Writing and Geometry

Oh, but they DO have a lot in common!

I was reading Ava Jae’s great post, “You Don’t Have to Get It Right the First Time” and decided it was time to post about the writing process after a long spell without mentioning it.

In her post, Ava lists the things you shouldn’t be thinking about while you’re drafting. The one thing you *should* be focusing on while drafting, she says, is “Getting the story written.” Period.

And she’s right. (Again. Ava Jae is always right…. if you read the ellenbooks roundup posts, she shows up quite a bit in the links, and there’s a reason for that. So go read her post, too.)

You should be running like a train when you’re drafting, and trains do nothing but stay on one track. If a train scootches even a little bit off that track — whammo — disaster.

So where does the geometry part come in?

Think of the writing process as an inverted triangle — the big heavy side balanced on the tip. When you draft, you’re doing the BIG STUFF. Getting the story into words. Putting the characters out there. Mixing things up. Charging with that train down the track.

When you get through to the end of the story, when you’ve mentally tapped “The End” on the final page, celebrate, then admit that you’re only a fraction of the way to finishing your novel.

You’ve got several more stages in the process to move through — revision, edit, proofreading, polishing. I won’t repeat here what’s been covered earlier (see Re-Draft? Revise?) but you should be seeing the pattern:

InvertedTriangle

Notice how you’re moving from the big chunks down to smaller and smaller bits of the manuscript? Why move your commas around if you’re not sure your story is where it needs to be? You could end up chopping all that proofreading work you’ve done.

New novelists often ask how to be more efficient in their writing. “I spent hours and hours on a scene that I ended up cutting!”

If you HATE wasting time… consider practicing the inverted triangle method. It reduces the chance you’ll waste effort.

Of course, nothing is iron-clad, and the tinkerers among us won’t mind getting those commas in the right spots — even if we drop the entire page — but at least we know the risk we’re taking. Mess with the commas in an early stage of revision, and you just might be “wasting” your time (we’re never wasting our time… but that’s another post).

Where are you in the process? Charging like a freight train down one skinny track? Or are you further down the triangle?

Aim for the Target

Way way back in speech class (!) we talked about our “target audience” — who were we addressing? Who would be sitting in the audience? What did they want or need to hear? If we understood who our target audience was, then we could fashion our speeches, write and deliver the words, that would convince them, uplift them, motivate them, move them.

When I worked for a Web development company and created online learning experiences for adult professionals, I worked hard to understand who the target learner was: an engineer wants and needs something different than a sales representative, even if they worked for the same company. A sales manager needs different training than an entry level sales person. Knowing who was going to be sitting in front of the monitor, taking this online course, was the only way I would be able to develop a set of learning objectives, lessons, exercises, practice, and tests that would prepare them for what they needed to know or do.

It isn’t too different from imagining who my target readers are for my Rollin RV Mystery books. I knew I wanted to write about a retired couple who travel full-time in their RV, solving mysteries along the way. It was easy to imagine the main characters and their situation — it’s all based on the lifestyle my husband and I have chosen to live, and plot ideas come to me all the time, so that part was simple as well.

Imagining my readers while writing “Pea Body” was just as straightforward as creating Walt and Betty: I knew other RVers would appreciate the quirky campground neighbors, the frustrating RV maintenance problems, and other issues that are a part of RVing.

But I also knew non-RVers who enjoy a good mystery would be drawn to the series as well. So I knew I needed to mix some much-needed explanations into the narrative for the non-RVing readers. The balance was tricky: I needed enough description to keep non-RVers from getting confused while keeping RVers from getting frustrated with those same explanations.

Knowing my primary readers fall into these categories has helped me make decisions about what to say, when to say it, and how much detail to provide. For example, “Pea Body” includes a drawing in the back showing the floor plan of Walt and Betty’s fifth wheel. This helps readers who’ve never been inside one to imagine how Walt and Betty move around in it, and how a critical plot point might occur.

When a fellow RVer said she totally bought into the oddball neighbors and general RVing details, I knew I’d struck the right balance.

How well do you know your readers? What do they have in common with your main characters? With the setting? With the situation? How much more will you need to tell them? What will they already know? What do they want from the story? How will you give them that story?

Tell us how you identify your target readers. How does understanding them help you in your writing?

Writers Roundup

With erratic access to wifi connections out here on the road, resource roundups might be scarce for the next few months. And with summer here, you’re probably out and about, exploring the world around you, making notes about the people you see and places you’re visiting… rather than staring at a monitor, right?!?

