Tag Archives: Writers Resources

Some of my favorite editors OF ALL TIME

Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. So come closer and listen to what I’ve learned from experience: Editors are a writer’s best friend.

Not when they’re patting you on the back, because anybody can butter you up.

They’re your best friend when they take a red pen and blast through your complicated writing pets, when they check your wildest instincts and find order out of the natural chaos that comes from banging on the keyboard to create anything of length and importance.

So it’s wrong to say that every writer needs an editor.

You need more than one, if you want to get serious about any sort of real writing.

It’s like building a house. As a writer, you’re trying to do it all: draft the blueprints like an architect, pour the foundation, frame it, plumb it, siding, drywall, flooring, cabinets, painting–the whole thing.

Every step is important. And getting the right editors is like hiring great subcontractors.

My bias is to think of structure first, because if the blueprints are bad, it doesn’t matter how pretty the carpentry is, and how great the writing is line by line.

This is why every professional architect hires an engineer to do the math and make sure the foundation is strong enough to hold up the house, that the roof won’t blow off and your beams are big enough to handle the load.

So you need different editors for different things. The best possible professional editor for the structure, the blueprints. Then beta readers to look over the whole thing another time, looking for medium-size problems. A line editor to smooth things out and make it all pretty, and finally a proof-reader to take a microscope to the entire thing and make it as flawless as possible.

That sounds like a lot, and most pro editors can wear different hats. But I’m going to argue for dividing it up, because when you’ve been staring at the same thing for weeks, or months, you stop seeing things. A fresh pair of eyes is always smart.

Even though I’ve always had editors, starting way back in college when I was putting out newspapers, there’s a natural inclination for writers to screw this up, to see using editors as some kind of sign of weakness. The thinking goes like this: “Hey, I have (1) a master’s degree in creative writing or (2) have been cashing checks as a journalist for years or (3) am far too talented to need the crutch of a professional editor, which is for wannabes who can’t write their way out of a paper sack if you handed them a sharpened pencil.”

I’d did editing wrong by having friends and family beta read, or asking fellow writers who yes, wrote for money, but cashed checks for doing something completely different.

And it was a waste of time.

Here’s how I learned my lesson, and no, I am not making this up: On a whim, I posted a silly ad to sell my beater Hyundai and romance authors somehow found my little blog that started from that. Pro editor Theresa Stevens got there somehow and I started talking to her, and on a whim I did her standard thing to edit the first 75 pages of a novel, the synopsis and query letter. I didn’t think anything of it and expected line edits. Dangling modifiers and such.

But she rocked.

I learned more, in the months of editing that entire novel, than I could’ve learned in ten years on my own. It’s like the difference between a pro baseball player trying to become a better hitter by spending six hours a day in batting practice, alone, versus one hour a day in hard practice with a world-class batting coach. I’d pick the batting coach, every time.

As somebody who used to lone-wolf it, let me say this: I was wrong.

And so on this Friendly Friday, I want to plant a big smooch on editors of the world, and encourage writers of all backgrounds and specialties to see editors in a different light. That having an editor isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength. That it says you’re crazy serious about what you do and not afraid of working with the best of the best rather than a cheerleading squad of yes-men who think your 947-word epic about elves with lightsabers riding dragons is the best thing ever.

That it’s not about you, and doing whatever you want, but about making the finest product you can give to readers.

So I want to give a shout out to Theresa the Stevens, who has taught me much, and Rebecca Dickson, my uncensored female doppleganger, and to great beta readers and editors like Alexandria SzemanJulia Rachel BarrettAnna Davis, Mayumi, Donna — because just like a single person can’t be expected to build a beautiful house alone, a smart writer gets help and advice from the smartest people possible.

Find one of those smart people with a red pen.

Hire them, hug them, listen to them, buy them flowers when you succeed. But use them, if you’re serious. And if you’re not serious, hey, take up bowling or whatever.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 6 Friendly Friday

Good things come in small, funny packages

Long is the enemy of all that is funny and good.

Writing long will suck the life out of your words and ideas. Embrace short and pithy. Hug the glory of writing short tightly to your bosum, even if you’re not sure where your bosum may be, or if the FCC will fine you for using that word on the Series of Tubes.

Take photo memes, which are really one-liners with an illustration. They’re boiled down and refined, without a word wasted. That’s why they work. Extra verbiage would drown the funny.

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Filed under 5 Random Thursday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

Writers: you are REQUIRED BY LAW to visit Livia’s brainy blog

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to write books or become, I don’t know, the governor of Alaska.

