What Should I Write About Today?
The two most common tips for writers that I’ve gotten from the authors I interview are write daily and read in your genre.
They’re common because they work. When you write daily, you’re practicing your craft. When you read in your genre, you’re seeing how others handle the situations that slow you down.
- Write a letter to a friend you haven’t seen in 25 years.
- Write a letter to your partner—your real one or an imaginary one.
- Write a description of your workspace, or your favorite outfit, or a neighbor.
- Write a description of one of your children’s teachers, or the teacher you best remember, or the editor who made your career, or the one who turned you down.
- Write about the news of the day.
- Write a letter to you (the author) from your narrator.
- Write about the best birthday, or anniversary, or job, or vacation you ever had.
- Write about the job or vacation you want to have.
- Write about something you don’t remember well. Write about the feelings these memories give you.
- Write about being a seventh, eighth, or ninth grader.
- Write about a subject you want to write about.
- Write about a subject you don’t want to write about.
If these topics aren’t right for you, make up some of your own. If they are right for you, make up more along these lines. You could even spend a day writing topics if you want to.
Own your writing, but before you do that, write something . . . anything. Share it in comments if you’d like. I’d be happy to tell you what I like.
Share Your Opinions:
Why Book Reviews Matter and How You Can Help
Written by B. Lynn Goodwin and
originally published on Amber Starfire’s Writing Through Life,
Whether you’re an author or not, one of the kindest gifts you can give to any writer is a constructive honest review. It doesn’t have to be long or literary or quote specific passages unless you’re writing for a site that expects that.
Not only will your comments please the author, but your words might help her see her work in a whole new way. You’ll be helping readers who depend on reviews make a choice. In addition your review could be a springboard for new writing for either of you. That’s good for everyone and a lot to get out of a few minutes of reacting to a story that grabbed you and/or made you think.
Quick, short reviews can be very effective—especially on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. Simply tell why you recommend the book in one or two sentences. If you want to add plot summary, analysis of writing style, or who the ideal audience is, feel free. It’s nice but not necessary.
““Never Too Late is an honest, insightful look at one of life’s greatest mysteries: the ever changing and ever challenging relationship between a man and a woman. This book is one you won’t want to miss!” —Mary Eileen Williams, Host of Feisty Side of Fifty, author of Land the Job You Love!: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50
If you decide to write a more detailed review, start with the themes an author explores and then talk about how and why the story sheds new light on a familiar subject or opens your insights. Often I start by articulating the questions that the author is exploring:
- What if you have a gift that no one can accept?
- Ever been puzzled by a partner’s behavior?
- Ever wonder how others handle the costs of their bad decisions?
- What happens when family and ambition compete?
- What does it take to survive?
Another approach is to tell people what the book intends to convey and how well it does its job. This works for a two-sentence review or a longer one.
I usually include a brief summary and identify the author’s strengths. If something bothers me I’ll mention it briefly as long as it’s not a story spoiler. If I can’t write something good and make the review at least 80% positive, I move on to the next book.
If you look at the reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads, you’ll see that lengths vary. I’ve written one-sentence reviews and I’ve posted reviews of 350 words or more. Generally, less is more. Many people have short attention spans.
Once you’re satisfied with your review, it’s easy to cut and paste into Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.
- Go to the site where you want to place your review.
- Find the search box.
- Type the book title and/or author and hit return.
- When the correct page comes up, scroll down to the box that says, “Write a Customer Review” or “Add a Review.”
- Click on the box. Amazon asks some questions to guide you. Barnes & Noble doesn’t. You can simply rate the book and paste in your review, because you are prepared.
Often the sites will notify the author when a review is posted. Not always. It’s all controlled by algorithms beyond our control. Here’s what’s within your control:
- You can write a review.
- You can read other reviews as samples.
- You can post a review.
You can practice on the last book you read. Or the one you’re just finishing. The authors will love you for it.
Another way to help authors is to recommend their books to your friends, writing peers, and book groups. Word of mouth is excellent publicity. Paying it forward matters. Right or wrong, the number of reviews you have on Amazon also matters, so the important thing is to write honestly and share your thoughts. They’re just as valuable as anyone else’s. You never know where a review might lead. Doing book reviews is a great way for writers to build community.
Not sure where to start? Not even reading a book right now? I’d be delighted to have you review my memoir about love, acceptance, and much more. It’s called Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62.
It’s a quick, easy read, and I’m perfectly happy with either a short or long review, as long as it’s honest. You can post it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or all three.
Writing Advice: What an Editor Looks For
An interview with Lynn Yvonne Moon by B. Lynn Goodwin
When I submitted Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 to Koehler Books, www.koehlerbooks.com, the acquisitions editor who read it was Lynn Moon. She’d been a finalist in Writer Advice’s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, and I still remembered her story. Small world! After she told me she’d never read another story like it and requested the whole manuscript, she took it to John Koehler, and they took a chance on it.
Always before I’d worked with an editor who made suggestions and marked up my manuscript, but she worked with me over the phone. While we did not agree on everything, she showed me lots of repetitions, especially “I” and “me” which come up in a memoir often. Thinking you might to look inside an editor’s head, I asked her for answers to these questions.
BLG: When and how did you become an editor?
LYM: One day, John Koehler asked if I’d like to be part of the Koehler Books Team. It was basically that simple. He said he knew I enjoyed helping new authors and that I might enjoy being an editor. Would give me a few extra pennies on the side and sounded interesting. I said I’d give it a try and been here ever since.
BLG: What is your editing process when working with a Koehler author?
LYM: I want to “teach” a new author the correct way to handle a writing project. In other words, just saying, “show don’t tell” doesn’t mean a thing if someone doesn’t understand the difference. If I can teach someone to spot the difference for themselves, they can edit their own work. Just explaining different concepts doesn’t work either. Marking up a document does not help a new author to understand how to make their work better. There is no wrong way to say something. Just a better way.
