About Writing: Guest post by Michael Onofrey

picture of man sitting next to his dictionary on a grassy hill writing in the park

The urge to write is what got me into writing fiction, or trying to write fiction. And by “urge” I mean a feeling that I want to write. This was what motivated me and what continues to motivate me. I don’t think this is unusual—the urge to write. A lot of people have it. But of course those numbers diminish considerably when it comes to picking up a pen or sitting down at a keyboard.

It wasn’t until well into middle age, forty-five years old, that I sat down at a keyboard with the intent of writing fiction. Of course in college (community college and then university) I wrote papers (essays and book reports) like everyone else. But that’s different than composing fiction with the intent of submitting to publications. Of course all writing counts. I’m not belittling college. I’m simply distinguishing between college papers, with the exception of creative writing classes, and fiction for publication. I think anyone who has done both understands the distinction.

Also, in college I majored in U.S. History, which is now call American Studies. So my only background and my only qualification for writing fiction was, and is, reading books, fiction mostly. But there, too, I got a late start, for I didn’t begin to read until I was in my last semester of high school (Industrial Arts major). I could hardly read. This might strike some people as strange. But it’s not strange. A lot of people coming out of high school are poor readers.

An odd set of circumstances prompted me to pick up a book. I was dating a girl from another high school, which made our dating possible because we were of very different social circles, for if we had been going to the same school we wouldn’t have gotten together. But by going to different schools neither one of us, her in particular, suffered any social embarrassment, for high school life is all about cliques. She was a half a year ahead of me, which meant she would be graduating in June, whereas I wouldn’t be graduating until the following year at the end of January.

When summer rolled around, the summer of her graduation, university life about to begin for her in September, she jilted me, which, even though I expected it, sent me into a mental tailspin. Strangely, on the afternoon of that devastating phone call I started driving and wound up in front of a bookstore. She had mentioned the titles of books during our time together and I, for whatever reason, had remembered two—The Stranger by Albert Camus and Another Country by James Baldwin. Still dizzy with confusion, I went into that bookstore and asked for those two books.

What a way to begin reading, not to mention having to look up words on nearly every page. Fortunately, as if it were a minor miracle, I was able to follow the stories, and a window flew open and there I was, looking out at a new world.

Man carrying dictionary by a lake
“I carried a dictionary and a novel everywhere I went”

I carried a dictionary and a novel everywhere I went for eight years, and when loading up a backpack every bit of weight counts. I’m still a poor speller. I still consult a dictionary often for spelling and definitions and word usage. I wouldn’t recommend getting a late start on reading, just as I wouldn’t recommend getting a late start on serious writing. Six years after I started writing and submitting, a small literary journal (Words of Wisdom, North Carolina, a publication that has since ceased publishing) accepted one of my stories.

Six years—that’s a lot of rejection. And I still get a lot of rejection. My writing is not consistent, and I don’t think it ever will be, just as I will never be a good speller nor will my vocabulary have the natural range that it might have had if I had started reading at an early age. Okay, so that’s the way it is. A lot of other people have it worse. Imagine trying to write in Aleppo, Syria.

Writing will probably never be more than a hobby for me, and by hobby I mean an activity that doesn’t generate enough money for me to live on. I wish there was another word besides “hobby.” “Pastime” maybe? But that’s even more nonchalant than hobby. If I were teaching at a college or university, I could say that publishing stories, while getting little in the way of remuneration, was worthwhile because it adds to my curriculum vitae (CV), which might serve to boost my position and income. But I don’t teach at a college or a university.man carrying dictionary by some shops

In addition to not making millions there is rejection, which is always painful. In dealing with rejection, stoicism would be a nice rejoinder. After all, rejection is part of the weather. Even the most renowned writers have had work rejected, primarily before they became famous. There are only two choices when faced with rejection: feel the pain and move on, or feel the pain and give up. This isn’t about heroics. This is pragmatism. Most stories that are submitted to a publication are going to be turned down.

I’m hardly different from anyone else. I like acceptance. I write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and submit. Rejection, rejection, rejection. After six months or so, another look, another rewrite. Revising has become fun. I don’t know why. Maybe because it presents an opportunity to play with words and sentences, as well as ideas and point of view. I do give up on stories, but I keep them on file. Now and then an idea will occur that pertains to a story I’ve given up on. I’ll draw the story up and try the idea. And then I’ll submit. Hey, all they can do is turn it down. Now and then one of those formerly dead stories will get accepted.

