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Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Rest assured that this is not just a rant, though it is a personal opinion post. There are plenty of writing-related things that annoy me, so I’ve restricted myself to those. I’ve also limited my list to things I noticed in traditionally published books, so some agents and editors apparently weren’t bothered by the things that made me cringe.

 

1.  Quirks.

I keep reading about the necessity to make our main characters recognizable, identifiable, etc., and having a personal habit or quirk is touted as one way to go about that. But please. Use those quirks in moderation or you will annoy your readers and make them hate your characters rather than identify with them. Here are a few quirks I’ve encountered that have been used enough to become cliché:

Rolling the eyes . Some characters do it so often that I end up rolling MY eyes. Even worse is when more than one character does it. In a book I read recently, it seemed that someone rolled their eyes in every scene. I still enjoyed the story, but it was distracting enough that it inspired this post.

Raising one eyebrow. That may be a unique talent, but it has been overused in books. And every time I read it, I feel challenged to attempt raising a brow of my own. I can’t actually do it, and I know I can’t, so it’s really annoying to read about characters doing it so easily.

Twirling her hair around her finger. Lots of people do that, so how original is it?

 

2.  Deus Ex Machina.

God directly intervening to solve a problem the protagonist couldn’t possibly have figured out, especially when the protagonist doesn’t show any signs of a close relationship with God, is cheating. I want to be able to figure out what happened based on clues in the story, not witness a miracle (actually, I would like to witness a real miracle), but unless the story involves miracles as an integral part of the action, don’t end with one.

 

 3.  Explaining the ending.

Ending with page after page of people talking about what happened earlier in the book, even explaining things to minor characters who appear out of nowhere asking personal questions they are not entitled by manners or relationship to ask, is unbelievable. It is obviously a means for the author to reveal what happened in the book—in case the readers didn’t, or couldn’t, figure it out. This is a violation of the basic writing mantra of “show, don’t tell.” A good resolution will tie up loose ends, but shouldn’t have to explain the story.

 

4.  Stupid protagonists.

If the main character repeatedly makes bad decisions, doesn’t use common sense, or behaves like an idiot for no apparent reason, in my opinion she/he is stupid. (A time or two is excusable, as no one likes perfect characters.) We all do dumb things occasionally, but unless it’s a comedy I want protagonists to be people I can respect—even if I don’t like them. When stupidity is the basis for the story conflict, it feels weak and contrived. A good plot won’t need contrived behavior to keep it going.

 

5.  Poor editing.

I love words. I adore sentences that flow smoothly through my mind, leaving a vivid picture behind. But when words are misspelled, or the sentence structure makes it difficult to understand, I’m drawn out of the story and into reality. If I wanted reality, I wouldn’t be reading. So let me enjoy the world you’ve created—edit your work carefully. If you need help editing, get it.

 

What type of things pull you out of a story? What is your number 1 reading-related annoyance? What type of character quirks do you think are effective, and which ones do you consider annoying? Can you think of any “stupid” protagonists that are not annoying? Do you have any quirks?

 

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I have habits, some good some bad, which structure my life and determine how I spend my day. For example, every morning before I get out of bed I pray. As soon as I get up, I straighten the covers and pillows so the bed will be ready and welcoming when I need it again. Next I turn on the coffee, feed the cats, and sit down to read my favorite blogs. From that point on, I’m usually at the mercy of whatever life throws my way.

One activity I want to add to my list of habits is writing. Oh, I write every day—lists and letters and reminders—but that’s not the kind of writing that will achieve my dreams. Like millions of others, I aspire to complete a novel. A good novel. To do that, I need to improve my writing habits. There are many changes I could make that would probably help me be more productive, but my research suggests that there are certain habits that are essential for someone who hopes to make writing a profession. I read many suggestions, but the following 4 seem the most crucial to me.

 

1.      Read everyday

Read a wide variety of books, not only for pleasure but also to analyze what works and what doesn’t. Immersing yourself in the written word will add to your knowledge, increase your vocabulary, and improve your understanding of how language is used.

2.      Learn new things

You’ve probably heard the advice to “write what you know.” The wider the range of your experiences, the more realistic you can make your writing. Often it’s the little details that you include that help readers visualize a scene. Enrich your life and acquire a goldmine of information to use in your stories by stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things.

3.       Make writing a priority

Productive writers work a regular writing routine into their lives. The amount of time devoted to it varies widely, but there needs to be a commitment to writing. Continually placing writing at the bottom of your priority list makes it difficult (or impossible) to achieve success as a writer.