When I’m assigned to an author, we pick a day and time each week to meet on the phone. I then read to them their chapter. At that time, I work with them to improve the sentence structure or the dialogue, or whatever it is to ensure the work flows. One-on-one partnering from anywhere from a few months to a year. Sometimes it takes time to perfect art. Allowing an author to develop his or her own voice is important to me. Otherwise, their novel will become one of mine. And we do not want that.
BLG: What are the three most important things you look at when you edit someone else’s work?
LYM: Showing, dialogue, story flow. These are the three things I’m constantly working on. If a novel is nothing but telling, then the reader cannot become the character and live the story. If the dialogue is not real, then the reader cannot fall into the novel. If the story doesn’t flow, a reader will get lost. If any of these pitfalls are in a novel, the novel is never completed. Reading should not be painful but enjoyable.
BLG: What are the three most common mistakes that writers make?
LYM: The most common is repeating something. Don’t tell me that someone is showering six times in three sentences. We’ll get it that they’re in the shower. Also, substituting words. If a dog runs across the lawn, tell me this, but do not use any of these words … dog … runs … lawn. Now that is the challenge.
Second, telling. The concept of showing is foreign. And over use of -ly words. The day was really hot. Is that hotter than hot? Or just a little bit hotter than hot? If the day is really that hot then tell us in another way. Such as, the town statue melted today. Now that was a hot day!
BLG: That’s a great example of showing. Do all writers need an outside editor? Do you use one?
LYM: Absolutely. We all need one. I use one. And, yes I pay for one. I also use Beta readers. The more the better.
BLG: How long have you been writing and editing for Koehler Books?
LYM: I’m starting my third year with Koehler Books as an editor. I’ve been with them for five as an author.
BLG: What is the one thing I should have asked and forgot?
LYM: A recommendation for new authors is to write and write, but wait to try and publish. Learning the craft of writing does not happen overnight. We all have a great story to tell, but to master the language so that each line becomes a meaning or a poem it not easily learned. It is something that takes time to age and mature.
I can see a difference in my writing from my first novel to today. Such a difference. I’ve learned. Took classes. Listened to what others had to say. Read other novels from more experienced writers. It’s a process and one that will take time to master.
BLG: Do you edit for writers that Koehler has not signed? Where can we learn more about you?
LYM: I’ve never edited for an author who hasn’t signed. I don’t believe that would ethical Sometimes, I edit new authors on the side, but my schedule is quite full. Hiring a one-on-one editor is expensive. Usually between $3 and $5 thousand dollars. Mostly because it takes so much time to do it properly.
BLG: Thank you for sharing your insights with the readers of Writer Advice.
Lynn Yvonne Moon is a prolific author as well as an editor. Her most recent books are Whispers and The Tower, which are both YA. She’s also written a detective series and a YA series. She earned her MFA from Lindenwood University.
I also asked some authors I’ve interviewed about the best advice they ever received from editors. Here are three excellent answers to “What is the best advice you ever got from a professional editor?”
“When I finished the first draft of my first thriller, Little Face, I showed it to my agent. He said, ‘It’s 150 pages too long — cut out the entire subplot.’ I did, and it made the book vastly better and much more focused.” ~~Sophie Hannah, author of A Game for All The Family. Interviewed in the April-June issue of Writer Advice.
“…if you write honestly and with conviction your words and your story will resonate, ring true and hopefully make people think.” ~~Nuala Ellwood, author of My Sister’s Bones. Interviewed in the January-March 2018 issue of Writer Advice.
“My agent is a great editor and she’s helped me realize I often make the same point too many times – that I can trust the reader to get what I’m saying the first time, even if it is quite subtle. “ ~~Eva Woods, author of Something Like Happy. Interviewed in the October-December 2017 issue of Writer Advice.
Use these tips, use an editor, and feel free to talk to me about my process as an editor and manuscript coach. Details are at https://writeradvice.com/manuscript-consultation. E-mail me at Lgood67334 AT Comcast DOT net.
36 Writing Tips to Help You Write
Like the Pros
by Ajinkya Goyal
The following is an excerpt from Ajinkya Goyal’s piece, which can be found here: airborneorange.com/36-writing-tips.
As a blogger, writing is no doubt an integral part of your life. Be it fiction, or non-fiction, the quality of your writing should never dip below brilliant. You would no doubt have noticed that you seem to glide through the works of your favourite writers, never once having to stop to try to make sense of what they’re saying. They seem to have an almost surreal grasp over the language, probably making you think it’s unfair for you to have to compete with them.
(What you don’t know is that a lot of big name bloggers actually churn out horribly below average content, choosing to hire an experienced editor to sharpen up their posts)
Most bloggers have learned to edit their posts like a pro over time, carefully and deliberately honing their craft. You won’t have to spend all that time though, because you are going to have this beefy list of 26 writing tips to help you level with the pros. That being said, you’re not going to start magically liking editing. I don’t think I know a single writer who likes editing. However, in training you to look for certain flaws, it will make your life easier.
Prepare to write
That means putting your body its optimal state.
Every night, get at least six hours of sleep. In the past, I’ve gone a month straight with five, and I felt fine. My productivity didn’t tank too much, and I got a lot of work done. However, that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Six hours is the bare minimum everyone should get to stay top-notch mental and physical condition (after that month, I slept for eight hours a night constantly – sometimes even more!), with a seven or eight hour night at least once every two weeks.
2. Wake up (properly)
The first thing you should do after getting out of bed is drink water. It’ll help activate your entire system, thus preparing you for the day.
