Thursday, March 29, 2012

Best of the Random Bookmarks

I am home with a sick child today which means that while he sleeps, I am working on my book (and taking the occasional "Google Break").  So, as you can imagine, I have been bookmarking a lot of good sites lately, so I thought I would share a few of them with you.
  1.  AutoCrit is manuscript editing software that can help you identify problems with your manuscript, including pacing problems, spelling and grammar errors, repetitive words and phrases, cliches, and more!  There is a free trial available, if you are interested!
  2. WritingFix has writing prompts, lessons, and inspiration to help you get back to writing when the dreaded Writer's Block strikes. 
  3. Writers FM is a radio station for writers!  There is music, author interviews, writer prompts, and more. 
  4. Wordsmith is the place for word lovers.  It has "Word a Day" features, and also an anagram function that enlightened me to the fact that an anagram of my son's name is "A Cancelled Law."  Huh.  Who knew?
  5. I also stumbled upon some of the most amazing libraries!  Some of them are a bit too modern or froo-froo for my taste, but they are full of who am I to complain?
I need to get back to sick kids but, for inspiration, I will leave you with one of the libraries that amazed me:

Just LOOK at all those books!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Three Things that Saved My Literary Life

First, let me start with good news (and, conveniently enough, the first thing that has saved my literary life):  You no longer have to endure posts that include me complaining about my laptop!  Because I got a new laptop over the weekend.  No more missing J key!  No more sticking space bar!  It is all beautiful, and shiny, and it makes me stupid happy!  (It was an early birthday gift from my parents!  Thanks Mom and Dad!)

But wait!  It gets even better!  This is the part that I have been eager to share with you...the second thing that has saved my literary life:  I also got some new software that is helping me get all of my handwritten stuff together.  It is Scrivener and it is so good that I have been telling every writer I know about it.  In case you are interested, it is a STEAL at only $40.00, plus I found a coupon code that made it 20% off!  So, for a mere $32.00, I am finally getting organized.

Screenshot of the software that is saving my literary life!
It has the manuscript software (and it can format for novels, screenplays, comics, etc.), it allows you to make notecards and arrange them on a virtual corkboard.  You can move things around with ease.  You can keep track of work count, character count, printed page count, paperback page count, totally project length, daily writing goals...  It is seriously amazing!

One of the things I really wanted to share with this blog was what works and what doesn't (or at least what does and doesn't work for me).  And THIS WORKS!  It has so many features that I haven't even started using all of them yet, but it has functions that seem geared toward a lot of different writing styles and preferences.  If you like to outline--this is for you!  If you like notecards--this is for you! 

You can even take a “snapshot” of a document, which allows you to edit and rewrite and know that you can restore an earlier revision at any time.  (This is fabulous for those "What was I thinking?!" moments.)

You can add tables, bullet points, images and mark up your text with comments and footnotes. 

You can format as you go using the format bar at the top of the page, or you can use any font you want for the writing and let Scrivener reformat your manuscript after you're done.  This allows you to focus on your writing words rather than the presentation. 

Once you have everything typed in, revised, and ready to go, you can compile your finished draft for printing or exporting to your favourite word processor for any final formatting, then export it to web or e-book formats for self-publishing!  Seriously, I am amazed.

And, just for fun, it even has a Random Name Generator.  Seriously!  I don't know about you, but I agonize over character names.  But sometimes, that can be wasted time.  Sometimes it is just not that important...a "throw away" character, if you will.  In comes the Random Name Generator!

Oh, and your RESEARCH!  You can even store and organize all your research for your book. 

I think I could probably go on forever about this, but I would rather get back to using the software, so instead I will just tell you one more thing about it:  There is a free trial available.  No kidding!  Thirty days FREE! excuses!  You really need to check it out for yourself.

And finally, the third thing that has saved my literary life: my fellow writers.  I have been so incredibly blessed lately with making contact with so many amazing writers.  New projects are presenting themselves, support seems to be coming at me from all sides, and I am amazed by how generous people can really be!

You can expect a normal post soon: one with more complaining/writer angst and less gushing and warm-fuzzies.  (Just in case you were worried I was going all mushy on you!)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writer at Rest. Writer at Unrest.

