Stalled in your writing?  The Benefits of a Quick Read!

I read a quote recently that said if you look at the state of your house, office and garage, that reflects the state of your inner being.

Hmm…I just came off a week of celebrations – my daughter graduating from college, my son graduating from high school – and the ensuing parties and houseful of guests.  All my adult children, plus extended family hung out at our house, playing games into the wee hours of the night.

The morning light revealed piles of coke cans, Doritos wrappers, blankets, shoes and pillows scattered around the family ottoman or kitchen table, the evidence of, well, fun had the night before.

We capped off our week with a hike up to a local waterfall, where we took a few minutes to sit down and reflect on the accomplishments of our graduates, as well as looked ahead to the future with hopes and dreams.

Amidst the fun of the game playing and cake-eating, the three hour hike afforded us with an opportunity to cherish the important stuff.

In the middle of writing a book, we can get caught up in the drama (and challenge) of writing, moving from one climatic event to the next. But somewhere in the middle we sometimes lose steam as we look ahead at all the scenes we must yet accomplish. Our progress begins to slow and suddenly we find ourselves standing in the middle of the room, looking at the debris, wondering how we got here, and how we might find the strength to continue.

It’s time to do a Quick Read of your book.

Reading what you have so far will charm you back into the story, into the big picture, and charge you with momentum to finish.  You’ll see what you have accomplished – and the reward of staying the course.

Here’s some advice on how to maximize your Quick Read:

  1. Don’t edit each scene as you go. If you stop to edit, you’ll find yourself suddenly reworking essential moments, slow your progress and you might even change something that will affect your ending.  Instead, TAKE NOTES on your story – outlining possible changes.  You might also highlight areas you need to pay special attention to later.  Remind yourself that you WILL go back and re-write, and give your story a deep edit when you’re finished.  Now, you’re just trying to reignite your inspiration.
  2. Keep an eye out for shallow (and unfounded) emotional responses. When you’re writing that first pass, you’re still getting to know your characters and their emotional responses. A second read through, after you’ve gotten to know them better will unearth deeper responses, more meaningful reactions, and add to your emotional layering of a scene.  Again, don’t rewrite it yet, but make notes on how you might react to this differently.  Then, on your editing pass, you’ll have a springboard from which to rewrite the emotions.
  3. Make notes on where you might need more storyworld, or perhaps even an additional scene. You might even find a redundant scene.
  4. Pick up plotting threads you might have forgotten as you’ve trudged through Act 2. Make a list of all the threads so you remember to wind them up at the end.
  5. Ask: WHAT DO I LOVE? I always ask myself this as I’m reading. What do I love about this book?  What character moments, plot twists, dialogue, prose – I go ahead and highlight it so I can remember why I’m writing this book, and I’m encouraged that yes, it’s a worthwhile venture to continue.  Seeing all those pink highlights is encouraging as I’m scrolling through my kindle, ready to start moving forward away.

Finally, doing a Quick Read of your book, especially while you’re busy with other events (e.g. family graduations!) utilizes that “non-writing” time and helps build your momentum for getting back on track after the party has died.

Life gets in the way of our writing – (or rather, writing gets in the way of life?), but you don’t have to let yourself get derailed.  Or, maybe you simply have lost your steam.  Stop writing, sit down and start reading.

You might just discover you’ve found your next favorite author.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

 

 

From Good to Great: Editing basics

            In honor of national Grammar Day, I’m going to post the MBT Good to Great Checklist!  See, it’s not only about WHAT you write.  It’s HOW you write it.  We often say it’s about story.  And it is.  But a good writer can make any story compelling…..a bad writer can take a great story and blow it.  Yes, there are mediocre writers out there, but the story compensates.  And there are fabulous writers out there, writing a story that doesn’t deliver. You have to have structure AND art to deliver a powerful story.

An author’s voice is ART.  It’s how you express the story.  It’s the one component that is more instinct than rules.  However, before you can start to express yourself through your voice, you need to know the basics of writing. Just like in dancing you must know the basic steps before you can add flair.

So I’ve come up with a system to help you (and me) to evaluate your wordsmithing.  A Checklist.

Wordsmithing Checklist:

Clarity.  Have you said it as clearly as possible?  Or are you trying to make your manuscript more valuable by filling it with million dollar words?  The thesaurus is NOT your friend if you have to look up the work in the dictionary, too.  You can have maybe ONE million dollar word…per book. But, don’t confuse clearly with dullness.  Good writing isn’t dull.  Consider the difference between WALK – dull, Stroll – clear but interesting, and perambulate – wordy.   Writing gets stronger as it adds precision, not length.  (Gary Provost – Make your words work)

No Overwriting.  Look for redundancy…in idea, in words, in sentences.  We often repeat ourselves when we want to make our point. Resist the urge!!

Simplicity.  Simple sentences create impact.  I see people writing these long runon sentences:

She sat on the bench and began opening peas, one by one, until the pile grew, while the sun beat down on her neck and caused rivulets of sweat to dampen her blouse.