3. Eat and excrete
You can’t think nearly as well on an empty stomach as one after a hearty breakfast, so make sure to eat your fill. If the water doesn’t seem to be cutting it, brew a pot of coffee for yourself too. Always works for me.
Then take a huge bowel movement. You probably won’t see that anywhere else. But it’s true. If your body’s comfortable and ready for the day, your writing will be too.
If it’s possible, squeeze in at least two to five minutes of stretching before diving in. If you already go for a jog or do some other physical activity. This isn’t required, but will still help nonetheless.
5. Read a lot
Some people say it’s impossible to be original anymore. While I don’t disagree completely, inspiration is a still thing, right? What better place to be inspired from than published, successful works? Along with that, you also get a glimpse into new writing styles that you could adopt. Reading also helps you to accumulate knowledge about various topics, prepping you to write about them yourself.
6. Write a lot
I get that this is counter-intuitive to preparing to write, but unless you write a lot, you’ll never fully be ready to write to the best of your ability. Write short snippets of possible stories to expand on later. Write short stories. Write two blog posts simultaneously if just one gets too boring for you. Write a recount of something interesting that the dog did this afternoon (but don’t journal. It usually never amounts to anything much). Start your own collection of ‘On-Writing’ style memories.
7. Don’t write if you’re very happy or very sad
Unusual levels of any emotion can hamper your writing and cause you to write something you probably won’t be too proud of later. It’s like drinking and driving – just don’t, under any circumstances.
Own your writing
You can’t possibly be doing your best if you don’t treat it as your own work. No one in their right mind would work harder for someone else than they do for themselves. Unless you openly acknowledge your writing and the content it contains (which is surprisingly hard for most – some people don’t take ownership unknowingly too), you’ll never be able to reach optimal performance.
8. Don’t ask to write
Don’t use phrases like, ‘in my opinion’ (or it’s infinitesimally worse cousin, IMHO). You’re writing it. It’s obviously your opinion.
9. Be honest
Following up on don’t ask to write, speak your mind. If you’re thinking it, chances are others are too. You’ll find like-minded people who enjoy your content and subsequently be motivated to write more. Or, you’ll come across contrasting views, which open the gates to an interesting conversation, and possible enlightenment to new facts and stances on a topic.
10. Don’t hurt people
This, in part, contradicts be honest but doesn’t totally. Honesty is good, but don’t be rude. There’s a very fine line between the two that should be observed all the time. You don’t want to repel readers because of uncharismatic responses, nor do you want to seem like a pushover who’ll change their opinion the second they’re presented with resistance.
11. Be opinionated
Have an opinion, and stand by it. Support it strongly (but make sure to use relevant claims) and dismantle counter-arguments thread by thread, making sure there’s nothing of them left.
12. Have an alluring shocking title
You don’t want to piss people off and prevent them from clicking on your article (or worse — click on it, but just to scroll to the bottom to leave a hate-comment). Neither do you want to make it so drab that people don’t even bother clicking to see what you have to say. Strike a balance. You want readers to be intrigued by a view that seems to counter their line of thought, leading them to click on your blog post and engage with it.
If you’re writing a post that aims to help the reader somehow (such as the one you’re currently reading), make a bold promise in the title – and then live up to it. You want to make sure you have a substantial body, containing all that you promised and more.
13. Write in your speaking voice
Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those inside/outside voices things that elementary school teachers used to relentlessly harp on. Writing in your speaking voice means to write as if you are speaking to someone. Maintain the same tone and pattern – just remember to put up a filter. Use proper grammar, refrain from swearing unless necessary, don’t trail off mid-sentence unless you’re aiming for a mysterious effect, etc.
This helps in making you sound more conversational too. People love blogs that make them feel as if the author is speaking to them directly.
Aim to strike a personal connection
Evoking emotion is by far the most effective way to engage readers and increase shares. You can further that effect by establishing a close personal connection with your readers by identifying with their problems, understanding their views, etc.
14. Evoke emotion
Make people fall in love with your writing. Make them hate what you have to say. Make them cry. Make them laugh. Aim for an emotion and don’t stop until readers feel it.
15. Relate to people
Strike a chord, it’ll help in evoking the emotion you want. If people feel like you understand them, they’ll think more highly of your writing, regardless of whether or not the quality has actually increased.
16. Be open about the past
No, that doesn’t mean you have to talk about how depressed you were after your grandfather’s funeral, but it does mean that you can talk about that embarrassing accident in front of the entire school from fifteen years ago. People won’t judge you for things that you’ve moved on from (it may even be just a few days old — as long as it’s old to you, it’s old to the world).
17. Be funny
Everyone has a funny bone – it just needs to be tickled. It’s also the most shareworthy emotion one can evoke.
18. Pay extra attention to the beginning and the end
The opening of the article is the first thing that people will read. This will form their first (and major) impression. The impression formed by the ending is what readers will take away with them. Thus, they both need to be very powerful.
19. Don’t generalize
Generalizing, while still making a connection, will lead to a negative impression, instead of a positive or engaging (one where the reader is encouraged to reply with their own view, but doesn’t harbour a negative feeling towards you) one.
Getting down to the intricacies
20. Always avoid alliteration
Ignore the stupid ‘creative writing’ rules they taught you at school. Heck, writing doesn’t have any. Seriously, though. Alliteration ruins things a lot of the time. It sounds forced and ruins the flow, sticking out like a sore thumb. That being said, if it comes naturally, don’t exclude it.
21. Read your writing out loud
Oftentimes, you’ll pick up on mistakes you would have otherwise ignored while reading out loud. You’ll pick up on forced alliteration from always avoid alliteration, and be able to tell which one adds to the flow and quality.
22. Period, not semicolon
Use semicolons sparingly. Short sentences embedded between long strings of text are much more appealing than long, convoluted ones. Long sentences don’t make you sound smarter.
