Friday, March 18, 2016

Do You Want to Be a Writer?

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard
I came across a great blog by Indie Author sensation Hugh Howey a couple of days ago. In it, he gives the secrets to success as a writer, which a lot of people won't follow because, yeah, they're hard.

Here's how he starts out:

Sitting in your underwear, hearing voices, talking to people who are not there, mumbling to yourself, Googling how to dispose of bodies and the firing rate of an uzi submachine gun. Assuming this sounds like the ideal life for you—and you don’t want to be certifiably crazy but only a little crazy—then the life of the professional writer is what you’re after. And I’m going to tell you how to make it happen.
Then he gives "the #1 secret to success and a career of working in your underwear: You have to work harder than anyone else. Period."

I'll list a few of his bullet points, but you'll have to go over and read the complete article to get the full flavor of the meal. And yes, he says a couple of words I don't use, but nowhere near as many as Chuck Wendig does. They both give great advice.
  • Make a long-term plan.
  • Reading.
  • Practice
  • Daydream.
  • Learn to fail.
And those are just the first five points. If you want to be a writer, go read these and the other five, with their explanations of how to implement them.

Then get to work!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, said the King of Siam

or so I'm told. Someday I'll get around to watching *that movie.

by Marsha Ward

From time to time, I'll see words misspelled in blog posts, or emails, or articles, or on Facebook, and every time, they make me cringe. Yes, I'm that much of a perfectionist. Lucky me.

One I'm seeing consistently is "ect." [sic].

I think the word, or rather, the abbreviation, is so often misspelled because very few people know anymore what the abbreviation stands for, and maybe folks don't have a clue how it is pronounced. They kind of know what it means, but not the rest of it. So much for teaching to the test.

Instinctive teacher that I am, I'm here to offer enlightenment.

First, the proper way to spell that word is "etc." Please note that there is always a period after it, even if it occurs in the middle of a sentence. **Yanno, like Dr. or Mrs.

Second, etc. is an abbreviation of the Latin words "et cetera." Please look closely. The first word is spelled e t. The second word begins with a c. That's where the abbreviation comes from: the first word plus the first letter of the second word.

et cetera

My handy Webster's New World Dictionary (always kept by my desk) gives this information: et cet-er-a [and says the accent is on "cet."] and others; and the like: abbrev. etc.

Now you will never forget how to correctly spell that abbreviation, because you will hear et cetera in your head every time you go to write it.

Have a wonderful day. And don't misspell etc. ever again. Thank you.

* The King and I
** (Miss Snark's way of saying "you know." Miss Snark is the blog pen name of the much-missed, albeit potty-mouthed agent who is no longer entertaining the masses.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules for Writers

We lost the brilliant American writer Elmore Leonard in August of 2013. I'm posting a bit of writing advice he gave us that has become almost as famous as he is.
~Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

Ten Rules for Writers

1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is back story, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."

3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

Great advice, Mr. Leonard. I'll keep it in mind as I tackle the beginning of another novel.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Research, Writing, and Visual Cues

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

Let me state up front that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This affects the way I write, and tosses a few hurdles in my path that many other writers don't deal with. But other writers also have ADD or ADHD, so I feel a kinship with them. We do the best we can, and sometimes, we do brilliantly.

When it comes to writing novels, I don't always follow a strict progression of tasks. You know, like do research, write, edit, send the work off. These are very broad categories for the many and varied tasks writers do to get from the beginning to the end of a project. Let me explain a bit further.
  • Some writers do all their research before they write the first creative word.
  • Some writers do quite a bit of research to get a solid overview before they begin writing, then continue to research while they write, as they discover they need specific details.
  • Some writers make it all up, without any need for research.
Because I write historical novels, I need to do research, so I don't fall into the third group of writers.

I don't always know what I need to know when I begin a project, so I can't research everything before I write. Therefore, I don't belong in the first category, either.

I'm among those in the middle category above: I get the background covered, start writing, then fill in the gaps when they come along. I think of this as first, using the shotgun approach, then using a rifle to target the specifics.

 Once I've identified certain facts, I find that I need constant reminders of them. I'm afflicted with ADHD, remember?

Because I am a visual-learner, I depended on visual cues to remember these key items as I wrote the prequel novel in The Owen Family Saga, Gone for a Soldier. I made several charts or graphs, which are actually poster-board sheets I hung on my walls or attached to the front door with magnets. These sheets have various types of information on them.

One sheet showed a column with a rough timeline of the major battles of the eastern theater of the Civil War. My characters were not much concerned with the war's battles west of Virginia. A column on the rest of the page noted how my characters were impacted by these events. I should have used more space on the timeline side, as the second column needed more room. Oh well.