Reading

Last time I cheated on the Reading section… this time I actually have something to read about reading :) Gretchen Rubin gives us all some (probably much needed) advice on “How To Become a Better Reader in 10 Steps.”

So you’ve read a book and want to post a review about it on, say, Goodreads. A five-star rating is clearly good and a one-star rating obviously bad. But what about that middle territory? What does a three-star rating really mean? Great post from Ava Jae at Writeability on the whole “How Do You Rate Books?” question — and the comments add another dimension to the discussion, so don’t skip them!

Writing and Revising

I’ll confess upfront I haven’t tried any of these… but just in case there’s something here that strikes your fancy, I’m sending along Bookbaby’s “Online tools that will help you revise your writing.”

Writing Contests

Write the best 2500 words and win a house. That’s right. See “Are You a Writer? Want a House? Detroit May Have Just The Place For You” by Ardelia Lee in Daily Detroit. Can’t ask for much more a few pages of your best writing (plus application and documentation), can you?

Want more leads for fiction writing contests? Subscribe to the feeds from Fiction Factor and get periodic motivational pokes from them. Whether the contest fits something you’ve written or not, you’ll likely be inspired to pen something!

Self-Publishing

Lulu’s been my choice for my publishing platform for many years… and every now and then I think about producing a bound book of my photos (you just can’t travel as much as I do without taking a bajillion photos, of which about fifty might be worth sharing in a book). If you’ve thought about an image-driven publication, see what founder Bob Young has to say about Lulu’s new venture in this interview for TechCrunch.

Tired of fighting the good fight to get your self-published books into bookstores and losing those battles? If you’re in Fort Myers, Florida, take heart: Gulf Coast Books will rent you shelf space for your titles (shocked at the idea that shelves come with a price? Don’t be — the big-name bookstores have been charging for endcaps and other prime store space for a long, long time… so get over it). Offer currently valid for local authors only. Out of Fort Myers? Why not open your own bookstore and do the same thing? (Hmmmm…. maybe someday!) Judith Rosen covers Gulf Coast in “First Bookstore Dedicated to Self-Published Authors Opens in Florida” for Booklife.

Itching to get your self-published book on the shelf of your local library? Betty Kelly Sargent tells you how in her Publishers Weekly article, “Getting Self-Published Books into Public Libraries.” First bit of advice: buy your own ISBN. For more, see her article.

Marketing

To give your book away free or not, that is the question. What about a two-for-one deal? Sell a book, send the buyer two copies, hoping they’ll keep one and give the other one away. Marketing guru Seth Godin’s been doing this for years. Ricardo (kind of like Cher, he only uses one name) explains why and how it works in his guest post “How to Let Your Readers Do Your Publicity for You” for the Wicked Writing Blog.

Write Right Where You Are

WriteRight1

Because my husband and I are always moving, trading one “hometown” for another around the continent, we frequently pick up local newspapers to see what’s happening while we’re in the neighborhood. On a recent visit to the Grand Canyon we bought the Grand Canyon News, and it delivered a juicy bit of information about an upcoming arts and crafts fair.

WriteRight1

Being an avid reader (I should do another post on reading signs in laundromats around the country), I start with the headlines then comb every page — all the way through the classifieds.

This time it paid off (again):

On page 2B of the Grand Canyon News a letter to the editor titled “The Grand Canyon is in peril” caught my eye. It describes the efforts of an Italian development company to “pursue a project that would add 3 million square feet of commercial space and thousands of homes to the town of Tusayan, which borders the Grand Canyon National Park,” according to Carl Taylor, former Coconino County Supervisor, in his letter. He asserts that “The Grand Canyon is a national treasure and should not be turned into a theme park.”

WriteRight2

In the very next letter, titled “Forest Service public scoping to begin for road access,” Tusayan’s mayor, Greg Bryan, argues for the development. “Most of us came here to work and be a part of this wonderful experience that the Grand Canyon offers. Our goal in developing housing is not to ruin that experience or the resource, but rather to give the people who serve our resource and its visitors a better quality of life while doing so.”

As an outsider, I don’t know the details around the controversy, but it sounds like some big players are involved, personal quality-of-life issues are at stake, and — are you still with me here? — THAT makes for great conflict. And great conflict makes for the best fiction, right?

Your fiction brain should be going to town about now, tuning out these words you’re automatically reading but no longer paying close attention to… because your fiction brain is wandering, toying with some ideas that are popping around. Your fiction brain is thinking “What if….?”

We were in Nevada last month and in California the month before, and each of the towns we stayed in was embroiled in some controversy. One county newspaper railed against the sheriff. Another poked journalistic fingers into the sides of a local homeowner’s association board of directors.

