Happy New Year! What’s new in the Garden?

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Happy New Year, Gardeners!  It’s a great time to be in the Writer Zen Garden.

Inside this blog:

  1. Prompt Circles are back – next one is Jan 21st from 2-4 at Open Books
  2. Walking In This World online workshop, Jan 22nd through April 22nd
  3. F.E.A.R.S. Workshop – Finish, Edit, Analyze, Research and Submit, Feb 5th to Mar 4th
  4. Dialog – Who Says What To Whom, March 12th to March 25th
  5. A to Z Blog Challenge is coming in April
  6. Camp NaNoWriMo is coming in April

Check it out:

The Prompt Circles are back!  After a longer than expected hiatus, we’re excited to report that we are ready to start these up again.  Our venue is Open Books, an awesome place centrally located downtown near parking, transit, Metra, and those blue bicycle things.  Not that you’d want to bike in the dead of winter, but hey.  They’re there if you want ’em.  It’s on Saturday, January 21st from 2-4.

We have several online offerings, all of which are free but require a membership on the forum.  How do you get to the forum, you ask?  Visit here!

Did you know that the Writer Zen Garden has a calendar?  If you prefer getting your information visually, click over to Our Calendar and check it out.

On the Artist’s Way track: Walking In This World.  This is a 13-week workshop running from Sunday, Jan 22nd, through Saturday, April 22nd.  You will need a copy of the book by Julia Cameron, Walking In This World, which is available from your favorite bookseller or public library.  This is a participant-led workshop facilitated by A. Catherine Noon; if you’d like to lead a week’s discussion, please let me know.

The workshop will be conducted online through thewww.writerzengarden.com/forums website; you will need a user account to participate. There is no cost to join.

On the Author track: F.E.A.R.S. Online Workshop – Finish, Edit, Analyze, Research, and Submit.  Join author Tina Holland for her popular F.E.A.R.S. workshop, where she will help you Finish your manuscript, Edit it, Analyze it for its best fit in the marketplace, Research homes for it – traditional publishing? digital-first/small press? indie? blog?, and Submit.

It will run for four weeks starting Sunday, February 5th and concluding Saturday, March 4th.

Tina is past President of RWA Online Chapter #136 and author of ten romance novels. She is a sought-after speaker at regional writing conferences and a founding Board Member of Writer Zen Garden. We are super stoked to have her present for us and for her to offer her popular workshop for free to WZG members.

You need to be a member of the Writer Zen Garden online forum.  Membership is free.

For more information about Tina Holland, please visit her website. While you’re there, check out her popular author interview series (and authors, sign up to be interviewed!).

On the Writer track:  Online workshop – Dialog, Who Says What to Whom, March 12th through March 25th.

Join A. Catherine Noon and Tina Holland for a free online two-week workshop on dialog. We will have examples, discuss proper punctuation, (where DOES that pesky comma go? or is it a period?), and have lots and lots of practice exercises. Think of it as the March boot camp to get in shape for April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and the A to Z Blog Challenge.

You will need a free account on the Writer Zen Garden Forum.

April is a busy month in the Garden: We have not one but TWO web-based events for you.

April is the month for the international A to Z Blog Challenge! Find out more, and sign up on the main website.

We’re looking for Writer Zen Gardeners to participate on our blog this year, so if you’re interested, please contact your organizers A. Catherine Noon or Tina Holland.

Also, April is Camp NaNoWriMo!  From the folks that bring you National Novel Writing Month in November comes a fun event called Camp NaNoWriMo. You can set your own word count goal; it doesn’t have to be the full 50,000 like in November. Participants are arranged in cabins for mutual support and encouragement.

Find out more, and sign up, at the website.

If you haven’t joined the discussion on Facebook, you’re missing out.  Click over to the Writer Zen Garden Facebook Group and check it out.

Deep Point-of-View or “How Do You Really Feel About That?”

As I learn more about the old writer’s dictum, write, revise, revise, and revise; and as I get practice submitting my work to publishers, I’ve found that one of the hardest parts is when you get to the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty “let’s clean up this sucker because we’re about to hit ‘send’ to give it to the publisher and it’s time to make sure it’s free of any dumb-dumb errors.”

