Saturday Writers

Author Archives: Cheryl

Learning to Write My Own Way

It’s NaNoWriMo time again and I find myself facing a familiar decision – do I participate in NaNo this year?

I’ve been a part of NaNo several times and I’ve enjoyed it. The camaraderie and enthusiasm of tackling a novel along with thousands of other people is exhilarating.

By participating in NaNo, I discovered that I really can write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I discovered that I can write 600 words in 20 minutes if I set a timer and just keep typing.

I discovered that if I don’t have a good vision of a scene in my head, I end up with 600 random, repetitive talking-head words in that 20 minutes.

I discovered that while I can write fast, I don’t like writing that fast as it feels like I’m just throwing ill-thought-out junk on the page.

This year, I want it to be different.

I have a story that I am thoroughly in love with. I’m using Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course to plan it out and it is turning out to be incredible.

I want to take my time writing the scenes so that they turn out as well as I see them in my head. so that I capture the passion and the nuances of my characters.

Will I participate in NaNo this year? Yes, I think I will. But I’m going to take my time with my daily writing. I’m going to use a slower, deliberate pace so that I’m happier with my scenes when I’m done.

Learning how YOU write is a huge part of learning how TO write. Participating in NaNo is helping me learn how I write, what works for me and what doesn’t.

What helps you learn how to write?

Writing Serendipity

Trifolium repens ?
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Serendipity is an interesting thing. It’s when you find valuable or agreeable things that you weren’t looking for. I experienced serendipity this week, though I didn’t realize it until today.

Instance #1

I blogged about the need for writing practice over on Learn to Write Fiction a couple weeks ago.

There’s a theory that 10,000 hours of practice is required to become a world-class expert in anything. There are some caveats to this, of course.

You can’t just randomly do an activity for 10,000 hours and suddenly you’re an expert. The 10,000 hours have to be engaged in meaningful, deliberate practice where the person is actively trying to improve.

Instance #2

This week I picked up a copy of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. His book presents a theory that it isn’t just 10,000 hours that make an expert, though that is necessary. He adds that there are often instances of great opportunity in the lives of these experts-opportunities that propelled them forward toward expert status.

This makes sense in the publishing world where there are many examples of excellent writing that doesn’t get published and examples of mediocre writing that does. The opportunities that come your way are more often the result of luck than anything else. Right place, right time, right person syndrome.

Instance #3

Penelope Trunk blogged about time being more important toward achieving expert status than talent. We think of the talented people as being assured of expert status some day and we envy them for starting out with an advantage.

But scientists are starting to discover that it isn’t talent that assures expert status. Yes, it confers an advantage, but not a guarantee. Instead, “you need to work every single day at being great at that one thing if you want to be great.” The New York Times emphasizes the need for immediate feedback, as well..

Serendipity Thoughts

All of this has come together in my brain this week and I think about what it means for writers. Here are my conclusions:

Having a natural talent for writing doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a best-selling author. That means there’s hope for writers who weren’t born with the writing gene.

Deliberate, focused practice is required to get really good at something. 10,000 hours is the recommended target based on studies of experts in multiple fields including sports, science, music, art, math, finance and hobbies. This means setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

You need to really love the thing you want to be expert at, otherwise you won’t put in the 10,000 hours of hard work needed to get very good at it.

Luck still plays a large part in becoming a best-selling author. You can’t control luck or opportunities, but you can prepare yourself and your writing to be ready when luck strikes.

Your Turn

Do you really love writing? Enough to get up early, stay up late, skip fun activities, work every spare minute, dissect and study other novels, revise constantly, solicit critiques and incorporate the feedback, write, write more, write better?

Do you spend your writing time in deliberate, focused practice, always striving to get better?

Do you prepare yourself to be ready for publishing opportunities by meeting other writers, attending conferences, following news in the publishing industry, and submitting your best work over and over again?

Ten Years Later

2010 - Happy New Year!
Image by Patrick Hoesly via Flickr

All day yesterday on Twitter, people were posting their thoughts with the hashtag #tenyearsago. They were remembering and highlighting where they were ten years ago and how their life had changed since then.

As a writer, I’ve come a long way in ten years. I wrote a lot of words in those years. I completed several NaNoWriMo novels. I participated in several online writing communities and real-life writing groups. I read many books on writing and applied them to my stories. I made new writer friends. I started a website about writing.

And in those ten years I learned a lot about myself and my writing. Some of the things I learned…

  • Strong emotion can drive a short story. It’s actually one of the best inspirations for a story.
  • Regular writing practice makes the words flow easier. Julia Cameron’s morning pages are a good way to incorporate daily writing practice into your life.
  • There are two kinds of books published about writing – “How to” books on craft and books that motivate you to write. You can learn from both, but the best way to improve your writing skill is by just writing.
  • If you push through to the end of a story, even one that you don’t like anymore, you can learn more from finishing it, then abandoning it for a new story.

How far have you come with your writing in the last ten years? What have you learned?