Don't let the hat fool you. Beneath that hat is the brain of an actual brain scientist who focuses her powers on using science to help writers. She is not a wannabe gangster, at least not that I know of; maybe she does use her giant brain to rob banks or mess with the stock market . Go visit her blog.

HOWEVER: There is an honest-to-goodness neuroscientist grad student at MIT who uses serious brain Science to help writers craft amazing things. Yes, she may look 20 years old, and frankly, she could be 12 or 257 years for all I care, because she is a freaking genius.

Her blog about using brain science to help writers is seven entirely separate types of awesome, and it is a public service to writers all over the planet.

Governments should give her big fat tax subsidies. Billionaires riding around on their yachts should take a second to write her a grant or six.

If you’re a writer, a reader or at all literate in the English language, go visit her blog to get educated and enlightened. She also has a book, which you can purchase with your fake digital monies over the Series of Tubes.

You can also follow the whippersnapper genius on the Twitter at @lkblackburne

For people who like things all neat and organized:

A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing

http://blog.liviablackburne.com/

Livia Blackburne on the Twitter:

@lkblackburne

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

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Filed under 6 Friendly Friday, Barons of the Blogosphere, Worthy citizens of the Twitterverse

The secret truth about writing

When was the last time you went to a movie and wanted to stay behind and watch it again?

What was the last political stump speech that made you laugh and cry and want to go knock on the doors of your neighbors to make sure they voted? When was the last time you read a newspaper story that built up to an amazing climax instead of petering off into boring little details?

More people are writing more things than ever before. Movies and TV shows, blogs and newspapers, hardcover novels and digital e-books. Yet most of it is forgettable. Trite. Boring.

It used to be, blockbuster movies were the ones that had amazing special effects.

STAR WARS showed us things we’d never seen before, like lightsabers. Who doesn’t want a lightsaber?

JURASSIC PARK gave us dinosaurs that weren’t claymation or puppets. Today, though, any old TV show can afford to have great special effects.

And with the written word — novels, speeches, non-fiction and poetry — every author has the same unlimited special effects budget. You can do whatever you want for free. So what’s the problem?

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Speechwriting, Thrillers and mysteries

Writers: enter this 200-word flash fiction contest – DO IT NOW

The writers that I know and love all do the same thing: they write more than they talk.

And to them, 200 words is nothing.

Bam, here you go. Next?

So use your clickity mouse and get your penmonkey behind to this flash-fiction contest, over at the Soul and Sweet Tea blog.

DO IT NOW. Then come back here and I’ll tell you a secret.

Joey the Francisco of Soul and Sweet Tea

Joey the Francisco of Soul and Sweet Tea, a great blog for writers and book lovers. Go visit it.

Why do this?

I’ll tell you why.

  • First, you need a break — something to write with no pressure, no worries. Whether you’re a screenwriter or speechwriter, a newspaper reporter or a novelist, IT IS REQUIRED that you stretch a different writing muscle sometimes. You can’t keep doing the same thing forever. The contest includes a bunch of photos as writing prompts. People of the interwebs, this is easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
  • Second, the person behind this blog, Joey the Francisco, is not only a crazy smart writer (a scientist type, and president of some nuclear medicine shebang). No. She’s also kind, witty and a writer of thrillers. Trifecta, people. Ta-righ-fek-TAH.
  • Third, I am a secret GUEST JUDGE for this contest.

Don’t tell anybody. That would ruin the secret.

Pretend you don’t know or ask Will Smith to wipe out your memory of this post, along with your memories of WILD WEST, BAD BOYS 2 and I AM LEGEND, which put the B in Boring despite featuring mondo zombies. I did not think this was possible.

How can a movie with zombies be Snooze City? Then again, LAYER CAKE is (1) a mob movie, with (2) all kinds of action and violence that (3) starred Daniel 007 Craig, and it was perhaps the most boring movie on the planet until HUGO came out. My God.

Back to the flash fiction shebang: Have I been a judge of literary contests before? Sure. This is not my first rodeo. Have I competed in rodeos before? No. Cage matches to the death against mountain lions and bear? Also no.  They are my neighbors, and as long as they leave me alone — and I consider pooping on my land at 3 a.m., when I’m asleep, as leaving me be — then I’ll leave them alone.

HOWEVER: those were Serious Contests about Serious Things, and what I wrote for comments was seriously tame.