Another sheet reminded me of which military units are aggregated to make up larger units, that is: company > regiment > brigade > division > corps > army. I hope I got that right, as I'm not looking at the sheet.

A third sheet showed the configuration and changes there-to of the eastern fighting forces of the Confederacy. The death of major commanders often meant the entire army got reorganized. As units received casualties, they often were combined. New regiments were raised and places found for them in the army.

My intent wasn't to document these changes, but to show where they impact my characters. You see, I assigned most of my characters to actual historical Civil War units. In only one case did I choose to create a bogus cavalry company.

Civil War Units from Virginia
If Character A started out in actual Company Z of Regiment 1 of the infantry, and his unit was wiped out and combined with another after Battle 100, he might write home about it. If his Company didn't actually participate in a certain battle, I couldn't write a scene showing him in the heat of the fray.

Alas, I discovered I needed to dump a scene I wrote before I learned that a character's historical unit wasn't at the Battle of First Manassas (called Bull Run by the Yankees). Part of the problem came about because I hadn't isolated the company he would join before I wrote the scene. I knew his regiment was in the battle, so I assumed his company would be. Only after I picked the company in which he would enlist did I learn that, for whatever reason, it hadn't been on the field of battle. Erk!

I know all this sounds like an awful lot of work. To be truthful, it is! However, my method makes it possible for me to function at least halfway like a human being, and to let loose the stories rolling around in my head. That's worth the extra work!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Helpful Writing Blogs

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

I believe in life-long learning. Most of my learning, of necessity, deals with writing and the skills I need to forward my indie writing and publishing career.

I read a lot of helpful writing blogs so that I can learn new things. Then I gauge how or whether to adopt them into my life.

One of the most useful sites for me is The Passive Voice, an aggregated blog with partial articles and links to the complete articles. The host of the site is an attorney with an interest in authors, self-publishing, and traditional publishing.

Sometimes I will click a link to a suggested article and start delving into other articles on the site. That is how I found this post by author Toby Neal about writing a multi-book love story in any genre. Since I face challenges in writing a saga involving my fictional Owen Family, I thought I should have a look. I came away enlightened.

When I find a blog that offers sound advice, I usually subscribe to it so a heads-up on new posts will arrive in my inbox. I finally decided reading through emails was better than trying to chase down each and every blog by finding my bookmark for it. If I should happen to be on the wrong computer, I might be out of luck finding a bookmark.

Some of the blogs I follow are listed on this page at my blog under Indie Writer Resources. I have a couple more I need to add, though, such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog, which I read every Thursday for her Business Musings. I usually focus on the Monday post at The Write Conversation, as it contains tips about effective blogging.

Go ahead, click on the page at my blog and try out a couple of new sites to increase your writing and/or business knowledge.

Then come back here and tell us in the comments about what you learned.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Trust the Process

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

For several years, I've been worried that I was not doing something all the books on writing said I was supposed to do in the process of writing my novels, but it seemed to work out okay anyway. Recently, I read a book about writing. Suddenly, lights flashed, bells and whistles blew, and I got a huge confirmation that I'm really okay with what I do. The book is Writing Into the Dark: How to Write a Novel Without an Outline, by Dean Wesley Smith. I'm a pantser, so I never outline anyway, but the truth is, I don't do extensive edits and rewrites, either. That latter fact is what had me so worried.

Smith explains the difference between Creative Voice and Critical Voice, and says we should not give in to the prompting to use the Critical Voice (editing) during our writing process. The job of our Critical Voice is to stop us cold from engaging in risky business, and writing is very risky business!

Instead, he holds to Heinlein's Business Rules:

Rule #1: You must write.
Rule #2: You must finish what you write.
Rule #3: You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial demand.
Rule #4: You must put your work on the market.
Rule #5: You must keep your work on the market until it sells.

Smith gives tweaks of the rules if you are indie publishing. He also writes strange words like "practice," and "trust your process." That last one set off the bells and whistles for me.

I will say the book rambles a bit and could have been tightened, but despite its structural flaws, I found it very affirming to me. There is a bonus section in the back from another book, Killing the Top 10 Sacred Cows of Publishing. The chapter about rewriting was the whipped cream on top of the milkshake for me: his process is exactly what I've been doing all along. I write the first draft. The second draft is spell checking, then I send it to beta readers. For the third draft, I touch up the things the readers found. Then I'm done.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bookmarked Bargains is coming Monday!

Yes, it's nearly here. Dozens of ebooks in many genres by multiple authors will be available at super good prices for five days only, Monday, October 12 through Friday, October 16, 2015.

You don't want to miss this sale!