23. No comma splices
Comma splices are basically replacing a period with a comma. Most people don’t know they’re doing this, and it is easy to look over while editing. Make sure to pay extra attention to this.
24. Commas before a name
It’s grammatically correct to put a comma before a name, even though you wouldn’t pause before saying it. A lot of people gloss over this detail, as at first glance, it’s not very consequential, but publishers and big sites are likely to get pissed at this, possibly resulting in rejection. For example, “What do you want, Samuel?” versus “Hi Stacey.”
25. Take our redundancies
One word is enough to drive the point home — don’t harp on it unless absolutely necessary. That being said, two adjectives could be used to emphasise on certain points – sparingly, though.
26. Be specific (only when you should, though)
It’s a suppressed Sig Sauer P229, not a gun. But it’s a cage about the size of an aquarium, not a 36 x 18 x 17 inch-tank. Know the difference.
For all 36 tips, go to airborneorange.com/36-writing-tips.
You’ll be glad you did.
Predominantly, Ajinkya Goyal’s work consists of short stories, but he also publishes a non-fiction article entailing writing and blogging tips once a month. To keep the ball rolling, he runs a series on Twitter and Instagram called Random Writing Tips.
And that pretty much sums up the writing aspect of his life. Consider contributing to his work at https://www.patreon.com/ajinkyagoyal.
WHY I WRITE: FASCINATING QUOTES FROM FAMOUS AUTHORS
found on Aerogram Studios
“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.” ~~Harper Lee
“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” ~~Flannery O’Connor
“Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world, to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost. Because it’s somehing to do to pass the time until she is old enough to experience the things she writes about.” ~~Nicole Krauss
“I don’t remember deciding to become a writer. You decide to become a dentist or a postman. For me, writing is like being gay. You finally admit that this is who you are, you come out and hope that no one runs away.” ~~Mark Haddon
“Because I can’t seem to escape it. It’s a way for me to address and counter my questions about what it means to be human, or, in my case a Dominican human who grew up in New Jersey.” ~~Junot Diaz
“That’s why I write, because life never works except in retrospect. You can’t control life, at least you can control your version.” ~~Chuck Palahniuk
“In the big picture I write for an audience of people I’ve never met. By the final draft I’m looking for anything in the prose that’s prospectively boring to strangers.” ~~ Lionel Shriver
“I write because I love writing. I think I became a writer in order to explore my ideas and responses to the world around me, which I often found it difficult to share with others. Also I liked my autonomy, and a writer can choose his or her own working hours – midnight to dawn or whenever. The difficulty of becoming a writer never bothered me. I knew it was going to work for me sooner or later. And if you’re a writer you don’t have to retire but can keep on doing the thing you love till you drop off the chair.” ~~Alex Miller
“Writing eases my suffering . . . writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.” ~~Gao Xingjian
“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” ~~Gloria Steinem
“I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.” ~~Octavia E. Butler
You Can’t Build a House Without the Bricks
An interview with Helene Stapinski, author of
Murder In Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy
By B. Lynn Goodwin
Helene Stapinski is a skilled writer and an outstanding researcher. You can learn a lot about her and about writing in this interview. When I read Murder in Matera I realized she had something special to share. Briefly, Murder in Matera is the story of her researching the heart of a story accusing an ancestor of murder in Italy generations earlier. This is a memoir of her unrelenting research as she digs for the truth and refuses to settle for less. This well-written and well-structured story twists and turns through the olden days, modern Italy, and contemporary America.
She gives a great deal of writing advice in the Q & A below.
BLG: Tell us how and why you became a writer.
HS: My mom was a clerk at the DMV in Jersey City, NJ. I would go to work with her some days and type on the typewriters there. I started crafting stories and poems at around 5 years old. I would be embarrassed to show them to anyone and would hide them in a small closet in our living room at home.
Eventually in high school some of my teachers noticed my talent and encouraged me to write. I became the editor of the school newspaper, won the poetry award at the literary magazine and then went on to NYU to study Journalism, since that seemed a way to make a living by writing. I had noticed that people like Hemingway and Plath had worked at newspapers and magazines early on in their careers.
My freshman Expository Writing teacher, Sue Mousehart, wrote at the bottom my first paper to meet her after class. I thought I was in trouble. But she told me I needed to become a writer, and asked me if I knew how to go about that. I admitted I had no idea, since my family was filled with factory workers, bus drivers and waitresses. So she drew me a road map.
BLG: I’m so glad she helped you out. How do the current members of your family feel about your sharing this history?
HS: I’ve been writing my family’s stories since 1999, so they’re pretty used to it. I also wrote a weekly column at the local newspaper where I sometimes talked about personal things.
My immediate family – my mom, brother and sister and most of my aunts, uncles and cousins – have always been very supportive of me. When I wrote Five-Finger Discount, I gave the galleys to everyone in the family who was in the book just in case they had complaints. I wanted them to see the writing before the rest of the world and give them a chance to change things, but they were stunned at how I captured the family stories and spirit and love.
I had one aunt and two nasty cousins – more distant relatives – who weren’t even in the book and gave me a hard time. But my mother and I fought them off. We told them to go and write their own book if they didn’t like it. This time around, the reaction has only been overwhelmingly positive. My sister was especially affected by the story and wrote me a long, emotional note when she finished about how I had redeemed the family.
BLG: That’s encouraging. You must have uncovered enormous amounts of family history in addition to the stories of the region. How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?
HS: Most of the family stories I heard over the years are in Five-Finger Discount. A few were left out because they were too hurtful to people I loved or maybe had some connection with sexual abuse. But most of them are in there. I really kept the stories this time limited to Southern Italy and didn’t leave much out at all. It’s all in there.
BLG: How did you plot out past and present and how did you weave them together?
