Thursday, March 5, 2015

You Don’t Have to be a Best-Selling Author to be a Writer

by Deborah Nielsen (guest columnist)

A lot of us, when we think of a writer, think Writer = Best-Selling Author. defines a writer as “a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc. to writing.” Using this definition, anyone who writes, whether for their own enjoyment or for publication, is a writer. You don’t have to be a best-selling author. Besides, those best-selling authors didn’t start out on the best-seller lists.

Noted Colorado best-selling mystery authors Margaret Coel and Diane Mott Davidson got their start as writers with short stories (Diane) and as a newspaper journalist (Margaret). John Krakauer, a mountaineer, climbed some of the most difficult ascents in the world then started writing about the tragedies and triumphs, first for Outside magazine.

Let’s explore what qualifies as writing. Writing is a form of communication, a way to tell a story.

Regularly keeping a detailed diary or journaling can help you get your thoughts and feelings on paper or an e-document if you’d rather use a keyboard. Doing an annual Christmas letter for friends and family is another form. Jot down notes throughout the year and use them to compose your letter. Volunteering to help out with a church or club newsletter is yet another way.

If you like making up stories in your head, write them down. Short stories can be a hundred words or several thousand. They have a beginning, middle and end just like a novel. Do you have a personal story that others could relate to and that may help them get through a similar situation? Write it down.

In this area you have many opportunities to become a writer or a better writer. Northern Colorado Writers, a local writers’ group, offers classes to non-members. Check out class listings or the community service classes offered at local colleges and community colleges. You can also find out about upcoming workshops online. Get some books on writing from your local library or bookstore.

The main thing to do to be a writer is to just write. Every day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes The more you do it, the easier it will be. Make it a habit.

Tell a story, real or imagined. Tell a friend or family member a story. Are they interested? Do they like what you write? If so, kick it up a notch and join a writers’ group or critique group. Beware that not all writers’ groups or critique groups may be a good fit. Keep writing and one day you may find yourself a published author or even that best-selling author. If fame is not your thing but you just like to write for your own enjoyment, that’s okay, too. You’re still a writer.

How do you define yourself as a writer?

Deborah is a member of Northern Colorado Writers and an avid motorcyclist who occasionally tears herself away from the bikes long enough to write or take photographs. Deborah currently lives in the land of strong winds, a.k.a southeast Wyoming.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Genre? What Genre? I'm Multifaceted

by J.C. Lynne

What do you write?


No, WHAT do you write? What kind of books?

Currently, I’m working on a techno-thriller/science thriller. It’s the sequel to The Esau Emergence. It’s about genetic engineering and stem cell research.

My pitch line? It’s an action thriller about the consequences of a bioweapon attack and recombinant DNA engineering.

My blurb? It’s an edge of your seat, science thriller in the style of Michael Crichton about the complex world of genetic engineering and the possibilities of stem cell science.

Yes, I do write thrillers, but I also have a murder mystery in the works. No, my next project, after this trilogy, is a novel about Hell. No, it’s not a thriller. It’s a literary novel about the larger question of free will and morality. I also have a SciFi/Fantasy trilogy started. I guess if you need a description, it might be dystopian, but it’s more of an alternate reality.

I realize I need to keep my audience. I know they might not enjoy it if I change genres. Yes, I understand Janet Evanovich wrote twenty-two Plum novels.

This exchange should be familiar to anyone who has pitched a novel to an agent. There are hundreds of discussions of genre. Pick one of the 248,000,000 google results. Agents like to sell books. Publishers like to sell books. The common thread in every discussion I’ve had about marketability is about keeping an audience. It’s why there were three Hang Over movies when there shouldn’t have been. Repeat business.

Here’s my problem. I would love to be a best selling author. I’m looking forward to the day my book sales generate a living wage. I don’t have anything against authors who write in a single genre. Evanovich is making millions even if I think her Stephanie Plum series lost its oomph ten books ago. My problem? In the creative writing folder on my computer, I have ( just counted) eleven projects going. At the moment, I’m working on the Esau Continuum sequel, The Esau Convergence.

Is there a common genre? I would say four of the projects are SciFi/Fantasy. I have two supernatural mysteries, a creative non-fiction memoir, two literary fiction novels, and one straight up crime novel.

