Tag Archives: tips

Cara Lopez Lee’s Thoughtful Rules for Compassionate Critiques

I have a small, trusted circle of critique partners. I know I’m lucky, they’re hard to come by. I met two at Writers’ Studio at UCLA, a couple of years ago, and I count them dear friends. Two others, I met when I began volunteering for Field’s End, a non-profit literary event group. In all cases, I found my partners by magic, or universal synchronicity, or dumb luck–I really don’t what alchemy transforms strangers to trusted allies. All I can I say is it is extremely difficult to both find and BE a good critique partner. That’s why I’m sharing ideas from author and HGTV-writer Cara Lopez Lee’s excellent post, Feedback with Compassionate Detachment.

Here are excerpts:

“I’ve discovered that providing feedback with the goal of serving both writer and story can be fast and easy, if you know how…
Creative writing is always deeply personal, fiction or non, and I’ve learned that’s why it’s important for feedback to be both compassionate and detached.

I’ve since developed a reputation among coaching clients, writing colleagues, and students for giving feedback that encourages and motivates. Here are a few tips that have helped me:

1.  Take responsibility for your opinion by emphasizing “I” statements over “you” statements.
This helps writers take feedback as opinion, rather than personal blame or praise, encouraging them to decide whether their writing needs to change or just needs another audience. For example:

  • I’d like to know more about this character’s relationship with his father.
  • I’m confused here. Is it possible to clarify?
  • I find myself wondering how this character felt when she saw the body
    (Note: If you only adopt one technique, let this be it. You will win friends and influence writers! -RL)

2. Address what you observe in the writing rather than your opinion of the writer.

  • The opening effectively introduces the character’s motivation: her father betrayed her, and she has never trusted men since.
  • The dialogue in this section didn’t feel realistic to me. I had a hard time believing a three-year-old would talk that much about death.
    (Note: I love when readers tell me WHAT they think they just read. Often what we are trying to imply in a scene comes across differently to different people, and this technique helps me gauge whether I’ve nailed it–or not. -RL)

3. Spend less time making suggestions than asking questions.

  • What do these people really want in this relationship?
  • What’s at stake for the protagonist?
    (Note: This technique is also effective for blocked writers. -RL)

4. Clarify that your intention is to serve the story, not to prove you’re right. Try phrases like, “As a reader…” or “From an audience’s perspective…”

  • I like that she notices his cologne. As a reader, I’d be interested to know exactly what he smells like to her and how that scent affects her.”
  • From a female audience’s perspective, this kind of language might sound sexist, which might make it difficult to root for him.

5. Instead of pointing out what’s missing, ask for more information.

  • I don’t understand why he reacted that way. I’d like to know more.
  • How does meeting someone else who has lived with this kind of secret affect him?
    (Note: I have a habit of showing more action than emotion. Phrases like those above could help guide me to consider my character’s internal conflict. -RL)

6. Offer no more than three challenges the author faces to take the writing to the next level. It can be difficult to remember more, and the writer may shut down.

7. Try to spend as much time on strengths as challenges. It’s important for writers to recognize what’s working, so they can lean into that. What’s more, writers who regularly receive feedback want to know whether their changes are effective.

“By giving feedback with compassionate detachment, I’ve discovered something unexpected,” says Lee. “When I emphasize what’s working and simply ask questions about the rest, my students improve faster.”

Cara Lopez LeeCara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Your highest potential

Short Story Writing: 4 High Impact Tips

Successful short fiction makes a big impact in as few words as possible. Every choice you make as an author needs to be deliberate, every character needs to act with purpose, and every word must pack a punch. When less is definitely more, focusing on certain details can help imbue your short story with color, meaning, and subtext—without superfluous words. Please enjoy this Guest Post from Writer’s Relief!

Four Small Ways To Pack Big Meaning Into Short Stories

1.  Character Gestures When you’re writing with a word count restriction, you want to show your characters’ personalities without using too much dialogue. One way to do this is through physical gestures. For example, a surgeon just exiting the operating room could hang his head as he approaches the patient’s loved ones. This simple gesture will speak volumes about how the surgery went, without you writing a single extra word.

2.  Clothing Choices – What your character is wearing can provide insights into his or her personality, and even help explain the setting or propel the plot. If your protagonist is wearing a stethoscope, a name tag, and a doctor’s coat covered in blood, your reader will know that your character is a doctor who has just dealt with a major trauma.

3.  Setting As A Character – In most great fiction, the setting is just as important as the plot and characters. The best settings will move the story forward. Take our hospital example, for instance. Rain splattering against the window in a patient’s recovery room not only adds description to the setting, but also conveys the mood of the scene to the reader. Without even seeing your character or hearing her doctors give bad news, your reader will already sense that the outcome is not going to be positive.