4.      Finish what you start

It’s common to work on more than one project at a time. A problem arises, though, when writers skip from one manuscript to another without ever finishing what they start. Or when they try to attain perfection, or avoid failure, by working on one project for years…and years…and years, and never submit it. At some point you have to say it’s as good as it’s going to get, and send it out.

 

 

Are you satisfied with your writing habits? What helps you be productive, and what interferes with your productivity? Do you make an effort to learn new things in order to add spice and authenticity to your writing?

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As 2013 begins, I hope to move forward in areas where I have been lax, such as writing blog posts. I’ll maintain the writing-related focus of this blog and, while I make no promises, I plan to post a minimum of once a week.

I’m at a crossroad in life and am not yet sure of what I want to do. Sort of like my cat.

Safety first!

Safety first!

He’s kept indoors 99.9% of the time and when let loose outside never ventures beyond the safety of the deck. He nibbles on the grass growing next to it, but won’t step out of his comfort zone to see what he could see. I don’t want to be like him.

I want to jump off the deck and wallow in the grass, figuratively speaking. I want to revel in whatever the new year brings me; to do things I’ve never done before—in reality, and in my writing.

 

Looking for adventure!

Looking for adventure!

 

Look out world; here I come!

 

What about you? What are you hoping to achieve in 2013? Are you setting specific goals or making any changes? Are you looking forward to anything special this year?

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While my husband and I were having breakfast together at a local restaurant a few days ago, I noticed that he was almost finished whereas I had barely eaten any of my meal. I asked him why he eats so fast, and he replied that he doesn’t—he just gets done first because I never stop talking long enough to eat.

When it comes to writing, I think there are many of us who spend more time talking about it than working towards our goals. We have reasons, many of them good ones, why we have to do other things before we can complete our novel, memoir, or other projects, but that doesn’t change the fact that we aren’t achieving the success we hope for.

One factor holding us back may be a lack of time management skills. I know it’s an area I struggle with, so I did some research. Here are some of the ideas I’m hoping will help me manage time more effectively:

  • Set realistic long-term and short-term goals.

Knowing what we want to accomplish is the first step toward getting it. If we separate each big goal into smaller ones, it will keep us from feeling overwhelmed and we are more likely to succeed.

  • Set priorities, and stick to them until they change.

Every day, figure out what’s most important and work those into our schedule, allowing more time than we think we need because everything takes longer than we think. Life has a way of throwing obstacles in whatever path we choose, so we need to be flexible.

  • Develop a routine that fits our lifestyles.

We all have different responsibilities, talents, and personalities, so we mustn’t get hung up on what people say we should be doing. If our priorities don’t allow for a regular routine, so be it. We should do the best we can, when we can, and not get discouraged by comparing ourselves to others. Giving up is the surest way to fail.

That last point was one I made up myself. Apparently I lost the focus of my post somewhere along the way and started thinking philosophically instead of practically. If you want more specific tips, here are a couple of sites that I thought were especially well-written and helpful.

Top 10 Time Management Tips

13 Tips for More Effective Time Management

 In closing, here’s a bit of advice that I’ve always followed: Try not to stress over what doesn’t get done today, because it will probably still be waiting for you tomorrow.

 

Do you struggle with managing your time? What are some ways you fit writing into your schedule? What’s the most useful tip you know of for those of us needing to improve our time management skills?

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One type of writing that I enjoy is journaling. While it’s similar to a diary of events or thoughts, a journal typically includes introspection on what is written.

There are many reasons to keep a journal. Here are some that I think are helpful for writers:

  • Prods our creativity
  • Helps develop writing skills
  • Captures experiences we can use in stories
  • Keeps us in the habit of writing regularly

There are many benefits for non-writers, too, and for me these are even better reasons to keep a journal:

  • Allows us to see how our attitudes and thoughts have changed over time
  • Becomes a record of our lives that others may one day appreciate reading
  • Helps us sort out our feelings
  • Relieves stress by clearing out the clutter in our minds

 

A journal doesn’t have to follow rules. It can be as detailed or vague as we want it. Whether we are writing whatever comes to mind, or following a structured theme, it can help us discover more about ourselves as well as document our thoughts and experiences.

Whether your journaling is autobiographical, free-writing, focused on a particular topic, or a mixture of those things, it can be a useful and fun hobby. There are many sites that provide creative suggestions for journal topics, as well as ideas for creating personal journals.

Here are 2 sites with articles about journaling that I found helpful:

Your Life is Your Story  On starting a journal; has many helpful links.

Infed: Writing and Keeping Journals  Discusses learning from the journals we keep.

 

I haven’t kept a regular journal for a year or two, but started a new one this week as part of a study course I’m taking. Although I usually keep my entries in Word documents, I’m also going to print off the ones for this journal and keep them in a 3-ring binder. I only have a few entries so far, and the binder isn’t fancy—but I like it. It feels right for what I want to accomplish, and easy.

My journal on Revelation

Do you keep a journal? What topics do you write about? Do you use bound journals, notebooks, binders, or computer files for your journal entries? Do you have any tips, or know of helpful sites for more information on keeping a journal?

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If you’re planning to give a pitch to an agent or editor at a conference, you may want to take a one sheet, or pitch sheet, with you. Some resources use these terms interchangeably, but some say a one sheet covers all of your work while a pitch sheet is designed to help you present just one book or series. Regardless of the term, a one page summary comes in handy when you get a chance to present your work.

In addition to your full contact information, this page should include a professional-quality photo of yourself, and an author bio. Also write a short blurb about the book or series you’re pitching. Make it enticing, like the short summaries you see on the back cover of books in a store.

These sheets should showcase you and your work. Although you should use white paper and black text, it’s acceptable to use photos and some simple graphic design elements, including colored ink, but don’t let those features overpower the story. A template for a flyer or newsletter may help you get the look you want.

If you’re more comfortable with a simple document, go with that rather than trying to create something fancy. Their purpose is to give you one more tool to use in your effort to entice an agent or editor to ask to see more of your work, and an amateurish one sheet will probably not do that.

Author Kaye Dacus goes into more detail than I have, and also give examples:

http://kayedacus.com/2007/08/28/beyond-the-first-draft%E2%80%94the-pitch-sheet-and-one-sheet/

Another helpful reference is by Tracy Ruckman:

http://www.tracyruckman.com/downloads/One%20Sheets.pdf

Amy Wallace has an example that includes different books:

http://www.amywallace.com/pdfs/One_Sheet_Sample.pdf

Although I’ve seen one sheets recommended on several agents’ blogs, they seem to be optional. 

EDIT AUGUST 9, 2011: Agent Rachelle Gardner discusses one sheets on her blog today, and has links to several excellent examples her clients submitted. 

 .

Have you ever prepared a one sheet/pitch sheet? What’s the first thing you’d say to an agent if you were going to pitch something to them? What would you talk about with a conference faculty member who wasn’t an agent or editor if you were given the opportunity of a one-on-one meeting?

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I’ll be attending my first writing conference in a couple of weeks, and have scoured the internet looking for tips on what to expect. Some suggestions I’ve read are simply common sense: be professional; be prepared to take advantage of opportunities to pitch your work; be friendly; turn off your cell phone.

I came across a few ideas, though, that aren’t so obvious. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, too.

1. Go with a particular goal in mind, but keep your expectations low.

You’ll probably not get a contract out of it, but you may get some feedback on your writing. Even if you don’t, this is an opportunity to network and to learn from people who know what they’re doing.

2. Bring business cards.

Apparently people exchange cards with their contact information as a way to network. Use the back of the ones you get from other people for notes that will remind you of who they are and why you took their card.

3. Research the speakers, agents and editors that will be there.

Your chances of finding someone to represent you or give you helpful feedback will increase if you know which ones represent the type of writing you do. You’ll also be better prepared to talk to them if you meet them at dinner or during a break.

4. Think up a few conversation starters so you’ll be more comfortable talking to strangers.

One I frequently use is: “Excuse me. I’m lost. Could you tell me where to find (insert appropriate place)?”  Or how about, “I’m having a wonderful time here. What about you?”

5. Bring something you’d like to have critiqued—but not your whole novel.

Some conferences provide opportunities for people to read and discuss each other’s work. Also, agents and/or editors may ask to see something you’ve written, so be prepared for the possibility.

6. Practice talking about yourself and your writing.

You want to make a good first impression, so think of something interesting to say in response to questions such as, “What type of writing do you do?” “Tell me a little about yourself.” “Are you enjoying the conference?” “Haven’t I met you before?”

7. Smile.  :)

 

 

Do you agree with the tips I’ve mentioned? What’s the most important advice you’d give someone attending her first conference? What should I not do while I’m there? Have you ever attended the Indianapolis Christian Writer’s Conference? Are you going to be there this year?

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