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.


etc.
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.