Friday, October 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo by Sydney Salter

NaNoWriMo to the Rescue!

When I attempted my first NaNoWriMo , I had already written three novel manuscripts. And I’d collected more than 10 times as many rejections. Two of my novels had won first prizes in the League of Utah Arts contest and the other one won first place in the Utah Arts Council competition, but I couldn’t break in to publishing.

I received lovely rejection letters. Sometimes. Most often I got a “Dear Author” form letter back in my SASE or worse, nothing at all.

I was feeling pretty discouraged that October: short dark days, too many rejections, not nearly enough chocolate. So I decided to shake things up NaNoWriMo-style!

After reading through my old high school diaries, I decided to combine my worst insecurity—my big nose—with my most disastrous work experience. I had wrecked a delivery van and a wedding cake on the same day, but in equally unfortunate separate incidents.

By November 1st, I had read No Plot, No Problem, created a notebook for the novel, and was ready to go. Some people thought I was crazy and others mocked the entire concept of NaNoWriMo. But I learned that I could write without rules or routines. I used to only write in ideal conditions: quiet house, children away, mid-morning hours, when my hair looked good… Well, you get the idea.

During that November, I learned that I could write with my kids fighting over my shoulder. I could get my 1,666 words written while baking six Thanksgiving pies. I wrote early in the morning, late at night, and on really, truly terrible hair days. Some days were easier than others, but when I finished the book I couldn’t tell the difference. And the book turned out pretty good. Sure it needed revision (everything does, right?). But the voice was strong and consistent because I never left the story for more than several hours.

I let the novel rest over Christmas, my critique group read it, and I spent a few months on revision. Recognizing that this was my most commercial novel, I submitted it only to agents. I got the nicest rejection letters I’d ever received. One agent even recommended me to another agency. That’s how I found my current agent. My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters sold in a two-book deal to Harcourt and was published last spring. How did I write that second book? During NaNoWriMo of course! You can find Swoon At Your Own Risk on the shelves next April.

Now go write your story and break all your unhelpful writing rules and rituals! You never know where it will lead you…

Sydney Salter
My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, Harcourt/Graphia
Jungle Crossing, Harcourt
Swoon At Your Own Risk, Harcourt/Graphia, 2010

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Do Good Books Ruin Your Enjoyment of Bad Books?

I’ve seen a good many books recently rise to or debut on the NY Times Bestseller list that have not received good reviews. I’ve also read multiple news articles on how the flop of these “bestsellers” is affecting the publishing industry. For example, the last Harry Potter book sold 8.3 million copies on just 24 hours. One of the biggest titles released these past few months sold a mere 1.2 million copies in one week.

Is the reason these books sales are tanking too much advance hype? Or are people looking for something different in literature these days?

I recently finished what I consider to be a masterpiece of literature (I don’t mind naming it—The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society). In contrast, I also finished a book by a NY Times Bestselling author. The difference in how I felt as I read these books was marked. The Guernsey book had well-developed, fascinating and enjoyable characters. The authors were able to approach the delicate topic of Nazi occupation during WWII with, oddly enough, hope and humanity. My book club read this book, no one ranking it below a 9 out of 10 (and we are tough critics, believe me). The book I picked up next was supposedly young adult, but contained so many adult themes that I wondered there wasn’t a parental advisory sticker on the cover. How have books such as these risen to NY Times Bestselling status when the gems of literature don’t get enough marketing dollars?

Perhaps editors are pushing authors to produce the next bestseller too quickly, or perhaps they are backing the wrong horse. Or perhaps we as readers want more out of literature, having been spoiled by the true works of art.

Tiffany Dominguez

Freelance Writer, Young Adult Fiction

Friday, October 23, 2009

NaNoWriMo by Yamile Mendez

I’ve been a writer ever since I can remember. However, it wasn’t until last year that I started working on a story that little by little became my first novel. Working on it was extremely hard; having four kids under the age of seven (at the time), I had plenty of excuses not to write: I’m too tired, the kids need me, I don’t know what to write about, etc., etc.

Well, at the beginning of November I was browsing through a parenting blog and the author commented she had entered into NaNoWriMO. She even had a link to the website, so I clicked it, and my life changed forever. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s a competition to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.

