You Might Be a Writer If…

I’m sure we can all relate to at least some of these. Hilarious.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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A lot of “stuff” has been going on in my life lately. Hard stuff. Heavy stuff. The kind of stuff that just makes me want to write massacre scenes….except I am so brain dead I had to google how to spell “massacre.”

Masicker? Missucker?

WHAT AM I DOING???? *breaks down sobbing*

I am supposed to be an adult an expert okay, maybe functionally literate. Fine, I give up! I have nothing left to saaaaayyyyyy. I am all out of woooords *builds pillow fort*.

I figured it’s time for a bit of levity. Heck, I need a good laugh. How about you guys?

We writers are different *eye twitches* for sure, but the world would be SO boring without us. Am I the only person who watches Discovery ID and critiques the killers?

You are putting the body THERE? Do you just WANT to go to prison? Why did you STAB…

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Choosing a Genre—Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story Part 7

Fellow writers: If you’re stuck trying to figure out where your book fits on the book shelf, this post from Kristen can help to clear up a lot of confusion.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.42.33 AMUnderstanding structure helps us write cleaner and faster. Whether we plan every detail ahead of time or just intuitively have the architecture in our head, structure makes the difference between a workable first draft and a nightmare beyond salvage.

I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit right now to get writing. All in due time. Today we are going to talk genre and why it is important to pick one.

Understanding what genre you are writing will help guide you when it comes to plotting your novel. How? Each genre has its own set of general rules and expectations. 

If we don’t pick or we get too weird, we will confuse agents and readers because there is no clear idea of where this sucker should be shelved. It will also make plotting more than problematic.

Fifteen years ago, when I first got this brilliant idea to…

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Look Both Ways Before Crossing (Off) the Year…

(Reprinted and shared with permission from Writing-Word.com)

 

Coffee on the Deck
by Moira Allen

January 2, 2015:
Look Both Ways Before Crossing (Off) the Year…

Tradition has it that the month of January was named for the Roman god Janus, a god of beginnings and transitions. Janus was classically depicted as having two faces or heads, one facing forward to the future, one looking backward at the past. According to Wikipedia, he was the god of “gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings.” Whether the Romans actually associated him with this month or not (Roman almanacs indicate that the patron of the month may have been Juno), we’ve held onto this symbolism for the New Year for centuries.

Despite a hearty round of Auld Lang Syne, however, we’re more likely to look forward than backward as we consider the year to come. We get caught up in making our resolutions, plans and goals — and are equally likely to get caught up in the cycle of frustration that comes of adding the same resolutions and goals to our list that we’ve added in years past. So many things remain undone, so many projects are unfinished, or worse, have not even been begun. There’s just so much to do!

And so, as the last champagne is drunk, we’re very likely to look at the coming year as just one giant to-do list, a list that gets longer rather than shorter as time goes by. Resolutions and goals from previous years, still unfinished, get tacked onto the new projects and new goals of the coming year. Things keep piling on to the list, and very little seems to come off. If you’re like me, you’re probably looking at the months ahead and thinking, wow, I’m going to be busier than ever!

There may not be anything we can do about our to-do lists for the coming year. But there is one thing we can change, and that is “perspective.” There’s a reason why Janus is depicted with two faces. In our focus on moving forward, on planning, on making resolutions, on declaring that this is the year that we’ll finally do this and finish that, we forget that there is also, in this time of new beginnings, the very important need to look backward as well.

In my household, we call it “looking back down the mountain.” (I talked about this back in 2013 – but it seems a good time to talk about it again.) During the year, we often feel as if we’re climbing a mountain, struggling ever higher, focusing on this foothold and that achievement, always looking toward the next step and the next task. Periodically, my husband and I remind each other that it’s time to stop, take a deep breath, and look back down the mountain. Look at how far we’ve come. Look at where we are. Look at the accomplishments that now lie behind us, rather than the never-ending list of tasks that always lies ahead.

That seems to me to be a good plan for the beginning of the year. Before diving into that year-long to-do list and those endless resolutions, take a moment to look back down your personal mountain. Take a look at how far you’ve come. Take a look at what you’ve done. Gaze upon your achievements, not your task list. Remind yourself of what you have accomplished — and remind yourself that it matters.

How many blog posts did you write in 2014? How many articles? How many queries did you send out? Did you finally write that short story that you’d been thinking about for months? Was this the year you participated in NaNoWriMo? (Never mind whether you completed the novel — rejoice that you signed up!) Even if you can’t point to many completed projects, take a moment to acknowledge the many steps youhave taken, in every area of life.

