Orienting Your Reader

I am currently on holidays in Manitoba for a month, visiting family and attending two weddings, as well as my mother’s eightieth birthday celebration.

While I am here I am also trying to carve out some daily time for writing. This is more easily said than done. I don’t have an internet connection so doing research presents a challenge. But the library is not far away.

Recently a friend loaned me a book I wish I had known about years ago. It is Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. If I had studied this book early on, it would have saved me countless hours of editing I am now required to do on my novel.

Techniques of the Selling Writer was published in 1965 and reads like a college textbook, so you have to be prepared to plod through it, but it is well worth it. It has more practical advice than any other book I have found. I would say it is a must read for every beginning novel writer.

Like the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” We all have gaps in our knowledge and we don’t know what they are. As I read Techniques of the Selling Writer I recognized many of my gaps. It was thrilling for me to learn why some things I was doing were not working and to find out what I could do to improve my story. I am not yet finished the book and every time I pick it up I learn something new.

One thing I learned was that with every scene, and particularly in the beginning of the story, it is important to orient your reader. Give your readers a sense of time and place. It sounds simple, and maybe you have always done this. But I looked at my story and went, at what point does my reader realize that the story happens in Portland, ME? It was way too long before this became evident.

Also ask yourself, what time of day is this incident happening, and then slip in a clue. Sometimes you make a clear statement like, It was six o’clock, on Friday, March 6. But more often you’ll probably say something like, Sally dried the last of the dinner dishes. Or, The sun was sinking behind the trees as he turned into the driveway and saw Jayne sitting on the front step with the twins. Earlier you have clued the reader in to the fact that your lead character looks after the twins every other weekend.

Think about seasons too. Is it cold or hot with humidity? You could state, It was January in Chicago. Or, maybe the month isn’t that important and you simply want to give your readers a sense of the weather by saying, He wrapped his woolen scarf around his neck as he bent his head against the wind and blowing snow. Here is another example, Dark clouds loomed in the sky. Maria slapped a mosquito on her arm as she sat down on the grass and opened her lunch bag. The reader knows it is noon, there is the threat of rain and it is warm enough to sit outside on the grass without a coat.

Our readers will appreciate this small consideration. It will help them to relax and get into the story. If we tell them early on, then they will not feel jolted by information that came too late and didn’t match their assumptions. After you do this for awhile it becomes second nature.

If you are serious about writing, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Techniques of the Selling Writer. I’m sure you will make some surprising and helpful discoveries.

Posted in Critique, Editing, Novel, Writing, Writing Helps | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Your Writing Worth?

My writing is important to me, but lately I’ve had to take an honest look at what it is I want and need to do with my life. I’ve concluded I want to write. As a result, I am setting aside time to write.

And, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and investing in resources. Connecting with people who write, buying books, attending conferences.

As part of my honest analysis, I admitted to myself that I also need to make money.

This week I came across some very timely advice that I plan to apply to my writing and you might find it useful as well.

I went to Chip MacGregor‘s website because he will be at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference I plan to attend in August. Before a conference it’s a good idea to do some homework and read up on the agents and editors who will be there. Chip is a sought after agent, and the owner of MacGregor Literary. I have also submitted the first ten pages of my manuscript to him under the OCW Manuscript Submission Program.

In his article, Ask the Agent: Is it Realistic to Think of Making My Living at Writing, he caught my attention with this statement:

Set a financial goal, start to work toward it, and look for opportunities to generate some income from your writing skill.

Writers, Chip says, are pathetically underpaid and we seem to think we just have to accept that, but this is not the case. Chip’s idea is we need to take charge of our careers and make sure we are getting paid.

Here are a couple of suggestions from Ask the Agent: What’s the One Piece of Advice You’d Give a Career Writer:

Develop a writing calendar….a document that details what you’re going to write each day.

To figure out what you put into each day, you look at your “to do” list and do some prioritizing. What needs to get written today? What will pay off? What will push your career forward?

