Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Happy Banned Books Week

Well, originally I wanted last Monday's blog post to be about the fact that this week is Banned Book Week, but due to the internet being screwy and... other glitches, Friday's post got published Monday. So today we will be talking about Banned Book Week!

What is Banned Book Week? You may ask. It is a week sponsored by the American Library Association to bring attention to books that were banned or attempted to be banned in the past. It is designed to celebrate our freedom to read and write what we choose! For more information, check out their website!

In America, writers have this perception that we have the freedom to write whatever we want. It is, after all, in our constitution! However, there are groups who can and will try to ban material that they consider subversive, graphic and/ or in poor taste in an effort to "protect the people".

With situations like Harry Potter it is easy to go "What? Why would you ban such fantastic stories?" (For a detailed list of books that have been banned over the years, check out Controversial and Banned Books )

With Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, it becomes a little more clear why certain groups might want to ban certain books.

But when someone proposes that your children should be allowed to read Mein Kampf By Adolf Hitler or Women on Top by Nancy Friday... well, suddenly one can see how book banning comes about.

I think parents have the duty and responsibility to determine what their children read. I do not think educators have that right, I do not think that the government has that right. I do not even think that Religious organizations have that right. Of course all of them have the same right that we writers have, freedom of expression. They are more than welcome to express their opinion on any work out there! (As long as they actually READ IT first!!)

That being said, I do believe that it is important as writers that we take our job very seriously. We have a duty to write quality content that reflects our own truths. Those truths are our own and there are people who may not agree with them. We may get sand blasted for expressing our thoughts and stories, our truth. We have to respect other peoples' right to do the same!  But I actually covered a lot of my thoughts and feelings on Banning in another post Book Banning is At It Again so I won't beat that horse dead.

Now, what to do with the space left?

I know! Here are some samples of my children's book that will be coming out soon! It is a story dealing with entitlement and learning the joy of hard work and the pride one can gain from completing projects. (Which is exactly how I feel about finishing this book!!) Do you think it might get banned?

 Here is the front cover

And a sample from the middle of the book

And another sample!

Hope you enjoy!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... Yet!

Work bigger to smaller.

I start my editing on the principle of working through the big problems first, then each additional edit gets to focus on smaller and smaller issues. In my first read through I am looking at my content. Are there any holes in my story, am I telling when I should be showing? Are there any inconsistencies? Big stuff. Now if I come across small stuff as I go, of course I will fix it when I see it, but that is not my primary focus. I am buffing out my story during the first read-through.

The reality is that most audiences are forgiving. What I mean by this is that we will forgive bad acting in a B movie as long as the story is good. We will forgive bad cartoon illustrations as long as the content of the program is good and we will forgive grammar errors if the story is engrossing enough that we don't see them!

But no matter how great the actor is, we cannot forgive a bad story, no matter how good the illustrations, if the content sucks we just aren't there. Even if there is not a single grammatical or spelling error, we will not finish a book if the story doesn't grab us.

Don't believe me? Here are some examples: How many of you could not stand Castaway, even though Tom Hanks is a phenomenal actor? Yet Twilight is a raging success, despite wooden performances. South Park is horribly illustrated, but has been on air for almost fourteen years. Yet Animes are not as popular in the U.S. (despite their beautiful rendering) because most Americans do not understand the stories! Mark Twain made telling stories in tone popular, because he could not grasp the rules of grammar! Yet most people loathe reading Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter) because they cannot relate to the stories, even though his writing is grammatically superior to Twain.

So make sure you have the most intact story possible, before you start fixing all the little stuff. Next week we will focus on how to fix some of the big stuff! Are there any "big" issues you need help fixing in your own story? Tell us in the comments below, or feel free to e-mail me at and I'll be happy to offer assistance!

Any tips to other writers on how to fix the big stuff? Please, share in the comments below!! We are a community and it takes a village to make a good book!!

Until next time, keep writing!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Editing the Day Away

Editing is such an important step in the writing process. For hundreds of years authors have sought agents and publishers to publish their books because of their access to mass production. Those agents and publishers acted as a winnowing process, removing the wheat from the chafe. They and they alone decided what would sell, what was good, and what we needed. Then they polished those pretty stories, removing all (or most) error and making the best possible product to package.

In the last thirty years or so there has been a movement toward self-publishing. In the beginning self-publishing was messy, expensive to the writer, and so frowned upon in the industry that to self-publish was viewed as a career killer. But technology (I LOVE IT) has opened up new and amazing opportunities for all of us. I can now publish for free with print on demand and e-books. I can do a massive amount of marketing from my own home without spending more than it costs to pay the electric bill! If I want to do ground marketing, I can use the proceeds from my book to buy a handful of physical books to sell at speaking engagements!

