Dramaquill's All Things Writing

December 31, 2014

Resolutions or Goals?

According to several online sources, it seems that approximately 40-45% of folks make new year’s resolutions.  Sadly, it’s also reported that approximately 60% fail at keeping them.

As a writer, do you make resolutions?

Several years back, the moderator of my online critique group challenged the members to submit their writing and writing related goals for the coming year.  As a member of the group, at first I struggled a little.  What was the difference between a goal and a resolution?

What I discovered was that my goals were quite specific and focused:

  • Revise the last five chapters of my novel and submit it to my critique group next month.
  • Draft a query letter and send it to (insert name of publisher here) the week my critique group goes over my chapters.
  • By the end of January, finish the second act of the play that my drama group will be performing in the spring.
  • Pick three agents from my list of potential agencies to query.

Everything was quite specific.

Had I made a list of resolutions I fear they would have been very similar to those made by many who fail to see them through:

  • Write more everyday
  • Read more books
  • Start or keep a journal
  • Pick your platform
  • Join a writing group

These are all very respectable but since they aren’t as specific (no deadlines or set amounts) that it’s much easier for them to fail.

So this year, are you going to make a list of resolutions or are you going to set some writing goals?

June 11, 2013

Sequel nearing completion

Just plotted out the last five chapters of my sequel
The finish line is in sight
Never give up

May 10, 2013

Writing a novel is like running a marathon.

Writing a novel can seem like a daunting task, especially to the first-time newbie.  A novel is long (according to Wikipedia, it’s 40,000 words or more)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_count#In_fiction

A novel needs a plot that can sustain all those chapters and keep the reader interested until the very end.

http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/Plot.html

http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/plot-outline.html

A novel requires characters that people will care about enough to keep reading.

http://thewritepractice.com/resources/characterization/

http://voices.yahoo.com/unique-tips-creating-memorable-characters-your-315059.html?cat=3

But most of all, you have to sit on your butt and write…and write…and write.  And here’s where I think it’s similar to training for a marathon.

At first, it’s very likely you won’t be able to just sit and write and everything will fall neatly into place.  You’ll need to develop stamina to keep you there for the long run.  Just as an athlete has to work up to the distance of a marathon (http://running.about.com/od/marathontrainingfaqs/f/What-Is-The-Distance-Of-A-Marathon.htm)
a novel will consist of a large number of chapters.  To me, writing each one is somewhat similar to running each mile (or kilometre) of a marathon.  It may sound and look daunting when you think about it as a whole, but tackling it one unit at a time will get you to your ultimate finish line.

Runners train for marathons.

How can a writer train?

* choose your genre
* start with an idea for a story
* build on that idea
* develop your main character(s) and secondary characters
* Start writing the rough draft
* Don’t worry about editing until you reached the end of the story you wish to tell

But whatever you do, keep going!  Push through when it gets hard.  Seek support from fellow writers.  Read blogs and articles to motivate you on days when you want to quit.

Like any big goal, getting started is the hard part.  Break it up into small, attainable goals and you’ll have that novel written before you know it!

September 18, 2012

Teaching Drama inspired me to get back to writing

As the owner of a performing arts studio, my schedule becomes almost overwhelming from late August through mid September.  It’s both exhilarating and exhausting.

I’ve now entered the phase where all of my classes have begun and I’m re-connecting with former students as well as meeting new ones.  It’s an exciting time at my studio.

Saturday was the first day of classes and as it happens, all of our drama programs are on Saturday.

First up was the 6-10 year old group.  As we all played a fun drama game to learn each other’s names, I saw snippets of creativity begin to emerge.  Even the shy children were eager to say and do something that would make everyone remember them.  The collective energy in the drama room produced an encouraging atmosphere where the students felt themselves trying things outside of their comfort zones and enjoying it.

The second group consisted of the 11-17 year old crowd.  This diverse group ranged from kids with plenty of creative experience to others with absolutely none.  Interestingly enough, as we worked on a variety of group and individual activities, this group definitely had a noticeable split between the “up for anything” creative types and the “shy and guarded” individuals, however, by the end of the class, the split had weakened considerably.

