Sunday, May 29, 2011


Frankly, most first time writers think they are finished when the first draft is written. Trust me, it is just the beginning. That is why it is called a 'draft.'

I don't care if your mother, lover, or best friend says it is wonderful. It is not. What they probably mean is they think YOU are wonderful. And that is probably true.

As a side note, I just read an article about how many people in America think they should (and could) write a novel. If I find it again, I'll post the link at the bottom.

The reality is that most people who write are hobbyists. Being a professional writer is a different mind-set. For one thing, those people study the craft. It is pure BS that you can learn to write well by reading tons of novels. It shows when I read a submitted ms and no study into the craft has been done by the writer, though their library card is well worn.

There are very few natural writers who write at the professional level from day 1. I only know of one writer like that.

So what about everyone else, the non-naturals, who has a passion for writing? I'd say, harness that passion and drive. Take your writing to the next level. Study the craft. Study the industry (which is far less interesting than studying writing). Get serious and disciplined with your writing time. Talk is cheap. Get some ink on the paper.

Write the first draft straight through. Some people like to make an outline first, but I think that is best suited for non-fiction and it drains some of the energy out of the story if too much time is invested in writing an outline for a novel.

Plus, I contend that with an outline, the writer knows things that never get in the book, and that leaves the reader in the dark. They are expected to make leaps when the writer could have easily provided the stepping stones - those tidbits that were in the outline.

Basically, a writer needs to know where their characters are at the beginning and where they want them to be, developmentally, at the end. Find your starting point and write to the end point. If you've learned about the craft, you know how the journey from beginning to end should look on paper. A professional knows how to write a good middle story.

Some people think they need to edit-on-the-fly as they write the first draft. I can tell those who have edited one chapter before writing the next one. It has a disjointed feel to it when I read it. I don't know how else to explain it. Even if I like them, I 'pass' on the ms because it is too much work to fix the flow of energy that should be there.

The correct way to write a draft for a novel is to write from the beginning to end, straight through. Keep your eye on the prize. If you get preachy, it shows. If you go on a side excursion, it shows.

Besides stopping too soon, such as when the first draft is done, some writers do one or two edits and think it is done. Even if a line editor is hired, most do not provide content editing. The only suggestion I'll make on that is to print the whole ms on paper, get a friend who has not read your draft, sit for a whole weekend, and read it aloud to them. Even if you have to go it alone, read it aloud and listen to what is on the page.

Watch for stiff dialogue. How many of us speak grammatically correct in our conversations? Watch for time warps. Watch for telling the reader what is happening rather than showing them. Watch for side excursions where a secondary character tries to upstage the main character. (You can write a novel featuring them some other time.) Of course, you'll see lots of typos. Watch for homonyms and synonyms gone awry. Watch for sentences that are too long (how many breaths did it take to get through that one?). Watch for recycling unusual words too many times. Watch for places that are simply boring as hell and don't move the story forward.

The sooner you read your ms aloud from paper, the shorter the polishing process is...that means the fewer rewrites you will need to do.

There is one odd thing that always seems to happen. As soon as you submit your ms to someone with the hope of a publishing contract, you will see previously hidden mistakes that begin to glare at you and probably would glow in the dark if you were brave enough to turn out the lights.

I get follow-up emails with a horrified panicky tone. If the query letter is well done, and the synopsis is correctly done (and interesting to me), I can over look errors in the ms - providing there aren't a million of them and the writing is still solid.

However, that said, there are so many people writing these days due to laptops vs the manual typewriter, that it is worth it not to submit without letting the ink dry and reading the whole ms again before submitting it to anyone.

And the final word on the topic of "stop" is to not over write. Stop when the story is done. Some people like to keep writing and writing, and writing, because writing is fun. But you have to think about when the reader will feel the story is finished and stop there.

Go! Write your best work!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

O'dark thirty

Translation: It is entirely too early for "them" to be out there on the golf course mowing before 5 AM. Who can possibly love golf enough to welcome the intrusion into their sleep hours? (Not me!) Yesterday morning they were out with gas powered saws trimming the trees at the crack of dawn. Really, guys?

It isn't all that different to get caught up with writing the next Great American Novel and not think about anything else.

Here are some things to think about. If you're going to write a historical novel, study the time period. That means do more research than read other historical novels.

There is something to be said about the maxim, write what you know. Several years ago, someone was writing a novel set in Southern California - my neck of the woods, so to speak. They had never been to America. The story premise was interesting, but it should have been set somewhere the author knew.

One thing about the beach scenes in Kathryn's Beach that strikes universal is the inclusion of the spray and the gritiness of being on the beach. (Go to the video page of and watch both videos.)

When we lived in the Midwest, we would watch movies set in the western desert. I always perked up when I saw areas in the Mojave Desert in California, because I spent equal amounts of my childhood in that high desert region. It is much different from the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.

Besides setting, switching to dialects or nationalities requires attention to detail. Consult a local person to read your ms for authenicity. The homeless woman in Kathryn's trilogy speaks with an Appalachian drawl. Did I get it right? It isn't critical because that was her street persona, not the real person she was. But it is believable enough to pass inspection until her real identity is revealed.

