National Day on Writing

Today, the National Council of Teachers of English is celebrating all forms of written expression with its sixth National Day on Writing. 

Whether you think of yourself as “a writer” or not, good communication skills give you an edge in life. I hope the prompt below will work to encourage anyone reading this to pick up a writing instrument and craft a story opening, record a memory, jot down something that makes you happy, or describe the face of someone you love.

Happy writing–today and every day!

Writing Prompt for the National Day of Writing

           Today we celebrate the National Day of Writing. People from every culture, country, or institution, in every type of job or career, and of all ages are writing more than ever before. For the next 15 minutes, get out your journal and write, and enjoy this act of writing!

         Free write non-stop without worries about making corrections. Write whatever comes to mind without judging or censoring what you are writing. Simply empty your thoughts onto the paper. If you become stuck, try writing “I don’t know what to write,” until another idea rises to the surface.

         Enjoy this time! Hopefully some of you will be willing to share your ideas later in the day. You do have something of value to say.

How to Shoestring an Author Donation Box

Like most authors, I love to support my local arts organizations and sometimes fantasize about writing a big check to endow an alliance, sponsor a scholarship, or underwrite a performance. Unfortunately, I am not at the big-check level of success, but that doesn’t mean I can’t contribute in my own way.

To benefit the Newark Arts Alliance, and its upcoming Bohemian Night fundraiser, I offered to put together a box of books by Delaware authors. It’s an easy way to help the area arts scene and to promote work by writers living and working in the state.

How complicated is it to put together a box of books for donation? Not complicated at all!

First, you buy an attractive box:

NAA box, closed

Second, you contact writers who have benefited from the work of the arts group. You remind them of all the good works and ask for a donated book–autographed, if possible–to support the group and its plans for the future.

I used email (bcc!) to reach out to my author contacts. After the initial go via email, I made a follow-up announcement on Facebook in case I’d missed anyone. I kept all communication private. Not all authors can contribute or respond to every request, and no one likes a guilt trip.

Next step: Once the books start rolling in, store in the box. If you are like me, you cannot simply stack books in a box. I employed the doily method of prettying up the book box.

 

NAA box scarf

When all of the books are gathered, add a few extra goodies, such as blank journals, a collection of vintage area postcards, some note cards created by area artists.

Finally, arrange in an irresistible display for the silent auction goers.

 

NAA box open

A few late books may drop into the box before Saturday, but this is the quick and painless result of putting together a donation that will help a group dedicated to helping area artists. Win-win!

Thanks to the many Delaware authors who contributed to the author box!

A Write Every Day Q&A

RamonaGravitarThis past weekend I offered a workshop on How to Find and Use a Writing Hour. I’ve been banging the Writing Hour drum for a while now, with no plans to stop. This is another drum-banging post.

Why do I promote the one hour a day plan so strenuously?

I had the pleasure of meeting a successful and enthusiastic author this weekend. She’s also a woman with three young children and doing the crazy dance to balance career and family. I was once that young mom with little children, clinging and scratching and clawing for some personal time each day. It was important to me then to keep one toe in the writing world. It was important to my sanity, my self-worth, and my resume. Sometimes it was 15 minutes a day during nap time, but I wrote. Every day. Every day meant the story never left me, and I never left my story world.

Now my life is different. I don’t have the time restraints imposed by young children and PTA and science fair projects. I have an editing business that’s successful enough that I’ve converted a former kid’s room into an official, tax-deductible home office. But I still have the time problem for writing. The more my business grows, the heavier the demands on my time. Now, again, I struggle to find time for my own writing.

For me, salvation came by embracing the one hour writing concept. I write for one hour every morning, at 7:00. I make an announcement on my Facebook page, I note my specific writing goal for the day, and I’m off. By 8:00 a.m., my writing for the day is done–unless I find time later in the day–and I can go about my business and my life knowing I reached my personal writing goal. All this, before I’ve had breakfast!

Below are questions I posted during this past weekend’s workshop.These are meant to help you examine the best, and/or the most practical, time of day for you to carve out a writing hour. At the bottom of the question list are most posts on this same Writing Hour topic.

How to Find and Use a Writing Hour

 ~ What is your most creative time of day?

~ What is the most practical time of day for you to write?

~ Do you now have an hour of writing time each day?

~ Do you need to carve out an hour of your regular day to write?

 ~ What is the biggest challenge to writing at your optimum time?

~ What is the biggest challenge to writing every day, for an hour?

~ What can you (or must) you give up or change to work a writing hour into your day?

~ If an hour is not possible every day, is an hour possible on SOME days?

~ If an hour is not possible every day, how many minutes are possible each day?

  Preparing to Write for an Hour

 ~ How many days per week will you write?

~ Where will you work?

~ How can you make your writing space comfortable and distraction-free?

~ Can you turn off email, radio, TV, Facebook, etc?

~ What is your warm-up plan? (journal, review what you wrote yesterday, set a daily word count goal)

~ What outside arrangements must you make to remain undisturbed?

~ How will you record your progress?

Setting Goals

 ~Will you have a time goal?

~Will you have a word goal?

~Will you have a scene goal?

~Will you have a show-up–# of days you showed up to write–goal?

~Will you have no specific goals?

Commitment

~ What project will you work on in your Writing Hour?

~ Will you commit to seeing this project through from beginning to end?

~ Will you commit to writing every day on this project, until it is completed?

~ Do you have an end date goal for this project?

~ Why is it important to you to write every day on this project?

For more info on writing for an hour a day:

How to Write for an Hour at a Time

How to Make the Most of a Writing Hour

What in the World is a Sprint Journal?

How to Sprint

How to Use  Sprint Journal

 

Normal Language at Southern Writers Magazine

Suite TToday I have the pleasure of guest posting at Suite T, the blog of Southern Writers Magazine.

My post “Normal Writing Language” addresses the quirky and crazy words people incorporate into daily language. If you listen to a conversation with a writer’s ear, a single world can give birth to an amusing scene or anecdote, or be the seed for an entire story.

Southern Writers Magazine promotes authors and highlights their books. The magazines features instructional articles as well as author interviews, connections to conferences, and info on publishing, publicity, and promotion–all delivered with a touch of Southern flair. Suite T is the magazine’s blog.

You can follow Southern Writers Magazine at their Facebook page.

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“Ask the Editor” Day at Wicked Cozy Authors

RamonaGravitarI am delighted to be today’s “Ask the Editor” guest at the Wicked Cozy Authors blog.  My post is called The Language of Editing.  In the post, I discuss types of editors and some helpful terms writers should know when seeking or working with an independent editor. Please stop by!

About the Wickeds:

“We are six authors who write wicked cozy mysteries set in New England. This blog aims to foster a conversation between readers and writers about all kinds of topics connected to our writing, our setting, and our fans….”

Jessie Crockett writes the Sugar Grove Mystery series
Sherry Harris writes the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery series
Julie Hennrikus writes the Clock Shop Mystery series
Edith Maxwell writes the Local Food Mystery series. As Tace Baker, she writes the Speaking of Mystery series.
Liz Mugavero writes the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries
Barb Ross writes the Maine Clambake Mystery series

Are you a Texas Sharpshooter writer?

RamonaGravitarOnce upon a time, a cowboy from Texas took a bunch of  pot shots at the broad side of a barn. When his gun was emptied, the cowboy moseyed to the barn and found the spot where the most bullets had hit. He took a can of black paint, marked a bullseye around the cluster of bullet holes, and announced, “Hey, look! I’m a great shot!”

 True story? Tall tale? You decide.

The Texas Sharpshooter bit is a joke, but it also illustrates a fallacy. A fallacy is an argument based on unsound reasoning. A fallacy can be intentional and employed as trickery, or a fallacy can be unintentional and based on a mistake.

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy has been used by epidemiologists—medical professionals who study disease clusters—to show the danger of reaching a conclusion based on chance instead of cause. In lay terms, that means a disease may cluster in an area because of a cause: a local industrial plant is spewing toxins that seep into well water and make townspeople ill.

Or, a cluster results by chance: a person carrying a contagious disease eats at the local diner and shakes hands with a few people. Clusters are studied to determine if they reveal a genuine pattern or if they are random.

The Texas Sharpshooter joke is amusing because we all know cowboys are right honest fellas who never lie about their marksmanship. And what kind of psycho shoots up a perfectly good barn?

The real question of this post is, what does this have to do with plotting a mystery novel?

If you are writing a murder mystery, you need a murderer. Some writers know the identity of the Bad Guy from the start. If your candidate for murderer is Brad, you’ll create a plot that surrounds Brad with figurative bullet holes labeled  motive-means-opportunity. When Brad is revealed as the Bad Guy, it is based on cause—concrete evidence—and you hit the target because you aimed at Brad all along.

 If you write this way, consider yourself a Marksman. Your target was chosen. Every scene was a shot aimed toward the bullseye that is your murderer.

 But what if you are one of the many authors who don’t know whodunit from the start? Is it possible to plot a murder mystery if you—the author—don’t know the identity of the murderer?

 If you’re writing backwards, as it were, does that mean your reveal is a fallacy? If you don’t decide on the Bad Guy until you yourself reach the climax, does that mean you’re a Texas Sharpshooter writer? And if you are a Texas Sharpshooter kind of writer, is that a bad thing?

 Maybe. Maybe not.

Texas Sharpshooting is based on randomness. If you have no clue about the murderer, but as you write you find most of the bullets start to land around Brad–bingo! You can still write a reveal based on cause. Done correctly, the plot will give Brad the required motive-means-opportunity to prove him guilty. Maybe your subconscious knew Brad was the Bad Guy and it guided you as you wrote. Good job, subconscious!

 But what if you have no particular Bad Guy in mind, and when the time comes to reveal one, you don’t have enough bullet holes around any particular suspect? Does this mean your Bad Guy is relegated to  plot convenience, coincidence, or the dreaded deus ex machina? Will your solution to the mystery be a fallacy?

 If you close your eyes and choose a Bad Guy because someone must have done it and you have a deadline pending, your choice is random. You are plotting using unsound reasoning–creating the bullseye after shooting the gun.

But don’t burn down the barn just yet.

Can the Texas Sharpshooter method of plotting work? Of course it can–if you go a few steps back and plant the bullets in the right spots.

To remove fallacies in your plotting, go back into the manuscript and revise or double check the logical case against your Bad Guy. Does your plot reveal motive-means-opportunity? Is that shown in the action of the story? If not, make that happen, and your pot shots hit the correct target after all. The unsound reasoning in your plot disappears, and you have cause to call out the Bad Guy.  If you don’t go back into the manuscript to correct your aim, you may have an ending that feels random–because it was.

 Have you ever read a murder mystery where, when you reach the reveal, you think, “Really? This guy? Who knew!”  Maybe the author didn’t know, either. Maybe he or she is a Texas Sharpshooter.

 What kind of plotter are you?

Do you take the Marksman approach, knowing from the start who had the means-motive-opportunity, and you write to prove that out?  Or are you more of a Texas Sharpshooter? Do you write until all the evidence is revealed and then you have to back up, reload, and revise to show the murderer must be, and can only be, this one Bad Guy?

In mystery writing, there’s no one way to plot. After all, when the reader gets the finished product, she has no idea if you painted the bullseye on the barn before or after you began firing. As long as the target is hit, only you know if you’re a Marksman or a Texas Sharpshooter.

But feel free to ‘fess up here about your particular brand of plotting!

 

For more info on writing mysteries, check out these posts:

Why Your Mystery is like a Lost Puppy

17 Ways to Mess Up Your Murder Mystery

Fudging Facts in Fiction

 

Be Yourself Promotion

RamonaGravitarLast week, I was informed I was no good at BSP.

For those who don’t know, BSP stands for Blatant Self Promotion. It’s a term among authors who must publicize their stories in addition to writing them. BSP  means plugging your signings, appearances, awards, guest posts, and anything else that draws attention to your work—and yourself as an author.

Not all writers enjoy BSP, but as PR departments shrink and more writers self-publish, promoting yourself is a reality in today’s world of publishing.

Being good at BSP means you boost yourself with dignity. Being bad at BSP can mean one of two things: you are too pushy, or you are not pushy enough. Finding the right BSP balance means recognizing the difference between effectively highlighting your achievements, being obnoxious, or being too shy.

My efforts at BSP include this blog and website, a personal Facebook page, a Facebook Editor/Author page, a Twitter account, listings in various artist registries, membership in professional organizations, and a few online writerly list- serves and author groups. There are many other options. These are the ones I’ve chosen to utilize.

Why did someone say I was no good at BSP? Because last week, when I won an award, I posted this short status on my various places:

“So…this happened + a smiley face” followed by this link to the announcement.

What I should have done was post something more Blatantly Self Promoting, such as: “Attention, everyone! Great news! I was named by the Delaware Division of the Arts as the 2014 Cape Henlopen Writers Retreat Fellow! Woot!”

I am not being sarcastic. I am THRILLED to have been selected by the DDoA for this honor, but I thought “So…this happened + a smiley face” was a cute way of making the announcement–not too braggy, not too timid, but just right. The Goldlilocks approach to self-aggrandizement. Maybe it was a little less brazen than a PR firm might like, but I don’t want to be the BSPer who is pushy or obnoxious.

We all have limits to what makes us comfortable. Do you see the words “award winning author” on this website? No, you do not. That’s not within my comfort zone. Additionally, because some of the works I’ve edited have won awards, I could hawk myself as an “award winning editor” but I don’t do that, either. That would be stealing the light from the author and perhaps a little misleading.

Do others describe themselves as award-winners? Of course. Maybe I am bad at BSP, but I keep Goldilocks in mind and do what feels right.

All that being said, and no matter how squirrely BSP makes me inside, it must be done. Over time, I’ve come up with my own rules of publicizing myself and my work. I call it Be Yourself Promotion.

Here are my 5 Principles of Be Yourself Promotion:

1. Be Myself. If I had to describe myself in three words, they’d be goofy, passionate, and curious. I have a silly side, so what I share on social media can be wacky, or it can be an enlightening piece about writing. I enjoy current events and don’t fear voicing my opinion. I mention my family, but don’t air personal problems online. I ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. In other words, I’m a person so I act like a person, not a writing machine.

 2. Respect my clients. I never discuss my clients’ works or the condition of their books when they appeared to me as a first draft. I won’t disparage a student’s homework or efforts. If a client wins an honor or award, even if I participated in the editing process, the award or honor is theirs, not mine to share or horn in on.

3. Don’t rag on a working author. If I dislike a working author’s work, I say nothing. I don’t care how famous, or infamous, an author may be, if he or she is writing to make a living, I will not hurt their efforts—publicly. Privately, of course I tell my friends if I think a book stinks, or a writer phoned one in or make a bad choice. In writing or in public, I keep that to myself. Why? In part because, if I wanted to offer a critique, I’d do that in a proper review, and I don’t do reviews. Second, any author you trash is sure to sit next to you at a panel at a conference. Uncomfortable!

4. Never trash entire genres. If I don’t like a certain type of story, I don’t read it. There is no need to announce that to the world, and certainly no reason to put down another genre or tell others what you perceive to be all wrong with it. The reasons people give for disliking another genre usually reflect badly on the person, not the genre.

5. Be encouraging. Was I a cheerleader in a former life? Maybe. I want everyone to succeed as a writer. This is why I write How To posts on this blog, why I start a Sprint at 7:00 Thread every single morning on Facebook, why I Tweet helpful craft articles and submission opportunities. My proudest online creation might be Good News Friday. I mean every bit of the rah-rah, too.

Those are the operating principles of my Be Myself Promotion: Be authentic, respectful and encouraging, and skip the ragging or trashing.

 Do you have a set of professional principles you live by? Want to share?

 Oh, and to prove I am not 100% sucky at BSP, have you Liked my Facebook Editor page?  Checked out my Awards & Honors? Read some of my writing?

There. That should satisfy Goldilocks for a while.