Books, France,, Renni Brown, self editing, Shelly Lowenkopf, Toni Lopopolo, writer routines, Writing, Writing Resources, writing tips

Tips for an Incredible Writing Weekend

It is the evening of my departure for my month long adventure to France. Some anticipatory butterflies are fluttering through my stomach. 

My bags and travel apps are packed. (And yes, I do need to recharge the battery). 

The kids have heard the Riot Act in a couple of different versions. Everything seems like a go, but I’m sure once I’m on the airplane I’ll remember one or two things that are sitting on my dresser at home and not in my suitcase. 

I know I’ll miss my family, my boyfriend, my dog Chip, (but not KiKi the cat- the feeling is mutual). What I didn’t expect was something that crossed my mind a few minutes ago. 

I’m really going to miss my writing ritual. 

The one where I roll out of bed, stretch, push the power button on my laptop,before I go into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and return to my swivel chair with a big mug of steaming coffee, a dash of half and half, and my peanut butter toast. For two hours, sometimes more, I type, refill the coffee cup, and blow crumbs off my desk.

When my friend Amada and I arrive in Upper Normandy on the 1st of September we will have to  establish new writing routines. Luckily both of us are early morning writers and both of us like quiet. 

During this Labor Day weekend, I’m sure you will want to squeeze in some time to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. With that thought I’d like to share some tips for your writing weekend. 

1-These 10 gems for first time novelists to think about are from former St. Martin’s Press editor Toni Lopopolo, Agent in her “Bare Knuckle Writing Workshops.” One of the most important tip is: 

Mistake # 9: Poor Self Editing Skills: FTNs haven’t learned to self edit by editing other writers’ fiction, or by reading the recommended books

Sure, you can pay for a professional edit (anywhere from $4 a page to a flat rate of $ 2000) or you can learn how to self edit, make your story stronger, and save the $$$ for a trip abroad or a new roof.

2-A terrific book, Self Editing for Fiction Writers (How to Edit Yourself into Print) by Renni Browne and Dave King (Editors at William Morrow and Writer’s Digest) is a must for a writer. I belong to a writing group, a writing club, and recently the Goodreads pick for our online writer’s group, Wordsmith Studio. This book has been a must read for all three groups. 

The topics which first time novelists find hard to grasp and usually lack in their stories are:

  •  three dimensional characters, 
  • maintaining point of view, 
  • interior monologue, and 
  • voice

This handy reference book delves into subjects such as showing and telling in a way as to engage the readers’ emotionsEach of the 12 Chapters has a checklist so that you can apply the concepts to your work. 

If you’re not at the self editing stage yet, here are some amazing questions and tips about story, from an instructor I’ve had the privilege to meet. 

3-Shelley Lowenkopf is an editor, writer, and Professor Emeritus at USC. In his Seven Things You Write A Story to Discover you are asked to consider the who, what, where, why and more of story. The question, “Why should we care?” is most important.

We tend to care about stories dramatizing experiences that squeeze characters in ways similar to the squeezes and pressures we have experienced.  We care if someone we identify with is vulnerable.” 

 If the reader doesn’t care, they will stop reading. End of story. 

4-For those of you who are in the throes of revision here’s a handy guide that explains editing marks-you know those scribbles all over your work in progress or manuscript.  

Author’s Success Platform

I’m going to skip tip # 5 for another day, another post, because this one is longer than I anticipated. IF you have a 5th tip let us know in the comment section. We really want to know.

Now, I must get back to the suitcase on the floor and cast out some unlucky clothes. 

And remember, before you start your Writer’s Weekend please:

 Au Revoir Mon Ami’s.

fiction, Renni Brown, self editing, Writing

Why Novels Go into the Dog Pile

In the past two months I’ve read seven books. Okay, read is not the correct word. “Attempted to read,” is more accurate. I tossed four books into the ‘no read’ zone after the third chapter. This was two chapters too late. 

Four of the seven books are self-published and on Amazon. Of these three are first time authors. Three are ‘traditional print’ books with one first time author. 

photo by N. Rigg

Three of the books no longer occupy virtual shelves on my Kindle Fire. Two of the printed ones has a home on the bottom shelf of the bookcase–for now. They are all in the dog pile. At least on the Kindle the virtual poop doesn’t smell or take up space. 