It is an exciting change to be sure, but one that is fraught with peril. The peril of poor quality work being thrust upon unsuspecting readers. The peril of not being able to distinguish yourself from the crazy joe down the street who spent three nights clacking at the keys and can publish his book tomorrow and be just as much an author as you.

The danger of losing readers to the other forms of media because our quality has fallen so low. (Though after this summer, I am still convinced the movie industry is way ahead of us in that fall!)

What can we, as serious authors, do to prevent this? The first is to make sure that your story really is the best that it can be. Take the time to make sure that you are publishing a work that is quality work.  Note that I did not say a work you can be proud of, but a quality work. I can be proud of my son for his artwork from school that won first prize, but he is seven. It is not quality work.

(Hint, your mother is probably not the best person to tell you whether or not what you have done is quality work! We're moms and we're proud... not to mention biased!)

Once you have written your story it is time to edit. Once you've edited it, go on and edit it again. Honestly, my rule of thumb is to edit my work no less than four times. First read through is for content. Second is specifically for grammar. Third is for those niggly spelling errors that slip past Word (such as I typed is, but meant if.) Fourth is read aloud to catch anything else. If it feels good... and I mean really good, then I send it to a couple of friends for critiquing while I am scribbling out my next story. I do not look at it again until I have had two people send back their "corrections". Then I go through line by line evaluating the two friends suggestions with what I have and piece it all together in the best possible light. Then I read the final copy again... and again, if necessary.

Writing has always been a collaborative effort. In the past we have had to pay agents, editors and publishers to participate in that collaboration. But in this modern age, you can find writer friends from all over the world. Find a group you trust! Work together and help each other succeed. Do not view those other guys as your competitors. View them as your colleagues!

If we as author's band together we can make it through this crazy whirlwind of change and come out on top!

Writing is the easy part of what we do folks, we are getting into the hard stuff now! So, next post will be focusing on some of the details to watch out for when editing. Why? Because none of us are experts and we all need refreshers. Even me!

Until next time, keep writing!!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Free Writing

As you are going along getting your story out there, you may find yourself hitting a road block. You will sit down to write and then no matter how hard you try, nothing comes to mind. You stare angrily at the page and it stares back. Nothing happens.... and you wait.

Don't wait! If nothing is coming to mind about your story, do a creative exercise to loosen up those creative muscles. Cut yourself free from the writer's block! For a wide range of creative exercise tips, check out my little book Creative Exercises to Inspire  available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

A quick and easy tip to dealing with a creative block is to throw on some tunes and just start writing whatever comes to mind. It does not have to be about your story. It can be about whatever is troubling you, or it can be nothing at all. just write the first words that come to mind and then keep writing.

Geoff Talbot has a great Seven Sentences post on free writing, The Fifth Blank Page It is literally seven sentences long, but gives you an idea of what to do!

After about ten minutes, this free writing exercise will loosen things up and then you can take a minute to re-read the last couple of paragraphs of what you are writing and get back on track with your story. And you thought you had to wait for inspiration! (Don't get me wrong, inspiration is great! Sometimes it just needs a gentle nudge!! Arm yourself with the right tools and you can give inspiration a nudge whenever you need it!)

What tools do you use to chase away writer's block and give inspiration a nudge? Share in the comments below.

Wednesday we will be focusing on editing your work.

Until next time, keep writing!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Twitter Tips

As we continue to build our platform, it is important to take a careful look at Twitter. In many ways, Twitter is a better platform resource than Facebook. Where Facebook limits your contacts to people who mutually friend one another, you can follow anyone on Twitter. In theory, this permits you a much larger number of followers. But how do you get followers on Twitter?

There are all sorts of aps on Twitter to help you get more followers. But I refuse to use them. It seems so disingenuous.  I have a small, but solid following on Twitter. I have achieved this through 1. following key players, 2. establishing relationships, and 3. talking with people, not at them! So let's break these three points down.

Following Key Players

When I first got on Twitter, I had no idea what I was doing. I needed to follow some people, so others would follow me. So, I looked up all sorts of famous people I knew and started following them. I quickly found myself following about 75 people and only had three followers. Famous people are not going to follow you back. It is just a fact. Don't overwhelm your home page with useless tweets from actors, musicians, comedians or sports people you really don't care about that much.

Take your time and do some research. Follow people that matter to your industry. I quickly followed Random House, Penguin, Avon Books and several other publishing agencies. They post blogs, business trends and hot new releases coming out. Then I started following certain writing agents.  Here's a fun tip when following people on twitter: Look at how often they post and what they post. I randomly followed one agent, because I had submitted my manuscript to her. After two months I un-followed because her random, obnoxious, irrelevant tweets were leaving a really bad taste in my mouth! Boy, was I glad she did not pick up my book!

