Archive for the 'Writing Advice' Category

No, I Don’t Want to Read Your Book Manuscript

About once a week, I get a request from someone to read his/her book manuscript. I almost always say no. Here’s why.

I really do work for a living. Between writing my own books and magazine articles, I don’t have a lot of free time. Oh, and did I mention I’m also bringing up three children and a puppy? Asking someone to devote hours to your WIP (work in progress) is asking a lot. Before you do it, you should ask yourself some questions:

1. How close are we? And by close, I mean, have I ever donated a major organ to this person, bailed him/her out of jail, or had a chair broken across my back for him/her during a bar fight? If you can’t answer yes to any of those, you may be asking too much. People have lives, and frankly, time is money.

2. Did I offer to pay this person or do I just expect him/her to be delighted to do my bidding free of charge? (See above “time is money” comment.) Continue reading ‘No, I Don’t Want to Read Your Book Manuscript’

How Columbus, Mississippi, Wound up in a Children’s Book Set in Texas

I’ve started thinking that the job of writers is to take pieces from real life, put them in one of those silver cocktail cup thingies, and shake shake shake and see what emerges. At least, that is apparently what I do.

When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time—as much as possible, in fact—hanging out with my cousin and our friends in Columbus, Mississippi. I loved it there, probably because I had such a cool cousin and friends, but also because it’s just a pretty neat place. Columbus was and is a charming small town, and if you were underage like I was, there was pretty much only one place to go on the weekends: a little joint called Bob’s. I’m told they served food there, but I think I went inside only once. Most of the time we just hung out in the parking lot, which doesn’t sound like much fun and excitement, but trust me when I tell you it was the best. (The owners must have been overjoyed by our failure to support the local economy, but they kindly tolerated us anyway.) Continue reading ‘How Columbus, Mississippi, Wound up in a Children’s Book Set in Texas’

Blogging: I, Too, Dislike It*

In case you missed it, author Rebecca Kauffman wrote an article for Publishers Weekly a week or two ago about her resistance to social media. Kauffman sums up what I’ve been thinking about that subject for years, but to borrow from Alexander Pope, she wrote “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.”

Confession: I actually don’t like blogging. For one thing, I don’t think anyone reads my blog. And for another, having conversations with strangers makes me a little uncomfortable. And finally, I can’t shake the feeling that while I’m blogging a blog nobody reads, I could be spending that time writing a book.

So why do I have a blog or any of that stuff? Because publishers want writers to have those things. I wonder sometimes what JD Salinger would have done had he written in this day and age. Or Faulkner! Just imagine, the man who gave up his job as postmaster by writing in his resignation letter, “I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp” having to put something about himself online week after week and having to delete all the “what a great post” comments from hair tonic robots! In one of the collections of Faulkner’s letters I read some years ago, he told a friend about receiving letters from readers. He said something to the effect of, “I suppose I ought to answer them, but I don’t.”

I guess when you’re Faulkner you can do what you want.

The rest of us who write, I suppose, will have to continue to hide in plain sight on the internet…because that has become part of it.

*Title of today’s blog is a nod to a much better poem from a much better writer.

 

 

Chapter Breaks

In all the creative writing classes I took in college, no one ever taught me something kind of important:

When to end a chapter.

Luckily, most of us who write read enough books that we wind up with an innate sense of chapter breaks. My rule of thumb is that each chapter should have a sense of a scene’s being over, plus a little unfinished business. It’s that unfinished business that will make the reader tell herself, “Just one more chapter” because she’s dying to know what happens next.

Of course, like everything else in writing, the only rule is that there are no rules. I offer William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying as evidence.

If you’ve ever read As I Lay Dying, you can probably clearly recall getting to the chapter with only five words and feeling like Marty McFly being blown to the other side of the room by a giant, loud amp. Those five words, “My mother is a fish,” might be the biggest mic drop in twentieth century American literature.

Just one more reason, folks, why Faulkner is the man.

 

How Important Is Setting?

It was a dark and stormy night.

That’s how Snoopy starts his novels as he sits on the roof of his doghouse and types on his typewriter. He never seems to get much further, but maybe that’s because the roof line on his doghouse must be uncomfortable for sitting, or maybe it’s because he’s still using a typewriter, or maybe it’s because he’s beginning with setting. (Digression 1: Don’t you just love Snoopy?)

