Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks Tuesday’ Category

Ad for the Commonplace Book

Attention: All writers.
Announcing a “must-have” item now available to stimulate thoughts and generate the flow of ideas. It’s been available for centuries, but I was only recently introduced to this fabulous item. And frankly, I can’t believe I’ve lived so long without it! Now that I’m paying attention, I find that a substantial majority of well-respected writers I’ve encountered in the last few months—modern, classical, or ancient and from all economical situations—keep/kept this item or it’s equivalent with them at all times.


Commonplace Book
The “must-have” for any writer or conscious thinker is the commonplace book—a pocket-sized (or purse-sized) notebook carried with you at all times in order to record what is uppermost on your mind at any given moment.

See if this sounds familiar: you’re driving down the road, or in the dentist’s chair, or suddenly awakened in the night with a brilliant, or at least interesting, idea, but you’ve no place to jot it down! By the time you get your hands on paper and pen, the thought has long since faded into the far recesses of your mind. Lost forever.

Don’t ya hate that?!

The commonplace book defeats the above scenario. That never has to happen again! The moment a thought hits, you whip it out, and write it down. Voile! The thought is saved from certain death. (Although, if you’re driving, I recommend taking the time to pull off the road before recording your thought.)

How To
A few things to keep in mind while getting used to your commonplace book:

  • The thought itself is important and should not be prejudged for quality.
  • The trigger and the idea it promotes don’t necessarily have to reflect one another.
  • Trust your instincts. Editing as you write may destroy the beauty of the original thought. So write it first, that way it’s safely preserved, and then hack it to pieces.

Also, among your jotted thoughts, please include thoughts from the following categories:

  • Dumb
  • Stupid
  • Obvious
  • Irrelevant

Any thoughts from the above may be, or lead to, your best ideas. In particular, obvious thoughts actually hold a fair amount of value, because they usually resonate well with the masses.

Give it a try. If you’re not in the habit already, pick up an inexpensive, small notebook the next time you’re at the store, and see if this works for you. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: It’s All About Quantity

Today’s nugget was gleaned from a literature class I am currently taking. My teacher presented the following quote from Jules Renard in class. My response is below.

“Talent is a question of quantity. Talent does not write one page: it writes three hundred. No novel exists which an ordinary intelligence could not conceive; there is no sentence, no matter how lovely, that a beginner could not construct. What remains is to puck up the pen, to rule the paper, patiently to fill it up. The strong do not hesitate. They settle down, they seat, they go on to the end. They exhaust the ink, they use of the paper…In literature, there are only oxen.”

There is a lot of hope in this statement. It puts our fates back in our hands and gives us the ability to proceed. We don’t have to depend on something innate, beyond our control, to determine whether we can or cannot write. It’s so obvious that I’ve never thought about it before, but it is true: anyone can compose any sentence. No magical power is required to do so.

In this statement Renard claims the key to producing great work is to produce tons of work, and then, I presume, to pick out what is best. Hopefully, if there is enough work to choose from, then some of it will be very good. And it goes without saying—but I will say it anyway—that all of that work will be great practice to improve the work as the writer goes along.

It makes me think of J.K Rowling who managed to write a story that has resonated through this decade and touched all varieties of people like no other in my lifetime. But she patiently plodded along, like an ox, and wrote for years before she ever produced the first book. She wrote thousands and thousands of words that never went into her books, carefully laying foundations, getting to know her characters, and honing her craft until she could choose the very best bits of text to go into her books.

This advice from an expert novelist and playwright has caused me to renew my dedication and keep moving forward. And hopefully some day I too, will offer the same advice to those who want to know how I did it.

Writing for Charity Event

If you are an aspiring writer and will be anywhere near Salt Lake City, Ut on Saturday (the 21st), you must check out an amazing opportunity hosted by one of my favs–author Shannon Hale (the Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days).

The day event is $70. You may bring a manuscript to hash over with the likes of James Dashner (the Maze Runner, 13th Reality), Bree Dispain (the Dark Divine), Anne Bowen (What Do Teachers Do After You Leave School, I Loved You Before You Were Born), and several others. Or you can just listen in if you’re shy about your work. The evening event is $10 and features live music, the comedians of Divine Comedy, and an all-star author’s panel including Brandond Mull (Fablehaven Series) and Shannon Hale herself!

I am dying that I did not hear about this before today! Alas, I am now locked into unchangeable plans and cannot attend. But I am already looking forward to next year and will be the first in line for tickets!!

Please click here to read more about this event, or click here for the event website and ticket info.

Now the Work Begins: Editing a Novel

Today’s guest post is from lovely and talented Nora Weston, the woman who knows a little bit about everything. Please visit the Noracast for insightful tips and tricks about everything from simplifying your world, to hosting the perfect party, to emergency preparedness on the road.

Ignore your finished novel for at least a month to distance yourself from the manuscript. I know it’s your baby, your masterpiece, but after some time elapses, your emotions will subside a little allowing the eyes and mind of an editor to take over. Passion is required to get the story down and the editing phase, if performed with a critical eye, will result in an exciting novel you’ll be able to submit.

