Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Best Books for Writers?

While researching for books on writing, I found pages and pages of titles of top rated books using Google search. There are many sites detailing the "Top Ten Best Books for Writers." I saw similarities among the lists so I decided to do my own "Top Ten Books for Writers" based on these lists. I would never presume to tell writers which books are the best. But I can tell you the ten books that kept appearing in dozens of lists. I did not include any reference books such as dictionaries, thesauruses (thesauri is also correct I learned) or books on specific topics like screenwriting or poetry.

In order of most frequently appearing titles starting with the most often listed book:

1. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
2. On Writing Well by William Zinser
3. On Writing by Stephen King
4. Zen and The Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
5. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
6. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
7. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
8. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
9. Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
10. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Is your favorite book not among these titles? Please use the comment section to share the book(s) you have found most helpful. I had not read the number one book, Bird by Bird, so I bought it. With the exception of some unnecessary expletives, I thought Ms. Lamott's book to be informative in a story telling way which was unique and enjoyable. She has a good sense of humor and uses it well to illustrate her points.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Managing Time Can Help

There are 168 hours in a week (1,440 minutes/day). Watching "Dancing with the Stars" eats up two hours a week, a soap opera five hours and four more hours for a football game. These are 11 hours you could be writing if you evaluate how and where you spend your time and make some changes.

Draw a daily chart and account for as many hours and minutes as you can from last week. Include times you ate, slept, watched TV, read, commuted, worked, exercised, coached kids' soccer and wrote.

With a highlighter, underline all the times that are inviolate, e.g., eat, work, commute, church and family activities. With a different colored highlighter, underline all the activites that are necessary but flexible as to time such as walking the dog or grocery shopping. Finally highlight with a third color, activities that can be given up or traded with another family member...TV, menu plan, gardening, guitar lessons, daily trips to the gym or doing the dishes.

Look at the time you have free. Is it enough time to write as much as you wish? Can you organize your time better: menu plan and grocery shop the same time every week and only once a week or move your music lesson to immediately before bowling? If there still isn't enough time, evaluate your weekly schedule and make some choices. You may choose to give up watching DVDs or golf, trade chores with a spouse or hire someone to mow and shovel in order to give yourself more time to write.

Use your time wisely. While walking the dog or working out, record in a voice activated pocket tape recorder all the absolutely, Nobel prize winning, brilliant ideas that come to mind. Check to see if you can rearrange chores by shopping at off peak hours and buying a year's worth of writing supplies in August when there are back-to-school savings.

Value "gap minutes". Those are the times you stand in line at a store, watch a child's soccer practice or wait for the doctor. Take out your recorder or small notebook. Study people's mannerisms, speech patterns, social interactions and physical appearances. Make short notes so that when you get home, you have captured invaluable material to work into your stories.

After evaluating your weekly 168 hours and how you use them, develop an organized, realistic time schedule including as much time as you want to write. It may mean sacrifice. Do you want to "Dance with the Stars" or "Dance with Your Words"? Your time, your choice.

Friday, September 24, 2010

TGIF: Fun writerly stuff to do this weekend

Suspense novelists, true-crime aficiandos, and Idaho history buffs won’t want to miss Hanged: A History of Idaho Executions, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Hope Memorial Community Center, 415 Wellington Pl., Hope. Kathy Deinhart Hill, a retired teacher living in McCall, will present the life stories and criminal careers of the 26 men who faced Idaho’s justice system and were given the ultimate penalty—death by hanging. The program is free and open to the public; funded in part by the Idaho Humanities Council. Dessert and coffee follow the presentation. 208-264-5481.

Local author Bonnie Clark will sign copies of her cookbook, Back of the Boat Gourmet Cooking, which is full of great recipes and tips for serving up easy meals whether afloat, at poolside, or in the backyard. Sept. 25, 1-3 p.m., Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave., Spokane. 509-838-0206.

Looking for a good read? Until September 27 you can download a FREE e-book: J. A. Jance’s suspenseful thriller, Hour of the Hunter.