NaNo Fail

the turtle and the hare
Image by Trevor D. via Flickr

I am a NaNo Failure this year. Yep, I didn’t complete 50,000 words on my novel. I topped out at just over 12,000.

The reason I failed this year (after winning several years in the past) is because I had too many other projects of higher priority already going on in November.

I knew this when I started and still chose to sign up for NaNo. I was temporarily optimistic and somehow thought I would get it all done. I didn’t.

The smarter thing to do would have been to NOT sign up for another commitment. Not until I was actually ready to devote time to my novel. Because this novel deserves to be my number 1 priority. As does your novel.

Sure, you can write a novel in among a dozen other activities in your life, but it is hard. Hard to split your attention among so many priorities and hard to give your novel the attention it deserves.

My New Plan

I still plan to write my novel, but obviously it won’t be done in November. Instead, I’m going to borrow a page from Holly Lisle’s strategy book. She’s been writing a novel, a book of her heart, amid her other deadlines at the rate of 250-500 words a day. That’s only 1-2 pages. She’s deliberately taking it slow for a couple of reasons.

1. She has several other projects going on, including other book deadlines, so she can’t devote a solid block of time to getting this one special novel written.

2. She wants to demonstrate that you can complete a novel at a slow, steady pace. 250 words a day does add up to a novel over the long run.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

So that’s what I’m going to do. Set myself to writing 250 words a day on this novel. Even with so many other projects going on in my life, I can manage to write 250 words. If I already know what I’m going to write, that’s about 10 minutes of writing.

I can manage 10 minutes of writing each day. And so can you.

Care to join me?

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Three Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

November has been dubbed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) by Chris Baty, a writer from San Francisco. For 11 years, he’s sponsored an event for writers, challenging them to write a novel (50,000 words) during the month of November. Thousands of writers have taken him up on the challenge and participated through the NaNoWriMo website.

I’ve been a part of the challenges for several years and I’ve learned some things in the process that I’d like to share with you.

Challenge Yourself

Use NaNo as an opportunity to challenge yourself. You don’t have to adhere to the “50,000 words on a new novel” rule. It’s more of a guideline, than a rule. The point of NaNo is to challenge yourself–stretch beyond what you think you’re capable of.

  • If you already have a story started, write 50,000 more words on it in 30 days.
  • If you’re writing short stories, instead of novels, write 50,000 cumulative words on a variety of stories in 30 days.
  • If your novel is done, edit 50 pages a day on it.
  • If you’re submitting, send out 5 queries a day for 30 days.

Think of what you could accomplish under normal circumstances and then double your output for a month. You don’t have to keep it up forever, just for a month. See what kind of a kickstart that gives to your writing.

First Draft Freedom

NaNo requires fast writing. For many writers, 50,000 words in 30 days is really fast. You don’t have time to edit, to fuss with point of view, to layer your characters. You just write and get it down on paper.

As a writer who gets stuck in perfectionism, NaNo is a refreshing change for me. I can’t fuss over the first chapter for six months, getting the words just right. Instead, I have to throw something on to the page and keep going.

Now, mind you, I’m not deliberately throwing garbage on to the page and calling it my novel. No, I’m writing the story the best I can without self-editing during the process. Forward motion is my goal. I’ve come across several writers who feel that writing the first draft is necessary for you to figure out what story you’re actually telling. Then in the second draft (and subsequent ones), you shape the story to that vision. Since I know the story will change (possibly radically), then getting my first draft perfect isn’t necessary. It’s kind of useless, even, since I’m going to change it. So write fast and get to the end of your first draft so you know your story.

Help, My Plot Has Fallen and It Can’t Get Up!

One of my favorite “tools” I learned from NaNo is the plot ninjas.

Let’s pretend that you’re writing along on your novel and you start to realize that your characters have been sitting in a kitchen, sipping tea and chatting for the last 30 pages. Drinking tea in a kitchen is the kiss of death for a novel. Where’s the tension? Where’s the conflict? You need to get those characters moving and reacting to something.

Suddenly there’s a knock at the back door. Your main character answers the door and discovers ninjas who immediately start attacking him!

Now there’s tension and conflict in your story. Nobody stands passively by while ninjas are attacking.

Ninjas may not fit your genre, but you can adapt the plot ninja idea to other types of stories.

  • If you’re writing a mystery, someone totally unexpected is murdered.
  • In a romance, another man (or woman) shows up and claims to be married to your main character.
  • In a scifi story, aliens attack or a nanite plague breaks out.
  • In a crossover novel, the secret spouse of your main character’s love interest is murdered by aliens wielding nanites.

The only criteria for using plot ninjas in your story is that the ninja event be something unexpected and startling. Something that your characters must react to. Then they’re no longer in the kitchen drinking tea.

I’ve learned other things from participating in NaNo, but these are three biggies–enjoy the challenge, write freely in my first draft, and use plot ninjas to shake things up when my story has stalled.

What things have you learned from NaNoWriMo?

I’ll be participating in NaNo again this year. If you’d like to follow my progress, add me as a Writing Buddy.

