Michille: Write Your Novel in a Year

TypewriterAs so many people say, or in this case after I googled ‘write your novel in a year’, so many web pages say it. I’ve discussed Writers Write and Anthony Ehlers series called Write Your Novel in a Year. The blog very kindly consolidated all 52 posts here. I have Chuck Wendig’s infographicon my bulletin board (if you don’t like foul language, skip this one). And I’ve tried the NaNo method (although I knew I wouldn’t write an entire novel in a month). I don’t read these because I think any one of them will be the magic bullet, but I do regularly find motivation to keep writing. Here are some of the new ones I found: Continue reading

Jeanne: Confronting My Own Racism

Butternut squashAs you’re probably aware, over the holidays the Romance Writers of America (RWA) had kind of a melt-down over the issue of racism. A prominent RWA member and former board member, Courtney Milan, received word that her membership was suspended for a year and that she could never serve on an RWA board again as punishment for posting, on her Twitter account, a criticism of a fellow author’s book which she felt to be racist.

There are lots of aspects to this issue. Milan is Chinese-American and has been instrumental in helping RWA to confront some of the bias in its policies and processes. There appear to be some irregularities in how the ethics complaint was handled and there have definitely been some inconsistencies–the punishment was retracted the next day after Milan shared her situation with her 42,000+ Twitter followers.

If you’re interested in more detail, Google “RWA Milan ” The Big G will cheerfully deliver a full day’s worth of information.

In reading through the complaint, I became painfully aware that the last book I released, The Demon’s in the Details, contained character descriptions that Ms. Milan would almost certainly find offensive. Continue reading

Jilly–The 10,000-hour rule

Have you heard of the 10,000-hour rule?

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 best-selling non-fiction book, he examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. One idea that recurs throughout the book is the 10,000-hour rule.

In essence, he argues that the key to achieving a world-class expertise in any skill is mostly a matter of practicing in the correct way for a total of at least 10,000 hours.

Personally I think that to become world-class the person doing the practicing must also have a certain level of talent, and getting the right kind of expert help makes a huge difference, but I’m willing to believe that with consistent application the average person can reach a high skill level in many areas.

Told you that to tell you this: I just received my final formatted files for The Seeds of Power, and I’m expecting the paperback covers some time in the next day or two. Which means that after almost eight years of toil, sweat and tears in the writing trenches I should be in the position to publish my debut book before the end of the year, and I’m proud of the way it’s turned out. I honestly don’t think I could have done any better.

More on that next week, and no doubt the week after as well, but as I was contemplating just how long it’s taken me to get here–so much longer than I ever expected–it occurred to me to do a rough guesstimate of how many hours I’ve spent learning my craft. I plucked some numbers out of the air, and guess what? Six hours a day, for five days per week, for forty weeks per year, for eight years, makes 9,600 hours. Huh.

I’m not saying that means the book is good or that I’m a world-class writer, but I’m choosing to take it as a sign that I’ve earned my chops. That the time is right.

How about you? Have you learned a musical instrument, become a pastry chef, a calligrapher, or a dog whisperer? Or do you know somebody who mastered a skill? I know Elizabeth makes quilts, Michaeline plays the ukulele, and one of our commenters, Penny, is an artist. How long did it take you (or them) to become proficient?

Do you believe the 10,000-hour test is a good rule of thumb?

 

 

Jilly: Impressed and Inspired

This week I read the opening pages of a terrific story by a new-to-me author. Sadly I can’t offer you a recommendation because the pages were a contest entry. I don’t even know the author’s name yet, though I’ll be checking the contest website when the finalists are announced.

I try to judge at least one writing contest per year—mostly because in the past I’ve received super-useful feedback on my own entries, but also because I learn a lot. It typically takes me four to six hours per entry to read the pages, decide on the scores, and write the comments. Many entries are by writers still in the process of learning the basics, but I’ve never read one totally without merit. The challenge is to identify and acknowledge the writer’s strengths, isolate the areas that require work, and make constructive, actionable suggestions without rewriting. It’s hard to do well but even if the pages aren’t my cup of tea it never feels like a thankless task. Whether or not the entrant appreciates my efforts, I get valuable food for thought and most of my insights are applicable to my own writing.

This contest is the first time ever I finished an entry in under an hour. Almost immediately I started reading for pleasure. Then I sipped my coffee and mentally wrote the rest of the book. After that I got to work, which mainly required a heartfelt but most un-judge-like squee. And then I set to thinking about what had made my reading experience so good.