Two writing conferences are taking place this weekend: the Idaho Writers League Annual Conference in Coeur d’Alene and the American Christian Writers Annual Conference in Spokane. If you’re interested, check out the Web sites in the sidebar at left, and if you haven’t already registered, call ahead to verify that walk-ins can be accommodated.

Check out our “Events” link above to get a sneak peek at other fun stuff coming up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why You Should Shoot Adverbs on Sight

(From time to time it' s important for even the most seasoned writers to get back to basics and practice the craft. Today we're featuring an excerpt written by Mary Jaksch for the highly informative and entertaining Write to Done blog, on a practically painless way to tighten our writing.)

Yes, I'm declaring open season on adverbs. What is an adverb exactly? Erm...it's the word I just used: exactly. So I'll cull it and write instead, "What is an adverb?"

An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective or a phrase. It answers questions such as 'how', 'when', 'where', or 'how much'. Such details may be important, but we need to understand the dynamics of information versus pace.

Information versus pace
"Pace" identifies the speed at which eaders can devour your text. Long sentences and detailed descriptions slow down the pace. Lean sentences and short paragraphs speed it up. The more detailed information you give, the slower the pace. If you use words that are redundant, the reader may start to skip and even leave.

What does redundancy mean in terms of writing? Test the two definitions I found on the Internet. Which one slows your reading down?

1. Redundancy means words that are superfluous.
2. Redundancy means the superfluity of a linguistic feature due to its predictability within the overall structure.

Just imagine reading a whole article in the style of the second example. I bet you couldn’t click away fast enough!

Now that we’ve got that redundancy thing cleared up, let’s take a look at the implications.

The redundancy test
How do you know when a word is superfluous? It’s simple. If the meaning stays the same without the word, then you’re faced with a ‘superfluity of a linguistic feature’.

He hurriedly scribbled the number down on a pad

In this case the adverb ‘hurriedly’ is superfluous because the word 'scribbling' already implies writing fast. The sentence ‘He scribbled the number down on a pad’ is leaner and stronger.

John got up and walked restlessly to the window.

Here, the word ‘restlessly’ is redundant because the restlessness is already shown in the action.
Some writers like to use not only one, but two adverbs. For example: She really, truly cared for him. In this case, consider culling one of the adverbs, or even both. Here, you would end up with:

She cared for him.

In a recent guest post pitch I found this sentence: As writers it’s normal to jump both mentally and actually from one project to another.

That’s a very athletic sentence … which would benefit from some brutal editing.

Should we let some adverbs live?

(Ah, that is the question! Read the rest of the article at the Write to Done blog. It will be time well spent.)

This excerpt provided with permission of author Mary Jaksch. Thanks, Mary!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Writers write

A writer is someone who writes. That's about the simplest definition imaginable . . . and one of the hardest for some of us to put into practice. A writer writes. If she is out playing tennis, weeding the garden, reading the latest thriller, surfing the Web, or checking what's new in the refrigerator since the last time she looked--she is not writing, except if she can convince herself that she is "brainstorming" or "doing research" (cough, cough).

As a work-at-home writer, I occasionally joke that my house is never cleaner than when I'm facing a deadline. I know the pressure is on when scrubbing floors and alphabetizing the spice drawer sound more appealing than sitting down to write. Alas, a harried editor confronted with my tardiness will not be impressed by my dust-free baseboards. So I soldier on.

The closer the deadline looms, the more convinced I become that I can't do the story, can't string two words together to save my life, and furthermore, haven't had an original thought since 1992. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a spark will sparkle, an idea will sprout, and I'm off and writing.

If you're trying to write but can't seem to resist the call of the coffee pot or the siren song of the satellite dish, try this:

Get out of the house. Take your laptop or notebook to a library, coffee shop, or park. It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes getting out of the oppressive silence or familial interruptions of one's own home and writing amid the bustle and conversation of strangers makes it easier to concentrate. Don't know how it works, but it does.

Set a timer and promise yourself that you'll reward yourself with that cup of coffee or TIVO'd episode after you've written for, say, an hour. The mental break might be just what you need to smooth that knotty plot problem or clumsy phrasing. Just make sure it's a BREAK, not a permanent abandonment of your project.

Above all, don't give up. Remember this prescription for diligent writerhood:

Apply seat of pants to seat of chair.



Thursday, September 16, 2010

TGIF: Conferences or Coffee: You Choose

Fall is the perfect time to attend a writer's conference and the next few weeks offer a plethora of conferences to choose from. Whether you are a new or experienced writer, these conferences will help you bring your writing to a new level, network with other writers, and interact with professionals.

Most offer workshops for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced writers with specialty tracks for fiction, non-fiction, screenwriting, and more. To get the most out of your experience, search for a conference offering presentations in your areas of interest.

If attending a conference isn't for you, consider heading over to Calypsos Coffee in Coeur d'Alene to check out their Open Mic night. If you are interested in sharing your words, just sign up online, or stop by to check it out from 6:00-to-9:00 p.m. any Monday night. http://www.calypsoscoffee.com/

September 18 - Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators presents Step in the Write Direction, a one-day conference for writers and illustrators. The sixth annual conference will be held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) in Spokane. Writers and illustrators interested in improving their craft, learning the ins and outs of children's publishing and networking with industry professionals are invited to attend.

September 23-25 - Idaho Writer's League
The Idaho Writer's League Conference, IWL:Empowering Writers for 70 Years, marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Idaho Writer's League. The conference will take place at the Coeur d'Alene Best Western Inn. Check out their schedule of workshops, speakers, and events at: www.idahowritersleague.com/Conference.html

September 24-25 - American Christian Writers
The American Christian Writers Washington Conference offers twenty workshops, networking opportunities, and valuable one-on-one time with instructors during a two-day conference to be held at Mirabeau Park Hotel in the Spokane Valley. For a brochure: http://www.acwriters.com/

October 2-3 - Flathead River Writers' Conference
The 20th Annual Flathead River Writers' Conference, Writers Helping Writers, will be held at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. Sign up for one- or two-days of workshops, presentations, and consultations. For more registration information go to: www.authorsoftheflathead.org/conference.asp.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BEYOND THIS BLOG: Contests Offer Positive Experiences

One of the best things a writer can do to improve his or her skills is to keep writing, and one way to do that is by entering contests. With little faith in myself, the first contest I ever entered was the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I guess entering a contest to come up with the WORST opening sentence for a novel seemed a natural step for me.

Although I didn't win, I did place and was asked to sign a release for my entry to be included in a book of best entries published by Bulwer-Lytton. This then, was my first reward for writing in the public sector: an award for the best bad writing. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry!

It's a wonder I ever wrote again; but the truth is, I did receive something positive for entering the contest - practice at writing an opening line. Although the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is over for the year, the Internet is host to literally hundreds of contests for writers of every genre; each one offering practice at improving your writing skills and the chance to prove your excellence. Just type in "writing contests" and you'll be amazed at what you discover.

Winning Writers, a website chosen as one of the "101 Best Websites for Writers 2005-2010" is a great place to start. Check out their contests then scroll down the "What's New" page where dozens of contests are listed. The site includes access to profiles of over 750 poetry contests and more than 300 of the top prose contests. http://www.winningwriters.com/

Tom Howard/John H. Reid Poetry Contest
This poetry contest for poems in any style, theme, or genre is sponsored by Tom Howard Books. First prize is $3,000. A total of $5,550 in prizes will be awarded. Poems that have been published or won prizes elsewhere are eligible as long as you own the online publication rights. Deadline is September 30, 2010. www.winningwriters.com/contests/tompoetry/tp_guidelines.php

Funny 50th Birthday Poem Contest
The website Great Happy Birthday Ideas is offering a $25 Amazon.com gift voucher for the best funny poem for a 50th birthday. Illustrations are encouraged. Deadline is September 30. www.great-happy-birthday-ideas.com/online-contest.html

Literary Laundry Poetry, Play, & Story ContestOnline journal Literary Laundry offers prizes of $500 for best poem and story, $250 for one-act play, plus $250 awards for poetry and fiction by undergraduates. Entries should include a 1-2 paragraph "abstract" explaining why their writing is intellectually evocative or of interest to a contemporary audience. www.literarylaundry.com/

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Your Lucky Day

The day you decide to do it is your lucky day.
- Japanese Proverb

It took me over 50 years to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. Although busy as wife, mother, and part-time bookkeeper; my mind soared during my leisure time and for some reason, I had to write down the countless thoughts that flew through my head like birds taking flight.

I wrote hundreds of poems, dozens of essays, and many letters to the editor (that I never sent). I started three books; wrote, edited, and published dozens of newsletters for various nonprofit groups; and even penned a few articles that appeared in local publications.

I researched, wrote, and presented historical programs across the state; received a grant to complete and analyze a community survey; and even spent one year researching and writing a comprehensive report on historic schools for presentation to the state legislature.

But still I didn't think of myself as a writer. If someone had asked me if I was a writer, I would have replied, "No." and meant it sincerely.

My mother questioned why I wrote, and I answered, "I don't know." She asked who wanted all the essays I wrote and I replied, "Nobody, I just have to write them." I'm quite sure my family faked some of their enthusiasm for my writing, but I felt compelled to share it and they felt compelled to listen, which gave me some satisfaction for the hours I spent writing.

In 2004 my interest in writing led me to join a writer's group where I learned more about the craft of writing and even met a few local writers. Although inspired to call myself a writer, I continued feeling too insecure to allow myself to say the words.

A couple of years later a presenter at a writer's workshop made a statement that changed my life: "Writers write, authors publish." Finally the fog lifted and the path to becoming a writer opened wide, beckoning me like the parted sea beckoned Moses and his followers. I jumped in.

I became a writer that very day in September, 2006; and that was my lucky day. My first feature article appeared in the Spokesman-Review on February 3, 2007. Within a month, I gathered the courage to pitch the idea for a column to my editor and was given the green light. My weekly column, "Rathdrum Prairie News" first appeared in March of that year.

The decision to call myself a writer, merely a simple shift in thinking, had given me the confidence to move forward.

In celebration of my column, I sent an email message to my family. One of my sisters wrote back, "Mary Jane, we always knew you were a writer." She reminded me of a writing award my family gave me in 1992 for writing a poem about a family misadventure; and about the tennis shoes she painted for me with puff paints many years ago. Decorated with gold and black pens and pencils, the word "Writer" was written boldly in black puffy paint across each toe.

I guess I was just the last to know.

The day you decide to do it is your lucky day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

TGIF: Waxing Wroth

While working on my laptop in our family room the other evening, I caught bits of dialogue from the Marx Brothers movie, Horse Feathers. In the movie Groucho played a university president who, at that moment, was keeping the Dean waiting outside his office. After a while, a secretary bursts into Groucho’s office and says:

“The Dean is furious. He’s waxing wroth!”

Of course Groucho cracks a comeback to the secretary.

“Is Roth out there too? Tell Roth to wax the Dean for a while.”

Funny, but the phrase “waxing wroth” caused me to stop work and think about that those words. I see waxing used occasionally, in this case meaning to increase, grow, expand, etc., but wroth was new to me. So with my laptop handy, I Googled it.

According to Meriam-Webster, wroth means intensely angry or highly incensed, originating from the Old English word, wrath. Makes sense. So, a nod to old movies and Groucho for expanding my vocabulary. I’m unsure, though, how I would ever use such a phrase, but wouldn’t that be fun! Maybe the next time I pay bills?

“This bill is outrageous and I’m waxing wroth!”