Dumb-dumb errors. Kind of like Dumb-Dumb Bullets in Lethal Weapon IV.

But in all seriousness, I wanted to share with you my magic list of POV [point-of-view] problem words that I got when I attended a self-editing workshop put on by my editor, Tera Kleinfelter, Assistant Managing Editor at Samhain Publishing:

  • assumed 
  • considered 
  • decided 
  • felt 
  • figured 
  • heard 
  • knew 
  • realized 
  • remembered 
  • saw 
  • thought 
  • wondered 
  • worked out

One of the challenges with writing deep point-of-view is that there are so many different definitions for it, but little concrete advice on how to do it. I have found that doing a “find” command on my manuscript for these words, then rewriting the sentence in which they occur, does wonders for deepening my POV.

Which leads me to my next point. WHY are these POV problem words? After all, fiction is full of “He felt a shiver,” and “She wondered if he would ever get up the nerve to ask her out.” So why are these words “problems?”

In deep POV, the objective is to get as deeply as possible into the mind of the character. The better that I, as an author, get at giving the reader the exact thoughts as though my character were thinking them without translation, the better I’m accomplishing my goal of going deep into POV. I do not profess to be an expert that this, by any means, but here’s how I understand that to work. Let’s use the “He felt a shiver,” as an example.

What is the statement? It’s the author telling the reader what the character is feeling; it’s not the character himself doing it, nor is the author showing the reader anything. (Remember that old saw, “Show, don’t tell”?) “He felt a shiver” could apply to the President of the United States entering a room in which the President of Russia and the King of Monaco are sitting; it could be a spy entering a room in which his target is dancing with the person with whom the spy has fallen in love; it could be a serviceperson discharged from the Army after a tour in Iraq and finding out that his baby brother has been in a car accident. It doesn’t show us anything unique about the character.

“A spasm shivered up the side of his neck, vibrating all the way into his ear and making his stomach roil with dread.”

That tells us a lot more about the character. It’s probable, of the three examples I listed above, that it’s the serviceperson finding out about his brother. It’s unlikely that the President is going to report a feeling in his stomach as “dread,” particularly when meeting two other heads of state (although, if it is, you can use this description to “sell” the reader on WHY it’s plausible that the feeling belongs to the President). It’s unlikely it’s a spy, since a trained spy is unlikely to feel dread like that, and certainly not upon seeing the person he loves in the arm of an opponent or an enemy.

The more directly you can describe for the reader the emotional flavor that is referred to by one of our problem words, the more deeply you are showing the reader the character and, therefore the more deeply you are getting into POV.

Happy writing!

Wiley Wednesday: Life After NaNo

Those of us who have done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) share one thing in common, whether or not we actually completed our project or not: there’s a sense of let-down after November is over, a feeling of “what now?” Rest easy, writers; you’re not alone. There are others out there to play with, other projects to tackle, and other crazy goals to set.

A great place to look, even if you didn’t do NaNo itself, is the “I Wrote a Novel, Now What?” section on the main NaNo site. It has several sections useful to writers of all stripes:

Revision Advice – After the draft is done, the editing begins. There are as many ways to revise as there are to edit, and this section features excellent suggestions to make the process less painful.

Revision Pep Talks – never underestimate the power of a good pep talk! Marathoners and long-term Weight Watchers can tell you, attitude is everything; a good pep talk can help give you a well-placed attitude adjustment.

NaNoWriMo-style Events On the Horizon – I love this section! It is comforting, particularly in the first and second weeks of December, to find that there are others out there doing what you’re doing – or, in some cases, doing WAY more. There are blog-everyday-for-a-month people, editing people, and NaNoNotNovember folks. This is a great place to come to get ideas about where other writers hang out, and what you can do to keep up the madness of NaNo. Momentum’s a beautiful thing.

Novel Writing Contests Without Entry Fees – This is a great way to test your mettle. Many contests out there do not require entry fees and this is a place to find many of them. Not all of them are for novels, either – the Writer’s Digest “Your Story” contest is 750 words or less – a great way to prime the pump.

