Showing posts with label how to write. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how to write. Show all posts

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Let Passion Fuel Your Writing Career


The Four Levels of Engagement & How to Use Them To Fuel Your Work

When you are looking to start a new writing project, here are some things to consider:

Level 1 Engagement: Lack of Enthusiasm: When you find you are lacking enthusiasm for your current writing project, many times this is because you are not following your passion, but that of another person. As a writer, we can all write a variety of things from non-fiction to short stories to novels, and we can choose from a wide range of topics. But when you find yourself writing something that doesn't seem to drive you toward your own goals, this lack of enthusiasm may cause you to stumble. Write what fuels your passion.

Level 2 Engagement: Inspired: Inspiration occurs when an idea manifests. Inspired people are more engaged in their project and may think and speak about the 'great idea' they have. Inspiration is important to fueling your writing, but inspiration alone is not enough. Talking about and thinking about what to write will not get words on a page.

Level 3 Engagement: Motivated: Motivation is an idea you can't put down. It won't let go of you, following you to the grocery store and to bed at night. But its more than just an idea, it's an idea that must, and I mean must, be acted on. Motivation means you will sit down at your desk and write. Being motivated will fuel your writing and provide you with a body of work.

Level 4 Engagement: Passion: Passion is when you have an idea, and it's one that won't let go of you and you writing this particular article or longer piece is part of your destiny, your path. This project will take you where you want to go with your writing career. It is the work you were meant to write to share with the world and it will show in your final product. Let passion fuel your work.

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D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, Flight from the Water Planet, Book 1 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at www.djeanquarles.com

You can also follower her at www.djeanquarles.blogspot.com or on Facebook

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From the Mundane to the Sublime: How to Make your Work Extraordinary

As a writer, I've always been intrigued by the mundane. By mundane, I'm thinking, not of dull or tedious, but rather of its alternative meaning of being 'of this earthly world', secular, temporal.  These are the details of our lives - those things that other readers will recognise - the day to day world that surrounds us. Most of the time we're too busy to stop the endless doing and observe and perceive.  But this is a writer's job. To look closely at those moments and allow them to morph into something extraordinary.  Morph? What is that? Are we talking magic realism or sci fi here?  No, this is real life, such as the observation of a common beetle or bird in the garden - something utterly ordinary.  In that moment where we turn our gaze deeply  into the thing, we suddenly transcend the limits of our human condition and see things with a certain transformative eye where the detail contains the whole.In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg puts it this way: "Go so deep into something that you understand its interpenetration with all things. Then automatically the detail is imbued with the cosmic; they are interchangeable."  That all sounds grand and esoteric, so how, specifically, as writers, do we create this kind of transcendence, without making the work so dense that it loses its connection to the everyday?  Here are a few tips:

Use of point of view.   We all come to each situation we find ourselves in with a welter of memories, issues we're currently grappling with, and desires.  In short, at any moment we're all in the 'midst of life'.  If you take that 'midst', in other words the situation of your characters, and filter it into those things that surround them - the butterfly landing on their hand, the rain that just won't stop, or even the dishes that are being done, the mundane suddenly is infused with the whole of your character perspective.  In the early twentieth century, this tended to sit with stream of consciousness writing, where the inner thoughts of characters become apparent to the reader, but it doesn't have to be a random stream.  Those thoughts can be anchored in the moment, and reasonably logical, while still coasting across all those desires that make up any character.

Step out of the stream. Stop for a moment and let your characters see the bigger picture.  You can do this with a third person narrator, or just allow the characters a momentary glimpse at the bigger picture.  For example, a young girl may be struggling with bullying, but just for a moment in the midst of the highest conflict, give her a glimpse of the future or even of the broader context of her life and let her see the pain she's struggling with for what it is - momentary and transient.  Those kinds of epiphanies are the stuff of character transformation and will progress the story perfectly.

Use symbols.  Symbols do exactly what we're talking about here. They turn the mundane into the sublime, by referring to something else.  An office cubicle or conference room might symbolise oppression.  A tourist visit to the Statue of Liberty might symbolise freedom.  A bird song or plot of dirt might symbolise freedom or getting back to roots or even shaking off a depression that has become overwhelming. 
All of these things are subtle, and have to be dealt with carefully, with poetic skill.  But being able to use the everyday to hint at a deeper meaning; a secret sub-story below the surface, is what makes art.  As readers, we instinctively look for it in the books we read.  As writers, we're always aiming to create it.

