Monday, October 22, 2018

Write a Novel in a Month

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 19, 2010. Enjoy!


By Kevin Killiany

National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) is rapidly approaching. Literally at the speed of time. Every November tens of thousands of writers strive to produce a 50,000-word manuscript in thirty days. Why 50k?* Because in publishing, that's the official definition of a novel. Today 90,000-word novels are common, but they are a recent development. (Or at least younger than I am.) Take a look at your copies of The Old Man and the Sea and Brave New World. Time was most novels were that slender. Though most were not that good.

More than a month devoted to writing, NaNoWriMo is an active internet community – something of a global glee club – with daily encouragements, prods, and reminders to keep you going. In many cities NaNoWriMo writers get together one or two nights a week for group writing sessions that take the loneliness out of what is usually a solitary pursuit.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is not to produce great literature, though creating great literature is not discouraged. The purpose is to get writers – especially writers who do not think they have enough time for writing – to sit down at the keyboard and write. And in that respect it has been a great help to me over the years.

I have NaNoWriMo-ed five times – the last in 2006 – and twice finished the month with a manuscript of more than 40k words that told a story with a beginning, middle, and end. None of these manuscripts are ready to be submitted to a publisher. And of the five, only my last will become a novel some day. Right now "Dram Rock" is a 42k outline of what will be the second novel in my Coastal Carolina mystery series.

Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem!, the book of all things NaNoWriMo, has been on my essential reference shelf for half a decade. (Though it's not at the moment; I loaned my copy to an aspiring romance writer who's preparing for this coming November.) While much of Baty's writing advice is NaNoWriMo-specific, there are clear lessons on discipline, priorities, and time management that should be in every writer's tool kit.

One example, useful to anyone who's ever lost an evening of writing to puzzling over how to fix a scene that doesn't seem quite right no matter what you do: Use bold. (Actually, Baty suggests italics, but bold is easier for me to spot.) When you're having problems with a scene, or a bit of dialog or a chapter ending, highlight the troubling section by putting it in bold to remind yourself the problem is there and get on with your writing. That way you do not lose your creative momentum and get more words out of your head and onto the paper where you can work with them.

Don't go back to your bold sections until either your subconscious – which never stops working – has provided you with a solution or you finish the rest of the manuscript. I work in Word, so the easiest thing for me to do is view my ms in "print layout" and shrink the images to 25%. That saves paging through looking for areas that need work because the bold passages show up as dark smudges. I just click on a smudge, go to 150% (I have old eyes – large print is my friend), and get to work fixing whatever needs fixing. Sometimes I can't think why I bothered to highlight the section. Other times the solution is obvious. Usually it's something in between. But no matter what I find, I'm able to make clear editorial decisions quickly because I did not waste time trying to edit when the words were flowing.

If you have trouble using your writing time productively – or if you have trouble finding writing time at all – I highly recommend taking part in NaNoWriMo. It's a fun and challenging way to prove to yourself you can overcome the excuses and get words on paper. Can't go wrong investing in Baty's book, either.
Either will show you you've got more time to write – and can write more in the time you have – than you knew.

* = I originally had the word count wrong. I corrected it when a commenter pointed the error out.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Selling Yourself

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published July 17, 2012 . 


By Dayton Ward

In the world of professional publishing, we as writers are both a product and a service, and it’s up to us to present ourselves in this manner. We’re of value to a potential editor and/or publisher; we just have to convince them of what we already know, right?

Oddly enough, I tend to suck at selling myself.

Specifically, I still struggle when it comes to introducing myself to editors, agents, and other publishing professionals. Take this past weekend, for example: Comic-Con International in San Diego. Tens of thousands of people milling about the exhibitor’s hall, and in the midst of that chaos were booths sponsored by publishers big and small. You’d think it’d be easy enough for a guy like me, a reasonably accomplished if not well-known sort, to walk up to one of these booths and feel comfortable talking shop, but as usually seems to be the case, I often was second-guessing myself at the moment of truth. It wasn’t such a problem if I at least knew the person in the booth by name or perhaps even had exchanged earlier e-Mails with them, but a cold introduction?

Awkward.

It’s a lot like when you finish a story and you’re getting up the courage to mail it to the faceless editor you’ve never met, only here you don’t even have the cushion of distance to ease your uncertainty. It’s you and your prospective client, face to face, and everything hinges on the next words to come out of your mouth...assuming you can make your mouth work.

