Friday, April 17, 2015

Too Much of a Good Thing

by Kelly Baugh

Rant Begins:

Guess what’s happening outside my window right now? It’s snowing. Can I describe to you the bone-chilling weariness I feel at the sight of the white, slushy sludge? The despair I feel knowing I have packed up all our winter coats, hats and mittens, thinking I was surely safe to do so? The revulsion I feel knowing the wet dog smell that will fill our home the next few days? No I cannot. So I won’t.

And yes I know I should be a good Coloradoan and repeat the party line, “Well, we could use the moisture.” (Aside: can anyone imagine an instance where we wouldn’t say that? Would snowpack have to be upwards of 300% before some brave soul said, “NO! I am sick of the moisture! We do not need any more moisture!!!”).

Rant Ends:

In light of this meteorological horror story of too much winter (and the fact that my blog was due), I decided to turn my focus to too much of a good things in writing. We’ve all heard the line-up of the usual offenders:

  • Excessive adverbs 
  • Distracting dialogue tags 
  • Pointless backstory 
  • Telling not showing 
My own particular weakness is distracting dialogue tags. With every edit of my manuscripts, I find myself cutting out more and more until someone in my critique group says, “Wait, I don’t understand who’s talking.” That when I think, “Success! I’m finally close.”

All of us are heavy handed in certain elements of writing. Which one is your particular weakness? How do you try to address it? And how do you handle a winter that won't stop?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dark Writing Days

By J.C. Lynne

If you read my posts or follow me, you know ninety-eight percent of the time I’m joyful in my writing pursuit. I’m fortunate to be surrounded and supported by people, not the least of which is the Beard, who believe in my words.

Seriously, any dissatisfaction seems like a big ol’ whine fest.

Welcome to the Lalapalooza of Morose. I blame it on finishing my second novel. I’ve arrived at a strange limbo transit station where my brain is a little fried.

A two week visit from the Plague didn’t help and now I’m experiencing issues with my healing ankle. I’m feeling unproductive, relatively useless, and generally meh.

This isn’t my norm and I don’t expect it to last long but damn it, I’m irritating me! The weather is brightening up. I’m sending two manuscripts to the editor today. I actually vacuumed the house yesterday. So what is my frickin’ problem?

I can’t tell you. I just know I almost pulled a Stephen King and burned the manuscripts the other day. Thank goodness the Beard intervened.

I’m the person who reminds people it takes years of work. There is no such thing as an overnight success story. Every time I hear the phrase a little digging reveals how long the successful person has worked their ass off to be a hit.

Two weeks of the flu led to binging on Netflix and Amazon Instant. Go back through some of those old shows and it’s a cavalcade of young faces that are, today, huge celebrities. We’re talking ten or fifteen years of bit parts and one-liners.

I have completed two novels, one published and one in the chute. That is no mean feat, but my brain is slogging through the ankle-deep muck.

Writing is work. Anyone who says differently isn’t a writer. It’s pushing through those two hundred word days, rejoicing in the three thousand word days, and resigning yourself to the hours of editing and shaping that fall in between. I love it. Really, every butt-dragging word.

The big question is how to shake me out of this mood and jump into a new story. I’m looking at eleven projects on which I can work.

It’s a sad day in this writer’s life when laundry is the most appealing option.

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Hate Writing (Said Someone Else)

by Rich, lover of all things writing

In the world of romantic partnerships, there has never been one more fragile than that between an author and their writing. The emotional swings between the joy and pure hatred of their work make Taylor Swift swoon in giddy horror at the amount of break-up songs she would need to write. These emotional flips can take place at any moment in the writing process. An author can be humming along one minute, elated at the creation of a new universe, and hold their laptop out the window the next minute in an attempt to scare it into producing better material.

I’ve seen this in person, and not just in the bathroom mirror. I recently talked down an author – name withheld to prevent a tire slashing – who went on a rant about their writing and how they didn’t need to have anyone review it because they knew they wrote good-like. I knew this author had issues coming up with new material, particularly on a deadline. Combined with other pressures, the author could barely open a Word document without retching.