Also in the hash are different publications with different editors who have different tastes. Usually a rejection carries no real comment, perfunctory comments yes, but no real comments. Every once in a while, though, there is a genuine comment. Some are encouraging. But some . . . On a couple of occasions an editor has given me a totally pissed off lambasting, boredom and tedious detail cited. I guess they had had it up to their necks with that stuff, dull writing and details, and took it out on me. Or maybe they had a hangover, or maybe they couldn’t meet a mortgage payment, or maybe they were in the middle of a divorce. Yet, within that same week that same story (respective stories, but at different times) got accepted by a publication which I had deemed more reputable than the one(s) the tongue-lashing(s) came from. Highs and lows—the landscape.

man with dictionary walking by rocks

“Highs and lows—the landscape.”

 

At other times, I had given up on a story only to have it accepted after a whole lot of time by the last publication where the story was still (as it turned out) under consideration. Recently a story of mine was accepted and published by a university journal after the story went through two years of rejection and rewrites—forty-seven rejections. Why did I keep at that story? Because I believed in it. Giving up on a story or continuing with rewrites and submissions is a tricky thing, a case-by-case thing. But—I keep all my stories on file.

Favorite authors—here’s the link to my listing on Poets & Writers where I’ve listed my favorite writers: http://www.pw.org/content/michael_onofrey

About books concerning reading and writing—I return again and again to How Fiction Works by James Wood and Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.) by Francine Prose.

 

author Michael Onofrey bio picMICHAEL ONOFREY was born and raised in Los Angeles. Currently he lives in Japan. Over seventy of his short stories have been published in literary journals and magazines, in print and online, in such places as Cottonwood, The Evansville Review, Natural Bridge, Snowy Egret, Terrain.org, Weber–The Contemporary West, and The William and Mary Review. Among anthologized work, his stories have appeared in Creativity & Constraint (Wising Up Press, 2014), In New Light (Northern Initiative for Social Action, 2013), Road to Nowhere and Other New Stories from the Southwest (University of New Mexico Press, 2013), and Imagination & Place: An Anthology (Imagination & Place Press, 2009). He can be found online at Directory of Writers, Poets and Writers, and on Facebook.

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While preparing my next newsletter, I noticed that my last one had a bunch of great information in it. I don’t want anyone to miss out, so here it is to give you a taste of what goes into my newsletters. If you like it, please sign up to get monthly installments and your free copy of Read to Write: Conflict and Suspense.

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So many places to post content. Make it good content!

Give your readers what they want how they want it

No matter what you are publishing to the web, your readers are going to read it differently than they would a book or other type of written media.

Studies have shown (Nielsen 2006) that people tend to scan web content. They look at the title, subtitle and first paragraph and then quickly scan to the end. This has led to two ideas of content design:

Both ideas work together. The F-shape design emphasizes grabbing your reader’s attention with an exciting title, an informative sub-title and summarizing what you are going to talk about in your first paragraph.

The upside-down pyramid is a design where you put the most important thing you want to say (or the conclusion) at the top of your post and make sure everything that needs to be read is on the top two thirds of the page.

Make your content sexy

Sexy content has nothing to do with sex (unless you’re writing erotica). It’s all about reader appeal. What makes someone look at your page of content and think, I want to read this? White space.

White space? Then why write anything, right? No, the blank page isn’t sexy. The sexiness of white space is the breath between ideas, like a rest in music creating suspense.

To create white space in your content you can use:

  • titles
  • subtitles
  • bulleted lists
  • numbered lists
  • infographics
  • images
  • tables
  • videos
  • links

In other words, anything that provides useful information and breaks up the text.

Accessibility

For me, one of the most interesting sections of learning to write for the web was the discussion of accessibility. When scrambling to finish a blog post, or in the excitement of posting a video to youtube, it is easy to forget to make our posts inclusive to as many people as possible.

When posting blog posts and videos in the past, I put very little thought into the image descriptions and alternate text. I didn’t really understand the purpose off these extra steps. But they have a very special purpose.

Imagine that you can’t see. How would you know what the image looks like that the blog post references? The digital voice on your computer would read the description of the image.

Now imagine you can’t hear. The website you are looking at has a great video, but you can’t hear a word the person is saying. Adding text to your video gives this reader access.

Spending just a little extra time with accessibility tools can enhance your content and increase your readability.