I did have some success, of course. I met several writers in fields outside my own, and we spent a few pleasant minutes here and there swapping war stories before exchanging info. Likewise, a couple of good discussions were enjoyed with friends and colleagues, during which plans of one sort or another were hatched. And I did introduce myself to a few new folks at publishers’ booths where conversations ensued, and I came away with contact information and an agreement to communicate after the mayhem of the con was behind everyone.

Did I take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the con? Honestly? No, owing mostly to my own nervousness with such situations. I always feel out of my depth at these things. Part of me always wonders if the con’s hectic nature just makes attempting any sort of introduction worthwhile. Would the business card I gave the booth person go in a pocket, a box, or the trash? How many other hopeful, hungry writers were selling themselves to editors and publishers just as I was? Quite a few, obviously, and while I imagine most of the people working those booths took such introductions as to be expected in the con environment, I still was wondering if their first reaction as I walked up was something along the lines of, “Oh, great. Another one.”

I suppose it’s worth noting that I’m better at dealing with these scenarios now than I was a few years ago. A little better, anyway. I’ve refined how I present myself and what I do, how to say what I want to convey, and shortening the amount of time it takes to say it while still communicating the appropriate and relevant information. As my resume has grown, so too has my confidence in selling myself, but there’s still that little bit of anxiety taunting me whenever I enter these situations. The rational part of the brain-like thing renting space inside my skull tells me the only way to get over this self-doubt is to keep at it; continue preparing myself as I would for any other job interview, and convincing that other person that I’m a seasoned professional with valuable skills to offer.

From discussions I had over the weekend, I know I’m not the only writer who feels uncomfortable selling themselves. Even some veteran pros—people I’d never having any kind of trouble with this—have confided that they still feel that momentary apprehension in these types of situations. “Just keep working at it,” they tell me.

How about you? Are you a natural seller, or does it come a bit harder for you? Are you a smooth talker, or do you feel like your tongue sometimes wants to fight you over every word? How do you prepare for making these types of introductions, and do you have any particular success (or horror) stories you want to share?

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Impotence of Editing

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published April 26, 2012.  Enjoy!


By William Doonan

After reading Jewel's excellent post, I wanted to add my two cents about editing. 

With the possible exception of marketing, the most onerous task a writer faces is editing.  I can pull a character out of a hat.  Here’s one now – Ned.  Setting – abandoned donut shop north of Muncie.  Plot – middle-aged taxidermist despairs of finding love in a post-apocalyptic world.  Theme – unending gloom.  Title – Mounted. 

Tell me you’re not dying to know what happens.  I can write it.  The only problem is that when I’m done, it will be riddled with errors.  And when I go back to edit it, it will look just fine to me.

The reason is simple.  As readers, we are trained to ignore the connective tissue of written language.  Punctuation becomes invisible, pacing is ignored, anomalies are forgiven, and dialog tags fade into the background.  And because all writers are readers, we fall into a trap.  We overlook the same things.  And when we make mistakes in the connective tissue of our own story, we don’t notice.

I’ll use a short story to illustrate my point.

Mounted – Chapter 1

Ned’s hands shook as he glued the beak onto the stuffed bat.  “Damn, he shouted, throwing his tweezers onto the ground, realizing he had glued the beak onto the back of the bat’s head by mistake.  “Damn post-apocalyptic word!”
__________________

Good, isn’t it?  But there are problems.  There is no close-quote after the first Damn.  There’s no such thing as a post-apocalyptic word (unless there is), and bats don’t have beaks.

Mounted – Chapter 2

Oriole shivered, her ragged hoodie no match for the evening chill.  If only her sisters had left Muncie before the troubles.  If Robin and Grackle were here, surely one of them would know how to stat a fire. 

Hugging her poncho tight, Oriole stepped gingerly around the piles of brand-new disposable lighters that littered the road like gemstones, shimmering in the sunrise. 

Up ahead, she saw something flicker in an abandoned donut shop.  It could be a campfire.  She approached carefully.  “It could be another gang of surfers,” she groaned, remembering her last encounter.
__________________

I know, right – you’re hooked.  So hooked you might be willing to overlook the slovenly writing.  You can’t stat a fire.  And the pacing is off.  First it’s evening, then three lines later it’s sunrise.  Is she wearing a hoodie or a poncho?  Surfers don’t form gangs.  And you can’t groan something.  Really, you can’t.  And even if you could, you shouldn’t.

