May your holiday season be joyful, and full of love, peace, and blessings. Merry Christmas to all of you, and a very Happy New Year.
Guest Post by Eldon Hughes
P to the 4th power? P-Diddlying? Whatever.
It’s what doing NaNoWriMo successfully is all about, taking advantage of the power of positive peer pressure.
Every year since 1999 a growing horde of strangers and friends get together in groups, online and face to face, all over the world. At the end of the month, many of them will claim the prize — the title of Author of a book more than 50,000 words long.
Years ago I was the first Municipal Liaison for the (Southern) Illinois – Elsewhere group. Yeah, “Elsewhere.” That was my second NaNo. I ML’d a couple more years and then passed it on to others who lived closer to the neighborhood. I’ve won every year I’ve attempted NaNo (7-8? times.) If you’re interested, you can read one of my NaNo Novels, Willie & Frank, here. Even better, you can get Dust to Dust, Book Two of the Poison and Wine Series, here. It was written over a NaNo. Some would suggest that that’s cheating, since it was written by two people. I would point out that the first draft, written during NaNo, topped 100K.
Sometimes NaNoing involved being cheered on by and cheering on others. Sometimes it was challenging myself against people online. Sometimes it was sitting, face to face, in a room full of people just as enchanted by the magic of words as I am. People who share our particular brand of crazy. I can tell you that about half of Willie & Frank came from dares or challenges that year’s local NaNo group gave me.
Rounding the numbers, last year 690,000 people announced their own start in the novel attempt. 310,000 of them reported crossing the 50,000 word mark. Less than half is about normal. My guess is, some of those who didn’t make it started the month more in love with the idea of being a writer than they were with words. (We’ve all met folks that.) My bet? Most of the rest, who didn’t finish, didn’t take advantage of the power of positive peer pressure.
You can find the nearest NaNo Groups to you, on the NaNo website. Not every group is right for every writer. If there are several, find the one that works for you. Some of them are more motivated by the word wars than the words themselves. Some are more interested in chatting and talking about the writing they are doing when they aren’t together than actually writing at the gatherings. Some are a smile, a wave and a “how many words have you got?” Then they are heads down over keyboards or paper and pen, back at the writing. — A quiet acknowledgement of the shared madness, if you will.
None of those are wrong, per se. But which one is right for you? Maybe you aren’t a face to face kind of person. I hope you will at least try it and find out first, but maybe your group is on Facebook? Or Twitter? Or the NaNo site?
If there’s not a group anywhere near you? Start your own. NaNo prefers that their Municipal Liaisons be past NaNo Winners. They also prefer that they apply for this unpaid, volunteer position by July. But they love to hear from motivated writers who want to volunteer.
For that matter, go rogue. Go wild. If you’re writing in the middle of nowhere, like I am these days, slap up some “contact me” cards at any area coffee shop, library, craft shops or anywhere used books are sold. Basically, the kinds of places you like. You’re a writer, makes sense other writers like those places, too, yeah? Make a few like minded contacts and shazam, you’re in a group of writers. Just remember, even if we all share the “writer crazy”– we still aren’t all the same. What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa. Remember, NaNoWriMo is about writing, not editing. So, no critics allowed. Just muses and writers. Find the group that motivates your writing. The group you feel good about encouraging.
Then go write.
One bit of repeat here — NO EDITING. Save editing until next year. Literally, next year. November is for writing. Write with abandon. Write hard. Write.
And, when you cross the 50K mark? Come back here, to the comments, and crow about it! Shout it from a rooftop. Tell strangers. A lovely writer friend of mine put the period to the sentence where she crossed 50K and then stood on her chair, waved her arms like wings and sang like an angel. The whole room cheered and applauded. We were in a Barnes & Noble at the time. It was hysterical, it was beautiful, it was glorious. She deserved glorious. So will you. Because you will have earned it, and no one can ever take it away from you. Go. Write. I’ll meet you back here in November.
Guest Post by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe
When I was in grad school working on my MFA degree, fellow writers and I hashed out the symbolic power of Janie’s hair in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, argued about whether or not Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to” was a statement against the growing materialism of American culture, and bowed to the importance of hunger in Richard Wright’s Black Boy—hunger for food, books, individuality, equality, voice, and more. We lauded Alice Walker’s use of opposites in The Color Purple to characterize Celie—most especially Shug’s mighty sexuality and Sofia’s sassy attitude. “Wow,” we repeated again and again, “it all seems so darn seamless.”
