Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Finding The Right Teacher

By mutual agreement, a student and I recently parted. I was frustrated because, over the course of six months, there was no growth in her work; she was frustrated because, over the course of six months, she had not gotten famous.

I write because I love it and I need it. I have an insatiable need to hear (read) stories and to tell stories. While everyone has an individual process, I believe that the best work is done when you concentrate on the work – you limit your distractions and you completely enter the world of the piece. That doesn’t mean you let the children fall down the stairs or that you can only write in a mountain cabin with moose peering in the window. But I believe it means it is rare to create good work when you have the television on, your iPod plugged into your ear, your cell phone in the other ear, and you are IM’ing while you type a word here and there on your WIP.

Writing takes commitment, patience, talent, imagination and complete attention. It also means sitting down and putting words on paper on the days when you don’t feel like it. A day off is a good thing for everyone. A week off and you’ve lost the thread of the work. You have to remember to play, to experiment with new techniques. But you also have to approach it as work – a vocation as much as an inspiration.

That means focus and attention. It means putting the words on paper. It means finishing what you start. It means putting the completed draft away so that you can revisit it a few weeks later and read it as though it was written by someone else. You can only bring it to the best it can be if you gain a certain amount of objectivity. While I don’t believe you must murder all your darlings, to paraphrase a famous writing quote, I do believe you have to remove what doesn’t work even when it’s something to which you’re attached.

You’re a writer. Nothing you do is ever wasted. Everything is material.

Once it is the best you can make it, then you send it to your Trusted Readers. And then you go back and work on it some more.

THEN, you have something you can sell.

It is not the only way. There are many writers – some of them quite successful – who market more than they write. They’ve found an audience. They fit their niche and they succeed. More power to them. It’s a brutal business, and I certainly applaud anyone who finds a way to play the system.

However, their writing doesn’t move me. It doesn’t transport me the way a poem by Jane Augustine or a novel by Elizabeth Berg does. I can’t fall into it, experience the world and live the novel because it’s all brand-names and surface clichés. It’s like skimming the front page of a newspaper – you see if your eyes rest on any of the words, and then read a paragraph or two before skipping to the next bit.

Is that how you want your work read? And NOT remembered?

Process is individual. Goals are individual. What you need to do is sit down and figure out how you want your writing future to unfold. What sort of career do you want? Do you want to regularly hit the bestseller list? There’s nothing wrong with commercial, popular writing. But it takes a different kind of process than it does to write a quiet, internal novel or a book of poetry or a travel tome.

The right teacher can help point you down the path. The teacher can’t do the work for you, but can offer suggestions to make the journey easier. The wrong teacher can do irreparable harm.

Several years ago, I spent four days a week in writing classes. One was taught by a writer whose work I knew and liked; I ended up writing a draft of a mystery novel which later evolved into the serial Tapestry and is re-defining itself as a novel again. The other was taught by a short story writer whose work I never read. She insisted that if we did not write in the cadence of John Gardner or Raymond Carver, we didn’t know anything about short stories and shouldn’t write. She berated several of us for trying to experiment with character and story and theme and told us we didn’t know anything about writing and should quit.

I quit the class instead.

Several months later, I saw her newest book. I flipped through it, figuring perhaps I would understand her point of view if I read her work.

I couldn’t get past the first page. It was hollow, insincere, and a cheap imitation of her favorite writers. It wasn’t her voice – it was a retelling of someone else’s, but without the original sparkle.

I put the book back.

There were people in the first class who left feeling frustrated because they found they didn’t enjoy the process of writing a mystery novel. There were people in the second class who thrived, because the teacher’s beliefs on writing resonated with them. Unfortunately, I was not one of them.

My Recalcitrant Student admitted she wanted the fame and fortune part, but did not want to do the actual writing. I suggested that she find a teacher who worked more from the marketing angle – i.e., those who swear that, even without a track record, you can land a six figure deal on a query letter without a manuscript or a track record. If she can do it, good for her.

But we are not a good match.

On the flip side, I participate in the Abysnthe Muse mentoring program. The young woman with whom I’m working is never afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work. And she takes suggestions and not only uses them, but makes a leap of the imagination, taking it farther and better than I could ever hope.

We are a good match.

The right teacher is as important as the right agent, the right editor, and the right reader. Finding those people takes time and patience. And a willingness to honestly end the relationship in as positive a way as possible when it does not work.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Power of Words

The British Nazi historian, David Irving, will be spending Christmas and New Year behind the bars of a Viennese jail after being remanded for four weeks pending trial in January, for allegedly lying about the Holocaust.

Irving was arrested two weeks ago and has been charged with denying there were gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp in speeches he made in Austria 16 years ago.

At the recent custody hearing the magistrate dismissed Mr Irving's lawyer's request for bail on the grounds he was a “flight risk” and that Britain might “refuse extradition back to Austria for trial”.

He is to be tried under a 1947 Austrian law banning Nazi revivalism and criminalising belittling or justifying the crimes of the Third Reich. Irving faces a jail term of one to ten years if found guilty.

Mr Irving intents to plead guilty, but also to declare his remorse and insist that he has changed his views on the Third Reich since he made the speeches back in 1989. Irving said “after researching the Russian archives in the 1990s, I've repented. I've no intention of repeating these views. I fully accept this [the holocaust], it's a fact. The discussion on Auschwitz, the gas chambers and the Holocaust is finished - it's useless to dispute it."

Mr Irving’s case highlights a potent risk for any writer; the power mere words can have, no matter how long ago they were written.

Whatever the subject matter, every writer goes through the same process when they are writing about something that others may construe as being controversial or taboo.

In modern days, novelists still have difficulty introducing certain subject matters into their work, not just because it may be economically suicidal, but also because writing about something society finds hard to accept, means you are handing over a part of your soul to it, and that can be the problem.

For instance, I could never write about the subject of paedophilia. From a personal point of view it disgusts me and I would wish castration on anyone involved in such activities. Writing about it connects me to it on a level I would not want to go to. I would have to address it emotionally, attempt to understand it and then through my words, I would be emitting an opinion, however subtle. I simply could not do it.

When Mr Irving wrote those speeches about the Holocaust sixteen years ago, who knew what was going through his mind. Maybe he had a connection somehow, or maybe he was just interested from a historical point of view. But no matter how he came to his conclusions back then, his misguided views became greyed and he published his opinion, which he surely must have known would be highly controversial.

The subject of Mr. Irving’s right to a freedom of speech is naturally a concern, but not the point here. That’s for another article and it probably won’t concern Mr. Irving. I’m thinking Salmon Rushdie; victim or suicide in the cause of free speech? You see where I’m going with this.

The fact that Irving has since done more research and has changed his opinion doesn’t take away from the fact that his thoughts were made public. They were published and that is how he will be forever remembered. He said it, therefore the scar will remain forever no matter how he tries to remove it. Whether a jury will see it like that remains to be seen. He may end up paying a hefty price for his opinion expressed through the medium of literature.

In short, don’t write anything you might never want people to read some day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Grab and Go at the Library

I sometimes use this approach to selecting books at the library. I walk through different sections and grab a book off the shelf at random. I don't stop to look at what I've picked up; I just grab something and head for the circulation desk. The grab and go approach has introduced me to numerous authors, some have even landed on my Book Wish List. I've come across a few unappealing works using the method but I only invested a little time so it's no big deal. It's fun to walk through the bookstore and see all the names of authors I've tried at the library. Whether I liked the work or not, I recognize the author's name. The next time you're in the library, try the grab and go method. You may just find a treasure.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Give Thanks

Give Thanks for your talent and drive to write;

Give Thanks for the insatiable need humans have for stories;

Give Thanks for those who surround you and support you;

Give Thanks for being alive.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Don't Forget Your Roots

When Edinburgh was announced as the first City of Literature, many people assumed some money would be put into promoting the fact that the Scottish capital has a rich and diverse history in the world of literature.

All through history, writers have lived in and been fascinated by the city of Edinburgh; from greats such as Sir Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle to JK Rowling and Ian Rankin. The world famous Edinburgh International Book Festival attracts thousands of readers and big name guest writers from all over the world each year.

Yet Edinburgh still suffers from a lack of political foresight. The Writers' Museum in the Lawnmarket, provides access to the collections of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns and you would imagine that one of its greatest sons, Robert Louis Stevenson, would also be remembered in such a way.

Some of the finest Stevenson artefacts, including photographs of his life in Scotland, France, California and Samoa, letters and a pair of the author's boots, are kept under lock and key because there are not enough staff to attend them.

The museum is run by Edinburgh City Council, but the Stevenson collection has been closed for 75 per cent of the time in recent years because of staffing shortages. Stevenson fans are outraged that the Council allows this to happen, particularly while the city is at the centre of the world’s literary stage.

Their frustration is borne out of the mis-management of Edinburgh Council, when this summer it spent thousands of pounds of tax-payers money implementing road restrictions in the city centre, only to announce they were reversing them last week because they weren’t working.

Elaine Greig, Curator of the Writers' Museum, said “Stevenson is by far the most popular writer with visitors. However, the Stevenson collection has always been kept in the basement and, as a consequence, is the first place to shut when staffing was low.”

Edinburgh's Lord Provost, Lesley Hinds, promised to install extra staff at the museum following the complaints. She said: "I hope it will be more accessible and available than at the moment."

The council said a receptionist had been deployed to the museum, allowing two attendants to staff all areas, and it hoped this would become permanent.

Ian Nimmo, Chairman of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club, said “One of the main conditions that the RLS Club agreed with the city when it handed over its collection for safe keeping, was that it would be on public view."

"Too often, the Stevenson Room at the Writers' Museum is closed and hundreds of visitors with a Stevenson interest are being turned away disappointed. As the City of Literature, Edinburgh must surely do better."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Write What You Know

For my entire writing career, I’ve always heard “write what you know”. But what I really believe is this: Write what you want to know.

I haven’t really lived a very long life, so if I wrote what I knew, I’d put readers to sleep. I don’t know if elves, fairies, dragons or dwarves really exist. Or if there really is such a thing as magic, ghosts and angels. I’ve never killed anyone or used drugs or been involved in a sword fight. I’ve never time traveled to the past or the distant future. I’ve never been in a hurricane or a blizzard or even seen more than a foot of snow (I live in Texas).

But I write about all these things. I write about magic and dragons, blizzards and sword fights. Just because I’ve never seen or done these things, doesn’t mean I can’t write about them. Right?

It’s one part imagination and another part research and reading. Read voraciously. Everything you’re interested in and maybe things you don’t know you’re interested in. Part of being a writing is being inquisitive and learning.

So. Write what you know and what you WANT to know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Writers' Haven

Every time I see an empty commercial building, I dream of taking out a lease on it, or, better yet, purchasing it.

I have no desire to run a restaurant or a gift shop. But I harbor a fantasy of owning a Writers’ Haven. A place where writers could rent space cheaply (hourly, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly) or come and read or hang out in a café and be with other writers.

The bottom floor would have a sunny, well-lit, comfortable lobby where participants could wait for friends or make phone calls. A Welcome Desk would figure prominently, with a friendly but firm staff to take care of paperwork, and make sure that the rules were followed.

There wouldn’t be many rules. But they would include:

1) Respect others’ time, space, and quiet.
2) No cell phones. Zero tolerance policy. If your cell phone rings anywhere other than the lobby or the cafe, you are banned from the center for good. If you receive a vibrating call, you can only answer the call or return it in the lobby or café. You CANNOT answer it as you are walking out of the room, screeching at the top of your lungs.
3) No chewing gum or food in the writing and reading areas. There’s a place to eat and snack. Beverages are allowed.
4) No personal stereos or iPods. Even if you’ve got that plug in your ear, if I can hear it from here, it’s too damned loud.

The first floor would contain the café, which would have a variety of delicious foods – some filling comfort foods, some healthy foods, and wonderful treats like chocolate cake. And plenty of coffee. The aromas of fresh, seasonal food stimulate creativity. Readings and even short plays are staged there.

The second floor would be split into two sections. At the back of the building would be The Sanctuary. It would be designed along the lines of an English country house library, with many sorts of books, large wooden tables, comfortable chairs in which to sit and write, and comfortable chairs in which to sit and read. No computers allowed in the room. Only longhand. The doors to the rest of the building would be soundproofed and kept closed, and the staff (hopefully working on their own novels) assigned to the room would enforce the rules. It would smell like books.

The front section would be more relaxed and modern, with a series of large and small tables with computer hookups. Maybe even play music quietly. Tropical, slightly citrusy scents would fill the air, since citrus is a mood enhancer.

Writers’ groups could book either of the above for their meetings.

The third floor would contain a series of small, private rooms that writers could rent out, if they want office space.

This offers different levels of privacy and quiet, depending upon the creative process. And, it would be near enough to the center of the town so writers can take a break and walk around, and visit other businesses and restaurants in the area. Anyone who wished could come to the café. And yes, people can write in the café. They don’t have to write in one of the rooms.

It’s a pipe dream, but, when I get sick and tired of hearing the staff talk loudly on their cell phones in the public library, or have to deal with bone-crushing walkman noise on the train, I think about such a haven. And I smile.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Place for Scottish Writers

Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, an Edinburgh bar located on the corner of Hanover Street and Rose Street, became famous for its association with local writers who would gather there to discuss ideas over a drink. It was the place to be for anyone who was anyone in the Scottish literary world.

That bar was Milne's Bar and although the bards of old are gone, the pub still thrives as a city centre venue for drinkers. All that remains of the historic literary connection between the pub and its writing associates, are the plaques and framed poems and pictures scattered around all the walls of the below ground establishment.

Milne's was the first choice pub for the cream of Scottish writers and poets who would gather to talk about literature and its place in the world. Literary characters such as Norman McCaig and Hugh MacDiarmid were well known faces in the bar.

Now, almost half a century on, a similar venue is emerging for the next generation of Scottish writers. It has a different outlook but the essence is the same; giving writers a chance to get together over a pint of a dram to talk about whatever the wind is carrying.

The Traverse Bar is the new venue for Scottish writers, and since its launch in September this year, it has already seen such luminaries as Ian Rankin, Valerie Gillies and Edinburgh International Book Festival director Catherine Lockerbie pass through the doors and order a bevvy.

The project has been organised by the same people behind Edinburgh's Unesco World City of Literature status campaign. The literary events are held on the last Tuesday of every month and the venue has been billed as a "rallying point" for anyone in the city's literary field.

The idea is to recreate the role played by Milne's Bar back in the old days. Sophy Dale, project manager for Edinburgh City of Literature, said the events were aimed at writers, poets, publishers, booksellers and literary agents.

The first two "salons" evenings proved very popular, she said, with almost 150 people turning up. She said: "We decided to promote the idea of a literary salon and we would like it to grow organically. It's not an attempt to recreate Milne's Bar, but it's a similar sort of thing. There's very little formal aspect to it and we are just giving people the 'push' to get involved.

It's a great way for people to find out about things that they are interested in and a chance to catch up and have a chat informally. The Traverse Bar seemed like the obvious choice."

The organisers have their fingers crossed they wil be able to attract world famous writers such as JK Rowling and Alexander McCall Smith to future events. Having attended the second salon evening held on October 25, Rankin and Gillies said they would "definitely" be going back.

Rankin said "I don't think emulating Milne's Bar is possible or even relevant in the 21st century. You can't imitate Milne's because being a writer these days is a very different job from what it was back then. You don't get the free time when you can just sit in bars and schmooze with everyone who turns up.

Monday, November 14, 2005

John Fowles (1926 - 2005)

British author, John Fowles, died at his home last week. The fiercely private author penned The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Magus and The Collector among others. The former teacher was 79.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

So . . . What's in Your Library?

As fiction writers we all want to get the edge on our competition and there are a plethora of writing how-to books to help us gain any advantage.

So, how do you choose a book to help you get started. Well the first start would be a book on the basics - sentence structure, grammar and word tenses. Next would be a book relating to POV (Point of View) writing. I begin here because you have to know how to write (believe it or not, not everyone can write a book) and you have to know how to show the story (POV).

Some of the best books I know of for beginners are:

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Write Tight by William Brohaugh
Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
On Writing by Stephen King

No need to spend any more money as these are the most crucial tools and there are hundreds of books out there. In fact in the forward of On Writing by Stephen King, he writes " This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit." - Stephen King, On Writing, xvii, July 2002.

I'm sure some will have a different view but I believe The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman is one such useless book. I could get the same information from my twelve-year-old.

Okay, now you have your first draft completed. Now what? Well, you edit of course. A few books I refer to often in the editing process are:

Word Painting - A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClannahan
Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
The Art and Craft of Poetry by Michael J. Bugeja

There are countless others, but these are the ones I use . . . and use often.

Utilize your local library if you don't want to spend the money. If they don't have them, they can get them for you.

After you've polished your manuscript you then need to find an agent who in turn will find you a publisher. Then the real work begins with marketing and promotion, your next book, more marketing and promotion, etc.

In short, the process really begins once you've typed THE END!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Dealing With Rejection

It’s never an easy thing to open up your email or mailbox and see that rejection letter. Especially if it’s from an editor you really wanted to sell to. But such is the way of things in the life of a writer. We’ve all been rejected at one time or another, even the big name authors – JK Rowling and Stephen King, for example.

Getting that form letter can be a crushing blow. We want to read between the lines, search for hidden meaning if there was no feedback. “Do I suck as a writer?” “Am I just not good enough?” “Will I ever sell?”

I have first hand experience with rejection, too. Most of them I expect. Some of them I have high hopes for an acceptance only to receive that “It’s good but…”. Good, not good enough.

Seeing that made me want to throw my hands up in the air and shout to no one in particular, “What’s the point?” Why should I keep trying? Keep going? When all I’m going to get is the “good, just not good enough” rejections. The only silver lining, if you can call it that, is the fact the editor said she wanted me to keep them in mind for my future work.

Writers have to deal with rejection in their own way. Maybe you need to sit in a alone in a dark corner with a beer in one hand and a bowl of peanuts in the other. Or take that rejection and burn it in a bonfire. For me, I need to wallow in self-pity for a little while, eat chocolate, and whine to my writer friends. One time I suggested I would stop writing altogether if I got rejected again. The response I got were gasps of horror. Of course, I have no intention of quitting. But for one brief moment in time…I considered it.

Really… a rejection just means no. That’s all. Just no. You don’t suck, you are good enough, and you will sell. Those are the positive reinforcements you have to keep in the back of your mind when reading those rejections. Because no one can take the dream away from you. Only YOU can take away the dream. YOU are the only one who are in control of what you write and when you write.

Don’t let anyone ever steal the dream.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What, ME Make a Mistake???

For any aspiring writer, tips from the pros are always welcome. In my own writing, I have found this link highly valuable. Holt Uncensored has an article titled "Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)."

This insightful article helps us to see that sometimes, you CAN get "too close" to your own writing (something I have been guilty of myself on occasion) and the article identifies common mistakes that writers sometimes make. I have found it extremely beneficial.

The link is here: Holt Uncensored.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ripen Your Writing

A growing number of my students have come to me lately, wondering why their work is steadily rejected. These are good writers, careful proofreaders, and they’re enthusiastic about their work.

Their opinions on the matter mostly consist of:

1) I suck.

2) Too many people are writing and submitting; I don’t have a chance in hell unless I know somebody.

Both of those are not correct.

First of all, what’s “good” and what’s “bad” is subjective, once you get past sloppy writing, lousy spelling and careless grammar. There are thousands of stories that long to be told and thousands of ways to tell them. Human beings have an insatiable need for stories, and have since Bards traveled around singing histories around campfires. There’s always room for a well-told story.

I know the work of these concerned students. They do good work. And, because of the vast variety of personal points of view held by publishers and editors, it takes a good bit of work to find a good match, but it can be done.

So why are these good writers getting rejected?

Because they’re sending in early drafts instead of completed work.

I challenged several of them recently, and the process for the rejected work is the same:

Writer gets excited about a new idea.

Writer gushes out idea; sags in the middle, picks back up and forces through.

Writer skims over the work, catches grammar and spelling errors, changes a phrase here and there, prints a clean copy, and sends it out.

Writer is rejected.


Because the work is not yet finished.

There are very few writers who can do one quick pass over a first draft and have something that’s saleable. You are still to close to the work, too caught up in the excitement and the love affair of creation to be able to sit back and look at it with any sort of objectivity.

So what should the writer do?

Stick it in a drawer for two weeks to two months and go work on something else.

Obviously, if there’s a deadline attached and you wrote the piece the day before the deadline, this won’t work. We’ve all done it; we’ve all cringed. Sometimes, we even get away with it. Often, we don’t. The process can be truncated, once you have plenty of experience.

But, if you’re not on an official, paying deadline . . .put it away.

Work on something else.

Come back to it when you can read it as though it was written by someone else.

Then and only then will you be able to truly see what works and doesn’t work. Then you can work on another draft. Maybe several other drafts. A few more drafts down the line, you can show it to your Trusted Readers – and then go back and do yet another draft.

Now it’s ready to be sent out. And now, when an editor or publisher receives it, it is less likely to get a rejection. It’s seasoned, it’s ripened, it’s improved with age.

This is not the only way to write, and yes, there are some writers who work through their drafts slowly and methodically and turn out a perfect first or second draft. “Slowly” and “methodically” are the keys, and sometimes it takes years to produce a finished work. Most of those writers have solid track records, with years of experience and a string of novels in which they’ve honed their process.

If you’re close to the start of the career, don’t shoot yourself in the foot, burn needless bridges, and use the clichés I’m using here that are sure to get your work rejected. Remember, if you pummel an editor with a flurry of early drafts, hoping that this one will be accepted, all you do is annoy the editor. The editor needs to see growth from piece to piece, and needs to see that you’re doing everything in your power to make it the best, most complete, well-written piece it can be. Take the time to craft the work. Send out your best version of the work – even if it takes months or years to achieve.

Work on new projects as drafts ripen. Always have something to write, something to edit, and something in the drawer fermenting. Keep the creativity in motion, but don’t shoot it out before its time.

A half-baked pie is not going to win the top prize at the County Fair. A half-baked novel is not going to win a contract.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Very Popular Charles Dickens

The BBC is currently broadcasting one of the finest Charles Dickens novels, Bleak House, in a TV adaptation taking form as a 15-part epic. It has an all-star cast including such actors and actresses like Denis Lawson, Gillian Anderson, Timothy West, Emma Williams, Charles Dance, Pauline Collins and Warren Clarke.

The period drama has captured the imaginations of the UK viewing public and proved the catalyst for a resurgence of interest in the work of Charles Dickens.
Sales of the Portsmouth-born writer have soared since Bleak House hit the airwaves and it was reported in the last four weeks alone to have sold over 5000 copies, helping it to surge back up the paper-book charts.

When approached by her bosses at the BBC, the Head of Drama, Jane Tranter, said the project was "Bold, fresh and imaginative," But she wanted a new approach that would capture the minds of the nation. "We wanted something unexpected, rather than the well-established routine of 'four hours on Sunday nights at 9pm'."

The idea for the lengthy drama serial came while Jane was leafing through the introduction to the novel. "Bleak House was written to be serialised in twenty parts - one a month," Jane explains. "So why not mirror Dickens' original concept - twenty parts, half-an-hour each? Run them twice a week before the watershed. Bring Dickens back to the mainstream popular audience he was writing for!"

Jane's bosses at the BBC responded with enthusiasm and the rest as they, is history. Bleak House is aired twice-weekly on Thursday's and Fridays and repeated on Sundays.
A DVD of the series is due for release on February 6th 2006 and can be pre-ordered from

For further info:

Monday, November 07, 2005

Digital Book Programs from Amazon

Thursday, announced the company is currently developing two new programs, using the successful, two year-old Search Inside the Book feature for leverage.

The first program, Amazon Pages, will allow consumers to purchase parts of a book rather than the entire book. Purchased parts will be readable online.

Amazon Upgrade, the second program, will allow consumers to purchase a complete online version of physical books they purchase. The book can then be accessed online 24/7.

