Monday, August 30, 2010

Writer Wisdom

To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.
                                                                                   Anne Rice

The way I see it, perseverance is the heartbeat of writing. If you quit, it's over. Sounds a lot simpler than it is in reality, but writers are lucky in that they are part of a society of kindred spirits. There are many types of motivational fuel. I love reading wise quotes from veteran authors.

Author Bethany Roberts has a wonderful collection of writer quotes at her website. What I love most is that she has them listed in categories such as, instructional, on revision, on perseverance, on rejection letters, to amuse, on characters etc... I recommend taking the time to pop over to her site, but here are a few of my favorites.

Tom Clancy - The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.

Ursula K. LeGuin - Sure, it's simple, writing for kids...Just as simple as bringing them up.

Ernest Hemingway - I rewrote the ending of 'Farewell to Arms' 39 times before I was satisfied.

Will Shetterly - The great thing about revision is that it's your opportunity to fake being brilliant.

Robert Southy - It is with words as with sunbeams - the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.

Katherine Paterson - As I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time are those who have given me something to say.

Lloyd Alexander - Fantasy's hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it.

Burton Rascoe - What no wife (husband) of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working even when he's (she's) staring out the window.

Richard Bach - A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.

Ralph Waldo Emerson - In art the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can inspire.

E. L. Doctorow - Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Elmore Leonard - My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.

Do any of you have famous writer words of wisdom to share?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pseudonyms: To pen or not to pen?

There are plenty of internet articles and industry blogs on the pros and cons of using a pen name, and they all make similar points. There's nothing wrong with the information provided, but the advice given neglects the current boom in social media use. In my opinion, unpublished writers contemplating pseudonym use are getting a lot of contradictory advice.

Ask an industry professional about pseudonyms and most will tell the unpublished writer that they're jumping ahead of themselves. Are they? Now, I completely understand that writing comes first and foremost. That's a given. But unpublished writers are told that, in order to improve their writing skills, they need to be entering contests, attending meetings, joining loops etc... Some people even advise blogging, tweeting or using some other method of platform building. I agree that the aspiring writer needs to join their local writing organization and interact with other writers. Writers who don't are missing out on tons of information and opportunities to improve their skills and industry knowledge. However, in this day and age, they can't join a group or final in a contest without getting their name posted somewhere on the internet. In a blink, networking is established, achievements are posted, and platforms are built...all in the writer's real name.

What about that unpublished writer who doesn't want their real name out there for all the standard reasons? I was that writer not too long ago. Let me tell you, things move fast in cyber world. For those who don't really care if their real name is used and are content to wait until an agent or editor advises them on name changes, no prob. But if a writer seriously wants to use a pen name for some level of privacy, I believe it should be used right from the start. Will it change if the publisher doesn't like it? Possibly, but chances are that if it's not cheesy and a strong following/potential readership has been established, it'll remain the same. As with all things in life, be flexible.