Many of you are in the same boat right now, mentally chastising me for coming up with the idea for this column. To you, and the other authors who are on a trial separation with their writing, here is some advice to consider once your blood pressure recedes.

Take a step back: Like you do in situations where amped-up emotions lead to possible confrontations it’s best to take a step away from your pad, laptop, or Smith-Corona typewriter when you feel anger start to simmer. You can’t make a logical decision when your mind is full of malice and you have an urge to break all of your pens.

Change the environment: Many of us work in environments that lack natural light, fresh air, and adequate sources of caffeine. Hours spent in these locations without human contact can turn the most joyful person into a candidate for the patron saint of crankiness. Before succumbing to the Dark Side, get out as fast as you can, even if it’s a short walk or bike ride to the neighborhood park or coffee ship.

Socialize, darn it: It’s human nature to make personal contact with others, be it a friend or writing colleague. This type of socialization helps lighten moods, clears the cranial cobwebs, fortifies you with wine, and, if there are cameras around, sets up an episode for a reality series titled Angry Writers Gone Good. By the way, making this connection via social media or instant messaging does not count.

Heed this advice and you may have a chance reconciling with your writing. Oh, new batteries for the mouse and cleaning your computer screen help as well.

What advice do you have for authors who hate their writing?

Podcast Alert: Mark Leslie, the Director of Writing Life at Kobo, is interviewed on the NCW Podcast today. Listen at the Northern Colorado Website, iTunes, PodOmatic, or the PodOmatic app for Android and Apple.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Setbacks, Mummies, and the Holy Ghost

By Sarah Reichert

Jimmy Buffett once wrote that vampires, mummies, and the Holy Ghost were the things that terrified him the most.  To this list I’d like to add porcelain dolls, clowns, and running injuries (my setback of choice this week).

Let me begin by saying, I’m a highly goal-motivated person.  Its what gets me up in the morning.  Its what keeps me pushing through the long miles of running and the late nights of writing.  Goals keep the house running smoothly and my days packed full.  They drive me over the hurdles of life by keeping just ahead in the distance, calling me ever onward and ever forward.

Goals can help you design a path to your own success.  But, and as a mom I should know, goals are often blown to smithereens by the powerful but sometimes small setback. 

Later today I will find out if my left fibula has developed a crack in its slender shaft.  Days of prodding, guessing, wondering, trying different movements and shoes have left me with no concrete answers if this will be the hairline fracture that will end my years-long goal of completing a marathon.  Despite all of my best planning, my conservative training regime, and care in form, it very well may be my fate to never see the finish line. 

Last August I talked about pushing through set backs, holding steady along the rocky road to your dreams and I stand by that.  But I think its important to mention that goals as fixed marks should not determine your happiness and sense of self worth.  They should be mobile.  And you should learn to be okay with that.

Part of what succeeding is knowing how and when to fail. 

Maybe that book you’ve optioned for years hasn’t made progress.  Maybe every perfect query and second request has met a dead-end.  Knowing when to accept that your work (all of that hard earned and early-morning-sleep-deprived work) is not up to par is important too.  Does it mean you should give up?  No.  Absolutely not.  It means a different road may be called for.  Pull-back, regroup, understand your fundamental flaws and take the time to correct them. 

By this afternoon I’ll know, but instead of fearing the set back and letting it destroy my drive I’m making a conscious decision to make it an opportunity to start anew from a healthier and more forgiving place.  

How do you deal with set-backs? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Free Podcasts for Writers

By April Moore
My father was a guitar-playing disc jockey, so music has always been a big part of my life. It's no wonder a day doesn't go by without music filling our house. I have to admit though, it's been a little quiet at chez Moore lately because I've been hooked on listening to different radio programming: Podcasts. It started when my son got me hooked on Serial, a very addicting podcast that covers one story over 12 episodes. (It has nothing to do with writing, but I listened to the whole thing in less than two days.) And with the new NCW podcast, my obsession with these taped radio programs have begun.