Whatever you did in 2014, I’m betting that you worked hard. You’re probably going to work even harder in 2015. Hard work can be incredibly rewarding — but only if you take the time to recognize the work that you’ve done, and recognize, as well, the rewards that you have reaped from it. Without that recognition, hard work becomes nothing more than drudgery — with still more drudgery ahead of you.

So take a moment, as the year begins, to take a deep breath and look back down the mountain. Look how far you’ve come. Stop thinking, for just a moment, about how far you feel you still have to go. Think, instead, about all the steps and accomplishments that have brought you here, to the place where you are, right now, today. And then give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

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Copyright © 2015 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author’s byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.

Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-Word.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer’s Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts Mostly-Victorian.com, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer’s cat. She can be contacted at editors “at” writing-world.com.

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Why Are Certain Stories Timeless? What Scrooge Can Teach Us About Great Writing

Too good not to share. I shared this on my own blog (djmarcussen.com) and now sharing on my writers group blog. Enjoy.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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One of my all-time favorite movies for the holidays is The Muppets Christmas Carol. I believe I’ve seen this movie a few hundred thousand times. I’ve worn out three VHS tapes and at least three DVDs. I play the movie over and over, mainly because, well, duh,  MUPPETS! I drive my husband nuts playing this movie over and over…and over.

I’m worse than a three-year-old.

Muppets aside, I also can’t get enough of the music. I love the story of A Christmas Carol no matter how many times I see it, no matter how many renditions, and I am certainly not alone. Charles Dickens’ story of a redeemed miser is a staple for holiday celebrations around the world and across the generations.

This story is virtually synonymous with “Christmas,” but why is it such a powerful story? Why has it spoken so deeply to so many? Why is it…

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The Story Of Flow

flow chart milk thingie i made

Once upon a time, I wrote a story called FLOW.    I wrote it for a particular editor, of a particular publisher, for a particular anthology.  My respect for this publication was (and still is) immense, and I had it in mind that having a story in that anthology would grant me membership into an online group that had specific rules of admittance.

I really wanted to be a member of that group.

I’ve been slow to transition from traditional places of publishing to e-publishing.  And although my first story experiment in an all digital format was well-received (The Tax Angel), I had yet to write for a publisher that releases their stories online as well as in print.  So I set about learning the submission guidelines of this publication.

I did my homework, researched the scientific facts,  and read up on the publications history.  I knew what subjects to avoid and what plots they were seeking.  I even found some early versions of the decades old publication in an antique mall, then bought and read the early stories penned by the very man that was the current editor.

I was sure I knew what he wanted.

With my characters in mind, I wrote with a fervor, lost in the pure excitement and magic of telling a story.  In the words of Kristen Lamb, I was “…like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music”.

I sought the opinion of others before sending it out.  Except for a few minor suggested changes (which I then made), the story seemed to be a big hit.  My pre-readers gave me glowing reviews.  When I read it to my critique group, they loved it.

The editor did not.

Now I know perfectly well that it’s a numbers game.  You send your story to 20 different editors and some are going to hate it, some are going to like it, and some are going to love it.  I know this from the articles and stories I’ve had published in other magazines.

There will always be rejections, for various reasons (not always having to do with your writing, either).  But if you keep sending out queries, there will also always be the editor who says “yes”.

This is a basic fact of the business of writing.  So why is it that we tend to forget it?

Actually, I’m pretty sure that the editor I courted didn’t read FLOW.  He responded within 24 hours.  Practically unheard of in the publishing business.  Then, his response was an auto-generated form letter, stating the story requirements of his publication, which were nothing like the requirements they had listed on their submission web page.

I hate when that happens.

But hey… editors are people too.  Some are better than others but none are actually out to destroy your career.  They just have their own likes and dislikes, as we all do.  Plus, there’s usually a whole in-house process they have to go through to get a story into print.  Add in the likelihood that they are swamped with submissions, raise the stakes by throwing in the publications current year’s themes, goals, and financial picture, and you can see why it’s so difficult to get a story published.

dear writer meme

Personally, I get tired of seeing articles from editors telling us their woes and to cut them some slack.  It’s not like we don’t have pressures of our own, our writing futures held captive by them more often than not.   (You’re not alone in this frustration.  Read this funny response to rejection.)  But I really do get it.  We are all trying to work together and make a living within this broken system.

Or, to put it more succinctly:  “If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.”  Dolly Parton

Anyway, from the auto-generated response letter I received from this editor, I determined that FLOW had probably been rejected based on  its ending.