4.  Precise Dialogue – One of the most important ways to make a big impact in a short story is to write crisp, concise dialogue. Dialogue helps drive the plot and reveal information about the characters. So the more succinct your dialogue, the more opportunities you’ll have to reveal much while actually saying less. For instance, you can have your doctor use twenty words to give a colleague an update. Or, you can take those twenty words and split them between the two characters to quickly give more depth to the conversation—and your story.

How Can You Implement These Techniques In Your Writing?

To understand how well these techniques work, read some short fiction! Read flash fiction to see how authors tell complex, intriguing stories with a limited amount of words. See how many techniques you can recognize, then apply what you’ve learned to your own writing.

As an exercise, give yourself a short word limit and try to tell your story. As you edit, reduce the word count further until you can deliver your short story in as few words as possible.

 

This article has been reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, an author’s submission service that has been helping creative writers make submissions since 1994. Their work is highly recommended in the writing community, and there are TONS of freebies, publishing leads, and writers resources on their website. Check it out!

Follow me on Twitter @TheRJLacko

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The Writer’s 3 Step Practice for Improved Health and Creativity

king book

If you’re a writer, chances are you spend hours crouched before your computer’s screen. It’s a potentially sedentary lifestyle, writing, but there are simple steps we writers can take to boost our health, creativity and sense of well-being. If we want to continue writing well into our golden years, these Easy Changes Can Vastly Improve Health, Happiness and Well-Being.

Dr. Frank King describes three that will have you feeling better quickly.

Drink half your body weight in ounces of spring or well water every day. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces of water (about 9 cups).

“Many of us walk around dehydrated without realizing it and that can have a significant effect on our health and how we feel,” Dr. King says. Dehydrated bodies trap toxins and encourage water retention – a natural defense against the chronic “drought.”

A simple test for dehydration: Pinch the skin on the back of your hand and hold for three seconds. When you release, if the ridge from the pinch remains for more than a second, you’re probably dehydrated. (I found a great article on hydration and creativity from Psychology Today, Why Your Brain Needs Water. -RL)

• Take a few minutes every day to connect with nature. Nature brings perpetual revitalization and ongoing renewal, especially when experienced through multiple senses: the smell of freshly turned earth or evergreens in the woods; the touch of cool stream water on your face or feet; the sight of birds on the wing and budding blooms. (And can offer ideas for your manuscript! -RL)

“These are not just pleasant little gifts to experience – we need them for restoration, renewal, revival and rehabilitation,” Dr. King says. “The more disconnected we become from the Earth, the more we inhibit our body’s natural ability to heal.”

• Take a brisk, 10- to 20-minute walk every day. Walking is the simplest, most natural form of exercise. You might walk a nature trail, walk to the store instead of driving or take your pet for a stroll.

“Three brisk 10-minute walks a day are as effective at lowering blood pressure as one 30-minute walk,” Dr. King says, citing an Arizona State University study.

“Outdoor walking is preferable to walking on a treadmill or other machine, since the uneven surfaces and changing directions of natural walking will engage more muscles and tendons.”

Swing each arm in synchronization with the opposite foot to strengthen your cross-crawl functionality and mind-body balance. (Julia Cameron has written at length about the benefits of walking for writers. It is on walks we get our story breakthroughs. -RL)

Dr. Frank King is a chiropractor, doctor of naturopathy, and founder and president of King Bio, an FDA-registered pharmaceutical company. Dr. King is also the author of, The Healing Revolution: Eight Essentials to Awaken Abundant Life Naturally!

What are your ideas for staying refreshed over long writing sessions? Comment below!

Follow me on Twitter @TheRJLacko

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13 Tips for Writing a Dan Brown Page Turner

Every time Dan Brown publishes a book, it quickly becomes the best-selling book of the year. In fact, Brown’s 2013 release of Inferno earned sales toppling both J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling,  and Veronica Roth’s enormously popular Divergent.

Dan Brown InfernoOn his entertaining blog, Ellis Shuman Writes, indy author Shuman recently asked the question: what is so thrilling about Dan Brown’s thrillers? “There must be some formula, some hidden code that enables writers to write a thriller like Dan Brown,” he surmises. “Many have tried, and most attempts have fallen far short of the original.”

Here are 13 applicable observations Ellis Shuman has made, his deduction of the formula required to create a Dan Brown-like thriller that will captivate readers:

1) An opening that immediately propels you into the action with no time to catch your breath.