…you don’t just write down the goal for each day and stop. You then go back and add in a dollar figure, so each project is seen as contributing to your budget.

Figuring out your writing value isn’t hard — if your goal is to make $36,000 per year at writing, you’re trying to make $3000 per month, or $750 per week, or an average of $150 pr day.

“Write in a dollar figure.” Have you ever thought of your writing in this way? I hadn’t.

This becomes important when you are considering a writing assignment. You estimate how many hours/weeks the job will take you to finish, and then you calculate how much it will bring in and consider if it fits within your overall budget plan. He gives an example:

You’re expecting to sell that book for about $5000, so each chapter has a monetary value of roughly $250.

Let’s do the math. If you are only making $5000 on a book, or another assignment, then, to stay within a $36,000 budget, you need to complete this project in less than two months. That’s probably unrealistic for a book.

If you know it will take you six months of steady writing to complete the work, you need to make $18,000 when it is finished.

Our writing has intrinsic value as it educates, informs, entertains and inspires our readers. But from a practical standpoint, if we want to survive as writers, we may have to become strategic and place a dollar value on our writing.

Thanks Chip MacGregor for the heads up!

Posted in Agent, Marketing, publishing, Time management, Writing, Writing Career, Writing Helps | Leave a comment

Getting Past the Fear

Last night, at 4:00 a.m. I finally pressed ‘Send’ and submitted my first ten pages to the Oregon Christian Writes Manuscript Submission program. For $5.00 you can have an editor or agent look at your first ten pages when you attend the conference. They may or may not want to meet with you and possibly ask for your complete manuscript.

Before I go on, I’ll just give you a brief summary of what has happened since I dropped off the scene for awhile. I hope we can be the kind of friends who can pick up where we left off because that’s the kind of friends I mostly have. We are in this for the long haul and know there will be interruptions for various reasons.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the direction of my life and during the last three years I took two different admin assistant jobs. Previously when I was blogging regularly (2012) I was between jobs and very focused on moving ahead with my writing.

Working at these jobs made me realize that I have a very strong admin gift, as I have been told, but that my passion is not so much in the area of keeping a machine running as it is in connecting with people and finding ways to make meaningful contributions. I like to contribute in many ways. Hosting a meal, planning a birthday party, interacting with children and seniors, finding and sharing significant information, decorating my home, creating beautiful paintings, taking photos, building memories with loved ones, problem solving, and enriching my marriage.

While I was working I kept thinking that I was wasting my time. I know I wasn’t actually wasting my time, but maybe I was missing opportunities. I felt I was missing the things that only I could do. However, I had to counter-balance this with the fact that I was helping others on my job reach their goals and that is very significant to me. I love to help others in this way.

But now I feel the time has come for me to start my own business, in a sense. This is the second go I am having at building a writing career and to tell the truth it scares me. I could have pressed ‘Send’ at 10:00 p.m.yesterday but I had a fear of putting my work out there. When you are younger, I think, your mind doesn’t go so many places and consider so many possibilities before making a decision. In other words, you basically just think, if I mail this, then I might get a publishing contract. What could be more exciting?

But me, I was sitting in bed thinking, is this really how I want to be perceived? Is my novel saying what I want it to say? Am I being true to my characters? Would I be embarrassed if so and so read this? If so, why?

I have a lovely friend, a published author, who is nudging me along with my writing. She even came over this week and helped me sort out my first ten pages. I was completely stuck. I have spent a very long time trying to find out where my novel starts, how much is back story. After sending her several different chapters, because my book is mostly complete, she finally said, “That’s it! That’s where your book starts!” I was so relieved, until I tried to figure out how to move ahead from there and suddenly it looked like none of the rest of the book fit. Thankfully she was able to help me out with that too.

