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I’m about two-thirds of the way through a book I am reading to review for Library Journal. The book is called J.M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing by David Attwell. It is a sort of writing biography of Coetzee and is quite good. If you are a fan of the writer, this is one you will probably want to look out for.
I am also still working my way through all the lessons in the James Patterson Master Class.
Over the weekend Patterson and Coetzee provided a fascinating opportunity to glimpse and compared the writing process of two well-known writers. The writing process has always fascinated me. Everyone has one and goes about putting words on paper or computer screen in a variety of ways. Some writers fetishize certain objects —they have to write with a particular pen in a certain color on a particular kind of paper, or while pounding away at the keyboard there has to be particular piece by Mozart playing and there has to be a cup of tea/coffee in a certain mug placed just so on the desk — and claim to not be able to write without them. Some writers need to have a title first, or write the last sentence first or start in the middle or always begin a new project on the same date or sit down to write at the same exact time every day.
The actual writing part though, there are only so many ways a person can go about it, nonetheless, it remains a perennial and dreaded question at book readings, the moment someone in the audience stands up and asks, “so how did you go about writing this book?” What is wanted, of course, is the secret that only “real” writers know. The password, the handshake, the mystery revealed, the drug, the prayer, the key to it all so that said audience member can go home and write that novel they have inside them and make millions doing it. No one wants to hear an author say the truth, I sat down and wrote for six hours every day, seven days a week for four months (or more) and wrote and rewrote and wrote some more and tossed out and started over and wrote some more and rewrote over and over until it was done. What’s an author to do? Tell the truth no one wants to hear or make something up? The third option is avoiding answering the question entirely. I have heard all three answers at one time or another.
Of course in Patterson’s online writing class he has to address the question, he is the teacher and it is his job to explain how to write a novel. Patterson takes the truthful route but at the same time he makes it sound rather easy. To write a novel, one must first write an outline, do not begin writing without an outline, your book will be doomed. For Patterson, an outline is not the kind you had to do in school with the Roman numerals and the letters and headings and subheadings. He means a narrative outline. There are still numbers but the numbers correspond to chapters and basically what you are writing is a summary of the chapter. With such an outline you can work out plot and pacing before you get in too deep. You can find the slow bits and the holes and fix them before they grow out of control. That’s the idea anyway.
And it seems like a good idea that is really useful for a plot-driven James Patterson sort of novel. Heck, it is probably a good idea for a variety of novel types. It is neat and tidy. And of course once you have your outline, you know how you are going to get from point A to B to C. You know what happens in each chapter. All you have to do is fill in the details. Easy!
Coetzee’s approach is so much messier. No outline, just write. Draft after draft after draft. He makes notes as he goes. He changes character names and locations and plot and then he changes them back again and then he changes them again to something else entirely. It is organic and labyrinthine. It is a journey in which the ending is not known in advance, but is rather a sort of quest; a quest for a story, a quest for an answer to a question, a quest for understanding, a quest for any number of things. No bones about it, it is a lot of work.
And I find myself wondering, do the two approaches reflect the differences between commercial fiction and Nobel Prize winning fiction? Could an author whose process is like Patterson’s win a Nobel? Could someone whose process is like Coetzee’s be successful at commercial fiction and spend 24 weeks on top of the bestseller lists? Which comes first, the process or the desire to write a certain kind of fiction? Do people who make outlines naturally make a course for more commercial fiction? Do the messy organic writers automatically find themselves in literary fiction? And what about other kinds of writing, genre and nonfiction in all its variety? Is this a chicken or egg question?
Maybe. Probably. Likely the answer is a combination of all sorts of factors but it is interesting to consider.
Filed under: Books
, In Progress
Tagged: J.M. Coetzee
, James Patterson
, writing process
It took all day to write something that I didn’t even know I
wanted to write.
I sat at my desk for hours trying to think of something to
write and at the end of the morning I left an unmarked sheet of paper on my desk, the same blank sheet that I'd started with when I sat down earlier.
It was like diving and returning to the surface
I hadn’t found any pearls on the sea
Trudy Ludwig is an award-winning author who specializes in writing children's books that explore the colorful and sometimes confusing world of children's social interactions. Today, we are honored to share Trudy's thoughts about the writing process.
For years I’ve held an image in my
head of a plant growing toward the light as a way of understanding the writing
It was an image that a
beloved writing teacher shared with me years ago, and the image of my work
growing toward the light--drawn to
the light--helped me through some dark
passages in my life as I tried to sort out which direction to follow in terms
of what I wanted to
Sometimes writing can feel as if I’m making headway one day,
only to find myself retreating the next.
