The truth about writing? Famous authors chime in

By Faran Fagen

Tuesday Tips

For some Tuesday fun, decided to comb the internet for off-the-cuff quotes from famous authors about writing. Some are pretty amazing, others pretty amusing. Enjoy!

1. The first draft of everything is crap.-Ernest Hemingway
2. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -David Ogilvy
3. If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker
4. Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. -Paul Theroux
5. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee
6. You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London
7. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell
8. There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham
9. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King
10. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman
11. Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright
12. If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser
13. Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut
14. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway
15. Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway
16. Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk
17. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain
18. Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. ― Neil Gaiman
19. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde
20. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ― Ray Bradbury
21. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

Halloween Character Archetypes for your Novel

Halloween is a fun time where we can wear whatever we want and party. I’m sharpening my characters in this layer of revision of my work in progress. I want to make sure the character arcs pan out and that my character’s roles with each other are well defined. In the course of that process, I revisited Carl Jung’s archetypes. With them fresh in my mind, I went off to a Halloween party and had to laugh at how the costumes and personalities frequently matched the archetypes.

 

Hero: Wants to change the world. He fears internal weakness.

 

 

Jester: Seeks fun and yet fears  boredom.

 

 

 

Creator: Wants to realize her vision. She hates mediocrity.

 

 

 

Care Giver: Loves to help others and deplores selfishness (so she shares her jello-shot).

 

 

 

Sage: Seeks knowledge and is afraid of deception

 

 

 

Magician: Wishes to alter reality which can sometimes lead to inadvertent results.

 

 

 

Innocent: Wants happiness and doesn’t want retribution. It is said that if you want a great costume, go for the reverse of your personality.

 

 

Explorer: Wants freedom and fears entrapment

Revolutionary: Is the rebel who fears having no power.

 

 

Ruler: Generally wants prosperity and fears being overthrown (by the UPS man).

Lover: Wants connection and detests isolation. A friend, who really is a connector and therefore great at sales, dressed as the UPS man.

Every-man: Wants to belong and not be excluded from the group, yet not stand out. Wearing a hat with skeleton face on it took care of that.

 

The next day, in thinking about my characters, I wondered what they would have worn to the party. The fun visuals helped me to better identify them and the behaviors I want to portray. This Halloween season, ask yourself what costume would your characters wear?

Tuesday Tips: Shaping a Scene

Well, it’s my turn for Tuesday Tips, which means I get to share some tips for writing. All of the tips I share are based on my own experience, because even though I may have learned about a certain technique in a writing workshop, it’s not until I apply the knowledge that I actually learn how to do it.

Lately, my scenes have been hard coming. I know what I want to happen, but presenting it in a page-turning, satisfying way is often more difficult. So I’ve been applying what I learned in several Joyce Sweeney workshops—the idea that a scene has rising conflict and a climax.

What helps me is to remember that every scene is essentially a mini short story, so when I’m struggling with a scene, I break it down into parts. First, it needs to introduce the characters and the setting. Then something needs to happen to trigger the conflict. Next it needs rising action, where the conflict heats up, and it needs a climax, where the conflict comes to a head. It also needs a resolution, which often leads the reader to want to find out what happens next. I’ve discovered that plotting out what happens in each of these parts makes writing the scene much easier.

But sometimes even my best-plotted scenes go haywire. Why is that? Usually it’s because I try to sneak in other stuff, like character thoughts and feelings from past events, or plot-point resolutions from other scenes.

So here’s my advice to you—and to myself. Stick to the plan, Stanley! Plot out the elements of the scene and don’t try to sneak in other stuff. Sometimes other stuff comes in organically, and that’s fine, but when I try to sneak in all these other details—in other words, when I try to do too much in a scene—that’s when the scene starts to fall apart.

As soon as I post this, I’m going to start working on a new scene, so it’s helpful for me to remember all this. Hopefully I’ll have a good, productive writing day as a result.

Giving your reader a grand finale

By Faran Fagen
Tuesday Tips

Last Tuesday, I wrote about strong opening chapters and beginnings.

Since I scored Tuesday Tips for the second straight week, why not close with powerful endings?

Once you reach that moment in your writing when you grasp the essence of your story, the evolution of the characters, what you want your reader to experience, you start to get a feel for the ending as well.

You may not know exactly what the ending will be, but you have an idea. All writing is a series of choices, and the ending is no different.

As you get closer to the turning point and climax, the ending should get firmer in your mind.

The ending should wrap the reader in a bubble that contains all the remaining questions of the novel. It should make the reader feel included and smart – like they just solved a very complex puzzle.

The ending should feel one of a kind – like it’s the only ending this book could possibly have. And it should offer a reward for the reader – sort of a here’s-what-you-win for journeying this far.