Mounted – Chapter 3

Ned was gluing the last tail feather when he heard the door chime.  He turned away from the peacock as the girl entered.  She was the first human he’d seen since….since the troubles began.  “Damn Buffet Rule,” he gurgled, staring at her.  She was gorgeous.  Mid-twenties, maybe five foot two, mixed Scottish and Mexican heritage, judging by the poncho she wore and the pan of haggis she carried. 

Oriole came forward and knelt by the fire.  She rubbed her hands together

Ned carried the peacock to the display case, and set it next the owls and ducks and penguins, the product of his labor these long years.  Then he approached her.  He extended a hand but she cringed, spotting a distinctive feather that clung to his sleeve. 

“Is that spotted owl?”

Ned beamed.  “Do you do taxidermy too?”

Oriole shrieked as her eyes darted around the room.  “You…you kill them.”

“Well, yes,” he said.  “Otherwise they fuss when you try to stuff them.”

She shook her head sadly. 

What’s wrong?

“Im an ornithologist.”
__________________

Problems?  Actually, this part is pretty good if you can ignore the missing quotation marks, and the fact that you can’t gurgle words. Would the door chime still work?  The word I’m needs an apostrophe. 

Mounted – Conclusion

“I’m not currently in need of eye care,” Ned told her, eyeing her lustfully. 

“Not ophthalmology,” Oriole said, “ornithology – I study birds, I love birds.  I come from a long line of bird lovers.  I could never love a man who, who, who…”

“Shh.” Ned put a finger on her lips.  “You sound like that owl I strangled last week.  Look, we might have our differences, but we can make it.   At least we’ll have each other.  We can forget about the zombies for awhile?”

Oriole pulled back.  “There are zombies?”

“Probably not,” Ned said as he kissed her.  “I mean, I haven’t seen any but you never know.” 

“This is so wrong,” she said, kissing him back hungrily.  “I could never love a man like you.”

“We’ll make it work,” he said, gingery removing her poncho and her hoodie, and setting her haggis aside. 

“Tell me how this is going to end.”  She tore at his clothes, spilling the contents of his pockets.  Ear pins, wing screws, and spools of tail wire tangled with beak nuts of assorted sizes.  “Tell me how this is going to end.”

Ned took her in his arms, remembering the title of his story.
__________________

Problems?    How can he talk while kissing her?  Seriously, there’s way too much kissing dialog here.  Also, there’s no such thing as a beak nut. 

OK, so how can we avoid an editing nightmare?  Here are four ideas:

1)      Go to the TOOLS bar in Microsoft Word, and turn on the GRAMMAR AND STYLE checker.  It will drive you crazy.  But it will save you grief.
2)      Unless you’re willing to pay an editor, you’ll need some editing software.  I like PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing.  It will find mistakes you missed.  At $49, it’s a bargain, and you can download a preview for free.
3)      Read your story out loud.  Read it slowly as if you were recording an audiobook.  Also, try to sound like Morgan Freeman.  Reading out loud keeps you honest.  You won’t be able to ignore your mistakes.  
4)      Find a writing partner you can trust, someone who’s willing to look you in the eye and laugh uncontrollably at your story if that’s what’s called for.  If they can’t do that, find someone else.


Monday, October 1, 2018

When English isn't

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published on November 9, 2009. Enjoy!



By Liane Spicer

"The Americans are identical to the British in all respects except, of course, language." - Oscar Wilde

When I've completed a novel manuscript one of the last checks I do is to ensure that my spelling and usage conform to the US standard, since my publisher and main market are US. This is because UK English (commonly called 'English') is the standard in the anglophone Caribbean. I spent many years teaching this version of the language and Americanisms, as we called them, were/are considered errors in usage.

Don't start pelting me with rotten fruit, dear US friends. Until relatively recent times not only were these Caribbean territories British colonies, but all our high school examinations were administered by British universities. My high school certificates, for example, were all awarded by the University of Cambridge. These guys mark our papers, we obey their rules. And although I've always been aware that there are differences in the US version of the language, it wasn't until fairly recently that I realized how deeply those differences affect all aspects of the language: spelling, grammar, idiom, punctuation, even formatting of dates and numbers.

