Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, February 28, 2011

Saying for Writers #14

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

"The idea is to write so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart." - Maya Angelou

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tip O'Day #29

Guest blog post from author Gerry Bogan:

Don't depend on Spellcheck.

One of the biggest and most basic mistakes a writer makes is the reliance on spell checking software to find any mistakes in spelling or grammar. You will simply have to read your work out loud to find any problems. Computers are great but they don't know anything more than what you have taught them. This is part of what an editor gets paid three cents per word to do, but that gets expensive with a 75,000 to 150,000 word manuscript. Let's see - read out loud and possibly look the fool to somebody or spend up to $4500 for an editor to do the same thing?

Your choice, my friends, but I know which way I normally go.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saying for Writers #13

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“The relationship of editor to author is knife to throat.” - Unknown

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tip O'Day #28

This guest post is from author Mark Sadler.

Do the research needed for accuracy.

Although I write fiction, I like to be factually accurate in both historical and physical facts. A lot of that research has perhaps already been accomplished, without your realizing it. When I write I draw on a lot of information from personal experience. I had spent the best part of a month hiking on the Appalachian Trail and used old diary notes for details of the trail so it could be used as a location my characters experienced. The two main characters both have lots of me in them as far as traits and characteristics; I drew on knowledge of attending school as a foreign student and playing goalkeeper on a college soccer team. I drew upon my son's work experience on oil rigs, my own love of the movies, and my intimate knowledge of Oklahoma, having resided in Oklahoma City for eighteen years.

For the things I did not know, for instance details on guns, dead bodies and the Episcopalian Church, I went to experts and asked questions. I sat down with a Catholic priest and asked for his reaction to the confession that would be given. Readers are intelligent and have questions and will catch you out if you are inaccurate.

I am currently engrossed in writing what I hope is the first in a five book series. The plot is well scripted in my mind and vaguely outlined. I have my spiral bound notebook with cardboard dividers and pockets to hold documents and have character and plot notes accumulating. It is interesting to see how I am again writing of the familiar, the child of a preacher and using lots of poetic license, but I am in a lot more unfamiliar territory too. Having never been in a law enforcement job and writing about a police detective I am doing a lot more field research. I sat in a nine week course with the Oro Valley Citizens Academy, taking copious notes as officers described their duties. I drove with local officers around the areas of town I am writing about to get their knowledge of the areas - I was told no crime occurred here that didn't involve "meth or incest," what a great line to use in context with my story - and I drove with the Border Patrol down to the Mexican border town of Sasabe, AZ. I have witnessed a car burning in the desert and helped chase down illegal immigrants. Just as much hands-on experience as prior books called for, but more planning and less life experience. I listened to first-hand knowledge from people who attended parties thrown in a drug lord's homes in Sonora, Mexico, and sat down with the town historian at the museum in Prague, OK, to discover what life was like in their small burg thirty years ago.

You want to create life-like scenarios, correct diction for your characters, and describe the places your character might journey. This can be done by reading books or looking online but will not stand in for hands-on experience as you describe what they encounter. It helps describe what and how they feel if you have had a slight taste of it yourself. Then you can create the characters that are running around in your mind in order, letting them out to move and breathe and talk on the pages of your book.

Mark Sadler is the author of BLOOD ON HIS HANDS and blogs at http://damnedinsatiablethirsteternallanguor.blogspot.com/

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Saying for Writers #12

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” - Six-word short story supposedly penned by Ernest Hemingway.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tip O'Day #27

The guest post by Jessica Knauss two days ago discussed using self-imposed deadlines so you’re not sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike, like lightning from the sky.

Samantha Kane has a similar but somewhat different take on the same topic.

Make time to write every day, even when you don't feel inspired to do so. Writing is hard work, and for most writers inspiration comes when we are working the hardest. You may feel like you're slogging through ten words a day, but the reality is that you ARE writing. You are putting words on the page and that is what gets books written, not inspiration.

