Tuesday Tips: Butt in Chair

Well, it’s my turn for Tuesday Tips, which means I get to share some tips for writing.

For those of you believe in the BIC (butt in chair) technique, raise your hand if you’ve sat in your chair for hours without advancing your story. (My hand is stretching toward the sky, by the way.)

If you’re like me, it happens about once a week, so here’s what I’ve learned: Once I’ve tried writing for at least an hour without producing much of anything (mostly writing and rewriting the same passage), I give myself permission to walk away. At first, when I started doing this, I felt guilty. I needed my BIC if I was ever going to finish this novel! But what I discovered is, I’m a lot less frustrated about writing if I don’t force myself to sit there when I’m clearly producing crap.

So…next time you get angry at yourself for not being a better writer—next time you feel bitter or frustrated about what you’re producing (or not producing)—do yourself a favor and walk away. If you’re anything like me, you’ll come back the next day fresher, more excited, and ultimately more productive.

Tracking Your Characters

My historical fiction middle grade novel has the largest cast of characters of any of the books I’ve written. Like, five times more. You do the math.

www.tuesdaywriters.com

I didn’t have to do anything to keep track, but a circus has a lot of characters…even a small mud show like the one I’m writing. So I’ve moved to a spreadsheet. Right now the characters are listed in the order they appear in the book.

It helps. It really does. Yesterday I was having Ringmaster have a conversation with one of the circus hands, but I didn’t know who that should be. I didn’t want to add another character.  (I’m actually hoping to cull some people from the final document when it’s done.) All I had to do was pull open my spreadsheet, scroll down, and figure out it was Joe.

On her blog, Darcy Pattison http://www.darcypattison.com/characters/tracking-characters/  

suggests a number of ways to keep track, but she mentions eye color. You can’t have your main character’s eyes changing color unless it’s some fantasy world where that can happen.

I don’t think I mention anyone’s eye color in my circus novel, but you might! Here’s a handy image to help you: www.tuesdaywriters.com

You also might want to check out ‘s post regarding memorable characters. If you make your characters unique, your reader will keep track of hundreds of characters.  Check it out here: http://thewritepractice.com/character-list/

 

What’s your favorite way to keep track?

Tuesday Tips: Getting Published Is Hard

For anyone who’s set out to write a novel, you know that writing is hard work. It takes discipline, dedication, and focus—and that’s just to get the words down on the page. Making those words sing, however, is another matter entirely. And making someone fall in love with your story—enough that they’re willing to sink money into publishing and marketing it—that’s another feat in itself.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us who start writing books do it, in part, because somewhere in our past, people have told us we’re good writers. So let’s say that being a good writer is a given. And let’s say that you have the discipline, dedication, and focus to get the words down on the page. Now what? You’ve written a novel. But is it any good?

Your friends and family will probably tell you it is. Because, hey, it’s impressive that anyone spent so much time and energy writing a book. And they’re your friends and your family, and chances are they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings.

And maybe it is good, right? Maybe it’s a bestseller waiting in the wings. If you could just get the exposure. All it takes is one person who has connections to read it and suddenly …

Okay, time for a reality check. Unless you’re incredibly gifted and lucky (and I do mean incredibly), your first attempts at writing a novel are practice. In fact, I’ll even say that your first book—maybe your first three books—are practice.

Because you don’t know what you don’t know until you start learning it. And many writers will tell you, learning to write well is a lifetime process.

So here’s my advice to all those aspiring novelists: Study the craft of writing. Read books on writing. Take writing classes or workshops. Join a critique group (one that will tell you the truth). Then revise, revise, and repeat. Ask a traditionally published author if this is what they did, and chances are, they’ll say yes, that’s exactly what they did. They’ll tell you it took years of writing, studying, and rewriting before their book was even close to being ready for submission.

Because you know what? Getting published is hard.

So let’s say you put the work in, and you have a novel that you think is good enough for people to spend their money on. Now you’re ready for the first acid test. Can you get an agent to represent you? They don’t get paid unless they sell your work, so an agent won’t represent you unless they think it’s good enough to sell.