Try: She sat on the bench.  One by one she, began opening peas, until the pile grew.  Rivulets of sweat to dampened her blouse as the sun beat down on her neck.

3 sentences, three actions.  Simplify.

The smaller the number of words you use to contain a thought or an image, the more IMPACT that thought or image with have.

Ie:  For sale.  Baby’s Crib.  Never used.  (Thank you, Hemingway!)

Fresh Symbolism. Are you avoiding Cliches? They are for people who are lazy, or too tired to reach deep. Look for a new symbol, preferably one in the world around your POV character.

Word order.  Are you utilizing the tricks?

Are you using punch words correctly?

One work punch: If you want emphasis, put your punch word last. 

Or alone.

One home step and he’d be home.

Home.  Finally after three years at war.

Home.

One-Two Punch: Two words/phrases connected without a conjunction.

“I don’t know. You started this.” Impatience. A sign of a brewing

argument.

He loomed over her, a shadow, menacing.

She laughed, running her hands around his neck, hooking her finger behind his neck.  He bent just close enough to her lips to invite, tease.

3 Step Punch:  3 words that build on each other.

He was good at spelling. He was better at writing. But he could stun the world with his speeches.

Are you writing positively? Iff possible, say it in the positive than the negative…

Eg:  There was no light in the cave.  – You think first of no light, and then the cave.

But what if you say, the darkness in the cave seeped inside her..

IOW: Show them what you want to see, not what you don’t want them to see.

 

Have you deleted Weak words?

– Ly, words make VERBS weak.  Ie:  walked slowly.  Plodded.  Replace –ly words with power words:  active verbs, Jumped suddenly = pounced.  Ate quickly = gobbled.

– Or two or more adjectives before or after a word takes the power from the word.  A mean, cantankerous woman…  Shrew.  A slow, meticulous man…Bean counter.

Are you using Power Nouns? (instead of adjective) Use Specific nouns:  Car =  Roadster.  Model T.   Porsche.  Ford pickup.  VW Bug.  You are trying to create a picture, an emotion, a sense of identity.  DETAILS and SPECIFICS MATTER.

These also add to the mood of the scene.

Using Active voice?  IOW:  delete:  WAS.  Watch your was words – they’re instant action cutters.  Yes, occasionally you want to slow the action, but this construction is devastating to the movement of your plot.

Add Attitude!  Remember, it’s all about POV.  And the closer you are to the source, the more real it will feel.

 

Next week, I’ll show you how to take your WAS sentences and turn them active!

Have a great writing week!

Susie May

PS – It’s Open House week at MBT! Find out: Why Detours Are Awesome for Writers. Join Member Care Coach, Reba J. Hoffman and her special guest award-winning romance author Lisa Jordan as they explore how getting out of the fast lane and taking time to work on craft can get you where you want to be with a much more enjoyable journey. Register here (it’s FREE!) http://mybooktherapy.enterthemeeting.com/m/MFR81SHS

 

The self-publishing journey of a MBT author

Yesterday we posted part one of an interview with a self-published author that MBT had the priviledge of coaching this past year.  Read that post here:

Today is part two of the journey.

SMW:  Dennis, you’ve written a delightful Christmas novella, South Pole Santa! Can you take us through the history of this story and help us understand how you went from idea to finished product?

Dennis: The first draft was a really rough draft. Bear in mind it was already December and I was only starting to write the story. So I really hurried to get the first draft done and I completed it on December 7 and it was about 10,000 words. You and I discussed did a couple of days later and I’ll never forget that first phone call about this story and how enthusiastic you were about it and in particular you really liked the elf character who is that point was named Marvin and had only a very minor role in the story. You really liked the idea of an elf who wanted people to be on the naughty list, and by the time I finished the first edition he had become of course one of the two main characters in the story. I uploaded the first edition around December 15 under the name “Reverse Santa Claus.” By then it was about 15,000 words and I was very pleased with it especially considering the quick turnaround times. I charged $.99 for the story But I didn’t do much with it besides that.

Sometime after the holidays, I think it was sometime in February, I found myself continuing to think about my story, and feeling that there was a lot more that I could do with it. So I came back to you and you said yes we could do a lot more if I were willing to put the time in but it would probably take a few months. So I asked you for a roadmap which you gave me and we got to work, and we finished the draft of the second edition I think in about mid-July. By the time we finished the second edition all of the main ideas were in the story, though of course I still had to go through the copy editing process. I had also hired an illustrator who had created six full-color illustrations. I think the story at that time was just under 30,000 words, and it was still titled Reverse Santa Claus. My intention was to create a Kindle edition and the paperback edition using CreateSpace.

After you and I finished the story editing process I started the process with CreateSpace of creating a paperback book. My idea in using CreateSpace to create a full-color paperback version was really just to get something that I could use for promotional purposes to send out to people and if I ever did get on television I knew I would have to have something to show. So it was never my intention to drive a lot of sales with the paperback version. I think that process cost about $300 and it turned out to be extremely worthwhile because it really solved one of the problems that’s inherent with the Kindle for authors. With the Kindle, it’s extremely easy to modify the text so you’re never really finished writing the book. That’s not true with the print version so I found myself going over the book again and again and again, using the writing skills you had taught me over the several months we had worked together, with the idea that once it got in print it would be written and finished forever. The word count came down to about 25,000, I took out a lot of passages that slowed the story down, I took a lot of stuff out of narration and put it into dialogue and I added a few little things that I believe makes the book a lot more fun. I also retitled the story “South Pole Santa – Back to Christmas” which I think is more appealing especially to kids who might be apprehensive about the idea of a Reverse Santa Claus.

Next I did the audio version (which I will go into more detail in the next question) and then the book’s Facebook page and website. As I write this I am just at the point of beginning to promote the book.

SMW: Yes, let’s talk about the Audio Version. You did something very creative and added an audio recording to your product list.  How did you do this?

Dennis: That was a late development. It came about because in about early October I thought about the fact that I personally never read books, I always listen to them. And I wondered if I could get my book up on audible.com. So I started researching it and I found that there were any number of firms who produce audiobooks. I also learned that audible.com will itself produce audiobooks through its Audible Creation Exchange (ACX). ACX really is an exchange were authors post their book online and solicit auditions from narrators. Authors can offer either to split the revenue with the narrator, or they can pay the narrator a fee per finished hour (pfh). Typical pfh fees are $200-$400. One finished hour is usually equivalent to about 10,000 words, so my book would be about 2.5 finished hours.

I posted my book and listened to about 30 auditions. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for so I went to audible.com and listened to everyone who had narrated A Christmas Carol and found the version of that story that I like the best. By sheer luck the narrator that I like the best – Simon Vance – was available through ACX. He’s one of audible.com’s most popular narrators, and he agreed to do my story, which I guess means he liked it. The producer finished the story, I paid him (since I went the pfh route), they uploaded the files to ACX and about two weeks later, yesterday afternoon (November 17 2012), the book became available for purchase on audible.com.

The audio version is my favorite version of the story. Simon Vance dies a really great job of bringing the characters to life. As I mentioned above It’s also the version that most easily lends itself to families enjoying the story together.

SMW: I loved working on this book! But, for people who haven’t had a book coach before, can you tell us how MBT assisted you in the process?

Susie, this book just would not exist without My Book Therapy. I am so glad I brought the story to you! I remember thinking when I sent you my first draft of the story that I had really gotten just about everything out of it that I could. When I compare the first draft of 10,000 words that I sent you last December 7, with the final draft of 25,000 words, they are almost 2 completely different stories, and the second one is orders of magnitude better than the first.

At a high level, you recognized Marmel’s potential as a character, and because of your suggestions I had so much fun with him and he really does make the story. Anyone who reads the story will see that. You also gave me ideas for a number of scenes that really filled out the story and of course every time we talked about the story you stressed “storyworld! Storyworld! Storyworld!” You found a lot of places where I could help the reader see how I envisioned the story’s setting.

So My Book Therapy is a crucial part of whatever success I have with this book.

SMW: Aw.  Thanks.  YAY!  So, what advice would you give to aspiring authors who might want to consider self-publishing?

First of all, don’t try to do it without a professional editor. You can get good ideas from friends and family, but they can’t do for you what a professional editor can do. If you have a good idea for a story get a professional editor to make sure that you get the most out of your idea.

As you can see from my answer to the above question, I recommend My Book Therapy wholeheartedly.

Also recognize that getting a book from the point where you have the idea to the point where it is really ready for the market is a long and time-consuming process. You’re really going to have to work hard at it. Think of it almost like taking on at least a part-time job.

SMW: It’s taken about a year from start to finish  – I’ll be you’re excited to see it hit the shelves!  How does someone buy South Pole Santa?

 

Amazon.com as a Kindle e-book at this link:

http://www.amazon.com/South-Pole-Santa-Christmas-ebook/dp/B009EJ1UO8

 

Amazon.com as a paperback at this link:

http://www.amazon.com/South-Pole-Santa-Back-Christmas/dp/0615662757/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

 

Audible.com as an audiobook at this link:

http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00A8PH7OY&qid=1353211382&sr=1-1

 

Also, my website is: http://www.southpolesantastory.com/

 

My Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/#!/SouthPoleSantaStory?fref=ts

 

SMW: Awesome.  Go out and get the book – I definitely recommend the audio version, but if you would love to just snuggle up and read to your family, then pick up the book.  The cover is delightful – (Matt Jones does fabulous work) and the illustrations really add a keepsake element to the story.  It’s a keeper.

Have a fabulous Thanksgiving weekend!

Susie May

P.S.  To check out our book coaching services, click here: http://www.mybooktherapy.com/slide-2/private-coaching-services/

 

Quick Skills: NaNoWriMo Scene Starter Infographic

Sally asked me for a Scene Starter Graphic to help her as she builds her scenes for NaNoWriMo.  If you haven’t joined the MBT WriMo Celebration yet, sign up for the fun, support and prizes at: http://www.mybooktherapy.com/mbt-wrimo-2012/!

Hope the Infographic helps!

(Right click on link below to download the graphic)

Infographic

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