In the last few weeks I have had a series of disasters. I managed to break to cars in the same week I got a $46 paycheck! I also came unbelievable close to losing something very important, my novel.
I let my husband borrow my lap top for a few days to work from home during a snow storm. The lap top was also doing a major hardware update. In the middle of this update he called to me from the other room. The screen had frozen. The machine wouldn’t do anything, not even turn off. I began to panic.
Not only do I use this computer for work, but all of novels and stories are saved on it. In the first second of panic I realized that my latest work, one new novel, one edited novel, and my updated encyclopedia, were not backed up! I was terrified that al of this work was gone.
Thankfully I was able to get the computer working again. The first thing I did was e-mail my work to myself. I will never again forget to back up my stories, they are too important to lose.
Let my story serve as a reminder to you. No matter what way you choose to do it. Whether you use e-mail, a flash drive, google drive, a hard copy, anything. DO NOT FORGET TO BACK UP YOUR WORK. I was lucky, but not everyone is, and I know no one wants to lose their stories.
Recently I reintroduced myself to two of my favorite genres of books, Memoir and historical fiction. Interestingly, though I love to read both of these genres, I haven’t been able to write in them.
I fell in love with historical fiction at an early age. I loved that the stories that I was reading could be real. Though the characters were fictional the times and places were not. At the time I loved the “Dear America” series. This allowed me to explore time periods that I didn’t know much about through characters who were my own age. I have always wanted to write in this genre, yet I never have. I think that the research aspect scares me. I wouldn’t want to get important historical details wrong, but I would also want to stay true to my characters. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, having read a lot of this type of book both through my work as a teacher and on my own. Maybe I will explore it again soon.
The other genre, Memoir, came to me more recently, but in somewhat the same way. Once again, I loved exploring real events and real people, only with memoir it is actually real. I find myself fascinated with stories of people’s experiences in events I’ve only heard about in the news. As for writing, this one is a little easier to explain. Thankfully my life is pretty boring! I haven’t lived through any event that would really interest readers. Maybe someday, when we are all famous writer, but for now I am content to read about the lives of others.
Choosing a genre to write in can be difficult. One of the best places to look can be your own bookshelf. Don’t be afraid to explore new things!
Ever since I was a small child I have known what I wanted in life. I wanted to inspire. While that may seem like a big thing for a young kid, and it is, that is just the type of precocious little one I was. I was also very goal driven. I knew exactly how I was going to achieve this.
One of the ways I wanted to do this was to create. I tried my hand at music and art, and showed no talent at either. Then I found my two loves, storytelling and acting. Both of them, luckily, go hand in hand. Luckily for me, my parents were extremely supportive and I began doing both of these things.
As I grew my storytelling turned to writing. I would write small stories and read them to my family. Many of them I kept to myself. In high school I began writing my first novel, which no one would be allowed to see for many years. In college I became a creative writing major, eager to hone my craft.
Through it all I had one hope. That someday other people, real people, people who had never met me, would read my stories. I would go to book stores and find the spot on the shelf where my name would be. I would stare at that spot and wish. Wish that eventually it would be true.
Well, miracle of miracles, it finally is! A few weeks ago I held in my hand a book which contains a story I wrote. It was real, tangible. Dark and Bitter is out there in the world. That moment was one of the most amazing of my life. That book is now available for anyone to purchase. People I have never met, and probably never will, can read my words. My words will be for sale in bookstores and online. This fact amazes me. It reminds me of one key thing. Dreams do come true.
Life. Sometimes it can be wonderful and full of joy. Other times it can bring immense sorrow. Lately it seems that sorrow has been in the cards. The problem with this, other than the obvious, is that it gets in the way of, well, everything.
Going into this month of November my hopes were high. I had finished my last book and had a fully fleshed out idea for the next one. I was excited to get started. Life was going pretty well too. Friends and family were doing well and one friend had just welcomed a baby. This business was moving full steam ahead (and still is!).
Then everything fell apart. On October 31st we got word that a family friend wasn’t going to make it through the week. She passed the next day. What was supposed to be a month of writing and enjoying friends became two weeks of sadness. At the same time other friends, both at work and at home, went through similar tragedies. It began to feel like the world was falling apart. I did not start NaNo, but rather spent moments with friends and family and began to contemplate things.