 For more about Magdalena visit: http://www.magdalenaball.com


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hook 'em in: a three step process to writing a great query

The first thing any writer who wants to be published has to learn is how to put together a good query. Nearly every journal, magazine, editor, publisher, and reviewer wants you to send a query first. Often you'll be asked to include a synopsis.  For newer writers or writer who haven't submitted for a while, these terms can be both daunting and confusing, and they aren't made easier by the fact that words can mean different things in different contexts.

Queries

Think of a query as a proposition. It is the first presentation of you as an author to an editor and you’re proposing that they consider taking the next step and request a whole article or manuscript. Depending on what you’re sending a query for, it can be an idea that you’re pitching as a freelancer, or it can be a single page cover letter which proposes that they request a full manuscript. It must be concise.

Why Do Queries Matter?

Most publishers, agents, reviewers are busy and inundated with requests for their attention. Few will read an entire manuscript without having had a query first. So if you want your manuscript read, you need to query. Queries tend to be used as a first gate to assess how well you can write, how marketable your idea or manuscript is, and your overall professionalism. They are used to demonstrate your ability as a writer, to generate interest in the work, and to convince the recipient that you are professional enough to be a good long term risk. You will be judged by it.

Format 

The format of a query is fixed. It should have three paragraphs: the hook, the proposal and mini-synopsis, and the credentials or biography.

1.  The Hook

A bad or nonexistent hook will end your chances immediately. Generally speaking, it should be a single sentence. If your first sentence doesn’t grab attention, and isn’t well-written, the rest of your query won’t be read. It should be provocative, and ideally, topical.  Here are a few examples of hooks for well-known novels:

House of Sand and Fog: When Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian military, sinks his remaining funds into a house he buys at auction, he unwittingly puts himself and his family on a trajectory to disaster; the house once belonged to Kathy Nicolo, a self-destructive alcoholic, who engages in legal, then personal confrontation to get it back.

The Kite Runner: An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.

The Da Vinci Code: A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ.

Different types of hooks

• Era and location openers
• Character openers
• When/how/why formula
• Question
• Informative
• Attention grabbing:

2. The Proposal and Mini-Synopsis The proposal is generally one sentence put into the second paragraph. This is where you tell the publisher or editor what you’re offering. You need to be very clear, and include a title, a word-count, and a summary of what you’re proposing.   This is followed by a mini-synopsis, which is your entire novel condensed into 2 or 3 sentences. You’ll want to provide a little information on the protagonist, his or her dilemma, and how the dilemma is resolved. That’s character, conflict, resolution. It should sound exciting and should be brief – one paragraph of about 3-4 sentences is ideal.

3.  The Credentials/Bio This is the simplest part of your query, but get it wrong and all your earlier good work will be undone. Here you have to state your qualifications. This is especially important if you’re pitching a nonfiction book. All credentials must be related to writing or to the topic in your book. Competition wins, kudos of any kind, and publications are all relevant.

Finish with a good clean close that thanks the recipient for their time. If you’re querying for nonfiction, you’ll need to include a full outline, table of contents and one or two sample chapters. Fiction should be complete and as ready for publication as you can get it, and you should let the recipient know that the full manuscript is available upon request.

That's it!  Easier said than done, to be sure, but well worth taking trouble over.  Otherwise it won't matter how good your writing is - it won't get a look in.

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader http://www.compulsivereader.com. She is the author of a number of novels, poetry books and a nonfiction book.  Find out more about Magdalena at http://www.magdalenaball.com

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to become a novelist in 30 minutes

There are plenty of books on the market to teach you how to write a book in 30 days, or 3 weeks, or 12 months. That's not really what this article is about. This is an article for those of you who don't have 30 days to write a novel in. This is an article for those of you, like me, in the midst of life. Demanding wonderful families probably won't tell you to go off and do a couple of days of pure writing. Demanding wonderful bosses of well paid jobs won't tell you to take a sabbatical and go off to get your novel done in 30 days. In fact, no one will tell you to write this novel, except your own nagging conscience. And that voice will be increasingly dim in the face of all the other voices harassing you. Of course the title of this piece is facetious. You aren't going to actually write a novel in 30 minutes, just to commit, seriously, to doing it and layout out a roadmap.
What we won't be doing is writing the novel. That's the hard work that's left for you when we finish, and don't let anyone suggest it's anything other the most outrageously difficult thing to do. But it is do-able, no matter what your circumstances, and no matter how busy you are. You can still do it even if you only manage ten words a day (and believe me, you can manage that). And you can do it without quitting your day job, or setting your children up for years of therapy. You can do it secretly, hedging your bets, and still producing a wonderful, professional, exceptional book. I promise! So let's get started.

