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September 2014 Issue
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Workshops Starting July 24th
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Is Your Manuscript Ready for Publication?
Is Your Manuscript Ready for Publication?
After an evaluation of your submission, one of the professional 2nd Draft critiquers will provide feedback and advice. You’ll not only learn what’s working in your writing, but what’s not, and—most important—how to fix it.
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How to get published — read hundreds of helpful Writer’s Digest guest columns from published writers teaching the craft and business of writing.
When I was in high school drama, I was intrigued by method actors. I thought they were a little reckless, a bit more edgy than the average actor. I was impressed by their dedication, by their ability to fully embrace the life of their character. While I didn’t end up being an actress, I satisfied that desire—of inhabiting an entirely different life and set of experiences (with the added bonus of time travel)—with writing (and reading). When I started working on my historical novel I Shall Be Near To You, about a young woman who disguises herself as a man and follows her new husband into the Union Army, I found that merely looking at pictures of soldiers and battlefields or reading descriptions of life on farms and or in the ranks just wasn’t enough for me. I needed to feel like I was truly bringing my characters to life.
GIVEAWAY: Erin is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: lionetravail won.) Read more
One of the surprises, for me, of finishing a first novel was discovering just how many of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice actually turn out to be true. For example: Nearly every interview with every writer will include some reference to how important it is to just sit your butt in the chair—meaning, the best way to get writing done is simply to get it done. This is true.
And then there’s the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten. Spoiler alert: You’ve probably heard it before. Here goes: Write the book you want to read.
GIVEAWAY: Adam is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: burrowswrite won.) Read more
The other day, a writer friend asked for my advice in dealing with all pesky rejections in the query stage. I asked how many agents she had queried. “Forty,” she said.
“Well, then you’re halfway there.”
I wasn’t trying to be flippant, but if you are serious about getting published, then don’t even think about giving up until you’ve queried at least one hundred agents. Really. But there are a lot of caveats attached to that advice… Read more
Tip #1: If you can get a pitch session with an agent/editor, do it! Agents get tons of queries every single day, and a good 90% of them come from people who haven’t worked very hard to perfect their craft. Agents know that if you go to conferences, you’re likely in the 10% who have. If you go to a conference and pitch, you’re likely a top 10% writer who has a book close to being worthy of representation. It also gives both of you a chance to meet each other, and that’s invaluable.
GIVEAWAY: Peggy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: MikeHays won.) Read more
My barista and I have an ongoing conversation. Every morning, we pick up where we left off the day before, talking about writing while she pulls espresso shots. While she’s never tried to write a book, she told me one day that she’s often thought about doing NaNoWriMo, and we discussed how getting through the very first first draft is often the greatest challenge.
“If I keep telling myself I’ll do it one day, maybe that’ll work,” she joked.
I shrugged. “Hey, positive thought is an important part of the process. You have to believe you’re going to do it, right?”
“True,” she said. “But sometimes I think that’s the problem.” Read more
You’ve decided this is it, the year to attend a writer’s conference. Forms are filled, hotel and plane tickets are booked, and a satisfied warmth fills you at pulling the trigger on this writing milestone.
But as the day approaches, your brain buzzes. What to wear? What to bring? You look in your closet and suddenly forget what looks good together, what fits, and what shoes work with which pants. The jeans you love seem too run down. That skirt you wanted to bring is too dressy. Or is it? Maybe you could wear it to the pitch you scheduled. And then it hits: FULL BLOWN PANIC. You forgot about the pitch you booked while high on the glow of finally taking the leap. Read more
Are you singing the rejection blues because your book (or poem or screenplay) has been rejected by a publisher (or magazine or production company)? Here are some things to consider when your writing project has been rejected.
1. Are you being realistic enough about the quality of your writing? Giving your essay or play or whatever you’ve written to your mother to read and having her hand it back to you with a gold star doesn’t cut it. You need an objective critique from someone reasonably knowledgeable about the genre in which you’re writing. Is there someone you trust to give you open and honest feedback? Is there a writing group you can join? If not, think about forming one yourself. One hundred percent open, honest comments may sting, but they’re invaluable in helping you become a better writer. Read more
A little less than four years ago, around the same time our youngest child was toilet-trained and sleeping (mostly) through the night, my husband and I took a bold step and decided to add to our family. Almost everyone told us we were crazy to do it, but we were determined. There was something missing from our lives—we just knew it.
So we got a dog.
GIVEAWAY: Jennifer is excited to give away a free copy of her novel (hard copy or digital) to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Cathy won.) Read more
1. We must build a shelter with our truth. Other writers working on memoirs often ask me, “But why would anyone care about my story?” When I was struggling to write Unremarried Widow, I asked a memoirist friend the same thing. She said, “We must build a structure with our truth so that other people can shelter there.” We often forget that by offering up our stories we help others understand their own. In this way, memoir is not self-indulgent but a road map for the human experience. Read more
If you’ve been writing long enough, you’ve probably considered getting a Masters in Fine Arts degree. Perhaps you checked the tuition costs, choked, and wondered: Is it really worth it? That’s a tough call. Plenty of successful writers do not have advanced degrees. And plenty of MFA grads never publish a book. If you’re on the fence, here are a few pros and cons to consider.
1) Community: Writing is a solitary pursuit, and after spending hours alone with your thoughts, you might crave a tribe of writers. MFA programs offer exactly that: total immersion in a culture of books and writing to the exclusion of all else. (Call us fanatics. Call us bores. Guilty.) Read more
We all know writing is hard. But most of us also know that it isn’t really the writing that’s hard—it’s writing in the face of all the psychological crap around being a writer that’s hard. Multiply these everyday difficulties by the profound sense of powerlessness that comes with feeling like your writing career is in everyone’s hands but your own, and it’s a wonder anyone pursues a writing career at all. Sound familiar? If so, there’s a good chance you’re giving your power away as a writer.
This year is the year to take your power back. What do I mean by “giving your power away” as a writer? I’ll show you. Here’s a sampling of people and things to whom I have served my power on a silver platter…
GIVEAWAY: Alison is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: TJay91259 won.) Read more
Back in 2007, midway through querying my first novel and drafting my second, I attended the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop in Martha’s Vineyard. During the course of one intensive week, I attended a workshop by Jumper author Stephen Gould designed to help our select group of aspiring Science Fiction and Fantasy writers understand what life was like after publication.
At the time, this workshop seemed a waste of important writing time. Weren’t we all there because we were unpublished newbies? We just wanted to know how to write good queries, network, and get somebody—anybody—to read and love our little word-babies. A year and a half later, when my acceptance letter came, I wished I’d listened better to that lecture… Read more
In an ideal world, you’d have many more hours to dedicate to writing.
In reality, you carve out what meager “free time” you can, sacrificing things like sleep, a social life, exercise, a clean house, and quality time with friends and family. When your laundry pile resembles a laundry mountain and you haven’t hit the gym in a month, it’s hard to justify spending extra time working on something that doesn’t pay the bills (yet!). Until you can add hours to the day, what’s the solution? Read more
1. Listen to your critique group. When I first began to write, I was fortunate to meet some wonderful writers who became fabulous friends. We met regularly to work on our manuscripts. We worked to give constructive feedback to one another and because we listened to each other, our writing got better. We listened when the group told us the funny parts weren’t really all that funny. We listened when the group thought our chapters were too long. We listened when the group couldn’t relate to our characters. Listening to the group’s honest feedback made us dig deeper into our stories, making them stronger and better. Read more
Should Sex Be in Your Novel? If you write romance or erotica, then, of course, the answer is yes. For children books, it’s a definite no and questionable in Y.A. and religious books. But what about the other genres like historical fiction, mystery, suspense/thriller, fantasy, science fiction, and even memoir? The fact is that no truer words were spoken than “sex sells.” A look at the longest running best sellers is proof. Fifty Shades of Gray didn’t make the list for the terrific writing, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, while a great thriller, the readers talked about the violent rape and victim’s revenge that sent them in droves to buy the book. Read more
Like all writers, my methods for building characters are a mix of mishmash and melting pot, drawn from both personal experience and academic study. Below is a short list of the ideas I’d like to cover.
1. A Character Who Refuses to Die
2. Know Your Archetype
3. The Great Man/Woman Theory
4. What MUST the Character Do (and What Does the Character Think He/She Must Do?
GIVEAWAY: Richard is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Clae won.) Read more
I write like a girl. More precisely, I write as a girl. My novel, Styx & Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery, features a main character/narrator who is a woman. A young woman. And a smart, resourceful, pretty young woman at that.