Yes? No? I think I need my friend Norm de Plume’s expertise on this one.

MEANWHILE…take note of these upcoming, writing-related opportunities and events in the North Idaho area:

Interested in writing classes? Beginning this month, North Idaho College offers a number of short-term, evening classes at various locations. They include fiction, screenwriting, memoir, romance, children, publishing and others. Check out classes and instructors at http://www.workforcetraining.nic.edu/.

There are a number of events happening over the next several days. They include a theater presentation of Mitch Albom’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie; Library book sales; and several book signings by authors such as Suzanne Jauchius, Linda Mobley, Kay Carlson, Sherrida Woodley, and Jack Nesbit. Check the Events calendar on this blog for details of these and others.

AND…don’t forget about the Idaho Writers League conference taking place in Coeur d’Alene the end of this month, September 23-25. This 2010 conference marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Idaho Writers League. Find details on the conference schedule, speakers and registration at http://www.idahowritersleague.com/.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Beyond This Blog: The Adventures of a Book Tour

Here’s an article excerpt that may be useful to anyone planning a book event. I experienced a similar situation to “The Cupboards are Bare” (see below) when a bookstore chain in Arkansas told me they didn’t allow authors to bring their own books into the store and that they would, instead, order copies through their distributor for my scheduled book signing. When I called the bookstore the day before the event to reconfirm, the manager told me they had “forgotten” to order the books.

What mishaps have you experienced with writing-related events?

The Adventures of A Book Tour
(Excerpt from an article on The Huffington Post by Arielle Ford; Publicist and Writer)

Are you ready for a laugh? Are you new to the published author world and you want to learn from others' mistakes and not always just your own? Read on.

Little Orphaned Andy. "Andy" received a 6-figure advance for his first book with one of the top six publishers in the business. Soon after the contract was signed, the editor who "bought" the book on behalf of the publisher left the firm. In publishing terms, Andy was therefore orphaned. He was assigned to another editor that did not have any skin in the game (she was not responsible for its success). Andy did not push for strong support. He assumed everything was on schedule and he waited to be told what to do.

Andy was virtually ignored until the book was released. His very first interview was on the Today Show and no one took the time to media train him. He had never been on television before... can you guess what happened? He never mentioned the title of his book or had any usable sound bites. The host of the interview never mentioned the title either. The book never sold and Andy never got another book deal. Andy vanished into obscurity. The publishing world does not forget. When an author gets a 6-figure advance, people in the know will be watching for great results.

The Soloist. I have personally walked into a book signing and was the only one there. I ended up buying a dozen donuts for the staff and became friends with everyone there. That way when customers did come in they would hand sell my books through recommendations to customers.

The Cupboards are Bare. Because of issues with the distributor, shipping or customs I have known many authors to show up to book signings and there were no books to sell. The only thing you can do is sign book plates that get pasted into the book once they do arrive.

Double Vision. I had a client who arrived at a national television show for an interview wearing the exact same outfit as the host. You can imagine that the host was not going to change. My client did not bring extra clothes with her so she had to borrow clothes that were not attractive or well-fitting.

Early Departure. I have known many authors whose segments on television shows were canceled while they were in the Green Room as a result of breaking news or running over their time allotment. Many years ago I had a client who was canceled while at the studio multiple times during the OJ Simpson trial. He was very polite about it each time followed by "I was busy writing my next book anyway". He was asked back several times and is still a regular guest. The lesson here is to surprise the producers by not blowing up and instead by being understanding and gracious.

If you are an author and you are on the road there are a couple of things you should always have. Extra copies of your book and extra clothes.

Arielle Ford has launched the careers of many New York Times bestselling authors including Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Neale Donald Walsch & Debbie Ford. She is a former book publicist, literary agent and the author of seven books.

This excerpt provided with permission of Jerry D. Simmons, from the July 2010 issue of his “TIPS for WRITERS from the PUBLISHING INSIDER” newsletter. Subscriptions available through his website, http://www.writersreaders.com/.