Finally, the last class, a large group of students ages 9-18 entered the studio.  Many of these kids have taken programs with us before, however there was also a handful of newcomers.  One might think that such a mix of ages would result in chaos, but the opposite took place.  Different levels of creativity took shape as we integrated ages and abilities, familiar and unfamiliar.  The creative energy became infectious during the ninety minute session.

You’re probably all wondering what any of this has to do with writing.

Writing alone is great when your creativity flows and the words just spew out of you and on to the page.  But as we all know, there are also times when the complete opposite happens.

Creativity grows when surrounded by creativity.

Join a writing group.

Talk to other writers.

Talk to potential readers.

Read books that aren’t in your comfort zone and see how you feel when you’re done.

Participate in a critique group.

I always feel more inspired and creative after I’ve done any one of these things.  It just took me a day of teaching drama to remember how great it is to interact.

April 22, 2012

Don’t be a Loner: My cure for Writer’s Block

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There have been times when I’ve been working on one of my manuscripts and I just can’t seem to produce ten coherent words.  Yep – that dreaded writer’s block!

Writer’s block used to panic me.  What if I never get any more ideas?  What if my writing ability has dried up?  I’m sure you’ve all been there at some time or other.

For the most part, writing is a solitary activity, unless you happen to be collaborating with another writer on a project.  But let’s face it, most of a writer’s working time is spent alone.

All that alone time is great when your creative juices are flowing but it can become pretty debilitating when the words stop coming.  Yes, you can get up and move around.  You can check your email, make a snack, phone a friend or do a million other things to get you back on track.  None of these have ever worked for me.  All it does it take me further away from figuring out how to get back to writing.

But, if I talk to another writer, whether in an email from my online critique group, or in person with another local writer, it doesn’t take long before I’m excited to get back to one of my projects. 

Just the other day, I opened up the file for my second suspense novel and realized that I’ve hit a brick wall.  I haven’t been able to spend as much time working on it these past few months and the entire story has just stalled.  I really need to finish it and submit it to my publisher by summer. 

Then, yesterday, I had a great conversation with an author I know who is on her fifth revision of her first novel.  A ten minute conversation and I could hardly wait to get home and get writing.  Just ten minutes and my writer’s battery recharged.

This isn’t the first time that connecting with another writer has inspired me.  I cherish my online critique group.  Every time I feel sidetracked or wonder if I’ll ever write another intelligent word, I just need to interact with these writers for a bit and wham – writer’s block gone!

And it usually isn’t a conversation about me, my writing or even writer’s block that gets me going again.  It could be an email that one of the group just got picked up by an agent.  Perhaps it’s a fabulous chapter, written by someone in the group, that I have to critique.  It could even be the mention of a new contest or opportunity that might be of interest to someone in the group.

All I know is that the quickest way for me to get out of my own writer’s block is to connect with another writer.

How do you handle your periods of writer’s block?

April 3, 2012

Writing and Competitive Sports

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The other morning, reading through several popular writing ezines, I got somewhat caught up in  the guidelines for many upcoming writing contests, which got me to thinking about writing in a new way.

As writers, we are constantly competing for our chance to be published – our “win”, so to speak.  Winning a contest is somewhat like winning a sporting championship, isn’t it? 

Sports team coaches drill their players on skills and techniques that will ultimately make them stronger, better players and therefore, a more successful team.  Writers hone their skills and techniques in order to become better wordsmiths who can produce stronger, more saleable manuscripts.

For both, the ultimate prize is the win!

Writers have to compete with one another all the time for everything from pieces in magazines and newspapers to contracts with agents and publishers.  To me, winning an acceptance for publication is akin to winning a sports championship.  Exhilarating and satisfying.

