Read the interview here on Jane Friedman’s site. I’ve mentioned Jane Friedman before. Her site is like the Fort Knox of information for writers. Gold standard, gold mine, gold star–okay, enough. Some days I think my blog should simply be: check out Jane Friedman, repeated two or three times a week.
So much to read on editing and writing and publishing, so little time . . . so I often miss things the first time around. Or read them and file them somewhere on my computer. (I am most definitely not of the clean desk, focused mind school of thought.) This interview is a few months old. Apologies if you’ve already seen it.
April Eberhardt is an agent in the Bay Area, who’s embraced the changing landscape of the publishing world. This interview presents a good overview of that world in general, and good women’s fiction in particular. I urge you to check out her site as well.
What I particularly want to call out and re-emphasize is her recommendation to writers to read. My first creative writing teacher in college made form, function, and imitation assignments: write a poem in the style of ee cummings, a Shakespearean sonnet, like that. That’s one way of learning to write by reading. There are others.
For me reading and writing are like one compound activity. As I read I notice pacing, story arc, characterization techniques, choice of details–dozens of things I’m not even necessarily consciously aware of. It becomes something akin to muscle memory that I bring it to my own writing.
And when I teach or coach writers I almost always encourage them to read something that their work reminds me of in some way or for some specific purpose.
Read on and write on!
Of course when we’re writing, the first sentence we put down on paper (up on the screen) isn’t always (often) the final first sentence. We rethink and revise before publishing. But we need something to get us going. And I think it’s inspiring, sometimes a direct trigger to my own writing to read lists like this.
What is going to happen next?
That, of course, is a question I ask myself after almost every single sentence (and sometimes word) when I’m writing a poem or a story or working on a novel. I think it’s a good question for narrative non-fiction as well, even when we think we know full well what happened next in the scene we’re reporting.
Enough said. Here’s Stephen King’s take on 50 best opening sentences.
If you live in the SF Bay area, if you’ve long wanted to write or book, or are stuck in the middle of the book, join me at Book Passages in Corte Madera for six Sundays beginning April 17 for a workshop on narrative techniques in fiction and non-fiction.
Click here for details and to register for the workshop.
You’ll get personal feedback on your chapters, stories, outline, and an honest assessment on how and where you might seek publication. You’ll get advice on making and executing a plan to publish your work from an editor and publisher with more that 40 years in the publishing business, who has edited everything from NY Times Bestsellers to amazing tales of other worlds, non-fiction and some fiction. (You can find more information about me on this site.)
I usually only work one on one, at a much higher cost to writers. So this is a rare opportunity of good value and an opportunity to hang out with other writers. There aren’t that many spots left. The workshop is limited to 10.
Join me if you can. (And if you can’t, please pass this invitation along).
This post is a version of the dog ate my homework, or why I haven’t posted anything for two months. Around that time I posted my intention to do a one line writing practice every day, inspired by an article about a NY Times videographer. It was going to be a little side project, an exploration, while I did my real writing and work–this blog, two manuscripts I’m in the midst of, and some editing and consulting. Well, life intervened in the form of a medical crisis (I’m on the mend) and a hugely disruptive leak that forced me to move out of my condo for a period of time only days after surgery (I’m still not home).
And practically the only writing I’ve managed to do is those one-liners, recorded in the “notes” section of my phone. And, at the end of the year, I’ll have an archive of a kind I’ve never had before.
Being on the mend, I’m turning my thoughts to other projects. I’ve found a few interesting articles to post about. Watch for those in the coming days.
And I’m working on a workshop I’ll be teaching coming up next month (April 17th) for six weeks at Book Passages in Corte Madera, CA (for those of you who might be in Northern California). Here’s the link: Workshop information.
There’s very little I love more in the world that talking with writers about what they’re doing, sharing techniques, giving feedback, helping them shape their work. This workshop will be a chance to do it in a small group. There will be assignments designed to help you dig deeper; feedback on your work in progress; and fun!
Write on, through thick and thin. Don’t think about it too much. Just sit down and do it. That’s my instruction to myself for this week.