When you live in a place for any length of time, you’re invested in what goes on. The politics can get personal. But when you travel, you don’t have the same attachments; you don’t have a stake in what goes on, so you can absorb all sides, find humor in a situation locals don’t notice. You see irony, hypocrisy and all kinds of oddball behavior because you’re standing on the outside looking in, and your view is much clearer.

Indulge yourself when you travel — whether for a quick vacation or for work, for the brief (or extended) family visit or high school reunion. Collect a local newspaper or two, reade the opinion columns and letters to the editor. What’s the local controversy? What are the possible plots you could spin from what’s going on? Who are the players? What’s at stake?

Make notes. Tear pages and stuff them into your briefcase or carry-on bag. Save them. Use them when that so-called “writer’s block” threatens.

Train yourself to write right where you are, any time you travel, and you’ll have more ideas pinging around in that fiction brain of yours than you’ll have space for. Trust me!

How about you? Has something you read in a newspaper away from home influenced how you developed a short story or novel? Tell us!

Life as a Traveling Writer

TravelingWriter2

Travel writers are a dime a dozen. Well, okay, maybe not *that* common. But when someone says they’re a travel writer, they usually don’t have to explain what it means, especially now with so many cable TV channels and hundreds of magazines devoted to travel. Travel writer implies they travel to various locations to write about it for magazines, books, and guidebooks. They get photos, interview interesting people, and make note of important details. The destination is the thing.

I’m not one of those writers. Nope, I’m a traveling writer. It’s a very different thing. Let me explain.

TravelingWriter2

When my husband and I tell people we travel full-time, that we’re full-time RVers, to be specific, we get a lot of puzzled looks. And when we tell them we sold our house, bought an RV to live in the RV while we travel the continent, they say things like, “That sounds awesome” and “I want to do that someday.”

When we planned for this phase of our lives, I was already a published author, former fiction editor for a national magazine, and was looking forward to leaving my day job so I could focus more of my time on my writing. Travel writing seemed like the perfect fit. I bought books and read every article I could find on what it means to be a travel writer. Restaurant reviews. Destination pieces. Interviewing the locals.

TravelingWriter4

I practiced with our blog, Bob and Ellen’s Great RV Adventure. And now, more than seven years later, that’s still the extent of my travel writing: the blog. I haven’t even drafted a conventional travel piece for a magazine, Web site, or guide book. Somewhere along the way, I realized a couple of things: most travel publications weren’t interested in the quiet, out-of-the-way places we preferred to visit and if they were — why invite crowds of people, ruining what made the town or restaurant so special?

TravelingWriter5

Besides, my heart has always been loyal to its first love: fiction. Being on the road has given me more characters, plots, settings, and possibilities than I could ever have dreamed up sitting in a house for years and years.

TravelingWriter6

My first novel in many years, Pea Body, grew out of a visit to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. If we hadn’t traveled there, the idea would never have struck. If we hadn’t traveled there in an RV, essential details of the novel would have been completely different — so different I can’t even imagine it having the same soul.

My travel and writing are now so tightly wrapped around each other, separating them would be like severing conjoined twins: possible but tricky.

So we ramble the highways and byways, and I blog, and jot notes, but forget to scribble them down sometimes, and still have to practice a form of Zen self-hypnosis to lull myself to sleep. Otherwise the noise of those ideas would keep me awake longer than any refrigerator truck idling next to us in a rest area where we’ve stopped for a night, or the noisy folks around a fire in a campfire somewhere else.

Wherever you are, ideas are coming at you. Pay attention. Reach out. Grab a few. Tuck them into your pocket. Save them for those rainy, writer’s block days when you can pull them out like rays of sunshine.

Writers Roundup

As you read this, I’m probably hiking somewhere in the depths of the Grand Canyon… or off-roading in Nevada… or exploring someplace new to me. Hopefully something in this list of resources will lead you someplace new with your writing and publishing efforts. If you’ve got a resource to share, please add it in the comments section!
Reading

I’m cheating on my own post here by not including a link. But it’s my blog, so I can do that if I want, right? Instead of a link, I’m going to encourage you to open a book and read. Read something different. My husband and I read nonfiction together — a nice change for me from the fiction I usually have my head into. And we’ve covered a huge range of topics. Right now we’re reading “Mind of the Raven,” by Bernd Heinrich. If ravens soar in your neighborhood, give this book a look. Heinrich conducts some amazing field studies of these “wolf-birds” — and the results are stunning. How does this infuse my fiction? Opening my brain up to the possibilities of the universe opens my imagination, stirs my curiosity, and connects me to the world in ways I’m not even aware of until I write something and it occurs to me I wouldn’t have thought of that particular thing except for something I read. So read. Read a lot. Read a lot of various things. And don’t stop except to write. (Oh, and travel. And hug your loved ones.)

