Be a better writer: read books about writing

If your writing made any sense at all, that would be greatI know, I know. If we read books about writing it takes time away from actually doing our favorite thing—writing! Some folks say “just write and you will get better”. Well, no. If we just write with no foundation, we write crap. I know because I did it, and I thought my crap was fantastic. Thankfully my writing has improved by leaps and bounds. The secret? Reading books about writing.

If you are reading this and just panicked about your draft, don’t worry. Self-editing is part of the writing process, and after reading about writing, it will come more natural.

People also say that reading anything improves writing. It certainly does. Reading leaves an impression on our minds not only about grammar and vocabulary, but about writing styles. Not all styles are timeless. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read for fun. I’m saying we should learn what to take with a grain of salt as we devour books. Hemingway and King can probably get away with a lot more broken rules than can a newbie like me, and some writing styles I grew up with are no longer popular.

Wouldn’t it be great if an experienced person read thousands of novels and shared all the knowledge he or she gleaned?

People do. They write books about it.

Stuck on plot? Not sure if an outline is for you? Can’t seem to make your characters get from point A to point B? Read about writing. It’s faster than trying to decipher 100 successful books.

We can get concentrated knowledge gleaned from years of experience if we read books about writing.

As I finally wrap up my second edit, I have time to read a few of these books before jumping back into more edits and critiques.

Here are some books I’ve found helpful and some I want to read

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Is it Character Weakness or Strength?

People dancing wildly

Bring some sense to your characters

We often focus on our characters’ weakness. This is fine because everyone has a weakness and that makes them relatable, but what if we focus on their strengths? We get more defined characters. According to psychologist Don Clifton, each strength, when used at the wrong time or inappropriately, can be seen by others as a weakness.

If we can make the over-application of character strengths to work in our writerly favor, we have crafted better characters

Example: Sally has a commanding strength. This is great in tight situations where somebody needs to take charge. People listen to her when the going gets tough. It’s her best strength so it comes natural, and she sometimes uses it when she doesn’t need to. When she tells people what to do in casual situations, they think she is bossy.

Often, a person can have strengths that counteract each other or fight for dominance

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Book Blurb Practice

Writing is hardThe book blurb is one of the most important deciding factors in a book purchase. That’s a lot of pressure. I’m kind of freaking out about it. As I tidy up my second round of beta readers and head into the last editing round, my mind comes back to this and slaps me upside the head.

“Write a better blurb!” My mind is quite blunt.

Here I go then, kicking and screaming to the blurb writing phase. In order to get better, I have to lay out my thoughts here so I can practice writing book blurbs.

What is a blurb

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After NaNoWriMo: Self-Editing

Buzz shows Woody that there are adverbs everywhere. Disappointed.

The 50k word challenge is done! Now is the time to self-edit. Why am I tired of it already?

I have been self-editing book one and two of my historical fiction thriller, Fodder for Pigs, the entire month of November and then some. Editing is hard work and I appreciate people who do it as a job.

Even though there are professionals out there to help us, it is still essential that we writers learn to self-edit. A polished manuscript gets more constructive attention from alpha readers, beta readers, editors, agents, and publishers. They have to be able to see the story without getting distracted by mistakes we can fix ourselves. Once they see the story, they can focus on the nitty gritty details, if that’s what they are ultimately there to do.

I’ve noticed several things about writing during this process and will list them here in order of completion:

The first draft is crap

No matter how much I thought I polished it (7 times!), the first draft was just a draft and never progressed to second draft status. I got great feedback but more disappointing feedback. This is why one should do developmental edits before reaching out to readers. Continue reading

On John Ross and Perseverance

John and Mary Ross

This photo is from the Oklahoma Historical Society

I don’t often share themes from my stories but I will say this: they boil my blood, and they show me perseverance.

Today I had to brush up on my John Ross timeline. Can you imagine spending your life and energy in Washington to keep your people in their homes, and coming back to find that your own house has been taken? Given away, actually. Everything you built, every memory, signed away by people not authorized to speak for an entire nation. It is in somebody else’s hands and there is nothing you can do to get it back. None of the 17,000 people who backed your petition are of any consequence.

How did this come to be? Why is this important? WHO IS THIS GUY? If one is not familiar with the Cherokee Nation’s struggle, that person is probably thoroughly confused by now. Here is some background information. The entire story is so much more complex than what I have written here, and I encourage each reader to follow the links at the end of this post and also do more research.

Who is John Ross? Continue reading

Vanity, Hybrid, and Traditional Presses VS Self-Publishing

stacked booksIf you spend a lot of time in writers’ groups, chances are you’ve seen this scenario. A poor, unsuspecting newbie asks the dreaded question:

“I got an offer from a publisher but not sure I can afford it! What should I do?”