HS: My approach was basically to tell you the story of me traveling in Italy in search of the legend of Vita and Francesco. Then, as I find something, I do a flash back. For instance, after I find Vita’s birth certificate, we flash back to what her birth would have been like in 1850s Bernalda. That’s the general pattern. Me looking, me finding, me telling. Or showing really. Not just telling. I do the same thing with her childhood, her marriage, the murder, and more.
BLG: You make it sound simple. You seem like you are part researcher, part journalist/reporter, and part memoir writer. What were your favorite aspects of writing this story? Why?
HS: I really get a thrill from every aspect of the process. Researching and digging stories up can sometimes be frustrating when you can’t find what you’re looking for, but I love the chase. And I am extremely stubborn and will not stop looking until I find what I’m looking for. And there is nothing to match the feeling when you finally do discover that hidden nugget. It was especially emotional and exciting this time around, since I had been searching for so long.
The writing – first draft – is my favorite part. I go into some zone and disappear and forget to eat or take a shower. The editing process is probably the hardest, because you have to get rid of sentences that you love or have grown attached to, but the older I get, the easier it gets.
Having a great editor helps. Julia Cheiffetz was wise and gave amazing feedback on how to shape the narrative, how to keep it moving.
BLG: Any tips for crafting a narrative from facts and memories? (Inquiring memoirists want to know.)
HS: You need to dig up as much information as possible, because you can’t build a house without the bricks. Then you really just need to tell the story as if you’re sitting down to coffee with a friend. Then keep moving the bricks around as you go along. Be willing to move things and try them in different places. Don’t be afraid to dig in there and mess it all up. God willing, you can put it back together again!
BLG: What is the best writing tip you ever got from an editor?
HS: Show, don’t tell. My editors and teachers have been telling me that since high school, to use the characters, details and description to bring a scene alive.
BLG: How much work are you putting into the publicity and how much are your publisher and your agent doing? (I know this changes all the time, so what’s it like right now?)
HS: Since the last time I published, Baby Plays Around in 2004, the landscape has completely changed. The first thing I had to do after signing my contract was to fill out an incredibly long media contact and information list. I think it took me two days. The media has been splintered since 2004. There used to be a few shows – Lopate, Today Show, the big papers across the country. But now there are countless blogs, youtube channels, and podcasts. Every day is another request for an interview.
It gets a bit exhausting, but this book is my baby and I’ll do anything to make sure it lands in the arms of as many loving people as possible. My agent, Lisa DiMona and my team at Harper – particularly Danielle Bartlett and Gena Lanzi — have been incredible. I talk to them via email several times a day. Whenever I send them a publicity idea, they’ve already thought of it and have sent out a request or pitch. They work around the clock and on weekends, too. They amaze me.
BLG: What are you working on now and where can we learn more about you?
HS: I write regularly for the New York Times, so those freelance stories are constantly being published. Just google me and New York Times and you will see the bounty. I also have a web site, helenestapinski.com, which highlights some stories and also tells about the documentary that was made this year based on Five-Finger Discount, which includes some great footage from Basilicata.
BLG: Visit her website at http://www.helenestapinski.com/.
10 Questions To Help You Distinguish Voices
By B. Lynn Goodwin
In the Independent Study class I teach for Story Circle Network, people ask all kinds of questions. This term one person was concerned that all her characters sounded the same. I had her find objectives, obstacles, and strategies to overcome those obstacles for each character.
It wasn’t enough. So I suggested she answer the following questions:
1. Who has more education?
2. Who has a stronger belief in God or a Divine Being?
3. Who is happier?
4. Who has more to be grateful for?
5. Who speaks more simply?
6. Who uses shorter sentences or fragments?
7. Who has trouble finishing a thought?
8. Who has the better vocabulary?
9. Who is more capable?
10. Who is more prone to melt downs?
She not only answered the questions, but she also gave details. That helped her distinguish who was who and it gave her more background. It also gave her style tips for each character.
Of course you may add additional questions. Use anything that will help you understand your characters more completely.
10 Tips on Writing from Joyce Carol Oates
Collected BY MARIA POPOVA for Brain Pickings,
In a recent tweeting spree, the inimitable Joyce Carol Oates offered ten tips on writing — a fine addition to this master-list of famous authors’ wisdom on the craft.
1. Write your heart out.
2. The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written. FIRST DRAFTS ARE HELL. FINAL DRAFTS, PARADISE.
3. You are writing for your contemporaries — not for Posterity. If you are lucky, your contemporaries will become Posterity.
4. Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”
5. When in doubt how to end a chapter, bring in a man with a gun. (NOTE: This is Raymond Chandler’s advice. I would not try this.)
6. Unless you are experimenting with form — gnarled, snarled & obscure — be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.
7. Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!
8. Don’t try to anticipate an ideal reader — or any reader. He/she might exist — but is reading someone else.
9. Read, observe, listen intensely! — as if your life depended upon it.
10. Write your heart out.
How to Write a Great Story: A Roundup of Best Advice
Posted on November 23, 2016 by Jane Friedman at https://janefriedman.com/write-great-story-roundup-best-advice/
Jane Friedman is a skilled, wise advisor. You can read about her expertise at https://janefriedman.com/about/. This is taken from her web page, a site you should bookmark.
Over the last five years, I’ve had the good fortune and privilege to feature storytelling advice from many bestselling authors, as well as editors and agents. Here’s a round-up of the best and most popular advice on writing craft and technique I’ve featured since 2011.