2) Ordinary, likeable characters thrown into very unordinary events, with faults and phobias rather than any superhero abilities. It helps when readers recognize Harvard University professor of religious iconology and symbology Robert Langdon and picture the character as looking like Tom Hanks.

3) Short cliffhanger chapters that keep you reading late into the night.

4) An intense sense of the setting with more details than you will ever get from a guidebook or a tour guide.

5) Overwhelming information about every painting, sculpture, building, poem, musical composition, and book sighted or mentioned for even a split second in the narrative.

6) A male-female team that matches intellectual wits with no need to retire to a bedroom for meaningless diversions.

7)  Friends who turn out to be enemies and enemies who turn out to be friends. First impressions may be misleading and dangerous, so it’s best not to trust anyone.

8) Ruthless, cunning villains who belong to sinister organizations. Sometimes these villains are never even named.

9) A deadly conspiracy or threat that may actually be real. (After all, the author did his research so you can trust him, right?)

10) Fast paced action, with the main characters being cornered nearly every step of the way.

11) The knowledge that something bad is going to happen, and it’s going to happen very soon.

12) The use of words that most readers will not understand. The book is so exciting that there is no time to run for a dictionary. The word of choice in Inferno is chthonic (silent ch), meaning ‘of the underworld’.

13) An unexpected and hopefully satisfying conclusion. Knowing that Robert Langdon has survived makes us rest assured that another book in the series is soon to follow.

Are you a Dan Brown fan? What advice can you add to this list? Post your comments below!

To learn more about Ellis Shuman, visit his blog, Ellis Shuman Writes, follow him on Twitter at @ellisshuman or check out one of his most popular blog posts: How I Sold 910 Copies of My Book in One Week.

Find me on Twitter at @TheRJLacko.

 

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Upcoming Book Release? 5 Things Writers Should Do

Author Inara Scott sold her novel, Delcroix Academy: The Candidates, in October 2007. The book wasn’t released until August 2010. “This, you might think, would be ample time to plan my promotion activities,” she says. “In fact, I still missed the boat on a couple of things. But I also did a few things right. So to all of you who had recently sold your novels (congratulations!) and to all of you pre-published folks planning in advance (very smart of you!) here are some pre-release day tips:”

1. Do the Website. Like, Now.

Okay, you know you need a website. But release day is 18 months away. Do you really need one now? Short answer: yes.

Websites take a surprisingly long time to build, especially if you’re working from scratch with a designer. You can throw a holding place up on blogspot in a day, but if you want a quality, built-to-fit site with bells and whistles, START EARLY. Many designers have waiting lists or are backed up for months. Even once you get on their calendar, it can take months from first design meeting to launch. Make sure the site will be live several months before release day. You want to build internet buzz BEFORE your book is released, and that means a great website done well in advance.

2. Contact Bloggers, Get Them ARCs, Plan Your Blog Tour

Here’s the pre-release buzz thing again—you need to get on the radar of all those book bloggers before release day. You don’t know any book bloggers? Well, it’s time for some Internet research. I write for young adults, and I discovered there’s an actual directory of book blogs. About six months before my release, I went through and checked out, oh probably 100 of them, and if I liked the tone and structure of the blog, and if it had a significant number of followers, I contacted the blog administrator. I offered to send ARCs. They wrote back, many asking me for interviews. Plan a blog tour and make it interesting; don’t just recycle the same interview over and over again.

If you want an idea of how to promote via the Internet, check out this website. These guys are amazing. Fabulous promotion, unique blogs, and lots of ‘em.

3. Twitter, Facebook, Blog—Make Friends

Yes, the world of Social Media is crowded, and yes, you may spend a lot of your time talking to yourself. That’s okay. Do it anyway.

Once you’re there, do not spend all your time telling people to buy your book. You are there to MAKE FRIENDS. Friends don’t push their books. Friends don’t bombard their friends with sales pitches. Friends DO share their excitement over things like great reviews, new covers, and release days. They do this because they are friends, not because they are trying to get someone to buy their books.

4. Ask for Blurbs

You know those cover quotes you see on books? The “breathtaking” “spell-binding” “fast-paced” blurbs? Guess what—in most cases, the author probably asked for those blurbs himself.

It helps, of course, if you’ve got friends who are authors (see #3, above). But don’t despair if you’re friendless. Cold call (er, e-mail). Send out letters to authors you love. Make it personal—they should be able to tell that you’ve read their books and have an specific reason why they would be a good person to blurb your book. Be professional and polite. And do all this months before you need the blurb. People are busy and need time to read. Find out what your deadlines are and be generous with your lead-times. What’s the worst they can say—”no”?