Here’s the thing, deciding on a genre for your novel is a dicey prospect. The Beard and I went rounds trying to label the Esau Continuum. Thriller, SciFi Thriller, Medical Thriller, Hard Science Fiction, Mystery Thriller Suspense, Fantasy, Action Adventure. Those are just seven of the genres in which Michael Crichton is described.

I understand agents and publishers want repeat customers. I hope I have repeat customers. Don’t box me into one corner. My brain doesn’t work that way. Stories come to me. Maybe not in their entirety, but they do come in a basic shape. I can’t change the character of a story to be certain it’s going to fit neatly on the shelf.

I do know that I’ll write the heck out of those stories and trust someone out there will read them.

Monday, March 2, 2015

We Should All Be A Little Bit Kanye

by Rich

Excuse me. 

Harrumph. Harrumph. Oomph.

Sorry, I had to get past Kanye West's ego to talk to you. It's getting harder to do these days. Not only does his waste product continue to smell like fresh marigolds on in a freshly mown field -- well, according to him -- his marriage to Kim Kardashian means the combined ego factor has multiplied exponentially. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the entryways in their mansion are something like 20 feet wide to incorporate their inflated heads and, um, Kim's, well, glutenous region.

Actually, if you take away Kanye's occasional rants against award winners, and his strange public remarks, and the sunglasses you want to rip off his face and just smash with your feet until you ... ahem ... you can learn something from Mr. West -- some ego is good in creatives. Now, this doesn't mean I want you to go out and say things like "I don't like books, so that means reading is bad." Rather, this being a blog about writing, I want you to say things like "I wrote something, that means my writing is good."

Look, you want to be a writer, be it a freelancer or a world-renown author. You're not going to do it by constantly telling yourself that you suck and that each draft you finish is worse than the one you completed before. You're also not going to get it done by listening to others who tell you that no one is ever going to read your stuff or you're not going to make a career out of it. If that was the case we wouldn't have folks like our very own Kerrie Flanagan, Teresa Funke, and Patricia Stoltey or Stephen King, Joanna Penn, or, dare I say it, those folks who produce the very successful 99 cent adult books on Kindle.

A little bit of ego is needed before, during, and after the writing process. However, this doesn't mean you need to lose your humility in the process. Heck, I can be the most humble person on the planet. Yet, when I get a compliment on something or feel a piece of writing is great, I need to walk sideways through a doorway in order to fit my inflated ego.

So, the next time you feel the urge to toss your smartphone into the trash when you see an image of Kanye West, pause a moment, and acknowledge his proper use of ego. Then throw your smartphone into the trash.

Do you feel ego is needed in creativity?

My Kanye moment for today: I'm featured in an interview at the website Literary Fort Collins where the writer calls me a local hero. Talk about an ego booster!

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Wall

By Sarah Reichert

My third novel is locked behind a big cement wall.  Endless and impenetrable gray stares back at me from where my plot should be. The story is somewhere in there.  Somewhere behind that barrier my characters are going on with their day-to-day, saying witting things to one another, fighting battles and coming to great epiphanies.  But I don’t know about it, because I’m on the other side of the damn wall.

Walls are everywhere.  I’m currently training for my first marathon and ran my longest distance thus-far last Sunday (18 miles).  It was excruciating and somewhere around mile 14 I wondered what current psychological disorder I’m hosting that would make me even consider such insanity. I wondered if my muscles were going to peel away from my bones.  I wondered if I’d lose a toenail.  I wondered how I would manage to go on. 

Then the thought came to me, dripping with sweat and achy: I could quit.  I could turn around, take my sneakers, and go home.  No one would force me to get back on the path and finish those last four miles.  Despite what the best inspirational movies will tell you, quitting is always an option. 

But if I quit, if I choose to accept defeat, I’ll never finish the marathon.  I’ll never even start it.  If I quit, then the dream remains just that, a dream.  An unfulfilled and flighty idea, like a dizzy butterfly, no intention of landing anywhere for long.  While no one was forcing me to finish those last miles, no one had forced me to start them either.  It was my dream.  It was my idea.  It was my butterfly in a jar. It’s my opportunity.