To succeed, both the team sport player and the writer do several things:

1.      Make their activity a priority
2.      Constantly work on improving their skills and techniques
3.      Seek out opportunities for learning new things
4.      Enter competitions
5.      Look to mentors for coaching and critiquing
6.      Expect nothing less than their best

I was never very good at competitive sports.  I think I’m doing much better as a writer.

Do you treat your writing like a competitive sport? 

Are you doing everything you can to be the best you can be?

January 30, 2012

Visiting the classroom as a Guest Author

I was invited to speak to two classes of children (included 4th, 5th and 6th grade students) for literacy week.  The principal invited local published authors to speak to the kids about what it’s like to be a writer.

I’ve never enjoyed giving a speech.  The thought of being up there alone, and as myself, doesn’t paint a very interesting picture in my mind.  Let me recite a monologue as a fabulous literary character from a great work of fiction, and that excites me.

So how was I going to interest these young minds in two areas that many admitted they didn’t really enjoy doing:  reading and writing.

Instead of giving a speech and trying to figure out how to make them listen to me ramble on about my thoughts on being a writer, I turned the tables to them and started my presentation by asking them some questions:

1.    What makes a book interesting enough for you to want to read it?

2.    What types of characters do you enjoy?

3.    What kinds of stories interest you?

4.    What turns you off in a book?

The enthusiastic hand waving instantly got us talking.  Even those kids who said they really didn’t like to read much had comments on what types of stories they would prefer if they did have to read a book.

Next, I presented them with this question:

Have you ever read a story and wished you could have changed it?

This engaged even more enthusiasm as student after student offered their imaginative ways to improve upon stories they’d read.  They got excited when I told them that being a writer meant that they could make the story be whatever they wanted.  The characters would be designed by their imaginations.  Eager hands raised and creative ideas flowed as students, guest writer and teacher all engaged in the excitement of the writing process.

Finally, I offered a way to prompt them on starting a story.  I asked them all to close their eyes and ask themselves this question…What if? 

What if when I went to sleep tonight…
What if my lunch box was filled with…
What if the teacher could…
What if the stairs at school turned into jello…
What if I could draw something and it would come to life and…

Now the students were really excited and wanted to write their own *what if* story.

I also showed them some of the magazines, anthologies and market books I’ve had work published in and talked to them a little about what it takes to write an entire book and the process required to get it published.  They seemed most impressed with the fact that something that they could create could actually earn them some money as a career someday.

I hope that my visit helped convince many of them to enter the writing contest being held in our city next month.  I do know that I definitely helped them get a jump-start on tapping into their own creative ideas.

But the best part of the visit was watching them get excited about reading and writing. 

As a writer, what do you do to inspire those around you?

October 12, 2011

Getting ebook reviews

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Every author wants feedback, but getting book reviews can be time consuming and challenging. 

Here’s where I think that having an ebook provides a real advantage.

According to statistics, over two billion people use the internet on a regular basis.  That’s two billion potential customers for your ebook and the potential for tons of feedback.

So how do you go about getting the word out to reviewers?

Well, in my case, I submitted my book to an actual publisher (not a vanity press) so that I’d have the clout of my publishing company to help publicize my book.  My publisher submits all their books to many different review sites so they’ve already done a big chunk of the work for me.

But don’t despair if you did decide to self publish.  You can google “ebook reviewers” and get lots of results from blogs (where the owner has already compiled lists for you) to other sites that list ebook review sites.  Here are a few to get you started:

http://www.ebookcrossroads.com/ebook-reviewers.html

http://www.tinahunter.ca/links/ebook-reviewers/

http://www.twilighttimes.com/practical_tips4.html  (scroll down the page to find reviewers)

Getting reviews not only hooks potential new customers into buying your ebook but having numerous reviews also means that your ebook’s title will show up with more results with search engines. 

My suspense novel has been reviewed on amazon.com, the Pen and Muse, Coffee Time Romance and most recently on Pulist http://www.pulist.net/when-love-wont-die.html

It may take some time but keep contacting reviewers online.  All it costs is a free download of your ebook.  And don’t forget to encourage everyone who’s read your book to go and post a review wherever it’s available.