Some additional points on pen name use:
  • Don't confuse potential agents/editors. Official correspondence should be in your real name since that's how contracts and royalty checks will be drawn up. You can include w/a (writing as) on the title page of your submission.
  • Prior to attending meetings, let your organization know that you want your pen name on your badge. For legal and payment reasons, official memberships are done under a writer's real name and often your real name gets on the badge.
  • Prior to having a 'contest final' or 'first contract' published online or otherwise, be sure to let the person in charge know that you don't want your real name listed (unless of course, you don't care).
  • Open a gmail account in your pen name and use it when signing up for writing related loops or forums.
  • Cliches don't work here either. Don't pick a cheesy pen name. A name can be a really great or a really bad factor in marketability.
  • Don't expect unbreachable privacy unless you plan on having legal expenses. If someone wants to find out who you are, they will. When you're published, the copyright inside your book will list your real name. The only way around that is to not have your real name listed at the copyright office. This can raise legal issues regarding who wrote the work. The issues actually get grittier than that, so I don't advise that you go this route without a lawyer on hand. For most, the expense isn't worth it. The same goes for trying to keep your real name from your publisher. For tax and legal reasons, don't do it. Look at a pseudonym as giving you superficial privacy, such as at your kids' school, the grocery store, neighbors, and not having cyber freaks stalk you or your family once you start blogging or you get published.
  • Pseudonyms are great if you plan on writing in different genres, are published and need to reinvent yourself, have a cruel name like 'Marlin Grouper' or one that doesn't fit the genre you write for, want to avoid gender bias, need to keep multiple careers separate, or want to protect your children and family privacy.
  • Multiple pseudonyms can be a pain if you have to keep up with different social media accounts/identities, different blogs or websites, forget what name to answer to when someone calls out to you at a meeting.
  • Consider keeping your real first name (...responding to someone calling out to you at a meeting).
  • Remember that if you use your pseudonym strictly, you may lose out on marketing your book and building a readership based on past ties, such as alumni organizations, relatives etc... You have control. You can decide on who to keep out and who to let in. Just be aware that the line can be gray. Again, the privacy isn't perfect.
  • Don't ever, ever, ever use a pseudonym to hide behind wrong-doing. It won't work. Don't slander anyone or portray your evil Ex as the antagonist and think they won't find out about it. They will.
Don't waste your time thinking about pen names if you haven't completed a manuscript or you don't plan on doing anything beyond forum lurking. Getting that manuscript written comes first, but if you've been shying away from meetings, forums, and other critical sources of support and information just because you're not sure that you want your real name out there then by all means get a pen name! It's not the end of the world. You can always nix it for the real thing if and when you're ready. Don't let a name keep you from immersing yourself in the writing world. Just pen it!

Monday, August 16, 2010

What childhood series had you hooked on reading?

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."
                                         Stephen King, On Writing

Have you noticed that, in their bios, most writers mention being avid readers as children? I recall going through an autobiography/biography phase in the second grade. Strange, I know, but it was soon replaced with an addiction to series. I still love reading series. I love getting to know the community, the family members, and friends. In fact, I just finished a book in one series and I'm about to start another.

Being a mother, I started comparing the series my kids are hooked on to the ones that kept me up at night. At the risk of dating myself, a few of the ones I loved were:

The Little House On The Prairie
Nancy Drew Mysteries
Ramona the Great

What book series had you hooked as a child? I know that we all have single title favorites, but I'm sticking to series for now. The Magic School Bus anyone? Harry Potter? (Umm...throat clearing...I was a little older when that came out...side glance).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back-to-school: The storm before the calm

Impact! Ten zillion things that MUST get done, before the first day of school, ricochet off the inside of your skull at the speed of 120 mph break-neck winds. Blood pressure rises. Hives errupt. Breathing gets...hey, wait...stop holding your breath. None of it will get done if you pass out. Who will finish that manuscript if you keel over?

How are we supposed to stay unfrazzled during the back-to-school frenzy? My heart goes out to writers who have Aug/Sept deadlines (I'm eating chocolate on their behalf as I type this).

Seriously. I rely on lists for stress reduction. Plain, old, hand-written lists. I think there's something therapeutic in the glide of the pen-on-paper as I transfer the umpteen to-do's from my thoughts to solid surface. Writing things down eliminates the fear of forgetting. But the key to keeping your sanity while preserving writing time during the storm is in how you check off the list. Depending on the size of the project, try picking one to three 'musts' to accomplish in a day. Little by little the list you will whittle. That should leave you with several hours a day to write. Doing too much at once may leave you burned out by evening. Not much writing can get done if you're lying flat-faced on your bed with school supplies circling over your head like tweeting birds.