You can check out romance author Samantha Kane at http://samanthakane.us/

Bonus comment from Dixon: “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races, one after another.” - Walter Elliott

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saying for Writers #11

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

"I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die." - Sir Isaac Asimov

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tip O'Day #26

This guest post is from Jessica Knauss who says, "Don’t wait for inspiration."

I consider myself a pretty low output writer, and my life is full of distractions. I also have a nasty habit of waiting for "inspiration" before I start writing, so you can imagine how little that would take place.

I did very well with some of the structural elements of school, so, considering that I never missed a deadline, I began to construct deadlines for myself: Finish this project by the end of the month, outline this other one for next week, etc. Deadlines that come relatively soon are more effective than ones that seem far away, like "the end of the year." Since doing this, I've accomplished one hundred percent more than I would have otherwise.

An additional tip: it helps if the deadlines have some relation to the real world, such as submitting a piece to a market before an actual deadline, or even, if the goal isn't accomplished, then I can't enjoy some reward.

Writer, poet and acquisition/editorial associate Jessica Knauss blogs at jessicaknauss.blogspot.com

Dixon's comment on this topic: “You can’t wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club.” - Jack London

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Saying for Writers #10

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tip O'Day #25

I got to know Laura Schultz through her role as one of founders/directors of the Writers Etc group on Facebook. She is a writer, a poet, and the most supportive mentor a person could ask for. (I'm not sure she knows I think of her in that way, but the cat's out of the bag now.) She encouraged me to start a discussion thread on Writers Etc and to be a more consistent blogger.

She sent me two tips and the second one will appear in a few weeks. Here's the first:

Several things have been very helpful to me in my writing and I am sure a lot of folks do this, but who knows? I carry a pad w/me at all times -- car, purse etc. -- in case a poem or article idea comes to me. Otherwise I’m liable to lose the idea later.

There is so much truth in that brief paragraph. Writing instructor, novelist and screenwriter Dennis Foley channels Laura when he says that, after age 40, you only get one shot at every new idea. If you don't write it down PDQ, it will be completely lost.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Saying for Writers #9

Another quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“Be awful nice to ‘em going up, because you’re gonna meet ‘em coming down.” - Jimmy Durante

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tip O'Day #24

Advice from writer John DeDakis on how to beat writers block.

You know the feeling: You’re on a deadline. You don’t have much time to craft the perfect story. You sit and stare at a blank computer screen while it stares back at the blank expression on your face. With each tic of the clock, your blood pressure ratchets up a notch. Panic grasps you by the throat.

Ever been there? Of course you have.

During my 21 years at CNN, I’ve worked with some of the best writers in television news. I marvel at how they repeatedly – and rapidly – transform blank screens into solid, readable copy. Yet every now and then, someone gets stuck and needs a little help. Whether your challenge is to write a news story, a novel, a term paper or an e-mail, here are some suggestions on how to beat writer’s block:

1. RELAX! - Nothing paralyzes more than trying to be perfect. The writers I know always aspire to do their best and that means nothing less than perfect. But it’s an elusive goal, so rule number one: Relax. Take the pressure off yourself. It doesn’t have to be perfect – at least not the first time.

2. What Are You Trying to Say? - When a writer comes to me with that familiar blank stare, it’s usually accompanied by the statement, “I’m having trouble getting started.” It’s at times like these that I simply ask, “What are you trying to say?” Amazingly, when detached from the keyboard, the writer usually has no trouble telling me in his or her own words what the story is about. “Okay,” I’ll respond, “now go and write that.” Once the mental logjam is broken, the words flow through their fingers.

3. Listen to Your Head – Ah….but exactly what words? And in what order? The answers are already in your head. Listen to that voice inside you. Or, if you’re one of those whose head has many voices clamoring for attention, zero in on the voice you hear the clearest, then write down what it’s saying. Once you’ve written the first sentence, the others will follow logically as the momentum builds.