Two steps forward, one step back.
It’s as if I’m swimming effortlessly through the water and
then unexpectedly hit a strong current, and everything changes.
My pace slows, my arms feel fatigued, my legs weaken, and I fear sinking to the bottom.
And then, just as suddenly, the
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There are two aspects to each story— what it is about and how it is written. Three young adult novels I’ve read over a span of two weeks excel in certain intriguing elements of style – meaning the tools used to write them. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun […]
We welcome author Amy McNulty to the blog today. She's here to share with us an inspiring post about her writing journey and how the love of a very special book helped her finish writing her own...something I can very much relate to. Thank you, Amy!
After Nine Years and 120,000 Words, All It Took Was a Book: A WOW-Wednesday Post by Amy McNulty
In 2003, I told myself I was going to get serious about writing. I’d had a dream for as long as I could remember to write a YA book and have it published, but there was that tiny detail that I hadn’t actually written
the book yet. Daydreaming about holding my book in my hands and going on book tours took up a lot more of my time.
For nine years, I’d write a few thousand words at some point throughout the year, but eventually, my attention would turn to other things. No matter how many changes I made as inspiration struck, it never felt right. Plus, I never researched what it took to become an author. I didn’t know things like expected word count for genres, particularly for debut authors. By early 2012, I hadn’t touched my manuscript in a while and it sat on my computer in half a dozen separate word documents, yet only “half finished” at 120,000 words. YA novels are only supposed to be 50,000-80,000 words, perhaps upwards of 100,000 for fantasies. Yet in my aimless writing, I had surpassed that word count without even approaching the climax.
But that was the year I finally crossed that threshold from aspiring author to serious writer. What made the big difference? Falling in love with a book. I read The Hunger Games
trilogy, and I got that all-consuming feeling of excitement I feel for my all-time favorite books. I wanted more than anything to write something that was even a fraction as good. Still thinking about how the books made me feel days after finishing them, I came up with the “hook” that would save my manuscript. Foolishly thinking I could save 40,000 words from my original mess (and willingly chucking the rest), I set out to work. In nine days of all-consuming writing, I got a 55,000-word first draft done that told a complete story (and kept only about 5000 words from the original manuscript). That euphoria over first loving a book someone else wrote and channeling that love into my work is what finally led me to become a published author—not those daydreams.
A First Draft Is Just a Draft
Of course, even though I’d finally written “the end,” the manuscript would go through many revisions before it became the 85,000-word book available for sale. I did a major revision for one agent that landed me another agent, and then I did another major revision for an editor that didn’t work out. After that, I did yet another major revision with my agent’s help, and after the book sold, it went through a few smaller, but nonetheless still significant, revisions again. I think if I’d have known how much work was still ahead of me when I considered myself done, I might not have had the drive to finish.
Now that I’m familiar with it, I don’t find the number of revisions as daunting, although I’ve learned not to revise while still writing a draft, as that’s part of what held me back for nine years. I’ve also learned that I write best with an outline, even if I deviate from it, as even after the 120,000-word aimless mess I wrote another manuscript without an outline that crashed to a halt at the climax when I figured out I had no idea where I was going with it. So it’s taken some practice and some backsliding, but I’ve finally figured out that writing works best for me when I:
- Write an opening chapter or two. This is usually because “shiny new ideas” that demand to be written appear in opening images to me.
- Outline the rest of the manuscript before proceeding so I have a guide.
- Draft according to the outline but let myself wander off of it if I’m inspired. Don’t revise at all at this point.
- Let the manuscript sit for a month or two, only making small changes (like adding new scenes) in the meantime.
- Read the manuscript from beginning to end on my Kindle, looking not just for typos but for issues with flow and clarity.
- Have a beta reader or two read it and give me input.
- Make changes accordingly.
From there, an agent or editor might offer input, depending on the circumstances. Finally finishing that first draft was such a hurdle for me, but it turned out to be a small part of the process. But even so, even across twelve years and countless drafts and discarded words, some of those words I wrote as an aspiring author will make it into my finished book, and that makes me so grateful I never fully gave up!
About the Book:
In a village of masked men, magic compels each man to love only one woman and to follow the commands of his “goddess” without question. A woman may reject the only man who will love her if she pleases, but she will be alone forever. And a man must stay masked until his goddess returns his love—and if she can’t or won’t, he remains masked forever.
Seventeen-year-old Noll isn't in the mood to celebrate. Her childhood friends have paired off and her closest companion, Jurij, found his goddess in Noll’s own sister. Desperate to find a way to break this ancient spell, Noll instead discovers why no man has ever chosen her.
Thus begins a dangerous game between the choice of woman versus the magic of man. And the stakes are no less than freedom and happiness, life and death—and neither is willing to lose.Amazon
| Barnes & Noble
About the Author:Amy McNulty
is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin with an honors degree in English. She was first published in a national scholarly journal (The Concord Review) while in high school and currently spends her days alternatively writing about anime and business topics and crafting stories with dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval settings. Nobody’s Goddess
, the first book in The Never Veil Series
, is her debut YA romantic fantasy. You can find her on Twitter
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
Hi, folks, this month I'm focusing the blog on the writing journey of PLUMB CRAZY. I'm calling this series: PLUMB CRAZY Journey -- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Transcendent. I'm going to dig deep into the generation of my novel and dynamics of that creative journey. Be aware that I write as Cece Barlow for this work. It will be released at the end of this month.
I chatted last week about the BAD of writing PLUMB CRAZY, this week I'm going touch on the UGLY. No one want unpleasantness. No one. First I want to admit, writing PLUMB CRAZY was no chore. I loved it. I laughed so hard while writing it, I fell off the couch a few times. It was a joyous journey for me, but there were a few ugly moments.
First up, I love to prose on about the joys of plumbing. You may thank my critique group partners that my book is not weighed downed with LENGTHY descriptions of how to bust out concrete with a jack hammer and the minute details of measuring lengths of pipe. Cutting my darlings was UNPLEASANT! Like any pruning experience in writing it hurts at first but then it is all good.
Next, never start a story with a sunrise, unless that sun is about to go supernova. You must be a seasoned writer with many awards to start with a sunrise (cough, Noman by William Nicholson) or a dark and stormy night (cough, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle). Believe me these writers got away with it; they didn't improve their stories with their choices. So, yes, PLUMB CRAZY began with a sunrise until I so got over it. Too many readers snoozing for the first five minutes. Start as close to something happen as you can. Avoid the so-so, mundane, average start.
Last of all, did you know readers like to know what your character is thinking? I am so close to my character Elva Presley Hicks that I feel like she may be one of my kids. So, this turned out to be some ugly stuff in early drafts of my book. Readers wanted to know what she was thinking. Um, did you know readers are NOT mind readers? It turned out that I wanted to protect Elva. This is a human reaction but it is ugly in fiction. Making Elva vulnerable was an UNCOMFORTABLE experience. I could NOT keep her safe. Remember that when you write: Don't do the safe thing.
Next week I will dip into the transcendent of writing PLUMB CRAZY. I hope that you will come back.
Here is a doodle:
Here is a quote for your pocket:
Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.
― Dorothy Parker
Excerpts from a recent journal entry:
Up early -- 5:45 am. Still groggy from sleep.
Yesterday I started typing the historical fiction novel that I've spent the past month writing by hand. Just typing, no edits. Re-reading the story. That's all.
As I write this morning, I ask what's the purpose of this journal keeping? Is it a record of what I do? A kind of superficial summary of my life--did
Today we welcome to the blog debut author Latifah Salom, whose novel The Cake House recently released from Vintage. I love how she has twisted Shakespeare's Hamlet into a modern YA set in Los Angeles with a diverse cast! Latifah is bravely here to share her "bad" habits with us. Thank you, Latifah!
“Bad” Writing Habits by Latifah Salom
I wonder what advice I can give on the craft of writing. The truth is I have a lot of bad habits that it might be wiser to do the opposite of what I do.
So many writers, past and present, have written countless words on the subject of the craft of writing, it seems well-trodden ground. A quick search on Google will pop up hundreds of web articles listing many different habits you should avoid when writing or habits you should adopt. There is no shortage of writing advice, anywhere from plot structure to paragraph length. When you should write, what time of day you should write, word choice, write what you know, show not tell, avoid adverbs, and the list goes on.
Most of what’s out there is excellent advice, whether it works for you or not – it worked for someone, and therefore is valuable. I too enjoy reading about my favorite novelist’s writing process. Do they prefer to write in isolation? Or in a café? What is their ritual? Where do they go for inspiration?
When it comes to advice of any kind, let alone writing advice, I’m not a fan of words like “should” or “should not.” This might seem a tad hypocritical since I very much enjoyed taking writing workshops and literature classes that had no shortage of rules and advice. I remember a tense moment in a workshop where, after reading a student’s work, the instructor said one should avoid using first person present tense. I happened to agree that first person present tense should be used sparingly, but this piece of advice was not particularly well received by a good portion of the students in that class. The lesson I learned from that experience was: a person is going to write however they want to write, and that’s okay.
Here are a few of my “bad” habits as a writer:
1. I edit as I write
Almost the first piece of advice on writing I remember hearing was never edit as you write. Write first, get it all out on paper (or in a word document) and then after you’ve finished your draft, you can go back and beginning editing. The point of the advice is to avoid disrupting the creative flow or energy of your work on a first draft. Good advice! And not one I ever follow. Going back and reading and editing what I’ve written often helps clarify where I’m going with the story and how to get there. Especially if I’m blocked on the next part, editing helps me figure out what I need to change to make the story go forward. I have always edited as I write, and the habit is now so deeply ingrained, it is very much a part of my process. In fact, I have been editing this piece as I write.
2. I waste time on the Internet
I waste a lot
of time. Typically, if I sit down to write, I will waste about 2 hours on average before I finally begin writing. Of course, writers are masters at all sorts of delaying tactics. I’ve made it routine, and even call it my “warm up” as if that might make wasting time necessary. And perhaps it is. I’ve come to realize that I need that wind down after a long day before I can inhabit the right headspace for creative writing. I also take many breaks – remaining at the computer but doing something else such as answering email or fooling around on social media. Whatever my mental process, I’ve learned to let it go. If I need to waste hours, so be it. The important part is to actually start writing, however I get there.
3. I use an outline but never stick to it.
I like to call outlines “road maps.” That way when I veer completely off course it seems more like I’m taking a quick detour rather than driving the story in an entirely different direction. Sometimes I can even hear that disembodied GPS voice recalculating the route to my destination. I also edit my outline as I write. And, if I need to change the destination, that’s okay too but that rarely happens. My destination remains the same, but how I get there often goes through several changes. When writing THE CAKE HOUSE, I went off course quite a bit, sometimes drastically. I can usually find myself back to the story. Nothing will shut my writing down faster than attempting to rigidly keep to an outline that may have worked when I began but is no longer where the story wants to go.
Whatever advice you chose to follow or not follow, the key is to keep moving forward. Keep putting words down on paper.
About the Book:
Part mystery, part compelling coming-of-age tale, The Cake House
is a riveting debut novel that re-imagines the classic story of Hamlet amidst the hills of suburban Los Angeles.
Rosaura Douglas's father shot himself when her mother left him... or at least that's the story everyone is telling. Now her mother has remarried and Rosie is trapped in a new home she calls "The Cake House," a garish pink edifice that's a far cry from the cramped apartment where she grew up. It's also the house where her father died—a fact that everyone else who lives there, including her mother, Dahlia, and her mysteriously wealthy stepfather, Claude, want to forget.
Soon, however, her father's ghost begins to appear; first as a momentary reflection in a window, then in the dark of night, and finally, in the lush garden behind the house where Rosie spends most of her days. After he warns her that Claude is not to be trusted, Rosie begins to notice cracks in her new family's carefully constructed facade. Dahlia is clearly uncomfortable in her marriage; her stepbrother, Alex, is friendly one second, distant the next, and haunted by troubles of his own; and Claude's business is drawing questions from the police. And as the ghost becomes increasingly violent--and the secrets of The Cake House and her family’s past come to light--Rosie must finally face the truth behind the losses and lies that have torn her life apart.Amazon
About the Author:
Latifah Salom was born in Hollywood, California to parents of Peruvian and Mexican descent. As a teenager she attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and she holds degrees from Emerson College, Hunter College, and from the University of Southern California’s Masters of Professional Writing program. The Cake House
is her first novel. She currently lives in Los Angeles.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal @HP4Writers
And in a moment or two, the scanned line turns into full color techno-fruit! And to think they pay me to do this... in the rainy cold dark before the sun's even up.
Drawing, drawing, drawing... all day long! But when I get out my magic pens it's like putting jet skis on my pencil line... carving big sloshy inky curves and spraying splatters over the deliciously textured watercolor paper. What can I say - it's fun!
This was a delightful little mini-book to do.
Bunny & Fox pack a picnic...
It's just marvelous! Oh joy!
And it ends happily ever after, naturally.
"Make an empty space
in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it."--Dee Hock
are empty then there is no barrier for the divine to enter in you." - Osho
It may sound like a contradiction to try to empty your mind
when you write.
After all, if your mind is “empty,” how can you possibly
find the words and images you need to set down on paper?
But I’d like to
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about dialogue tags, the little bits in a piece of writing that indicate someone has spoken. Author Martyn V. Halm discusses some additional ways to deal with said and tagging in WRITING: Dialogue and the 'Said' Rule.
Also, in The Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue, pay particular attention to Item 2, Impossible Verbing.
I caught both these articles at a Writer Unboxed Facebook discussion, by the way.
I am thrilled to welcome Mindee Arnett to the blog today. When I first started blogging and Tweeting, she was one of the first writers to welcome me in. Mindee is an incredibly talented and prolific writer, and I envy her ability to have 2 series going simultaneously. She's here today to share with us some of her secrets behind how she does it all. And I, for one, look forward to checking out the resources she recommends. Thank you, Mindee!
My Writing Process…Lately: A Craft of Writing Post by Mindee Arnett
The last five books I wrote—The Nightmare Affair
, The Nightmare Dilemma
, and The Nightmare Charade
—were all written in more or less the same way, using an approach I like to call a “pantser who stops for directions.” Basically, this means that I didn’t outline, but I also didn’t just rush through the first draft pell-mell. I took my time, contemplating events carefully along the way.
I’m happy with this approach. It works for me, and I’m sure to keep using it whenever I’m drafting. However, with my latest two projects I have made a turn toward the dark side. Yes, you heard me right. I have become an outliner.
But wait, let me qualify that statement lest my little pantser heart breaks—I have become an outliner out of necessity. With the conclusion of both of my series, my agent and I decided to submit my next projects on proposal. Now, what all a proposal entails varies by agent, writer, and editor, I believe, but for us it meant opening chapters plus a detailed outline. Given that I had never in my life written an outline, I had no idea what constituted a detailed outline, so my agent helpfully provided two examples and said, something in between would work. The first example was four pages, single-spaced. The second was 35 pages, double-spaced. Although both were helpful in their way, that made for an awfully large margin.
I knew I needed help. Normally, I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen in a book until I’ve written the first draft. That first draft is
an outline. It’s a way for me to discover the story, spending hours and hours with the characters and the world. But now I needed a short cut, or at least a semblance of a shortcut. There really is no way to get the same depth of discovery in an outline that you’ll get in a draft. But that’s okay. For a proposal I just needed to get the bones. The flesh and heart and muscles of the story could come later.
I decided to check out a book my writer friend Kristina McBride had recommended to me months before—The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
by John Truby. One reason why I chose this book to help me write an outline is because it’s primarily focused on screenplays, and screenplays, it’s always seemed to me, are stories boiled down to their spine. Also, one of the tools I have relied upon in the past is specific to screenplays, too—Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure. You can find all sorts of examples of this online. For my prior five books I used this plot structure as a road map to help me gauge where I was in the novel while drafting. It was particularly helpful with word counts. Most of my novels come in around 100k, so using the plot structure, I tried to make sure I hit that 50% mark, the “Point of No Return” at about 50k. But more on this Six Stage Plot Structure in a minute.
What I found in Truby’s book were techniques to help me think about my story as a whole and how to flesh out the key parts without doing any actual drafting. And those techniques did help, although they weren’t enough on their own. I ended up using the Six Point Plot Structure as well. But together the two tools were enough to help me generate a decent outline. What follows is a breakdown of the process I ended up using.
- Idea Generation. It goes without saying that before you start a writing project you need an idea, preferably a good one, or at least an idea good enough to sustain a whole novel. I don’t really have any tips for this step or any insight to offer save this—good ideas require two parts. My author friend Jody Casella likes to say that stories are like fires. Just as it takes two sticks to spark a fire, it takes two ideas to spark a story. I sort of love this symbolism, and I think it’s definitely true. I know for me, the two ideas is critical. One idea sometimes feels like it’s enough, but when you get down to writing it, nothing happens. That’s the difference. For example, consider the movie Home Alone. The first idea in this movie is simple and promising: young boy is left home alone over Christmas while family travels to France. At first this seems like enough to be getting along with, but it’s not. It’s not until you add the second idea—two incompetent robbers are planning to rob the neighborhood over the holidays—that you get a story with legs.
- Exploratory first chapter. Once I have my two ideas, I write the opening chapter. Beforehand I will name my main characters, and I usually have a vague idea about their personality, but not much. What I do know at the beginning is the sense of conflict—the “what’s at stake.” This is something I’ve worked out at the idea generation stage.
- Seven Key Steps of Story Structure. If the first chapter went well and I have an idea for the next chapter, I will start to work on the Seven Key Steps of Story Structure outlined by Truby in Chapter 3 of his book. I won’t go into detail here, because they’re in the book, but these steps are:
- Weakness and Need
- New Equilibrium
- Six Stage Plot Structure. While I’m working on the Seven Steps, I will also be thinking about the Six Stage Structure with a goal of filling in the key points of the structure—especially the Point of No Return, the Climax, and Change of Plans, etc.
- Back and Forth plus Character Web. This stage is just a repeat of steps 3 and 4, and I will also start working through Chapter 4 of Truby’s book, which is all about identifying the character web. The cool thing I’ve discovered about these two approaches is that they work on different, but complimentary levels. Truby’s Seven Key Steps are all focused on character motivation, and on the deeper thematic elements at work on your story. Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure are focused on events, on the what happens. Together, they make for a solid approach to outlining.
- More Chapters. If I make it this far—if I’ve successfully identified all Seven Key Steps of the Story Structure, and at least the Climax of the Six Stage—then I know that I’ve got enough for a whole book. But I also know that I’m going to need some awesome opening pages. I go back to chapter one, make any changes I need to based on what came out of the steps above, and then I’ll move on to chapter 2. And then chapter 3, and then…
- Write the Outline. Eventually, I will get far enough into the draft that I know it’s time to start working on the actual outline. I always do this last, because I hate it. Fortunately, the exercises I’ve worked through make it easier, doable at least, but the process is still just the worst. Nevertheless, I still complete the task. To my shock and amazement, the first time I did this, my outline ended up being fifteen double-spaced pages long! Hell has never come so close to freezing over.
- Submission. Once I have an outline and some polished opening pages, I will submit them to my agent. She’s already seen the pitch for the story and probably the opening chapter, but she will need to review again. Most likely she’ll have comments that I will need to work on. But eventually, the proposal will be in good enough shape for us to submit to my editor.
And there you have it. My process as it exists today. Maybe it’ll work for you and maybe it won’t. But no worries. Give me a few months and a few new projects and I’ll come up with a new process. That’s the coolest thing about writing—it never gets routine. Always be searching for a new approach.
About the Author:
Mindee Arnett is the author of two young adult series: The Arkwell Academy Series
, a contemporary fantasy from Tor Teen (Macmillan), and Avalon
, a sci-fi thriller from Balzer+Bray (HarperCollins). She has a Master of Arts in English literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She lives on a horse farm in Ohio with her husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and an inappropriate number of cats. She’s addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outer space. Find her online at www.mindeearnett.com
About the Book:
Jeth Seagrave and his crew are on the run. The ITA, still holding Jeth’s mother in a remote research lab, is now intent on acquiring the metatech secrets Jeth’s sister Cora carries inside her DNA, and Jeth is desperate to find the resources he needs to rescue his mother and start a new life outside the Confederation. But the ITA is just as desperate, and Jeth soon finds himself pursued by a mysterious figure hell-bent on capturing him and his crew—dead or alive.
With nowhere to run and only one play left, Jeth enters into a bargain with the last person he ever thought he’d see again: Daxton Price, the galaxy’s newest and most ruthless crime lord. Dax promises to help Jeth, but his help will only come at a price—a price that could mean sacrificing everything Jeth has fought for until now.
The conclusion to the story Mindee Arnett began in her acclaimed novel Avalon
is a dangerous journey into the spaces between power and corruption, life and death, the parts of ourselves we leave behind and the parts we struggle to hold on to.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
I haven't done a Weekend Writer in quite some time. This week, though, I stumbled upon this post on dialog tags at Page Curl Publishing and Promotion. No idea, noooo idea how I find these things. But dialogue tags can be a problem for new writers, and this Page Curl post makes some good points. Thus, a weekend writer post.
Rule 3 is of particular interest to me. "Dialogue tags aren't a place to break out your thesaurus." Indeed. Fancy synonyms for "said" are distracting. On the other hand, if you've spent much time reading out loud, you know that the repetition of "said," all by itself, becomes distracting, too. This is one of the many cases in life where one must find a happy medium.
Also, it usually isn't necessary to describe how something is said. "...said happily..." "...said sadly..." "...exclaimed in despair..." Try to show the way these things are said rather than tell your readers about it.
Here are two “facts” about writing I’ve been hearing lately that I must beat until their stuffing falls out and their non-factness is apparent to all.
1. On average published authors write 2-3 novels before publication.
Um, what? How was such a statistic arrived at? Where does it come from? Why is everyone repeating it? Oh, who cares. It’s irrelevant.
It does not matter how many novels other authors wrote before they were published. It has no effect on you. I wrote two novels before I was published. Scott sold the first one he finished. I know of authors who wrote more than twenty novels before they finally sold one. Who knows what your path will be?
It’s like asking an agent how many authors they sign per year on average. Knowing that doesn’t increase or decrease your chances. The only thing that will increase your chances of finding an agent to represent you is writing a book an agent likes. It could be that the agent who falls in love with your book will take on no clients but you that month or year. Or they’ll take on ten. It doesn’t really matter as long as they fall for your book and your writing.
