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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

To All Up North Hit by Sandy

I just watched some videos of the destruction, the fires and the unusual snowfall; then saw some stills taken in several states. The NASA overview showed how it seemed to fill one-third of the Atlantic Ocean.

God be with you all.

Denise Barker

Henri 4, a Halloween Tale

First, I intended to write another NaNo tip yesterday but remembered about one this morning. Does that count?

Second, since today is Halloween (at least here in the States) and I love the Henri videos, here's the latest, entitled Henri 4, L'Haunting:

I love Henri. Enjoy!

Denise Barker, author, blogger + copy editor

Monday, October 29, 2012

Authors' Anytime Tip

The answer to career and lifestyle quandaries is simple, really. We only need to know the WHAT that we want. The HOW and WHY aren't necessary--in fact, they can be obstacles to action.

Mike McManus, Founder of the Source Experience

While we are storytellers and may need to now the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of our tales, the above quote reassures us that we DO NOT need all that info to pursue our careers.

So no matter whether you will only go the traditionally published route, or you are all-Indie (like me), or you are going Indie while you await that traditional contract, remember the brass ring we all seek:

  • To type up the creations that live in our minds.
  • To enjoy the process.
  • To celebrate each The End.
  • To memorialize each In The Beginning.

Best wishes, all!

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo + Beyond Tip

Many things have led up to this post. I recently roughed out my author business plan for five years, 2013-2018. That prompted me to do my author production schedule for 2013. Even though I freelance as a copy editor to pay the bills, I remain an author at the core. NaNo feeds my desire to create stories and sets aside November every year for that purpose (although NaNo has other times to write, like for their screenplays, for camp, etc.).

And every time I cross over the magical 50K mark, I hope to make it a seasonal activity, even by myself, aside from NaNo programs. That hasn't happened yet in my daily life, but I'm holding fast to the notion nonetheless.

Then earlier today I was reading Philip Humbert's article--on how success is built on routine baby steps--in his current newsletter (to sign up to receive same, go here: http://www.philiphumbert.com/Goodies.htm). And for some reason I was reminded of David Bach's advice. 

You all are probably familiar with David Bach and his automatic millionaire process. I'm going by memory here, so if you have his book, check that to confirm. But basically, we sign up at our bank or brokerage firm to have 10 percent (or 1 percent or 50 percent or whatever your choice) taken out of our gross (not net) salary each and every payday.

That's it.

So I was wondering how I could automate my writing process.

After all, NaNo proves we can write a first draft of a 50K WC novel in one month. Yet I know I cannot sustain that activity all twelve months of the year. Even if I were a full-time novelist, as an Indie author, I still need time to find covers/hire a designer, final edit, format, upload, etc.

What are my options then? In line with all of the above, plus the sage advice to write one page a day and you have a 365-page novel at the end of each year, I've come up with some math.

Like for automatic savings/investments, if you choose to set aside 1 percent of your day to writing that equates to 0.24 or roughly 15 minutes. If you select 10 percent, that means 2.4 hours. Or you could pick something in between or higher, as your other activities allow.

Could it be that simple? I think so. The tortoise and the hare teach us the value of slow and steady. It may not be glamorous, but it gets the job done. FLYLady.net teaches us that 15 minutes in the morning, another 15 at night, plus a 15-minute daily chore in the zone for the week can keep us from marathon cleaning and yet maintain a company-ready house, too.

Let's look to some of our well-known authors.

Nora Roberts is my unknowing mentor and benchmark, so I go to her first. She routinely puts out six or seven new books each year and has done so for decades. I have yet to estimate how many pages are necessary for that kind of output, but it would have to exceed the daily NaNo average of 1,667 WC or 6.75 pages as I would guess most of Nora's books each year are mainstream, longer than the category length of a NaNo creation.

I've read Nora works on vacations; she works daily; her first drafts are fairly clean and she adds in some description in a second draft with maybe a third and final run-through. So she doesn't spend much time revising her writing.

Barbara Cartland wrote 723 titles in her lifetime, which I saw somewhere amounted to two weeks per book with each dictated to an assistant, who I guess typed up her words. I would presume, at that production rate, Barbara's books had to be of the shorter variety with revisions done only when she read the typed document daily or whenever.

David Farland related in a recent Kick Me newsletter that his best writing day ever was at an airport awaiting his flight when he created 65 pages--wow!

Theresa Ragan says she writes 5 pages daily and is very happy for those days when she produces 10.

My best ever was when I created 7K WC (or 28 double-spaced pages) for each of three days in a row; 21K WC total (or 84 pages total) in three days is awesome and I wish I could just repeat that, but it hasn't happened yet. And I know better than to expect that of myself daily.

Whether you wish to count hours or pages or scenes or chapters, think about setting a daily goal. I know it is harder when day jobs collide with writing aspirations, but maybe have a default of 1 page/day for those crazy, out-of-control periods.