4. Take a Hike – Bob Slosser and Ken Gilliam are two of the best writers I ever worked with (may they rest in peace). Ken was a CNN writer who loved to craft the perfect sentence. He agonized as he searched for just the right words to turn an original phrase. He told me what worked best for him was first to think about the story. That was usually best done while taking a walk to the break room, the coffee urn, or the bathroom. When he returned to his computer, he’d make the keys clatter a bit, then he’d take another hike while his copy simmered. Finally, he’d return to take a fresh look at what he’d written, then buff, polish, tweak and revise before he was satisfied – or the clock ran out. Bob Slosser, a former New York Times editor and author of several nonfiction books, had an approach to writer’s block that was similar to Ken’s. Bob was a pacer. He once told me he wore out the carpet in his den as he walked back and forth in his quest to find the right words. Bob said each of his books “went through the typewriter” 25 times. That’s a lot of pacing. But you see, ruminating is simply another way of writing.

5. Write something. ANYthing! – Ruminating, thinking, and pacing are fine, but there comes a time when you must take action. So, just do it. You can always loop back and make it better.

These are just a few suggestions. The list is not meant to be exhaustive. What works for you? Pass it along. I’m sure we could all benefit from it.

John DeDakis is a Senior Copy Editor on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” and the author of the mystery-suspense novel “Fast Track.” Visit his Web site at www.johndedakis.com

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Saying for Writers #8

Another quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia." E.L. Doctorow

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tip O'Day #23

This tip is from author Cindy Zelman. To paraphrase her: Get your work out into the world, and don't give up just because the Big Boys reject you.

I've talked to a lot of writers, including published writers, some of them famous, some of them not. Most of them agree that when trying to get work published, don't dismiss small presses, little literary magazines, or other lower circulation venues. Get your work out there, become part of a writing community, become read, and don't be a snob.

It's worth noting that John Grisham's first novel, A TIME TO KILL, was rejected by every major NY publisher. So Grisham self-published. While he continued to improve his writing craft, he and a group of friends sold copies of the book out of the back of his station wagon at flea markets and county fairs around the South. Eventually, THE FIRM was traditionally published and people started asking, "What else have you written?"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Saying for Writers #7

Another quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“Some writers take to drink; others take to audiences." - Gore Vidal

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tip O'Day #22

Short sentences create impact.

So can short paragraphs.

They’re good for action or sex scenes, to emphasize the physical and emotional give-and-take. However, three or four in a row make for choppy, distracting prose, so consider balancing them with longer, more lyrical passages where appropriate.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saying for Writers #6

Another quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” - W. Somerset Maugham

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tip O'Day #21

This writing tip comes from Dianne Thomas:

To jump start my day I keep a file named "three minutes" on my computer desktop. While my coffee brews I open a document and write whatever comes to mind. When the coffee is ready -- about three minutes later -- I save the document with the day's date. Sometimes I do just continue working on it, but usually I move on to other business. Then when I'm short on inspiration or just being lazy, I open a three-minute file at random and see what I can do with it. I've gotten some good poems and short stories from this exercise.

Dixon says: what a great idea. I find that almost any scribbling or typing loosens me up physically and mentally, whether it's replying to an email, making a journal entry, or revising my To Do list. Dianne's suggestion is so much better - tapping into the writer's creativity on an unrelated topic.

I'm learning so much from tips other writers have sent in, and really appreciate all of you. If anyone else has a tip on the craft of writing, or the process of getting published, please email me at montananovels@yahoo.com - thanks!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Saying for Writers #5

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you don’t make any money.” - Jules Renard

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tip O'Day #20

Know the functions of an opening paragraph.

A first paragraph is like when you owe me money, and I send No-Nose Noonan over to your place to collect. (1) It grabs the reader by the collar and captures his attention. (2) It drags the reader by the shirtfront into the story itself and suggests what is to come. (3) It shakes the reader back and forth and forecasts both the mood and style of the story.

Some writer friends kicked this topic around on the “Writers Tips” discussion thread of Writers Etc (on FB), and Dan L. Hays added this:

You've nailed it so far - the first paragraph has to be a grabber! I took a creative writing course one time where the teacher went further - the first sentence. I remember the one that stuck with me:

"Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again." - Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier. A strong first sentence pulls you even into that first critical paragraph!

Anyway, in the words of the Jimmy Buffet country song, “That’s My Story and I’m Stickin’ To It.” What’s your opinion?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Saying for Writers #4

Another quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“I cannot write any sort of story unless there is at least one character in it for whom I have physical desire.” Tennessee Williams

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tip O'Day #19

This very concise writing tip is from Mike Snyder:

"Write characters, not caricatures."

I like that. Look around at the interesting people in your life. Are there any friends without weaknesses? Is there someone you dislike who doesn't have at least one redeeming quality? Interesting people have both. A villain without a shred of goodness isn't a character - he's a cartoon. A heroine without a fault isn't a character - she's a cartoon.

One thing I learned from writing instructor Dennis Foley is to give your hero a secret weakness. To everyone else, he's a confident, talented overachiever but only you, the writer, is aware that his best friend in high school became a hopeless alcoholic and Hero is secretly afraid that one shot glass would send him down the same road. So Hero meets the love interest at a restaurant but there's a wait until a table is ready. "Let's wait in the bar," the girl says, but Hero insists on taking a bench outside in the chilly night air. Your reader wonders "What's that all about?" but you know...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saying for Writers #3

Another quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” - Albert Einstein

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tip O'Day #18

This writing tip comes from free-spirited author Layla Messner. “I don't know if this is a tip exactly, because no one ever said it to me. But this is what I tell myself when I sit down to write: Be honest - put your trust in the story, and don't hold back.“

Similar advice was offered by Grievous Jones: “Be honest…Be you.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Another Saying for Writers

Another Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.“ - Ayn Rand

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tip O'Day #17

Make sure your first page engages the reader.

You walk into a book store (for future readers – a retail establishment selling words printed on paper). You pick up a book and turn to page one. You might read for 30 seconds or so, maybe 15-20 lines of text, to see if the prose has any appeal. Sometimes that's all it takes - Grisham's "A Time to Kill" had me hooked from the first few lines.

So that's the test: does the prose intrigue us? Does it set up a dramatic or humorous situation, a unique character, or a fascinating locale? Does the author have a Voice that grabs us by the collar and won't let go? Is there some intangible quality to the writing style that we've admired in other books? For a real eye-opener, check out the one-page posts on WeBook website. Some are awesome but it’s amazing how other wannabe authors can fill a page with word after word and yet NOTHING HAPPENS. For some amazing examples of first paragraphs, check out Nate Bransford’s “finalists” blog post – link is to the right.

Allow me to inflict upon you an early version of the opening for my crime thriller, "Montana is Burning”. I don't have the emotional distance to tell whether this is any good, but my aim was to intrigue the reader with an interesting protagonist, locale and situation.

Paul Longo eased his lanky frame into a chair at the New Accounts desk and waited for the statuesque blonde – Elizabeth from her nametag – to get off the phone. Her shimmering emerald dress clung to all the right places. Paul didn’t mind the wait. He looked around the lobby. A small bank for a small town. Some of the windows had the bluish, dimpled look of antique glass. The pressed tin ceiling looked authentic, suggesting the building was a hundred years old or more.

The guy pushing through the copper-and-glass doors didn’t seem the slightest bit authentic. A little man, maybe five-foot-four and 130 pounds, who looked full of meth. Bulging eyes flicked nervously around the lobby, and one cheek twitched a furious beat. Still had prison pallor from his most recent stint. Both hands jammed deep in the pockets of a down vest, despite the unusual autumn heat.

Detective Paul Longo slipped the 44 caliber Super Redhawk from the shoulder holster and dangled it behind his chair. The end of its nearly ten-inch barrel touched the floor.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Quasi Motivational Quote

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“One of the signs of Napolean’s greatness is the fact that he once had a publisher shot.” - Siegried Unseld.