This is pure fun. So go, do it, be wild. Write whatever you want for 200 words. THIS IS AMERICA, unless you are in Canada, the UK, Australia or whatever. Either way, I am pretty damn sure writing flash fiction won’t get you a visit from the secret police, unless you’re in Syria, North Korea and about six other places I can’t remember right off.

While we are at it, and because it’s Friendly Friday, this blog we’re talking about — Soul and Sweet Tea — is good stuff. Go show Joey the Francisco some writerly love by subscribing to the blog and following her tweets . She is not annoying and would never pimp books 25 hours a day, eight days a week, because she has wonderful manners, even on the Series of Tubes.

Note: Some folks have reported TECHNICAL PROBLEMS with posting their brilliant 200 words on Joey’s blog. Do not erase your flash fiction or fall into a steaming vat of despair. Post those 200 words as a comment here and I’ll send minions to get those words to Atlanta in time for the contest deadline (Sunday).

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Filed under 6 Friendly Friday, Barons of the Blogosphere, Worthy citizens of the Twitterverse

Friendly Friday: Gwen the Hernandez, Scrivener Goddess

Chances are, anybody writing a novel, screenplay or regular-old play has come to love and hate Word.

Mostly hate.

Whenever a piece gets long and complicated, Word starts to fail you.

After 5,000 words or so, it takes five minutes of fussing with the mouse to scroll around to where you need to work. Anything of length becomes a chore. Navigating your immense document becomes more work than writing more words.

This is where Gwen the Hernandez can help.

Gwen the Hernandez

Gwen the Hernandez is literary muffin of stud. Also, not even the peoples who INVENTED Scrivener know more about it than her.

She is not only an author and blogger, but an expert at Scrivener, which is designed to help writers crank out stuff that is long. Especially novels and screenplays.

This was an accident. Gwen didn’t go to college to major in Scrivener or whatever.

From using it, and writing helpful posts on her blog, she branched out and is now busy writing SCRIVENER FOR DUMMIES, and getting paid to be, I don’t know, some kind of world-class expert on the thing.

This is good for Gwen, good  for writers and good for America.

(Sidenote: I’m not leaving out writers in the UK, Australia and whatnot on purpose. It’s just that the Bob Dole triple-play doesn’t work unless you end it on “good for America.”)

SCRIVENER FOR DUMMIES

SCRIVENER FOR DUMMIES by Gwen the Hernandez. If you're a writer of novels or screenplays, and you are even thinking about using Scrivener, you want to check her blog and maybe, one day, save your pennies to buy her book.

Also, Gwen the Hernandez is blonde, wrote some kind of novel that was a finalist for some award, likes to puts on a gi to punch people / get punched and has ties to the Air Force.

It’s as if I have a female doppleganger on the East Coast.

Gwen, I raise my massive mug of caffeine in your direction.

Visit her blog — and sign up for the thing by email or whatever: 
http://gwenhernandez.wordpress.com/

Also, follow her on the Twitter:
@Gwen_Hernandez

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

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Filed under 6 Friendly Friday, Barons of the Blogosphere, Worthy citizens of the Twitterverse

Writers, we are doing it BACKWARDS

Oh, it kills me to say this: we are doing it backwards.

Maybe you’re the exception to the rule. Perhaps you’re that rare writer who figured this out 10 years ago.

But I doubt it. Most of the writers that I know — whether they’re novelists or journalists, speechwriters or screenwriters — go about it roughly the same way.

Step 1) Research, whether it’s six months of intense study or six minutes of looking at Wikipedia and playing Angry Birds “to let it all percolate.”

Step 2) Boil down the research into useful nuggets of meaty goodness.

Step 3) Use their secret recipe of writing methods to cook up their piece (outlining first or winging it, 3 x 5 index cards or spiral notebook, Word 2010 or Scrivener, one draft or six drafts, coffee or bourbon).

Step 4) Hand the draft to our spouse / best friend / cousin Joey to get all coffee stained and edited. 

Step 5) Spend five or fifty minutes thinking about how to present and sell the sucker for SUITCASES STUFFED WITH TWENTIES.

Those first four steps, they’re essential, right?

Here’s the thing: We writers are incredibly talented at screwing up Step 5.

Backward is bad

Step 5 is the monster lurking under our typewriters. (Yes, I know most of you use computers. Maybe I have a magic typewriter connected to the Series of Tubes.)

It’s the troll under the bridge, snarfing our lunch and saying, “Whatcha gonna do about it, tough guy?”

Now, boiling down a novel clocking in at 100,000 pages is rough. I have author friends who’d rather leap out of a perfectly good airplane, trusting in the bouncy power of their Nike Air Jordans, than write a three-page synopsis. Tagline? Logline? Forgetaboutit.

Doing Step 5 for anything, long or short, is tough.

Tough for screenwriters, who need to boil it down to an elevator pitch.

Tough for editors in newsrooms, who have to write headlines that fit into tiny nooks and corners of the newspaper layout.

Yet nothing else matters if we botch Step 5. Because nobody will see the fruits of our labors, the hard work that went into Steps 1 through 4, if we can’t condense the whole idea into a killer pitch and hook.

Reversing course

Instead of performing the labors of Hercules before even attempting the torture of Step 5, reverse course.

Start there.

Before you invest hours / days / weeks / months into research. Before you sweat bullets to put words on page after page.

Begin with the shortest and most important words.

The  logline (or pitch, but in a sentence, not a paragraph) — “An alien monster stalks the trapped crew of a spaceship.” Optional second sentence: “Sigourney Weaver also does a short advertisement for Hanes.”

The tagline – “In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

The headline – “Alien devours spaceship crew; heading for Earth?”

Test that out, not with friends and family, who are constrained by the need to live with you, and be liked by you. Try a single sentence on people in line at Safeway or Starbucks, neighbors you barely know, visitors from out of town, tourists, people who won’t wound you forever if they make a face and tell you the idea is stupid.

And to get inspiration, use the series of tubes to check out “movie loglines” and “movie taglines” and “great headlines.” Or head to The Onion and read their headlines, which are seven separate flavors of awesomesauce.

Don’t do a thing until you have a logline, tagline and headline that sing.

Go do it. Throw ideas around on a piece of paper or whatever — and not about whatever you’re working on. Dream up a few crazy ideas and write down loglines, taglines and headlines that are shorter than short. Then kill every word you can to make them shorter.

You’re going to notice a few things.

First, the hero doesn’t matter.

Second, the villain matters a whole bunch. If you remove the villain and threat, it kills the logline / tagline / headline. Because stories — even newspaper stories — are about conflict. No villain, no conflict. But if you take out the hero, it usually makes the logline a lot shorter and a lot better.

Here’s another example I’ve used before and will use again, because it is short and sweet and the logline for about six movies that have already been made: “Asteroid will destroy earth.”

See? We don’t need Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck-whatever (Matt Damon‘s buddy, the one who dates & marries Jennifers) in there at all. Heroes just clutter things up.

Third, shorter is better. If you can get it down to three or four words, you are golden.

A new way to write

Let’s get practical. Here’s a new way to write anything.

New Step 1) Nail the logline, tagline and headline.

One sentence apiece, as few words as possible, and yes, it is cheating to have sentences that go on and on forever, sentences with six different commas and possibly semi-colons, which are a sin against the English language in the first place and should be taken out and shot.

New Step 2) Make it work as a paragraph.

Expand it a little, but not too much. Half a page.

New Step 3) Nail it as an outline on ONE PAGE, treating each side fairly.

Whether you’re writing an oped or an opera, a novel or a speech, figure out the biggest possible difference between the beginning and the end — and do it from both POV’s. The villain / problem and the hero / solution.

So: if it’s a romance where the heroine ends up as a great cook who’s happy and in a great relationship, what’s the greatest possible distance she can travel? On page 1, make her  (a) the worst cook in the world, (b) unhappy and (c) alone. How can you take that up a notch? Make her a nun who’s loses her sense of smell (and therefore taste) in a car accident. You get the idea. Read this for what I’m talking about.  The Red Pen of Doom whips SWITCH by Camryn Rhys

If the ending is happy, the beginning better be sad.

If the ending is sad, the beginning should be happy.

If the hero is a tough guy in the end, the best story shows him start out weak — only after he suffers and sacrifices and paints the fence FIVE THOUSAND HOURS does he become a tough guy and prevail (THE KARATE KID).

And you’ve got to make it a fair fight. Nobody thinks they’re a villain. The other side — whether it’s an speech about taxes or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK — has a point. If you don’t give it credence, your writing will be one-sided and weak.

I used ALIEN before. What’s the story for the alien creatures? Maybe they’re a dying race. Maybe that crashed ship contains the last of their kind. The stakes just got a lot higher for the alien, right? You are our only hope, little facehugger. Get in that ship and lay some eggs.

Put yourself in the shoes of Darth Vader and the Emperor, who don’t see themselves as enslaving the galaxy. They’re helping people by establishing law and order. If nobody is in charge, it’s chaos and confusion. A strong empire means safety, security and economic growth. The rebels are violent terrorists who don’t appreciate what they have and will kill whoever it takes to gain power.

Now figure out your turning points. Put in your setups and payoffs. Make it work as an outline before you move on.

New Step 4) Research only what you need.

New Step 5) Write and have a professional editor bleed red ink on the pages until the draft is A SHINY DIAMOND MADE OF WORDS. 

You’ll notice that what used to be an afterthought — Step 5 in the original way of writing — becomes the first three steps.

I did that on purpose.

Say you write a beautiful oped, 700 magnificent words about why the death penalty should be abolished or whatever. Now you’ve got to pick up the phone and pitch an editor at The Willapa Valley Shopper or The New York Times.

The first five seconds (aside from the “hello!” nonsense) will determine if they even look at the piece. Maybe six or seven words, if you talk fast. Part of that will be confidence, tone of voice and other things you can’t learn via a blog post.

Your logline / tagline / headline, though, will matter. A lot. A great speaker with a muddled pitch will lose out to a mumbler with a tremendous idea they can convey in four words.

Hollywood calls this five-second kind of thing “the elevator pitch.” There are websites that devote many, many words to it. Use the powers of the google and check them out. They are useful.

Bottom line: those four words matter more than all 700 words of the oped, all 3,000 of the keynote speech, all 15,000 of the screenplay or all 100,000 of your epic novel about elves with lightsabers riding dinosaurs. Make those four words count.

Related nonsense:

Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt

Everything they taught us about stories was WRONG

Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

How to write KILLER headlines and hooks

Evil storytelling tricks NO ONE SHOULD KNOW

Forget the Twitter: free ink and airtime are your MOST DANGEROUS WEAPONS

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

29 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction

Why are all writers lazy bums?

I don’t really think writers are lazy bums. I just want us all to talk about the elephant in the living room.

Why does writing TAKE SO LONG?

The average person types 50 words per minute.

And that’s slow. I type about 80 or 90. Faster, if I have coffee.

Quicker if I have coffee, a deadline and something to look forward to after.

Typewriter

Image by bitzi☂ via Flickr

Here comes the math.

Fifty words per minute =

  • 3,000 words per hour
  • 24,000 words per eight-hour day
  • 120,000 words per week

That’s a ton of words. An incredible amount.

Let’s do a little more math to see how much we should be cranking out, if we’re not surfing the net, Twittering our lives away and checking out Facebook photos all day.

Here come the word counts:

  • 200 words = letter to the editor
  • 500 words = five-minute speech
  • 600 words = news story
  • 800 words = oped
  • 1,000 words = 10-minute speech
  • 1,000 to 3,000 words = profile or magazine piece
  • 1,000 to 8,000 words = short story
  • 3,000 words = 30-minute keynote speech
  • 15,000 words = screenplay
  • 20,000 to 50,000 words = novella
  • 60,000 to 200,000 words = novel

If you work an honest 40-hour week, you should’ve produced 120,000 words.

That’s eight screenplays or 200 newspaper stories.

It’s 40 keynote speeches or one entire novel. In a single week.

Nobody writes that much. NOBODY.

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday

Vonnegut, Einstein and a Grand Unified Theory of Writing

Kurt Vonnegut was the Man.

Go back and read his books. DO IT NOW.

Once you’ve read his books, and fully appreciate his literary genius, you can watch this low-definition video with horrible audio that still rocks because it has KURT FREAKING VONNEGUT.

I would have paid monies to have him as my professor. Now that I think about it, I did pay monies to have professors. Hmm. Though my journalism profs were top-notch. Props to you all.

Now, it’s not so complicated, is it?

Hero in a hole.

Boy meets girl.

Girl with a problem.

Albert Einstein — and thousands of other people far, far smarter than you or I put together, even on our good days when our fingers spark magic and the coffee we drink would do better on an IQ test than Michele Bachmann — spent many years trying to come up with a unified theory of everything.

See, the whole E=MC2 was only part of the answer. That’s the equation for energy. He wanted to do an equation that also explained gravity and whatnot. IT IS COMPLICATED. We will not get into it.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was a muffin of stud with epic hair. I salute him. Image via Wikipedia

But writing isn’t rocket science. Not even close.

Oh, people get all mystical and complicated, and come up with their own jargon and rules. Yet these self-appointed writing gurus all disagree, and they specialize so much that they know more and more about less and less until they know absolutely everything about nothing.

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