapist while her MC’s sit on a couch and dish out their lives and inner most thoughts. Creative!

If you peruse around on the web, you’ll find a whole bunch of different resources to help you create your characters. Character Development, character sketches, character questions… type in anything for ‘character’ and you’ll find umpteen-million.

The one I’ve used before I found here.

But clearly that’s not the only thing I’m going to use to know every inch and cranny of my characters for this iota of an idea. But you need to start somewhere.

Journey vs. Destination… Which Are You?

Steep winding road. The road is narrow and cli...

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I’ve realized there are two kinds of people in this world: those in it for the journey, and those in it for the destination. I know, you hear it a lot, but have you actually realized which of these YOU are?

If you’re more the ‘destination’ oriented person, you probably shouldn’t become a writer. I’ve discovered that writing is about evolving. Going through scenes like phases in adolescence constantly changing, highly emotional, combative, and potentially scar-inducing. An ugly roller coaster. But writing provides moments of enlightenment that are supposed to make you better, broaden your imagination and strengthen your skills. And as long as you value the lessons you learn along the tumultuous path of writing, and not really care whether or not you get published, then you’ll be successful.

But if you think being published is the only way you’ll be successful, i.e Destination driven, you may end up disastrously depressed. Or at the very least disappointed and disgruntled. Almost feel like you’ve been ripped off.

And I realized something else, too. I’ve gone through most of my life as a Destination Oriented person. Making the class, making the grade, making the degree, making the meet, earning certain scores/awards, making quotas, milestones, etc, on and on, so on and so forth. There’s always been a mile marker to reach or goal line at the end of the field. (Metaphorically, obviously I never played football). And with every ‘destination’ reached, I’ve felt accomplished and that my life has been meaningful.

I’ve always enjoyed writing through school years and into adulthood. But this last year has been primarily focused on writing (writing as my profession, that is, although I’ve never earned a dime from it). Hence, I learn that writing is definitely Journey oriented. To which they measure success on an entirely different stick. So when I set goals for myself when I first started this past year and having to reach certain milestones, and thereby NOT reaching them, I feel like a failure. I start to doubt myself, call myself a horrible writer, not worth a lick, and blah blah blah. (I’ve always been my own worst critic.) I don’t like to be a glutton for punishment. But I don’t like thinking that I’m not good at something. I don’t have to be great, I don’t have to be the best, but I at least want to feel that I’m GOOD at something.

Why else would I bother my time with something? You want to spend your life, your precious time (that you don’t have much of on this Earth) doing something meaningful, valuable, and productive? So when I don’t reach my goals, or am seriously delayed in crossing a milestone, there’s an itch in the back of my mind that makes me think is this right for me? Am I failing those I love who’ve supported me in this endeavor?

And then I step out of my ridiculous ‘destination’ shoes and BACK UP. I go to the people I love, the ones I respect, and they force me to ask the RIGHT questions.

Do I love to write?…………….. Hell yes.

Have I learned something? ………… Hell yes.

Do I want to continue?…………. Well, yeah.

Will I disappoint anyone by stopping?….. No.

Will I disappoint anyone by writing?….. No. (At least, not the ones I love.)

And my answer was blatantly obvious. I haven’t failed at anything. And because I love to write, and constantly try to make myself better, I can call myself a writer. And so I put on my ‘Journey’ shoes.

People love to call themselves ‘Journey’ people when its crystal blue skies and beautiful green countrysides. But change to ‘Destination’ people when they run into dark and winding roads, so they can keep hope that there’s something meaningful at the end of the tunnel. Either way, you have to wear the right shoes.

And what do ya know, you can be both a journey and destination person at the same time. It’s chaotic at times, painful even, but its doable. Even enjoyable. But only by those who can pull off the look. Can you?

Happy Memorial Day everyone, and keep writing forward!

Happy Dance Milestone in WIP

Writing

I have to share my happy dance moment today. My WIP (work-in-progress) that I’ve been working on for almost a year (ouch, hurts to admit its taken that long) is 65,000 words right now (200 pgs), and is about 3/4 of the way done.

Woo hoo!

It’s a contemporary romance (with a hint of suspense) about a springboard diver who has an accident, ends up in coma for 3 months, and when she wakes up, discovers that her life plans are taken. Stolen, really, by her rival: her NCAA title, her dream job, and the man she’s had a secret crush on for years. As she recovers and tries to pick up the pieces of her drastically altered life, she fights between finding (or settling) on different dreams, or trying to fight for the ones she had before.

I won’t give away the ending (because what kind of writer/aspiring author would I be if I did), but was the injury an accident, or sabotage?

(And by the way, I used to a springboard diver, so I’m qualified to write about that sport. They say, “Write what you know.”)

I shared this piece of accomplishment with my writer’s group buddies (Greater Fort Worth Writers) because I knew they’d understand this accomplishment and how much I’ve struggled with it. I’ve had weeks and weeks of writers block scattered throughout the last year, and had to go back and revamp several aspects of this manuscript as I discovered major flaws. (Which my writers group helped me find.) They’ve supported me, pushed me, motivated me, and *cracked the whip* to get my brain in gear to finish this thing.

I’m still not finished. But I’m much closer. There have been times of utter pain and disappointment with myself. Alas, I’m my harshest critic, but there are plenty of even harsher critics in the publishing industry that would give me a run for my brutal words (incase you newbies weren’t aware). And this is only the first draft. First drafts are always ugly, many times don’t even end up looking anywhere close to the final product. But many authors I read say that their first drafts are always the most difficult, most time-consuming, and most painful. Which I’m extremely glad to hear.

Because if there’s worse pain than this kind of mental agony, I might have to find another passion. (Nah, writing is too much fun, even during the painful parts).

And in case you’re wondering from my previous post about my main character having bi-polar due to battling themes, no I haven’t fixed that yet. I need to finish the first draft before I go back and fix her behavior. That will be part of the first revision.

But I did my happy-dance this morning (looked very much like Evan Baxter’s happy dance in Evan Almighty. Yes, I watched that movie and I love Steve Carrell).

I think everyone could use a little happy-dance in their lives, so I’m spreading the love.

Now, DANCE! *commence “Celebrate” music*

“Ce-le-brate good times, come on! Duh, nuh-nuh-nuh, nuh, nuh-nuh-nuh, Weehoo!”

Now, back to writing.

Keep writing forward, everyone!