Monday, June 25, 2007

The Power of Networking

When I first started my website, it was a daunting task. At the time, I had only a handful of articles published on a site which no longer existed. I struggled to figure out what I could put on its pages that would be of interest to anyone other than me.

But, I had participated in the Muse Online Writers Conference and was still active on their forum at Yahoo and I also spent a fair amount of time at StoryCrafters (SC)--getting to know my fellow writers, offering critiques, requesting feedback, and sharing cool links.

It was because I took part in the Muse Online Writers Conference that I became a staff member for Writer2Writer ( Editor, Cheryl Wright had seen one of my comments and asked to see some of my past articles.

Then I decided to mold my blog into an online presence to connect readers with talented authors and good books. Once again, the contacts I had gained from the Conference and from SC came in handy.

In any given month I interview from two to seven authors and write book reviews, which I post to my blog. Lea Schizas, the Founder of the Muse Online Writers Conference, discovered a book review I did and asked me to become part of The Muse Book Reviews ( An author will be sending out to me this week the first book I will review for The Muse. And I am also working with Lea and a group of other talented writers on a new project titled Musing Our Children with the mission to encourage reading and writing in young people.

None of these things would have occured if I hadn't made a point to network with people within the industry. Attending conferences, participating in writers groups, and getting to know some of your fellow writers, can make a big difference in your writing career.

Nowadays, my website doesn't look so sparse. I added an Upcoming Events page to announce all the author interviews I have scheduled. Amazingly, I have people asking if I'm interested in interviewing one of their authors, instead of me having to seek out willing participants. My Articles page is being added to on a regular basis, and I always have new links to share with my readers. I also added a Writing Samples page, so people can get a feel for my style.

And I have the power of networking to thank for it all.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Finding the Time and Commitment to Write

By Vicki Taylor

Ideas flow like water. Some of us catch them with a cup, others with a sieve. Hey I like that. I'll have to write that one down. Anyway, back to discussing finding time to write and sticking to it.

A writer friend I know said that we all have a story inside of us. Those of us who are writers find a way to bring that story out. Many brand new writers fight against all kinds of obstacles (i.e., responsibilities.) Job. Home. Children. Life. Our inner critic. We can't avoid them. Not many of us are fortunate enough to be independently wealthy and can devote our entire time to writing.

Our inner critic takes on all kinds of roles. It's that voice in our head that says the laundry needs to be folded before you write. It insists you dust the knick-knacks in the living room before you write. It whispers in your ear that your favorite tv show is on and you can't miss it. It also nags you about your writing dreams and cajoles you into thinking you'll never make it.

Fight that inner critic, but don't gag its voice for good. You'll need it when it starts whispering to you in the middle of the night about a plot twist. You'll want to hear it tell you about the weak character build up in chapter three.

Learn to choose what you want to listen to and then you'll find time to write and a desire to stay with your ideas.

Before you know it you'll have your first draft done and you'll enjoy a satisfaction like no other. You wrote a novel. You started it, stuck with it, and finished it.

Every writer needs time to find a routine that works for her. For some they wake early and put in a thousand words before work. Others stay up late and work into the early hours. I know writers who take a notebook or laptop to work and add to their manuscript during breaks and on their lunch time.

No one writer has the perfect recipe for success that fits every writers' needs. However, we all have one major desire in common -- the desire to write.

Here are some suggestions to help you catch those ideas rather than letting them flow away:

1. Keep a notebook beside your bed so you can jot down ideas as they come to you in the middle of the night.

2. Make it a habit to carry a small notebook and pen with you or your personal data assistant or handheld computer at all times.

3. Start a writing routine. Start small at first. For the first week try and find ten minutes every day to write. The next week add five more minutes, the next week add five more. Keep going until you settle into a routine that works best for you.

4. Join a writing group either online or in your city for support. There's nothing like getting encouragement from another writer. Writers are born cheerleaders. They'll help you figure out ways to stifle that inner critic when necessary.