Don’t be discouraged if you submit to review sites and don’t get a review.  Just make sure you submit.

September 14, 2011

Download-file.net SCAM SITE update

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Just an update to my previous post on this site that appears to be illegally offering content for free download.

Several writers have gone to the site and found that their books were indeed posted without their permission.  Many contacted their publishers and also contacted the site.

Some members of my critique group and also some from my publisher decided to search everything from big name authors to complete jibberish and guess what?  Yep – everything and anything searched came back with results.

So fear not, fellow writers.  Although the site makes it appear that your books have been stolen, it’s unlikely that the site has any legitimate content whatsoever.

But here’s the real warning…

In order to download content, one must join the site and pay the introductory trial fee of $4.99.  That means divulging credit card info. 

DON’T DO IT!

I contacted Angela Hoy of writersweekly.com earlier this week and her thoughts were that perhaps the download links are viruses.  So, if you pay to join the trial membership and then click on one of the downloads to see if it’s really your book, you could end up inviting a virus into your computer.

The beauty of the internet is that we are all connected and getting information out is relatively easy and extremely quick.

As far as download-file.net is concerned…DANGER WIL ROBINSON!

September 9, 2011

Writers Beware: Someone may be stealing your book right now!

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I’ve made it a habit to google myself and my book title monthly.  Usually I’m pleasantly surprised at the new sites that have picked up my book and offered it for sale in their online stores or new reviews from new readers. 

That wasn’t the case this month.

In fact, I found illegal copies of my book in numerous digital formats all offered for download at the following site:

http://download-file.net

They DO NOT have permission to offer my book for download, free or otherwise.

They DID NOT contact my publisher or myself.

They ARE STEALING from me and from my publisher.

My editor contacted them and so did I.  I got back a bogus link to click that apparently was the tracking page to this incident.  It was given a fancy incident number and everything.  But the page doesn’t exist.

I found someone else who’s had the same problem.  They also have tried numerous ways to contact the site owners but never get any response.

Isn’t it difficult enough for new writers to make it in this biz without the unscrupulous thieves who choose to steal from someone else in order to make money.

How do they make money?

If you want to download anything from their site, you pay $4.99 for a one month trial membership.  Otherwise, if you’re a non-paid member, you can’t download anything.

Writers Beward:  Download-file.net may be stealing a copy of your book right now!

June 14, 2011

Inspiration can come from anywhere

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My mind is always going at warp speed.  I can be working on one project and suddenly, bam, another idea pops into my head.  I’ve never been one of those writers who struggle to come up with the next idea.

I’m lucky – and I’m probably in the minority.  But, it got me to thinking one day.  Why is it so easy for some writers to become inspired with a new project and so difficult for others?

I don’t know about other writers but I think, for me, it’s being aware of the details of my surroundings.  I’ll give you some examples…

I have pets – dogs.  I’ve used their antics to craft children’s poetry, stories and plays. 

I own a performing arts studio where I’m surrounded by students from age 3 to senior citizens. Working with such a diverse group of individuals really gives me insight into what interests and entertains the different age groups as well as great fodder for traits for my characters.

I live in a city of approximately 110,000.  There are so many wonderful places to just go and people watch.  My handy notebooks are filled with physical descriptions, mannerisms, and expressions.  It’s also very picturesque in my corner of the world and on the advice of a mentor, I decided to set my suspense novels in different locations near where I live.

Do you have kids?  Watch what makes them laugh…cry…angry.  What keeps them interested? 

Many writers get inspiration from the daily news headlines.  Current issues can provide inspiration for articles and different slants on hot topics.  Crime stories can jump start a mystery or thriller.

We all have a myriad of people pass through our lives on a regular basis.  They all have a lot to offer us if we take the time to look for something about them, or in their lives, that can jumpstart an idea.

Many writers enjoy online ezines, blogs and newsletters.  Often, ezines and newsletters will send a writing prompt.  Try freewriting the next time you read one and see where it takes you.