5. Yes, You Need Bookmarks

Everyone hands them out, and many end up in the trash. That’s okay, make them anyway. In the months/weeks before your release day you’ll be attending conferences, meeting people in bars, and chatting with friends and neighbors. They will all ask you about your book. You will tell them the title and release day and they will promptly forget everything you’ve said.

Help them remember. Give them a tangible piece of paper with your cover, website address, and release day. Sure, many will end up in a landfill (or hopefully recycling bin), but some will go on bulletin boards, desks, and fridges. You will have done both your memory-challenged friends—and yourself—a service.

Inara Scott is the author of Delcroix Academy: The Candidates (Aug 2010) and the forthcoming Delcroix Academy: The Watchers. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook (Inara Scott) or via her website. (Note from Rebecca: Please check outInara’s bio page. It is a wonderful example of how an author can reveal herself to her audience without the trappings of showcasing an impressive compendium of writing courses, degrees or literary honorariums. Maybe Inara has all these commendations and therefore doesn’t need to brag. Or maybe she doesn’t. But I like what she says about herself so I don’t care either way. Your thoughts?)


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10 Life Lessons from Syndicated Writer, Author, Teacher and Chef Monica Bhide

This must-read guest post comes from the impressive and always lovable Monica Bhide, author of three cookbooks, the blog A Life of Spice and syndicated columnist of SEASONINGS, distributed by the  Scripps Howard News Media to over 300 news outlets.

In addition to her writing, Monica owns and operates her own cooking school, which has been featured in Bon Appetit. She also teaches sold-out food writing classes. From where I write, her list is bittersweet and ironic.  She is living a successful, highly admirable and inspirational life. Yet, like all of us, she wrestles with her own personal obstacles. I am awed by her journey, and respectfully share her words below.

Once upon a story: What Monica Bhide has learned this year.

2010 has been a year of great learning for me; Every belief I have held that has been near and dear to my heart has been challenged. I think I have said, “It is not all black and white,” more times this year than,  “Kids, clean your room.”

I have struggled with many issues, with some people and sometimes against the Universe. As I sit here this morning and think of goals for 2011, it occurs to me that I cannot really write them until and unless I write down what I learned last year that I can apply to this new coming year:

1. It isnt the Universe that loses faith in us: When things go wrong, I, at least personally, have a tendency to look at the Universe and ask, “What’s up?” But I realized this year that I am asking the wrong question. It isn’t the Universe that loses faith in me, I lose faith in the Universe. Unless I believe that the Universe is conspiring for me, it isn’t.

2. Talent on its own is worthless: I teach writing classes, I have a ton of writer friends, I am surrounded by many people who have exceeded their own expectations and many who have not. I have said this repeatedly and I say it again: talent alone is worthless. With out the commitment behind it, talent will get you nowhere and fast.

3. People are just that: people. Good or bad is our judgement: After a year of dealing with someone who has been particularly difficult on my ego, I kept thinking why this person was doing what they were doing. I could not, for the life of me, understand. How had I harmed them? What had I done to them? And then I realized, thanks to my husband’s insight, that it really isn’t about me at all. It is all about them. People’s judgements and their opinions reflect them. I cannot allow myself to become a reflection of someone else’s opinion about me.

4. All-in-ness: People who succeed in what they do are all committed to it. ALL IN. No second thoughts, no second guessing, no beating yourself up over mistakes, no allowing others to beat you up. It is a singlemindedness that provides razor sharp focus. And guess that? What ever we focus on grows. (Apply this to all areas of life, not just work).

5. True friends are a rare breed: Love them.

6. Social Media is here to stay: I have to say this was the hardest. Sitting on my couch, reading how other people are traveling with world, while I nurse an injured eye, or some other great feat that people were performing, was very hard. I kept thinking I need to do more, needed to do something different. And then Shauna Ahern posted something earlier this year that really hit home and I am paraphrasing here – Why are so many people focused on becoming instead of just being. Now my goal is that – to be who I am, in spirit and in word.

7. Be true to your passion: For work, the only master you have to please is your passion. It will fuel all else. If you try to please anyone else – the critic, the editor, the reader, the friend, the so-called-friend, the ego… anyone else… you will fail. I guarantee it.

8. Love and opportunities abound: This is a very abundant Universe. There is so much warmth, passion, so much love and abundance. We get what we ask for. Think about it. And the best way to gain abundance is to share yours. Freely.

9. When you least expect it, life will intervene: Deaths, job losses, health issues… we all have them. We all face them and we all will get through them.

10. When you least expect it, the Universe intervenes: Readers write in with great comments,  you meet your hero, you discover a new writer who will change your life, your friends rally around you, and you believe again that the Universe, indeed, conspires for you.