Developing Strong Story Concepts
The Big Reason Why Agents and Editors Often Stop Reading by Paula Munier
How to Attract a Readership Based on Concept Alone by Matt Bird
Craft a Compelling Novel Concept by Larry Brooks
How to Build a Compelling Novel Concept—Something With a Kicker by C.S. Lakin
How to Tell If Your Story Idea Is Mediocre—and How to Improve It by Laurie Scheer
Internal Dialogue: The Greatest Tool for Gaining Reader Confidence by Elizabeth Sims
A Fatal Flaw in Weak Descriptions by Rachel Starr Thomson
Plot and Structure
How to Tell If Back Story Is Sabotaging Your Novel by Roz Morris
How to Effectively Handle Time Shifts in Your Story by Lisa Lenard-Cook
Building a Believable Chain of Events in Your Novel by Steven James
Writing Suspenseful Fiction: Reveal Answers Slowly by Jane K. Cleland
4 Big Pitfalls in Story Openings by K.M. Weiland
Point of View
The Basics of Point of View for Fiction Writers by Joseph Bates
Using Multiple Points of View: When and How Is It Most Effective? by Jordan Rosenfeld
The Fundamentals of Writing a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld and Martha Alderson
How to Write a Great (and Not Schmaltzy) Love Scene by Jessi Rita Hoffman
How Writers Can Craft an Effective Setting by Mary Buckham
What are your favorite writing craft & technique articles? Share in the comments.
Upcoming Online Classes
Questions and Tons of Advice
An interview with Meredith Maran by B. Lynn Goodwin
Meredith Maran is a prolific, lifelong writer. Recently she edited a collection called WHY WE WRITE ABOUT OURSELVES: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature. Anthologies appeal to those who seek diverse opinions in search of their own truths. This one is an amazing collection of philosophies and approaches that will inspire anyone with a story to tell. That’s almost all of us, whether we know it or not.
According to her website, Maran published her first poem in Highlights For Kids at age 6, her first national magazine article at age 15, and her first book at age 18. In the years that followed she built a house and raised goats outside Taos, installed brakes on the Ford assembly line in San Jose, and wrote an exposé of right-wing fundamentalism in Silicon Valley while working as a technical writer at National Semiconductor. Her career is varied and far-reaching. After serving as Editor of the Banana Republic Catalogue (when Banana Republic was still cool), she created award-winning marketing campaigns for socially responsible businesses including Ben & Jerry’s, Working Assets, Stonyfield Farm, Smith & Hawken, and Odwalla.
She took time from her work on her current memoir to answer my questions, and I appreciate it. Here, she shares her opinions about writing successfully. I have supplemented the answers to some of the questions with quotations from the authors in the book.
BLG: Tell us a bit about yourself. When did yWHY WE WRITE ABOUT OURSELVES: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literatureou know you were a writer and where did you get your training?
MM: I knew I was a writer at birth, and I started writing the day I could hold a pencil. I’ve had zero formal training; I was expelled from high school for organizing anti-war protests and never went back. I did take a two-day novel-writing class when I decided to try that genre.
BLG: Clearly you have a natural talent for this. Why We Write About Ourselves definitely fills a need for memoir writers and others. What were you searching for as you selected memoirists, how did you contact them, and what did you say that persuaded them to write for the book?
MM: I wanted a balance of ethnicities, life stories, genders, sexual orientations, ages, and popular acclaim. Some of the writers are good friends, and the others I contacted them through their publicists. I was asking for a one-hour phone interview so the barrier to entry wasn’t too high.
BLG: What prompted you to collect and share this information? What message(s) do you hope readers will take away from it?
MM: I’ve published several memoirs myself and I’m writing another one as we speak. I asked the questions I was curious about as a reader, writer, and reviewer of memoirs.
BLG: I suspect you asked different questions of each writer. The results are wonderful. Here are a few of the gems.
Sue Monk Kidd: “Read at the level you want to write.”
Aylet Waldman: “If youMM: ’re afraid of whatever you’re writing, just tell yourself you can cut it later and keep on writing.”
Anne Lamott: “Everything that’s happened to you is all yours. Just write it. You can worry about the legal issues and the next bad holiday dinner later. Tell the story that’s in you to share.”
Meghan Daum: “Take most advice with a grain of salt, including mine. In literature, as in life, most advice says more about the giver than the receiver.”
David Sheff: “Whatever you write in a memoir, whatever effect it has, you’ve got to live with it forever. Don’t hurt people.”
A.M. Homes: “There’s a huge decision to make between writing a story and publishing it. Don’t write with the assumption that you’ll publish it; that’s not why we write memoir. You’re writing it to document your life and your story. If anything else comes of it, make decisions accordingly.
BLG: Here are a few reasons why authors write memoir:
Pat Conroy: “In 2002 I published my first memoir, My Losing Season, about my year as captain of The Citadel basketball team. I wrote it because I wanted to tell the truth about the harsh culture of The Citadel and my relationship with the coach. That led to writing about the harsh reality of my family.
Nick Flynn: “I don’t know if there’s anything distinct about the urge to write memoir beyond the urge I have to write, period.”
Kelly Corrigan: “I didn’t stand back and survey the landscape of literary forms and choose memoir. I write The Middle Place because I was told my dad was dying and I wanted to put on paper what it had been like to be his daughter…Once I got the hang of writing, I felt that I had a few other things I’d like to put on paper.”
James McBride: “I didn’t know what a memoir was when I wrote Water.
I didn’t pay any attention to the label of memoir versus nonfiction versus fiction. I just thought it was a good story and I had to tell it.”
BLG: What advice would you give to aspiring creative non-fiction writers?
MM: Read, and write. Practice your craft.
BLG: These are basic, but sometimes writers lose sight of the basics as they dream about how their story might change the world. What are you working on now?
MM: I’m just finishing up promotion for Why We Write About Ourselves, while finishing up my next memoir, which will be published by Penguin in 2017. It’s about starting my life over at age 60 and it’s called (for now) The New Old Me.