Writing can be the same way.  Whether walls from our outside world block us from getting time in the chair, or our own inner stockades prevent us from moving forward with the work, it all comes down to choice.  We choose to be writers.  We choose every day to sit down and write (or not). 

We can choose to quit. 

But something tells me we won’t.  Because even at our lowest points, when we’re throwing pens and cursing computer screens and wondering what in the hell will happen next, we’re in a storm of caring so much that it’s impossible to stop.  This is our dream. This is our idea.  This is our opportunity; our butterfly in a jar.

Today, when I sit down with my imprisoned third novel, and my brain muscles ache and I think about hanging up my keyboard and getting a nice waitressing job, I’ll try writing down what’s going on behind that wall.  Maybe I’ll write myself a door in the wall, or a ladder to climb over it.  Maybe I’ll back track over miles I’ve already traveled and (gasp) delete what’s not working about the plot and begin again.

Here’s to all the struggles you’re facing out there today.  Ice your knees, foam-roller your IT bands and get back out there.  You’ve got a race to finish.  

What are your best techniques for getting through writer's block?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Let's Get Aggressive with Passive Voice

By April Moore
Writers are often warned against using passive voice. All right, but what is it exactly? Well, they’re words that can act like little pests that infiltrate your manuscript and render it into a wordy mess. We’re told to “tighten up prose,” and get rid of extraneous words and phrases (often caused by passive voice).

Unleash the bug spray; it’s time for pest control.

Identify the targets:  “to be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were, has/have/had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle (words typically ending with “-ed.”). Passive voice is when the noun being acted upon is made the subject of the sentence.

It is believed by the author that an advance for the manuscript must be provided by the publisher.
Exterminate it: The author believes that the publisher must provide an advance for the manuscript.

It was earlier demonstrated that nervous breakdowns can be caused by negative book reviews.
Exterminate it: Therapists earlier showed that negative book reviews can cause nervous breakdowns.

Writing tips will be presented by Kerrie at the Conference.
Exterminate it: Kerrie will present writing tips at the conference.

Chances are you won’t have any trouble finding the biggest culprits of passive voice: “was” and his cohort “were.” They can infect a manuscript and before you know it, build a vast colony in every chapter.

He was driving down the street, hoping his instinct was wrong and that she was at home waiting for him.
Exterminate it: He drove down the street, and in spite of his instinct, hoped she sat at home, waiting for him.

“Was” is also easy to spot latching onto “-ing” words:

Dean was fly-fishing on Monday.
Exterminate it: Dean fly-fished on Monday.

Kerrie was eating chocolate while writing her article.
Exterminate it: Kerrie ate chocolate while writing her article.

Do the same with “were.”

They were walking to the bookstore and hoping to find their books front and center.
Exterminate it: They walked to the bookstore with hopes of finding their books front and center.

I should point out that not all passive voice is harmful (like Daddy Longlegs. Poisonous, yes, but because their mouths are too small to do damage to us, we’ll leave them alone).

If you want to emphasize the action, not the actor:

After brutal editing, the manuscript was accepted by the agent

To describe something where the actor is unknown or unimportant:

Every year, thousands of authors are diagnosed as having bestseller envy.

You should carefully consider each “to be” verb before allowing it into your manuscript; some can do more harm than others, and if too many get in, you’ll need an exterminator. Here’s a list of active verbs to keep handy to protect against pesky passive voice.

How do you ward off passive voice?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fifty Shades of Write Away

by Jenny

Monday morning confession: I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey, and this essay, which appears in Write Away: A Year of Musings and Motivations for Writers (by Kerrie L. Flanagan and yours truly) is about as racy as I get. But it does include nudity, both literal and figurative, a Seinfeld reference, and a cameo by Bradley Cooper. (Okay, I lied about that last part, but it would be awesome because maybe he won an Oscar last night??)

Writing Naked

February 1st is Working Naked Day. Didn’t have it on your calendar, you say? Me, neither. I ran across it that morning while foraging in the Internet wilderness. According to Founder and Home Office Expert Lisa Kanarek, “Working Naked refers to the fact that when we begin working from home, we’re stripped of all of the corporate support that makes up our day-to-day existence.” It also means actually working sans clothing.

I wondered who would be crazy enough to do it. Upon further reflection, I realized that my work is writing (though it’s frustratingly pro bono these days), and I write at home. Maybe I should be crazy enough to give it a try. What the heck, I might learn something about myself in the process.