It’s an understatement to say I’ve learned a lot in this process. But one thing I do know. I keep getting excited about sharing what I have learned with my readers, right here, on this blog. It is what I have finally discovered to be one of the things I love the most. As I said before, I love sharing significant information. So, I am keeping this thought in the back of my mind and trying to figure out the best way to do this.

Back to last night. With those questions rolling around in my mind I took another look at my writing, and specifically my last page, because I felt uncomfortable with it. My friend, Gail Sattler (check out her novels-she writes humor), had helped with my edits on these ten pages and really improved my writing. She has a lot of experience and knows how to put the feeling on the page, unlike me. But, as I looked at the last page I saw it wasn’t me. I had to take out the things I loved that she had suggested and turn it into my writing. When I finally did that, then I was able to press ‘Send.’ Incidentally, she is also the kind of friend who says, “I’ll mail yours with mine.” I wonder why?

Writers can relate to the fear of putting ourselves out there. There are so many ways to fail. My plot might be weak, my middle story might lose the reader’s interest, my writing style might be boring, or I realize I can never write like so and so.

Nobody in my family is a writer. I am breaking new territory. I admit I am afraid of what people will think of me, of my writing. I want to be seen as a thoughtful intellectual, but maybe I am just a hopeless romantic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and that is confirmed by book sales. I am just trying to find the courage to put myself out there, whatever it is.

I read something helpful today in Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain.

Don’t try to be all things to all men. Universality of appeal is a myth….Quit wasting your time pretending that it doesn’t exist, or that there’s some esoteric way around it….You can’t change yourself at will to suit a given public. You must accept yourself the way you are. Then, seek out an audience that sees the world the same way you do. Can you be sure that such an audience exists? You can. Individual you are indeed; and different. But not that different, for you’re human also (p.117-118).

“You must accept yourself the way you are.” Haven’t we all heard that a million times before.

I didn’t want to hurt Gail’s feelings by taking out those really good bits, or re-wording them. But the writing process is about helping the writer become the best they can be and that means the best THEY can be. Gail gets this. She’s awesome.

I truly hope that I will be able to write here with some consistency over the next months. But, one of the best things that I have learned this past year is that this is a dialogue. It may look like the conversation has ended when bloggers stop posting for awhile. Maybe for some it is. But others just need to re-group, decide what they want, figure out the best way to move forward, and trust the timing. The break may be exactly what was needed.

 

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Why do you write?

Recently I had someone ask me why people blog. I explored a few blogs to see what other writers are saying. If I were to sum it all up I would say we write for two reasons: ourselves and others–we want to give something to others and we want them to give something back to us.

We want to share ourselves and have others do the same. You tell me your story. I’ll tell you mine. We are looking for subjects that resonate with us and we are looking for people who get it, or get us.

I enjoy creating and discovering meaningful dialogue. I feel rewarded and even excited when I read a blog where someone expresses a thought succinctly or uses language in a way I would never have thought to express myself.

It happens in comments too. I don’t think we give comments enough credit, not only from the reader’s perspective, but also as writers who comment. A good comment can be as skillfully crafted and insightful as the blog itself. Comments are reflective responses that allow us to see how readers received what the author of the blog wrote. They are also an opportunity for creative dialogue.

I guess I am just plain fascinated by how people think and communicate. Some are all compassion and understanding; others are aloof and intellectual; still others are agitated and insulting. Why? What is it in their experience that makes them react this way?

I was facilitating a discussion group this weekend and had an amazing opportunity to watch in person how people interact with each other. One of the participants started out by clarifying that she is a “thinker” and not “emotional.” She didn’t like to be “told”…. Another participant immediately revealed something very personal, hurt from the past, and shared how he was willing to risk being vulnerable. I appreciated both of their openness. But I noticed that the other people in the group were more responsive to a third person, a song writer and performing artist. I think years of experience had taught her how to anticipate the kind of response her words would generate.

In blogging we are looking for a response. How do we get people to talk about what matters to them? Of course, we want to talk about what matters to us, but if we are not tuned in to others we can actually impede communication, as happened with the two examples I gave.