BLG: Your subject fascinates me. I can’t wait to find out how you are starting over and what that means to you. I am working on a memoir about getting married for the first time at age 62 to a 2-time widower seeking his third wife on … gulp … Craigslist.
Life leads us to some interesting places and writing about it helps us learn about ourselves. Sometimes it gives readers new strategies. Sometimes it helps them feel less alone. I wonder if anyone ever learns from someone else’s mistakes.
You can learn more about Meredith Maran by visiting her website, http://www.meredithmaran.com/index.htm. Discover more about memoir by reading WHY WE WRITE ABOUT OURSELVES: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature. There’s valuable information in there, and you don’t want to miss any of it.
WRITING ADVICE FROM FLASH PROSE EXPERTS
Last year I asked our finalists what tips they’d give to those who wanted to improve their flash fiction. Here’s a collection of what they said:
From Corrie Adams, author of our winner, “Iceburg Season”
Waste no words. Everything should do double duty. For example, dialogue should written so as to advance the plot and reveal character, all at the same time. Don’t spend too much time establishing the back story. Drop the reader right into the action and go from there. Keep characters to a minimum. Two or three work best in flash. There isn’t enough room to develop a large cast of characters; introduce too many people in a short piece, and you’re likely to confuse the reader.
From Catherine Arras, author of “In All That Brown”
Compress the story line to a specific event or scene.
Start in the middle of things.
Avoid flashbacks and exposition.
Make the most out of action and dialogue: use these as you would figurative language in poetry.
Show don’t tell.
Use figurative language to pack descriptive detail. Say it once and move on.
If setting detail is important to the story, include it but be economical with words.
Flash is fiction wearing a corset, cinched down to the bone.
From Gina Grandi, Author of “Waiting for Sam”
I think one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a writer is to find someone (or several someones) you trust to read your work and give you honest and critical feedback. A good friend of mine – whose writing I admire immensely – is the most wonderful reader: she tells me what she likes and, while always kind, doesn’t pull punches. I trust that when she tells me something is working, it is, and that I need to seriously rethink anything she’s skeptical of.
Submit. Submit. Submit. I subscribe to several newsletters that post submission opportunities, and keep track of journals or contests that feel like a good fit for something I’ve written. Along with that, there’s no use being discouraged by rejections (the green ‘accepted’ highlights on my submission spreadsheet are pretty much buried under the red ‘declined’ lines). Retweak and resend.
I highly recommend the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest (http://nycmidnight.com) (which was open for registration in June.) (The first draft of “Waiting for Sam” was written for this contest last year – the prompts were ‘drama, funeral procession, dog whistle’.) For those of us who struggle with actually sitting down and writing, the deadlines are a nice nudge, and working with genre and location prompts are a fun challenge. Better and better, there’s an active forum where you can both get and give feedback on your work.
One of the reasons I like flash is the challenge of creating a whole world in a tightly condensed space. I feel as though what works for me is to choose one moment to live in, and to let that moment describe or imply the before and after.
From Paul Lamar, author of “NO Strings Attached”
I recently signed up for a magazine’s service of providing a daily prompt for a month. That external stimulation has proven to be extremely valuable because I sit down every day and produce something. Look for prompts on-line. Given the fact that flash fiction usually implies a strict word count (though there seems to be a sliding scale), I find myself liking the (editing) challenge of saying more with less. Enjoy searching for the right word–and cutting.
SUGGESTION FROM AN EXPERIENCED JUDGE:
Keep whatever is useful in the information above and in your own writing; disregard the rest.
Be true to your characters, but don’t believe that your way is the only way. Let every choice serve the story.
Tell the story you want to read.
No one can tell your story but you.
You don’t lose until you quit trying, and if you do that, no one will ever get to hear your story.
Strategies for Being Noticed
What does it take to win a writing contest?
First of all you have to enter. Enter your best work. Sounds obvious, but sometimes writers get tired and send something that isn’t quite ready. To be sure, try reading your piece aloud or have a trusted friend read it to you. Do you hear any holes or glitches? Fix them, but don’t wait forever if you haven’t found the perfect solution. Enter as soon as you are ready. Remember, most contests come around every year.
Here are some tips that will make a novel or memoir opening into a Scintillating Start:
Start with something that will pique the reader’s interest.
Start with high stakes.
Start with something unexpected.
Start in a voice that will make readers take notice.
Start with a puzzle, a predicament, or a day gone horribly wrong.
Start by having your character in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Start with a physical explosion.
Start with an emotional explosion.
Build the stakes.
Add sensory details.
Let reader’s care.
If you look at http://review.gawker.com/the-50-best-first-sentences-in-fiction-1665532271, you’ll find 50 excellent sentence starts. Some of them may surprise you. The title tells you that these are the 50 Best First Sentences, but “best” is in the eye of the beholder. If you read them all, you’ll get a sense of how some authors have hooked in large groups of readers.
Renowned agent Michael Larsen included this list of techniques in an article for the San Francisco Writer’s Conference:
A great opening line does one or more of the following:
Begins right in the middle of the story, putting the reader immediately into the dramatic action
Takes us immediately into another world that we feel we must know more about
Immediately gives us the opportunity to escape from our own thoughts, obsessions and concerns
Let’s us know instantly that we’re in the hands of a master storyteller
Presents us with something unusual, quirky, amazing, shocking or emotionally gripping
Introduces us to a fascinating, funny or idiosyncratic character
Introduces us to an adventure, dilemma or person we simply must know more about
Establishes a mystery that we want to solve
Sets a compelling emotional mood or tone
Builds suspense and tension that makes us want to know more.
If you think there is overlap in the two lists, you are right. Wise advisors will tell you to stay true to your story and your characters, keep the stakes high, and compel us to keep reading. That should mean something a little different to each of you, depending on your interests, your background, and the story you’re burning to tell.