What I came up with was this: Yes, life can suck sometimes, but it keeps going. Did I start my novel this month? No. Will I put it away and never think about it again? Of course not. For one, it gives me an excellent distraction from the craziness around me. Second, writing has introduced me to a fabulous group of friends (including the other pub518 ladies) who are always there to lend a hand. Plus these characters just won’t shut up!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that yes, life can suck royally, but don’t let that stop you from living it.
My favorite part of any story is the characters. It is these people who truly bring the story to life for me. And I’m not just talking about the main characters. The best stories, to me, have fully formed minor characters, a whole world that feels real. This is also something I strive to do in my own stories. As a writer there is one thing I like do to make characters seem real.
Almost every character that appears in my stories has a fully thought out back story written down somewhere. This technique came from my time as actress. It was very important for even the minor characters, even the ones who didn’t speak, to know their motivation in any given scene. This meant creating detailed histories and discussing them with those around you.
One of my favorite theatre stories involves a girl who had no lines. We created an inside joke that two other characters had bet her not to talk for the whole weekend (that the play was set in). This made us giggle every time it would have made sense for her to talk. Though no one in the audience, and very few people in the play, knew why we were laughing, it added another layer to play.
I use this same technique in my writing. Knowing a characters personality and motivation effects everything, from their mannerisms to how they react to people. If you think about it in regards to real life, compare how two people react to a death. Someone who recently lost someone will react more strongly than someone who has not. It is human nature. Since these characters are human it makes sense to create lives for them.
Once your characters have a life, even if your readers never know it, the world they live in will feel more real. This makes your story more enjoyable for everyone.
During my day job as a teacher one of the things I often work on with my students is creative writing. It often amazes me how creative these kids can be. The plot lines they come up with are sometimes better than the ones I read in published books! That being said, there is one thing they struggle with, description.
My students are very good at knowing what is going to happen in a story, but they don’t know to say it. They often simply write out their plot. This ends up being more like an outline than a story. As such I came up with a phrase that I teach them and then stress throughout the process. That phrase is “show not tell”. What I mean by that is rather than just say what is happening you need to make the reader see it, live it. You need to use all five senses to make your writing feel real.
Many students, and in fact many people, have trouble with this idea. They would rather tell the story as it happened, much like they would while talking to a friend. What I do to combat this is to show them a simple story written both ways. Once they see how boring a “tell” story is they are more able to “show.”
Another thing I do with my students is to make sense charts. These charts lists the five senses and the students must fill it out about a character or setting. This helps them think of adjectives to use while writing.
While I typically use this technique with teenagers it could also easily be applied to any author. Any time you feel like you’re writing needs something more try using a sense chart. You would be surprised what this can add to a story.
It is currently “Back to School” time, something the stores and advertisements won’t let us forget. This means different things for different people. For parents it means no more kids around all day to worry about and find things for them to do. For kids it means going back to friends and learning, and waking up earlier! For teachers it means planning, grading, and an end to relaxation. It can also be a chance for us writers to go “back to school”.
For writers there are two things that come to mind when I say this. The first is more literal. Take a workshop. There are many offered all over the area, and farther. One friend even attended one in Scotland! They are often run by groups of writers such as RWA (the romance writers association). Some are offered online. Teachers can include well known authors, editors, or your fellow local writer. These workshops cover all kinds of things. They can help you work on character, plot, setting, anything you could think of, in a welcoming place. You can listen to others talk about their problems with writing and get help with your own. Workshops are a great place to learn to be a better writer.
The second way to “go back to school” is to work on something on your own. Take a look at your writing. You will know what areas you have trouble with, whether that be a story element, or a type of grammar, or anything. Then practice. Try re-writing a section, or maybe giving a character a backstory. Anything you can find to help yourself.
Just because we are now adults does not mean that we can’t go “back to school.” Take advantage of the daily reminders and make your writing better.
We’ve all heard of NaNoWriMo. That crazy month of November when we do nothing but write. What many people don’t know is that there are two other months for writing. NaNo calls the months of April and July “Camp” months. The goal here is similar to that of November, but there are some differences.
The first difference is your goal. During November you have to write 50,000 words. Camp is much more flexible. You choose your own goal, any amount you want. This allows people with busy lives to be more realistic about what they can do. It also let’s overachievers show their progress. You can also change your goal as you go, usually until the last week of the month when winning starts. That way if life got in the way you can still win, or if you’re doing better than expected you can surge ahead. This year my goal is 15,000. I think that this will be enough to finish my current work-in-progress.
That is another difference with camp. NaNo asks you to start a new project, Camp does not. You can if you want to, but you can also continue an old one, or use the time to edit or revise. Basically, as long as you are working on some type of writing, it works. I often use camp to finish the novels I start in November.
