Archive for March, 2015

March 30, 2015

Let’s Go for the Book First! Huh?


In my twenty-some years of trying to get a book published and then finally doing so, I’ve met dozens of other writers who have had the ultimate goal of having a book published. And they’ve thought that’s the way to start and jump in with all fours into this fickle business.

However, I’ve often found that the vast majority of those folks who’ve had that worthy goal of being a published book author had never been published at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with striving to have your book published. I remember when I first started out, that was my goal, too. But, alas, in my file cabinet here next to me rest (in peace) three complete book manuscripts that never made it beyond the editor’s slush pile at numerous companies. I’ve allowed those three manuscripts to stay snuggled in their little file folders all these years to remind me of how stupid I was to think, “I’m going to write a book and get it published.” My heavens, is there a LOT to learn about writing before ever trying to write a book!

Now, over two decades later I realize that I “knew nuttin'” about the writing/publishing business when I launched those first three book projects. It was only after I started attending writers conferences that I discovered writing a book and having it published would come AFTER I learned how to write a good short story or article and would have those genres published first.

Critique.Group.No.Two.8.7.14So, writer friends, if you’re just launching out on the Good Ship Publish Me, then do your homework. Learn the craft by doing two of the most important activities you could ever do in this business:MCWC.Duck.Welcome.Sign.on.Porch.7.22.14

  1. Join or start a local critique group or one online
  2. Attend writers conferences

Then to improve your skills, study a high school English textbook and start trying to be published by writing Letters to the Editor for your local newspaper, dabble in some poetry, and write some short stories and articles from 1200 to 5000 words. After you’ve mastered those works, then you’ll be ready to sail off into the Ocean of Published Book Authors.

P.S. Make plans to attend the Montrose Christian Writers Conference July 19th to the 24th and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to be published, whether it’s for an article, a short story, or a book. Guaranteed!

The Porch


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March 23, 2015

Science Fiction, Anyone?

These days, fantasy, horror, and science fiction novels are flooding the market, and they’re flying off the book shelves.

Science fiction or fantasy is always a good bet for an experienced writer to try because the versatility of the genre affords the writer the opportunity to create new worlds far beyond our wildest imaginations and go “where man has never gone before.”

But to write good science fiction, a genre which I have not tackled yet except in a few short stories, you need to know five basic rules that will help you create a winner that your readers will love.

Is SF all rockets and ray guns? Far from it. Here are some ideas that you need to incorporate into your manuscript to write a best-selling thriller:

1. Pick contemporary themes and/or take off for the future: readers are always interested in what might happen next year, next decade, next century. Show them what might just happen a hundred years from now, good or bad.
2. Read, read, read: consume all the science fiction you can and learn the lingo. Words like “dilithium crystals” and “flux matrices” will captivate your audience far beyond a vocabulary that uses words like “salt” or “swinging doors,” a vocabulary that comes from the 18th Century.
3. Study the subgenres: there isn’t just one SF genre. You’ll discover that when you go to the library and start your research. You’ll find space travel, genies in magic worlds, time travel, and the like, and ALL of them are interwoven with scientific facts that make the story plausible.
4. Add the “what if” factor to your plot: do you want your readers on the edge of their seat and turning the next page at the end of each chapter? Then use the “what if” factor. What if the sun would stop shining? What if San Francisco would disappear? What if clocks started ticking backwards? It’s your call to develop a wild plot with impossible situations that your characters must face, and they’ll not always be on a spaceship!
5. Study and write scientifically: of course, you don’t need a degree in astronomy, but you should know basic facts about your subject matter. To make your story believable and keep your reader with you, you must have cause-and-effect connections between actions and relationships. Things happen for a reason, even if your new world rotates vertically and snowflakes are blue. You’ve got to have a reason why and be convincing about it.

So, there you have it. Get your wild idea on paper and take off for the other end of the universe!


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March 18, 2015

Color Code Editing

When you decide to write anything longer than one sentence, you’ll find that it’s very easy to use the same words again and again. (Like the word “again!”) Or perhaps you’re the kind of writer who just loves to use flowery, complicated, jubilant, explanatory adjectives…like flowery, complicated, jubilant, and explanatory.

This habit not only will make your writing flat and boring, but it will also do nothing to increase your desire to learn new words and use them cleverly and effectively.

There are two nifty ways to track down overused words. One way is to use the FIND tool in your word processing program on your computer, type in a certain word, highlight it for another stunning effect, and study how often you’ve used that word in your manuscript. You’ll be more than surprised at what you find.

Another way to track down those pesky words that keep reappearing and announce to the world that you’re a beginner is to print your manuscript and get a set of colored markers. Why bother to print it out? I’ve found that the pages take on an entirely new “look,” one that for some strange reason reveals a much stronger need for revision. And, if you use the markers to formulate a color code to find certain words, your revision could border on the professional level. Here’s what to do:

Make yourself a color code with the colored markers. Here’s a suggestion how you can color code your manuscript by either circling or highlighting the words in said color:

1. RED – adjectives

2. BLUE – adverbs

3. GREEN – being verbs, such as “am,” “is,” “was,” “were,” etc. (These words are passive voice; pitch them out and use stronger verbs for the active voice)

4. PINK – commas; many commas are unnecessary and/or misplaced

5. ORANGE – fancy vocabulary words; throw the rascals out and use clear, simple words

6. BROWN – metaphors and similes; yes, sometimes they’re cute and clever, but mostly they’re as boring as a sleeping dog and don’t add anything to your writing

7. YELLOW – clichés and trite expressions; these rascals only reveal lazy writing; be creative with your words and phrases, and you’ll soon have a contract for that “next great American novel.”