The announcement didn't indicate an anticipated launch time.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Finding the Right Writers Forum

Writers Forums - they are everywhere. Yahoo has hundreds as do most electronic literary journals. They crop up everywhere; just Google and you will see. But how do you know which forum is right for you? How can you possibly make an appropriate decision with all the choices available?

First, you must determine what you want from the forum. Are you searching for an agent? Do you need help with grammar and punctuation? Are you searching for publication or just someone to critique a chapter?

Think about how much time you intend to spend on the forum(s). Most forums are beneficial but can become procratination tools and out-and-out time wasters if you aren't careful.

Some forums are specific to genre while others are more general. Again, this is where you'll have to know what you want to get out of the forum.

Then there is the question of what you can bring to other members in the group. Are you a published author? Sharing your path to publication is a wonderful way to help other writers. Are you fluent in another language? Great. Are you proficient with HTML coding and website design? Share it.

Now that you know what you want out of a forum and what you have to offer, the next step is finding one with other dedicated writers. As we all know deception and fraud is prevalent on the internet. Predators can lurk on writers forums just as anonomously and maliciously as they can on a youth oriented message board. Don't think you are safe just because you can click the over 18 button without hesitation.

As a veteran of quite a few message boards, my best advice is always use an alias on a public forum. It protects your privacy and when you become a best-seller, all those stupid newbie questions and responses cannot be googled and come back to haunt you. Lurk for awhile before posting. Are the members cordial and friendly or constantly sniping and degrading one another? Keep searching until you find one you feel comfortable with.

Here are a few I recommend:

Backspace - $30.00 year but well worth it and you get a free five-day trial period. There are over 400 members and a Guest Speaker program with agents, publishers and best selling authors. Since it is a private forum, it cannot be googled.

AbsoluteWrite - with over 4,000 members Absolutewrite boast an all incompassing array of boards in which to post questions and gather information. It is frequented by authors such as Victoria Strauss, Ann Crispin and Dave Kuzminski - the watchdogs of scam artists.

Hatrack - Hatrack River is the official Website of Orson Scott Card and boasts a writers forum with many knowledgeable and seasoned writers from all genres.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Value of Trusted Readers

One of the most important support systems any writer at any level of the business can have is a group of Trusted Readers. These people are your anchor, your cornerstone, your reality check.

What do Trusted Readers do?

They are the people who take a look at your work before you burn bridges and tell you, honestly, where it works and where it doesn’t.

A Trusted Reader:

--Is not related to you.

--Is not involved with you romantically or sexually.

--Has no agenda in regard to your career other than desiring and believing in your writing integrity.

--Is honest with you, in both criticism and praise.

--Is constructive, not cruel.

--Does not have to be another writer, but MUST be someone who loves to read.

--Understands the quirks of your work – both the little eccentricities that enhance it and the bad habits you fall into. Your Trusted Reader can catch you out in a way that does not make you feel as though you’ve failed or disappointed anyone – the Trusted Reader encourages you to give it another go and fix what doesn’t work. And applauds what does work.

As writers, far too often we show a first draft to someone we trust in order to get positive feedback. While this is an important part of the process for some, that is not where you use your Trusted Readers. Your Trusted Readers are the two or three people who get the last look at the work before you send it to an agent/editor/publisher. It is a sign of respect to them and to your regard for them that you show them as polished a piece as you can. Then, and only then, can they truly respond in their capacity as Trusted Reader.

Writers always want their families and partners to support their writing; indeed, if a writer is involved with someone unsupportive, the writer needs to weigh the need to write against the relationship, because it is rare that they will be able to sustain each other. Author and coach Eric Maisel states it well in his book A Writer’s Paris: “There are some simple tests to determine the essential soundness of an intimate relationship, and one is to ask whether each partner actively supports the other’s dream of recognition. Anyone who shares a bed with you ought to support your efforts to write and get published. If he doesn’t, he is failing you; and that failure may bite hard.” (p. 82).