If you are going with chapters, maybe start with 20 chapters for a category and 35-40 for a mainstream. For a saga with 700 pages or more, you might need upward of 70 chapters. But for now, for a quick example, let's work with 20 chapters, averaging 4 scenes per chapter or 80 scenes total. If you wrote one scene a day over 80 days, you'd have your first draft done in less than three months.

The trick is to do it FIRST thing in the morning. Like David Bach would say about "pay yourself first," I translate that for us authors to be "write for yourself first."

For me, I need to focus on getting more fiction released. I'm not that into marketing, but I don't have to be if the maxim holds true that your best marketing plan ever is getting more books out. Focus on your topmost goal and don't let go. Remember that multitasking dilutes the output.

Also take note that this is a very individual determination. Not all of us can maintain Nora's output, or Barbara's prolific activity. Each of us needs to determine our own best level, where we happily maintain quality and quantity both. IMO, it is quality over quantity if I must choose only one.

Anyway, all this has got me thinking. While I may not have the right answer for me yet, I've got plenty to consider.

Keep at it, everyone!

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Saturday, October 27, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tips: A Synopsis + Character Photos and Names

I'm a pantster, although one of my romance group authors thinks I'm a hybrid, because I usually have the beginning, the ending and the black moment conceived, just not any of the other stuff.

So take what you know and write out a synopsis, as if you were submitting same to a publishing house. Remember for these, inclusion of the ending is necessary to see if you can deliver a good tale. Regardless of whether you are seeking a traditional publisher or going the Indie route, you can benefit from this step.

So if you have seven major plot points, you are in good shape, IMO. Take them and fashion a synopsis, a summary of your plot in order, maybe expounding on each point with a paragraph or two. Fourteen paragraphs is not unusual. If you check out a few publishing houses online and see what their requirements are (which differ from house to house), a traditional synopsis can range from one page to five.

Plus, it helps to see where you have glaring logic flaws, or holes where nothing much is going on. Not that you can't go with it, as is, flaws and holes and all; you just need to be prepared to work each out as you navigate NaNoWriMo. 

Also, if you love Pinterest, as I do, find a good depiction of your hero and heroine. Post them online. Or print out one of each for your computer desk. Remember: a picture is worth a thousand words. Find one that propels you to write about the person in it.

While you are at it, peruse your baby name book collection (or telephone book or obituary pages) for the main characters' names. If doing a romance, it really helps that they go together well in the same sentence, like Barbie and Ken. Just something to keep in mind. I started a list of preferred male and female names, A to Z, from one of my baby name books. Haven't finished that project yet and still have other books to go.

Above all, remember to have fun with the whole process, y'all!

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Friday, October 26, 2012

More NaNoWriMo Tips Coming

Sorry, guys. I had really planned to do one post a day about NaNo tips until November 1. But today, I had two deadlines and just now finished the second. So I should be able to share another tidbit tomorrow. Let's hope!

Denise Barker, author, blogger + copy editor

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tips: Writing Exercises

This is about what you like as a reader, which you may already incorporate in your novels. After all, we write what we love to read. We love certain genres as a reader and a creator both. But there's always room for improvement when we put imagination in print, right?

If your own writing makes you cry, laugh or erupt in goose bumps (at all the right spots, of course), then so will your intended audience. Therefore compose first to please yourself. Of that you can be sure. Of that, you have control over.

First, let me say this: PLAGIARISM IS NEVER ALLOWED. Don't get me started on this topic.

Second, take three of your favorite books. Those that you reread all the time, more than five times each. It would be best if it was from three different authors, or like Nora Roberts aka J. D. Robb, pick one of her romances and then one from her In Death series.

Choose the most memorable scenes and hand copy them word for word. A dynamic link occurs between the brain and the hand when you engage both, so bear with me here. When you take that first step, all manner of providence aids you.

Study them, both the big picture angle and the small. Does the author's printed page have a lot of white space or is it crammed full of text? Check out paragraph length. You are looking for pacing here. I particularly like a fast-moving book.

How about sentence length? A mix of long and short? You've seen the six basic human needs: certainty, variety, significance, love, growth, contribution. Incorporate variety in your prose, even to the number of words in your sentences. 

Remember those diagrams in English class where you had to identify every word in a sentence? Do it here just for those wondrous lines of word combinations where you think, I wish I had written that. This may reveal whether you focus more on the outward (actions/descriptions) or the inward (thoughts, introspections, mental dilemmas).

You may even want to see how long each of the chapters are, on average, for your fave authors. Attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter, and our need for more info, more speed increasing. Take note of that.

Just study their style and discern any patterns. Ask yourself why you think it works for them? How could you apply it to your writing?

Decades ago I read about the highlighter technique and applied it to the first chapter of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in a second paperback copy I bought specifically for this purpose. You take like five different colors, assign one for dialogue, narrative, description, internalizations, action, emotions, foreshadowing, humor, etc. Select what works for your genre.