And even when your book is good enough, it can still be hard to find an agent. I spent five months querying agents—I had several near misses—and I was ready to put my novel in a drawer and chalk it up as a learning experience. But then I followed up on some of the agents I hadn’t heard from, and lo and behold, one of those agents (the wonderful Tina P. Schwartz, of the Purcell Agency) wanted to see the first three chapters and then the whole thing and then she offered representation.

Of course I was elated, but in the back of my mind, I knew there was probably still a long road ahead to publication. I’d known at least a half-dozen agented authors who had yet to find a publisher. Because sometimes even if you find an agent, it’s not the right agent.

Sometimes selling your book (or not selling it) has to do with timing. Sometimes it’s luck. Sometimes it’s serendipity. And sometimes it doesn’t happen… But it still can, and if you work hard enough at it, I’ll even say it probably can.

Have I mentioned perseverance yet? And developing a thick skin? And learning to bounce back from crushing disappointments? Because most authors I know—whether published or trying to get published—have experienced all of those things.

So yeah, did I mention that getting published is hard?

Perfectionism – What’s it Done for you Lately?

When we write, of course we want it to be perfect!

But can it ever be?Image result for perfectionism

I know friends who have found mistakes in arcs (advanced reader copies) and thought they got them fixed before the book finally got published only to have those mistakes still in the book at publication time. Author Stuart Woods has a letter to his readers at the ends of his books which essentially says, “Don’t write me and tell me you’ve found a mistake. It wasn’t my fault, and there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

As writers though, it’s not just about getting the grammar right. It’s about crafting each scene so that the emotion and dialogue and every tag culminates into a scene with a change.

Here’s where perfectionism is a problem:  if you have to keep writing and re-writing and you never put your stories “out-there” for agents and editors to see. Spending all your time working to make it perfect but never taking it out for a test drive.

It’s not surprising, really. Perfectionism is everywhere, and we see it rewarded all the time.  Take for example the television show Property Brothers. Now I understand that drama is what is considered to make good television. It’s the same thing that makes people want to buy our books. So when Property Brothers and other shows like them are looking for couples to be on the show, they pick people who will be problems. (Yes, some of that is probably scripted!) However there is a central message from each family: they want their house to be perfect. Part of what’s difficult for me to swallow is that they only have a million-six to spend on a home when a house they would find acceptable would be over two million.

That’s just not how it is for most of America, but we watch a slightly spoiled couple get EVERYTHING they want, it makes us think we should have it, too.

If you’ve ever planned a wedding, all those little details seem so important up to the big day, but after it’s all over, it’s about the people and not what font was used on the place cards.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have goals and dreams and that we all shouldn’t have our dream home or spectacular wedding. What I am saying is that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Not even our writing.

Sending a query to an agent will give us the feedback we need. If we hear nothing from our query, it might be concept or that our query needs work. If we get requests, we know something is going right.

Yes, do your best to make the grammar correct. Agents like that. Let them judge how great the story is. You just might be surprised.

Tuesday Tips for Teaching Writing

 

Last week  I gave a class for future authors.  This week I have another. It’s one of those rare treats when you get to speak to kids about what you love to do, when you know they totally get what you mean.

I’m always really nervous about these sorts of sessions. I’m never sure what each person needs to hear from me. Encouragement? Maybe. The key to success? That’s easy; love what you do and keep doing far past when you love it, until you hate it and still can’t do without it. But honestly writing as a middle school or high school kid doesn’t have to be so extreme. The authors of the future have tons of time.

So once again, what to tell them?

If I imagine that I’m giving this talk with the full Tuesday group, I’m pretty sure I know what my critique-mates might say. Or at least I could guess. Comes from knowing them pretty well and also having sat on panels with them in the past.

Cathy would give them inspiration in the form of a quote about writing or a great Ted talk. Cathy is very inspirational.

Melody might talk about how meticulous her process is. And then about how she tries to break out of that sometimes, is surprised with the results of that experiment, but then continues  to work away, using order and scrutiny to make her way through the meat of the manuscript. With a starred Kirkus  review and an award under her belt, it’s hard to argue with those results.

Faran would probably give them a sports analogy. Then he’d talk to them like they were his kids, I’m sure. And he’d metaphorically ruffle their hair and send them on their way. The kids would smile after meeting, Faran, I’m sure. He’s like that. All the kids love him.