SEO: Titles and Key Words

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become big business. It is how websites, blogs, people, anything, is found through a search engine on the web.  Increasing your SEO may increase your readership. How do you increase your SEO? By using the key words your readers are searching for in your titles, key words and content.

Overwhelming, right? Not anymore. Last month you learned about creating personas. You spent time researching and getting to know your readers. Now, ask each persona, What did you type into your search engine (maybe assign a different search engine to each persona–Fred uses Bing, Jenna uses Yahoo, etc.) to find this content?

This exercise changed my ideas about key words. When I first started blogging, I listed my key words for a blog post one word at a time, but when I search for things I very rarely type one word searches. Pay attention to how you search the web. Try to image yourself searching for a topic and finding your website or blog. How did you get there?

Making sure that your titles, subtitles and phrases in your content all include your key word phrases will increase your SEO.

Take Away

Even if you have taken the time to write and edit the most interesting, well-written content that you know your readers will love because you did the research and took the time to get to know your readers and your competition, you still need to present your content in a way that will appeal to how they read on the web.

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe: Conflict and Suspense in Practice

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe serial banner

 

My current area of interest is conflict and suspense. How do I write scene after exciting scene to keep my readers turning pages?

I realize that to become a better writer, I can’t just read about writing suspense and read suspense novels, I need to write using the techniques I learn.

So, for our enjoyment, starting next Sunday afternoon I will be writing a weekly serial called The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe. Each Sunday I will post a new installment of Moxie’s story with all the conflict and suspense I can muster and cliff-hangers to keep you coming back for more.

For inspiration, I spent some time on archive.org checking out the great trailers for the old serials like Radar Men from the Moon, Zorro, and Mysterious Doctor Satan. If I manage to apply my studies and follow their example, you can look forward to:

Moxie Sharpe in a punch-packed, lightning-paced, sensational adventure of world-shaking importance. She will dazzle and surprise and her courage will thrill and chill. Each episode will be filled with pulse-pounding, jet-propelled excitement. And as Moxie’s electrifying, explosive adventures unfold, we’ll have a lot of fun and hopefully learn something about writing page turners.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Experience Writing Newsletter. I filled up this first one with useful information and techniques for getting to know your readers. You also get a free conflict and suspense study plan!

I want it button

I am planning a detailed explanation of my Read to Write: Suspense, Conflict and Tension study on Wednesday.

Oh, I can’t wait! The suspense is killing me! Right?

#NaNoWriMo Yes or No? The Pros and Cons of Participating in National Novel Writing Month

Maria L. Berg writing in her notebook in front of her portrait painted by E. Spencer Matthews entitled Maria Fights the Robot SpidersHave you heard of NaNoWriMo but are not sure what it is? Thought of trying it but wondered if it was worth it? I wrote the first draft of my novel this November and lived to tell.

Imagine: You’ve been dreaming of writing a novel since you were a little kid, but life got in the way. You’ve been mulling your story idea for years. Suddenly, the stars align and you are ready to write your novel. The leaves have turned and begun to fall and you know the holidays are coming. Do you sign up and commit to writing 50,000 words in a month? Will it be worth your time and effort?

This is where I was this October. I told myself, if everything lined up just right, I would do it. I have always been a self-motivated creator, but when it came to getting words on the page, my dream novel, the one I thought about when I dreamed of being an author, wasn’t happening. This year, NaNoWriMo helped me get that story started.

Before I had ever heard of (Inter)National Novel Writing Month (November): I had done research; I had a broad outline of the characters; I had even written a prologue and shared it with my critique group, but the story wasn’t getting written. I don’t know why, but I knew I had to get outside of myself to write this story. Ever feel that way?

I decided I would look into NaNoWriMo.  I wondered why so many people were talking about it.  The goal? To write a rough draft with a beginning, middle and end and at least 50,000 words in one month. It sounded impossible. Did I do it? Was it fun?

Let’s look at the Pros and Cons:

PRO CON
Developed my characters Lost storyline sometimes
Wrote lots of dialogue Didn’t feel like art more like a machine
Approached difficult scenes Paid too much attention to word count
Wrote most words in a day More difficult revision
I now know how much I can write in an hour and in a ten minute sprint My face broke out and my house got dusty
Learned about word crawls
Joined a write-in at a local book store
My inner critic really didn’t like it!

As you can see, the experience was more positive than negative.