Now, start looking for lesser known people who might tweet things that matter to you. (You can follow me at  HeidiAngell) Follow other authors in your field, bloggers who post book reviews, people who share similar interests.  For example, I often follow people who post inspiring quotes. I also follow people who philosophize! Foodies, people from Australia and health reviewers also catch my eye. I have recently picked up on techies, social marketing, graphic artists (check out Swampfox Media they are awesome!) and several other "non-writing" related topics! Simply because they are all topics that interested me!

Just because someone follows you, doesn't mean you have to follow them back. You would be surprised how many will unfollow after a couple of weeks. You can follow people who do not directly relate to your business, but who may have shared interests. Look at how often they post and what they post about. I avoid people who post fifty times a day, who post obnoxious things like "going to the potty now." or who just don't appeal to me. Be real on Twitter.

Establishing Relationships

This is tricky on Twitter. Whereas on Facebook you have the benefit of knowing people before you mutually follow, on Twitter it is harder to keep track of these "nameless" individuals. I follow 215 people on Twitter. Despite my careful culling, I get an average of 100 tweets an hour. I can't read all of those tweets every day! That is insane! But I scan. I make a concerted effort to respond to three different people's random tweets each day. It may be something as simple as answering a question. Sometimes it is a witty retort to their own statement.

I pick two blog posts each day that grab my attention. I take the time to read and comment on them. There are a few blogs that I have begun following regularly because their posts are frequently informative, but I do not count those in my "two" requirement. (We'll review them under blogs to follow in another post!)

In making a concerted effort to hit up different people each day, you are able to build your network and make personal connections without overtaxing your time.

Talk With People Not at Them

This is a continuation of the establishing relationships idea. Your on Twitter to promote a product, right? But filling peoples streams with "advertising" your products is talking at them. Instead talk with them. Post your work, but share other people's work as well. They will often share yours. (Make sure you are sharing quality work. If it strikes you, share it with your followers! Avoid the mindless follow me/ I'll follow you or share me/ I'll share you mentality, it will discredit you to your own followers!) Respond to personal tweets with honesty and a positive mindset. They will be more inclined to pay attention to you when you tweet. Tweet personal items that allow others to respond to you. When you post personal posts, keep a professional mindset. (No potty commentaries, my toe itches, etc... unless you are trying to be funny! See Adam Troudart, he cracks me up!)

You don't want to follow masses every day in hopes they will follow you back, as it will be hard to keep up with them. At the same time, you don't want to go weeks without adding some people to follow. In my experience less people tend to find you this way. My goal is to find three to five unique individuals to follow each week. This usually will cause me to pick up ten or so followers. When one of those I followed turns around and follows me back, it will frequently get one or two of their followers to check me out as well!

Twitter has such potential, but it is so easy to get sucked in and suddenly realize you wasted half the day. Maintaining balance is difficult. Build carefully my young padawans

And until next time, keep writing!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Keep on Writing

We have done all the prep work and now it is time to start writing! After all, this is what we want to do, isn't it?

There are many ways to write your story. You can write all those nifty scenes that have been rolling around in your head and then plug them all in with filler, or you can go the direct route and write from beginning to end. This is my preferred style.

However works best for you is fine. As long as you write! Don't get bogged down in planning your sentence structure, editing, looking up fancy new words, creating the "perfect" red herring. Now is just about getting the story down on paper. All that other stuff can be done after you get the story out there.

Work on your story a little bit each day. Don't wait for inspiration to strike. Just get the story out there and then you can go through and revise, edit, and toss out all the "junk". Although writing does happen in inspired moments, those are not the only moments you should be writing.

Someone said that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. (Okay, actually, I am pretty sure the quote was by Albert Einstein and wasn't about writing, but the message still remains true!) Force that story out. Nothing worth doing was ever easy. (From a woman who has had a child, believe me that is so true!!!)

Follow the paths that your story takes you, but be sure to keep an eye on your outline so that you don't end up on a tangent that takes you to Timbuktu. At this point, don't focus nearly as much on your writing, just focus on telling your story. It will make it easier to get the story out there. Then you can shine it, polish it and turn that turd into a shiny marble-looking turd. (I know it is gross but yes, this can actually be done. Saw it on Mythbusters.)

So until next we meet, keep writing!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

In the Beginning... You Must Have an End!

Or Planning Your Storyline! 

Remember when we talked about road maps? You have come up with all these great ideas for your story, lists miles long, and you are ready to sit down and start writing! But, before you start you need to have a clear plan for how the story is going to go.

You think you do have that plan. It is all in your head and you have come up with so many fantastic ideas that if you don't start writing, then your little brain is going to pop like a balloon. This last step is probably the most crucial step that you cannot leave out! It is kind of like trying to make a chocolate cake from a list of ingredients without actually having a recipe. (If you haven't tried it, please don't! It turns out all mushy and GROSS!!!)