You want the reader to think “oh, that’s why this happened.” In that vein, it’s important for the main character to learn and grow and seem transformed in some way. You also want to tie up loose ends so the reader feels satisfied. You want to increase the pace but no tricks or surprises. Tie up loose ends quietly.

In the end, the story should give a sense of wonder that bridges to the real world. Like they just took a nice hot shower before going back to life.

A few of my favorite ending lines:
1. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you just start missing everybody”. – Catcher in the Rye
2. “And the tree was happy.” – The Giving Tree
3. “Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.” – Dr. Seuss

  • What’s your favorite ending line?

Key to first chapters: Just a taste

Tuesday Tips

by Faran Fagen

They say first impressions are everything.

Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but in writing, it is.

I’m revising, and decided to change the setting of the first chapter – again.

This time, though, I’m bringing in the heavy artillery before I run the bases.

In the past week since my critique mates gave me some keen insight, I’ve sorted through notes and handouts from conferences and classes. Some of my favorites mentors and coaches.

Most notably, the information on first chapters and beginnings. And now, in the spirit of Tuesday Tips, I share the highlights with you:

What scene can best dramatize the main character’s ordinary world, showing a lack that can only be corrected by the inciting event?

This comes from a class with my longtime mentor Joyce Sweeney. This one sentence sums up the importance of painting a picture of the character’s ordinary would, coupled with his or her pressing problem that will engage the reader. And the importance to illustrate these elements early on.

Some other quick tips from Joyce: the main job of the first scene is to make readers want to keep reading, should be lively action and allow for reader to bond with main character.

However, one single tip that sticks out comes from another one of my author idols, Chris Crutcher, who I met at a writing conference.
He told me not to reveal my entire hand at the start of the book and always leave my reader wanting more.
I find when I follow that mantra, it often leads to a strong chapter.

“Your character either needs to want something desperately or to avoid something desperately. She/he must then overcome increasingly difficult obstacles that stand in his/her way in order to reach this goal.” – author Donna Gephart.

From agent/editor Lorin Oberweger: Character agency is paramount at the start of a novel. What makes your character act? What is your character in pursuit of? How is the character describing the setting with their attitude?

Author and writing teacher Marjetta Geerling taught me in a class to create a sense of urgency in the first scene, but never make the stakes too high because you need to be able to raise the stakes as the book goes on.

Author and fellow Tuesday Stacie Ramey gave me some invaluable advice last week – don’t use too many internals in the first chapter because the reader doesn’t know your character well enough yet to care about their deep thoughts.

In researching openings, I reread part of “The Magic Words” by editor Cheryl Klein, who edited some of the Harry Potter Books. She suggests that the author should offer hints, little details, and shafts of light to illuminate the characters and world that you’re about to journey into. And help the reader get anchored within that world.

I was reading a former post by Tuesday buddy Jonathan Rosen, and he talked about the success of his debut book stemming from his decision to make his book as funny as possible (if you ever read Jonathan’s new book, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, you know humor is his strength).
I decided that I was going to write the most powerful, telling sports action scenes, since agents have told me that’s my strength.

Buy my favorite one-liner about beginnings has to come from Klein. At the end of her chapter on book beginnings, she says:
“Write your first chapter like you’re performing a strip tease, not going to a nude beach.”

Using Isolation for your Novel Characters

Waiting out Hurricane Irma with no power, and no phone service got me thinking about isolation. Humans are inherently social creatures. We seek the company of others. I was fortunate to have my husband with me so there was plenty of conversation, but also time to contemplate. We as humans need conversation, we want to be included in groups, whether it’s a sports team or a religious group or even a fabulous critique group. I thought about the long term effects of isolation to a person and how it could affect one’s character.

Psychologists say that socialization is critical for the mental health of children and seniors. There are two types of isolation: social and physical. Social isolation occurs when someone feels they don’t fit in. Bullying is a prime example as is the archaic practice of shunning. Physical isolation occurs if someone is tangibly prevented from interacting with others like in a kidnapping. People can both mentally and physically isolate themselves from intense fear like a survivalist who lives in the woods.

Social isolation has been used as a tool in many thrillers. Children who are bullied can become serial killers as in The Wilderness of Ruin, a true crime novel about Jesse Pomeroy, a boy who at the age of fourteen became a serial killer.  Adults can be bullied at work, leading someone to ‘go postal’. The Shunning by B. Lewis is a story about a bride shunned by the Amish.

Think about how isolation would affect you. If you suddenly ended up alone in a desperate situation would you shrivel up and cry or organize your thoughts to figure out a necessary strategy? Would you become increasingly depressed until you couldn’t function, or would you be so anxious you’d have a heart attack?

