Friday, May 22, 2015

Hello, Pen

By Sarah Reichert

I’ve made a shift from composing most of my work by hand with 50-cent notebooks and a collection of specially bought pens, to battering away at the keys of my laptop.  It’s more efficient, right?  I can type faster and it saves me the trouble of having to transpose it later.  Plus, it's much more pleasant now that the new laptop doesn't weigh sixteen pounds with a battery life of ten minutes. 

Modern technology makes it more convenient to write (or sometimes put off writing) with special plotting programs and automatic correction.  The whole world is speeding down the technology highway.  Schools and the common core system are only requiring handwriting in the first few grades, after which the emphasis is placed on keyboarding.  In our modern world we all must do our part to keep up with the emerging technology and its fast-paced drive into the unknown.  It’s a not a new scene, this tossing away the old for the new, humans have done it since the dawn of walking upright.  Its how we graduated from grass sandals and adobe huts to skyscrapers and sneakers.  Newer is better right? 

Wrong.  Horribly, horribly wrong.  Most of the people who read this blog are, in some capacity, artists and creators.  The rest probably got misdirected and are wondering how they made it this far into the article (its my gripping style).  So we appreciate the connection of working with our hands as an extension of our minds.  But now scientific evidence is proving this connection right.  Studies show that handwriting is the key to creating more neural pathways in the brain and connecting millions of roads inside our minds which lead to enhanced creativity and better retention of information. 

If I want to remember something, I write it down.  Typing doesn’t accomplish this same phenomenon.  The direct line of creativity is often filtered and stunted by the gate of technology.  When I sit down without my keyboard to write my hand always finds the story faster than the keys do. 

So, after you’ve finished this article, (shared it and liked it of course), close your modern contraptions down and get your pens.  Not only will your creativity flow easier but you’ll separate yourself from the artificial pathways of this digital age that lead you off of your course and straight into the endless sea of cat videos. 

Reconnect with your pen, the page, and hopefully, you’re next great idea.

What's your favorite brand/type of pen to work with?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Feel Like You're Being Watched?

By April Moore
This is my dog. He's got his eye on me, hoping I don't get so absorbed in my work that I forget to take him for his daily walk.

Do you ever get the feeling you're being watched?

According to a January 2015 study, of the 800 writers surveyed, over half of them fear government surveillance--to the point that they've scaled back their social media presence and have even limited their writing subjects. Many of the study's participants cite the case of Edward Snowden which threw the spotlight on domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), for their unease.

I'll admit, I felt a little wary as I conducted a few searches for this post; Googling anything about government surveillance likely added me to at least one watch list. Although, I could be on a few since I recently began researching information for a new novel--a mystery this time--where I needed to find realistic ways to make a death look like an accident.

If black SUVs pulled into my cul-de-sac, I really wouldn't be too worried--the worse they'll find on my computer are the remains of lifeless stories and novel-starts that never stood a chance. I'd be more concerned they'd reveal my secret Pinterest boards.

Being investigated because of search terms on your own computer is one thing, but what about journalists and other nonfiction authors? This is a real concern for them--and for good reason because when you have government surveillance, there's a good chance (that among other things) it will lead to censorship.

The study noted that many writers, out of fear, will self-censor."Writers are reluctant to speak about, write about, or conduct research on topics that they think may draw government scrutiny. This has a devastating impact on freedom of information as well: If writers avoid exploring topics for fear of possible retribution, the material available to readers---particularly those seeking to understand the most controversial and challenging issues facing the world today---may be greatly impoverished." 

It used to be that government surveillance only pertained to the Fourth Amendment of "unreasonable search and seizure." Now, it's impacting our freedom of speech. And I thought being dog-watched was unnerving . . .

As a writer, are you concerned with government surveillance? 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Allow Me to Explain

Post by Jenny

I’ve had a couple of incidents recently that made me realize I’m an over-explainer. The first was at the dentist’s office, when I--not once but twice—gave him an overly detailed status update about my younger son’s orthodontia. The second was at a new dog boarding facility, when I felt the need to recount all of my dog’s completely unremarkable away-from-home experiences. Both times, I had pertinent information to pass along, but there was absolutely no need for the lengthy oral reports that caused the eyes of everyone within earshot to glaze over.

I told my husband, “I think I explain too much.”

“Well, maybe,” he said.

“I mean, I try to give too much information.”


“I keep talking after people are done listening. I go on and on and—“

At this point, my husband’s eyes began to appear distinctly glassy, and I realized that I was over-explaining my tendency to over-explain. It comes as no surprise that I have noticed this in my writing, too—using two or three sentences when one will do. And I’m not the only one. Apparently, we writers are no more immune to the “more is better” mindset than anyone else. We love our writing, we love our characters, and we want to give our readers their money’s worth.