Basically, don't get caught up in the rush of writing and forget that someday someone will read it. And if that someone is not your mother, lover, or best friend, they are going to notice things like the moon rising at 2 AM or the slight misspeaks your characters do.

There are thousands of people with laptops ticking out a novel. If you want published, you have to get it right because someone else out there is determined enough to pay attention to the details. The Cactus Rain team notices this stuff.

If you want to get ahead of everyone else, print your ms (yes, on paper) and read it aloud. Yes, ALOUD. You can be sure I will do that to your ms before offering a contract to publish.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Mother Hen Moment

There is so much great information on the Internet for beginning writers. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the process of distilling the information. Certainly, I believe, there are better blogs than mine, though I don't know which they are, nor do I really care who is better than me, as long as I'm my best.

Writing is a craft. It is also an art. It is also a profession. Here are a few tips, and as always, they are IMO. (IMO is In My Opinion. Most often it is IMHO, but there is nothing humble about my opinion. I very rarely apoligize for it or for calling it like I see it, therefore, forget thinking I'm humble when it comes to this craft and this industry.) we go!

It takes most people hours, months, and sometimes years to write a novel. I'm among the fortunate few who can write a complet draft in 40 hours, eg, a couple hours a day for three weeks.

That said, it totally amazes me that such lack of care is given to soliciting publication. Seriously, folks, this isn't an entitlement. Anyone wanting to be part of this wonderful and sometimes bizzare thing of writing must put at least equal effort into the submission process as into the writing process.

Here are a few obvious things that result in me not reading the first three chapters of a submitted ms: When a query letter begins, "Dear Sir," it is nearly sudden death then and there. Besides the fact, that as a woman, it annoys the hell out of me to be addressed as "Sir," it also indicates that the person sending the query hasn't bothered to find out if I am a sir.

A quick look at Cactus Rain Publishing's website reveals my name. A google will find First Draft, and I'm pretty sure the photo of me doesn't look like a "Sir."

The next arogant thing that catches my attention is the brush off query letter. It goes like this: I wrote this novel (please don't say "fiction novel" - novels ARE fiction) and have attached the synopsis and first three chapters for you to read.

It tells me nothing about the submission, assuming I'll jump over the correctly written query letters and rush to read the synopsis attached. Um...let me think on, no.

This isn't a complete list of what should go into a query letter, but it is a business letter that is your first and best attempt to get the reader to consider the ms. It should include the genre, the length (word count), and a two or three sentence paragraph that pitches the the manuscript (ms).

The pitch to readers (blurbs and such) is different from the pitch to an agent or publisher. There should be no fluff to it. For example, Kathryn's Beach is an 80,000 word contemporary woman's lit story of a social worker who returns to face the case that ended her career. It is set in Southern California near Los Angeles. That is very bare bones and wouldn't get a reader excited, but in this case, that isn't the point of the pitch.

The next problem area that results in a decline email is the synopsis. There is a search feature for this blog in the sidebar to the left. Search 'synopsis' for tips about the form and substance of synopsis, especially if you intend to query Cactus Rain.

It is heartbreaking to tell hopeful authors that their work is not a good fit for Cactus Rain. But at least it shouldn't be because the query process was slopped together and doesn't represent the work submitted or the writer's intent to become a professional, not a hobbiest.

Good writing, good luck, and God-speed.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Flap copy...

What a weird term that is (this post title, in case I've lost anyone). Well, this wordsmithing industry is like that. What can I say?

At the time it made sense to me to follow the article about book cover art and back of the book (though some show up on the front) blurbs with something about jacket flap copy.

Or I could write about the divorce that takes one step forward and two backwards and is simply annoying. You know, the one with the adulterous "husband" who writes in the petition that the "wife" cannot cohabitate? Seriously?

Who would want to cohabitate? Do you know anyone who would pay their half of the rent and utilities on time without reminders, keep their room clean, leave the toilet in the closed position, never-ever park close enough to roommate's car to dent it, agree not to have sleep-overs (even in the daytime), and never be home when "wife" is. I don't think that person exists and besides, what does any of this have to do with a blog about writing?

Actually, the point is not to tease readers. Not with the cover art, the blurbs, the jacket flap copy, or stupid stories that are not part of the plot. Be honest with your readers, deliver a well crafted story with good writing. That will sell.

Point taken?

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I keep reading this article because it is so true, and because I like the way it is written. (See below for link.) At the same time, I think I should put it out there for my readers to read. Partly, I'm inclined because it should be an eye-opener to new writers and because old writers, like me, will nod in the truth of it and laugh at the truth of it, too.

So why am I finally posting this? There was an ms nearly ready for publishing. It had been an uphill project and many frustrating hours to get to that point. When we got to the cover art, nothing was acceptable. It was becoming a money pit that I couldn't afford. And frankly, some days I'm just too tired to put up with arguments and whining. So out the window it went.

The reality is that when a publisher takes on an ms, the writer has to let go and let it get published. The whining and and fit pitching that worked on mom, teacher, lover...simply wears my patience thin. In that case, my advice is to find a company that does POD books and put your own money on the line.

Homework: Read this!