And it is…now. But I assure you that when Hurston, Melville, Wright, and Walker reread their first drafts, nothing was seamless—especially those literary elements that pop, zing, and grab your attention. Those brilliants icons of American literature groaned, moaned, and dropped heads to desks, just like you, when faced with the task of weaving metaphors, allusion, epithet, and other devices into their novels and short stories.
So rest easy in the knowledge that you’re not alone in this challenge, and follow these four steps to create the kind of story about which readers will wow, sigh, and say, “It’s all so darn seamless.”
Step #1 — Story First
As you write the first drafts of a novel or short story, don’t think about literary elements. Don’t think, what does this tree symbolize? Is this statement ironic? Does this scene need to be foreshadowed? Should I include an allusion here? Does this flashback work? Instead, just tell your story. Tell it fully. Create a compelling setting and characters. Figure out the plot. Get the dialogue moving. Establish tension. Follow the story through to an ending (even if the ending changes over time).
Step #2 — Read & Review
When you’ve got a solid draft with concrete characters, a strong sense of place, and, yes, a plot, read through that draft. As you do, you’ll notice that without consciously trying (because you adhered to Step #1), you’ve embedded a number of literary elements in your story. Good storytellers quite naturally incorporate this kind of stuff into their work; we use figurative language to describe a scene, hyperbole to make a point, and symbols to convey meaning. We do it even when giving directions to a bus stop or teaching our children to make chutney.
Step #3 — Heighten
Once you’ve noted the literary elements that quite naturally made their way into your story, decide which you’d like to sculpt and heighten. Then do so. If you need a bit of inspiration, think about Hurston
reading the first draft of Their Eyes Were Watching God in which Janie probably had a modest ponytail. Then consider Hurston scratching her head and thinking, “Hm, Janie’s hair. Yes, Janie’s hair seems to be saying something. Something about power and sexuality.” Then imagine her rewriting so that she ends up with this glittering gem: “The men noticed her [Janie’s] firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.”
Step #4 — Back Off
Remember, first and foremost, your readers want a good story, not a litany of literary devices. So don’t overdo it. Don’t load up every paragraph with similes, motifs, irony, and whatnot. Tell your story. Use the elements that arise naturally. Heighten those. Then back off. Let the story do the work.
You’re now well on your way to becoming a god(dess) of literary elements. And if, along the journey, you find yourself tempted to overwork a metaphor, pop the reader in the face with a forced foil, or foreshadow nearly every event, stop, return to Step #1, and start again. You’ll be glad you did.
Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of the novels The Art of Floating (Penguin/Berkley, 2014) and Thirsty (Swallow Press, 2009). Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Poets & Writers Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, and Hypertext. She has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and has been teaching writing for the past twenty years. Follow her on Twitter at @kbairokeeffe and visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.
That’s right, P. N. Elrod the multi-talented author of The Vampire Files urban fantasy series (among many other books and genres) is offering critiques.
This isn’t something she does lightly, and this is a rare opportunity to have a sample of your writing critiqued by a pro.
Elrod is offering critiques to help pay the bills for her miracle dog Fuzzy; that’s Fuzzy in the picture. Fuzzy’s medical bills are in the triple digits. P. N. Elrod is offering critiques to help pay them down.
Here are P. N. Elrod’s terms for a critique. They’re reasonable, and yes, affordable for even the frugal. She’s also put up some items—Doctor Who Goodies, and original cover art painting—for sale in P. N. Elrod’s Garage Sale (scroll all the way to the bottom to read Fuzzy’s story).
Even if it’s not for you, if you have writerly friends who might benefit from the knowledge of a working writing professional, please spread the word!
Welcome, AWers! Are you looking for a terrific way to inspire your imagination and make writing fresh and fun again? This week’s guest post by Eldon Hughes offers a creative approach that’s worked for him, maybe it’ll give you a fresh path to follow, as well! — Mac
Guest Post by Eldon Hughes
Does it work? I hope so. C. H. Valentino and I have written two books, so far, this way.
It wasn’t planned that way. It was just a writing exercise that became a story and then grew a world of its own. But isn’t that how the best stories work?
“It’s like taking your imagination ice skating, or inviting someone else’s brain out on a playdate.”
Along the way we get exercise in active reading, active writing voice, scene setting and effective description from within the character’s points of view (because we want our partner to understand, without saying it out right, where we think the story might be going.)
So, here’s the premise. I’m going to ask you three questions, or maybe five, or maybe just one. I’m going to pull the questions “out of thin air.” They might be core character questions, or wild tangents:
- Good or Evil?