The great thing about podcasts, is that you can listen at your leisure. I've gotten in the habit of listening while I get ready in the morning, while doing housework, on the treadmill, driving, and even grocery shopping. Another perk: they're typically free. So I started asking around and doing some investigating, and came up with a list of free writing podcasts. And there's something for everyone.

1.  Darken the Page with Dave Booda. Conversations and interviews with writers who share advice on "staying in the zone, producing memorable work, and enjoying the art of writing."
2. Creative Nonfiction. This podcast is from 2006, but don't let that deter you from tuning in; the information is still valuable and you'll enjoy the interviews with Natalie Goldberg, Michael Curtis and Lee Gutkind.
3. Dead Robots Society. This is an award-winning podcast that focuses on the journey of writing. The hosts are rather entertaining and funny, so it's pretty fun to listen to.
4. The Naked Book. This podcast is presented by Philip Jones, a writing and publishing expert. This is a great one to tune in to if you're curious about the current state of the publishing industry and what agents, editors, and booksellers are looking for.
5. Inside Creative Writing with Brad Reed. A big thanks to NCW member, Sheala Henke who suggested this podcast. This weekly podcast covers craft and technique for both fiction and nonfiction writers. I've noticed he hasn't done a podcast since last July, so hopefully he'll have some new ones soon.
6. The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith. This podcast is all about T.V. and film writing. Goldsmith interviews those in the industry, including writers, directors, and producers. Even if you're not a screenwriter, many of the interviews are fascinating to listen to.
7. Creative Writing Podcast. Hosted by Tom Occhipinti, this podcast focuses on characterization, narrative, plot, dialog . . . you name it. It's another oldie from 2006-2007, but is packed full of helpful, practical advice for writers.
8. Helping Writers Become Authors. I've been following this blog for a while and I find the content incredibly helpful. Author K.M. Wieland provides listeners with useful advice on everything from creating solid stories to landing a publisher.

So how do you listen to these inspiring podcasts?

For one, most of these you can tune in from your computer. Generally, folks listen to podcasts while they're on the go, and if you have an iphone, it's pretty easy. Just tap on the Podcast app that's already installed on your phone and you can search the thousands of podcasts available. For an android, you can either install an app on your phone, or download onto your computer, plug in your phone, and transfer it over. This website gives detailed instructions on how to listen to podcasts for whichever device you have.

Do you have a favorite writing podcast?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Monday Rerun: What's Your Salad Style?

Post by Jenny

I love a good salad bar—though I’m also a moderate germaphobe, so I won’t eat at them during flu season. I’ve noticed that there are two basic types of salad bar folks: the people who take a little bit of everything, and the people who take a larger quantity of a few favorite items. I’m a proud member of the former group, but hold the croutons. I get it from my mother, who is a salad architect. She can build a salad like nobody’s business. In fact, she was once jokingly told by a waiter that the salad bar was intended to be all she could eat, not all she could carry.

My husband belongs to the second group—lettuce, cheese, carrot sticks, a tiny bit of dressing (or even a squeeze of lemon) and he’s set. Our older son is following in my footsteps. He’ll try at least a bite of almost anything. Our younger son is a salad minimalist like his dad. But without the lettuce. He has honestly tried to convince me that cheese counts as a vegetable.

The “salad bar dichotomy” carries over into other areas, as well. Reading, for instance. Some readers are loyal to one genre or author and read a single book from beginning to end before starting another. Other readers take on an eclectic mix of half a dozen books at once. I’m one of those, and despite my good intentions, the bookmarks in some of my books never reach the end—the equivalent of putting too much on my plate, I suppose.

The same holds true for writers. Some writers stay within their chosen genre and work on one project at a time. Others experiment with different styles and may have many WIPs at once. And how about the clean plate/clean slate club? Some of us feel obligated to clear our first salad plate before going back for more. Some of us don’t. Some of us finish every book or project we start, regardless. Some of us move on down the list as soon as our interest in a book or project begins to wane. The great thing is, neither method is right or wrong. We simply have different preferences.