Yet even the most loving, supportive, well-intentioned partner cannot serve the same purpose as a Trusted Reader. Can you have a writing career without one or more Trusted Readers? Of course. Everyone’s process is different, and every time we create, we have to reinvent the wheel. But a Trusted Reader smoothes the way, offering support, encouragement, and keeping your work on track. A Trusted Reader serves the purpose of clergy in the Church of Creativity. The Trusted Reader is a valuable necessity. Choose yours sparingly and wisely, and you will have a foundation for a lifetime of work.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832)

Sir Walter Scott was born on August 15, 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland. A writer, poet and born storyteller, he was one of the greatest historical novelists Scotland has seen.

The son of a solicitor, Walter, and professor of medicine, Anne, Walter Scott was one of eleven children in the family, although six of them died in infancy. He contracted polio while very young and this left him permanently lame in his right leg, but he grew up to be over six feet tall. In 1775 the family moved to a more spacious house in George Square, where Scott was to live until 1797.

Scott's interest in old Border tales and ballads was keen and he devoted much of his time exploring the Border countryside. In his early years, Scott spent a lot of time in Sandy-Know, the residence of his paternal grandfather. There his grandmother told him tales of old heroes.

At the age of eight he returned to Edinburgh and attended Edinburgh High School from 1779 to 1783. He went on to study Arts and Law at Edinburgh University between 1783 and 1786 and after a disruption caused by illness, resumed and completed his studies between 1789 and 1792.

Scott was apprenticed to his father in 1786 and in 1792 he qualified as an advocate. Scott married Margaret Charlotte Charpentier, daughter of Jean Charpentier of Lyon, in France in 1797 and together they had five children. In 1799 he was appointed sheriff depute to the county of Selkirk.

In 1802 Scott's first major work was published, Minstrelsy Of The Scottish Border. As a poet, Scott rose to fame with the publication of The Lay Of The Last Minstrel in 1805, about an old border country legend. He had burned its first version, when his friends did not like it, but it became a huge success and helped establish his name.

In 1806 Scott became clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, though this work took little time and for six months of the year he was free to write. He spent long holidays at Ashestiel on the River Tweed and to increase his income, he started a printing and publishing business with his friend James Ballantyne.

The firm ran into financial difficulties however, and Scott spent his time labouring hard for his publishers. Scott also expanded his Abbotsford estate during these years, but it was not until 1826 when things finally crashed. He accepted all Ballantyne's debts and decided to pay them off with his writings, to the tune of £130,000 (millions today).

Scott published all his novels anonymously. Initially this may have been a precaution after the failure of Waverley in 1814, which dealt with the 1745 rebellion, but even after it did become successful, Scott enjoyed prolonging the mystery of his identity. It soon became an open secret, but it was not until February 1827 that he officially "revealed" himself, at a public dinner in Edinburgh.

Scott wrote profusely from 1815 to 1819, publishing 9 novels, among them the famous Rob Roy in 1817, which sold out its edition of 10,000 copies in two weeks, The Heart Of Midlothian in 1818 was and Ivanhoe in 1819.

In the 1820’s eight more titles came, but after the company folded in 1826 the author's anonymity was destroyed, and he was finally exposed to the general public as Sir Walter Scott.

In 1820 he was created a baronet and a few years later he founded the Bannatyne Club, which published old Scottish documents. Prior to the publication of his nine-volume work, Life Of Napoleon, Scott had started to keep a journal, recording in it his weakening spirit and deteriorating health.

His wife, Lady Scott, died in 1826, and Scott himself suffered a stroke in 1830. The following year he sailed to Italy then Malta, where he wrote a novel and a short story. He returned to England in 1832, and collapsed and died at Abbotsford on September 21st. Scott was buried beside his ancestors in Dryburgh Abbey and from the profits of his writings, all his debts were paid off.

Sir Walter Scott's influence as a novelist was profound. He established the form of the historical novel and his work inspired many great writers in his wake. His work has been analysed and criticised by many groups throughout history, from European Marxist critics, to scholars, philosophers and writers.

Edinburgh's Scott Monument, built in 1844, the nearby Waverley Station and numerous public houses, bear witness to Scott’s extraordinary status in Victorian Britain. For it was Sir Walter Scott who largely defined Scotland's image in the 20th century.