According to my readers, my ending was good, but I could see the editors point.  (If that was why it was rejected.  Since there was no actual feedback I was only guessing.  His instructions, by the way, said he had no time to give personalized feedback, so I was left to my own assumptions.)

Still, I told my writers group that I wasn’t going to lose heart or give too much weight to that response, even though I had crafted that story for just that publication.  I would, instead, first send it out to other pubs and other editors and see what happened.  It may be perfect somewhere else.

Then I did the exact opposite and set out to change the ending.

In order to make a new ending, I had to change the plot.  In order to change the plot, I had to change the catalyst.  I spent the next two years struggling with it – between other projects – periodically making notes on two conflicting ideas (or, as one of my writing buddies called it, FLOW1 and FLOW2).  To say I was unsure of my direction was an understatement.

When someone in my group reminded me it was the two year anniversary of when she’d first read FLOW, I was appalled.  How could so much time have passed, when it seemed to me that FLOW was always in the back of my mind?  When I had mounds of used envelopes and corners torn off napkins, all covered with scribbled notes of FLOW?

Chagrined, I set my mind to finish FLOW once and for all.  I threw myself into concentrated effort and wrote, wrote, wrote.  For the better part of five weeks, FLOW was all I worked on.

My effort paid off… I finished FLOW.  It was now much longer and had a completely different slant.  The ending was the piece de resistance.

New and improved FLOW was better researched.  Had more characters, added tension and richer complexity.  For some reason, I remember liking the original FLOW better, but maybe that was because I had lived with it too long.  I had hope this new version was closer to what that editor had in mind.

I tried it out on my pre-readers and writers group.  They all had pretty much the same reaction:

FLOW  had gone from a story that one editor didn’t like but my readers loved, to a difficult-to-grasp story that no one, not even myself, found enthralling.  Frustrated, I put it to the side and slept on it.

This morning I woke up and realized the problem…  I LISTENED TO ONE EDITOR, AND CHANGED THE WHOLE STORY BECAUSE OF A COMPUTER GENERATED FORM LETTER, THAT DIDN’T EVEN TELL ME WHAT THE PROBLEM WAS.

meme depicting rotten editor

Duh.  Talk about mindless!  From my own experience, I know better.  So, why didn’t I keep sending it out???

Yes, this was a well-respected editor of a well-respected publication and his opinion mattered to me.  But, for whatever reason, he definitely was not the editor for FLOW.  Despite my research into the publication, I judged wrong.  Even knowing the dangers of taking one opinion to heart, that’s exactly what I did.

Instead, I should’ve gotten opinions from other editors.  Or found another market for FLOW (since, based on reader feedback, there probably was a market for the original version)… maybe even trying again with this publication with a totally new story (or perhaps forgetting it and finding another path to membership in that online group).

I wasted two years trying to make this story fit what I assumed this ONE editor wanted – who, by the way – has since retired and isn’t even there anymore!

Also, sure my original version was impaired, that first FLOW has been lost amid the myriad of revisions.

Now, here’s a quiz.  For those of you that remember Yann Martel’s explanation of how he came up with Life Of Pi:  What major thing (for a writer anyway) did he do, before he started on the story of Pi?

Answer:  The book he had spent so much time on, no longer worked for him.  So he abandoned it, threw it out and started fresh.  And that is how he came to write Life Of Pi.

In his own words from his essay entitled How I Wrote Life Of Pi:   “Every writer knows the feeling.  A story is born in your mind and it thrills you.  ….  But at one point, you look at it and you feel nothing.  You feel no pulse.  The characters don’t speak naturally, the plot does not move, the descriptions don’t come to you, everything about your story is thankless work.  It has died.”

This morning, when I had my epiphany about what was wrong with FLOW, I also remembered the fictional mailing of his manuscript, that Yann put in the Author’s Note at the beginning of his novel.  And I realized what I needed to do to fix my own.

I killed my darlings.  I threw out FLOW.  I freed myself from the albatross I, myself, had hung around my neck.

Will there be another FLOW in the future?  Will the original FLOW ever come forth again?  Perhaps.  I still have that mound of notes.

But if another FLOW does emerge, I vow to remember this statement from Literary Rejections:  “Yet in spite of this phenomenal success, every single one of these best-selling authors was initially rejected.  Literary agents and publishers informed them in an endless stream of rejection letters that nobody would be interested in reading their book.”

To quote Stanley Schmidt, writer and past editor of the Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine, when he was asked what made him keep trying, and how he had handled his own rejections as a writer:  “Being too dumb to know when to quit?  Seriously, I knew I enjoyed telling stories… . So I sent them out. … I set myself the goal of sending out a short story or novelette a month.”