Joanne is our best detective. She’d ask them a bunch of questions they wouldn’t mind answering and they’d leave feeling like the most interesting people on the planet. She’d probably also tell them to add conflict into their stories. I know she’s working on that and she’s very generous with sharing her knowledge.

Jonathan would act sheepish, but would be entertaining as hell with his snarky-boy one liners. He’d tell them hard truths but by the end of it, he’d have everyone wanting to write what he writes because he makes it look so easy. It isn’t.

So what did I tell these kids? The truth is I’m not entirely sure how I write what I write. For me, It all starts with characters, of course. So we did a bunch of character work.

We broke down character into the convoluted way I see it. It’s all about deconstruction and reconstruction. Of taking characters/or people you know and putting them in different settings and different stories. Putting them in a time machine and see where they are spit out. Before they were in this story. After. Depending on the character.

I’ve got no idea if this was helpful to anyone, but I hope it was. I know that by the time you read this, dear Tuesday Reader, I will be preparing my read for my favorite critique group, The Tuesdays. I haven’t been able to attend as regularly as I would have liked to these past few months, but next week I’ll be there. Notebook in hand. Reading. Waiting for Faran to find the humanity in what I’ve written, Joanne to find the conflict, Melody to help me plan, Cathy to inspire me. And Jonathan, hopefully will help me be entertaining.

It’s a lot to ask for, but I’m asking anyway.

See you in group!

 

Why You Should Pre-Order Books

If you’ve been asleep for several months, then you probably missed the fact that Jonathan Rosen’s debut fiction novel comes out on August 1, 2017. That’s less than two months!

Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies is a not to be missed MG, humorous, scary story.

So as a member of the Tuesdays, I have the debut date listed on my Google calendar and can’t wait for the launch party.

If you’re a reader of this blog, then you might be a reader or a writer or a family friend guilted into reading what I’ve written.  But really, you love books! You want to support your writer friends! Of course you’re going to buy the book! Then you should consider ordering it early. Like now. Like today. Here’s why. The publisher is using the pre-order numbers to decide how many books to print in the first run. Some book stores use it to figure out how excited people are about the book to decide if they should stock it on the shelves. It might even determine if it’s spine out or cover facing.

The Barnes and Noble Blog has an artilce of the 12 Reasons Book Nerds Love Pre-Ordering Books.  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/12-reasons-book-nerds-love-pre-ordering-books/ I particularly like their number 11 – 11. If you pre-order a book, you will forever avoid the heartbreaking experience of someone saying to you, “Sorry, we’re out!”

Honestly, I used to think I should wait and buy it at the book signing, but when you pre-order, you get to read it before the book signing where you can corner the author with pointed questions like why wasn’t the main character named after you?

So while I mostly know what’s going to happen in the novel from what Jonathan has shared on Tuesdays, it will be such fun to find out what happened in the editorial process.

Here is another important detail about pre-ordering. According to February Media http://februarymedia.net/the-importance-of-pre-ordering/all pre-order sales count toward the first week of sales. That count is what is used to determine bestseller lists. Let’s see if we can make Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies a best seller week one!

It’s so fun being a book nerd.

Commas Made Simple, Part 2

In Part 1 of Commas Made Simple, I gave you a simple comma rule:

Comma Rule 1: If you’re connecting two independent clauses with a conjunction, you need a comma before the conjunction. Don’t use a comma if only one side of the sentence is independent.

Examples:

I like grammar, so people think I’m weird.

The dog ate my homework, and now I’m in trouble.

The pizza was yummy and also very fattening.

Notice the lack of a comma in that last example. That’s because the second part of the sentence (the part after the conjunction “and”) is NOT an independent clause.

Remember that an independent clause has a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a sentence. Here are some examples of independent clauses:

The dog ate my homework.

Now I’m in trouble.

The pizza was yummy.

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.

A dependent clause also has a subject and a verb, but it CANNOT stand alone as a sentence. It depends on something else to make it a complete thought. Here are some examples of dependent clauses:

After the dog ate my homework

Because the pizza was yummy

Dependent clauses don’t make complete thoughts because of the words that begin them. Here are most of the words that can begin a dependent clause.

after                            since                            where

although                      so that                         whereas

as                                 than                             wherever

as if                             that                              whether

because                       though                         which

before                          unless                          whichever

even if                         until                            while

even though                what                            who

ever since                    whatever                     whom

how                             when                           whose

if                                 whenever                    why

When a clause (a group of words that has a subject and a verb) begins with one of these dependent words, it is usually a dependent clause. To see the difference between an independent and a dependent clause, look at this example of an independent clause:

We studied history together.

It has a subject (We) and a verb (studied), and it makes a complete statement. But as soon as we put one of the dependent words in front of it, the clause becomes dependent because it no longer makes a complete statement:

            After we studied history together…

            Although we studied history together…

            As we studied history together…

Each of these dependent clauses leaves the reader expecting something more. Each would depend on another clause—an independent clause—to make it a sentence. The dependent clauses in the following sentences are underlined:

After we studied history together, we went to the movie.

We went to the movie after we studied history together.

No one at the movie theater knew that we studied history together.

While we studied history together, the library became crowded.

By now you’re probably wondering when we get to the comma rule. Here it is:

Comma Rule 2: When a dependent clause comes before an independent clause, it is followed by a comma. However, if the independent clause comes first in the sentence, do not use a comma.

Examples:

Although she wasn’t finished studying, she went to the movie.

Because she finished her homework, she was able to go to the movie.

She went to the movie although she wasn’t finished studying.

I can go to the movie whenever I want.

And now, to help you practice, here are some exercises I put together. If you need the answers or want further explanation, comment on this link or email me (the former teacher lady and current member of The Tuesdays) at melody@maysonet.com.

 

EXERCISE 1

Underline the dependent clauses. Then add commas where needed. Remember that when the dependent clause comes first, it is followed by a comma. However, if the independent clause comes first, you don’t need a comma.

  1. I like reading because it relaxes me.
  1. When I read I can escape real life.
  1. While I read I like to have a cup of coffee.
  1. I enjoy reading sad stories so that my life doesn’t look so bad.
  1. Although I like reading sad stories I also enjoy adventure stories.
  1. I do not care whether the story has magic in it or not.
  1. If the hero saves the day I will be satisfied.
  1. Whenever I read romance novels I am bored.
  1. Love stories do not interest me because the characters in them are unrealistic.
  1. After I finish reading a good book I want to share it with someone else.

EXERCISE 2

All the sentences below have at least one dependent clause and one independent clause. Circle the dependent clause(s). Then write a C next to the sentence if it is punctuated correctly. Write an I next to the sentence if it is punctuated incorrectly. Correctly punctuate the incorrect sentences.

  1. Sometimes my son thinks he can do whatever he wants.
  1. He doesn’t understand that he has to do his homework before he can play.
  1. She wants to take home extra work so that she can get her G.E.D.
  1. Whatever you do don’t drink the milk because it is spoiled.
  1. After he got a job, he was able to buy a car.
  1. Ever since I learned all the comma rules I feel more confident about taking grammar tests.
  1. My teacher thinks that dependent clauses are fun.
  1. Most of us think, that she is a little strange.
  1. While I take this test please be quiet.
  1. Some people are noisy, whenever others are trying to work.

 

 

Always on lookout for inspiration

Tuesday Tips
Faran Fagen

They smiled wide, and their eyes gleamed as they held up the broken-up matzah wrapped in tin foil my mother-in-law hid in the living room.
My favorite moment however, was when my daughter, Blair, found two pieces and shared one of them with her older brother, Spencer.
His smile filled the room.
This was the scene tonight during Passover when we hid the Afikomen.
I share it here because it made me want to write about it. My kids’ delight and the beauty of innocence. And selflessness.
For my Tuesday tips, I thought what better topic then “what inspires us to write”. After all, we all have our moments that motivate us to plunge into our work in progress.
Whenever I see a beautiful sunset it makes me want to write about a time when I overcame something difficult. It must be the awesome power of the sky conquering another day.
Nature in general can be inspiring. A rainbow. A hummingbird. Butterfly. Flower. Ladybug. A reflection in a lake. Like a Robert Frost poem, the gentleness of nature slows time which makes me want to stop and capture the moment with words.
In that spirit, photography and art can take us to different places, giving us a fresh perspective on a scene or a character.