Here are a few points of diversion that can result in hilarity or extreme embarrassment to the unwary:

Randy: This is a perfectly reasonable first name to Americans. When these poor guys cross the pond and say "Hi, I'm Randy" to the locals, what they are saying in UK-ese is: "Hello, I'm feeling horny." Then they wonder at all the sniggering and outright guffaws that greet their innocent introductions.

Rubbers: In the UK, and here in the Caribbean, a rubber is an eraser, not a condom. Imagine the mild mannered new Englishman in a US office requesting a rubber from office supplies - and mentioning that he likes to chew on 'em.

Table: In a US boardroom, tabling a motion means postponing it. In the UK, it means the motion has been brought up for discussion. That must make for some entertaining mixups in trans-Atlantic commerce.

Lift: In the US the device used to travel between floors in a building is called an elevator. In the UK it is called a lift. American hitch-hikers should also be warned that it's best to ask for a lift (or a 'drop' in the Caribbean) and not a ride - which is a sexual favour in the UK and the Caribbean.

School: In UK English someone who goes to school is a student between the ages of five and seventeen. In the US, it can also mean an adult enrolled in a place of higher education. We call that university - and look with pity on our middle-aged relatives who reside in the US when they tell us they're going back to school.

Numbers: In the US a billion is a thousand million. In the UK it's a thousand times that amount. Thus a British billionaire is much, much richer than his American counterpart - even without factoring in the exchange rate.

So you thought it was simply a matter of color vs. colour, tap vs. faucet, post vs. mail, pavement vs. sidewalk and trousers vs. pants, huh. When we consider all the differences in usage within the US, UK and the Caribbean, is it any wonder that those of us who go back and forth across the language lines sometimes feel like tearing our hair out?

Liane Spicer

Saturday, September 22, 2018

12 Myths Writers Believe

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published March 13, 2016. 


By Sunny Frazier

The other night I went to dinner and met someone for the first time. I was introduced as “a published author.” This young woman, looking way too impressed, gushed “How exciting!”

“Not really.”

It wasn’t the response she was looking for. She thought she’d given me a compliment. I gave her an honest reply.

I’m over it. All the shiny newness of being a published writer has worn off. I can’t maintain the façade anymore. The pedestal has crumbled, my feet are firmly on the ground. Maybe in the mud. Sometimes it feels like quicksand. I’m beginning to understand why Salinger went into hiding, Hemingway killed himself and Hammett became an alcoholic.

There’s no fooling myself anymore. They say fiction writers tell lies for fun and profit. Can writers handle hard truths? Here goes:

1.    Writing is a gift. No, it’s a curse. It’s rejection. There are easier ways to make a living.

2.    We are born with natural talent. Doubtful. “Talent” takes years of reading and absorbing. It takes time in the classroom. It takes studying spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and craft. It takes trial and error.

3.    It’s a labor of love. No, just labor. Below minimum wage. The payoff is we don’t get Alzheimers as often. We keep the brain cells firing.

4.    We have to write. No, we don’t. Nobody is twisting our arm. Nobody holds a gun to our head. Readers aren’t waiting with open arms for our golden words. What we have to do is eat, keep a roof overhead, pay taxes. 

5.    There’s a “writer’s high.” Maybe a rush when the right words hit the page, a sentence that sings, a perfect paragraph. Want a high? Take drugs.

6.    Writing a book is like giving birth. Really? While you may bloat from eating crap for 9 months I seriously doubt there is as much pain unless the pages are expelled via your vagina. Men excluded.

7.    These are my children. Oh, do your manuscripts need to be fed and clothed? True, it sucks the life out of you. Yet, when it’s time to leave the nest and go to a publisher, you cling and hold back.

8.    Writer’s block? More like laziness. Excuses. Fear. Will I be able to finish the book? Will it be as great as I hear it in my head? Do I have talent? The mantra repeats until we have to block it out.

9.    You have to open a vein and bleed all over the page. That’s suicide and you’d be dead. Maybe you’ll become published posthumously. Probably not.

10. We live glamorous lives. Seriously? Is perpetually living in pajamas and slippers with endless cups of coffee, tea, diet soda (or booze) a lifestyle to aspire toward? Things go unattended like grooming, housework, bills, yardwork. We have insomnia with thoughts rumbling through our heads. In the wee hours plots and doubts decide to show up.