 

Networking

May is Civility Awareness Month, a global initiative. Barbara Rogan, mystery writer, has a take on Manners for writers at her In Cold Ink blog. How should a writer respond to a bad review? Nasty comments from readers? Read and learn.

Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library

Kurt R.A. Giambastiani is a writer whose opinion matters to me, so I read his post, “Amazon and the Devaluation of Art” with much interest. It’s enough to have me rethinking whether the lending of my book through Oyster is such a good thing…. Of course, I’m still attracting readers and book buyers, while Kurt has much more to lose in sales. Read his post, see what you think.

Indie and Self-Publishing

Lauren White summarizes her results from “Dissecting the Bestsellsers of Self-Publishing: What You Can Learn from Self-Published Success Stories” at the Independent Publisher. She focuses on three self-published authors’ experiences and methods to identify what’s worked for them — and how we can benefit from doing the same things.

Wondering why your book isn’t on the shelf in the local bookstore? Want to know how to get it there? Brooke Warner at She Writes gives us the lowdown in her article for Huffington Post, “5 Reasons Why Your Book Isn’t Being Carried in Bookstores.” If you self-published your book, you *must* read this.

Marketing and Promotion

If you’ve heard about GoogleAds and wonder how they work, Daniel Lefferts has a terrific yet concise explanation at booklife. See “Google Ads 101: A Guide for Indie Authors” for help deciding if this is an investment you want to make.

Penny C. Sansevieri edits the fantastic Book Marketing Expert Newsletter — so packed with tips I keep saving them to refer to over and over. She’s at Author Marketing Experts where you can sign up for the newsletter, find out about her services, and get some neat freebies (and we love those, don’t we?), like a handy book signing checklist.

Reviews

Ricardo Fayet, guest blogging at The Wicked Writing Blog, tells us “How to Let Your Readers Do Your Publicity For You.” His advice is contrary to that give by Barbara Rogan in the above entry, but there’s some style to it.

The Myth of Starting Small — Part 2

Our previous post discussed why “starting” with short stories doesn’t necessarily lead to publishing a novel. But there’s another myth related myth out there about “starting small.”

Let’s go back to the example we had last time: you’ve devoted yourself to perfecting the craft of writing short stories, and you’re ready to publish.

Should you “start small” and hit those low-circulation, lesser known magazines, or shoot for the big ones?

My strategy was always to start with the best possibilities for the story. If they said no, I’d go on to the next publication. And sometimes those better publications said yes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, you know.

So I built credentials gradually. Some phenomenal writers can do this pretty quickly — they write abundantly, and do it well, and garner excellent publications credits in short order. The rest of us need more patience.

Patience pays off. If your goal is to eventually attract a traditional publishing house that will take on a collection of your stories — or you want to win one of the awards or prizes offered for short story collections — then you need the best credits you can get. Every single story accepted by unknown magazines won’t get you squat, because reputation is everything. (The truth hurts, I know.)

So persist. Keep polishing. Don’t ignore those little credits — they’re great motivation. But don’t think of them as bolstering your writerly reputation.

Small Press versus Large Publishing Houses

Okay, let’s say you want to publish your novel with a traditional house. You’ve heard the advice to “start small.” You’ve also noticed that many small presses accept manuscripts without agent representation.

Should you go that route? Is starting small this way a good thing or not?

It depends. It depends on what your book is about. If your book is a high-concept genre project and the publisher is known to knock these out as part of their repertoire, then go for it. But if the publisher seems attractive to you just because they’re “small,” then forget it.

Small press publishers are not just smaller versions of large publishing houses — they have different needs and different standards. They can actually be harder to publish with than the larger houses because they take on fewer projects and put a lot of their resources behind them.

The Bottom Line

Totally confused? Here’s the executive summary:

  • Don’t chase after a publication because it’s “small.” Chase the publication that’s the best fit for your manuscript.

 

  • Don’t write short stories unless you want to write them. They are not a shortcut to getting a novel published.

 

  • Don’t accumulate a lot of credits from unknown magazines or e-zines if your goal is to impress an agent or major publisher. Those credits can make you feel good and motivate you, but they won’t matter in the long run, not to the people you want to impress.

What do you think? Are you “starting small”? Is it working for you?