So, tell me: which type are you? Does the same hold true for your salad-bar-eating, your reading, and your writing? And should Jello ever actually be considered a salad?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Dialogue Dos

by Kelly Baugh

Every writer has some things they do really well and some things they stink at.

It's usually easy to identify what you stink at. Mine are mechanics and details. Here's my excuses:

1. I only minored in writing. Those mechanics classes fell by the wayside. However, I can test you for a rotator cuff or ACL tear and tell if you are a supinator or pronator, just by watching you WALK!
2. I'm a big picture person. I see my book as a Monet-like blur of beauty. Details can be so pesky and I hate to obsess on them (thank goodness my critique group does not feel the same way).

For me, it was harder to find out what I did well, but now in retrospect, I should have known it was what I enjoyed writing the most. The part I rarely have to struggle through: dialogue.

I could spend the whole day writing dialogue, especially because I ditch any characters that are boring. Only interesting people talk in my imagination (unlike the phone call I had with my insurance agent yesterday. But that's a different story).

My daughter and her friend asked me for some advice on how to write good dialogue, so I decided to come up with a list. I'm not sure they'll listen to anything I have to say. Since they're teenagers they know everything (how I miss those days). Regardless, here's what I'll tell them:

1. Read, act in or attend plays.
I was in drama class in high school and have continued to do some amateur acting throughout my adult years (along with the very talented April Moore, Jenny Sunstedt and other NCW members). All that memorizing of lines pounded some seriously good conversations into my consciousness. Successful plays are all about fantastic dialogue; there's no time for exposition and the omniscient narrator is usually absent. Live audiences are less forgiving than distanced ones. Authors and screenwriters immediately know if something doesn't work and either cut it or edit it. The result (of those that endure and get good reviews) is snappy and sweet. The more you're around it, the more you can pick up the tempo, sound, and punch of these lines.

2. Be immersed in as many different cultures as possible.
I've lived in several different countries and traveled all over the world, but you don't have to have my wanderlust to work on this one. The clique you hang out in is a culture. Instead of just surrounding yourself with those folks, purposefully spend time with people who are completely different than you and study the way they talk, the sayings they use. One of my best friends is Puerto Rican. She has a distinct way of expressing herself compared to my friend from California, and I'm not talking about accents. The way each conveys her emotions, the stories they tell to illustrate something, what they don't say; each of these little nuances is a facet of a specific dialogue. I picture an actual person like one of these women in my mind when I write a character. Once I'm finished, I read the dialogue out loud and try to picture whoever I'm basing my fictitious character on saying the same line. If I can't do that, I rewrite and rewrite until I can.

3. Sprinkle in idiosyncrasies or idioms like seasoning, not a main ingredient.
My last book was set in Mississippi. I could have gone hog wild (he, he) with accents, sayings and syntax. I did on my first draft because you've got to ignore that inner editor during the creative flow stage. However on my millions of revisions, I cut out nearly all the accent marks (walkin' vs. walking), sayings (he was more nervous than a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs) and syntax ("I do believe I might just head that direction" vs. "I'll head that direction"). While all the original Southernisms were accurate to the way I've heard many people speak, it's not something that makes for good reading. And if I've heard it once I've heard it a thousand times: you cannot write dialogue exactly how people talk. However, you have to throw in enough colloquialisms to give your reader a sense of setting and voice. It's a challenge to find the happy medium, but that leads me to my final point.

4. Read it out loud.
I know writers hear this all the time, but why do we not do it?! I cannot count the number of instances I've written something, thought it sounded brilliant, then wanted to curl up in a ball of humiliation when I heard someone from my critique group read it out loud. I'm slowly learning. Any time there's a large dialogue scene I (wait until I'm alone then) read my final draft out loud, using voices, postures, anything that makes that character more realistic to me. Usually I'll catch sections that are too wordy, too cute or over the top. As an added bonus, I also find out where I can add a bit more description. Did I roll my eyes when I said something, slump over, etc.? This practice brings strength to any writing, but especially dialogue.

What tricks do you use for the things you write well? And if you've got a sure-fire way to help with mechanics that doesn't involve a grammar book, I'll be your friend for life.

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