5. Don't give up and keep writing. If you feel yourself losing steam, find creative ways to recharge yourself. Sometimes, it helps to read other authors. Seeing how they’ve crafted a story stimulates you to write again.

If you falter, start again. It may take years to complete your first novel. That's okay. Anyone who says writing a novel is a piece of cake, they're lying. I've heard writers liken writing a novel to giving birth. I'm not sure if it's literally that painful, but it comes darn close!

Stop by and get to know Vicki at her website.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Making connections. When you come right down to it, isn't that why we write? I mean, anyone who has been in the business for a while knows the money isn't that great. Sure the brass ring thing happens on the rare occasion but for most of us, it probably won't. Mary says if you want money, you should be a plumber. And anyone that's had any plumbing work done recently knows the truth of that:--)

But...when something we write connects to another person and makes them feel...isn't that the coolest thing ever! When a reader tells us how much they loved one of our favorite characters or really didn't like the bad guy, we know we have accomplished what we set out to do.

For nonfiction writers or those who write creative nonfiction, when one of our pieces helps another person or causes them to feel, think, take action or learn much better can it get.

Sure I love to get paid for my writing. And pay is one of the things I consider before sending a piece to a publisher but it isn't the only reason I write.

And speaking of of the things I love about StoryCrafters is the connections I've made with other writers. Writing truly is a solitary craft. We sit in front of our puters for hours at a time shutting out the real world. It's so great to be able to take a break and connect with others doing the same thing we are.

Today, I challenge you to make some connections. Connect with other writers as a start. Then, consider your target readers. Think about what you want them to take away from your writing and weave that connection into your writing.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Without a Net by Lynn Voedisch

There are writers who like things tidy, all neatly arranged and indexed. They probably have neat and organized houses, too. Then there are those of us who are called seat-of-the-pants writers, who work without a net and let our subconscious be our guide. I’m one of those writers who doesn’t use an outline. (My house is a mess, too.) It’s officially Not Recommended, but please understand that those of us who prefer this sort of free-form writing aren’t just flailing in the dark; we, too, have methods.

One of my Australian e-mail friends says we need to watch out for the Outline Police. It certainly does seem, if you pick up any how-to-write journal, that outlining is considered the golden rule of novel writing. Scofflaws are regarded with derision and even hotheaded scorn. Once on a mailing list, I was chastised by the owner, who said that whatever I was doing to keep the elements of the story together was still outlining. He had to believe this, because to him working without a chapter-by-chapter plan was unthinkable.

Well, he’s wrong. I don’t outline. The reason is pretty simple. In my case, having come from the world of journalism, there just never was time to outline. Everything a newspaper reporter does must be completed quickly and there is simply no time for outlines. So, when I approached novel writing, I figured “why start now?” The second reason I don’t outline is that I simply love it when the creative process suddenly leads me in a different direction—and I find it’s a better one. Several times new characters have arrived on the scene and inserted themselves in the action. In my second novel, still in manuscript form, the best character in the whole story is a guy who tapped on my shoulder and said he wanted to come in.

With an outline, those lovely moments of serendipity just don’t happen. I’ve heard from outline-lovers that they will deviate from the path if they want to. They swear the plan is flexible. I suppose it’s possible. But to me, just the idea of having something written down that I must follow seems antithetical to the creative process.

However, let’s get one thing straight: all writers have to know where they are going with their novel. You can’t start typing one day and let whims decide where you are going to go. Here are the tools I use to keep myself moving in the right direction:

An ending: You’ve should know how the book is going to end pretty early in the writing process. If you don’t have a clue, you’re still not going to have any idea when it comes to ending time. If you’ve ever read a book that has an unsatisfying ending, chances are that author didn’t think his ending out clearly to begin with. Always know where you want the action to resolve and how the protagonist changes.