Being above or below this random number of 2-3 written books before selling first book makes zero difference to your writing career. It predicts nothing.
That stat is only useful if it helps people realise that selling your first novel is unlikely. Though, yes, it happens. In publishing pretty much everything has happened. Learning to write well is a long process. As I have chronicled it took me years to learn how to rewrite.
2. People’s second published novels are always much worst than their first.
Crap. Bullocks. Rubbish. Bulldust. Wallaroo droppings.
Yes, people talk about second-novel syndrome. But it mostly applies to people whose first novel was a huge success. Surprise! The vast majority of authors do not have a run away bestseller with their first novel. Therefore they do not have the over-the-top pressure for their second book to be as successful as their first.
Most novelists don’t have a huge hit with any of their novels. And for those that do get lucky? Well, it can happen with their fifth or sixth or tenth or whatever-th novel. Sometimes in the wake of all that attention and money raining down on them it can take a long time to write their next book.
I don’t think there is a second-novel syndrome; I think there’s next-book-after-a-huge hit syndrome.
Now I’ve cleared that up, let’s take a moment to consider what people mean by the second novel. Shockingly some authors’ second novels were written before their first novels, which is the case with Jonathan Lethem. Michael Chabon’s second novel was the third novel he wrote. My first published novel was the third novel I wrote.
Often we don’t know what order novels were written in. All we know for sure is the order in which they were published and, why, yes, there are many authors with super successful second novels whose second novels were better than their first.
There’s Jane Austen’s second novel, Pride and Prejudice, which you may have heard of. Many consider it to be her best. I love P and P but for my money Persuasion is her finest work. Scott’s second novel Fine Prey is way, way, way better than his first Polymorph. Patricia Highsmith’s first novel, Strangers on a Train, is an amazing debut but I reckon her second novel, Price of Salt/Carol, is much, much better and breaks my heart every time I read it. Then there’s Infinite Jest, which I’ve never been able to finish, so not my thing, but which was certainly more successful than his first novel.
I could go on like this all day long. There are many great second novels and great third, fourth, fifth, sixth etc. novels. Most novelists get better the more novels they write. Usually, the more you do something the better you get at it. It’s called practice and training and like that. With most of my favourite living writers it’s their most recent book that’s their most accomplished.
I would argue that amazing debut novels are the exception not the rule. I’l blurb a flawed debut novel. I expect debut novels to be rawer. I cut them more slack because they’re a novelist’s first baby, their first attempt at that impossible task: writing a perfect novel.
In conclusion: most so-called “facts” about the writing life are no such thing. Every writer writes differently. There are as many different paths to publication as there are writers.
Norah O'Donnell was interviewed for the November issue of More. Missed it, did you? At the very end of the article, she was asked a question about how she sees her future. She said, "...I guess one of the things that I still struggle with to this day is that focusing on the expectation of something is actually never fulfilling. Focusing on the day-to-day work is much more so. And then you end up falling into your goals anyway."
So true, so true.
Fixating on the big sale that's coming up, the conferences we're going to attend, the speeches we're going to give...no. That kind of activity, if you even want to call it activity, rarely leads to a big sale, a conference, or a speech. It's the day-to-day work that does that. Focusing on that leads to those other things or something like them.
If you can enjoy the day-to-day work, focusing upon it becomes not just easier but sort of the point. And then you don't have to deal with the lack of fulfillment from dwelling on what might happen in the future.
This whole live-in-the-work-moment thing may be part of my problem with the holiday season. I actually like focusing on day-to-day work, dragging my laptop all over the house and peering into it. I like planning and researching and struggling to work out what I'm doing wrong. When I've had to be away from work for a few days for family or house issues, wrapping presents and baking on a weekday (baking on weekends is another thing), getting back to the day-to-day feels like the beginning of a vacation.
Last Wednesday I had to do some baking--New Year's Eve and all--and while I was working away at that, I listened to a terrific podcast of Colin McEnroe's radio show. In Connecticut, McEnroe is like...like...well, maybe our James Thurber, a James Thurber who writes for the local big city paper and Salon and is on his second local radio program. He's all over the place. I, myself, have been to two writer festivals at which he appeared, and he and my son sat at the same table at a Christmas party this past year. I'm not kidding you. The guy is everywhere. Probably everyone in the state has had a McEnroe sighting.
Anyway, the podcast he did on December 3, Why We'll Always Need New Books, was terrific. His guests were Brian Slattery, Lev Grossman, and Ruth Crocker.