 

Studying how isolation affects human nature can be useful in plotting or as backstory for one of your characters. The effects of isolation can enhance your characters actions and motivations. Use isolation to increase tension, and heighten suspense to keep your readers turning the pages as fast as a hurricane.

Writers, like the rest, need be dexterous and deft

By Faran Fagen

Tuesday Tips

“You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
– From “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books of all time.
This time of year, as I set up my classroom, get my kids’ school supplies, and re-assess my writing goals, always tests my time management skills.
Every year, it all works out.
If you feel the same, you’ll enjoy these quotes about juggling and balance from writers, celebrities and other famous folks. See if you can guess who said what. A few of the authors are Benjamin Franklin, Ellen Degeneres and comedian Chris Rock. Enjoy!

“Life is a juggling act with your own emotions. The trick is to always keep something in your hand and something in the air.”

“Juggling and balancing effectively required that we make clear, legacy-driven choices about what we’re trying to keep in the air and how we sequence our movements down the beam. Because the ultimate grade in life is not based on how far and fast we’ve walked the beam or how many things we’ve juggled—it’s based on how much we’ve enjoyed the exercise.”

“Most of us have trouble juggling.
The woman who says she doesn’t is someone whom I admire but have never met.”

“Do three things well, not ten things badly.”

“I’m happy when I’m juggling, but I feel like I’ve gonefrom, like, 3 balls to 10 bowling balls. But, that’s a good problem. I don’t really have a complaint about that.”

“Juggling is sometimes called the art of controlling patterns, controlling patterns in time and space.”

“The fact of the matter is, when I’m on tour,
I’m juggling so hard to keep all the balls in the air that I don’t often get to really enjoy what I’m out there doing.”

“The world cannot be governed without juggling.”

“Some scenes you juggle two balls, some scenes you juggle three balls,
some scenes you can juggle five balls.
The key is always to speak in your own voice.”

“Speak the truth.
That’s Acting 101.
Then you start putting layers on top of that.”

“My grandmother was a Jewish juggler:
she used to worry about six things at once.”

“A jazz musician is a juggler who uses harmonies instead of oranges.”

“Motherhood has relaxed me in many ways.
You learn to deal with crisis.
I’ve become a juggler, I suppose.”

“It’s all a big circus, and nobody who knows me believes I can manage, but sometimes I do.”

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”

“The world cannot be governed without juggling”

“When I hear people talk about juggling, or the sacrifices they make for their children, I look at them like they’re crazy, because ‘sacrifice’ infers that there was something better to do than being with your children.”

“Juggling is an illusion. … In reality, the balls are being independently caught and thrown in rapid succession. … It is actually task switching.”

“You need not feel guilty about not being able to keep your life perfectly balanced.”

“Juggling everything is too difficult. All you really need to do is catch it before it hits the floor.”

“Writing is one of the few careers for which you essentially train yourself, the other two major ones being juggling and acting.”

“I like being busy and juggling a lot of things at the same time. I get bored easily, so I need to do a lot.”

“I need to recharge creatively, and get off the clock of having to be somewhere just because, and having to keep juggling all these things.”

I’ll leave you with this quote about learning from mistakes. One of my favorites:
“Our wisdom comes from our experience, and our experience comes from our foolishness”-Sasha Guitry

Strongest writer warriors: Patience, time

By Faran Fagen
Most Tuesday Tips, we bombard you with craft and publishing advice.
Thought I’d change it up this week and offer some famous words on patience.
In every facet of writing and publishing, our tribe has to rely on patience. Patience to find just the right word, or pacing in our work in progress. Patience to connect with the right agent or publisher.
In this spirit, I combed the internet for some well-known quotes on patience. Hope you find these helpful. You may even recognize some of them (there’s some Emerson, Ben Franklin, Tolstoy, even one from Winnie the Pooh). Have fun trying to think of the author of any of these words:

“A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves a thousand moments of regret.”
“The trees that grow slower bear the greatest fruit.”
“Don’t lose hope, just lose your ego with work and patience.”
“Good things come to those who wait, Better things come to those who try.”
“The hardest tests in life is the patience to wait for the right moment.”
“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”
“Patience and silence are two powerful energies. Patience makes you mentally strong, silence makes you emotionally strong.”
“Be patient. Good things come to those who wait.”
“It is very strange that the years teach us patience – that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”
“Inner peace can be seen as the ultimate benefit of practicing patience.”
“Patience and self-restraint strengthen you. Impatience and self-indulgence weaken you.
Patience is learned through waiting.”
“Be positive, patient and persistent.”
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
Patience, grasshopper,” said Maia. “Good things come to those who wait.”
“I always thought that was ‘Good things come to those who do the wave,'” said Simon. “No wonder I’ve been so confused all my life.”
“Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.”
“There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself.”
“He that can have patience can have what he will.”
“Patience is a conquering virtue.”
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
“Patience Is Not the Ability to Wait: Patience is not the ability to wait. Patience is to be calm no matter what happens, constantly take action to turn it to positive growth opportunities, and have faith to believe that it will all work out in the end while you are waiting.”
“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”
“Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention.”
“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”
“There’s no advantage to hurrying through life.”
“Persistence. Perfection. Patience. Power. Prioritize your passion. It keeps you sane.”