- Male or Female?
- What’s in your pocket?
- Painter or cook?
- Himalayas or Salton Sea?
You’re going to do the same thing for me. The answers are a kick off point for our new characters. There are NO wrong answers. How we answer, and how we choose to interpret and act on those answers is up to us.
Then pick a place in the world. It helps if we both have at least a little bit of familiarity with it, or quick fingers and an understanding of how to use an internet search engine like Google.
It also helps if we can literally be on the same page. And, we can. Google Drive (including Docs) is free for personal use, as well as for non-profits and schools. Sign up for a free Gmail account and you have Google Docs. (Along with a lot of other really cool free tools.)
One of us creates a document, uses the blue “Share” button (you’ll see it) to share that document with the other, by email address. We both open the document, and where ever we are online, we’re typing on the same page, at the same time. The game, dear writer, is afoot.
You write your character. I’ll write mine. Somewhere in the first couple of graphs they are going to meet, interact, conflict, compete, maybe even come together around a central theme. It’s up to us and our skill as writers.
Most of the same basic rules apply as in acting improvs:
- “Yes, and” — If you write, “Have you seen my elephant?” I accept the existence of an elephant, whether in view or not. The response might be, “Yes, and he was quite tasty, thank you” or a more complex version of the rule — the “no, but” — “No, have you seen my mouse?” (I accept your elephant and imply there may be a fable happening just out of sight.)
- “Drive the scene toward the story” — I don’t remember who said it first, but every line either moves the story along or reveals something about the character.
- “You look better when both writers look good.” When we’re both writing well, the story gets better as well.
- “Don’t ask open ended (obvious) questions,” instead let the descriptions and the character’s words and actions reveal who they are and what they are up to.
One more thing? No quitting. Set a time limit or a word count as a goal and write until “the bell rings.” “Writers write, right?”
Eldon Hughes is a writer, storyteller and education technologist. His website is www.ifoundaknife.com.
Here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, full of warmth and joy and blessings beyond counting.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts November 1. The basic idea is to engage in BIC (Butt In Chair) and write fiction. The goal is to finish 50,000 words by midnight on November 30. By successfully completing 50,000 words by the deadline, you win, (you get a badge!), and have a draft of a novel. Or that’s the idea.
The goal is less one of writing a novel than it is of writing 50,000 words in a month, or roughly, 1667 words a day.
- Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
- Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
- Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
- Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
- Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
- Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.
I like very much the attitude behind NaNo WriMo that what’s important is that you’re writing, and writing regularly. It is, as some writers have said, permission to create a first draft without obsessing over style, with the idea that later you will revise at your leisure.
Here’s an interesting thing: you’re permitted to use an outline, or notes that you’ve created ahead of time. But they discourage writers from starting with a draft or even a partial draft, and here’s why:
But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.
There’s even support for local NaNo WriMo groups. We have a lot of AWers who are NaNo veterans, and we even have an AW NaNo WriMo and Beyond subforum. MacAllister Stone has written about her own participation in NaNo WriMo, and the difficulty of maintaining a schedule.
What advice do you NaNo veterans have for first timers? What works for you in terms of finding time to NaNo?
Guest post by Francesca Nicasio
When I first started out, there were some things that I tried to avoid as much as possible because they
were uncomfortable scared the crap out of me. It didn’t take long though before I realized that my avoidance was getting me nowhere and if I really wanted to succeed in freelance writing, I had to not only face my fears, I had to embrace them.
Below is a list of those fears. I’ve also included the things that I learned from facing them, and what you can do if you share the same fears or apprehensions.
Getting edits and constructive criticism is a good thing. Those red marks on your article may not look pretty, but they will make you a better writer. They can improve your style and develop your attention to detail. As writers, we are often too close to our creations to see flaws or errors. Having someone scrutinize your work will make it sharper and more compelling.
How to deal with constructive criticism: First of all, don’t take it personally. The person scrutinizing your work is just doing their job. Also remember that having your work edited or criticized doesn’t make you a bad writer. It only means that there’s some room for improvement and growth.
When you get the edited piece back, thank the person and revise your work. If you don’t agree with the way they edited your article, say so. Tell them (in a polite way, of course) why you wrote it the way you did and hear out their response. This opens up constructive discourse between the two of you, and you’ll likely pick up helpful insights in the process.
The path to freelance writing success is littered with rejection letters. It’s just part of the territory. As writers we must learn to accept–nay–embrace rejection because each “no” that we get brings us closer to that coveted “yes.”