Said unsuspecting newbie gets buried in proverbial excrement and feels shamed they don’t know about the difference between vanity, hybrid, and traditional publishers.

Thankfully I had spent enough time lurking in the groups to know a traditional publisher doesn’t ask for money, and a vanity press is one an author pays to get their book “published”. I was able to avoid the onslaught of “run away!” remarks.

As well-versed as I thought I was, I still hit a wall on the definition of a hybrid press. Is publishing not as black and white as I thought? If a hybrid is not as suspicious, what do they offer that a vanity press does not? I set to find out the difference between all these options.

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Avoid Using Google Images in Your Work

Tree roots in a tangle

Take some images. Even tree roots are interesting!

Google Images.

You can find just about anything there. Google pulls images from every website it can index and displays them in the order it thinks you want to see. It’s kind of like a menu. A poisonous menu.

Don’t use them in your work.

I spent a few years in marketing searching for just the right images and I can spot a popular stock image model a mile away, but I still insist on one thing: do not use another person’s unique images as your own.

The desire is understandable. People want something different, something just right. However, these images do not belong to anyone but the person or entity who has purchased them or made them. Using those images can be a copyright infringement.

People have lame excuses for using “found” images. Heck, I’ve even used a few of these, but we have to accept the consequences of getting caught. Here are a few popular excuses, and sadly I have used all of them at one point. Many of us have, but we need to stop.

Lame excuse #1: Just use a citation ‘Google images’

The image does not belong to Google. This is not adequate.

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Unraveling Point of View: Can of Worms

Let’s see if I can use point of view to make you want to reach out and slap me through the screen.

That moment when you eat an apple and fat worms greet you with smiles on their faces. I threw that apple so hard I hurt my arm. She spun around, holding her arm, and ran into a low-hanging branch. Curse that tree. Curse those worms! Little did she know the worms would stage an attack later that day.

Mother of God. That was second, first, third, and omniscient all in one paragraph.

tin can full of wormsOpen a can of worms with me and explore point of view

Point of view shows the story through a lens. Notice the tense, as in past or present, sometimes changes with whatever sounds best.

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NaNoWriMo Episode One: The Pantser Tries to Plants

Grammarly suggests replacing "pantser" with "more pants"As I gear up for my first NaNoWriMo, I find myself challenging my aspirations to plot ahead of time. I have an outline for book two, but I don’t feel like working with it. I want to just slap all my written snippets together and sort it out. Bad…very bad pantser! I’m trying to be a plantser this time and maybe graduate to a plotter next time. After all, that’s how people pump out a book every three months, right? Take a look at this other post for the difference between Pansting, Plantsing, and Plotting: Pantser Vs. Plotter.

Introspection shows two problems with my first plantser try.

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Story Minds all Start Somewhere

By the time I was old enough to have pet rabbits, a power-hungry rabbit with malocclusion (misaligned teeth that don’t stop growing) took over the world and sent people on a run for their lives. In college, I made an animation out of it just for fun. Trust me, it was bad.

Our rabbits were sometimes proof that one such occurrence hid just over the horizon. They had pen pals, you see, and thus co-conspirators. You should have seen the crap they talked about us! Ungrateful beasts.

One of them even growled at us as we walked by, and took care to show us just how far her bite could reach, but we kept her because she was show quality.

Her neighbor, Ida, did not care for such ambitions. She lay like a lump on a log—or in our arms—or on the couch—or laced in a bonnet, happy as can be. I imagine she would be the comic companion in the quest for independence.

But what about some the famous authors? What did they first write?

Margaret Atwood

She began to write plays and poems at age six.

Age six! I was still discovering fish sticks and relishing in extravagant grape juice at age six!

Steven King

He started by copying comics and seeing his mother’s disappointment when she found out they were copies. On to bigger and better…comics of his own such as I Was a Teenage Grave Robber in 1965.

JR Tolkien

He made a few of his own complete languages in his teen years and knew several real languages as well.

I tried a secret language once with my sister. We wanted to be like Harriet the Spy. It never really took off.

Jane Austen

She wrote stories and plays and poems from at least age eleven on, probably performing a few plays with her family. Her first works from between 1787 and 1793 were compiled into a novel she called Juvenilia. She titled them Volume the First, Volume the Second and Volume the Third. According to scholar Richard Jenkyns, the works are “boisterous” and “anarchic.”

John Steinback

He locked himself in his room at age 14 and began his writing career over poems and stories. As with most writers, it took some years to get going. His work is influenced by the Salinas Valley, which is fairly close to me. I’d like to read Grapes of Wrath again with an adult mind that can pay attention.

So what about you? What did you first write?

Every writer and author started somewhere. Even if you are working on your first work right now, I’d like to know!