One take-away that I will use throughout the year is Word Crawls. Word Crawls are games to motivate writing. Unlike prompts, they do not tell you what to write. The purpose of a crawl is to play a game of how much or how long to write. My friends compared them to D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) in that you choose characters and might roll dice to see what your character does next, but the fun part is you write a story within a story. My favorite was The Walking Dead Crawl. You can take a look at some word crawls at the WikiWriMo

Nation Novel Writing Month 2015 Winner Banner

When I had a fever in the third week, I didn’t think I would make it. Word crawls with my best friend got me through.

So for me, this year, YES, it was worth it. And it was (mostly) fun. If the timing is right and you feel ready, you can write a first draft of a novel in a month! And as a bonus, learn what motivates you and new ways to get words on the page.

Have questions about NaNoWriMo? Please ask in the comments.

Did you participate this year? What do you think? Yes or No?

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

The Harvest

I admit I gave up on my daily garden photo project before it was finished, but as you can see from my video above, I did not give up easily. It was a tough summer for my little garden. As usual, I started with very high hopes, but then summer started in March and wasn’t pretending. The daily mist dried up and disappeared and the Seattle rain so highly promoted in TV and film spent all its time on the east coast. But, luckily, I do not, at this time, have to live off of my harvest and can celebrate every little bite.

The one cucumber, that stopped developing about half-grown, was juicy and had an extra flavor that I do not know how to describe–a deeper note for the back of the tongue.

The one green bean (flowers on tendrils leave me hope for more), split in half to share, balances perfectly with the flavors of the one lunch of sauteed rainbow chard (makes me look good no matter the weather) with hazelnuts and Parmesan, but screams out with every crisp bite, “I am more flavorful than anything around me.”

Two kinds of kale (I tried blue dinosaur this year), became my favorite kale chips. My adaptation of Pesto Kale Chips from The Everything Raw Food Recipe Book by Mike Snyder with Nancy Faass has  changed kale for my family and friends. As a vegetarian in a family of carnivores, I was teased and taunted, until they tasted these kale chips. I have tried every other kale chip recipe that I have encountered, but this is the best.  As a Harvest gift to all here are my secret changes:

Maria’s take on Pesto Kale Chips:

For four cups of happy, straight out of your garden, kale (I cut out the largest stems in little V cuts, my kale leaves were small so for most of them, I did not need to cut out the central vein):

Ingredients: 1/2 cup pine nuts

1/8 cup lemon juice (one small lemon)

1/8 cup olive oil

1/8 cup Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or Nama Shoyu)

1/2 Tbs. Onion powder

1/8 cup fresh basil (finely chopped) pulsed in last

Place all ingredients in blender (except basil) and chop, then mince, then liquefy. It will take a while to get the pine nuts to really liquefy. I recommend stopping to take a spatula to the sides and top of your blender a couple of times. When you are happy with your mixture, add your basil and pulse it in a few times.

Put your kale in a medium sized bowl and pour the blend over the kale. Gently massage the mix onto the kale by hand making sure to equally coat both sides of all pieces. At this stage the kale is likely to break into smaller pieces. That’s why I try to start with full pieces of kale with only the largest bits of stem cut out.

I like to make my kale chips in my dehydrator. This recipe fills 4 shelves. Gently lay the pieces of kale out flat on your trays. Dehydrate and 115 degrees Fahrenheit for five hours to get delicious, crisp chips.

[If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can put the coated kale on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake in your oven. (Leda Meredith at about.com says 325 for 12-15 min). I have no idea about those results.]

Try this recipe on that special someone who won’t eat their greens. You’re Welcome.

Published! Oh, the joy of the first acceptance letter.

Cover Art for October Issue of Five On The Fifth

Artwork by Erin Baird used with permission of Five on the Fifth

As the gross jelly-blob predicted, October continues to be fun, gross and creepy. Why you ask? Because fun, gross and creepy can describe my flash fiction story, “My Collection”, that the editors of Five on the Fifth kindly chose for their October Issue!! I was delighted by the variety of stories and styles they chose. And for you short fiction writers, they are accepting submissions for November.

This is an exciting day for me. Two of my friends put the event of being published in great perspective. One said, (paraphrasing) A stranger, someone who has never met you, liked your words enough to want them, and the other posted, “It’s one thing to publish your own work, quite another for someone else to see its merit!“. It feels good to finally get an acceptance letter and see my name with other authors. And the timing couldn’t be better, because at the end of the month, I receive feedback on my novel from my first readers. Hope this success feeling is strong enough for the work ahead.

Inspiration: Stay ready. You never know from which strange place, or species, it could come.

Picture of new-to-me lake species

What is that? Something gross-looking this way comes.

This is a slightly different post than the norm, but it is also a wonderful way to get us all into the Halloween spirit and I love Halloween. When I was driving home last Sunday and saw a pumpkin patch full of people, I said “Their jack-o-lanterns will be completely rotten by Halloween.” Of course, I assumed that, like me, they wouldn’t be able to wait and would carve their pumpkins the moment they got home. Why not have nice, whole pumpkins decorating the house all month until it is time to carve them? Then, when my mother told me she was having a costume party with Halloween games this Saturday I was surprised they would have a Halloween themed party so early, but why not? When I asked my neighbor what he was going to be for Halloween, he already had a plan–which is great because that gives my sister time to dig out the costume I made for my nephew years ago, so he can borrow it. Thus, when the lake spirit left me a dead lake monster this morning, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I think I will take it as a sign that this October is going to be a whole month of the fun, gross and creepy.

Colony of Pectinatella Magnifica

This is a real colony of organisms! I took this picture this morning.

Here’s what I wrote on the neighborhood group and facebook (those of you who get those posts can skip this part): This morning, I saw something very gross-looking washed up on the ramp. I joked with a friend that it looked like a giant jellyfish or a swollen piece of intestine, but I thought it must be a rotten old boat bumper, or piece of plastic. To my horror, upon closer inspection it really did look like a giant jellyfish, or a huge sack of eggs, or a huge bloated pile of fat. Luckily, the internet had some answers.
http://www.canada.com/windsorstar/news/s…,

http://www.bradwiegmann.com/fish-biology…

This jelly blob, or massive colony of pectinatella magnifica, is a cluster of tiny invertebrates that supposedly are a sign of good water quality.

Seeing it up close, I’m going to continue to call it a gross lake monster, but I’m happy to know (and wanted to share with all of you in case you see one too) that it will not sting me, lay eggs in my stomach, or consume me as part of “The Blob”, or like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. It arrived a little early for Halloween, but it wins best gross-creepy lake creature in my book.

Close-up after opened with a stick

I tried to see the underside by moving it with a stick. It quickly fell apart.

What does this have to do with writing inspiration, you ask? Last week, I mentioned a series of stories I’m working on about The Lake Spirit. My ideas about her were first expressed as a Halloween costume I created and wore while playing the Theremin to greet Trick-or-Treaters. I have been playing around with her story for a while and have recently enjoyed where the stories are going. Since beginning my work on Stories of The Lake Spirit, I discovered, or have been made aware of, interesting, new-to-me, fresh-water species: When the lake was down, I discovered fresh-water bivalves (clams); last week a friend told me about Periwinkle bugs that I believe are equivalent to Caddisfly larva; and then, today the most shocking of them all—the super-gross jelly blob. The colony of pectinatella magnifica will soon make its way into one of the lake spirit stories, I’m guessing as an offering to the narrator, but there are so many fun possibilities.

Close-up with a bee

The sun came out, so I took more pictures. Now, there’s a bee on it. I wonder if raccoons will eat it.

I am grateful I was on the phone with a friend when I first spotted the ugly blob at the edge of the water and that he told me I had to go check it out and send him pictures. Timing is everything. We need to always be ready for inspiration.

Have you discovered any new-to-you species lately? Have you found inspiration in strange places? Please share in the comments.

Happy Writing!

Update: By the time my neighbors came over to see it, the jelly blob had mostly been reclaimed by the lake. We found a small piece under a piece of wood, so the boys could get an idea of its consistency. The consensus was GROSS, but worth getting wet in your shoes (if necessary, but hopefully not necessary) to pull out from under some wood and cool enough to want to show Mom. The answer to the raccoon question is: most likely nothing left for them to eat. But if they drink the water, do they get a couple inside them, that then gelatinize into colonies over time? Just wondering, you know, for the raccoons.

Novel Recommit Challenge Final Count

Gator  McBumpypants, Herman and Dee Dee look out over the waterAs Robert Evenhouse mentioned in a post during the challenge, life will get in the way of your word count goals and that happened to me yesterday, so as you may have noticed, I didn’t get a blog post up (or get my words written) after critique group. So, Thursday’s total word count was 1,194 words. My grand total for the whole seven day challenge was 6,371. I didn’t quite make my goal, but I made great progress on my projects and I am happy with the results. Congratulations to Robert for reaching his goal of 7,000 words in 7 days!