I hated to do it but I couldn’t read the novels anymore. It’s unfortunate that two of them are ARC’s* for book reviews. I pushed myself through two (one an ARC) because the stories had me fascinated. Only one book out of seven, Catherine Ryan Hyde’s When I Found You, made the list of well written reads and retains a place on the physical book shelf.  

The proliferation of useless words and overuse of adverbs (the -ly’s) slung four books into the dog pile. I felt bad dropping those books. I’d feel worse slugging through the novel until the end. What did these less than desirable novels have in common? 

by MAlvaradoFrazier-Click to enlarge

The novels came peppered and over salted with useless words. The ‘-ing’s’ at the beginning of sentences drove me crazy. The ‘As’s’ all over the place made me cross-eyed. One writer used “Suddenly” in every chapter. Several writers had passive sentences on every page. After a dose of these needless words my interest waned. They took me out of the story. I spent more time rewriting the sentences in my head. 

I’m guilty of every one of those words on the graphic. My first manuscript came back drenched in a red sea of edits, you’d thought I typed in red. It wasn’t about using correct grammar, it was about passive sentences, the overuse of adverbs, and the ‘as’ construction. 

It took one book (recommended by the person who did the edit) to set me straight on this subject: Self Editing for the Fiction Writer: How to Edit Yourself into Print. Renni Brown and Dave King’s book Self-Editing devotes a chapter titled Sophistication to illustrate: 

     One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to avoid two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers, namely:
Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him
As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.

     Both the “as” construction and the “-ing” construction as used above are grammatically correct  and express the action clearly and unambiguously.  But notice that both of these constructions take a bit of action (“She pulled off her gloves…”)  and tuck it away into a dependent clause (“Pulling off her gloves…”). 

This tends to place some of your actions at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant.  And so if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.  (stronger writing?  She pulled on her gloves and turned to face him.)

Another reason to avoid the “as” and “-ing” constructions is that they sometimes give rise to physical impossibilities.  

“Disappearing into my tent, I changed into fresh jeans.”  The -ing construction forces simultaneity on two actions that can’t be simultaneous. The doctor didn’t duck into the tent and pull on pants at the same time. Better, stronger is:

I disappeared into my tent, found my jeans, and pulled them on. (Stronger writing and possible).

Do avoid the hack’s favorite constructions unless you have a good reason for using them.  And do catch all these things when you edit, not when you are writing.
And remember: The participle construction (Walking, Pulling, disappearing,  ing, ing ing) to begin a sentence) has a particularly AMATEURISH flavor when placed at the beginning of a sentence.

Writing, like a beautiful looking meal, is inedible when over salted. Do you have any ‘reading’ pet peeves you’d like to share? I’d like to hear them because anything that helps us become better writers is a good thing.

*ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) 
Holly Lisle, One Pass Manuscript revision, Renni Brown, Revision, Sol Stein, Writing

One Pass Manuscript Revision

     In the last post I wrote about a comment given by author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez about journaling. She mentioned that when she writes in longhand she gets in touch with deeper emotions. I tried this and  ‘journaled’ the first two chapters of my MS, made some revisions and took those chapters to a critique group of twelve women. In short, I got the thumbs up in the area of emotions and interior monologue. Now I need to go through 38 more chapters and I hunted around sites to help ease the pain of revisions.

     But before I get to that I have to say that reading a few books about writing are necessary to make your revisions easier. That is don’t make ‘hack’ mistakes that many novice writers make while they write their first MS, or you’ll have more to cut-(Guilty). There are many books on writing but if I could only chose one I’d say the most helpful for novices (non MFA’s or English Lit majors) was: “Sol Stein on Writing by Sol Stein”. For revisions I’d chose these two:”Self -Editing,” by Renni Brown and “Manuscript Revision,” by Elizabeth Lyon.

     There are several ways to tackle revisions but I decided to chose one method and stick to it. The one that made sense and lured me in with its title, “One Pass Manuscript Revision,” is discussed on The first draft of your novel is finished. Now, according to the recommendations of any number of writing books, pundits, and writers who go through this themselves, you’re in for five or ten or more rounds of revision, in which you’ll polish your work until it is a gleaming, perfect pearl … and in which process you’ll dither for months or years.You can do that if you want. But you don’t have to…” Years to revise? No, I’d rather write some more than spend years revising. 

      There is a supply list to gather first. If you can’t find these around the house head down to the Dollar or 99 cents Store to buy:  cheap spiral bound 8 1/2 by 11 inch notebook (NO Justin Beiber, unless you’re revising a YA book), two smooth writing pens (I like Pentel RSVP, nice cushion for your finger). Find good lighting and a table with enough room to stack your printed out MS in 3 piles with the spiral notebook next to it. I’d also add a water container, coffee, or other non-alcoholic beverage (you want to finish the MS not add a bottle to the recycle bin). And last and important, find your nerves of steel or ganas.

     Now open your notebook and write down:
1-Theme of your novel in 15 words or less: i.e. Love conquers evil, transformation, relationships, or any of the other several universal themes.
3-What is your book about in 25 words or less
4-A one line story arc for the books main character (the Protaganist).
5-The main characters and one paragraph of 250 words or less describing the story. Think of it like a blurb on the back of a book jacket.
6-Your word count: Adult novels fall in the 90,000 range while Young Adult falls in the 60-80,000 range.

     If you can’t do the above you can’t revise until you get these mandatory elements down. These will guide you on your ‘slash and burn’ expedition, which is the hard work. You can find the rest of Holly Lisle’s article at the website above. It’s a little too long to summarize and I could use that time to write some more. I’ll post my comments on Ms. Lisle’s method next week when I begin the process. Until then, write on. 

books on writing, Renni Brown, Sol Stein, Writing

Sol Stein and Renni Brown- Books on writing

Did I mention that I’m going to another boot camp for writers? I guess I like being a grunt and going back for more.The Basic Boot Camp, or BBC, took place in October 2010 and the one I’m taking in late March is an advanced BC ( cue the horn for a rousing blast of celebration). A couple of weeks before BBC we submitted ten pages of a manuscript in progress or from a completed manuscript.

During the three day critique and write fest we used two books, “Stein on Writing” and “Self Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Browne and Dave King. I swear I read most of both books before we started BBC, but after the first critique I knew I was in the running for Poster Child of Brown’s Chapter 11: Sophistication. Now this sounds like a good thing-it is NOT.

In writing, a few stylistic tricks lend sophistication to your writing. Two of the big no-no’s if you want to appear ‘sophisticated,’ is the avoidance of the ‘as’ construction and ‘-ing’ additions:
    As she… and
    Pulling off her dress…
Chapter 11 also cautions the writer to avoid -ly adverbs and exclamation points. It might be permissible to have one adverb per page but only one exclamation point per novel.

Now I’ve seen these no-no’s used many times and that’s the point, they are overused, abused, and now no good for novice writers to use. Our BBC instructor cried out “Hack, hack, hack,” when she heard the grunts using these devices.
“But best selling author’s use them…” someone’s voice whimpered.
“Are you a best selling author?” was the response.
Good point.

That night, after BBC, I spent an hour on my ten pages, cleaning up my non-sophisticated ways and went to day 2. After the second critique, our instructor smiled and said I had a ‘point of view’ problem, didn’t I read Chapter 2 of Brown and Chapter 13 of Stein? I’m not easily frightened but I did laugh out of nervousness. She showed me where I moved out of one characters head and spoke out of another one’s body. Once it was pointed out I could see it (at that precise time, because I’ve submitted more work since then, and it has pov scribbled on several pages). Before the day was up each person wore the non-sophistication crown or was the POV queen. It was not all good.

One the third day we spent time on Chapter 2 of Brown’s book. A new phrase entered our writer’s language: RUE- Resist the Urge to Explain. This means when the writer describes a character’s emotion when he/she has already shown it by dialogue and action. The writer comes off as explaining too much to the reader as if he/she doesn’t get the point. If the emotion is shown, the explanation isn’t needed. Made sense.

My personal choice for best of the two is Stein on Writing, as my dogeared text can attest. It’s a large book but useful to have in your arsenal. The glossary of editor and writer terms in the back are handy and there is a chapter on “Triage-A Better way of Revising Fiction.”

It has been two hours since I sent in my 10 pages for the Advanced BC. I await the red line edits and brace myself for more critiques and comments. It’ll be fine, unless the instructors spring more books on writing on us. I can only wear so many crowns.