* Run spell-check and grammar check. These editing buddies will not catch everything, but start with them and go from there.

* Hit “Find” and run a search for words ending in ly. I’ve seen numerous submission guidelines asking authors to check their use of words ending in ly.

Example/No: The extremely extravagantly lit ballroom was too bright.

Improved: The extravagantly lit ballroom was too bright.

Better: An overabundance of dazzling chandeliers sparkled with intensity almost blinding me.

* Hit “Find” and run a search for that, because this word can be overused.

Example/No: “Isn’t it enough that I show up every Sunday to help you?”

Better: “Isn’t it enough I show up every Sunday to help you?”

Example/No: This is the dollhouse that Steve made.

Better: This is the dollhouse Steve made.

* Hit “Find” and run a search for just and really since these words make appearances in manuscripts too often.

Example/No: This is just a really terrible salad.

Improved: This is a terrible salad.

Better: This limp salad is too warm and reeks like it came from a garbage dump.

* Read with a critical eye making sure you’ve used they’re, their, and there correctly.

Example/No: They’re is a black dog guarding the warehouse and he is scary. (they’re = they are)

Yes: There is a black dog guarding the warehouse and he is scary.

Example/No: The policemen told me there motorcycles are parked out back, but their missing.

Yes: The policemen told me their motorcycles are parked out back, but they’re missing.

Do you want more of an explanation? Check out they’re, their, and there.

* Comma Usage: Oh! Where do I begin? I think I’ll leave this one to Professor Pamela Braden of West Virginia University, Parkersburg, WV. This is a tough topic, so I’ll visit Professor Braden’s page when in doubt.

* Sentence structure and length needs to vary so readers do not get bored. Visit Purdue Online Writing Lab for examples. Also visit Dr. Grammar for helpful tips with word usage.

* Character Development: Is your protagonist likeable? Will your readers turn every page hoping this character sees the light, beats the odds, and/or has accomplished the task set before him, or her? This does not mean your protagonist must be perfect. Flawed characters are more believable and it’s thrilling to see a character evolve throughout a novel. Take time to create main characters that are three-dimensional. Give them a unique appearance, habits, expose their likes and dislikes, let their dreams and nightmares help shape their personality; use any means possible to let your readers into their minds. Do your readers know what motivates your protagonist? By the same token…do your readers know why the antagonist is so hateful? Has this character suffered? Check out what Susan Williams Beckhorn has to say about three-dimensional characters. Make sure to read #6, Show, Don’t Tell!

* Check your manuscript to find any sequential mishaps with times, dates, and events. If you’re writing a science fiction novel that hops back and forth between time periods, then this is vital to the story. It’s easy to get times, dates, and events confused when passion for the story has complete control over your brain.

* Dialogue: “How hard could this be?” Guy Hogan answers this question. Always remember, great dialogue moves the story forward. It’s especially fun to write dialogue for characters who speak with a certain amount of “attitude.” Too many dialogue tags can slow down the flow of a story, so be careful. If you take time to listen how people speak to one another, you’ll be surprised. Make notes, observe, and realize people do not constantly say the other person’s name during a conversation.

* Unnecessary Words: Take out words, paragraphs, and pages if they do not add to the story and move it forward. This is difficult to do, but it will tighten up the plot making the action and dialogue move along faster.

* Head-hopping/Point-of-View Violations: I prefer to keep one point-of-view per scene, meaning I only allow one character’s point-of-view to be realized per scene. I’ve read various opinions about this topic and editors disagree, but since so many submission guidelines ask authors not to have point-of-view violations, I stay on the safe side.

* Is there enough tension, or curiosity, at the end of every chapter to entice your readers to the next chapter? If not, add conflict, increase danger, introduce another problem, but keep your readers interested.

These tips will get you started. If you know of a helpful tip for editing a novel, share it by leaving a comment. Thanks for visiting!

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: How I Craft a Book Review

If you’d like some advice about how to write a very formal and scholarly critique of a book, you won’t find it here. Please visit Purdue’s Online Writing Lab for a great article about that kind of book-reviewing. This is about the informal world of book-review blogging, and what I look for and aim to provide in a book-review.

So, to start: do you or don’t you take notes while you read? I don’t. I prefer to be absorbed into the story, and I can’t do that if I am constantly assessing whether the text or character or what-have-you is ‘jot-worthy’ or not.

I read the book, at whatever pace it demands, and then put it all–my thoughts included– on the shelf for a few days. After that I make a note of anything that still stands out to me: writing style, character development, a certain moment, a plot twist, anything. I figure if I’m still thinking about something after a few days, then it’s probably worth discussing in my review.