Another major addition to Camp is Cabins. Cabins allow you to have a specific group of writers to talk to. During NaNo we have the message boards. Cabins are more like a chat with a smaller group. There are a few ways to get a cabin. I usually form a cabin with people from the local NaNo group. We add as many people as we can and often end up with more than one cabin. One person sets it up and then adds the others. I like doing this because these people already know my stories and personality, so I don’t have to explain myself as much. You can also get added to a random cabin. You just select this option and the powers that be put you with a group. This can be interesting because you are interacting with new people.
Overall I like the flexibility that Camp gives, especially as someone who works, a lot. It gives me the motivation I need but at a pace that works better for my life. Happy writing everyone!
In order to write your story you first need to have the idea, the inspiration. This can come from many different places. Sometimes it comes from the submission guidelines to an anthology you are interested in, other times it’s from another work (movie, play, book, etc.). Something you overhear can be inspiring, or it can just pop into your head. I have even dreamed my ideas! All of these places are useful, it just depends on you to make them great.
For me my main source of inspiration is from plays. As many of you know my main series is set in a theatre. There is a play being rehearsed and performed in the background of each book. As such I take much of the inspiration for the plot of the book itself (or at least the crime) from the play. The idea for the first novel actually came while I was working on the play in question. I was watching the show one day and just though, “What if this happened instead?” And so a book was born. For the second I used the title of a play as inspiration for the victim. While my books do not copy the plots of these plays, they do use a lot of similar ideas and themes.
I combined two of these methods to come up with idea for my short story. When we agreed on a theme for our anthology (Dark and Bitter) and were discussing black coffee, I immediately thought of the song “Coffee, Black” from the musical “Big”. Using younger versions of the characters from my novels I was able to successfully create something that both fit the anthology and stayed true to my series.
My other two novels had very different inspirations. The first was a young adult novel based vaguely on my own life as a questioning adolescent. The second is the one that sometimes gets me strange looks. My main character literally came to me in a dream. He just showed up one night and said “My name is Louis, tell my story.” He actually said this, I didn’t dream the story, I dreamt him telling me! In fact, I keep a notebook next to my bed in case it happens again!
Inspiration can come from many places and things. One minute you are staring at a blank page and the next you have a new world, just waiting to explored. Wherever your inspiration comes from, the world is waiting for your story.
We’ve talked briefly before about write-ins. They are a great place to work and to make yourself write. That’s not all they are good for though. One of the best things about write-ins is the people!
For the last three years we have been meeting at Denny’s in Latham every Sunday night. Over this time a steady group of about eight to ten people has developed. That number can grow to over thirty during writing months (November, April and July). Over the past three years these people have become some of my closest friends. Four of us even started this company together.
While we of course do writing sprints of twenty minutes at a time, we also spend the twenty minutes in between writing talking. Sometimes we help someone with a writing problem, but more often than not we just talk. This has led to some, let’s say interesting, conversations, dendrophilia for example!
Spending time with such a diverse and stimulating group of people has another benefit, characters! I often use the people in this group as the basis for certain characters in novels. This gives me a great place to start from with the characters appearance, profession, and motivation. Sometimes this is subtle, a simple nod to someone I know. Occasionally I don’t even know I have done this until it is pointed out by someone else. Other times it is overt and intentional. The best example of this is our own Lizette! In fact, you will find a character named Lizette in many novels written in the 518. She requested to be someone sassy, so for me she is a waitress in the local diner.
It is always fun to come to Denny’s, no matter what kind of mood I am in. I know that I will be among friends and that I will get work done, and even get inspired. Everyone is welcome to join us at any time, and I hope you do.
As a writer, I spin tales to take the reader away from everyday life, if only for a few hours. However, becoming a published author and reaching readers is a struggle. Writers sit in front of laptops and tap away in hopes of creating the next great American novel. But what happens after the manuscript is written and edited?
It was a dilemma for a few of my fellow writers and me. One Sunday night at Denny’s we pondered the question. Sending query letters to publishers is nerve wrecking. It takes the stars to be aligned just right to connect and get a contract.
We knew there had to be another solution. Yes, self-publishing on Amazon is an option, but the writers at the Sunday Night Write In knew there had to be other alternatives. So in January, the idea of starting a publishing company for authors in the 518 was spawned.
The 518 Publishing Company, LLC has been created to help writers in the 518 to publication. We will make it happen.