11. We make lots of money. Only if your name is Rowling, Crais, Evanovich, Patterson, Steel or any one of the 1%. The rest of us barely scratch out enough to keep us in printer paper and ink cartridges.

12. We make important contributions to the world. Then why hasn’t society caught on? Oh wait—they are too busy living productive lives. They have little time for our insights. They are Philistines who would rather watch Dr. Phil. 

What we do have is a community to commiserate with us. We recognize our kind, seek them out at conferences and online. We can tell the clueless beginners with stars in their eyes to jaded veterans who’ve had too many empty book signings. We’ve heard unrealistic expectations and Hollywood dreams and wait for reality to set in. We’ve finally admitted we are nothing special, just people who choose to be miserable.
But, we keep all that a secret. Instead, we smile at readers and try to charm them into being fans. We nod when friends tell us we’ll get on the best seller list someday. We tolerate disappointment from family members who think we should do something practical. Like make money.

We continue to ignore the odds, the pitfalls, the walls thrown up to stop us. We put one word behind another and fingers crossed it all makes sense. We continue to hope when it feels hopeless. Even if you agree with the above, chances are you’ll ignore the advice. After all, I write fiction.     


Saturday, September 15, 2018

How to Not Write Novel #2

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 7, 2014.  


By Che Gilson


There are in fact many, MANY, more reasons NOT to tell people you are writing a novel than there are reasons to tell people what you're up to.

Let's look at a few of them:

1- I don't know if you know these people (I sure do), they are the people who endlessly tell you about their book but never actually write it. Let's face it, it's a lot funner, and easier, to just talk about writing a book. Actually writing it is work. Hard work. Or maybe it's just that the book has been talked to death. Talk about something long enough and it feels like it's already written. Or maybe another, newer idea supplants it before anything on the other book can even get put on paper. 

2- People love nothing more than a parade they can rain on. And you being happy and excited about the book you're working on is BEGGING for a reality check. Don't let them rain you out! When people ask what (if anything) you are writing just say stuff. 

3- People love to tell you all about what you SHOULD be writing, and it generally  involves them and their ideas, which they've never done anything with. People also want to contribute, for I don't know what reason but this one irks me likes no one's business. Often because other people's ideas are so far OFF from what my vision is that I get really annoyed with them for daring to foist their ideas off on my work.

These are only three reasons! The responses to "I'm writing a novel." vary from actively hurtful, to poor advice, to plain discouraging. It's best to keep your work and your ideas close to the vest until you have a  finished product, or a sturdy support system.

So what are some of the choice responses you've gotten?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

To Read, or Not to Read?

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 23, 2012.


By Eugenia O'Neal

The young daughter of a friend of mine told me the other day that she doesn't like to read.  We were chatting as we waited for my friend to finish what she was doing so we could head out to an event and when she said that I felt, well, gutted would be the word.  Her mom is a reader.  Her dad, too, though he mostly reads business books or political memoirs, that kind of thing.  So I told her all I thought she was missing.  I pointed out that some of those movies she loves so much like the Harry Potter series were books first.  I said that books will reveal much more of the world than she could possibly learn by just watching tv or even surfing the Net.  She responded, laughingly, that her mom had already told her all that but she just found reading boring.  Well!!!

I didn't know what more to say so I didn't say anything.  But, later, discussing it with her mom, we conceded the problem was bigger than Rhonda.  In fact, a couple of the high school English teachers I know, say that every year it seems like less and less children are reading at their age-level.  Worse, their ability to express themselves and to comprehend what they read also seems to be in decline.  One of the teachers has started a book club to help overcome this but they think the problem has reached epidemic proportions.  Of course, it's not just BVI children.  Educators on other islands and in the States, for example, have been complaining about this ever since the publication of the sensational Why Johnny Can't Read.  

For years, the Caribbean prided itself on being a highly-literate region with some of the best schools in the world.  The region's roster of writers include V. S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Jamaica Kincaid, George Lamming and Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, among others.  But, if less children are reading, where will future generations of Caribbean writers come from?

As a parent, I've tried to instill a love of reading in my daughter by getting rid of television, by discussing the stories she's reading with her, by asking her to come up with different endings for stories, and by making sure she has some of the best children's books in her library.  She will pick up a book and read it but she, increasingly, uses her Kindle to surf YouTube.  Can The Wind in the Willows compete with Beyonce, or even Alvin and the Chipmunks?