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Best Author Response EVER

Published authors get hit with the worst criticism at times. Everybody has an opinion and is happy to spread it all over the Internet. So what do you do, as a writer, when you receive a negative or downright slamming review of your book?

Some writers suggest you ignore the negative ones. That idea has a certain amount of merit. Why dwell on the bad? Not everyone in the world is going to like you and not everyone will like your book, so just ignore it and let it go.

Above all, experienced writers will tell you not to respond to a negative review. You won’t be able to change the reviewer’s mind and you’ll just come across as defensive and possibly as attacking the reviewer. Not to mention, opening yourself to more criticism based on your response.

That seems like wise advice to follow. But recently I came across an author who chose to ignore that advice and the results were incredible.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is a site that posts reviews on romance books. They aren’t timid in their reviews–oh no, they tell you exactly what they think of a book, good or bad. One of the books recently reviewed was Pregnesia by Carla Cassidy.

Okay, I see the confused look – Pregnesia is a coined term stemming from “pregnant amnesiac”. Yes, the heroine in the story is… a pregnant amnesiac. (I’m sure Carla’s publisher stuck her with that title, though which person at Harlequin thought that was a great marketing title is a gigantic and confounding mystery.)

The review is typical SBTB–it pulls no punches in its list of 26 reasons why Pregnesia is the best book in the history of pregnant amnesiac romance books. Yes, you see the tongue-in-cheek comments coming, don’t you. The review is hilarious. It pokes fun at various aspects of the novel–unbelievable characters, plot holes and other general ridiculous happenings.

So far… a typical negative review. Funny, but negative. As the author I’d be embarrassed and probably angry to read such a review. We put our hearts into our books–who can stand to see them ridiculed?

Conventional writer wisdom says that Carla should have just ignored the review. But she didn’t. And her response to the review was the absolute BEST author response in the history of writing.

10 Reasons I love this review and other musings by the author of Pregnesia

  1. Any publicity is better than no publicity
  2. My original title was Pregnesia-The Story of A Pregnant Princess with Amnesia Who Lusts For An Ex-Navy Seal Turned Sheik Cowboy. Unfortunately, it was too long.
  3. Any publicity is better than no publicity
  4. I was working out my issues about being kidnapped by a blood-thirsty cult who might think I was eight months pregnant.
  5. Any publicity is better than no publicity
  6. I was hoping you’d tell me about the big plot hole. It’s been bothering me for months!
  7. Any publicity is better than no publicity
  8. Stay tuned for my next blockbuster – Virgin Bride With Secret Babies Wants A Cop who Rides The Range
  9. Reading the Review Made me think of comfort food. Thanks for giving me a reason to eat a box of Twinkies, four cupcakes and a box of macaroni and cheese. And it’s not even noon – and now I will have to watch out for those evil cult members who might lust after my pseudo-pregnant body!
  10. Thanks for reminding me you gotta take the good with the bad and I hope readers will check out my next book, Five Minutes to Marriage and my OCT release from Signet – Up Close and Personal. Hey, I should be able to get a little self-promo from all this!

Carla Cassidy

Is that not the best?? Carla responded with grace and humor that exactly matched the tone of the review. I don’t think I could respond so well to a negative review. I’m in awe of her.

And the best part of the entire thing was how the blog readers responded to her classy, awesome comment. 32 readers left comments that they had bought the book, were going to buy the book or were going to buy ALL of Carla’s books because of the great review and her incredible response to it. Is there any better publicity for a writer or easier marketing plan than to answer critical reviews with a sense of humor? How long would it take you to hand-sell 32 books? Carla did it in just a few minutes.

Note to all writers out there: If you can’t ignore negative reviews, take a lesson from Carla and make your response fun and light-hearted. The reward in reader loyalty and free publicity is more than worth it.

And go check out the review of Pregnesia and then buy the book!

90-Day Novel-Day 90 Check-in

90 Day Novel Challenge

It’s Day 90 of the 90-Day Novel Challenge!! Last day! Humongous kudos and congratulations to Deanne and Natalie for making it through the long haul to the last day!!

Leave a comment below with the number of words you completed today or just tell us how you’re doing.

You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist. ~Isaac Asimov

90-Day Novel-Day 89 Check-in

90 Day Novel Challenge

It’s Day 89 of the 90-Day Novel Challenge.

Leave a comment below with the number of words you completed today or just tell us how you’re doing.

Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there. ~Thomas Berger

90-Day Novel-Day 88 Check-in

90 Day Novel Challenge

It’s Day 88 of the 90-Day Novel Challenge.

Leave a comment below with the number of words you completed today or just tell us how you’re doing.

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair, the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page ~Stephen King

90-Day Novel-Day 87 Check-in

90 Day Novel Challenge

It’s Day 87 of the 90-Day Novel Challenge.

Leave a comment below with the number of words you completed today or just tell us how you’re doing.

If you want to write you must have faith in yourself. Faith enough to believe that if a thing is true about you, it is likely true about many people. And if you can have faith in your integrity and your motives, then you can write about yourself without fear. ~Anonymous author of RealLivePreacher.com