Rejection can teach you some valuable lessons in persistence and resilience. It also tests just how badly you want success. More importantly, rejection enables you to develop a thicker hide–an attribute that you must possess when putting yourself out there.
How to deal with rejection: There’s no shortcut or sugar-coated way to handle rejection. You just have to dust yourself off, learn from the mistakes that got you rejected (if any), and keep going.
You can also think of it this way: If you get rejected by a prospective client or publication, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong with you. It just means that you and the other party aren’t a good fit for each other. They’re not the right client or they simply aren’t looking for someone like you at the moment. It’s nothing personal and it’s not anything against you, it’s just the way it is.
Okay, maybe “haters” is too strong of a word. Let’s call them “negative commenters”.
Unpleasant as it may be though, receiving negative comments should be taken as a compliment. Why? Because it means that what you wrote sparked enough emotion to compel people to leave a comment.
Don’t feel bad when you get negative comments, be upset when you don’t get any.
How to deal with negative comments: If you choose to dignify their comments with a response, always be calm and respectful. Recognize that each person is entitled to their own opinions. Additionally, do not respond from a place of defensiveness or emotion. Instead, state the facts and be cool. And be sure to thank the person for taking the time to comment.
PS: This doesn’t apply to trolls.
This is for all the shy ones (myself included). Reaching out to other people may be out of your comfort zone, but it’s absolutely necessary. Reaching success is not something that you can do alone, so get out there and network away. Growing your contact list is essential especially when you’re looking to promote your work or collaborate with others.
Reaching out to others is also something that you must do again and again throughout your career because it’s the only way to find new audiences and/or clients.
How to reach out: Do your research on the person that you’re touching base with. To be effective, reach out with their needs in mind, not just yours. For instance, if you’re contacting them to start a joint venture, tell them why a JV would benefit them and their audience. Remember, they’ll be asking the question of what’s in it for them, so be sure to answer it when you first get in touch.
Have you ever avoided any of the things mentioned in this blog post? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Francesca Nicasio (formerly Francesca StaAna) is the founder of CredibleCopywriting.net and is currently developing Copywriter2.0, an online course that teaches aspiring freelance writers the ins and outs of the biz.
Guest Post by Benjamin LeRoy
I’ve been a steady lurker on the Absolute Write forums since 2005. Every now and again I jump into a thread if I feel like there’s something I can contribute. Most of the time, though my impulse is to get involved when a new publishing company gets called to the carpet, I resist the urge. Because even though as a community we have a sense of wanting to correct people who are either intentionally deceitful or willfully ignorant, we know how they tend to respond, and we know it isn’t worth the effort.
Having started two independent publishing companies since 2000 (first Bleak House Books, then Tyrus Books in 2009), I’d like to think I’ve gained some perspective on what it means to run a small press in an ever changing publishing landscape. I also know that many of those lessons had to come through trial and error and that I couldn’t have understood where I was going wrong until I got there.
What’s the old saying? “It’s not what you don’t know that will kill you, it’s what you don’t know you don’t know.”
That. Or something like it.
One caveat that is frequently issued during the discussion of new publishers is, “Wait a year or two and see if they’re still around.”
Because anybody can get an idea to start a publishing company on Monday and hang a shingle on Tuesday, it’s important to understand that there are a lot of unqualified people claiming to be something they aren’t—at least aren’t in the way that an author needs them to be.
Many times when these new publishers are asked what they bring to the table, they make a half-hearted and ill-informed pronouncement that “New York publishing is broken. Big Six publishers don’t take chances on unknown authors. That’s why I started an independent publishing house!” A string of gibberish buzzwords usually follow. “We care about our authors,” etc.
There’s an effort to establish a war between the Big Six and Independent Publishers. (For clarity’s sake, I’m using “independent publisher” in its longer understood definition, and not as a synonym for an “indie author.”)
The problem with Fly By Night Publishing jumping into the fray of an imaginary war between the Big Six and Independent Publishers is that it, on some level, bunches all Independent Publishers together in some monolithic block. That there is some unifying agent among them. That the independent publisher that’s been around for decades is on near equal footing as the guy who started his company with no experience this morning.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Getting into publishing requires very little. There are no tests to take. You can file incorporation papers for less than $100, put up a website for even less. Creating a viable publishing program that gets respect from the industry and the attention of readers is another matter entirely.