Some Thoughts on Publishing – This is a very useful section. Rather than pimping for the publishing industry, it contains links to some excellent advice sites, particularly helpful for avoiding scams.

More OLL Goodness – Last, but not least, this is the place to come to find out what else the crazy folks at the Office of Letters and Light (the organization that brings you NaNoWriMo every year) are up to.

Bottom line, if you love to write, there are others out there who love it too. Even if you don’t have an in-person writing group in your very own town, with the internet, you don’t have to. Writers all over the world connect and support each other every day. What are you waiting for? Get out there and write!

Wiley Wednesday: Music and Editing

Getting Back In the Mood

I’ve been working on editing my first book, which comes out later this year from Samhain Publishing. I wrote it with my coauthor, Rachel Wilder. While we work together extensively, when I’m at my keyboard working on edits it’s usually by myself. Since we wrote Burning Bright last year, we’ve developed two new series in very different universes, as well as wrote more material in the Burning Bright universe but with other characters. So how do I recapture the mood I was in when first writing Burning Bright?

One of the ways, obviously, is to re-read the manuscript. But since the first draft was 87,000 words, that’s not the fastest method. Add to that the fact that we’re required to do multiple content edits (three in this case, since it was our first time with this editor), re-reading the manuscript doesn’t help me capture the mood I need so that I know what to cut from the manuscript.

To solve that problem, I use music. I develop specific playlists for novels and series, targeted to the specific characters and the world we’ve created. While I sometimes use the music my husband and I own in our library, I find Pandora online radio to be exceedingly valuable because it will develop “stations” based on artists or songs, and then give back songs that are related to it – but that I may not (and quite probably don’t) have in my library.

Which makes it like a stranger’s library.

In other words, it is like my character is a separate person from me, and I’m listening to their music choices. I don’t have to make them up, because Pandora does it for me.

How do you do this? Visit the Pandora website. You can either set up a free account (which is all I have at the moment), or you can subscribe to Pandora One for $36 USD a year. If you decide to use the free version, you can listen, with ads, for 40 hours a month. When you hit about 35 hours, it will tell you that you’re approaching the limit and offer to upgrade you, or tell you that your free time is over until the next month begins.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe the service works outside the U.S. (a fellow writer in Canada said she’s not able to access it), because of the record company’s strict licensing requirements. (Too strict, in my opinion.) But if you are in the states, you can sign up and develop stations based on particular artists or songs – and their mix is VERY eclectic. It’s not just mainstream music.

If you don’t have access to Pandora, then iTunes Genius does the same thing, using similar technology. It will use music you already own, or suggest stuff to buy, which is why I don’t use it (I don’t have extra music money in my budget for this, which is why I like the free Pandora service).

Are there other music services out there that you like? Other ways you use music in your writing? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to hear!

Writing Reference Series #1


A while back, I went on a ‘craft-building’ book buying binge. Over my next few Wiley Wednesdays, I’ll be talking about what I took away from each of them. One repeating pattern I found was that several of the books had lists of other handy reference. At the top of almost every one of those lists was Strunk & White’s ‘The Elements of Style’ – a short text that packs a real wallop, and definitely the place to begin. In short, I wish I had read this book three years ago. It would have saved me a lot of time.

William Strunk Jr. was an English professor at Cornell in the early 1900s. He taught from his own ‘little book’ – a concise text he wrote to cover the basics of grammar and composition, originally published in 1869. At 105 pages, including forwards and index, it truly is little. But little is too small a word. E. B. White (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web) was a student of Mr. Strunk, and decided much later in his career that Strunk’s ‘little book’ could serve a much broader audience. The text was revised in 1935, 1959, 1979 and 2000 – and everything in it still bears repeating. In his original introduction, Mr. White describes the book as, “seven rules of usage, eleven principals of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of expressions commonly misused . . .” All of these are centered around one theme, that edict pounded home by Strunk himself:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

I won’t run through every rule here. They are neatly numbered and stated with very clear examples in the full text, and I highly recommend you pick up the book and read it from cover to cover several times, as I did. The full text is also available online. Instead, I’ll skip the grammar stuff, and cut straight to the elements of composition I wish I had learned by studying this text, rather than the hard way (i.e. sludging along cluelessly until someone pointed it out to me the twelvth time).