So let's get that list started. Mine includes:
  • Print and shop for school supplies. Do this before the only backpacks left for your teenage son to choose from are various shades of pink with Barbie on the front.
  • Dig out hand-me-down clothes and the winter clothes stashes. Have every child try things on for size and make a list (by child's name) of needed items, from socks to sweaters. Take advantage of sales.
  • Collect all outgrown clothes that are still in good shape and set aside for donation. As for all those blue jeans with worn out knees, consider donating them to Habitat for Humanity for use as home insulation. Interested? Find out more, including collection sites, at
  • Hover over kids like a drill sergeant as they clean their rooms and their desks. Move over Lego, here come the books! No distractions allowed once the studying begins.
  • Schedule eye exams, doctor appointments, and haircuts (I cut their hair at home, so one less car trip). Remember that doctors often need time to fill out school paperwork, and some opticals can take several weeks to get glasses in, so plan ahead.
  • Set aside an hour or two a day for kids to brush up on brain work. It's amazing how much they can forget in a few months. My kids read all summer, but I'm talking about basics like multiplication review. It doesn't take much to get their brains fired up.
  • Oh and, all those school papers that I never sorted through at the beginning of summer? Yeh, now would be a good time.
  • Make sure my at home project stashes are well supplied (ie. tape, sissors, pencils, colored paper etc...) so that I can avoid last minute homework assignment shopping trips. sure you post that list where everyone can see the big red lines through all your accomplishments. You worked hard, flaunt it! Be appreciated (maybe). Besides, that book you're working on could take months and months before it's ever recognized, so you might as well get some credit for pulling the family through the back-to-school storm. Hang in there. Pretty soon the house will be silent, except for the tapping of your computer keys.

What's your strategy? Anything critical I'm missing from my list?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Need a kick in the pantser?

Any pantsers, plotters, or style hybrids out there in need of a jump start? Check out this recent article by JC Hutchins at Writer Unboxed. I loved it. It's bold, straight up, and it gives writers a wake-up-slap-in-the-face. The bottom line: if you're a writer, then just do it!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pictures from RWA Nationals 2010

Happy Monday everyone! I'm still running on RWA Nationals adrenaline. The conference was absolutely fabulous (that damn -ly ending crept in there on its own, I swear). I can't say enough about the workshops, events, PRO retreat, and speakers. Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz were inspiring. Awards ceremony emcee Sabrina Jeffries was hilarious. I'm completely blown away by how well RWA pulled off the relocation. What an amazing group of women.

That brings me to another amazing group of women - the Harlequin Superromance authors and their editors. I knew from their books and from the Harlequin forums that they were friendly and talented, but meeting them in person made me understand why their writing grabs the heart. These women are truly generous, genuine, and down-to-earth...not to mention beautiful inside and out.

Picture drum roll...

Jeannie Watt's gorgeous daughter and fellow writer, Jamie, Jeannie, Amy Knupp, Me, Kay Stockham, and Helen Brenna

Kay Stockham, editor Wanda Ottewell, Jeannie Watt, editor Victoria Curran, and Amy Knupp

Me, Jeannie Watt, editor Victoria Curran, and Amy Kupp

Editor Wanda Ottewell, Me, and Amy Knupp

Kay Stockham and Wanda Ottewell
Victoria Curran and Beth Andrews after their Rita win. Congratulations!

Jeannie Watt and Margaret Watson at the autographing

Amy at the autographing

Rita winner Beth Andrews

Me and Kay Stockham at the autographing

Rita Finalist Helen Brenna

Liz Talley with one of many fans

Wait...there's more! Nora Roberts' keynote speech centered on lifelong friendships born at RWA. I'm sure I'm not the only one her words touched. At my first meeting, last year, I met another first timer, Kaily Hart. We clicked, as Nora put it, and stayed in touch ever since. It was wonderful to get to spend time with her again, and to get to celebrate the publication of her first novella.

Me and Kaily

And a few more pics from the Readers for Life Autographing that raised $55,000 for literacy...

Rita winner Sherry Thomas

Victoria Alexander

Stephanie Laurens

...and the one and only Nora Roberts

Whew! I promised pictures and when I promise, I deliver. Don't forget to check out the complete list of Rita and Golden Heart winners at the RWA website.

I hope every one of you gets a chance to attend at least one RWA Nationals conference. The experience and friendships are unbeatable.