There are many ways to plan out your storyline. You can do an outline, like you did for school papers. This is a very traditional method and is nice in the respect that you can have order and balance, add details as they come to you, and have a clear path from beginning to end. This used to be my favorite method for planning my stories. But if you are more of a big picture person, it is sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees in this style. (Or in my case, you get bogged down on the details and end up writing your whole book in outline format!)

You can also do a traditional timeline, like you saw in history class.

Beginning----character development---first problem---building tension----blah blah---- climax---- the end!

This allows you to look at the story in a sequential line that gives you the big picture. It does not really allow for a lot of detail (Not if you want it to fit in a reasonably-simple-to-read line.) You could do a combination of the two (which I played with for a time) and this allows you to see the forrest and plan for the trees. However, in recent years I have discovered a nifty way that allows for detail, flow, and being able to see the big picture.

All I needed was to buy a dry erase board! (Which have become ridiculously cheap and easy to purchase at Staples!)

And so what you end up with is something like this!

As you can see, I can follow the flow of the story with the curves to ensure a productive pace. The blue is the general outline of the story. Each blue line sets specific scenes I have already plotted in my head. It is laid out in a manner that will allow the story to flow and maintain a balanced pace. (I actually had three or four other side stories that didn't seem to fit, so I have not plugged them in. We will see if I can squeeze them in once I start writing.)

The red marks are commentary notes to myself outside of the story line. Which perspective to use when writing the story, cliches to avoid, points to reference research notes and any other little notes I need to consider as I write.  I will add more red notes as I go along in the story.

This format is a great way to put all of the information together in a quick and easy view. I will also add my character bios with pictures to the bottom portion (held in place with magnets) for easy access during my writing process.

There are probably a hundred different ways to plan out your storyline and you really need to find what works best for your creative process.

What method(s) do you use?

Feel free to share in the comments below!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Knowing your Characters

Sorry for the delay, folks. Been out sick. O.k., so I didn't look like the zombie apocalypse had started, but I sure felt like it!

We left off on the writing front discussing character names. Now we get to start writing! Remember those lists we created during our pre-writing phase? (Or brain storming bubbles, mind mapping, or whatever path works best for you!) The ideas about our character that we jotted down? Pull those out and start writing about your character. (Mind you, this is just about the character, not writing the story yet!). Write a life history, give details about his/her childhood. Create stories that explain why your character is the way he or she is and what past experiences guide his/her choices. Details matter!

Is your character a crotchety, old detective who drinks too much? Why is he that way? What happened in his life prior to the story starting that set his attitudes in place? The more details you can provide, the more real this character will become for you. The more real the character is to you, the more real he or she will be for your audience.

What does your character look like? If you are artistically inclined, draw out your character. I am woefully incapable when it comes to artwork. I often rely on actors, but I pick the actor I could see playing my character and get a picture of that actor to go with my bio of the character. Any unique qualities of the actor, I incorporate into my character and create back stories for how it happened.

I had a short story where my main character looked like Joaquin Phoenix. My character was a troubled youth with a penchant for mischief. I had a back story for that lovely scar on Joaquin's lip. My character was a thief and this behavior started early in life. He got the scar when, as a very young boy, he used a fishing line to pick the purses of ladies at market. One day the hook got snared and when he jerked it free to escape, the hook became embedded in his upper lip. In the scuffle to free himself as the townspeople pursued him, the line was snatched and the hook tore right through his lip.

I did mention this back story in my actual short story, but did not go into as much detail as it was a short story and not the main point of the plot. But it added to character development. Even if the story was not important to the details of the short I had written, knowing about that harrowing experience allowed me to have a depth of understanding for my character that I would not have otherwise had if I had not taken the time to create this back story. I could write a whole series on my mischievous youth! And I still might!

The more important the character, the more detail you need to go into when writing this bio. But you should do a bio for each character in your story. The more information you provide on even your static characters, the more real they will become. Some of the material will indeed make it into your story, but a lot of it will only be kept in your notes. That is okay. You never know if the story may turn into a series and that material will be useful in a later book one day.

You may feel that it is possible to skip this step. That you have it all in your head and that is enough. That is your choice. But I assure you that authors such as J.K Rowling didn't just wing it when writing Harry Potter. She knew every one of those characters inside and out before she ever started writing the story. Even though characters developed, they still remained true to themselves. Which is part of why the series was such a raging success. We didn't know in book one why Malfoy was such a twidget, we just knew that he was obnoxious and we didn't like him. But as you learn more about Malfoy through the series, it is possible to see how he turned out the way that he did and (at least in my case) pity him.

Take the time to plan. Add to your character bios as you write the story. Keep them living and breathing!