I found this post on a Facebook Page, Writers on Writing. Here’s the link: Jennifergaram keep on writing. I love this post. Keep on writing because it feels better than not writing (even if you’re rejected, even if hardly anyone reads your post or article or book). Because you have something to say. Because you want to tell a story.
Reach out and touch someone used to be a slogan–maybe for long distance telephone calls (back in the dark ages before cell phones) or maybe for a greeting card company. The thing is, when we write and submit for publication and even publish, we are reaching out. And as Garam writes, we never know when what we write will touch someone.
Metrics and money seem to me not to be good ways to measure our success as writers. Okay, I don’t mean to be disingenuous and I’m not a fresh-eyed young artist who thinks money isn’t important. Quite the opposite. Many years ago, when I was a new mother, with a full-time job, and trying to write and submit poetry and have a life, something had to go. It was poetry because poetry didn’t earn money to support my family, and it took away from the little free time I had to spend with my family. So money was my metric.
Now I’m looking for a different one. I don’t have one. I’m looking for one. And I’m looking to connect with my writing–to find out what I think about growing older, living in this increasingly complex world, tell a story to entertain myself.
Why do you write?
I’ve subscribed to the Book Designer’s newlsetter for years. It’s an amazing resource and you might want to check it out at bookdesigner.com. Not every post will speak to you equally of course. But these are some of the most detailed and best ideas available, written by a number of people who practice what they preach, with great guest blogs too. If I had a rating system I’d given this one five our of five, or ten out of ten, or, okay, maybe 95 out of 100–nobody’s perfect. If you subscribe, remember, take what you like (or can use or may not want to hear, but know to be true)and leave the rest, because there’s a lot to take in here.
And write on!
A friend recently sent me the link to an article by Mary Norris, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Here’s the article. It’s a fine read, even if you have little interest in commas. (I’m guessing the article might pique your interest, though.)
I’ve had many different jobs in several, quite different book publishing houses. Copy editing was my least favorite, in part because I dithered. Did this rule apply–or that? Was it a restrictive clause–or not? Later in my career, I used to drive a managing editor who went through comparing author and proofreader changes to distraction by telling her that grammar was an art, not a science. I also told her that, in all but the most egregious instances, the author is always right. If you are the author it is, after all, your name on the front of the book.
I worked with one writer who took a leaf from Kurt Vonnegut about semicolons. To wit: “Don not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” The copy editor and managing editor on the project did not share this view. Many semicolons were added. The author took them all out. The managing editor put them back in. The book was typeset and sent back to the the author and the proofreader. The author blew a gasket at that point and called me. The author, as I said, is always right. The semicolons went. The staccato sentences stayed.
I am not a very good copy editor. I have great admiration for good copy editors. They save writers from grief. They make the illegible legible. Sadly, except at venerable institutions like the New Yorker, copy editing is becoming an archaic activity. Computer programs with spelling and grammar checks are not copy editors.
My takeaway is this: read the article if you wish. But, whatever you do, before you publish a book, pay attention to the copy editor. I always tell authors that he or she is the first disinterested person to read your work. Pay attention to queries that essentially say: I don’t understand what you’re getting at. If a person who’s being paid to read is getting kicked out, imagine how your readers might react. And, if you’re publishing independently, do yourself a big favor. Hire a copy editor.
Now I’m going to post this and wait for the friend who sent me the article to correct my post. He’s a much better copy editor than I am.
This post comes under the do as I say, not as I necessarily do. And what I have to say here is nothing new under the sun. People have written whole books about this (Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, and so many others). I’m saying it again because a small story in the New York Times at the end of the year struck me. A video reporter made a one-second video (almost) everyday for a year. As I read Daniel Victor’s article about his experience I translated it into a writing exercise that I’ve just begun.
I’m kind of a technidiot (shh! don’t tell). So I’m not going to make a one-second video everyday, although I did recently video my grandson successfully navigating his new skateboard for the first time. What I’m doing is writing a caption to the one-second video, moment caught in time, in my head.
Today’s is: Give up the concept of buttoned down.