Then mark up the story accordingly. I remember thinking she had a pretty good mix of all five in her first chapter. I'll have to look for it and confirm.

Regardless, I like very little description and I won't change that in my writing. I just hate the police blotter rendering of physical appearance (unless you are actually having your reader review a police intake form).

Still I need some. My tale employs people and places, and I need to share that with my reader. I give a bare-bones overview of my characters, but I really want my readers to conjure up somebody they like, instead of me being so exacting, so detail-oriented, that I portray their hated second grade teacher or an ex. That would be counterproductive.

Adverbs. I write a pretty clean first draft, but it is overrun with adverbs. Can't help those LY words creeping into my thoughts and showing up initially. My original text is a more creative version, with my internal editor gagged. But I can get rid of most useless adverbs--by using stronger verbs and concrete nouns--in the second go-round with a more critical review of my words.

Think of adverbs as flags. Making you choose better subjects and predicates.

Adjectives. Purple prose turns me off. But there is a way to hide those modifiers--put them after the noun they describe. For example: The slow, murky water of the winding river did not even reflect the sunlight. Traditional sentence structure, right? How about, instead, we do this: The river wound through the mountains, its water slow and murky and unreflective. Disguise some of your adjectives, mix up your sentence formation, try something new.

And you need not just use fiction for these exercises. I read Stephen King's On Writing recently and was wowed by how much detail and how many phrases the man could put in one sentence and not lose me. It was coherent. It was "plain" even. Just amazing. So even analyze a favorite How-To-Write book of yours that really spoke to you. Was the style conversational or instructional? Dry or witty? A mix of teaching and personal example?

Third, don't be an imitation of anyone else. Be the best you possible. These writing exercises are not to change your style, but to show you new ways to demonstrate your thoughts, some variations that improve clarity and may draw in your readers for a more emotional experience. Just assimilate some things that support your voice, elevate your writing--to where others are now saying, I wish I had written that.

Fourth, above all, communicate. Don't get so flowery your reader has to reread a sentence three times trying to figure it out. Don't use a five-syllable word your reader stumbles over and has to stop to look up in Webster's when a one- or two-syllable word  is concise and perfect for your use.

Fifth. Punctuation is critical. For example, commas can be your friend. Use a comma to denote a pause. Like I noted about Stephen King above, I really need to investigate his style with his long sentences and see why his commas worked. For he must have used a lot of pairs, to set apart his phrases, within each long sentence, from my memory. I'll have to check that out further.

Okay, guys. We are nearing November 1. Is your writing space set up for productivity? Clutter and dust strangle your creative side. See y'all soon online.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tip: Brainstorming

Are you like me, still floundering for an idea that would sustain 50K WC for your 2012 NaNo novel? How about let's do a brainstorming session, shall we?

1. List your 10 fave magazines.
2. List the top 3 fave sections of a bookstore for you.
3. List your top 10 favorite subjects that you can talk about for hours, research for days, weeks.
4. List the first 5 fave people who come to mind.
5. List the first 5 people you wish you had never met, or at least had confronted or said that witty comeback to.
6. List the top 3 adjectives that define your core.
7. List the top 3 things that tick you off. One of them is unsolicited solicitors for sure, IMO.
8. List 3 places you love or would love to visit for the first time.
9. List 3 people, living or dead, you wish you could spend time with. For me, I have a paternal great-grandmother that really made an impact on my dad and I would have loved to meet her in person.
10. List 5 of your fave memories.

That should do for now.

Then take your answers and circle at least one from each item that stands out the most.

You have your "top 10" list now but I want you to narrow it down to 5. Then study those 5 elements and see what kind of a story pops in your mind. Don't worry if it doesn't congeal right away. I know my brain needs marinating time for ideas, so don't despair. Two days from now, usually while unloading/loading the dishwasher, the beginnings of a wonderful story will hit me.

I hope the same for you.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tip: Focus

I usually come up with my titles fairly quickly, easily. Long before I have enough plot points to entail a novel-length tale. And I have a very clear picture in my mind what my cover will be. For four of my WIPs, I printed out a scene (I prefer landscapes to people), affixed my title and hung them near my desktop computer. Having your tagline taped to your screen can help too.

It is all about focus.

So, for your 2012 NaNo project, imagine what your perfect cover would look like. Search for it online or in magazines or sketch it out yourself or whatever. This does not have to be the one you actually use, just a prop to remind you of your story.

Then create your tagline, that one thought that sums up what you want to accomplish this time. Make it twenty-five words or less. Remember, you don't need your characters names here. Just an adjective and a noun. Like "burned spy" or "rogue agent" or "unemployed waitress" or "Italian businessman." You get the idea.

Then sum up the major conflict without giving anything away. Write it on a sticky note or an index card.

Now place those two things where you are mostly likely to see them on a daily basis.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor