Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Do They Want?

A tweet today from author James Scott Bell gave me chills. He wrote, “Every character in every scene should have an agenda, even if it’s just to close the window.”

Now that is some good advice people.

No one reads a story to hear about happy people sitting around utterly content with everything that’s going on around them. We want to read about desperate people, people with problems, people who want something. Because the reason we keep turning the pages is to find out if they ever get it.

Make sure your characters – all of your characters – want something.

This goes for dialogue as well. A conversation where two people are simply updating one another on facts is booooring. In every conversation, one of your characters must want something from the other character (if they both want something froom the other, even better), whether it’s information or affirmation or adoration. Something.

Thank you, Mr. Bell.

Now excuse me while I go tattoo that quote on the insides of my eyeballs.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

If A Tree Falls In A Forest...

You know the age old question: if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A variation on the question could be posed of writers: if a writer writes her heart out and never gets published, should she keep writing?

I know several writers who tell me that they write simply because they love writing. They have no intention of ever submitting their work to agents or editors and yet they work away, year after year, writing and editing, attending critique groups and striving to weave the best stories they possibly can.

I do not understand these people.

I am fascinated by them, I even admire them in a way, but I do not understand them.

I want to be published. I want to find an agent and I want that agent to sell my book and then I want to write more books and have that agent sell those books and so on and so on.

Would I keep writing if I could look into a crystal ball and know that that will never happen? I don’t think so.

Because the thing is, while I enjoy the work of writing and rewriting and slowly chipping away at the stone until the story reveals itself – it’s really, really hard. I struggle every single day to juggle my day job, my family, my friends and my writing work. I stay up late when I’m tired. I sit in the dark basement in front of my computer on sunny Saturday afternoons, I force myself to write even on those days when there’s nothing I feel like doing less in the world.

I don’t do it for fun. I do it because it’s a job. Right now it’s a part time job that pays me nothing, but it’s a job that leaves me feeling fulfilled at the end of each day and my long term goal is to have that non-paying part time job take the place of my paying full time job. But it will still always be a job.

So if, ten years from now, I still don’t have an agent or a book deal, will I keep writing? Yes, I think I will, but I will also keep trying to get published because, for me, they will always go together.

What about you? Do you write with no desire to ever be published? Or, if you are published or trying to get published, would you keep writing even if that was never going to happen?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reading While You Write

For Mother’s Day this year, my wonderful husband bought me a tiny little Dell mini laptop that fits in my purse. 

He was tired of hearing me whine about how little time I have to write and – being a man – he went into solution mode and decided that if I had a tiny little computer I could get some writing done during my hour-long commute on the train to and from work each day.


It was great for a little while.  I would get my seat, power up my new little friend and I could get 500 words down before we pulled into the station downtown.  The problem was that the time on the train that I was now using for writing was time that I used to use for reading.  I thought that I had just been filling in empty time with all that reading – but I was wrong.

Turns out that I write better when I’m reading a lot.  I read almost exclusively books in the genre that I write (women’s fiction) so with all the reading I do on the train every day, I get to see how other writers are handling story structure and character development.  I also read like a writer so when a book makes me cry in front of my fellow commuters, I think about what the author did to get that reaction out of me.  When I’m board with a book and ready to move on to something else, I think about why it’s not working for me.  I also get to see techniques that other writers use to weave their story and often find myself thinking, You can do that!?!

 I learn so much from reading and I can see the effects in my writing.

I found that while it was great to get those extra words in on my WIP every day, my writing was actually suffering. I was missing the inspiration and insight that I had been getting from my daily reading.

So, for now the laptop stays at home and when I get into my seat on the train I pull out a novel instead.

Do you find that it helps you to read while you’re working a writing project?  If so, do you try to read in the genre in which you write?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul the Octopus

I have to tell you that I’m more than a little intrigued by Paul the Octopus.

This is the octopus who lives in the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany and who correctly predicted the winning team in all eight matches of the 2010 World Cup on which he was consulted.

The staff at the Sea Life Centre would put the flags of the two countries playing in two boxes and stick a mussel in each box.  He would make his selection on the future victor by eating one of the mussels.

I need Paul.

I would get him a big tank in my living room and I’d put two options for how my current scene or chapter could go (e.g., option #1 - The hero and heroine kiss or option #2 – the hero and heroine fight) into two boxes and put pepperoni slices in each box (I don’t buy mussels) and he could tell me, by eating from one of the boxes, which way my story should turn next.

In the absence of an octopus of your own, how do you decide? 

When you come to a crossroads in your story or your chapter or your scene, what tools or techniques to you use to show yourself the way?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fast or Slow?

I’m about 30,000 words into the first draft of my novel.  My goal is to get the remaining roughly 50,000 down by the end of August.  That’s about 1,000 words a day which is pretty doable.

Doable, that is, if I don’t think too much.

The strategy that I’ve chosen for the first draft of this book is the “Just Get Through It” approach.  I want to get this draft finished and then spend the next three or four months editing new drafts.  Of course as I’m going, I constantly think of changes I want to make, things I need to add earlier on and even whole new locations for the story.  Whenever I’m struck by these ideas, I write them in a lovely green notebook that I carry around with me (or scrawl them on the back of envelopes or junk mail on my bedside table).  My plan is to go back to those ideas once the editing phase begins and make all those changes then.

I think it’s working, but sometimes I wonder if I would be better off taking more time with the first draft, putting more thought in before I write and avoiding a lot of the big changes I’ll have to go back and make later – sort of a Slow And Steady approach, if you will.

Tell me, what strategy do you employ on the first draft?  Are you a Just Get Through It-type or follower of the church of Slow and Steady?



Friday, July 2, 2010


There's a new game on Twitter called #1k1hr. The next time you're there, you should check it out.

The object of the game is to sit down for one hour and write 1,000 words. The catch, however, is that you aren't finished until you've completed both parts of the game. That means that if the timer dings one hour and you've only written 14 words and most of them are the word "just" (purely hypothetical, no reflection whatsoever on my own writing), then you're still stuck there for 986 more words.

And likewise, if you dash off 1,000 words that would make the Dalai Lama weep and it only takes you 22 minutes, you gotta keep churning out that brilliance for another 34 minutes.

The idea comes from Patrick Alan and has been wonderfully promoted by Tawna Fenske and any writer working to get that first draft completed should try it out.

Not only is it fun to be able share the sometimes crushing monotony of getting those 75-100,000 words down for the first draft of a novel, but saying that you're going to give one hour each day to your writing feels a lot more doable than just saying that you're going to "write every day" - whatever that means.

And also - let's face it - there's nothing like a deadline to focus you on getting the job done. As British author Samual Johnson once said:

"When a man knows he is to be hanged, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."