I gathered my nerve, and, after boys and husband were out the door and the dog was walked, I retreated to the privacy of my basement computer, fired up the space heater, stripped down to my slippers, and committed myself to one hour of nude writing. No joke. I really did.

How did it go? Let’s just say it was a looong hour, but I made it through . . . barely (excuse the pun). I wish I could say I felt liberated, enlightened, or even merely silly. But, frankly, it was an uncomfortable experience. And not just because I was freezing. In the spirit of the classic Seinfeld episode comparing “good naked” and “bad naked,” I confess I am not a fan of casual nudity. If the UPS man is ever going to surprise me in the buff (mine, not his), he’s going to have to deliver right to my shower door.

I’m certain that Working Naked Day will not be an annual event for me, but I’m glad I tried it. First of all, I was immune to my normal distractions. I had zero urge to wander up to the kitchen for a snack. The thought of answering the phone made me blush. So, I got a lot of writing done. It also made me grateful for all the times I don’t have to work naked, literally or figuratively. I may not have “corporate support,” but I’m so fortunate to have a great network of family and friends, and the wonderful Northern Colorado Writers community.

Last but not least, this experiment encouraged me to consider how much time I spend in my comfort zone. Like many writers, I love my comfort zone. If I, of all people, can work naked for an hour, I can certainly expand my writer’s horizons in other small ways. Fully clothed, of course.

What do you do to break out of your comfort zone?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Conference Countdown: Entertainment

by Kerrie (NCW Conference Director)

Only 34 more days until the 10th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference! Woo hoo!

This year, I am excited to have some great performers as part of the event. They are going to help make our 10th anniversary celebration a memorable one.

Singer/songwriter/poet/writer/yoga instructor/all around great guy Jeff Finlin will perform at lunch on Friday and will help kick off the event. Jeff is one of my all-time favorite singers (and good friend). I think I have every one of his albums.

 I met Jeff years ago when his son and my daughter started middle school at Polaris ELS. The school is an expeditionary learning school which focuses on project-based learning with lots of real-world experiences. Because of this they went on great “adventure trips.” Jeff and I were parent chaperones together on a few trips: the camping trip from hell up at Rocky Mountain National park (constant rain, tents and 25+ middle-schoolers is not the best mix), Dinosaur National Park and an amazing week long fly-fishing trip.

Early on we became friends.  I found out Jeff was a singer and went to one of his concerts. Instantly I became a fan, put all his music on my iPod and now if I know he is doing a show, I will do whatever I can to be there. The combination of his deep, gravelly voice and poetic lyrics resonate with me on some deep level.

 I knew this would be the perfect year to have him at the writer’s conference to do a short set of his music and facilitate a session on creativity. Plus, since he is a certified yoga instructor, he is going to lead the Saturday morning yoga session. It is a win-win all around.

Then on Saturday Sara Alan and Susan Knudten will perform the Sara and Susan Show. Sara was a presenter a few years back with a session on Improve Your Writing Through Improv. I am thrilled to have her back and look forward to meeting Susan.
A mix of sketch and improv, this show is a light-hearted romp through the world of writing and publishing. Sara Alan and Susan Knudten, both writers and performers with thousands of shows under their combined belts, will have everyone laughing with their original take on our collective obsession with writing.

 Here is a little more about them:

SARA JADE ALAN received her improv and sketch-writing training at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City and at Impulse Theater in Denver, where she was a cast member for five years. Sara has taught and performed improv for over a decade and has had original scripts produced for the stage in Denver, Chicago, and New York City. She’s also a past winner of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference contest in the category of Young Adult.

SUSAN KNUDTEN has an extensive background in live performance. As the co-founder of Denver’s Impulse Theater, she appeared in more than 2,000 improv shows and taught numerous workshops for adults of all ages and backgrounds over the course of 20 years. She is also an active commercial actor and voiceover artist. Susan is currently revising her first novel through The Book Project, a competitive two-year program of Lighthouse Writers Workshop for which she was selected in 2014.

Join me at the conference so you can experience these great performances! 

Here are a couple of Jeff's videos to enjoy in the meantime

This one is a longer video highlighting Jeff's writing and music:

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