If you’re brave enough, go ahead and try this exercise, if only for five or six pages. I believe when you’re done, you’ll have a visual picture of your own writing habits that will probably shock you into becoming a better writer and editor. You might want to tackle the entire manuscript. If you take the time to do it, that publishing contract might be right around the corner.

P.S. Make plans to attend the Montrose Christian Writers Conference July 19th to the 24th. Faculty sketches are at the MCWC’s website http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx    The brochure and more details online are forthcoming. We’d love to have you join us!

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    March 9, 2015

Tips for the Beginner and the Rest of Us

So, you’ve got your blank screen before you, you’ve got a tremendous idea for the “next great American novel,” you’ve got your dictionary, thesaurus, Elements of Style, and your Chicago Manual of Style ready. You rub your hands together, blow on your fingernails, and say, “Look out, world. Here comes brilliance!”

If you’ve never tried writing anything but eight-line poems or a letter to the newspaper’s editor once in a while, there are a few tips I’d like to share with you to help you not only write well but also get published. You might not be ready for a novel; perhaps, a 1200-word fiction story or article would be the best way to start.

Whether you’re determined to write a novel or start with shorter stuff, the tips I want to share will help. They’ll also be brief and to the point. In other words, I will not expound with long, convoluted sentences, which is one of the tips I have for you.

Tips to Help You Write Well:

1.  Don’t write long, convoluted sentences. Write short, poignant sentences with very few flowery words and long descriptive paragraphs. Today’s readers won’t stand for your showing off for pages of narration that will bore them to death and cause them to set a match to your work.

2.  Avoid the exclamation mark! One per page is often too many! Use clever words to emphasize emotion and action! Stay away from the exclamation mark! Get the point?

3.  Even if you’re writing fiction, be accurate. Do your homework. If you’re describing a fire scene, make sure you visit your local fire company and get all the details of what fire fighting is all about. For WHISPERING HOPE, the seventh volume of my Keystone Stables Series, I did just that. I had a barn fire scene, so I went to a local fireman and interviewed him, asking for all the details I needed to write the scene accurately.

4.  Stay away from fancy words. Go for simple active verbs, not descriptive adverbs and impressive adjectives. Instead of “The thin and tired old woman in her seventies walked limply and lazily” try “The haggard senior citizen hobbled.”

5.  Avoid figures of speech or overused clichés. They often distract your readers from the real core meaning of your sentence or paragraph. It just makes your reader think you were too lazy to put your own words together to write a clever line. So don’t put the cart before the horse or your readers will think your writing stinks like a skunk, and they’ll abandon ship. The only thought they’ll have concerning your story is “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

6.  Try to stay in the background, like, invisible. A skillful writer will “show” not “tell” his story and have his/her readers engrossed in the plot, identifying with the character or theme and will not give the author a second thought. Not until the last page. Then the readers are free to exclaim, “Wow! What a story!” (And with the exclamation marks!)

With these few basic points in mind, go ahead, tiger. Tackle that keyboard and crank out that manuscript. Who knows? You might just be working on a best seller!


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March 2, 2015

 The Writers’ 14 Commandments


Every writer should take himself seriously. Well, almost all the time. Once in a while, we have to turn off the computer, kick off our shoes, and have a good hearty laugh, especially if that last page of the manuscript just won’t “jive.”

There’s no better time to revert to a code of ethics (or non-ethics) to “lighten up.” Perhaps my 14 suggestions listed below will help ease the pain of your latest bout of writer’s block. So let’s look at this list and take every one of these important points to heart to make us better writers. (I’m writing this tongue-in-cheek…ly.)

  1. Thou shalt recite 100 times every day, “I am a writer, I am a writer.”
  2. Thou shalt write every day, even if it is only I AM A WRITER 100 times.
  3. Thou shalt not quit thy day job but shalt write by the light of the silvery moon.
  4. If thou quittest thy day job, thou shalt be fully dressed, gargled, OUT OF YOUR PJs, and at thy computer by 11 AM every day.
  5. Thou shalt love thy computer and kiss it good morning every day.
  6. Thou shalt not do other things before writing such as watching thy grass grow or brushing thy dog’s teeth.
  7. Thou shalt query an editor at least once a year.
  8. Thou shalt not smash thy computer after receiving thy first response from an editor.
  9. Thou shalt not take out a full-page ad in the newspaper to announce thy first letter of acceptance.
  10. Thou shalt make many copies of thy first letter of acceptance and frame them to hang in every room of thy dwelling.
  11. Thou shalt join a critique group and attend writers conferences to hold thyself accountable.
  12. Thou shalt not covet other writers’ million dollar advances.
  13. Thou shalt be pleased with thy check of $30.
  14. Thou shalt not quit thy day job but shalt write by the light of the silvery moon.

There you go! With these 14 challenges instilled in your brain, you’re destined to become a best-selling author, so get back to work!


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