Continue reading

Nancy: Because Every Story Is a Special Snowflake

Writers love to talk about writing processes. We’re pantsers, or plotters, or ultra-plotters. We follow the hero’s journey, or Lisa Cron’s story genius method, or the snowflake method (no, seriously!), or one of a thousand either guru-inspired approaches. We write chronologically. Or out of order. Or by writing all the turning points first and filling in the interstitial spaces after that. We swear by writing every day, or binge-write a few times a week or a month.

By the time we’ve spent a few years on this journey and gotten a few completed stories under our belts, most of us have discovered our own process, our unique mix story theory and project organization and time management that ultimately results in a book. And once we understand our own approach, we learn to rely on it to get us through the next story deadline, and the one after that, and…you get the idea. And that can be a wonderful thing. It’s a well-worn path that becomes a shortcut to our creativity. An annotated roadmap to get us from nascent idea rattling around inside our bizarre writer brains to full-fledged story ready to go out into the world. A comforting guide to get us through the rough spots.

Until it stops working.

While every book requires tweaks and adjustments to our approach, every now and then there’s a book that so special (yes, that’s a euphemism for PITA) that we have to throw our trusty process right out the window. And so that’s where I find myself today, with the next installment in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Harry and Adelia’s love story.

If this ever happens to you in your creative journey–and odds are, it will–it’s important to remember it’s normal, it’s surmountable, and it’s probably even good for you. After all, what good is creativity if it’s easy and stagnant and follows that same stupid rut-filled path every time, anyway? And in case you do ever hit that wall, I’ll tell you the same thing my wise writing friends have been telling me: Continue reading

Jeanne: Too Many Buts, Not Enough Therefores

I recently read a book that didn’t quite work for me.

The writing was strong and the author did a masterful job of pulling all the diverse plot threads together, but something about the story somehow missed. It took me a couple of days of analyzing it to put my finger on the problem: too many buts, not enough therefores.

If you’re not a long-time follower of this blog, that phrase may not make sense to you. (It may not make sense even if you are.)

Let me explain.

The single greatest “Aha!” moment during my time in McDaniel’s Romance Writing Program was hearing Trey Parker and Matt Stone talking about “but and therefore.” Here’s a short (2:14) video of the two men explaining this rule to a classroom of students at NYU.

Here’s an even shorter recap: When you lay out the arc of your plot, the individual events should connect to each other via “but” or “therefore.” Like this: Continue reading

Michaeline: Sestina Fever!

I like short projects, but I also have a creative tendency to complicate them and turn them into puzzles that sometimes can only be tied to the original project parameters by very tenuous links.

For example, I’m the October Birthday Tixie for my reading list, and the job is relatively simple: look at a spreadsheet, then send birthday greetings to list members who have signed up for it on or near the day they’ve indicated (we’re a world-wide group, so we can have real or fictional time lag problems that graciously forgiven).

Image via Wikimedia Commons

But, it’s a creative group, and there are such fun things done with the idea! My most memorable birthday greeting involved a trek through the wild roses of Barrayar, and I believe there was Ma Kosti cake involved. (If you don’t know Ma Kosti, all you need to know is that her “little chocolate thingies” have the density of plutonium, and grown-ass warriors have been known to divert their plans in order to experience a Ma Kosti luncheon. Chef and food business entrepreneur extraordinaire.) I have the Head Birthday Tixie to thank for that!

My method is to choose a theme (cakes, or treasures, or fictional animals that need scientific names), write down on cards about 14 or 15 possible ideas (I have 13 people on my list), and then choose a card at random to spice up the greetings, and tie it into the Authorial Canon that my reading list enjoys.

This month, I decided to do different forms of poetry, and boy . . . I face each birthday with a combination of terror and thrill. Will the muse pull through? She’s done a decent job so far, although the scansion may be off and the syllable-counting not quite as precise as one would like.

So, the first trick was finding 13 different poetry forms; I got nervous as the first hits on Google were “the five different poetry forms” – but as I scrolled down the page, I saw “10 Poetry Forms You Must Know” and finally found one with 22, I think it was. Good enough! I started my cards – haiku, limericks, tanka, sonnet, etc.

Then it was time to write the first poem for October 1, and to my dismay, I got sestina. My first try, I have only an hour or so, and I’ve got to come up with a sestina! Continue reading