1. Why do you want to write the novel?

It's important to have a good understanding of where you're going if you're to get there, and understanding the reasons why - the reward you'll get - is an important motivating factor. If it's for financial reasons, you'd be better off stocking shelves at your local supermarket. I'm not trying to talk you out of it! There's almost nothing to compare with holding your beautiful finished book in your hands. But it's something wholly different from holding a pile of notes (or bills), and one doesn't necessarily lead to the other. For me, my key motivation was to be able to create something concrete, beautiful, and solid which would move other people; to share a fictive dream. I still get all shivery imagining someone in the solitude of their own room, being moved by my book. That visualisation is something which kept me going even when I flagged. You may have other reasons for wanting to write a novel - an image that will sustain you. But you need to be clear about it. So stop a moment and answer the question.

2. Putting it all together - the outside

Buy a looseleaf binder. One of those types with clear plastic sleeves at the front and back, and I mocked up a cover image, with title, image, your name of course along the bottom. It should look just like a book cover. Then write the kind of brief overview that you find on the back of most novels.

This is really important, because it will become your guiding principle. You can go back to this kind of positioning statement - what could be called an "elevator pitch" --again and again - while writing the book, and later, while pitching the book.

Under that, and more for fun than anything else, put a few glowing statements - what those in the industry call "puffs". Since this is for your benefit only, have fun with it. Give yourself great reviews. Seeing it will make you hungry.

3. The Three Pillars of Fiction: Plot, Setting, Characters

Of course this is not going to be a lesson on how to create great plot (that's a book or two), produce a wonderful setting (another book), or create great characters (surely there are three books in that topic). What I will tell you is that you can't really progress in your novel writing until you've got a reasonably in-depth handle on that. So at this stage of the game, you should also add some additional dividers into your book and call them Plot, Setting, and Characters - one for each. Then spend some time filling in each one. The more time you spend on doing this at the front end, the less time you'll spend with your novel trying to make it work - so don't skimp!

Plot

Begin by nutting out your plot - just do a brief outline - first this happens, then this, then this until you've got a reasonably clear structure. If you tend to think in diagrams, a flowchart is a really useful way of doing this. Another useful way of doing it is to use mindmap. All of these are just tools, and it's easy to get caught up in evaluating different ones and never actually getting to the writing, so pick one and stick with it. Whatever you end up using to structure your plot, make sure you do it before writing. That way, with only a few minutes a day, you can get straight into the plot and not waste time wondering what to write. The structure will also help your creativity as your unconscious mind moves across it, pulling the story together for you.

Setting

So where is your novel set? You should be really clear about it. I'm not naturally good at this, so in the end I have to literally create my places by making my own little map. In the case of Sleep Before Evening, the settings were real ones. I had Long Beach, Long Island (which I fictionalised slightly and called Seahaven) , and New York City, so there were maps I could use, but I still had to customise them for my own specific places, and I had to take them back to 1982, which wasn't all that straightforward. If you aren't clear about setting your reader won't be, so you need to get each street right - to know exactly where your character is walking, visiting, and so on. Details are key to creating the fictive dream, and the more detailed and clear your maps are, the more powerful your writing will be, so this is a step to take some time over.

Characters

Ah, characters. I'm a little biased here, as I'm a character focused writer and reader, but I don't think that there is anything as important to fiction than character. If you don't know your characters as well as your real friends and family, they won't be real to your reader. You should create a list of key characters - protagonist, antagonist, important ancillary characters, and minor characters and flesh each of them out in as much detail as you can stand. You don't need to use it all, but it will make a huge difference in the ease of writing and the overall impact that your characters have on the reader.
Some of the many aspects of character you should cover include physical appearance, profession, backstory, emotional issues, strengths, weaknesses, what they crave, what they are grateful for, who they love, and maybe above all, what they are afraid of.  Try and get at least a couple of pages, but the more the better, for each character before you start writing the book.