Movies motivate the same way. Whenever I watch my favorite, Shawshank Redemption, I want to “get busy livin or get busy dyin”, and I can’t stop writing.
Books, of course, are physical proof that what you write matters to people. If I get writer’s block, the best cure is to pick up a Matt De La Pena book, or another Young Adult novel about teen boys and sports. I know that these books make a difference. And if they can make a difference, so can mine.
My high school students amaze me at their darkest hour by writing something from their heart that shows how much they’ve grown. If they can do it, so can I.

Even death can be inspiring. When Marlins pitcher, Jose Fernandez, died in a boat crash last year, I wrote through my sadness. Part of my writing was published in a special tribute on the all-star pitcher.
Going back to my children, they surprise with good deeds, like when Blair gave Spencer the Afikomen. Sometimes they fight over toys, or who goes first. It’s special when they share and do something selfless.
I figure if they can do it, I can sacrifice a little time to write something that might make a difference for someone else one day.

What inspires you to write?

Tuesday Tips Promo like a Pro

Before I was published I thought I knew what marketing and promoting my books would entail. In my mind, it went a little something like this: I’d set up fun events at bookstores filled with guests. We’d chat about my books. I’d sign a bunch. I’d try to be funny. It would work, mostly. The my being funny part, I mean.

And truth be told, I have done those things with my books and we’ve all had a lot of fun, but I knew I’d have to do more than just invite people to help launch my books. It can’t be all about puppies and cupcakes can it?

Promoting your work is one of those tireless tasks. It’s never ending. For every hour you spend on Social Media, there are more hours needed for working on my website, setting up blogs and interviews, participating in scavenger hunts (more on that soon). And creating and writing for a daily blog. Which means that even though I certainly didn’t anticipate you, Tuesday Readers, you are my little promotional darlings.

YA Fest before the fest!

the most peaceful place in the Easton Library and where I would work if I lived there!

my books at YA FEST

But I also didn’t even know about the awesomeness of book festivals. Where you could meet people you’ve grown to know on Facebook and Twitter. Where you could meet teens who’ve read your books.

Or how much fun attending a book club featuring your book could be.

Learning to make videos. Podcasts. Newsletters. All of these are part of the ways you promote your work as an author. It’s like owning your own business (I had a private practice for years). You’ve got to be in charge of all of the details. Some of them are tedious. Some are like cleaning the toilets, necessary, but not so sexy. While others are fun and inspiring all rolled into one. Like developing programs for teen authors. It doesn’t get any better than that. But the whole time you realize speaking in front of people is getting easier. Reading your work is getting easier. Planning events is getting easier. Somehow, without even realizing it, you’ve inched your way to becoming an actual real life author.

So here’s my pro-tip: as slow as the publishing business is, this all happens in a blink of an eye. Overused and cliche? Maybe. But still true. So try not to blink.

Commas Made Easy, Part 1

Let’s talk about commas. Yeah, I know they’re not glamorous, but they’re important. So if you’re one of those people who sort of guesses where to put them, here’s a simple rule.

If you’re connecting two independent clauses with a conjunction, use a comma before the conjunction. 

Example: I went to the store, and I bought some milk. 

By the way, an independent clause has a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a sentence. “The dog ate my homework” is an independent clause.

And if you forgot what a conjunction is, here’s an easy way to remember them. Call them FANBOYS.

For

And

Nor

But

Or

Yet

So

Here’s another example: I didn’t do the homework, but I still managed to get a good grade.

Notice the conjunction (but). Notice that both sides of the sentence are independent clauses—that is, they each have a subject and verb and could stand alone as a sentence. Therefore, you need the comma before the conjunction.

In this sentence, which is very similar to the above, you don’t need the comma:

I didn’t do the homework but still managed to get a good grade.

You don’t need a comma because the second half of the sentence (still managed to get a good grade) can’t stand alone as a sentence.

Easy, right? So now you know a basic comma rule.

This message was brought to you by a former English teacher.