13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition. To some, this may come naturally. To others, it is something pounded into our heads by 6th grade teachers. Still others struggle. But it’s quite simple, as laid down by Strunk. Writing is a series of thoughts. How we compose and gather these thoughts either facilitates or hinders how the the reader understands. In summary: one idea per paragraph. Introduce it. Add detail. Conclude or sum up.

14. Use the active voice. Ugh! I can’t tell you how long people were saying ‘that’s passive voice’ before I knew what they were talking about. And finding someone to clearly explain it had me tearing my hair out. In general, passive voice takes the action away from your subject and misplaces it. According to Strunk, the active voice makes for more ‘forcible’ writing. But, examples do far better (from the text):

“I shall always remember my first visit to Boston.” Not, “My first visit to Boston will alway be remembered by me.”

Not, “At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard.” But, “The cock’s crow came with dawn.”

In general, when scanning for passive voice, the words would, could, was and were are indicators. However, this is not to be confused with the progressive past tense: “I was walking through the woods.”

15. Put statements in positive form. Basically – don’t describe what is not happening, describe what is happening.

Not, “He was not very often on time.” But, “He usually came late.”

Not, “She did not think that studying Latin was a sensible way to use one’s time.” But, “She thought the study of Latin a waste of time.”

As you can see, the affirmative is usually more direct and concise. It also sounds less ‘wavering’. Be definite in what you say. Oh, wait . . . that’s number 16.

16. Use definite, specific, concrete language:

Not, “A period of unfavorable weather set in.” But, “It rained every day for a week.”

Usually, this means you will give more specific details. If you are trying to make a general statement, do so, but make it concrete and definite. At least knock out two of the three:

Not, “She seldom enjoyed visiting her aunt.” But, “He hated visiting her aunt.”

17. OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS. This is by far Strunk’s most important point, linking back to his main theme. Omit needless words. Omit needless words! You’ll find this easier at the edit phase. I don’t recommend having this mind set when you are drafting, because when you haven’t written anything, one could argue every word is needless. But once you have a draft, you’ll find there are a HUGE amount of ways to rephrase to use less words or to simply cross out the ones you don’t need, without losing meaning. Some examples of classic needless words are often: that, because, as to, for. Also stall phrases, such as: started to, began to, almost, was going to, etc. Strunk lists several examples of his least favorite needless phrases, which you’ll find very useful. Cut to the action, and . . . OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS.

I think that is a good start, and a fair chunk of some of Strunk’s most important points. As stated above, I highly recommend reviewing the text in its entirety. Adding these feathers to your editing cap will most certainly help you to write concisely, without losing meaning.

Happy writing!

-Gwen

The Edit Bat of Doom

A friend of mine has a special bat. It’s called the Edit Bat of Doom. When the time comes, she pulls it out and uses it with great enthusiasm! Editing is a necessary evil. Everything from a thank you note to a 500 page novel requires a bit of editing. I know we’ve already talked a bit about the process this week, but here are a few more tips on it. So take your own Edit Bat of Doom out of the closet and lets learn a few new swings!

1. Read you paper out loud. It’s easier to hear a mistake than read one. If you stumble reading it, you know you have a problem. If you still aren’t sure, take it to someone you trust and ask them to do the same.

2. Leave as much time as you can between writing and editing. Fresh eyes pick out the problems faster. Try to do something in that break that gets your mind completely off your story.

3. Read the paper backward (from the end to the beginning) one sentence at a time. This helps you concentrate on sentences and words rather than on the paper’s meaning as a whole.

4. Know the errors you commonly make. Make a list of these errors so you know what to look for. For each error, read through the paper (or chapter for longer works) once. Don’t try to find all the errors on your list in one pass.

5. Use the spelling and grammar check, but don’t rely on it. Have dictionaries and thesauruses at hand and USE THEM.

6. Place **’s where you think a reviewer should pay special attention. Make sure to go back through and take these out though!

7. Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, and how when reading for content. Does the text answer all the questions you think it should? Highlight the sentences that answer these questions. This makes it easier to see if the questions are answered in a logical manner.

8. If a character is acting out a procedure or action of some kind, do it yourself to make sure you didn’t miss any obvious steps.

9. Don’t edit under fluorescent lighting. The flicker rate is slower than regular lighting and your eyes won’t pick up inconsistencies as easily. (WOW! Learn something new every day huh?????)

Editing Schmediting

Unless you’re lucky enough to write everything perfect the first time, or you have an editing slave at your beck and call, editing is a reality for every writer. For some people, editing comes naturally, for others, it doesn’t. I’ve figured out I’m one of the latter. I’m a writer. A prolific one. Give me a prompt or idea, and a keyboard, and . . . off I go!

But just because I can write and write and write, doesn’t mean it’s actually good. There has to be clean up, tightening, re-wording, re-structuring, clarification to make my writing read-worthy, just like anybody else (except for you annoying three people who get it exactly right the first time). I spent the better part of a week earlier this month doing nothing but editing, and here’s what I’ve determined: it’s no fun. XP

But I learned something else about myself: I can learn to edit. Really edit. And while it might not be as much fun as letting my imagination have free reign and letting my fingers fly over the keyboard – the results are very satisfying. It does require me to switch out the cogs in my head, and after a bout of editing like what I just went through, I think it will be some time before I can turn off that ‘internal’ editor and get back to writing smoothly. However, the next time I sit down and put on my ‘editor cap’, I’ll be better prepared because of the list of steps I’ve made for myself.

I thought I would share them here because, a) they are gathered from various well-trusted sources, b) I find them useful, c) I told you I’m sapped and I couldn’t think of anything else to post. =P

So, here’s my semi-gelatinous editing task list:

1. I edit for spelling, grammar and continuity as I go. In a novel, this means after I draft a scene, I read it again and edit. Sometimes more than once. If I go away for any length of time, when I get back I read the last scene or two again (and sometimes edit) before moving on. However, if you don’t do this, a spellcheck and grammar check are a good place to start. They won’t catch most homophones though, so watch out.

2. My next step is a simple cut/re-arrange. Basically, ignoring mechanics, does each scene move the story forward? Is there a message to take away from each scene, and what is it? This is the time for major cuts/re-writes and this is also where I take word count under strongest consideration. I’m sort of obsessive about having well-balanced chapters, meaning that they be a fairly consistent number of words. I know, I know . . . moving on.

3. Next, I do a search and highlight (in various colors) for the major ‘weak writing indicators’. Some of these are universal: was, were, have, and had can signal passive voice; began, started, almost, practically are stall/lessening phrases; something/anything/everything are vague; THAT – they aren’t lying when they say you can delete half of these with no effect. I also have a set more specific to me, words I know I overuse: look, shrug, grin, nod, eyes, dark, wanted, felt, etc. By the time I’m done with this – my manuscript looks like a laser light show.

4. Time for another read-through. Yep. From the beginning. The goal here is to lessen the color spectrum by re-phrasing, choosing stronger verbs, more exact nouns and or taking out unnecessary clauses. At the same time, on this read through I try to manage the flow of the narrative, make sure I have the emphasis in the right place, fiddle around with paragraph breaks, vary my punctuation, etc. I’m like a diva shoe-shopping with my word choices too – “Hmm… maybe this one. No, no . . . this one.”

5. If you’re doing it all by my lonesome, the last step is yet ANOTHER read-through. From the beginning, just for smoothing. This time, I try to focus on envisioning the story, feeling the characters. Did I get my point across? Is the story engaging? Does anything kick me out as a reader. It’s always better if you have someone else to do this step for you. But if you’re very prolific, sometimes this is difficult. So, taking a break from the steps above (when possible) is most advisable. Try to look at the story as if you’re a reader reading it for the first time.

As you can imagine, my eyes are still crossed. I read my novel about six times in a week. And now I’m sick of me.

For what it’s worth, though . . .

~Gwen