As I go through the process of typing everything into the computer, I find that the second book in the series is shouting at me.  I will be happily tapping on the keys and my inner-writer screams:

Oh my gosh, Gideon is XXXXXXXXXXX!!* 

And then I will stop, my eyes glassy and my mouth agape in horror.  Of course he is! I think, I must make a note of that!  So I stop and make a note, then (being on a roll and all) I add that to my timeline.  Then a snippet of conversation seeps into my brain, and I have to jot that down as well.  Then, I glance up and realize that I have spent half an hour on the second book, when I really need to be finishing up this first book!


But, in my defense, it can be very difficult to focus when your characters scream in your head.  In fact, they have been keeping me up at night.  Between late night typing and revelations as midnight, I think I am getting a bit twitchy!  I call this phenomenon "Writer at Unrest."

It is all I can do to buckle down and type, type, type so that I can get this finished.  (I even had one moment when I contemplated having my daughter type it in for me (which would be fine, but she is only nine so I am not sure that is one of my better ideas).

I have decided that I definitely do need to invest in an inexpensive laptop for writing purposes.  Something I can keep with me at all times in case inspiration strikes without feeling like I am depriving someone else of the computer.  I think I will try the next book on the computer (complete with time lines and character pages!).  Please feel free to remind me of this when I ultimately fail to do any of these things.  Someone should keep me accountable.

In the meantime, I will continue with scrawling things on paper and typing them up.  It has served me well so far.  Besides, I have such wonderful company on my journey....

I call this photo "Writer at Rest"
My daughter is busy working on her book, and I could not be more proud!  No matter what happens, at least I am teaching her to follow her dreams.  That has to count for something!

When she is not writing, she is busy nagging me to let her get a Pinterest account.  (I don't have a photo of said nagging, sorry!)  I do have to admit that I am developing a bit of a fascination with Pinterest.  It gives me a lovely spot to house the writing quotes that I come across, and it also lets me keep track of photos that are inspiring my writing.  (If you are so inclined, you can click that nice little "Follow me on Pinterest" button that I added today and check out my boards to see what has been rattling around in my mind lately.)

And, one final reminder:

The countdown continues for the World Book Night (April 23rd).  The book that I will be handing out is (drum roll please) The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien.  I have not read it yet, and (as you may recall) I will be giving the book away here.  [More on that will be announced soon!] 

*  All spoilers have been redacted to preserve the creative integrity of the final work (plus, I just like messin' with you!).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing is Messy Business

This is not my book,
 this is the Constitution
...also a good read.
I am in the process of typing my handwritten manuscript into the computer.  I have recently discovered that this is Not My Favorite Part.  I wonder if it might have been better to have just typed it all along but, realistically, I know that I am away from my computer too much to have gotten as far as I have if I had relied on the ol' laptop.  Also, with its pathetic lack of a "J" key, and its perpetually sticking spackbar, I think it is entirely possible that I might have demolished it before now.

I have decided that, if this book does well, I am getting a new laptop to help with my future writing endeavors!  (Who am I kidding...first I will get the roof fixed, but someday, SOMEDAY, I am getting a new laptop.  Seriously.)

I have noticed that, during this typing-into-the-computer phase, my book is continuing to grow.  New scenes miraculously find their way into the book.  Bit characters swell into full-fledged characters that suddenly need names and backstories!  I knew that my re-writes would increase my page count, but it does make me wonder if I will have to end up pruning later.   

The funny thing about having the typed pages staring back at me is that, suddenly, it looks more like a Real Book.  No longer is it just my familiar scrawl sprawled across the pages.  Now it looks almost...official.  There is a certain satisfaction in seeing the words all lined up properly.  It is kind of like when the family gets all spruced up for a proper portrait, and everyone is wearing their best clothes and smiling brightly, frozen in time, and you think That's how I knew it could be!  Of course, nothing is really different than it was just a moment before:  Bobby is still annoyed with Suzie and pinched her right before the photo was taken, and Max's pants are too short.  But to the casual viewer Suzie's eyes are bright with happiness, not tears, and the too-short pants don't show in the photo.  All is well.  Only those who were there during the process know The Truth. 

And the truth is Writing is Messy Business!  Deciding to change the point of view and tense is a tedious fix, and I wonder if it will be worth it.  Handwriting the whole blasted thing just to have to turn around and type it all in later makes sense in some ways, but don't remind me of that while I am typing or I might snarl...especially if the spacebar sticks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Because You Asked

Since my rewriting is not particularly exciting to blog about repeatedly, I thought I would shake things up and tackle a question that more than a few of you have asked:  Why are you going the e-pub route?