One line, once a day. Maybe nothing will come of this. Maybe I’ll get bored. And, maybe, just maybe I’ll learn something about myself and my work. Maybe a germ will grow into a bigger idea. Maybe a poem will be born. Or a bit of character description and back story for my novel in progress. So I’m going to try it. Click here to see the article.
When I speak to groups about writing and editing, people sometimes ask about what an editor can do for them. If you are closing in on a finished manuscript (fiction or non-fiction) or proposal (for a non-fiction book) you may want to look for a line editor–someone who can sort our tangles of sentences; re-order your paragraphs; suggest cuts or alternative wordings; and generally polish your work. And/or, if you have a more polished version of a manuscript almost ready for typesetting, you may want to find a copy editor (and if you are being traditionally published, your publisher will find one) who corrects grammar and punctuation; makes sure that there are eight steps when you say there are or that all your characters have retained their final version names and biographical details in a novel–details like that.
But, if you’re not at that stage, if you’re stuck in the middle or at the beginning of a new project, or don’t know if you’re writing a memoir or a novel, or need some motivation and direction, you might benefit from a writing coach. Like life coaches, writing coaches do a lot of different things, but what they mostly do is encourage you, find ways to allow you to be your better self and write a better book.
In my consulting with writers, one of the things I do is to ask a lot of questions. I read the first 25-50 pages of a novel, maybe an outline if the person has one, or a chapter or two of a non-fiction book. In my first meeting, I’m generally trying to help writers clarify the scope of their project. We talk about structure, how to tell the story, what to leave in and often what to exclude. We agree to next steps–goals if you will, or assignments. When we meet again, and these meetings can be in person or by phone, we review progress, set more goals. I continue to read and comment on the manuscript in progress. I make suggestions about possible avenues for publishing. And I continue to ask the questions and suggest the goals and deadlines that will get the book done. I’m on the virtual sidelines cheering, cajoling, coaxing you to get that book done.
Say what? Yes. Research your own story. Everybody has a story. And everybody’s story fits into some larger picture–family, community, corporation, school, world. How does yours fit in where?
Here’s an eclectic, but much thought about, list of things you might want to research as you figure out how to frame and position your story. I’ve also found that research can be a good cure for writer’s block or bump in the road.
- Top 40 songs the month your memoir starts.
- Headlines from your local newspaper or Time magazine for the period you’re writing about. What was going on in the world?
- Everyday things–grocery prices, inflation rates, gas prices, college tuition.
- The town(s) your ancestors/relatives emigrated from.
- Who you were named after.
- What your grandmother or grandfather did for a living. (I, for instance, come from several generations of crafts people and entrepreneurs. It turns out that not everything they did was entirely legal. Interesting for memoir or fiction. And good luck getting to the not entirely legal parts. It’s all whispers and innuendo.)
- Family secrets.
You get the idea. Here’s a few things you might do with that research.
Hypothetical: you’re writing about the time you made early career and relationship decisions, right after college. You graduated from college in say 1970. You probably remember how much you made at your first job and how much you paid in rent. But do you remember how much a gallon of gas was? Or a pound of hamburger or brown rice? What was happening in the world the month you graduated? (I happen to have graduated in 1970 and many campuses around the country were shut down. But I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, and if I were to be writing about my personal history I’d want the details of Kent State and campus protests to be woven accurately into that story.)
Hypothetical: you’re writing about an event in your life that could be affected by your family history–perhaps how old your grandmother was when your mother was born. And the family Bible, your Aunt Edith, and your childhood memory of grandma’s stories are all slightly different. To my way of thinking, there’s a couple of ways of researching this part of the story and deciding what to do with it once researched. You could dig to the bottom per official records and go with that story. Except people often lied about their birth date or their children’s for a variety of reasons. You could gather all the information, pick one version, and write that into your memoir. And you could tell the story of your research and the conflicting stories that you remembered and found. A, B, C or all of the above!
What story about your life do you want to tell? And what’s the surrounding story? Research can help you find a way into your story. Research can help you find bits of your story that you don’t know you know. Research can be fun!