Unfortunately, that desire can result in the opposite effect: writing that is a tedious slog to read. It can be so easy to get caught up in the joy of writing long, descriptive passages that showcase an amazing eye for detail and superhuman command of vocabulary. It’s a lot harder to forego info dumps by revealing information through your characters’ words and actions. That’s right: show, don’t tell. And trust that your readers are smart enough to figure things out.

But, just to make it complicated, sometimes more is better. I will assume that we all have read descriptive passages that are probably too long but are nonetheless breathtaking and make the novel better. So, how to know when to go big? Pay attention to the pace. Anything that pulls the emergency brake on the action should be trimmed or moved to a better spot. And be careful with word choice. A long passage is not an excuse to use weak or repetitive words. If it helps, print out two versions—the elaborate and the succinct—and have a few trusted readers give them a look.

How do you find the balance between pacing and description in your writing?

Friday, May 15, 2015

In Your Dreams

by Kelly Baugh

Lately I've been telling a lot of folks the details of my profession. As I said in my last blog, I'm moving. Banks, city utilities, title companies, they all seem to be very interested in the ways my family generates income. Here's a typical conversation:

Banker: What's your husband's profession? 
Me: He's a software developer.
Banker: Good. And what is it that you do?
Me: I'm a writer.
Banker: Wow, really? That sounds ...

It's at this point I wish I could jump into the banker's head and actually live the exotic, glamorous life I know he's picturing.--me, doing one of the following:

Discussing literary authors, in hip, writerly lingo, with fascinating creatives sporting black turtlenecks and silky hair at a beatnik-esque coffee shop. Later that night we'll all be doing readings for a packed-out audience.

Typing on my laptop on the deck of my yacht, harbored in a Mediterranean port, sipping wine. Later that night I'll be heading to shore to ride my Vespa to a party at someone's villa where I'll be signing copies of my best-selling novel.

Cozily holed up in a cottage in the British countryside/mountain top retreat/tropical island, typing my manuscript on a vintage typewriter. Every so often, in a fit of passion, I rip my page into shreds and throw it at my cat/wolf/parrot.

Oh that these were true. I want to crawl up inside of one of these fantasies and never leave (except for the wolf one).

I have to admit, however, the reality is great too, even if I am just sitting at my desk in my pajamas. Or playing my latest plot line in my head while zoning out during a boring meeting. Or getting to hang out with the other amazing writers at NCW. 

It may not be the Mediterranean, but it's a pretty sweet life.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Characters Die And I Feel Terrible About It

by J.C. Lynne

Chatting with Son 1 the other day brought up a question. Why did you kill her?

This isn't a new question. Folks frequently ask me about why events happen in the novel. I loved her, why did you kill her? Oh, he’s so interesting. Is he going to be in the second book? Why is your protagonist such an a&*hole?!

Here’s the skinny, I don’t often make conscientious decisions about my characters. They come to me whole and complete. Sometimes enlightened but often damaged and carrying baggage.

I work out details in the plot. I smooth over transitions and dialogue. The overarching movement of the plot typically comes intact. Sure, I have to figure out sometimes how to get from here to there.

The death of a character isn't something I plot with glee, unlike some authors I know … ahem G.R.R. I know some collateral damage is unavoidable and even necessary. In the thriller genre, death is a familiar companion.

It’s equally shocking to me when I’m writing and suddenly I’m presented with the death of a character. Believe me, I’m as fond of my characters as I hope you are. Yes, the bad guy is going to die … usually. Maybe I’m bloodthirsty, but I think the bad guys should die once in a while. I loved the scene in Open Range when without fanfare Kevin Costner plugs the sharp shooter in the forehead, Bam!I No talking, no monologuing, just elimination of the biggest threat with efficiency.

Some folks didn’t enjoy the end of my recent novel … too simplistic. I’m here to say, sometimes justice, vengeance, or whatever way you characterize it, comes swiftly.
Picture by from The Art of Dragonlance
Picture from The Art of Dragonlance
I will not arbitrarily murder a main character for the gratuitous WTF moment …. ahem G.R.R. If you’re a ScFi Fantasy reader, you too have devoured the Dragonlance Chronicles. My copies literally fell apart I read them so much. I purchased the Annotated Chronicles and Legends to read aloud when my kids were little. We all sobbed together when Sturm Brightblade dies in battle and I knew it was coming!

My kids cried out when I stopped for the evening leaving poor Tas stuck in the Abyss. I still get a catch in my throat at the end of Legends when Caramon saves Raistlin’s soul with bunnies. Even if some books aren't great literature, we grow to love or hate characters.


