Category Archives: writing

14

Writing by hand

As a kid—before computers were widely available, and before I was allowed to use a computer without a strict time limit—I always equated pens and penmanship with being a Writer. There was something so thrilling about sitting down with a new notebook and a pen and filling it up with my story ideas. (I also just liked to look at my handwriting, to be honest.) I’d start a lot of stories in class (usually during math) and go for pages and pages, the scratch and flow of pen on paper so much more satisfying than equations and formulas. It will probably not surprise you that math was unfortunately my lowest grade in high school.

That love of writing by hand hasn’t gone away as I’ve gotten older. I’m picky about the writing utensils I use, whether they’re for professional, academic, or downtime purposes. There are only three kinds of pens I’ll use for writing letters, and I’ve stocked the DGLM office with my preferred inky brand (Precise V-5s, if you were wondering). But with most people writing on computers these days, I have to wonder: do people use pen and paper to write stories anymore? What are the pros and cons of writing on a computer versus writing by hand? I confess to having converted to the digital side; I occasionally will draft poems using paper and ink, but mostly prefer my laptop, to get spacing and line breaks more precise on the first go-around.

The king of all pens.

The king of all pens.

I will say that writing using pen and paper tends to make me a more careful writer. I’m more conscious of the words I’m putting down, and it’s often a useful way to get a first draft, even if I hate that first result. It’s so easy to simply backspace over something on a computer and forget the original idea that might come in handy later. With pen and paper, you see every staggering, stop-and-go moment of the process, every cross out and idea. Of course, it’s not the most efficient way to write—especially if you have deadlines looming and 200 pages to go.

But what do you think about writing by hand? Do you think it’s dead? Do you think it’ll ever truly go out of use?

 

*swoon*

4

Does writing make you crazy, or are you crazy, therefore, you write?

In our line of work, we are privileged  to have up-close, intimate access to the writer’s process.  Often, that means being privy to the heights and depths of literary creativity: insecurity, delusional behavior, neuroticism that would make Freud rub his hands with glee, grandiosity, envy, and procrastination (in fact, there’s not that much difference between an adult author on deadline and a 10-year-old who’d rather be outside shooting hoops than tackling his math homework).

No matter how accomplished or relatively sane the writer, there’s no avoiding the mind games inherent in the act of creating a book.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve talked some of our most successful, well-established clients off the proverbial ledge; how many conversations involve me explaining that there’s no way their work is total crap or their careers a travesty.  Did I mention these are successfully published authors who’ve gained accolades, had bestsellers, and whose Wikipedia pages are as full of errors as everyone else’s?

Which is why I found this infographic Galleycat pointed me to so amusing.  Thing is, the emotional rollercoaster most authors experience as they write their books is almost a necessary part of the process. In fact, without those highs and lows, your work would probably be flat and colorless.  There are a lot of things that get in the way of good writing but smugness has to be at the top of my list.  A healthy dose of insecurity and self-doubt means you’re probably on the right track…or on a track….

The Stages of Writing a Book- How an Author Feels (1)

7

Getting It Right

Publishers are crying out for diversity in children’s books, and that’s a good thing. (It would be an even better thing if diversity were more widely represented among the rosters of acquiring editors at these publishers, though things are improving incrementally in that area.)

Writers of YA and Middle-Grade books are becoming more and more aware of the importance of diversity, and are not only including more ethnically diverse characters in their books; they are also centering books on them as leading characters. But context counts here. Lately I’ve been seeing submissions from writers who seem to assign various ethnicities arbitrarily, as if they feel they are expected to fulfill certain quotas. This paint-by-the-numbers approach to diversity can look clumsy and obvious.

To accurately reflect our contemporary Melting Pot, characters have to come alive and breathe believability. What is their social fabric like in their homes and communities? What kinds of foods do they enjoy? What are their tastes when it comes to games, toys, music? And, most important, how do they speak? What are their vocal rhythms, their slang, their verbal shorthand? If they happen to be immigrants, does their speech reveal an accent, or a struggle with the notoriously difficult English language?

Dialogue is crucial; it’s one of a writer’s tools for revealing character. And if characters reflecting multiple diversities all come out sounding alike—or, worse, sounding like bland, white-bread characters from an old TV show—credibility goes out the window. And boredom comes in.

If you read or write YA or Middle Grade, I’d love to know your thoughts on what books do a good job of representing diverse characters—and for that matter, what books might have come up short in that regard. In the Age of Trump, it’s a great time for writers to be promoting diversity in their books—but it’s not something that’s easy for all writers to pull off.

8

The book proposal

I know, I know, I have blogged before about doing a book proposal and how important it is.  But, it seems from what I am seeing recently that I am not getting through.

In the last couple of months, I find that clients are really rushing to get their proposals ready.  In doing so, they are making mistakes – both large and small – and ultimately prolonging the process of creating this very important document.

Book proposals really are the backbone of the non-fiction publishing process.  They identify an idea, discuss who the reader will be for that idea, both demographically and statistically, and discuss other titles which would be comparable, in terms of audience, to the one the author is proposing.

Proposals provide a structure for the book and demonstrate (with a sample chapter) the author’s writing ability.

Finally, with a bio and links of supporting material, the proposal highlights the author’s credentials and platform.

I tell my clients that doing the proposal is probably more difficult than writing the actual book but that once they have a proposal that a publisher wants to buy, they will have the blueprint for their book.

I also tell them “better late than lousy” and I mean that because a poorly constructed and written proposal will not sell in this challenging market.

So, take your time in creating your book proposal.  Think it through carefully and consider every element.  Taking the necessary time to do this right is important and will ultimately pay off.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Let me know what you think.

9

A Happy Medium

The novella—a long-ignored literary form—has been back in the news the past couple of weeks.

First, James Patterson announced the start of his latest project, BookShots, which will specialize in both digital and print books of no more than 150 pages each. Some of these he will write himself; some will be the work of other writers. Each will sell for under $5.

Now comes news of the death of the incredibly prolific, much-admired Jim Harrison, whose most distinguished fiction was in the novella format.

Both of these events brought a lot of focus to the plight of the poor, neglected novella.

Novellas certainly boast an illustrious lineage. Great ones were written by Henry James, Herman Melville, and J.D. Salinger, among many others. It’s hard to pinpoint why the novella has fallen out of favor, especially in a world where so many people claim not to have the time to read an entire book. As Patterson points out, his BookShots will be readable in one sitting.

There are times when the novella form is exactly what a story demands. The length of an average short story may not be sufficient to properly tell a tale, but that same tale might have to be overstretched to fit the scope of a true novel. Patterson’s idea is a fine one, and it promises to bring mid-sized books out of the shadows and back into the bookshops, drugstores, convenience stores, and supermarkets. You may even start finding them right by the checkout stand.

And if people start reaching for a new novella instead of The National Enquirer, the battle will already be won.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have favorite novellas–books that you feel found their ideal length—not too long and not too short.

5

When did you know?

When I was a kid, I had zero interest in being a writer. Rock star/shortstop for the Yankees/King of England–those were some of my early career aspirations, but writer never made the cut. In fact, no one I knew ever said they wanted to be a writer when they grew up. In high school, my friend James told people that he was going to be a poet, but I think that was more to get the girls than a serious vocation…

And yet, some people know from an early age that they want to be writers. Like Joyce Maynard, who describes how she made to-do lists at the age of 6 or 7 of the things she planned to write: “Write a play. Write a poem. Write a story. Write a book.” Talk about ambition! Then, there’s a certain friend from college who once told me that since she was a kid she wanted to be a novelist. And while med school and raising a family took her away from writing for years, she rededicated herself to it and recently scored a book deal.

So, readers, I’m curious–when did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was it from an early age? If so, did you stick to it all the way through or come back to it later in life?

4

How long should it take me to write my novel?

Over the weekend, I finished a remarkable first novel.  The author had taken many years to complete this work and, in the end, I think the time it took her to do so has paid off (of course, only the marketplace will tell).

Thinking about this – the time it takes a writer to finish a book – brought to mind how different each writer’s process is.  I found this very interesting piece on the subject in the Huffington Post.

I have clients who take many years to finish their novels, much like the writer whose work I read this weekend.   Then, there are those who actually ask for deadlines (from me) by when they should have their next manuscript completed.  And then, of course, there are those who can conceptualize their stories and write them down much much faster.

In the end, there is no right answer to how long it should take a writer to complete his/her manuscript.  It is what works for each individual.  I find it’s best not to compare your process to others’. Do what feels right for you.

I am curious to hear what you think about the subject.  Let me know.

0

At least nine lives for writers

They say a cat has nine lives. I’d like to argue that a writer has many more. Literary lives, so to speak. I’ve talked on this blog before about talented authors like Sloane Crossley making the move from nonfiction to fiction, and now I’m switching it up to talk about a famous fiction author trying her hand at nonfiction.

Jhumpa Lahiri needs no introduction in literary circles. One of the world’s most accomplished living writers, she has managed to find success in her story collections and novels, including her first Pulitzer-Prize winning collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, a beautiful book which might have one of the best titles ever.

And now, just when you might think a new novel or collection is going to hit the market, she does a complete 360 and writes a memoir. And not only is In Other Words, scheduled to be published February 9th, her first nonfiction, and she wrote it in Italian! It’s about her love affair with the Italian language, and it inspired her to create a book that could be experienced in both languages (for the U.S. edition, she used a translator so those of us who do not read Italian can still enjoy the book). Here is an article that goes into more detail about the book and the author’s process from Harpers.org.

As a publishing professional, it is such an admirable and huge risk to go so far astray from one’s comfort zone and I’d guess that the decision wasn’t well received by all. Some might say it’s gimmicky, or inaccessible, but creative passion sometimes takes us in unexpected directions. And talent is talent. Plus at a certain point in an author’s career, when you’ve had the level of success that Ms. Lahiri has had, she can call the shots to a certain extent on what she wants to do and how she wants to do it.

Reviews have been glowing. Kirkus calls it “An honest, self-deprecating, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.” Personally, I am very much looking forward to seeing what Ms. Lahiri has done with this book, and I just know no matter what I think of it that it’s going to make me long for Italy, one of the most special and beautiful places on earth, and where I spent my honeymoon almost fifteen years ago. How many writing lives do you think you have? And at what point do you decide to reinvent yourself and change direction?

3

A Word on Fan Fiction

It was in my early years of high school that a classmate introduced me to the world of Fan Fiction. I thought it was the most amazing thing ever, because not only did I already have the habit of rewriting the ending to every book / movie I wasn’t quite satisfied with, but I also wondered if there were others like me, people who enjoyed doing something similar. I was happy to find out that there were a million and one!

Many years later, and with the increase of its popularity, there seems to be a debate about the benefits of fan fiction. Does it indeed help writers learn and improve their craft, or is it more of a crutch, preventing them from moving on and creating their own original works?

I will say this: Fan fiction can be helpful, but I think it depends on the writer. Some take the opportunity to be truly creative, experimenting and finding ways to strengthen their skills; others fall into a certain pattern for the sake of getting the most likes/reviews, and it’s not really about the writing anymore. Then, I guess, it’s also what you read. If a person spends time reading things of little quality, then nothing can be gained from it. I think it is important for every writer to keep in mind the ultimate reason for writing fan fiction, which is writing their own original work. And honestly, for some people it’s simply to get more out of their favorite books and there is nothing wrong with that.

I ended up being more of a fan fiction reader than a writer; however, what I did get from it was the first inclination of what I wanted to do when I grew up. I found myself at various times patiently sifting through all the different stories until finally finding one that truly struck me. It was always a gratifying feeling finding that needle in a haystack and those were the moments when I knew I wouldn’t mind doing something like this for the rest of my life (this was way before I knew literary agents existed!).

What are your thoughts on fan fiction? Here’s a list of published authors who have a thing or two to say about fan fiction. 

0

Common query and writing mistakes to avoid

I’ve been seeing a lot of no-no’s recently so here we go: what not to do. Buckle up.

  • Long queries that ramble on will significantly hurt your chances. Agents receive a lot of queries, and we don’t have a lot of time to read them. Get to the point—4-5 short paragraphs max should be enough. We don’t need a scene by scene rundown of the book. The idea is to hook us and make us want to actually read your book.
  • On a somewhat related note, before you add your writing credentials to your query, ask yourself if they’re truly credentials worth mentioning. If you have an MFA and your short fiction’s been published, by all means let us know. If your grandma read the first 5 chapters and loved it, we don’t need to know.
  • There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, but for the most part, we usually won’t represent a book you’ve already put up on Amazon. Publishers want original works, which means we want original works. So write an amazing new manuscript and send us that!
  • Word count isn’t important except when it is. Stay in the average range for your genre and category. This helps show that you’re familiar with your market. Yes, of course there are exceptions, but your 600,000 word thriller isn’t one of them.

The good news is that we outline our query instructions here. Unfortunately though, a good query doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good book, so here are a few common writing pitfalls to avoid.

  • Infodumping is a big no-no, and I often receive SFF sample pages that make this mistake. Blurting out everything about your world and characters at once is telltale sign that your novel isn’t quite there yet. Conversely, many sample pages read like an entirely different language with invented concepts and terms that strewn throughout the prose with no explanation. Can’t represent what I can’t understand.
  • Don’t overly describe your characters’ actions and emotions. The reader doesn’t need to know all the little movements that entail Joe boarding a bus. Likewise, the reader doesn’t need lengthy explanations of Joe’s innermost feelings. Better yet, don’t tell me your characters’ emotions at all. Good writing describes; truly great writing evokes.

Finding an agent is hard enough. Give your work the best shot it deserves by steering clear of the literary atrocities above. Have any other tips for our readers? Share ‘em in the comments.