What Was Said
Many juicy things were said during that program. I'm going to focus on three:
- Are our lives stories?
- Are writers' books an attempt to explain their lives?
- There are a limited number of stories. So most writers aren't dealing with new material. It's how they react to the material that can make work different.
Hurry Up And Make A Childlit Connection, Gail
A lot of children's lit is...um...well, repetitive. New and different isn't a huge issue in children's literature because there are always new readers coming up who will find this year's book about the quirky small town girl surrounded by eccentric adult characters and maybe a dog new and different because they weren't reading the quirky small town girl surrounded by eccentric adult characters and a dog book from last year and the year before and the year before that. And publishing, particularly children's publishing, is like TV and movies. If something does well, the way the Georgia Nicolson books did a decade ago
, there will be dozens of copies.
There really are a limited number of stories in children's literature.
I think The Meaning of Maggie
by Megan Jean Sovern
is a perfect example of what McEnroe was talking about on his program when he said that while most writers don't deal with new material, how they react to their material can make it different. The
autobiographical Meaning of Maggie
starts out with a stereotypical childlit situation. A clever, spunky girl is beginning to keep a journal and is dealing with a parent's tragic illness. But Sovern's reaction to that material is what makes it different, and her reaction is all about her life's story. She is, indeed, explaining her life to us.
So I guess maybe writers should ask themselves if there is something in their lives that can bring something new to whatever story they're thinking about writing.
In the beginning, the page is blank--just blue lines and
It’s like looking into a mirror.
The page serves as the release mechanism, the trigger, the catalyst
But thought itself doesn’t take place on the page.
You may look at the lines and the spaces between the lines,
but what you see is the image in your head, the image that is not yet on the
There’s this belief among writers that hidden inside us is all the stuff
we need to write.
Maybe we're born with this stuff, or maybe we get it
from our teachers or parents, or by reading the work of other writers, but we
have it and only have to dig deep enough to find it.
Of course, we still need to learn how to write.
We still need to read lots of books and write lots of words.
I had such a fortunate Teachable Moment while brainstorming my picture book FANCY THAT with my Holiday House Editor Mary Cash.I knew the setting – Berks County, Pennsylvania; I knew the time – 1841; and I knew my story’s Hero – young Pippin Biddle, orphaned without warning, the son of a limner - an itinerant portrait painter. Mary agreed with me that such a picture book would be ripe with historical and arts curriculum connections. My sketchy plotline was just that – i.e. sketchy: accompanied by his dog Biscuit, (whom I pictured to be lap-size), Pip would travel the Pennsylvania/New York area through the first 3 seasons of the year unsuccessfully earning his keep painting people’s portraits, returning at Thanksgiving with an empty purse and heart. “But why would young readers care about such a boy on such a journey?” I asked my editor. “Well,” Mary began, “could he have a few sisters who needed Pip to earn his keep?” she asked.Orphans, Mary shared, can be lovely in a story.“And, maybe,” she suggested, “Pip’s dog could be part of the resolution?”And then she paused, her gaze meeting mine.“You know, Christmas books do so much better than Thankgiving titles,” she commented. “What if Pip returned at Christmas?” Driven to tell this singular story, I back-burnered Mary’s 3 delicious suggestions with an open mind, even though I’m a nice Jewish girl from West Philadelphia and writing a Christmas picture book was not in my wheelhouse, as they say.
Fast forward to the stacks of the Wilmette Public Library, one week later, when I discovered (1) there wasno Thanksgiving to celebrate in the U.S. in 1841 and (2) few Americans celebrated Christmas at that time!
And OOPS²… except...the German immigrants, who’d just happened to settle in Berks County in central Pennsylvania, had brought along their Christmas tradition of making evergreen wreaths and decorating their fir trees!while Pip’s dog Biscuit gathers the greenery of each season, and Pip paints his portrait to send home to his Poor House-ensconced sisters Emma, Lyddie and Martha,
Pip’s sisters themselves, inspired by Pip’s portraits, create a livelihood that builds them their homeand Pip discovers his hidden talent.
Fancy that!Lucky Pip and his sisters! Lucky me and my readers!
And all quite by accident.
P.S.Jennifer T won the SKIN AND BONES giveaway!
P.P.S.A writer with whom I corresponded this past week shared the following Dalai Lama quote benath her name. I thought it relevant.
"Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck."
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Writing happens like this:
You never know what will appear when you sit down to write.
You only know you are a little scared that nothing will happen—no words, no ideas, no thoughts will come—and
you'll be left staring at a blank page.
So, you sit and wait for something that isn’t yet on the page.
And when you find the courage to take that leap
of faith and start writing, words do