This is what I will be thinking of as I set my goals for next year. What will you do? Tell me what you have learned? I would love to learn from you.

If you would like to reach Monica Bhide, or simply want to be humbled (or just have the excuse to say, “wow”)  read Monica’s bio .

Monica’s Cookbooks:

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Intrepid Insider’s view of E-book Sales – The Real Deal

Opting to self-manage the publication of your book can be highly lucrative–and personally satisfying. For writers clutching a coveted publishing contract with a large publishing house, most of the marketing and promotion is still left to the one who wrote the book, with royalties split among agents, publishers and distributors. To earn more money and maintain control, the option of publishing yourself is worth checking out. But how?

R.S. Gompertz author of No Roads Lead to Rome has let us in on all the juiciest details: how he got started, what programs really work, and what kind of sales to expect. He’s even thrown in a coupon code to collect his E-book at a discounted rate. Now that’s an enterprising writer!

Here is his advice:

After a round of unsuccessful submissions, my first agent left to work on the digital side of a major publishing house. When my second agent suggested I rewrite my novel from her point of view, I realized what every indie rock band had known for years: Given how easy it is to publish and distribute, my success would boil down to talent and grit.

Just as iTunes turned the record industry on its ear, digital editions are transforming the publishing industry. So in October of 2009, I took the leap with a print and digital edition of my novel, “No Roads Lead to Rome.” (For the record, I also invented a new literary genre that derives from the equation: Farce + Satire = Fartire.)

I quickly found that E-books are to new authors what iTunes are to indie rock bands: an easy way to get your message out, generate some buzz, learn how to market and establish a platform for your work.

I use Lightning Source (LSI) for my print editions. They also have an E-book service but finding it fairly weak, I quickly turned to Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla of online book sales. Amazon’s Digital Text Publishing system is easy to work with and very well integrated with their powerful marketing, review, and recommendation engines and affiliate marketing tools. I keep about 25 print editions on hand to maintain stock at a few local stores and sell books at readings, author events and book groups.

LSI handles all print sales through Amazon and other online stores. After an initial surge of a few hundred print sales, I now “ship” mostly E-books, mostly through the Amazon Kindle channel. I can’t tell if this is a trend, but over the last few months, my Kindle edition sales have averaged about 2 per day — not a NYT bestseller, but not a lonely number either!

With Amazon, as long as you price your digital edition above $2.99, you’ll collect a 70% royalty. (It’s 30% if you’re selling your book for less.) Amazon is a “closed shop” in the sense that their E-books can only be sold in their proprietary Kindle format. Since the Kindle device is the market leader, and Amazon distributes free Kindle reading apps for iPads, smart phones and stone tablets, you won’t feel too fenced in.

Right now, Amazon offers Kindle editions in the US and UK. As an exercise, you should download a Kindle app to your device of choice, and then grab Amazon’s free guide book, cleverly titled:  Publish on Amazon Kindle with the Digital Text Platform.

Smashwords is the Swiss army knife of digital publishing platforms. Using a file intake system they call the “meatgrinder,” you can convert your document into most E-book formats including Amazon’s. Being able to port your tome to all formats is a wonderful thing. It means that you, the artist, don’t have to worry about all the competing formats and devices. Given its breadth of formats and channels, Smashwords also puts me in Barnes and Noble who’s oddly named Pubit system for E-book publishing was born after my book shipped.

Much of what I’ve said about Amazon also applies to B&N with their Nook device and online store. I’m currently investigating whether it makes sense for me to set up shop there or just fulfill B&N orders through LSI (print) and Smashwords (E-book). I highly recommend the free Smashwords marketing guide as a general source of good ideas.

Smashwords is also a sales platform that distributes your work out to all the major online E-book vendors. You collect up to 85% royalty as they track sales and collect payment.  They earn their percentage by taking care of all the technical details so you can focus on marketing and writing your sequel. Unlike Amazon, Smashwords allows you to create promotional discount coupons and offer commissions for others who sell your book.

This is so handy, I’ll offer a limited time only coupon right here. Use this code during November at Smashwords checkout for 25% off:  DS89J

In theory, you can restrict yourself to Smashwords because of its wide coverage.  I chose to use both services; Amazon for its dominant market presence and Smashwords to reach all the nooks and crannies that Amazon ignores. I’m not suggesting that anyone set aside their dreams of a traditionally published bestseller. I plan on touting my success as an indie author when I shop my sequel but  I now know that if the traditional path doesn’t yield for me, there are viable alternatives.

R.S. Gompertz is the author of “No Roads Lead to Rome,” a humorous novel set in the ancient world. www.noroadsleadtorome.com is where to find him.

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