Novel writing is a large commitment and it's easy to lose your way. If you spend a reasonable amount of time (it doesn't have to all happen at once either - See "Getting On" below) setting the work up, you can chip at it little by little later. But get the bones in place first - your work will be better for it, and the whole process will be significantly easier.

Getting On: How Do You Eat an Elephant

The plot is outlined, the characters are well detailed and your book is looking pretty nifty, even if it hasn't really been written yet. So what's next?

What's next is you put your bottom on the seat and get to work! It sounds so simple. You know where you're going and the only way to get there is to move forward. But life is so busy - the kids need you to take them to their activities, your partner wants your attention, your day job is howling for results and the house is a mess and...you can't let everyone down. I know, I know. I've been there. I'm there now. My daughter is pulling on my shirt even as I type this. But with your roadmap in place you just have to use standard time management techniques. Schedule in the writing - plan to do a certain amount each day. It doesn't have to be a lot. It can be as small as a few minutes and a single word a day. But when you're on a roll, you'll probably do a lot more. Don't let a day go by (or at least many days if things are bad - kids are sick - pressure is high), without opening your work and doing a little on it. Move your protagonist's hair out of her eyes, have her talk to the person sitting next to her. Write a scene. Just keep working on it.

What you'll find is that, with every bit of work you do, your brain will keep working on it as you do other things, and the regular dipping in, however small, will keep your work current and your writing sessions effective. If you push the novel to the backburner, your brain will move away from it and it won't progress. You've got to keep the voices in the novel up front with all the rest of the voices in your life. That's the secret. Then just keep at it. Keep chunking. Keep writing. Give it as much or as little time as you can, but give every day. In the end, you'll finish it, and you'll find, as I found, that the closer you get, the faster the work will move.
No one will care if the work took you one year or ten. You'll still be an "overnight success" and it will still look quick and easy to those who haven't been there with you while you worked. So, go and do your daily bit now.

5. Revising and Rewriting

I can remember clearly the day that I finished my first draft. I was so excited. I stopped typing, went to get a much needed glass of water, and spent the rest of the day in a wonderful fug of delight. I told my son when I picked him up - "I finished the novel." I kept saying it to myself. "I've written a novel. I'm a novelist now, for real." But the sad truth was that the novel was years off being finished. I wasn't even close. The first draft is just the beginning. Don't let that put you off. You shouldn't even be reading this yet. Go back and write and forget you saw this!

The real work of novel writing is not in the first draft, muse whispering at your ear and the wind behind your hair (okay it's not really like that, but it sounds good). The real work is in the re-writing. So have a drink and celebrate. Then go back to work. It took me ten rewrites! That's full rewrites. Before I was really finished. I won a mentorship grant from my local writer's group and had 30 hours of one on one with an experienced editor, and that really opened my eyes. My mentor, Greg Bastian was superb, showing me all the holes in my manuscript that I was unable to see. After working with Greg, I also utilised the services of another excellent editor, paying for it myself this time. While Greg helped me pull apart and put my novel back together in a much better, more organised way, Logos Editing helped me polish the novel - fixing timing and space issues and dealing with things like dialogue and pace. A third editing called a line edit, was done by my publisher (I worked on that too). So three edits involving other people were necessary. In addition to that, I spent time listening to my novel and picking up on mistakes by using Acrobat's read aloud feature. It was easier to spot errors listening to someone else's voice than to my own. Then I went through the whole thing backwards. Then I enlisted 3 trusted proofreaders to work through it (each with his or her own strengths). And my publisher did the same. And still there were a few minor errors! Editing and proofreading are separate functions, and both critical. If you're lucky enough to be able to do this prior to submitting the novel to a publisher, you'll be way ahead of the game. Oh, and give yourself at least a month after completing the first draft (you deserve a good break!) before starting the revision process. You'll come to the work fresher and be able to accomplish a lot more.

In Closing

This article provides, of course, a brief, broad brush overview on a very big topic. I'm not suggesting that this is comprehensive, or that writing a novel is easy. In fact, I'm suggesting the opposite. It's hard. But what it comes down to isn't raw talent, inspiration, the muse, luck, or great potential. Those things don't mean anything against sheer tenacity. If you are committed to writing a novel, you can. And you will. Just keep at it, a little at a time.

Oh, and one more critical thing - the most critical of all. Start now. Don't wait until the children are grown, or until you finish that big project at work or until the kitchen shelves are organised. Just get on with it. I wish you great success, personal satisfaction, and deep joy.

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future.

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