Ellie Stone is a self-described “modern girl” in 1960′s New York. In the days before feminism, she plays like a man, but make no mistake: she’s all woman. A Barnard graduate from a cultured family, she’s determined to have a career that doesn’t involve fetching coffee for a boss who pats her rear end when she’s done a good job. Or even when she hasn’t… Read more
Summer, 2008 at the Highlights Children’s Writers Conference in Chautauqua, Ohio, I was at a low point. I’d been writing and pursuing publication for ten+ years and had little to show for it except a handful of published short stories. Also, four unpublished “finished” novels, too many rejections to count, and a growing sense of despair that maybe this conference was it for me, a last ditch shot at following my dream.
GIVEAWAY: Jody is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: kimkvp won.) Read more
My friends who know me, I mean really know me, keep asking where I got the idea to start writing picture books. “Where did you get the idea for a monster needing a costume?” They would ask. In a bit of a condescending way I might add, which I kind of deserve. Like I said they really know me. And I would tell them; I stole it.
It’s true. From the mouths of babes, like candy from a baby, I plagiarized my 4 yr old daughter. Plagiarized might actually be a bit strong she can barely write her own name. But to be honest the idea came from my daughter.
GIVEAWAY: Paul is excited to give away a free copy of his book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: nrtomasheski won.) Read more
Hope is a powerful word. It’s also a dangerous one. When it comes to the aspiring writer community a premium is put on positivity, the old pat on the back with kind words of encouragement, keep your chin up, stay the course, that sort of thing. This support system has merits, and undoubtedly aids you in many ways, but what most could truly benefit from is a hard kick in the ass. Tough love, it hurts like hell and can help you more than anything.
I’ll be straight with you. I’m the kind of guy who learns best by getting punched in the gut. Hit me hard, or enough times, and I’ll stop fighting and get the point. Tiptoe around a subject and it will take me longer to understand what you’re trying to say. As writers, getting to the point is imperative. If we don’t, we end up getting lost. Read more
William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” When I first heard that from my mentor, the late Andre Dubus Jr., I knew what he meant. Don’t show off! It’s about the story, not about you, the author. But this was easier said than done.
I’ve always been a pretty good story teller, the sort of person who can hold the attention of a group of people at a dinner table for four or five minutes spinning out one of my favorite tales. Perhaps that’s what led me to believe I could be a writer — the belief that all I had to do was to get these stories down on paper. But I quickly learned it isn’t as simple as that. First of all, good stories told to a group of friends don’t always hold up well as a standalone piece someone might read at bedtime or riding on the commuter train. Sometimes it’s the spirit of the gathering that makes these stories work best, a few bottles of wine and the inflected voice of the storyteller. By the same token, the story may be a stand-alone piece that falls flat or becomes an abstraction if it’s put into a the larger context of a novel. Let me give you an example… Read more
Readers expect emotion. Oh, they love humor as well but they expect and really want characters they can identify with deeply, who go through pain and learn and heal and come out on the other side changed and triumphant!
Writer Sharon Sala teaches a workshop on how to express emotion. Her advice sounded easy but opened a new world to me: to convey the emotions your characters feel, dig deep inside yourself, find those emotions you may not have allowed yourself to show before. Remember the time you were saddest or deeply devastated or very happy and imbue your characters with what you felt.
GIVEAWAY: Jane is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: writeandtravel won.) Read more
Every week literary agents receive hundreds of query letters from aspiring writers who are hoping to interest the agent in their project. Why then, would agents take time from their busy schedules to go to a writers conference and meet yet more writers in person?
I’ve worked with over a hundred literary agents during the 9 years I’ve been organizing the Backspace Writers Conferences held twice-annually in New York City, as well as the newly minted Salt Cay Writers Retreat taking place this October on a private island in the Bahamas. So I asked a few of my favorite agents why they attend writers conferences. Read more
“I love it!” That’s what I hoped my agent (let’s call her Agent A) would say when she read the manuscript of what is now my book, LOYALTY. After all, I’d spent a year writing the manuscript based on her feedback of the first fifty pages. I loved Fina Ludlow, the Boston private investigator I’d created, and felt confident it was the best thing I’d ever written. But Agent A didn’t love it. In fact, she told me, “I can’t sell this.”
A couple of years earlier, I’d signed with Agent A based on an amateur sleuth series I’d written. She loved that protagonist and worked hard to sell the manuscript, but publishers weren’t biting. When it became clear to me that that the series was going nowhere fast, I decided to flex my writing muscles and create a new character; Fina Ludlow and her family of ambulance chasing attorneys were born. So what happens when you love the work, but your agent doesn’t? I faced a dilemma that writers and other creative types encounter routinely. How do you decide which advice to incorporate into your writing and which to relegate to the “thanks, but no thanks” folder? Read more