So many potential mistakes that costs time… . These first three articles discuss the importance of attending writers’ conferences and how to best utilize them and save time. This third article reveals two other very common mistakes to avoid in order to save even more time. Of course, I made these mistakes as well… .
Learning the Craft of Fiction Writing
I studied and worked hard at learning my new craft of fiction writing. How-to books filled my shelves, and yes, I not only read them, but I studied them. There were books on
showing not telling,
to name just a few, along with workbooks where you can practice — and practice I did. Finally, I finished the first draft and applied for one of the few select spots in a fiction clinic with a great publisher and editor, Jeff Gerke.
The Fiction Clinic
This book was my baby. I spent countless hours creating a strong heroine in a field that fascinated me – journalism. That’s right, I was fascinated with journalists who covered exciting, dangerous events so I made my heroine a journalist.
Jeff asked me a simple question that changed the course of my book, Hidden Bloodlines, (and my series — The J.C. Classified Series). “Why isn’t your heroine a lawyer?” He sagely pointed out that it’s better to write what you know. As a lawyer myself, I’ve lived the life, and if my character lived what I know, she would feel “real” to the reader and have a greater impact. You want your readers to fall in love with your characters.
Jeff then asked me to tell him the entire story in a nutshell. Most writers like to tell their story and I held nothing back. My story was too complicated — there were actually two books within one and they needed to be separated. I was back to the drawing board with a heroine who was now a lawyer and a plot that needed to be simplified.
The Plotter vs. Pantser
If I were a “plotter,” a writer who creates detailed outlines prior to starting, at least the overly complicated story may have been identified prior to writing the entire manuscript. However, I am a “seat of the pants” writer where this risk is higher. I’ve attended conferences where the recommendation is to blend the two. That may work with some, but not all, and certainly not me. That’s part of the excitement for me to write — the developing story and the twists and turns of events.
How about you? Are you a “plotter,” “pantser,” or a blend of both?
In my first article, Save Thyme and Avoid Common Mistakes, I discussed the importance of attending writers’ conferences and a common newbie mistake — pitching a book that was not written. This next article will focus on the beginning — the beginning of your book, your writing career, and essential tools of the trade.
If you don’t take into consideration the two years my story brewed in my mind, this first writers conference was my beginning. If you can get into a clinic at a writers’ conference, I highly recommend it. It’s intense, and you get one-on-one assistance with an experienced writer, agent, editor… . This input is invaluable.
Because your application for a clinic typically includes the first 15 pages, you want to make sure those 15 pages are the absolute best they can be. Write, rewrite, and write again. Have others read it and see if you have a writer friend who can also give you input (more on writers’ groups and critique groups later). When you think it’s there, set it aside for as long as possible (I prefer a week) so that you see it with fresh eyes, and read it out loud. It’s amazing what your ears catch that your eyes miss.
Although my manuscript was not written, I did write the first 15 pages to apply to a beginners fiction clinic that was team taught by two well-known authors. The beginning is always critical to capture your audience, whether it’s an agent, publisher or your reader. I realized during this particular clinic that I was chosen not because of my story (the first 15 pages did not reveal much), but because of the mistakes I made in the beginning. Nothing I had grabbed my reader — not the title nor the first sentence, first paragraph, or first page. Nada.
This first clinic got my act together. At the start of this clinic, we went around the room reading our first sentences. The rule — NEVER begin a book with the weather. Most of us did. Think about how you choose a book, whether it’s your next library choice or book to buy.
Check the title. Does it sound interesting?
Read the back cover copy. Still interested?
Open the book to the first page and read the first sentence. Still interested?
Read the first paragraph, and maybe even the first page. Getting it?
This first conference also gave me a glimpse into what type of tools of the trade would make my life easier. Instead of sharing what I learned here, I recommend a more comprehensive source that’s tried and true — The Author Toolbox by Candee Fick.
I needed a catchy and unique title. First, I brainstormed a list of 10 titles. Next, I did the research necessary to assure none of those titles were already taken in previously published works. I created survey sheets and waited outside each service at my church one weekend and asked people to choose and rank their top 3 titles. An overwhelming majority chose Hidden Bloodlines as their top choice.
I threw out my first chapter and started over. My first sentence went from the weather to: “Victoria prosecuted the wrong man.”
So many mistakes … so much time wasted. Save Thyme and Avoid Common Mistakes is the first in the Common Mistakes Series geared to help you save precious time getting that book published. I have first hand experience on making most if not all of them. With this new year upon us, my goal is to share my journey to make yours smoother and easier with quicker positive results.
As I mentioned in my article, Never Give Up!, I am a writer by profession. Although I have more than 100 published articles (most of which were ghost written), my heart’s desire was in the story. I yearned to write that novel and see it published. Even though I was an experienced writer, I quickly learned that fiction writing was a totally different “animal” and I set out to garner the necessary skills.
Hidden Bloodlines started as a story triggered by a stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. After this story brewed in my mind for two years, I decided that the time was now and I attended my first writers conference.
A Conference Mistake
I successfully pitched my story to agents and publishers during that first conference, but made my first mistake as an conference newbie — I pitched a story that wasn’t written. It was in my head, but not on paper. Every single one of the editors and agents I pitched to, wanted to see a manuscript that did not exist. By the time I wrote it, revised it (I can’t remember how many times) and had it ready, 5 years had passed. Oops — a little late for that group of agents and editors who were either with different publishing houses or made career changes.
During those 5 years I worked on learning the craft and developing my skills as a fiction writer — essential if you want to be taken seriously and get published. I highly recommend attending writers conferences even if that story is not written. There are workshops and sessions geared toward honing your skills. Appointments are usually available with not just editors and agents, but writers, and other writing professionals. If you want to pitch a story idea, let the agents and editors know that it’s not written yet, then get on the horn and write it. They may be interested now, but not a year from now.
Welcome L.A. Sartor as our guest today on Thyme for Writers! L.A. Sartor is a bestselling, award-winning author. She began telling stories around the age of 4 when her mother, at L.A.’s insistence, wrote them down and L.A. illustrated them. As an adult, she writes suspense and action-adventure novels with a dash of romance, and screenplays—she’s had a contracted adaptation! She lives in Colorado with her husband whom she met on a blind date. L.A. loves to travel and thinks life is an adventure and we should embrace the journey. She has a blog and a mailing list.
Karen, thank you so much for having me as your guest. You’ve had a great line up of writers so far, I hope I keep the trend going. 😊
I thought burnout was for everyone else but me. I was on a tidal wave of producing books. Then something hit me while I was writing my seventh manuscript, Prince of Granola.
Nothing about writing intrigued me. Nothing. Not my blog, not my book. Nada.
Why? I still loved the story and my characters. I was super proud of what I’d accomplished with my writing so far.
My reaction: panic. I didn’t want to sit near my laptop, didn’t even open it for days. And when I did, I forced the writing. We all know that’s not a solution.
So, I basically ignored the dread of writing and fear of not writing, pretty sure other stress factors in my life were the cause. I couldn’t have burnout, writing was my ideal job.
Hmmm, job. More on that later.
Nevertheless, I avidly read articles on burnout or writer’s block as they appeared on my horizon; how to cope, how to push it aside, what it was. And I came to the conclusion that nope, I didn’t have burnout. I had something else. I think the word for that reasoning is denial.
Months later, I faced it head on. I was experiencing burnout. And oddly acknowledging, even saying the word out loud to myself, then close friends and outward from there, made it seem fixable.
Fast forward a couple more months. Still not writing much and whining yet again to my buddy, Audra Harders, about how long it was taking me to get this blasted first draft done, she gently interrupted me and mentioned a concept. A very cool concept.
Writing in chunks.
The concept immediately hit me as right. You all know the feeling. It’s almost euphoric. Moments later my email dinged and I was gifted by her The Chunky Method Handbook by Allie Pleiter.
Immediately after opening the book—well, after I emailed a thank you to her—my anxiety began to dissipate.
And then I realized a few things. I had been writing as though it were a job. I’d retired a few years earlier and hadn’t fit in well with the retirement scheme of no schedules. So, I wrote as if it were a job instead of a gift and a joy.
I pushed through hours of computer time, knowing I had a goal and had to make it. Doing that served me well until it didn’t. I sold a lot of books, made it to #1 on Amazon, both on free and paid books and felt on top of the world…until I didn’t.
I knew instinctively that setting limits to my goals wasn’t me. I’m a goal oriented person. But changing my perception of goals, in this case allowing myself to write 400 words in a chunk (you learn what your chunks are), and meeting that chunk (goal) really changed me. It set me free. I was successful again when I hit my chunks and I could write as many chunks a day as I wanted. And if I didn’t, I wouldn’t beat myself up, because I knew I would another day, or even the next hour.
I started being productive, and again loving what I was doing. The concept allowed me to be … me.
Back to the job issue. I also realized is that writing isn’t a job for me. And no, I’m not a full-time writer. I don’t want to be, nor frankly, do I have to be. I am a writer who believes in her story and her characters one chunk at a time.
And believe me, the chunks add up quickly, far faster than I could have dreamed. I don’t force it, I let it flow good or bad from my fingers.
Because we all know, if it’s not written down, you can’t fix it and make it better.
Prince of Granola will be out in the spring.
Love the Romance ~ Live the Adventure
Bestselling Author and Winner of the International Digital Award
Dare to Believe (2012)
Stone of Heaven ( 2013) Carswell Adventure Series Book One
Be Mine This Christmas Night (Holiday 2013) Star light ~ Star Bright Series Book One
Forever Yours This New Year’s Night (Holiday 2014) Star light ~ Star Bright Series Book Two
Viking Gold (July 2015) Carswell Adventure Series Book Two
Believe in Me This Christmas Morn (Holiday 2015) Star Light ~ Star Bright Series Book Three
The Prince of Granola (Coming 2018)
I’d like to welcome Christine Henderson to Thyme for Writers. Christine enjoys writing about family life. Her writings have been featured in numerous anthologies including Chicken Soup for the Soul and Heaven Touching Earth as well as The Secret Place Devotional guide.
Why Storyboards Are Great Tools for Picture Book Writers
by Christine A. Henderson
I brought a new picture book story to my children’s writers’ group meeting and asked for their assistance in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the story. They all liked the unique plot and the characters but they thought the story was too long. For those of you who write novels, it’s probably hard to imagine that 900 words is too long to tell a story. However, these days 800 words tends to be the max length that publishers want to see.
Being inquisitive and stubborn, I really didn’t think I needed to shorten my story. Surely, new books had at least that many words or more. To test my theory, I went to my local Barnes & Nobles and picked up an assortment of new books that I thought fit my story idea concepts. Sad to say, that word count rang true. Most pages had an average of two to five lines of text with an upper end of nine words per line. The books were 24 or 32 pages with at least two of those pages either being blank or showing the publishing details and acknowledgements.
So it was back to the drawing board – literally. I had imagined a storyboard in my head with the images previously, but now I wanted to put it on paper. Not being a great artist, I drew my stick figures with a bracketed scene description below each drawing. Now I started adding the text. Once I did that, I could see what words weren’t needed because the picture showed that part of the story. It was easy to chop 100 or more words. The story hasn’t lost its plotline, but now it flows better with the images.
Another reason to do a storyboard for a picture book is to see if you have a short story, rather than a picture book. If your storyline takes place in just one or two scenes, it may not be a picture book because there aren’t enough options for illustrations. If that is the case, perhaps you could incorporate that story in a book of stories or submit it to one of the many children’s magazines who accept short stories.
Ann Gabhart is our guest today on Thyme for Writers. Ann is the bestselling author of over thirty novels, has been called a storyteller. That’s not a bad thing for somebody who grew up dreaming of being a writer. Ann’s historical novels have Kentucky backgrounds like her popular Shaker series and her new release, These Healing Hills set in Appalachia. She also writes about family life, love and sometimes mystery (as A.H. Gabhart) in small towns like her Kentucky hometown. She and her husband have three children and nine grandchildren and enjoy life out on the farm.
THYME TO THINK AND DREAM
by Ann H. Gabhart
Here we are almost to November, a month of thanksgiving when we consider our blessings. At my little country church, each Sunday we take a few minutes to mention blessings. Sometimes these are what you might think of as everyday blessings. Things like sunshine and rain. Birds and flowers. A child’s smile. A good sermon. An appreciated card. Being alive. So many reasons to be thankful. A good day at work. A restful night’s sleep. Maybe a baby sleeping through the night for the first time. A new rosebush. An old rosebush blooming.
These days we’re also blessed with numerous electronic ways to be entertained. At least I think that’s a blessing. Not long ago, I came across an article about how we are swamped with electronic means to avoid the uneasy condition of being bored. You’ve seen people with a phone in their hand continually. We can watch movies and shows with the touch of a finger on various devices. We keep up with what everybody else is doing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter while sharing our own doings.
But if we continually look to some device to keep us entertained, we lose those times when our minds are just idling. Times when we might be bored. But those times might be our best daydream opportunities when our thoughts can wander while new ideas surface.
When I started writing for publication, I had two young children, so time was at a premium. That was back in the dark ages before clothes came out of the dryer ready to wear. I had to iron every week. Trust me, nothing is much more boring than pressing a pile of pants and shirts. Yet, at the same time, while my hands were busy with smoothing out wrinkles, my thoughts could take flight. I had time to think up story ideas and imagine characters I might want to meet on my writing page.
Of course, you don’t have to pull out the ironing board to have quiet time for creative thoughts. How about sitting on the back deck as the sun comes up and letting your thoughts meander? For my new book, These Healing Hills, I let my mind wander right over to the Appalachian Mountains as I considered the history of the Frontier Nursing Service. Then my character, Francine, showed up to take those mountain trails to being a midwife. One thought led to another and on until soon my fingers were on the keyboard coming up with yet one more story.
A person needs quiet moments now and again and a little boredom never hurt anybody. Unless of course you grew up on a farm and made the mistake of telling your dad you were bored. Then you might find yourself out in the field picking up rocks or chopping thistles! So hope you have some restful moments this Thanksgiving season to gather your thoughts, count your blessings and come up with some great new ideas.
When Francine’s plans for her future fall apart at the close of World War II, she discovers new purpose as a nurse midwife in the beautiful Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. Will she also find healing and perhaps discover the birth of new love? RT Book Reviews says, “Gabhart’s latest historical novel intrigues, inspires and entertains. . . Humor, grace and, of course, romance give the characters life and breath, and the message of faith is gently organic and sincere.” These Healing Hills is available at bookstores or online book sites. Find more information about the story and buy links at http://www.annhgabhart.com/books/these-healing-hills/