An online friend of mine exhibited a really unique way of showing inspiration can come from anywhere.  Recently, her neighborhood was hit with a tornado.  She not only used her experiences, and the experiences of those around her, as great material for her blog, but also to inspire her creative writing.  Now that’s someone definitely making lemonade, or in this case inspiration, out of a terrible situation.

Look around! 

Observe!

Record!

Inspiration truly can come from anywhere, anytime and from anyone.  Be open to inspiration.

May 30, 2011

How do you handle negative feedback?

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I’ve always been a firm believer in getting constructive criticism on my work. I belong to a critique group and have nothing but the utmost respect for the other members. I know that they spend a great deal of time reading what I submit for critique. They see things not only through the eyes of other writers but as readers as well.

As a writer, I need to write what I’m passionate about but I also need to write for my readers. If nobody enjoys reading my work, then I’m no longer effective as a writer. I don’t want my writing to be self-indulgent.

But the very nature of asking for feedback means that people are going to tell me what they think. That’s right – what THEY think. Not what I want them to think. Sometimes, they don’t like what they read.

So how do I handle negative criticisms?

First of all, they have to be constructive. A comment like “This chapter sucks” is neither constructive nor helpful. But comment like “This chapter had a lot of description and not much action and I found that it didn’t hold my interest” give me something to think about.

When I get negative feedback, I have a three-fold plan for how I deal with it:

DIGEST

SIMMER

DECIDE

Upon initial reading, it’s often hard to see past the criticism. Instead of having an immediate reaction, I try to just read through everything to get an idea of what the reader thought. Then, I put the critique away so that I can digest everything that’s been said.

Next, I leave the writing to simmer for a few days. Usually, I get antsy to get working on it again and that’s my meter for how long to let it simmer.

Finally, I go back and read every comment, one at a time, and decide whether or not I agree with what has been said. If I do feel inclined to try the critiquer’s suggestion, then I do some rewriting and see what happens. If the changes truly do make it read better, then I’m grateful for the suggestion. If not, sometimes I let it simmer some more. If I strongly disagree and don’t feel that the comment warrants any rewriting, then I leave my original words.

It’s difficult to receive feedback, especially when it’s not positive but if it’s constructive, then it warrants my attention.

I have had what I’ll refer to as “mean” critiques (not from my current group who I’ve been with for many years now). It’s hard not to let those comments bring you down and question your writing but I’ve come to the conclusion that when someone just rips your work apart without a valid reason or explanation, then I need to just toss that aside and instead, rely on the comments that can and do make my writing better.

How do you handle negative criticisms?

May 16, 2011

What is it that makes a really great writer great?

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Ever since I embarked on my writing  journey, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on where writing is concerned.

  •  Articles on show, don’t tell. 
  • Interviews with agents and editors on what works when submitting and what turns them off immediately. 
  • Discussions on POV

I’ve also been an active participant in two online critique groups, as well as joining writers’ organizations and attending writing conferences.

But I still have to wonder:  What is it that makes a really great writer great?

Here are a few things I think help contribute to a writer’s greatness:

  • unique voice
  • consistency in the writing
  • strong, solid plots
  • characters that behave like real people (readers can relate to them)
  • stories that surprise and entertain us
  • descriptive writing that immediately paints a vivid visual

Above all, however, I think it goes deeper than the ability to craft an amazing story. 

To me, a great writer is passionate about the entire process.  These aren’t just words on a page.  It’s time invested in painstakingly scupting every detail until it’s the absolute best writing it can be.  A great writer writes what stirs them up – stories they have to tell.

Don’t write to market trends.

Don’t settle for anything less than your best writing…ever.

Don’t sub pieces out without doing your homework on the publishers you’ve chosen.

But what is the biggest thing that makes a really great writer great?

NEVER GIVE UP!

March 22, 2011

Finding your author’s voice

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I belong to a wonderful online critique group.  From time to time, our group engages in workshops as a way to share information, ask and answer questions, and apply what we’ve learned to our writing.