Think it through: I spend a lot of time wandering around or lying on the couch, apparently doing nothing. But what I’m really doing is thinking through a chapter. I push my characters through various scenarios until I hit on the one that seems to work. Then I rush to write it all down. Often, a 2,000-word chapter will come flowing out of me in one day. That’s because it’s all clear in my mind thanks to a protracted period of kicking around ideas. Let yourself take this time. It’s essential to a well-conceived story, and works much better than the prescribed 500-words a day.

Get to know your characters: Don’t let these people you have created stay two-dimensional. They will start out that way, which is why the first chapters of a first draft are often so thin. But after a while, you’ll know their intimate thoughts. Listen to their voices. Watch what their eyes do when they smile. Notice their quirks. If you think you can get away with it, talk to them out loud. (Not recommended in public.) By the last draft, you’ll have characters who come alive—and you won’t want to say goodbye to them.

When stuck, draw a dramatic arc: On paper draw an arc, that gathers height slowly and then pitches down to the end, rather like a roller coaster. That’s your arc. Now draw a second one just below it. One is the outer arc (plot) and the other is the inner arc (character development). Mark on the arc key moments that are happening to your characters and notice how the plot gathers steam along with your protagonist’s revelations or pitfalls. Find your climax point and then the denouement to the ending will be easy. Each chapter has its own dramatic arc, too, but I don’t draw that out, I only keep it in mind.

Always remember what readership you are aiming for: If it’s a romance, don’t get all heavy on historical details. If it’s a mystery, don’t lose your way in a lot of subplots. If you are writing mainstream, picture who would be picking up your book and write to him or her.

It’s easy to work without a net if you organize things well in your mind. And when that funny character with the strange clothing and odd vocal inflections taps you on the shoulder, let him in. You don’t have an outline to keep him out.

To find out more about Lynn and where to purchase her work check out her website.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Procrastination: Reality Sets In

We've talked a bit about procrastination here at the SC blog. I even wrote an article about it for Writer2Writer. But sometimes procrastination means more than missing a deadline or not obtaining a goal.

Almost four years ago, one of my neighbors and I gave birth to our youngest daughters. My neighbor, Karen and I would run into each other every once in a while and we always talked about getting together. During the spring, I would often walk up the street pushing my infant daughter in her stroller. If Karen happened to be driving by, she would stop and say hello. We would chat and it would usually end with one of us agreeing to call the other, so that we could set up a time to walk our daughters together.

Well, time moved on--as it always does--and our infants became toddlers. Every once in a rare while I would make my way towards Karen's house with the girls or she would see us playing in the cul-de-sac and she would travel down to my end of the street. I always enjoyed these conversations. Karen was lovely to talk to and she never had an unkind word to say about anyone. You couldn't help but feel happy when you were around her.

This past December, Karen was diagnosed with leukemia. She stayed in Boston until March because she had a stroke from the chemotherapy treatments she was receiving. I never went to visit her. It was difficult to make such a trip because I would have to make arrangements for my girls and driving around Boston makes me sweat bullets. Once she was moved to a local rehab center, I figured I would see her there. But again, I put it off. I was embarassed and ashamed I had never made an attempt to call her prior to her illness so that we could get together. And she was only there a short time, so I decided to wait until she came home.

I did make two attempts to see Karen and her family, but both times Karen had been rushed to the hospital, so I never got that chance. The day before she went into the hospital the last time, I saw her outside her home, in her wheelchair. She was getting some fresh air. She looked great. If it weren't for her wheelchair and the turban around her head, you never would have known she was sick. I could have stopped to say hello, but I was in a rush to get my grocery shopping done. And I had two kids in the car. So, I waved and made a mental note to call Karen once she was feeling up to it.

Unfortunately, Karen died two days later. The cancer had returned and it quickly consumed her body. In addition to the grief of losing a neighbor, I wept as I thought of all the lost opportunities. What if I had dialed Karen's number or rung her doorbell just once in all the time we knew each other? Would she have become my best friend? I don't know, because I never did it. I put it off and now it is too late to find out what could have been. I sometimes wonder when doing housework and running errands became more important than spending time with family and friends.

