Tag Archives: Book

How To Deal With Your Past, Published and Bad Writing

Sometimes I write trash.

How about you?  Does it ever happen that an essay, an article, a story, a chapter, even a whole novel turns out to be pure, unadulterated garbage?  No?  Well, You’re lucky.  Happens to me all the time.

What do you do when you find out you’re written something that is embarrassing?  How does that even happen?  We’re all fairly bright, rather well-read, in other words, not methane-breathers, right?

Realistically, we don’t put our work out there in the world if we think it’s bad, now do we?  So how does it happen?

Sadly—and perhaps gladly as well—it happens because we grow.  The work we published  as teenagers, or later in life didn’t seem that bad at the time, did it?Of course not.  We just outgrew it.

How about the things we wrote and, say, put up on a blog 6 or 7 months ago?  How bad could that be?  Sometimes we can judge, sometimes we can’t, but hindsight is golden, isn’t it?  Those old blog posts might have been a little clunky, but the spirit was good, and (see above) we aren’t idiots.  We just kind of outgrew what we wrote earlier. 

Image: tvtropes.org

In most cases when you write something and post it on the Internet, you’ve started it.  “…like a snowball rollin’ down the side of a snow-covered hill.  It’s growin’…” 

Chances are it’s out of your control then, even if you can go back and change what is on your blog, others have looked, read, perhaps even copied.  Once it gets out there, it’s hard to control.

A few days ago I wrote about John Fowles, and the struggle he had getting his first novel, “The Magus” to light of day.  He wrote the book twice, and made a big hit with it both times.  His problem?  He didn’t think it was ready after all, even after it had critical success.

What’s the point?  Well, perhaps it is time for us to make deals with ourselves.  Perhaps it is time to say, “unless I stop growing, my writing will get stronger every time.  I may always find faults with my older work, but seeing the difference between then and now only affirms that I am growing.”

I think it’s worth a shot.

Now, I wonder how stupid this is going to sound to me in six months?

Your thoughts?


How To Grow Yourself Through Reading

Is that title a bit misleading, do you think?

Of course we grow ourselves through reading, but perhaps there is something we can, as writers, do with more care, with more skill, and in fact to get the result that the Buddhists call, “Skillful Means“.  As a quick note:  Skillful means is simply getting two, or more, for every one you put in. 

I may have given this example before.  Two people work together in the same two-story office.  Both are required to go up and down the stairs the same number of times each day, but there is a difference between them.  One mumbles, stumbles and grumbles on the stairs during every trip.  At the end of the day this is one tired person.

The second person has a mantra that is spoken each time the stairs are used.  “I’m getting exercise”.  Not much as mantras go, but very powerful in result.  At the end of the day person two is full of energy and ready for whatever is next.  All in the mind?  OK, sure.  But I’ll bet you’ve seen examples of this very thing.

But what, you ask, has this got to do with reading? 

Image: dharmagallery.blogspot.com

Glad you asked.  Try this:

Make two lists of books.  List one would be the books you would take to the beach, or to read under a tree, or on a comfortable chair in your home—for enjoyment.  These would typically be books in the style you like to write.

The second list should be books that keep you current.  Non-fiction should be high on that list, but current novels out of your genre would also be good.  These books are the type that will keep you up to date with events, with science, with philosophy, and those things in life that go into making a good novel, but are perhaps not what you would choose for the top of your reading list.

Now.  The secret.  Trade off between the two stacks.  Yes, I know, it will make your fun reading stack grow, but it will also make your knowledge, understanding, and your ability to involve what you learn in your stories grow as well.

So, you ask, is this really all that necessary?  No.  It isn’t.  But the fact is, it is a program that will pay you big over time.

All I ask is that you think about it.  ))

Your thoughts?

Are You Ready for November?

It’s in the air.  Can you smell it?  November is rushing toward us, it’s cheeks puffed out, panting and with a wild gleam in its eyes.

And why?  Because on the first day of November a remarkable annual occurence begins.   Yep.  NaNoWriMo, AKA National Novel Writing Month.