Have I mentioned November is possibly the most insane month in my family? Well, it is, and by then it already was November 7th. But the challenge was too attractive to pass. I felt like Fate was daring me to try, to see if I could do it. So I took the plunge, and on November 28th, I wrote the sweet words “The End.” For me, it was a beginning.

This year, my nine year-old son is entering too. NaNo has a program for Young Writers. There are different preparation booklets you can print out, for elementary, middle and high school aged children. There is also a chart to calculate how many words your child should set as a goal. The main difference with the adult version is that kids get to choose their own goal. My son is aiming somewhere 3,000 to 6,000 words. He’s already outlining his story.

November might be busy for us, but it’s also challenging. I love having a deadline, letting my fingers fly on the keyboard, seeing the word count increase by the minute.

This year I’ll have my little partner, and we'll cheer each other on. I can’t wait for November to come.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

NaNoWriMo by Taffy Lovell

I think I first saw the NaNo on a writers blog. I really wanted to find my 'voice' so I took a look at the NaNo site.

The idea is to start from scratch on November 1st and cross the finish line (Nov 30) with 50K or more an just WRITE. By forcing a month deadline on yourself and writing furiously you give yourself permission to make mistakes and not correct them. It's all about QUANTITY not QUALITY (I took that statement from their site). At the end of the month, copy your story into their counter and watch the numbers zoom! If you have 50,000 word, you get to put a widget on your blog that says you participated and won.

I signed up. I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. Somewhere on NaNo site I took the advice to let my brain disengage and let my fingers type and that is what I did. My first few pages were garbage as I tried to relax and let my 'writer' take over. Suddenly, it was time for bed and I had typed 10 pages! I reread the story and to my surprise I had a protagonist, antagonist, conflict and several plot lines! I looked forward to the time at night I could type and type. At this point I didn't care if I made 50K because I had a new story.

Well, I did make 50k+ and was thrilled that I had a story. And a story that I had no idea was inside me or sent to my writer. Ali is a young African girl in a small African village. Marriages in the village are laxly arranged. But when the old medicine man in the village starts telling the young girls they must marry him, Ali's mother sends her away. Now, Ali is grown and has come back to her dying village. Can she make a difference? Can she right old wrongs? Can she forgive and move on?

Someday in the near future I am going to edit that story and submit it.
Last year, NaNo offered a code to all who had 50K to print a copy of their book for FREE. And if you wanted to, you could print more (for a fee) to pass out for family and friends. Um, Christmas is coming up..

The pros:
I had a child still at home when I was writing my NaNo story I literally took my computer to bed with me. I typed on my laptop while my husband watched sports or news. And I didn't really have a schedule of when I worked on my story so sometimes it took away time from my family. The last few days of November I really pumped out words and I got a little stressed which is stupid because it's not like anyone will care. Except me...

Some people have a story they want to get off the ground and use NaNo to jump start it. I think that is great. The thought had never occured to me to take one of my outlines and beef it up. But I really liked the freedom of just letting my writer go. Some might get stressed about having no direction but I think this is a great way to loosen the cobwebs or writers block.

by Taffy Lovell

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ten Commandments for a Happy Writer

Nathan Bransford, literary agent for Curtis Brown Ltd., posted the following on his site a few months ago.  You may have already seen it back in March but it’s really good advice and worth a re-read.  Visit his site for the full list and explanations. 

Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer

1. Enjoy the present

Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellerdom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the "if only" game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I'll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I'll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you're actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It's found in the present. Because writing is pretty great -- otherwise why are you doing it?

2. Maintain your integrity

3. Recognize the forces that are outside of your control

4. Don't neglect your friends and family

5. Don't Quit Your Day Job

6. Keep up with publishing industry news

7. Reach out to fellow writers

8. Park your jealousy at the door

9. Be thankful for what you have

10. Keep writing


Friday, October 16, 2009

To Authonomy or not to Authonomy

A week or so ago I finally signed up at, the experimental Web site run by HarperCollins that is supposed to let the writing community help bring the best talent to the surface, where it is then evaluated by the editors at HarperCollins. I've resisted for a long time, but after reading a couple articles about it in the past few weeks, I broke down and did it.