It's been a tough lesson--one that has changed my life forever. Think about all the reasons you come up with to put off writing. I'm sure they sound pretty reasonable at the time. But what have you given up just so you wouldn't have to sit in your chair and write? Was it worth it in the end? What if the one thing you have avoided writing is also the one that turns into your next sale? Think about it. Then plunk yourself down in your chair and write it.


Friday, June 08, 2007

What do you have hiding in your drawers?

Catchy title, don't you think? I've been helping Speck prune the forum, which is a long and tedious task. Often times as I was going through these older topics I thought about what great information these threads still contained. And this all got me to thinking about my writing.

Upstairs, in my hope chest is an entire envelope of stories and poems I wrote as a teenager. While my vanity won't allow me to share with you how old they are, I can tell you that it has been well over a decade since I last looked at them. I distinctly remember a poem I wrote, titled The Sights and Sounds that Fill the Night. I can even visualize myself writing it late one evening as I gazed out over the street from the window of the three-room apartment our neighbor lived in.

I can also recall the two stories I wrote after my mother's death from cancer, each of which amazingly had a female protaganist who's mother was dying of cancer. And then there was the Scooby Doo type mystery I penned when that show was still on the air.

But what use are these stories now? Well, not only do they serve to remind me of the things that were important to me when I was that young; they could also spark a new story idea that I could submit for publication. Maybe I might find one that still seems pretty darn good and revise it and mail it out. And since I would love to write for the young adult market, this might just give me a glimpse into how to speak to young people without talking down to them.

How many manuscripts do you have tucked away? One, five, ten...just sitting around collecting dust when they could be making you money. Maybe it's time you pulled open the manuscript drawer to see what you have hiding in there.

Who knows, it might be the makings of the Great American Novel.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Review of How to Write Killer Fiction

Let’s continue our review of Carolyn Wheat’s How to Write Killer Fiction. I must say, I am impressed with this book. Carolyn delves into history of both the mystery and suspense genres. A couple of weeks back, I share a bit about the mystery novel, so this time we’ll look at the suspense novel.

With the mystery novel, the reader follows along with the hero/heroine and gathers clues to solve the crime/murder. However, with the suspense novel the reader is often two steps ahead, and cringing at the danger that the hero/heroine is unknowingly about to step in.

Carolyn Wheat refers to this with an example from the great mystery master, Alfred Hitchcock and his famous story about a bomb under the table. He said that the way to create suspense is to show a bomb under a card table and then show four men playing cards. The game can be the dullest thing imaginable, the dialogue flat, the scenery boring, but the audience is on the edge of their seats because they know what the cards players don’t: there’s a bomb under the table.

In her book, Carolyn also compares several suspense novels to that of our much loved childhood fairy tales. From Snow White to Cinderella. She even tied one of my favorite thriller suspense stories, Silence of the Lambs to the classic, Beauty and the Beast.

What do children’s fairy tales have in common with suspense? Carolyn gives us a closer look at Snow White whose father married a woman who is jealous of her beauty. This evil stepmother tries several times to get rid of Snow White and finally sends her out into the woods with a huntsman who has orders to kill Snow White and then bring her heart back to the Wicked Queen.

Talk about suspense. Will the huntsman kill her? No, he doesn’t. Instead, he kills a deer and takes its heart to the Queen.

Part 2 of How to Write Killer Fiction also includes short descriptions of the many sub-genres of the suspense novel. You’ll find references to Romantic Suspense, Relationship Suspense, Personal Jeopardy and even Spy Fiction, plus much more. This treasure trove of knowledge includes which endings work, which one don’t, and why.

Part 3 raps it all up with tips on the writing process. I believe anyone wanting to write mystery or suspense would do well to study this book and many of the novels that Carolyn Wheat recommends. It has certainly wet my appetite for more.