Friday, February 20, 2015

Happy 20th Birthday to The Essential Guide for New Writers!

February 2015 marks the 20th Anniversary of 
20 Years!! 

I'm so proud of this book--a true case of "the little engine that could"; a book originally written for my fledgling creative writing classes way back in Carrollton, Georgia, yet has continued to sell year after year, month after month. 

The Essential Guide has been used in so many places: prison creative writing programs, university MFA programs, homeschool seminars, and in such a variety of writers' groups it's mind-boggling: from New Zealand to India to California and back, The Essential Guide has accomplished everything I ever wanted for it. Thank you to all those who have purchased the book (and thank you for the fan mail), and welcome new readers if you're investigating the pages for the first time!

Basically the book is a streamlined "how to" manual designed to establish and maintain your everyday writing habits. It cuts right to the essence of what makes a good story, listing the main building blocks all publishable writing, both fiction and nonfiction, should include. 

Some of the things you'll find inside:
  • Getting your ideas right where you want them--on paper.
  • What editors are looking for, and how to get the to look at you.
  • Creative conflict--the driving force behind character, goal, and plot.
  • Narrative hooks--grab your reader and don't let go.
  • Setting and dialogue: "I really felt I was there!"
  • Turning your ides into scenes, and your scenes into fully finished manuscripts.
  • Desire, visualization, and commitment--the three key ingredients to selling your work.
  • Writing the right query letter and book proposal.
Writing exercises at the end of every chapter, too! Take a peek at the trailer:

Wow. It's been a journey, friends. May the next 20 years be just as exciting, or more!

Tip of the Day: To celebrate The Essential Guide's birthday, I'm having a special price at my website--just $5.95 from now until March 20, 2015. The price includes free domestic shipping to anywhere within the USA. You can't go wrong--get your copy today!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Trust Your Manuscript; Trust Yourself

Several years ago when I started this blog, one of the early posts I wrote was titled It's All About Trust. This morning I woke up realizing it still is--creative work really is all about trusting your gut, your instincts, your ability, and especially the work itself.

For the last twelve months I've been avidly editing and preparing my new novel The Abyssal Plain for submission. I'm now in the beginning of those first submissions and initial contacts. There's just been one problem: an irritating, exasperating, and very worrisome question I've had about one of the manuscript's plot points. Midway in the story, one of my female characters suddenly becomes antagonistic toward one of the male characters. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why, but it seemed the natural way for the narrative to go, so I let it ride. 

That said, I didn't really like the way I left this thing dangling. I couldn't understand why my character became mean, then meaner, then almost unbearable in her hostility toward this other character. I tried to blame it on her moodiness, but that just seemed so unfair to her as well as the poor male character who had to bear the brunt of her anger. Oh, well, I thought. No one will notice (fingers crossed). Keep calm and submit the manuscript anyway. An answer will come. Strangely enough, it did!

This morning I woke up with the answer so loud and clear it made me not only laugh in sheer relief, but sent me running to my office to write down what is basically a small paragraph of insight and explanation that clarifies everything. How, I kept asking myself as I scribbled away, could I not see what the conflict was? After all, it was right there in the manuscript waiting to be seized and expanded upon.

In other words, I'd already done the groundwork, I was just too caught up in other manuscript concerns to see or appreciate it. Thank goodness for my subconscious. Thank goodness for sleep. Because all I had to do was be present, agree to work on the manuscript no matter what, and believe an answer would appear, which it did--in glowing (and logical) technicolor. Having this answer appear at this exact moment has changed my entire attitude toward both the manuscript and submitting it. Let's just call it "increased confidence." Whew.

A few of the things I've learned from this experience are:

  • Whenever you're stuck on a plot-glitch or other irritating problem, just keep working past whatever it is. Don't stop and don't give up. Keep moving forward!
  • Learn to be comfortable with mystery. If the answer doesn't appear right away, or even a few months later--trust that it will, somehow, somewhere. You may have to wait for some outside help, such as a critique partner or an editor asking, "What does this mean?" Or, "Why is this event happening?" But that could be the perfect time to receive your best and most true answer. 
  • Don't be afraid of the extra work weaving your answer into the manuscript may entail. In my case it's just going to take a new paragraph or two, and then some additional dialogue lines and tags. But it also means changing my pagination, printing out new manuscript copy, fresh proofreading, etc. And that's okay--this new info helps my story to make sense and will encourage a reader to keep reading without having to stop and figure out what's going on. (And then forget all about reading my story while they pick up something more coherent to read.)
The next time you're stuck in a manuscript, or any other type of creative endeavor--artwork, beading, house-renovating included--concentrate on trust rather than worry. You'll find a way. I can trust it.

Tip of the Day: "Sleeping on a problem" really does work! I might not have been thoroughly aware of how much I wanted an answer to my manuscript question, but it must have been in my psyche somewhere, ready to appear. 

One good tip I'm reminded of is to write down any question you might have about any life situation, creative or otherwise, and put it under your pillow. Then forget all about it. People who've tried this tell me they wake up with the answer as vividly as I did today. How about you? Any tips on the subject to share? Let me know! Happy dreaming/problem-solving.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Altered Book, Post-NaNoWriMo

Four Girls and Six Colleges; Altered Book Page

Sometimes I just like to write a book for fun, and usually it's for NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month). No big deal, no serious thought of publication, but worth it's weight in writing practice and who knows? Maybe there are some characters, scenes, or settings that will be used one day--maybe even the majority of what I wrote. But while I'm at work on these "just for fun" books, I don't like to think about anything as daunting or real as editing, commonsense, or marketing. Instead, I just freewrite every wild and crazy thing that comes into my head and let the plot chips fall where they may.

For the last three NaNoWriMo years, three of these "for fun"manuscripts have turned into a  connected series, all based on the altered book project I started four (!) years ago and that I titled, Four Girls and Six Colleges. The title is derived from the actual book I'm altering, a collection of architectural drawings of six historic Australian college campuses. The four girls (featured above) who became the main characters of both the altered book and the 2012 NaNoWriMo manuscript, were amongst the first photos I pasted into the book. I was so intrigued with their stories that for NaNoWriMo 2013 I wrote Six Girls and Four Colleges (about their daughters), followed by last year's effort, Homecoming which featured their granddaughters.

But now that the manuscripts have been written and put away for a rainy day, it's time to get back to my original inspiration, the altered book itself. One of the reasons I'm still working on it is because when I embarked on the project I didn't realize that most people gesso or glue together several pages of their chosen book to make very thick single pages. After that it's fairly simple to collage, paint or enhance the resulting 12 or so backgrounds. In my case, however, I thought you were supposed to work on EVERY page--as in all 96 of them, back and front.

So here I am, several years later, still slogging away with the watercolor crayons and glue sticks. Some of the pages are pretty complete, maybe even finished; others have a long way to go. The good news is none of them are blank, as in, white-page-staring-me-in-the-face. Take a peek:

There are many, many more pages, LOL, but as they say, that's all for now, folks! Hope you enjoyed the show! As for me, it's back to the crayons and glue sticks. Sigh.

Tip of the Day: When's the last time you wrote or made something "just for fun"? If it's been a while, brainstorm a list of projects you'd love to try no matter the outcome. Pick one and start playing today! (P.S. Keep in mind that this is all about the sheer pleasure of personal creativity--you may want to take a page from my own experience and go for quick-and-easy rather than " 'till death do us part.")