Do you use a Checklist for Revision?

I’m in the process of revising my work in progress. I love revision because it gives me a chance to catch weak areas and deepen what I’ve written. I’ve always been a checklist person as well. I find them efficient and time saving. Here’s a revision checklist I’ve created for myself from the classes I’ve taken and how-to books I’ve read.                                         

Opening:

  • Does the story start with momentum or too much backstory?
  • Mood of Chapter 1 where I want it?
  • Strong first line and first page?
  • Is the main character likeable?
  • Is the hero in a situation that shows the conflict or what needs to change?

Plot and Structure                                                         

  • Do the main plot points fall at about ¼, ½, and ¾ of the way through the book?
  • Does the plot escalate?
  • Can I raise the stakes?
  • Does each scene have an arch?
  • Is the chronology correct?
  • Is there any point where a reader might feel like putting the book down?
  • Is there a symbolic death in the middle so the hero can rebuild?

Language

  • Watch for clichés in sayings or action that is too typical.
  • Check for dead verbs. (I use ‘moved’ way too much)
  • Look for boring, non-specific nouns that can jazz things up with better description.
  • Watch for accidental alliteration or places to use alliteration to intensify a situation
  • Check the exposition. Does it enhance mood or tone?
  • Does the dialogue have conflict with very little stage direction?

Characters                                                                    

  • Do the most significant characters each have an arch?
  • Can the reader feel the character’s emotion?
  • Is my main character’s dilemma too strong for him to quit?
  • Is there a strong reason the characters have to stick together?
  • Does the villain have the ability to kill my hero or crush his career, his health, his family?
  • Does my hero’s voice have substance? Does it fit the age, gender? Does it draw in a reader?

Theme

  • Is the theme evident?
  • How have I brought out theme? Recurring patterns, viewpoints, messages?
  • Does the theme come out organically? Does it feel lectured?

Endings

  • Does each scene end in the right place? Could it stop a paragraph or two sooner?
  • Can I split a scene to create a cliff hanger?
  • Can I make the ending of a scene stronger with more worry, a big decision, a strong statement?
  • Is the climax a do or die situation?
  • Does the resolution wrap up all loose ends and feel satisfying to the reader?

First drafts are a blur of ideas arriving on the page as fast as you can get them there. Revision is a calculated process with lots of checking and re-checking all the components that make up your novel. Slowdown in revision and enjoy the world-changing power and privilege of writing.

Querying for the soul

Tuesday Tips

Faran Fagen

Recently, I returned to query mode, and as I hit the send button to each agent, I reflected on the evolution of my query letters.

Here are ten tips I picked up over the years.

1. Start off with a hook that illustrates your interest with the agent. If you met the agent or heard them speak at a conference, lead with that. If it’s a referral, lead with that. I usually try to merge my connection with the agent with a tease to my novel (this usually involves a baseball reference for me) 🙂

2. Spell the agent’s name properly. Seems simple, but if you get it wrong, no matter how good your book is, it will get tossed aside. I never fell victim to this blunder, but I have caught this mistake in proofreading my query a few times (phew!).

3. The hook should be one or two sentences and then get right into a brief synopsis. Here, I follow the advice of one of my writing idols, YA guru Chris Crutcher, who told me in an interview that you reveal to your audience just enough so they want more.

4. An agent once told me that the best format for a synopsis should be two meaty paragraphs about 3-4 sentences each, followed by a 1-2 sentence paragraph that serves as a kicker. Since I tried that format, I got more requests, so guessing that formula works.

5. For the part about yourself, another agent said to keep it short and sweet. You list profession(s), any publishing/writing credentials, and any writing organizations like SCBWI.

6. I usually end with thanking them for the opportunity, and depending on submission guidelines, either “manuscript attached for your convenience”, or “manuscript available by request”.

7. Check all spelling and grammar before sending. I usually read each query three times once it’s finished before I send.

8. Learned this one from my mentor Joyce Sweeney: Send out queries in batches of five. Easier to keep track of so you can follow-up.

9. Research the agent before querying. Some agents are only open to submissions at certain times or have certain requirements.

10. My mom has a phrase: “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” Querying can get monotonous, so try having fun by spicing up your hook or adding a cool teaser to your synopsis. I know that’s helped me stay in the batter’s box over the years.

Hope these tips are helpful, and best of luck to you on your publishing journey.