Some bloggers are naturals. They have discovered not only what others want to talk about, but how to get them talking. We love to read their blogs. They are the writers that tend to get picked up by publishers.

I love this writing journey. I love the blend of experience and thought and communication that makes each blogger unique. I think this joy of discovery is the reason I blog. Why do you blog?

Posted in Blog, Creating, Giving, Inspiration, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

6 Things You Can Do to Keep From Getting the Flu

6 Things You Can Do to Keep From Getting the Flu.

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Don’t give away all of your marbles

© Krisjacobs | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Krisjacobs | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images


If you have been on my site recently you will have noticed that I removed a post I wrote this week. It was a post about a specific resource offered for half price for a limited time. In the post I questioned the wisdom of spending large amounts of money on writing resources.

Although I removed the post because I did not want to adversely affect someone’s business, I still think it is important for writers to realize that our vulnerability can put us at risk.

Take vanity publishing for example. Some publishing companies will ask for as much as $5,000 from an author in exchange for a publishing contract. The author never sees a dime for all their hard work.

Unless you are paying for a limited number of copies outright, remember, the publisher pays you, not the other way around.

An author I know, who has published over thirty fiction books, tells me that $2,500 is typical of what she gets as an advance. She’ll probably get $5,000 total for a book. It’s not a lot of money, but at least it was paid to her, not the other way around.

At a writer’s conference I attended, a speaker in one of the small groups offered attendees a weekend of one-on-one mentoring in her home, along with a month of follow-up that included a couple of hours of coaching twice a week, for the total price of $3,000. Think of it, even if you came out with a book on the market, most of your income would already be eaten up.

There are people out there who prey on the vulnerability of new writers.

As my Christmas gift to my readers I am making my recently published short story entitled 101 Marbles available for free until December 24. Enter this coupon code QU66L to get your free copy on Smashwords.

Posted in Christmas, Giving, Marketing, publising, Self-publishing, Short Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What I learned from the NaNoWriMo process

The first two weeks of National November Write Month went better than expected. I managed to keep up with my target word count, more or less, or at least catch up. But then we ran into a bit of a crisis at work and my job had to take priority, with extra hours and more responsibility. Life happens.

I was in an educational program once where I had four hours of classes a day and a lot of reading to do. I don’t read very fast, and I underline and make notes at the back of my book. That’s what those nice empty white pages are for, in case you didn’t know. It’s great to go back and find the highlights of your reading at a glance.

But what I was going to say is that I had to pace myself. When I started the program I didn’t think I had the health or the energy for it. But I learned that if I devoted five hours a day to reading I managed to stay caught up. And there was no getting behind, with that amount of material to cover. After I finished my reading I would work on my papers and presentations.

With NaNoWriMo, I tried to use the same systematic approach. I had a target of 1500 words a day. Some days I was not able to do as much, but I could not allow myself to get far behind. On weekends I would catch up.

I tried not to do a lot of editing. The idea was to get words on a page.

I would have liked to be able to continue, but I value my health more than sticking with a pre-determined plan. One thing I have learned over time is that my life goes better if I pace myself instead of acting like I am super-human. So I looked at the NaNoWriMo project and said, yes, I can put this on hold for now.

The two weeks I spent on it were a lot of fun. While I was driving or cleaning or cooking I would think about my plot, what I was going to add, where I was going, what my characters needed to do, how I planned to put it all together. Then when I’d sit down I had material in my mind to work with. I eagerly anticipated getting at it.

So now I have a 20,000 word start on a new novel. If I do another two week sprint, I’ll just about be at my goal of 50,000 words. December will be a very busy month, so I don’t have high expectations, but I think I will pick it up again in January. If anyone who is reading this has ever accepted the NoNaWriMo challenge, I would love to hear of your experience.

Posted in Fiction, Novel, Pacing, Priorities, Self-discipline, Time management, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments