Category Archives: craft

The Hardest 3 Paragraphs to Write

Most people think that the process of writing a book is difficult. Sometimes it is. Sometimes, on those rare occasions when the stars and planets all align in perfect order, it isn’t.

But what few people realize is writing the book is only half the battle.

Once the book is written, once it’s edited and prepped for publication, then the truly difficult writing begins. For then, a writer has to write the most difficult three paragraphs of any project.

You have to write the dreaded back cover copy!

We’re told that this small insight into our current masterpiece should be about three paragraphs in length and should be between 150 and 200 words. Less than 200 words to tell the world how amazing your novel truly is.

Let’s be perfectly honest, most writers hate writing the back cover copy. I know I do. I put it off until the bitter end and then procrastinate a few hours more hoping against hope that I’ll come up with something clever at the last moment.

Inspiration never happens. I always flounder around in the dark forgetting how to form an actual sentence. It’s a horrible but necessary exercise that I go through with each new writing project.

And yet here’s what the back cover copy would actually say if we were truly free to write exactly what we want readers to know about our book.

“Dear Reader,

Buy my book. It’s the greatest thing you’ve ever read. I know because I wrote it. I spent (insert number) weeks/months/years/decades of my life toiling over every single word to make it perfect. And it’s AWESOME! Even my mom said so.

I can’t tell you about the plot because I don’t want to give away the super secret ending that’s guaranteed to make you laugh/cry/scream in terror. But trust me, you’ll never guess what happens. Be prepared to be amazed.

So anyway, but my book because like I said, it’s awesome. And you’ll love it. I promise. And if you don’t, we’ll just keep that little tidbit between ourselves. Thanks.”

Now that’s the most honest back cover copy that you’ll never read it anywhere but here. The reason is simple, readers would never buy that book. As a reader, I wouldn’t buy that book but as a writer, I wish it was that simple.

Alas, nothing is ever as simple as you’d like it to be. So now I need to spend the next few hours struggling to write three paragraphs for my current project.  Hopefully, it’ll be brilliant!

Good luck with your own writing projects. May inspiration shine down upon us all!

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Things

The other day I was chatting with a lady who was very curious about my writing career. I’ll offer you a condensed version of the conversation.

Lady: So, how do you become a writer?

Me: You write.

Lady: That part doesn’t sound hard because I have some great ideas but what about all the little stuff?

Me: What little stuff?

Lady: You know, like commas and quotes and stuff like that.

Me: You mean grammar?

Lady: Yeah, all that stuff. I don’t know where any of that stuff goes.

Me: Ummm… tactful, tactful, tactful…Yeah, grammar is kind of important.

Lady: But don’t you just send it off and the people do all that stuff?

Me: People?

Lady: Yeah, the people who publish it.

Me: Well, I’m an independent writer so I am the people.

She was somewhat deflated after that but we continued to chat for a few more minutes before we parted company. I’m not sure writing is in her future. Especially since the little stuff she kept referring to is actually pretty big stuff.

In fact it’s major stuff.

In a way, the conversation with this lady reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother about a year ago. He’s a construction expert who specializes in foundation repair. He was telling me about a client of his who noticed the walls of his house were shifting.

The home was not very old and had been built by the previous owner.  It was a nice house, valued well over $250k, which for the area is a substantial size. The client was the poor soul unfortunate enough to purchase the home. You see, as my brother began to investigate the cause to the problem, he found that there was no foundation. For reasons only known to God, the previous owner/builder had not poured any footings. Not one. He had merely laid some crossties or beams down and started building.

I mean, who needs footings anyway, right?

As you can imagine, the solution to this problem was not pleasant. My brother recommended contacting a good attorney.

Grammar is the foundation for good writing. Without it there is nothing to build on.

Grammar is a piano I play by ear. Joan Didion Click To Tweet

Of course, artistic expression comes into play, but the basic grammatical foundation is always there. Can you imagine opening a book and finding one long continuous block of words without the first hint of punctuation? How would the reader differentiate between characters or settings? Who is speaking and when? Where are they and what are they doing?

The mere idea makes head hurt.

I would actually argue that for independent writers, grammar is more important than for traditionally published authors. Why would I say that? It’s simple. The idea of an independent writer comes with a heavy stigma. Many readers assume that the only reason authors go the independent route is because they can’t get a traditional publishing deal. Somehow their work isn’t quite good enough to make the cut. These readers are hesitant to give our work a try from the beginning because they already think it’s going to be of a poor quality and why should anyone waste their money on poor quality?

That stereotype is changing, but change comes slowly in the minds of the masses.

Unfortunately, there are a great number of independents out there who prove that point. Every single day, thousands of new titles hit the marketplace. With those types of numbers, some bad ones are bound to slip by, like the books written by someone who wasn’t worried about the little things, such good grammar. Alas, that just goes to further alienate mainstream readership.

Look, I get it writing is a hard, especially if you choose to go the independent route. EVERYTHING falls squarely on your shoulders. Story and character development, writing, editing, rewriting, quality control, layout and design, publication, distribution, and marketing. Whether you do it yourself or hire a team to assist you, it is all ultimately your responsibility.

And THAT’S a lot of responsibility and work. It’s easy to be tempted to skip something.

Personally, I love being an independent writer. I enjoy learning more about the process with each new project.

But I would NEVER, EVER try to take on a writing project without a firm grammatical foundation. I wouldn’t consider editing it. I wouldn’t want to read it. And I pray to God that I would never write it.

As I said before, the idea makes my head hurt.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to go diagram some sentences and brush up on my comma usage.

Here’s hoping you never find a book without its foundation!

Happy Writing!

What’s In a Name? The Art of Naming Your Characters

A friend of mine asked me yesterday how I come up with the names for my characters. That’s a great question but not necessarily the easiest to answer.

For me, naming my characters is one of the most difficult parts of writing. And my process, such as it is, varies from project to project.

In my early days of writing, long before I ever wrote anything worth publishing, naming the characters was a rather straightforward process. I’d write down a list of potential names then randomly cross off the ones which brought back bad memories.

That girl used to pick on me during recess. He may have been one of the stupidest people I’ve ever met. She flirted with my boyfriend in college. 

Once I eliminated those bad apples from the list, then I’d pick my favorites and begin writing, assigning names to each of the characters in turn. The process was more akin to dealing a deck of cards than anything else. I didn’t say it was a good method, but it was at least a beginning.

Thankfully, I’ve evolved far beyond that.

Now when I write, I’ll try to get a deeper connection to the character I’m working with. Where are they from? When were they born? What is their personality like? Are they shy, outgoing, intelligent, scatterbrained, funny, or a bit nerdy? Do I want to convey a hidden meaning in their name that addresses a specific personality trait and if so, will that trait be overtly addressed during the unfolding of the story or will it be something that only I know?

Take Maggie Arnet and Carmen Peterson, the two main characters in The Face in the Mirror. For Maggie, I worked up a full Myers Briggs personality profile and printed off a complete list of the traits she would normally display. Additionally, I played with several different names to find the one that could easily work with the various nicknames she was given during the book. In the end, Maggie worked best for that character and seemed to set the mood that I was going for.

Carmen, on the other hand, presented a unique challenge. I had already finished about 2 1/2 chapters with the character using a completely different name. During that initial draft, she was named Allison which wasn’t working for her personality. I actually conducted an unofficial survey on Facebook and offered to name a character after the person who gave the best answer to the question. At the time, I was looking for the name of a minor character. A friend from high school, Carmen, won the Q&A and I immediately changed the name of the main character without a moments hesitation. The name fit like a glove.

For me, it’s important to find a name that will enhance the reader’s experience rather than draw away from it. What I mean by that is I don’t want the reader to be so focused on how odd the name is or how to pronounce the name and to lose sight of the story that’s developing. I want to build a complete person in the reader’s mind. I want there to be a continuity there.

Finding names now is so much easier than it was in years past. We have at our fingertips a wealth of resources. Facebook is a phenomenal source. What age group are you looking for? Young 20s? Great! Find anyone on your friends list in that age group and sift through their friends of the same age. You may not find the perfect name for a main character but you will find a host of names for supporting characters to use throughout your book. Looking for the most popular girl’s names from 1955? A quick Google search will yield a plethora of sources for you to delve into. That same search will also provide the meanings and origins of the names in question. I even used IMDB when choosing the names in Beneath the Mulberry Tree.

One word of caution, I’m very careful to avoid naming characters directly after people I know. Carmen was an exception and I told my friend well in advance that I would be doing that. I was also pretty far into the character development before that name switch took place. For me, I don’t want to name a character after someone I know very well and then begin to see that character as the person I know. I want each character to be his/her own unique self with their own individual idiosyncrasies.

And lastly, we all have a few names that are just our favorites to say for whatever reason. I personally love the name Rupert. I sounds so delightfully British and upper crust. I’m going to use that one somewhere but haven’t found the right place for it. I have a vague idea but alas nothing concrete as of yet.

Thanks for a great question. Hope this helps to shed a bit a light on my process.

Happy Reading!!

My Writing Playlist

violin-924349_1920One of the most frequent questions I get asked about writing is what music do I listen to when I’m writing? For the most part, the answer is none when I’m actually putting pen to paper.

However, during the time that I’m writing a particular novel or piece, I’m usually listening to some type of music that will help get me into the general mood of the character. For example, while I was writing The Face in the Mirror, I spent quite a lot of time listening to opera, Broadway musicals, and classical music. Maggie Arnet loves her concertos after all! I spent hours pouring over the great arias and listening to various movements of different sonatas.

By contrast, when I was working on Beneath the Mulberry Tree, I needed to connect with a completely different era and mindset. There’s nothing like some great old jazz and swing to do that. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and, of course, my personal favorite, Ella Fitzgerald, were regulars on my playlist. These songs helped to put me in a frame of mind when romance was thought of in a completely different way. In many ways, romance was far simpler and more straightforward. Through the lyrics, I was reminded that love is not the convoluted experience we know today.

Now, I’m working on a different novel. The main character has an down-to-earth, country feel. He enjoys the simpler things in life and has a solid foundation in old fashioned values. So, what’s on the playlist? Country music from the 80s and early 90s. Before the cross-over pop culture infiltrated the airwaves. Artists that I miss hearing on a daily basis: The Judds, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Trisha Yearwood, George Straight, Vern Gosdin, and many, many others.

Many writers find that listening to music during the writing process is relaxing. Frankly, I don’t. To me it’s very distracting as I’ll get caught up in the lyrics of the song. Like the constant distractions of the internet and Facebook, too much music will draw me away from the ideas I’m formulating and the images I’m trying to convey. I’ll become wrapped up in another artists’ work.

If I do listen to much while writing, it’s usually a very meditative, new age type instrumental piece set to a low volume. My kids will sometimes joke with me that I keep my music so low that no one can actually hear it. For me, that’s the point. I want something calming but not distracting to the writing process.

Of course, when I do turn up the volume to try and immerse myself in my character’s mindset, my kids will groan and mumble at the music selected. Not always, but fairly often. I guess going between several hundred years of musical trends is not common. Thankfully though, my eclectic musical choices have rubbed off on them even if they won’t readily admit it.

In the end, if you’re a writer, the type of music you listen to during your writing process is as individual as the story you are telling. There is no right or wrong answer. What matters most is that the music doesn’t in any way hinder your process. If you detest Country, I certainly wouldn’t suggest listening to it while you write. Likewise for any other type of genre. Find the type of music that helps elevate your own unique voice, not the one that drowns it out. Then, the music you listen to will become an asset rather than a hindrance.

Happy Writing and Have a Great Weekend!

The Most Dangerous Word

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer.” This is the most common phrase I hear when I tell people I’m a novelist. Chances are, if you write, you’ve heard it or some variation of it as well.

I get it. It’s what I always used to say before I took the plunge into the murky and often terrifying waters of fiction writing. I want to be a writer, but…

But! The most dangerous word in the English language. It’s the reason so many good ideas and dreams never see fruition.

But the kids are in school and I have to work. Then there’s band camp, football practice, cheerleading, and soccer. There’s simply too much to do.

But I’ve got to take care of my parents, my husband, my kids, my pet parakeet.

But I don’t know if I’d have the patience to finish a whole novel.

But I don’t know how to even go about writing/editing/publishing a book.

But. But. But.

It can kill a dream as quickly as the dreaded question ‘what if?’

I wish that there was some sort of magic pill I could prescribe to ease all your daily struggles long enough for you to finish that masterpiece that’s floating around in your head. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t one.  There’s no one-size-fits-all writing method that will work for everyone. We each have a different method, style, favorite song to listen to, and place we like to go to when we write.

You have to find yours.

It isn’t easy. Growth never is. Yet, if you truly have a burning desire to write and craft stories, it’s something that you have to do.

You have to write! Each and every day. If only for a few minutes at a time.

Starting is difficult. I know that from firsthand experience. I spent many years pushing my dreams of writing aside for other things. Life has a tendency to get in the way of purpose if we let it. Once I was finally able to admit to myself how important writing was to me, I started slowly with a few scraps of gibberish and snippets of ideas. Eventually, I began to write longer and much more fluid stories.

And then I set down to write a novel. I decided mentally that I would tackle the beast. I wrote the rough draft in about four months. A few weeks longer than I wanted to take, but I did it!! I slew the dragon that had held me at bay for so long.

The rough draft of the work is on the shelf in my closet. It’s terrible! And it’s one of my proudest achievements. Because through that exercise, I proved to myself that I COULD finish a book. I did have the discipline. I could see a story and plot out to the end.

Writers naturally have an overbearing self-critic drumming away in our brains. Listening to that critic, with all the what ifs, buts, and negativity will cripple even the best laid plans.

It’s time to turn it off and get to writing. It’s okay that the first few lines will be crap. It’s okay if you still don’t have any usable material after writing for a week. I spent four months writing a novel that will never be published. I wouldn’t trade a minute of that exercise. It was a vital step toward where I am today. Just remember that each day you spend writing is a day you are improving your skills. You’re honing your craft. You’re silencing your demon that says you can’t.

Write! If you want to be a writer, just write! It’s the only way to start. And it’s the only way to overcome all that’s holding you back.