It's an interesting site. Writers post at least 10,000 words of their work, then other writers read and evaluate it. If they like it, they put it on their bookshelves. Every Authonomy member gets a bookshelf that holds five books and a watch list that can contain an unlimited number of books. Books are ranked according to the number of bookshelves, watch lists, and comments they get, at least that's how it looks to me. I haven't read all the info about how it works. As far as I'm concerned, any feedback is good feedback, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

There's only one problem: it's basically a specialized social networking site where, to rise to the top, you have to play the game. You have to spend a lot of time trading reads with other writers. This is not a bad thing, but it does tend to encourage comments that are more positive than helpful. I've examined several books that had what I consider serious writing issues, but most of the comments were about how beautifully written they are. The idea is, of course, that if I say somebody else's book is great, they're more likely to look at mine and tell me how great it is, and that helps my ranking. If I do enough of that, I might rise high enough to catch the interest of the HarperCollins editors, or one of the other editors and agents who reportedly troll the site.

OK, that sounds like a negative review. It's not all that bad. It's interesting to see the kind of work that is competing with yours in the slush piles, and some of the manuscripts are really fun to read. Plus, there's a definite jolt every time you get a positive comment or book is put on somebody's shelf, and it's fun to see your ranking go up. Mine rose fairly quickly the first few days, but because I don't have time to play the Authonomy game right now, I seem to have stalled just above 1200 (out of 4,000 or so).

Should you do it? The answer is a resounding "maybe." Writer's Digest seems to think it's a good idea, and I must like it because I find myself checking the site at least two or three times a day. I have received a couple of helpful comments and a handful of others that are highly encouraging, such as this one:

"This is great, really great, I think boys would eat this up and it would appeal to adults as well. Desmond and Banjo make a great team--one's cautious, the other reckless. Who wouldn't be tempted to try on a magic ring, I ask you? I don't blame the kid for checking it out. What fun! The two friends play off of each other, making for humorous moments, and conversation that goes on at a nice clip. I like when one of them declares, "I don't think we're in Svenson's attic anymore, Toto." This is the kind of adventure story that has mass appeal, where modern day people can imagine what it would be like to live in another time, pure fantasy, and I've always loved stories about Vikings. It doesn't hurt that your prose are clean, smooth and flow creamy smooth."

The one that points out some writing mistakes is more helpful, but this one helps keep my interest in this manuscript going while I work on another one. It's also the first time I've seen "prose" as a plural.

So join if you want. It doesn't hurt, and it's really kind of fun. The encouraging words are always helpful, and some of the comments are actually useful. Just be aware that, as soon as you join, you'll get a bunch of requests for read swaps, and maybe a couple more that say something like "read swaps are lame." But then the real comments will start, and you'll discover some stuff you want to read, as well as some books you really want to like but the writing's just not good enough. That gives you a bit of a feel for what agents must go through. It's good to get that kind of a view into the process.

Just don't forget to put my book on your shelf. Maybe we can even swap reads.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Thanks, But This isn't For Us" by Jessica Page Morrell

I love the cover of this book-- the coffee cup stain, the red pen edits. I found this book at my local library and picked it up out of curiosity. It's a great reference book for beginning writers (though we seasoned ones could use its suggestions too!). The author includes chapters on first beginnings, overall structure, plot usage, suspense, tragedy, sensory writing, creating memorable characters, finding emotion, etc. I get the feeling her work is a lot more "edgy" than other reference books and probably won't be nearly as dull as some of those "how to write better" reference books we've all read at one time or another!

So if you want a new take on good writing advice, check out "Thanks, but this isn't for us."

Here's an Amazon link to the book.

Here's the Product Description from Amazon:

A fun, practical guide that reveals the essentials of good fiction and memoir writing by exposing the most common mistakes literary writers make.

All great works of fiction and memoir are unique-but most bad novels, stories, and memoirs have a lot in common. From clunky dialogue to poorly sketched out characters, sagging pacing to exaggerated prose, these beginners' mistakes drive any agent or editor to their stock rejection letter, telling the aspiring writer "Thanks, but this isn't for us," and leaving many to wonder what exactly it is that they're doing wrong.