It began in 1999 with just 21 people pledging to write (at least) the requisite 1667 words per day to complete a 175-page, 50,000 word novel.

I didn’t hear about this until 2002 when a friend from work suggested I also join this amazing thing she’d just heard of.  She talked me into it, and I jumped in with both feet.  Speaking of feet, my friend’s got cold, and she quit about two days in.  

Image: nanowrimo.org

Well that made me feel good in an ugly, off-hand way.  I was stronger than she was.  I pushed on.   Ah, but here the story turns south.  See, despite the best of intentions, after a solid week of good productivity, I missed a day.  Man, talk about bummed out.  I hadn’t kept my word (even if it was only to myself).  I got so depressed about missing one day (which could have been easily made up, mind you) that I missed another.  And that was that.  I did not make it to the end of the month, and I (clearly) did not make the 50k word goal.  Sigh.

Then 2003 came along and I thought, “what the what?  I’ll give it a try.”

And that, boys and girls, is the rest of the story.  Yes, I completed the challenge in ‘o3, and I’ve completed it every year since, and sometimes by as much as 110k words (there is no penalty for going over the goal).

This year will be my 8th time to take part, and I’m looking forward to it eagerly.  I’ve got my new novel, “Wizard’s Blood” very briefly outlined, and I’m anxious for the scheduled excuse to put some things aside in order to devote a minimum of 1667 words a day to a new project.

So, why am I telling you this?  Because I want YOU to come and join me on this journey.

Here are the basics:

There is no fee.

There is no prize (you are competing against yourself)

You do get to see how others are doing, and you get a daily graph of your own work.

At the end you upload your book to the NaNoWriMo site, they count the words, and then they delete the file.

For the last couple of years a POD publisher has promised a physical copy of your book for free.

By joining you get to be a part of something huge, something tremendous.  Last year over 165,000 people signed up and better than 30,000 made the 50k word goal by midnight November 30th.

I think you’ve got what it takes to do the same.

In case you forgot, the URL is www.NaNoWriMo.org

Now, go sign up!

Can Your Characters and Dialogue Really Be Real?

 Here is another topic to stir the soul and perhaps the mind.

Should our characters really speak like normal every-day people?  Should they really act like Joe down the street?  Or, do we need a way to give the illusion of such behavior without actually delivering mundane characters?

Oh, and sorry if you’re looking for a definitive answer here.  I wish I had one. 

Regular readers of UhW know that I often harken back to video for cues when building characters.  I do that because as much as I wish books were the primary guide to what is and what isn’t these days, I don’t believe they can even touch the power and the draw of movies and TV

That said, we cannot have our characters being as rude and unthinking as video characters.  Our readers will notice if we never say “goodbye” at the end of a phone message, but rather look meaningfully at the receiver—or the camera—and put the phone down.  Our readers will notice if we always open doors, but never—and I mean (almost) never… check it out for yourself—close doors behind ourselves.  Even the front door of a house. 

For video it is understood, even more widely than it is with literature, that every moment on-screen must move the story forward.  Saying goodbye or closing doors doesn’t really help that much, especially when you’ve got a limited number of minutes to get your story across.

But, with a novel or a story you have more time, more leeway.  The question is, how much of it should you use?

If you listen in on conversations in the grocery store or the food court at the nearest shopping mall, you’ll be dismayed at the flat inanities you hear thinly disguised as conversation.  OK, to be fair, a lot of what you hear is a kind of short-hand developed over the years between friends or family members, but our readers do not have the benefit of that set of understood rules.

This is not to say you can’t imply such a relation between characters.  In fact, I highly recommend it.  It’s just that you dialogue cannot be a long string of “ahs, ums, and other filler sounds.  Each sentence does need to move the story forward.  As does each action.

So, what’s the answer?  I dunno.  But I would guess it is up to the writer—up to us—to find a  way to disguise actions and dialogue which are clear and forward the action, as human, normal, and ordinary.

Why does this all have to be so hard?  Oh, right.  I know.  We decided to be writers.

Your thoughts?

8 Ideas to Make Your Fiction Writing Work

While I do not like posting somebody’s work without proper attribution, this is just too good to pass up.

But first a note:  My studio is a busy place.  Not always busy in action, but always busy in papers, books, notes and the like.  For over a year now I’ve had two sheets of paper clipped to a file cabinet.  I vaguely remember them being insightful, and a little scary, but I do not remember how they got there.  Today while looking for post material, I just happened to glance at these pages.  The first page, and most of the second page are all the reasons why an agent would pass by a manuscript.  At the bottom of the second page I found 8 reasons said agent would like the work.   It is these that I want to share with you: 

Image: judaica-art.com

  1. Good opening line.
  2. There was something going on beyond just the surface action.
  3. A non-average protagonist in a situation you would not expect.
  4. Action scenes that feel like they are happening in real time.
  5. The author made a point and moved on.
  6. The voice is strong and easy to relate to.
  7. Suspense seemed inherent to the story, not just how it was told.
  8. The scene was emotionally engaging.

If I can find where these came from I will attribute them properly, but in the meantime… I find these useful, and hope you do too!

Daily Challenge: How to Face Reality in the New World of Publishing

I hope that it is true that an active, engaged mind sometimes lets one idea go in favor of another.

I hope that what I have to say isn’t just a sell-out.

Here’s the deal.  Those who know me know that I have been a strong opponent to the idea of self-publishing and not too fond of the idea of e-publishing either.  My concerns have perhaps been old-fashioned.  The “way” books were published as I grew up was a wonderful thing.  An agent or publisher would discover the short stories you got published in magazines after some serious work, and you would be offered a contract.  Your editor would roll up his sleeves and work with you to polish the book, and the publisher would send you all over the country to do readings and signings.

That dream crashed to the ground some years back, but I’ve been reluctant to let go of the idea. 

Image: onlineeducationhelp.co.uk

That said, after having speaker after speaker come to the Fremont Area Writers Club to relate his or her experiences and challenges on the road to publication, I fear it is time for me to finally “get the message.”  At least get a part of the message.

Only a part?  Yep.  I’m still not sold on the idea of paying someone to print high-priced books for me that I have to go out and peddle by hand.  So far as I’m concerned, there’s no cheese down that tunnel

What I am beginning to learn—and trust me, I’ve been kicking and screaming the whole way—is that a quicker, and more reasonable method to find your way to physical print is to have success in the eBook world.

This is not to say that getting your book published as an eBook is a walk in the park.  It takes some work.  You have to edit the thing.  You have to format it.  You have to find the publisher, and you have to click on SEND.  OK, maybe that isn’t all THAT difficult.

A novel that has had even moderate success as an eBook can show up as having the legs to make it in print.

Today’s challenge is to take a look at your own point of view about the ladder to publishing success.  If you are in the camp that I huddled in for years, consider a change.  If you are already sold on the idea of using ePublishing to get a leg up in the industry, I challenge you to find three or four ePublishers you would feel comfortable with.

If you still think paying someone to print your book is a good idea… well, sigh, I’m not sure I can help.

Your thoughts?


How often have you heard someone say, you should never judge a book by its cover?

Let me ask you, what do you think of that advice?

When I go looking for a new book to read I can’t help looking at the cover.  After all, it is designed to grab my attention.  Over the years I’ve been more often pleased than disappointed by choosing a book by the cover, and one other thing.  The title.

Coming up with a good title for your work may not take as long as writing 20 chapters, but in some ways it is as important.  As we fight for space on a bookstore shelf, or real estate on a web page, sometimes the title is the final decider.  Don’t think it makes a difference?  Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” was originally called “Fiesta“.   Any guesses where the story would have gone had the title not been changed?  How about Margaret Mitchell’s  “Gone With the Wind” which was originally called “Pansy“.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking a one-word title can’t work, but putting serious effort into it can pay off in the long run.  What you choose to call your work is more than just a label.  It is a short description, a teaser, a word or phrase to pluck at the imagination.   Think of it in the terms of naming your child.  The child will live with that name for his or her whole life.

Like the cover of your book, its title goes a long ways toward introducing you, and your writing, to the waiting public.