If nothing stands out, but I must write a review then my best bet is to go through a list of questions like this one from the Los Angeles Valley College Library and hope it gets the wheels turning in my brain.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I don’t use a template for book-reviews. I shape each article individually. But while I’m shaping, I keep a few do’s and don’t’s in mind:

Don’t:

  • Stress about a comprehensive synopsis. Readers will go to Goodreads or Amazon for that. Most books already have dozens of synopses out there. Your personal opinions and perspective is the unique thing you can offer readers.
  • Be afraid to talk about plot twists, ending, or other surprise points. But be considerate, and warn those who haven’t read the book yet to stop reading your review if you are about to give away something important.
  • Think that a negative review will damage a book’s sales. Often times a negative review breeds more curiosity. If you want to deter readers from buying than don’t mention the book at all.

Do:

  • Read the entire book before you review it! This should be obvious, but for reasons unknown, some people don’t. You cannot pass fair judgment if you haven’t considered all the evidence. And as The Bloggers’ Bulletin suggests, you could end up with a foot planted squarely in your mouth if you make a factual error.
  • Mention the book title and author’s name in the first paragraph of your review. As Scholastic points out, no one likes to dig for that.
  • Express your opinions. As your reader that’s what I want from you. But if you’re reviewing a book about Mexican food, and if–due to a traumatic childhood incident involving avocados–you have an atypical aversion to Guacamole, it would be cool if you disclose that and acknowledge that your opinion may be colored accordingly.
  • Draw your conclusions and then explain why. The ‘why’ part lends credibility to your opinions and persuades your readers. Without the ‘why’ your review is just another rant.
  • Consider the author’s purpose in writing the book. University of Northern Carolina’s online writing center offers a great example of how skewed a review can end up, if the reviewer judges solely from their expectations and ignores the author’s intentions.

I usually sum-up by recommending the book to those that might find value in it, whether it’s a very wide audience made up of anyone who’s ever ridden in a car or a smaller crowd of moto-cross-loving grandmothers of Siamese twins.

So what about you? Do you take notes when you read? Do prefer the scholarly book-critique, or the casual, opinion-laden book-review?

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Post-Haste

The internet is full of blogs that started off well, but for whatever reason the author lost steam and abandoned the project. I believe this happens most often when the novelty wears off, and writing the blog ceases to be a source of entertainment. Totally understandable.

When the initial energy and excitement is gone, hard work is mostly all that’s left. And while there are rewards, few people are thrilled about spending 6 or more hours at the computer on a 500 word post. So what’s the trick? How do we maximize our time at the keyboard and maintain positive blogging energy?

Here’s my “best of” list from some smart people who know how to write fast:

  • Set the stage. Michelle V. Rafter says, “Write when you’re on.” She claims 5am is her freshest time of day and reserves it for writing. She ‘un-plugs’ (internet, T.V., etc.) and removes all possible distractions.
  • Focus your topic. Jim Estill starts with a list of points to cover; marinades them for a few days, gathering ideas and honing the focus of his piece; and then tosses the items that don’t fit. (BTW Jim’s article was fantastic, definitely worth your time.)
  • Answer a question. Gill E. Wagner says turning your subject into a question to answer identifies what you need and don’t need to cover.
  • Pick your format ahead of time. Alisa Bowman recommends spending your time on writing rather than format. Her article identifies 5 common blog-post formats.
  • Write first; then edit. Get everything out of your head before you make changes. Breaking up the flow of your ideas requires you to spend time collecting them again.
  • The shorter the post, the better. Internet audiences are known for their limited attention span. The blogosphere has no use for fluff and filler. Write about what’s interesting and avoid everything else.

Can you do it now? Go pound away for a solid 30 minutes, and then move on with your day already!

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Your Story

Fellow bloggers agree: blogging about writing is great. We put into words of all the ideas that rattle around in our heads and meet and learn from successful people in the writing profession, all while practicing the craft. But as valuable as this experience is now, in a 100 years when things have changed dramatically, there will probably be little value to the things we are discussing here.

On the other hand, any kind of a record of everyday life, however mundane it may seam, may prove invaluable to posterity and future historians. So while you’re feverishly working away at your profession, don’t forget to leave a little something about yourself behind.

Three ways to keep a journal:

  • The time-honored tradition of pen and paper. For some, this is the ideal way to compose anything, and certainly the portability and convenience cannot be beat by even the smallest of laptops. A planner, a palm, or even your slightly-used pizza napkin will do in a pinch.
  • Blog. There are tons of user-friendly, free services out there now. (blogger.com, aeonity.com, wordpress.com) These services, especially Blogger, are great for allowing you to insert pictures, videos, and all kinds of stuff. Plus your mom and those that love you will love having access to you. Of course these services also allow you to control who can view your blog.
  • If you need writing prompts than you might try LDSJournal.com. This service was started with members of the LDS faith in mind (journaling and record-keeping are a big deal to them). No worries though, this service could be beneficial for anyone, and an LDS membership isn’t required.


    This site offers a question of the day to get you going, and they also have a great “all about me” section with questions about your childhood, education, vacations, and other personal history prompts.


    The down-side (or maybe the upside, depending on your view) is that security is tight, and casual, viewing-only access is not allowed. Also I have yet to figure out how to include photos and videos.

However you do it… do it! Get going and earn your immortality today.