Recently, thanks to one member’s suggestion, we decided to embark on a week-long discovery of author’s voice.  What is it?  How do you find it?

At first, because none of us felt that we were experts on this subject, we wondered if we would be able to teach ourselves anything of value.  As it turned out, we all discovered ways to find our unique voice and make our writing stand out as our own.

What is your voice?

The easiest way for me to explain it is this:  you write like you speak.

If I call someone I know on the phone and start talking to them, they immediately know it’s me.  If I’m having lunch with friends, I’m certain that if you asked them, they would be able to tell you things about the way I communicate that makes me different from each of them.

We all have our own unique personality and if we can find a way to bring that out in everything we write, then we are well on our way to constructing our own unique voice.

In our workshop, we first gathered bits of writing from different authors and discussed what made each example’s own voice unqiue.  For some, it was the way the author used description.  For others, it was the way the POV shaped characters that jumped off the page as real, three dimensional beings. 

We also discovered that finding the right genre definitely contributed to stronger voice.  If you’re not comfortable writing YA romance novels, perhaps it’s because your unique voice isn’t a good match to that genre.  Maybe you’re more suited to adult suspense or MG adventure.

So how do you know which genre(s) to try?

Read…read…read.

Read authors you love but also try new ones.  Try genres you haven’t read before.  You need to find a real connection to what excites you as a reader so that you can translate that into your author’s voice as a writer.

With so much competition to find a publisher and/or a literary agent, writers must present their absolute best writing every time they submit.  If you feel you’ve done that and you’re still getting rejection after rejection, perhaps you haven’t quite nailed your author’s voice yet.  Many blogs and online articles say that a great portion of their rejections do in fact stem from writing that just doesn’t have a stand-out voice.

Once we had discussed the examples of other writers, members of our group look at their own writing, picking something that they felt lacked that “unique” quality and rewriting it with voice in mind.  In was amazing to see the new results.  Writing that was fine became writing that jumped off the page.  Characters that were bland embodied new life.  Everyone’s writing definitely improved.

We also made some self-discoveries along the way.  Some of us really figured out our ideal genre.  Others unveiled new ways to use POV as a way to develop a more unique voice.   We also found situations where expanding the original brought more voice into it and other situations where cutting certain words and phrases actually brought the voice out better.

We all learned how to make our characters’ voices better and get “inside their heads” on a deeper level.

No one can give you a list of magic steps that will result in finding your own author’s voice but through reading, writing, comparing and learning from others, you will become more aware of how and what you write.

January 16, 2011

Promote your book on to the Best Sellers List

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Every writer today knows that writing the book and getting it published is only half the battle.  Much of the marketing and promotion is also left up to the writer and with all the tools on the internet, you CAN get the word out and if you’re lucky, maybe even end up on the BEST SELLERS list.

I did just that with my suspense novel, “When Love Won’t Die”.

Some of the things that I did:

1.      Held a booksigning at a branch of my local library  
         (In the future I’ll post some great ideas on how to attract people to your booksigning)

2.      Created pages on social networks like Facebook
          http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Jacqueline-McMahons-Writing/115755788486062

3.      Joined other sites like Twitter, Linkedin, and Jacketflap and get socializing with other
          writers, publishers, editors, agents etc.

4.      Used FREE press release sites to promote your book online

5.      Sent out press releases to all the media where you live (radio/newspaper/TV)

6.      Got reviews from those who have read it and have them posted online
          (I’ve got some at Amazon.com and Facebook already and also from a couple of
            book reviewers)

7.      Created a website

8.      Made postcards of the book’s cover and on the back put the following info:
          *    name
          *    website/book’s website
          *    where to purchase
          *    an enticing excerpt

9.      Got interviewed in a local arts magazine
          (You can also try getting press with local papers, TV and radio stations, plus online
           ezines and blogs)

10.     Joined online writers’ groups where to mingle, learn and promote

Keep promoting whenever you see an opportunity to network, but also, don’t forget to reciprocate by reading other writers’  books and offering reviews/comments on their blogs and sites.

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