Veteran writing coach, developmental editor, and writing instructor Jessica Page Morrell will fill in the gaps in every rejection letter you've ever received. In Thanks, But This Isn't for Us, Morrell uses her years of experience to isolate the specific errors beginners make, including the pitfalls of unrealistic dialogue, failing to "show, not tell," and over-the-top plot twists. These are just a few of the problems that keep writers from breaking through with their work. Sympathetic and humane, but pulling no punches, Thanks, But This Isn't for Us shows writers precisely where they've gone wrong and how to get on the right track. In sixteen to-the-point chapters, with checklists, exercises, takeaway tips, and a glossary, Morrell helps readers transcend these mistakes so that they don't have to learn the hard way: with another rejection letter. "

Just for laughs

Monday, October 5, 2009


From comic creator David Malki ! comes this little gem: the insta-plot, otherwise known as the Electro-Plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre-Fiction Generator 2000.  Click the picture for the big size in all its glory.

Who knew writing was so easy? :)

 Kiirsi Hellewell lives in the Salt Lake Valley.  She loves crisp fall mornings, rainy days, and colored leaves—which means she’s a pretty happy camper right about now.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Home office: before and after

by Scott Rhoades

I almost forgot today was Friday and my day to blog. Better late than never. And to think I've been looking forward to this post for a month and almost missed it.

About a month ago, I started to remodel my den, or my Schreibwinkel as I like to call it, my writing nook. It's a small room, about 9x10, and was decorated with dark paneling, which made it smaller and dark, and not very conducive to creativity.

The room was lit by a small window and double-tubed fluorescent light on the ceiling. Between the dark, closed in feeling and the fluorescent lighting, it wasn't a very friendly, creative space.

When I tore off the paneling, I discovered that the walls had not been finished before the paneling was tacked up. It wasn't a real big surprise, but it disappointed me, mostly because I'm not real good at drywall and there were huge gaps between the pieces of sheet rock, especially at the top of the walls, a place that's especially difficult to tape and mud, at least for somebody with my level of experience. But I did it, it's not perfect, but it's OK.

Especially since I was going for an old look. A very old look. About 400 years old. When I spent a few months in Germany in 2005, I fell in love with the half-timbered houses, so my plan was to do one wall in that style. The goal was to make it look as authentic as I could, which meant it wasn't good enough to just tack up some boards. In those old buildings, the planks are the structure of the building, so I had to somehow set the boards into the walls.

After thinking about different ways to do this, I decided it would be best to put up the boards, then build the walls around them. That meant more drywall. It also meant a lot of cutting. And angles. I'm not a carpenter, and as a word guy I'm not real good at angles. So there was a lot of trial and error, and some of the errors are still visible if you look. And, it meant texturing the wall to look old and rough.

I also put wood siding on the bottom two feet of the other three walls. The result was that it looked like a barn. Not at all the look I wanted. Plus, it was hard to find moulding for a chair rail that would fit over the wood. Two days before I finished, I pulled that siding off, and painted the bottom 2 1/2 feet a color called "fresh-baked pumpernickel." I thought it matched the "vanilla custard" that I painted the top parts of the walls and ceiling, and the spaces between the planks on The Wall.

I also replaced the fluorescent light with a regular ceiling light, and put in a dimmer switch. Finally, I had to finish the window. The original owner had put the paneling over the 2x4s that made up the window frame, so I had to build up the window area and put in a window sill.

Here are two pictures of the result. The first shows The Wall, and the second was taken after I moved my stuff back in. It's not a perfect job by any means, and it's not going to be everybody's taste, but it's me, fits the things I like to write, and feels more like a writing nook (which is what Schreibwinkel means) than that awful paneling did.

I still need to decorate the walls, but it feels so much bigger and brighter and friendlier than it used to. Other than the paint fumes that won't go away, it feels comfortable, and I enjoy being in there. I just wish I couldn't see all my mistakes. At least I picked a 400-year-old rustic look that helps mask some of the errors.