This is the story of how I got to where I am (and I am still a relative unknown in the greater scheme of the publishing world). It shows that for all of the nice talk about “dreams,” there has to be a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and luck to make dreams come true.
And when they do come true—it’s kinda awesome.
Guest Post by Francesca StaAna
Wondering why your articles aren’t getting a lot of views or clicks? Stressing about the fact that you’re not getting enough repeat clients? You might be committing these deadly freelance writing mistakes:
Silence (Not following up) – Contrary to what some might think, just because a prospect doesn’t immediately respond to your first call or email, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested. Yes, most of them probably don’t need your services, but there ARE some potential clients who are simply too busy to respond. This is especially true when it comes to sending emails. People are bombarded with emails on a daily basis, so you can’t really blame them if they overlook yours.
Always follow up. Don’t let fear, pride, or laziness stop you from doing it. Whether you’re cold-emailing a potential customer or reaching out to blogs to see if they’re willing to publish your guest post, make it a point to reach out in about a week or so after you’ve first made contact to see if they’re interested.
Ignorance (Not reading enough) – Reading should be a necessity for writers. Doing so on a regular basis allows you to appreciate the beauty of the written word, gives you inspiration, and more importantly, makes you a better writer. It opens you up to different styles of writing and helps you develop your own.
On a more pragmatic level, reading can give you new material to write about. Can’t think of anything new to jot down on your blog? Pick up a recent issue of an industry magazine and see what’s happening in the world. Check out the latest posts on your favorite websites and get different points of view on issues. I guarantee you’ll find something to write about.
Carelessness (Failing to catch typographical and grammatical errors) – Committing typos is unavoidable. Publishing them on the other hand, is a different story.
Typographical and grammatical errors are embarrassing at best, and misleading at worst. One misplaced letter or punctuation mark can shift the meaning of a statement, so make sure that you thoroughly proofread your writing especially when it’s supposed to go out to the public.
Have a second set of eyes read through your work before sending it in. If you’re on your own, step out of the room for a few minutes or do something else for a while then go back and re-read what you’ve written. Personally, I’ve found that changing the font and color of the text, as well as reading aloud makes proofreading so much easier.
Self-Absorption (Focusing on yourself rather than the audience) – Whether you’re pitching to clients or writing a blog post, always remember one thing: It’s about THEM, not you. Think about it. When you’re out on a date, wouldn’t you be turned off by someone who only talks about himself or herself without bothering to ask you about your life?
Similarly, one of the quickest ways to get readers to lose interest is by failing to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” (Trust me, they’re all asking that question.)
Unoriginality (Failing to use your own unique voice) – One of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a writer (and as a person in general) is trying to be someone you’re not. While it’s perfectly acceptable to admire and be inspired by other people’s writing styles, it’s another thing to try and copy them. Instead, study the writing styles of others to develop your own unique flavor. You’ll be a much better writer and have more fun while you’re at it.
Also avoid using words or phrases that are not “you” in an effort to sound smart and important. In most cases, writing isn’t about sounding intelligent. It’s about getting your message across in the most effective way possible.
Close Mindedness (Refusing to try other things) – So you’re set in your ways. I get it. I can be the same way too. However, not going out there to try new things can seriously hinder your growth.
For instance, I know some writers who were reluctant to market using Pinterest because it was too “image based” and they assumed that it wouldn’t be an effective medium to promote their work. I paid no attention to those claims and tried it anyway. I used tools such as PicMonkey and Share As Image to make my words “pinnable”, and guess what? The Pinterest community took notice. My site got more clicks and I even got a few client calls because of it.
The takeaway? Don’t automatically turn your back on ideas or tools just because you’re not familiar with them. Keep an open mind at all times and try new things—even if you’re not used to them. After all, you never know how effective (or ineffective) something is until you try it out for yourself.
Social Aversion (Refusing to network or collaborate with others) – Don’t treat all your fellow writers as the competition. Instead, see them as teachers, peers, or even friends. Similar to being closed minded, not opening up your professional circle can stop you from growing and learning new things.
You can pick up a lot of new ideas and connections by attending conferences and networking mixers, so try to be present at these events whenever you can. If you’re more of an introvert, start by networking online. Comment on blogs and connect with people via social media
Are you guilty of any of these sins? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
Francesca is the founder of Credible Copywriting and specializes in writing blog posts, web content and press releases for startups, Internet companies, and mobile app developers. She’s currently developing Copywriting 2.0, an online course that teaches aspiring copywriters the ins and outs of the biz. Sign up here and get notified when the course launches.