We want to read your Scintillating Start. Go to the Home Page, www.writeradvice.com, to read more about the contest.
50 Writing Tools In Clear,
Use this quick list of 50 Writing Tools, which were e-mailed to me by IndieWritersSupport.com as a handy reference. Some of these ideas will work better for you than others. Keep what’s useful and save the rest for another day. You may change your mind about what is useful as you progress.
I. Nuts and Bolts
1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.
Make meaning early, then let weaker elements branch to the right.
2. Order words for emphasis.
Place strong words at the beginning and at the end.
3. Activate your verbs.
Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players.
4. Be passive-aggressive.
Use passive verbs to showcase the “victim” of action.
5. Watch those adverbs.
Use them to change the meaning of the verb.
6. Take it easy on the -ings.
Prefer the simple present or past.
7. Fear not the long sentence.
Take the reader on a journey of language and meaning.
8. Establish a pattern, then give it a twist.
Build parallel constructions, but cut across the grain.
9. Let punctuation control pace and space.
Learn the rules, but realize you have more options than you think.
10. Cut big, then small.
Prune the big limbs, then shake out the dead leaves.
II. Special Effects
11. Prefer the simple over the technical.
Use shorter words, sentences and paragraphs at points of complexity.
12. Give key words their space.
Do not repeat a distinctive word unless you intend a specific effect.
13. Play with words, even in serious stories.
Choose words the average writer avoids but the average reader understands.
14. Get the name of the dog.
Dig for the concrete and specific, details that appeal to the senses.
15. Pay attention to names.
Interesting names attract the writer and the reader.
16. Seek original images.
Reject cliche and first-level creativity.
17. Riff on the creative language of others.
Make word lists, free-associate, be surprised by language.
18. Set the pace with sentence length.
Vary sentences to influence the reader’s speed.
19. Vary the lengths of paragraphs.
Go short or long – or make a “turn”- to match your intent.
20. Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind.
One, two, three, or four: Each sends a secret message to the reader.
21. Know when to back off and when to show off.
When the topic is most serious, understate; when least serious, exaggerate.
22. Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction.
Learn when to show, when to tell, and when to do both.
23. Tune your voice.
Read drafts aloud.
24. Work from a plan.
Index the big parts of your work.
25. Learn the difference between reports and stories.
Use one to render information, the other to render experience.
26. Use dialogue as a form of action.
Dialogue advances narrative; quotes delay it.
27. Reveal traits of character.
Show characteristics through scenes, details, and dialogue.
28. Put odd and interesting things next to each other.
Help the reader learn from contrast.
29. Foreshadow dramatic events or powerful conclusions.
Plant important clues early.
30. To generate suspense, use internal cliffhangers.
To propel readers, make them wait.
31. Build your work around a key question.
Good stories need an engine, a question the action answers for the reader.
32. Place gold coins along the path.
Reward the reader with high points, especially in the middle.
33. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Purposeful repetition links the parts.
34. Write from different cinematic angles.
Turn your notebook into a “camera.”
35. Report and write for scenes.
Then align them in a meaningful sequence.
36. Mix narrative modes.
Combine story forms using the “broken line.”
37. In short pieces of writing, don’t waste a syllable.
Shape shorter works with wit and polish.
38. Prefer archetypes to stereotypes.
Use subtle symbols, not crashing cymbals.
39. Write toward an ending.
Help readers close the circle of meaning.
IV. Useful Habits
40. Draft a mission statement for your work.
To sharpen your learning, write about your writing.
41. Turn procrastination into rehearsal.
Plan and write it first in your head.
42. Do your homework well in advance.
Prepare for the expected – and unexpected.
43. Read for both form and content.
Examine the machinery beneath the text.
44. Save string.
For big projects, save scraps others would toss.
45. Break long projects into parts.
Then assemble the pieces into something whole.
46. Take interest in all crafts that support your work.
To do your best, help others do their best.
47. Recruit your own support group.
Create a corps of helpers for feedback.
48. Limit self-criticism in early drafts.
Turn it loose during revision.
49. Learn from your critics.
Tolerate even unreasonable criticism.
50. Own the tools of your craft.
Build a writing workbench to store your tools.
Ten Tips from Veteran Authors
If you had a chance to share a dozen tips from veteran authors, whom would you select and what would you hope they might say? I went to the Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, which I found through a Google search. This advice comes from experienced writers with a message to share.
How did I pick the dozen whose work I’m sharing? I like the author, the message, or both. This is highly subjective. As I tell my writing clients, keep what’s useful and disregard the rest.
Want to let me know whose advice you liked best and why? Please e-mail Lgood67334 AT Comcast DOT net. I’d love to hear from you.
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.” ― Neil Gaiman
“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour – write, write, write.”
— Madeleine L’Engle
“I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.” ― Stephen King
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”
― Anne Lamott
“Advice to young writers who want to get ahead without any annoying delays: don’t write about Man, write about a man.” ― E.B. White
Joyce Carol Oates
“Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.”
― Joyce Carol Oates
“You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing. That’s all.” ― Joss Whedon
“Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust our own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad – including your own bad.”
― Doris Lessing
“Whenever I’m asked what advice I have for young writers, I always say that the first thing is to read, and to read a lot. The second thing is to write. And the third thing, which I think is absolutely vital, is to tell stories and listen closely to the stories you’re being told.” ― John Green
“Write. Start writing today. Start writing right now. Don’t write it right, just write it -and then make it right later. Give yourself the mental freedom to enjoy the process, because the process of writing is a long one. Be wary of “writing rules” and advice. Do it your way.” ― Tara Moss
Tell me which one you like best and why. I’d be interested in your opinion. Thanks for considering it.