So I ask you… Do you have an albatross hanging around your neck?  A story you have held onto and changed so many times you can’t remember the original?  Or maybe you just have a story that you’ve let collect dust in a folder in the back drawer of a desk you have long since moved to the guest room.  How much energy does it suck out of your creative force, lying somewhere in your brain as an unfinished project?  Static, or ever on your to-do list, but never sent to test its potential.

To end this post, it seems fitting to me to include what the famous Mr. Asimov said.  A rule, a reminder, and a warning that I think we writers should all live by…

“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

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The Great Pumpkin Patch

Plant In The Sun

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One year, I decided to dedicate my vegetable garden to nothing but pumpkin plants.  Since my husband has a bit of a thing about pumpkins (Hubby’s Pumpkin Obsession), I had it in mind to save ourselves some serious money by growing our own.

The pumpkin patch was on a side lot to our house.  We’ve grown vegetables there many years and the garden patch is quite large, so there certainly was ample room.  Or so we thought.

Until the rain started.

Knowing how large and spreading pumpkin plants can become, I only planted two seedlings.  But that year, we had twice the amount of rainfall than normal.

The weather was pumpkin perfect.

The pumpkin plants filled the garden plot in no time flat.  Then, they started to encroach on the lawn.  This didn’t bother us much.  At first.  But eventually, it was getting out of hand, so I…

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Just Like A Friend

This morning I struggled through piles of clutter to find the alarm and shut it off.  I sat on the edge of my bed, the early light from the window spotlighting the top of my bedside dresser.  How had the clutter gotten so bad?

We all live with a certain amount of clutter without even noticing it, but there comes a time when the scales fall from your eyes and you can’t help but be shocked.

I have two options, I thought.  I can ignore it until it again ceases to bother me, or I can re-arrange my to-do list today to include cleaning off this dresser.  Summing up the situation, I quickly realized that if I put it off too much longer it wouldn’t just be the alarm I couldn’t reach.  I would have trouble turning the lamp on and off too.

So I set about clearing that dresser right off.  Shouldn’t take too long, after all it’s mostly just a bunch of books.  However, this turned out to be harder than I thought.  (For the record… the above photo is NOT a picture of my bedroom dresser.  It’s a photo of another room.  But the dog was lying there, and who can resist a dog, a book, and an easy chair?)

I’ve heard it said that books are like friends.  Well, no kidding.  Except, all friends are not created equal.  So if books are like friends, here’s why my dresser is still half full after cleaning it off:

  1. Fine, casual friends are easy to handle. You enjoy their company while they’re there and they never impose on your life when you’re doing your own thing.  Like A Book By Its Cover by Elizabeth Adams.  Or The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman.  I read them.  Loved them.    Fine friends that come off the dresser and get shelved away in the other room.
  1. Family, and “special” friends – those that you tell your problems too, or that you have deep discussions with – those friends are kept closer.   For when you need to revisit some special words of wisdom they gave you.  The advice in Awaken The Giant Within by Anthony Robbins.  The technical how-to in Rise Of The Machines: Human Authors In A Digital World by Kristen Lamb.  The spiritual guidance in your daily devotional and The Bible.  These book titles may change from time to time, but there is always a stack of them that stay on the dresser, where they are always available.

Then there’s the hot date you had a one night stand with.  Mistress, by James Patterson, (What Happened To The Cat).  Timeline, by Michael Crichton.  Sahara, by Clive Cussler.  Some of these hotties you can move back to the bookshelf, where they wait until the next time you have a need for their specific thrill.  But some of them have to remain sitting on your dresser for a bit longer, until the afterglow has faded, even though you’ve moved on to another relationship.

Of course, no acquaintance is positive.  There’s those that you wish you’d never met.  Maybe they bored you to tears, or you don’t agree with their values or politics.  They could’ve annoyed you with inconsistencies, protagonists you didn’t relate to, difficult to accept plots, or chapter after chapter of saying the same thing.  Like Dead, White, And Blue, by Carolyn Hart.  Or Skein Of The Crime, by Maggie Sefton.

That kind of acquaintance is easy to clear off the dresser.  They don’t even have to be shelved.  Better to pass them along to someone who might appreciate them more.  (We all have different tastes, after all.)

By time I was done cleaning, many of my friends were gone from my dresser, light once again reached the wood in many spots.  But my dresser was hardly bare.  Not only did I still have some of the aforementioned residing there, but now I had room to add a few more that I’d recently met, but hadn’t yet gotten to know.

So many books, so little time.  Or is it… so many friends?

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