Friday, December 6, 2019

Can You Use Real Place Names in Your Books? Can You Fictionalize Details?

Maggie is writing a novel about a group of people living in a made-up place, based on a real location.  She faced a dilemma this month about how much freedom she has, as a fiction writer, to use real places in her story. 

"The reader knows my novel takes place in Minnesota," Maggie told me. "I want to reference lakes, counties and towns that one of the characters--a realtor--covers.  These places are my real-world reference points."  

My first novel was based in a real-life place--the Adirondack mountains of New York State--and included real towns.  I made sure I visited those towns, used accurate information, but I also fictionalized parts and said so in my author's notes.  I know many writers do this.  But it is a good question to ask.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Finding a Writing Group or Writing Partner--From Afar (Online and On Demand)

Nikki, who travels a lot, took one of my writing workshops and recently emailed me with a great question:  how do you find a writing group or writing partner when you can't physically meet regularly?

I get this question a lot!  Mostly from experienced writers who know the value of writing partners and groups, but due to travel or family life or living too far from a city, they can't join a "normal" group.  

Writer's groups and writing partners provide a couple of benefits to a writer's life.  Writing is a solitary thing, and it's easy to get a little nutso when you've been on your laptop, deep in your story, for hours without interacting with another human.  Even a virtual interaction provides a way back to normal life, perspective on what you've been doing (even if it's a universe in itself), and ideally, some feedback along the way.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Wisdom from the Irreverent Anne Lamott--on Writing and the Writer's Life

We all need inspiration.  Writing can be a solitary, even lonely, process, often discouraging.  Thanks to my student Mary for this excellent inspiration break from the always-inspiring Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird and many other books.  She shares her wisdom in this TED talk.  Enjoy.  (And take notes!)  I promise it'll give you writing fuel if you're even a wee bit stuck this week.
Link is here.  

If it doesn't work, go to www.ted.com/talks and search for her name.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Should You Pursue Your Manuscript--Or Set It Aside--After Multiple Rejections (AKA Who Are You Writing This For?)

One of my students from Canada recently contacted me after the third small press rejected her memoir manuscript.  The publisher was seriously interested but, after some thought. changed his mind.  The press offered detailed feedback--in itself an encouragement--which she appreciated.


But it's her third rejection after serious interest, and she's losing heart.  "It's been seven years in the writing and revising," she wrote me, "and based on feedback the manuscript has definitely improved. But I'm not sure if I should pursue it anymore."

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Confusing World of Copyrights and Permissions--A Brief Overview for the New Author

Although I don't recommend spending much time on the legal aspects of publishing until you are close to that long-awaited time, there are some good rules of thumb to know about.  Here are a few questions I get regularly: 

1. Do you need to copyright your manuscript before submitting to agents or publishers? If you self-publish, is it a good idea to go ahead and register your book officially with the office of copyright?

Friday, October 25, 2019

On Hooks and Other Excellent Ways to Start Your Story

When I was shopping my first novel, Qualities of Light, to publishers, along with the rejections, I received an incredibly valuable piece of advice:  start the story later.  

Specifically, one editor said, start at chapter 5.  

That's where the hook is, where the book actually begins.  She declined the manuscript, as had others, but wished me all the luck in the world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Four Favorite Tools to Organize Your Book Material--Before It Gets Overwhelming

Beyond the book-writing process itself, the reason we all do this, there's the need to stay sane about the piles and files and folders.  A book, unlike a short piece of writing, easily generates 1000-2000 double-spaced pages in the months or years before you publish it.  So I get the question all the time in classes and with private clients:  How do I keep the sheer volume of this book-in-progress organized?  

Friday, October 11, 2019

Writing with Authenticity--Why It's Important to Foster a Unique Voice in Your Art

Publishing is an interesting game.  Like all business owners, some publishers are wary of risk.  They want books that adhere to tried and true formulas of plot or purpose.  Fiction in certain genres--think romance--even have formulas to follow.  Agents who specialize in these books know the formulas and automatically reject manuscripts that don't follow them.  So uniqueness isn't necessarily a winning card in your submission game.

Yet it is.  More often, I've heard from agents about the boredom they feel with stories that repeat the same themes, the same trends.  They look for something that will "make them miss their subway stop"--a cliche I'm sure you've heard or read about on agency sites.  

Friday, October 4, 2019

Organizing Your Book: How I Learned to Love Scrivener

Books become unwieldy fast.  Unlike a poem, essay, or short story, a book may generate thousands of pages by the time it's revised down to three hundred and fifty.  Most writers don't realize or remember this when starting a new book.  But after a few revisions, there's just too much to keep track of.

I get this question in most of my classes:  how do you organize your book-in-process? 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Layers of Time in Fiction and Memoir: How Does a Writer Weave Past, Present, and Future into Scenes without Creating Too Much Exposition?

Your scenes have voltage, electric current, for readers.  But in most novels and memoirs, there are layers of electricity, because there are layers of time.  We move between past, present, and future in our real lives all the time, even more so on the page.  One of those times will have the most electricity, and it's good to know that.  But how do you bring in the less-alive times and make sure the reader knows enough about them, without delivering too much exposition?