Oh, there are SO many reasons that I decided to take the plunge, so I will set forth some of my reasons, ponderings, and conclusions here:
  1. We are all friends here, so I will be honest about this:  I am impatient.  Seriously impatient.  The idea of querying, and waiting is exhausting.  Also, so many wonderful writers have a PILE of rejections slips.  There are tons of stories of now famous authors who could have wallpapered their living room with their collection of rejection slips.  It did not mean that their writing was bad; it simply meant that the person who read it did not "get" it.  Rather than waiting to find a publisher who "gets" me, I want to get my book directly to my readers. 
  2. Another issue is longevity.  The bottom line is that when a book is out of print, it isn't making the author any money.  And the book just sits some kind of torturous Book Limbo.  However, if I make my book available as an e-book, it is available to readers for as long as it is available to purchase on a blog, a website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc. 
  3. Also, I have control issues.  I want to have a say in my books cover, in the release date, in the price....  Maybe it is a "first book" thing.  Perhaps when I have several books under my belt I won't feel as emotionally invested in the font, or the spacing, or the formatting.  (Ok, maybe I am not quite that obsessive...) 
  4. I will also be blunt.  As an "unknown" writer, there is the potential to make more income from e-books.  (And, believe me, I would love to be able to eventually make enough to write full time, so if e-pub looks like it will get me there quicker, then I am all for it!)  Sure, it takes time to "find" your audience no matter which route you go, but if you have a good book, and you make it available for people to find (creative, no-hassle marketing), then by going a route that allows the writer to retain a greater percentage of their profits, the author has the potential to earn more than he/she might in other forms of publishing.
I want to write.  Bottom line.  And I want to get my books into the hands of readers as quickly as possible.  So, for now, at least, I believe e-books to be the logical choice for me. 

Just so everyone can get a brief overview of the arguments surrounding e-publishing, I am including links to a very concise (if tongue in cheek) list of arguments decribing the problems with TRADITIONAL and ELECTRONIC publishing.  Feel free to add your two cents to the debate!

And, just so no one misunderstands that I really, truly ADORE print books, I thought I would show my idea of Heaven on Earth:

Book Lover's Paradise


Monday, March 12, 2012

The Value of Truth, or Why a Good Beta is Hard to Find

Sometimes we give our work to trusted friends and family to read, but they are not always the best ones to judge our work.  They may not always be entirely...unbiased.  They look at our work through the eyes of someone who cares about us, and does not want to hurt us, and wants to "build us up" not "near us down."  But, honestly, sometimes you  have to tear something down in order to rebuild it stronger.

I am in the process of re-writing, and editing, and fleshing out my book, and I am starting to appreciate more and more those who have the strength to point out the things that still need work.  If you EVER beta read for someone, please heed my words:  It is better that you point out any flaws or weaknesses NOW rather than allow them to be pointed up in a review later. 

I am lucky in that the readers that I have do tend to read with a critical eye.  It may go against their very nature, but they do try to be ruthless, and for that I am unspeakably grateful.

"Ezra Pound, il miglior fabbro" (the better craftsman)
Since I have been thinking so intently on criticism and its benefits, I am reminded of Ezra Pound and the assistance he offered to T. S. Eliot and so many others...  (Disclaimer:  I have a HUGE soft spot for Ezra Pound...always have.)  He worked tirelessly to promote other writers, and in the grand scheme of things, the stars of many of the writers Pound promoted now seem to outshine him.  But without Ezra Pound, their stars would not shine nearly as brightly as they do...

One of my very favorite poems is T. S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  When it was first published, Eliot dedicated it to "Ezra Pound, il miglior fabbro" (the better craftsman).  For some reason, this still breaks my heart.

I understand the value of good criticism.  I respect it.  I long for it.  It is what all writers hope to find.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sidetracked for a Minute...

I got side tracked this weekend.  I meant to spend huge chunks of time working on getting the first draft typed into the computer and cleaning things up and fleshing things out.  But instead, I got totally sidetracked by the NPR Three Minute Fiction contest.  The concept is simple: Write a story of 600 words or less using their prompt.  If it wins, you get  interviewed on NPR and your story is read on the air!  
Stolen from NPR, but it is to promote their stuff so hopefully no one will sue.
 Three Minute Fiction has developed a huge community on Facebook that is incredibly supportive and encouraging of writers.  We all root for one another in our projects and our lives, and it has been are really amazing experience to learn from them all.

I hope that some of you decide to enter this round and join in on the experience.  Once the contest if over, a lot of us take turns sharing our stories and giving feedback (we don't  post them before the contest is over though...we don't want to risk elimination for "publishing" it).

And yes, I realize that, tactically speaking, I am ratcheting up the odds of NOT winning by sharing this with more potential competition, but I strongly believe that writers should support writers.  After all, we are all trying to do the same create the best story we can.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Re-writes, New Scenes, and a Very Chatty Muse

I am currently elbow deep in the rewriting process.  I purposefully stopped when I knew I had about three or four scenes to go (i.e., "The Big Climax" and "The Ending" bits), because I wanted to go back and flesh out some things, add in some snippets and hints, write some new scenes that I realized would improve things, and then I decided that I wanted to change the perspective from Third Person Past Tense to First Person Present Tense.  I felt like it would lend more intimacy and immediacy to the story.  So I guess I have my work cut out for me for a while.

I had re-written the first chapter and then, while driving in to work this morning (which, by the way, is one of the prime times that my Muse gets chatty), this new scene flashed in my head in an instant, fully developed!  I scrounged for a pen and a bit of paper and jotted down the important bits while at stop lights (because friends don't let friends write and drive), and then I hurried in here to tell you all about it.

My Muse, Calliope (a/k/a "The Chatterbox")
My Muse has been a bit of a chatter box lately.  Apparently she has a lot of ideas about the story and the characters.  Trust me, I am not complaining.  Due to some schedule changes on the ol' home front, I should gain an extra two hours (swoon!) each night to devote to the book, which should help move things along nicely.

I have also been busy serving as a beta reader to a fabulous young writer (and if she is reading this, I want to assure her I will have my notes to you by the end of the day tomorrow!).  Her work has been a joy to read, and her skill and word-weaving are inspiring!  (I should also warn her that I hope to have my first chapter to her in about a week or so for her to beta read!)

Also, on the subject of beta scares me to death.  No, not me reading other people's work, but letting them read mine.  I know, I know!  How on earth do I expect to be okay with putting my work out there for purchase if I feel nauseated when I hand over something to a beta reader?  The short answer is:  Um, well, I guess I will have to develop some really thick skin really fast! 

Don't get me wrong.  I can take criticism.  I really can.  And I really want my beta readers to "sock it to me," because it is much better to find mistakes, plot issues, etc., when there is time to change them rather than in a review, or a ill-tempered comment, etc. 

My wonderful (and patient) friend and "first reader" received a draft of my first chapter (minus the above referenced scene that I described above, what with me not having yet had the inspiration for it), and I am afraid I blatantly stared out her the entire time she read it (note to self: give beta reader the chapters, then walk away!).  I must remember to try harder to not scare my beta readers off.  Trustworthy beta readers are hard to come by, after all.  Luckily, not all of my beta readers are subjected to such behavior...only those that have known me ten years or longer and whom I see on a nearly daily basis. 

I am hoping that it gets easier the more I "let it go."  At some point, in some ways, the book will no longer be mine.  I will make the last few changes, decide it is as good as I can make it, and I will offer it to the world.  (And then I will alternate between wanting to throw up and obsessing over purchases and reviews, or perhaps I will multi-task and do both at once.) 

Until then, I will keep marking off the days, and listening to the Muse, and sharing my journey with you.  (And I will obsessively check  my blog for your comments which, quite honestly, make my day.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

An Update on Re-Writes and Author Interviews

It has been a busy week  Since wrote the book long-hand, I have started putting my book onto the computer.  (Which would be a lot more satisfying experience if my space-bar wasn't constantly sticking on this blasted laptop and if I actually had a "J" key.) 

Also, I had my very first "Author Interview" this week, which was exciting and encouraging and made me feel a bit like a fraud.  (I am not sure exactly what it will take to make me feel like a legitimate author.)

I also worked on the blurb for my book, which I tell you mainly for the opportunity to use the word "blurb." 

I am also doing some beta reading for an incredibly talented young author whose writing is so intriguing and whose dialogue is so realistic that it passes the "Envy Test."  I had a creative writing teacher back in college that told us that the true test of good writing was when you read something and immediately wished that you had written it.  This young lady passes the "Envy Test!"

I have also been humbled this week by continuing to come into contact with new writers (or at least "new to me" writers) that are encouraging and supportive and who have been gracious enough open me into the fold with open arms.

Finally, I will leave you with another image related to my story, partly because, as a reader, I always liked getting clues and tidbits.