I can remember going to a writers’ conference back when I was in high school. The panel of speakers talked about the importance of setting. But this was the 80s, and I wonder if what those experts said then is still true. Continue reading ‘How Important Is Setting?’

The Internet Can Kill a Good Writing Buzz

Does the name William Zabka mean anything to you?

Maybe not. But William Zabka is an actor, screenwriter, director, and producer who has a pretty extensive and impressive IMDB page. If you look at the photo of William Zabka on that same page, he looks like a well-adjusted guy you might chat with at your kids’ soccer game.

But William Zabka is best known (to me, anyway) as the mean nemesis in The Karate Kid.

This brings me to the point of today’s blog post: writers rely heavily on our memories for material. For example, when I’m writing a mean kid character, I often think back to the mean kids I used to know. Sometimes I can still feel that dread I felt walking onto the campus of my junior high school, hoping I wouldn’t cross those kids’ paths. This is great material when bringing a fictional character to life. Continue reading ‘The Internet Can Kill a Good Writing Buzz’

A POV Tip I Picked up Somewhere

When one begins to write a novel, one of the first things one has to decide is which point of view one should use. (And how to avoid ever having to use “one” because you can see how awkward that quickly becomes.)

I struggle with this, too. In Brand-New Emily, I used first person point of view, and I think it worked out nicely. In Jump, I used third, which I think ended up being the better choice for that particular novel (I’ll explain why in a minute). And with my new book Tig Ripley, Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel, I used third again, but for a different reason than in JumpContinue reading ‘A POV Tip I Picked up Somewhere’

16 Things Writers Wish You Knew (Part Two)

(A continuation of my rant from last week…)

9. When I say I work from home, I mean I actually WORK from home. I’d like to dedicate number 9 on this list to the teacher who called me up when my daughter was little and said, “Well, since you don’t work outside the home…” and then gave me a laundry list of ways I could help her out in her classroom. It was as though she thought she were saving me from all this free time on my hands! Yes, I can be flexible when I’m not on deadline, but that doesn’t mean I’m just sitting around waiting for something to do. Why? Because…  Continue reading ’16 Things Writers Wish You Knew (Part Two)’

16 Things Writers Wish You Knew (Part One)

Warning: It’s about to get real up in here.

Every profession has its list of petty annoyances. I’m sure doctors get sick of everyone they meet asking them about their physical ailments at cocktail parties. I’m sure stockbrokers would probably like to talk about their favorite movie once in a while instead of constantly being pumped for info about which investments to choose. But I don’t know much about being a doctor or a stockbroker, so I’m going to tell you about what drives writers nuts…because THAT, I know. And, hey, our writing teachers’ mantra was always, “Write what you know.”

I’ve compiled a list of 16 things I think every professional writer has at some point wanted to say (or scream) to someone. But since that’s a lot to scream at once, these are the first 8. I’ll post the remaining 8 next week. And if you have any to add in the meantime, please comment! Here we go…. Continue reading ’16 Things Writers Wish You Knew (Part One)’

Writing and Gratitude

Painting: just another one of the zillion things I can't do.

Painting: just another one of the zillion things I can’t do.

A while back, an older friend of mine (in her 80s) was telling me about some needlework she’d recently done. “Oh, I wish I could learn how to do that,” I remarked. “I’m just not good at anything handy.”

Imagine my surprise when, instead of offering to teach me her skill, my friend looked at me and responded pointedly, “I think instead of trying to learn new tricks, you ought to be thankful that you can write, and just keep on working on doing that better and better every day. Be grateful you’re good at something and keep with it.”

It’s good to hang out with the older and wiser folk. They give you some good perspective…and sometimes keep you from blowing a lot of money at the fabric or craft store on stuff that you will never, ever actually use.

So, I hope you weren’t counting on an embroidered or crocheted or knitted gift from me for Christmas, because it’s not happening. Perhaps you’d appreciate a copy of Tig Ripley? Writing is pretty much all I know how to do.

But it’s enough. And I’m grateful.