Seriously, I’ve alienated friends who were watching the show and not reading the books. I don’t care if there’s a bit of Jon Snow left …. you killed him you motherf*&%er!
It will take me a long time to recover and I won’t be reading any more of his books. I don’t care if I don’t find out what happens to Arya. I’ll Google it after the series is complete…and don’t hold your breath. Have you seen that guy? I still haven’t recovered from Robert Jordan’s death and I didn’t finish those books either.

Excuse me while I gather my composure. Believe me, I don’t take my characters lightly…except Seamus. No one can take him too seriously.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Getting Past the Crummy Weeks

by Rich

Warning: some mild whining appears in this column.

Last week was absolutely crummy! In fact, it fell among some of the heaviest synonyms for feces. It started with constant cloudiness and rain. Not good for someone, like myself, who tends to get depressed in that climate even with anti-depression medicine. Then, around the middle of the week, I discovered a very close relative decided to unfriend me on Facebook, and his life, with nary a prior communication as to why. That one hurt like a death.

At the end of the week I discovered both my wife and daughter had foot injuries -- my wife's two broken bones and use of crutches the more painful. In the midst of shuttling them back and forth to the doctor I received a critique on a personal essay which fueled my growing frustration and resulted in an angry, unwarranted reply. To top it all off, I spent Saturday morning shoving my arm into a toilet filled with brown, stinky water to remove a stubborn clog created by one of my adoring children.

Saturday wasn't the lowest point of the week, despite being elbow-deep in poopie water. The worst was Friday. In the midst of driving people back and forth in the pouring rain all the doubts about my life, my family, and my chosen career slammed into me at once. Given the opportunity I would have assumed the usual thumb-sucking, fetal ball position to cope with it. Instead, I soldiered on through the weekend and emerged into a sunny start to a new week.

I'm pretty sure authors have had weeks like this, except they don't shove their arms into toilets. Their crummy periods usually entail either writer's block, bad reviews, delayed releases, poor sales, or all of them combined into a seven-day period. It can make any author, including the most famous, think about working at the Carl Jr.'s for a more satisfying personal experience.

Yet, we soldier on, even when we're still in pain over something. Case in point, the writing of this column. Others start a new project, find a way to increase sales, or seek out the home address of the critic. Regardless, we do it because it's our goal, our dream, our passion. Plus, there are only so many corners to crawl into a fetal position.

For those of you who had crummy weeks, this is a new one. Go through it with strength, courage, and plenty of chocolate. Or wine. Or both.

How do you get past the crummy weeks?

Friday, May 8, 2015

I Haven't Been Writing

By Sarah Reichert

I haven’t been writing. 

There.  I said it. 

I thought I’d give it up for a little while, because, hey, life is busy right now and I have things that NEED to be done.

Writing is a luxury.  It feels selfish and languid to sit in front of my computer and write, especially with such little measurable profit for my effort.  It feels greedy.  I mean, how can writing be more important than getting through the never-ending pile of laundry or the constant but unnoticeable job of keeping the house from tanking into disarray? How can it possibly be as necessary as feeding the kids or taking the dogs to the vet?  The living things must take priority after all.

I haven’t been writing.  I’ve been cleaning out closets and cutting back the dead and brittle death of winter in my garden.  I’ve been carting the kids to school and extra-curricular activities and logging countless, mind-numbing miles in the process of training for a marathon (which, have I mentioned? I’m so over the joy of running). 
I’ve been planning and executing birthday parties (which I wish meant that I actually got to execute the idea of gift baggies filled with tiny, un-organizable stuff).  I’ve been replacing broken crowns and Craiglisting the contents of my crawlspace.  But I haven’t been writing.

The result: It’s been one of the most stressful, anxiety-ridden months of my life.  I can’t seem to catch up on anything, and when I do it falls back into needing done.  There’s no progress.  I’m as irritable and surly as a hamster stuck on a wheel, forever running but never getting anywhere.  I have no patience and no joy. In short I’ve become a jerk.

And I can’t help but wonder if the lack of doing something, just one thing, that I love is letting the dark and ugly side of me run rampant. 

Somewhere in the scramble to be an responsible adult I sacrificed the idea that my own joy was a worthwhile venture.

When did following our happiness become something selfish?

I’m putting “WRITE” on the top of my list today, and I’m not doing anything else until I’ve given time to my own happiness.  It will pay more than money.  It will pay in fulfillment and give meaning and beauty in a world of laundry piles and dentist appointments.

What brings you joy in life?  Have you invested in your joy today?

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