Breakfast Blend 08.21.14

What Writers Can Learn From ‘Good Night Moon’ - NT TIMES: “The babies listened in their sleepy baby way, and as the pages turned, I felt a growing excitement — a literary excitement. Not what I expected from this moment. But I was struck and stunned, as I have been before, by a classic sneaking up on me and, in an instant, earning yet again another fan.”

Why People Need Poetry – A TEDx talk by Stephen Burt.

17 Reasons To Write Something Now – THE WRITE PRACTICE: “I know writing a short story or a novel or a blog post is scary. What if someone reads it? And yes, it’s true. You might fail. People might not like what you write. Worse, they might ignore your writing altogether.However, if you’ve ever wanted to be a writer, now is the time to start. If you don’t believe me, here are seventeen reasons to write something right now.”

You Might Be Breaking This Grammar Rule… – HUFFPOST BOOKS: “Every writer has a story to tell. But if you want your writing to be published and read by an appreciative audience, it’s important that you say it — and write it — well. Good writing skills begin with the very bones of your work: the sentence structure.”

5 Great Ways to Combat Writer’s Block - BLURB: “You’re sitting at your computer, staring at a blank document. You’re poised in front of your notebook, but can’t seem to move your pen. Sound familiar? Writer’s block strikes again. But you don’t have to suffer for long. Great writers throughout the years have faced this problem and come up with clever tricks to get the words flowing again. If you’re having trouble getting your writing project finished (or started) here is some advice to get you going.”

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Writer Fail #4: Copying My Favorite Authors

Probably the most common mistake for beginning writers is to attempt sounding like their favorite author. However, this almost always comes across as duplicitous. For me, I loved old children’s Brit Lit, so when I attempted a writing project, I naturally took on the voice of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie and C.S. Lewis combined.

It sounded pretentious, and put on.

I remember sitting across from my tutor, reading a piece of fanciful old Brit-style dialogue, and feeling a mite uncomfortable. It didn’t sound like me. Not at all.

My tutor stopped me mid-dialogue and said: “Now, wait. What would you say if that were YOU?” It took me a minute to dig up some honesty, and I told him. “Good,” he said. “That’s more like what your character should have said.”

The thing is – Readers are smart. They know if we’re putting on an act. They know when we’re being genuine. And if there’s one lesson I’ve learned over the years, it’s that readers read for rawness. Not all the time. But true readers do. And if we’re going to be raw, we need to speak, act and write like ourselves.

So, in a way: stop writing like your favorite authors. In another way: start letting your personality flow onto the page like they did. You’ll follow their lead more closely when you dance to the beat of your own drum.

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Breakfast Blend 08/19/14 (Revised)

Sorry this didn’t make it through correctly this morning, folks:

Amazon Vs. Hachette: A Recap – ELECTRIC LIT: “Unless you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t have internet access, you’ve probably been hearing about the Amazon / Hachette contract negotiations. Normally, contract negotiations between two giant corporations don’t interest anyone. But for a host of reasons, from fears about the future of publishing to vocal authors (allied with both “sides”), the current negotiations are generating a lot of conversation in the news.”

Celebrating the Worst Poet of All Time – HUFFPOST BOOKS: “The official website celebrating (if that’s the correct word) McGonagall’s life and work describes him as having “discovered his discordant muse in 1877 and embarked upon a 25 year career as a working poet, delighting and appalling audiences across Scotland and beyond.” Already a failed actor and a handloom weaver in an era when his craft was rapidly being replaced by machines, McGonagall claimed that at fifty years old, he suddenly heard a voice compelling him to write.”

Words Introverts Use on Facebook - THE ATLANTIC: “Do our Facebook posts reflect our true personalities? Incrementally, probably not. But in aggregate, the things we say on social media paint a fairly accurate portrait of our inner selves. A team of University of Pennsylvania scientists is using Facebook status updates to find commonalities in the words used by different ages, genders, and even psyches.”

Keep it Simple, Not Simplistic – COPYBLOGGER: “Business, like life, can be complicated. Products can be intricate and concepts may seem impenetrable. But good content deconstructs the complex to make it easily understood. It sheds the corporate Frankenspeak. It conveys ideas in concise, economic, human, and accessible terms. A bit of wisdom from my journalism days: No one will ever complain that you’ve made things too simple to understand. Of course, simple does not equal dumbed down.”

Big, Beautiful Words You Need to Use Immediately – HUFFPOST BOOKS: “Sure, language is always changing, and sure, certain words become obsolete for good reason. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate English’s weird and wonderful quirks, regardless of their relevance.”

 

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Breakfast Blend 08.19.14

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Writer Fail #4: Waiting for the Muse

Let’s all admit it right now: writers are divas. All of us are a fussy bunch. My morning routine usually goes something like this: Get out of bed. Think about writing. Instead, get coffee. Need coffee. Think about writing. Coffee’s not right, need a new batch. Make new coffee. Think about writing. Sit at computer. Check e-mail. Think about writing. Check blogs, for inspiration. Maybe I need to read a little on paper to get “in the flow”. Start reading. Think about writing. “Maybe I just don’t feel it today.” Move on with my day. Guilty for not writing.

You get the picture. I often blame my lack of productivity on the ever-elusive subconscious muse: “I’ll write when I feel it.” Several key authors have helped me past this mindset.

One is Neil Gaimann, who in an interview noted that writing, for him, hardly ever begins with inspiration. Sometimes he writes with the wind at his back – other times, it feels like pulling teeth. “The funny thing,” he says, “Is that when you re-read what you wrote, you won’t remember which is which.” In other words: forget inspiration. Writing is hard work – whether you feel it or not, just do it. It feels like THE thing now, but later, when it’s finished, it won’t matter.

One of my favorite exercises for this purpose was created by a Hollywood therapist (I know, I lost all semblance of credibility with that, but hang with me). She said that creating art was difficult, so in order to do so, one had to “embrace the pain”. So every time one of her Creatives felt the “pain” of beginning to create, she invited them to envision a little storm-cloud in the sky, that represented that pain. Then, they were to step into it, parting the clouds, one at a time and saying: “I embrace the pain.”

Hey, artists are weird. And – it works.

Train your muse to show up for work. Starting now.

 

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Writer Fail #3: Obsession with Adverbs

Not all adverbs are bad. They’re just mostly bad. When every sentence is jinglingly ringing with “he said, knowingly” or non-tantalizingly crafted by “she ran, quickly”, adverbs become indubitably tiresome. You get the picture, swimmingly.

I confess, when I began writing, I thought adverbs were the markers of descriptive prose. Every “I said” or “he said” or “she said” was coached on by a “winsomely” or “sharply” or “sulkily”. Don’t get me wrong – adverbs have their place. But their overuse is tediously tiresome.

A well-chosen verb is worth its weight in 10,000 adverbs. And the moral of the story is: know great verbs. For example, in dialogue there is one verb to rule them all: “said”. That’s all you need. It is, as one writer put it, ‘invisible to the reader’s eye’. And that highlights just the problem with adverbs: they draw attention to themselves, and so detracts from the work, or the story. One solid verb, “said”, ought to do it.

“But!” you say. “How will they know he/she/it IS being sulky?” And therein lies the value of well-written dialogue. If they can’t deduce it from your dialogue, rewrite it. Admittedly, there are times where this will not work. For example, if a reader doesn’t have enough information about a character to sense they’re being sarcastic – say, at the beginning of a book – then maybe, hesitantly, slowly, go ahead and give your reader an adverb. So long as you cringe. And only once.

Always the better thing to do is to ask, “How can I wed this verb and adverb into a solid punch?” Instead of “left hurriedly” try “absconded”. Instead of “say flatteringly” how about “cajoling” or “wheedling”? Know your verbs, writer – it will breathe life into your work.

Now run slowly – I mean jaunt – back to your writing, and choose some great verbs.

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Breakfast Blend 08.14.14

Paper Beats Computer Screens: SCIENCE NORDIC – “Neo-Luddites rejoice: numerous studies show that when you read a text on paper your understanding is deeper and longer lasting than if you read that same text on a computer.”

Query Letter Pet Peeves: WRITERS IN THE STORM - “Ready to send your book out and contact agents? The last thing you want to do is to rush that submission out the door and hurt your book’s chances.”

Tips from an Editor on Editing: THE CREATIVE PENN – “In general, my advice to writers is to breeze through the first draft as quickly as possible. There may be times you’ll need to go back to rework sticky plot points or address other major structural issues, but the goal of the first draft should be to get the bones of your novel down on paper.”

How Fear of Failure Hurts Writers: THE WRITE LIFE: “It happens to the best of us. You completely miss the mark. You fall flat on your face. You get bad results and generally make a mess of things, despite your best intentions. You’ve failed. Now what?”

How Your Ideas Spread – WRITERS RISE: “With a billion web pages and hundreds of TV channels to watch, it’s not enough anymore to have the best ideas. It’s the ideas that stick out, the ideas that spread that win. It’s the ideas that are worth remembering, it’s the stuff that is making a dent in the universe that will prevail.”

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Writer Fail #2: Not Writing.

Malcolm Gladwell and other experts have reported that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become a true master of anything. 10,000 hours. That’s not 10,000 hours of thinking about doing something, or “sitting on it”. That’s 10,000 hours of sitting down, and cranking away.

It takes me, at a very good pace, about 3 hours to write 5 pages. If I approximate to spend 2/3 of my time editing 1/3 of my writing, that means I will need to produce at the very minimum 5,000 edited pages of work before I can say I’ve mastered my craft. Or, if I spend an hour a day writing, that’s 10,000 days, or 27 years before I’ve truly mastered the craft.

Unfortunately, I spent most of my early years waiting for a great idea for a book to begin writing. In reality, I had to write my first book before I even had a good idea for a book – I found it in the 1% of quality I’d produced. It’s taken me years to hone that 1%, and in the meantime I’ve begun blogging regularly and writing daily. I’m incredibly thankful for all of my failed writing – it improved my skill so that when an opportunity came along (a publishing offer), my writing skills were developed enough to handle it.

But that doesn’t mean I’m a master – not even close. I still have TONS of hours to put in. But you don’t have to be a master to be published – you just have to be somewhere along the journey. And that means writing every day, plus.

How many of your 10,000 hours have you put in this week?

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Breakfast Blend 08.12.14

Robin Williams Leaves Two Completed Movies Behind: THE WRAP – “The Oscar-winning actors’ upcoming projects include a sequel to Williams’ 1993 hit “Mrs. Doubtfire” in development by 20th Century Fox and indie comedy “A Film By Alan Stuart Eisner.”

Creating a Cover in MS Word: THE CREATIVE PENN – “So I’d like to share with you something I’ve been working on for a few months: the secrets of designing a bestselling book cover in Microsoft Word, and then I’ll give you some easy-to-use Word templates so you can get started quickly.”

8 Traits of Good Teachers: DESIRING GOD – “It’s a very short book on spiritual leadership — just a booklet, really — but the walls of this small cave are lined with gold. You won’t even need a pickax to pluck off a nugget.”

Eight Famous Authors on the First Book They Loved: HUFFINGTON POST – “Below, eight contemporary authors share the first books they ever loved….”

10 Writing and Editing Stages of the Successful Novel: ADRIAN EDITING – “When you’re in the midst of writing a novel, it can frequently seem like you’re never going to make your way out of the weeds. How long do you spend on editing? When do you start? When should beta readers come into the picture? Taking those questions into consideration, I’ve drawn up a blueprint below of ten writing stages from the moment you first begin scribbling your novel to that final successful flush when you either submit to agents/publishers or publish the book yourself.”

 

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Writing Fail #1: Not Reading.

This morning I’d like to begin a new series – I’m not sure how long it will last, but I think it’s a pretty good idea and I’d like to know your thoughts (really – I LOVE when I hear from my readers – thank you to all who’ve written in the last few months especially), so if you enjoy it, let me know by sharing it with others. Or just telling me.

The official title is, “Blankety-Blank Mistakes I Made Before Being Published” – I have about 50 in mind, so we’ll see how long this goes without running out of momentum. I intend these all to be short blurbs, because come on WHO THE DEVIL wants a heavy reading assignment on Monday Morning anyway!?

I hope to post them all in e-book form soon (and of course, wonderful subscribers, I’ll e-mail it to you for free!).

Also, for the real writers out there: I realize that title sounds really self-aggrandizing and commercial, but consider this: I almost titled the series “Monday Mourning”, and I thought it not the best thing to show up in your inbox at the beginning of each week.

So, YOU’RE WELCOME.

And, without further ado – let me show to you some scars of mine. Good scars. The kind you learn from:

Mistake #1: Failing to Read.

Stephen King has wisely quipped, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” When I first set out to write a book, I did so having read only a smattering of popular fiction and non-fiction titles. Thinking I understood, then, how to write a best-seller, I went on to half-plagiarize a novel, which I only realized was cliché and copied drivel when it was pointed out by my tutor at Oxford University.

I’d thought my inherent talent was enough to careen me over those who’d buried themselves deep in books to produce profound works of art, but the truth is: if you don’t read, you can’t write.

Reading teaches us to hear great writing. There’s a science to writing, yes. You can read about it. But it’s a science of the ear: good writers know good writing when they read it. Can all of them tell you why? Probably. But if you know the science, and you don’t have the EAR for the science, you’re not a writer.

And the only way to develop that ear is by reading lots of very, very good stuff. And by good stuff, of course, I mean stuff you like. Because the “ear” is not universal. The ear is you. It’s what you like. It’s not what you don’t like. And, like music, there are basic rules: but these rules can be bent, and broken. But if they are, they need to be broken by someone with an INCREDIBLE ear. So you need to learn by osmosis – get reading.

But reading doesn’t just shape style – it shapes content. Being well-read provides a many-splendored pool from which we can create something truly original. Ernest Hemingway once noted in an interview that it was impossible for him to say where his ideas came from, because the mind is a deep, dark well from which things spring forth unannounced. And behind those things are ideas. Books. Stories. Things you’ve read. The less you’ve read, the less pops out of the well. It’s the art of stealing. Picasso once said, “All art is theft”. I believe that’s true – but it’s creative theft, at least.

So, the less you have to steal from – the more half-baked your work will be. The more you read, the more you have to steal, and the more original your work can be. See how that works?

Now, stop reading this, and start reading something worth reading. Go. Now. (If you don’t know where to begin, I’ve compiled a resource called “Classic Fiction – A Guide to Being Well-Read in One Year or Less”. It’s a collaboration of several popular and elitist lists of the greatest novels of all time. It’s free to all my e-mail subscribers – so, you could subscribe and get more Writing Fails. Or, you could hi-jack it from someone who has, which is totally legit and I still respect you).

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