My main take away from the challenge was that inspiration doesn’t have to strike first, ideas come and get fleshed out as you write.

The Novel Recommit Continues – Quick Update

I’m excited to say I wrote 1,038 words yesterday. So far so good.

Happy Writing.

Tips and Tricks: Creating Revision Goals and Preparing For First Readers.

 Crater Lake July 4th 2015

The hummingbird moth drinking after dark.                                                                             photo by Maria L. Berg

I apologize for my time away. I needed a break and an adventure to fill me up with new energy, so I could return to you with insight.

I can finally see an endpoint to my revisions, at least an endpoint that will allow me to send a draft to my carefully chosen first readers (I chose my first readers for many different reasons. I chose eight people who will give me honest feedback and may see my content from different points of view. I will talk more about first readers in October). Here are the revelations occurring in my writing life that have brought me to this exciting point in the writing of my novel.

Tips:

1. Listen when a good friend asks if you need to be held accountable.

There is nothing better than a fellow writer and good friend wanting to read your book. When my critique group asked how my revision was going and I said I kept writing other things, Sherri stepped up and said, “Do you need me to hold you accountable?”  I am obstinate and rebellious, so having someone else hold me accountable was not an option, but wow did she set a fire under my seat .

As a self-motivator, I interpreted her words as, “you are not doing your work” in a way that I needed. I realized I had to set goals and make deadlines to see my draft become the novel that I want it to be.

2. Make your goals real and tell others.

The first thing I did to become accountable was to choose a date that had meaning to me. I didn’t map out the time I thought it would take and then set a date.That never works for me. Large dates like birthdays, anniversaries of important events, important holidays, are ways that I challenge myself. This time, I have a difficult anniversary (Ten years since evacuation with no return) and I want to turn it into a celebration.  Once I imagined I could achieve my goals by that date, I set personal goals for each day. For the first time ever, I tried to be reasonable and create achievable goals. Believe it or not, I procrastinate and have impressive skills in self-sabotage.

Then I talked to my first readers. I told them the date I chose and asked if they still wanted to be my first readers. This made me accountable, not only to myself, but to eight other people. And now to you.

3. Break your goals into little pieces and attack!

Knowing what I had left to accomplish in a short amount of time, I had to break down the last of my goals into daily work. To do that, I created weekly themes that I could break down into little projects. The first hurdle was typing all of my hand written edits from my last read through and from my critique group into a new draft. The perceived tediousness of the task had been the stop sign that had me wandering into different styles and story ideas. I gave myself two days to only type in edits. However, for every little comma or word choice, I saw larger problems that I either changed or got stuck on.

One of the greatest tips I have to give you is when you get stuck, change your text to red, type a note about what you want but can’t get to or why you’re stuck and move on. Typing up all the editing ended up taking five days instead of two, but I discovered how prepared I was to finish. For every sentence that was confusing, I knew how to change it into sense. For every chapter that was weak, I had a plan.

great reflection on Crater Lake

Reflecting on reflection                                                                                    photo by Maria L. Berg

Which leads us to my new (and newly applied) tricks:

1. Character Development through dialog: A personal breakthrough and a lesson in rereading my own blogs – This was my original name for this post because I felt like I had a major epiphany and wanted to share, but realized I had already posted about my use of dialog to get writing to the page in a previous post Getting words on the page. Dialog as a warm-up is the third tip in that post. My epiphany, however, is a little different. My protagonist is a self-proclaimed hermit who has very little interaction with anyone outside of her house. She has a lifetime of reasons for her hermithood and layers of associations as motivations, but I found it hard to get any of this across to the reader because my character didn’t want to think about those bad experiences. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I had already established that she talked to a friend every day on the phone, but I hadn’t written any of their conversations. I started writing their conversations as part of my morning pages and suddenly my protagonist’s world opened up. I found it awe inspiring how a quick phone conversation could let the reader know twenty years of back-story. My critique group found some of conversation unclear, but I think leaving some parts of the conversation up to interpretation leaves space for the reader (to relate to or not, to imagine something different in the space between).

2. Let yourself go through research- After finishing my edits, I created a separate document for each of the seven section I had left in red ink that need further writing. I noticed that the sections I need to really dive into are the areas I have little to no experience with, or contain behaviors that are outside my purview. I needed to get outside of myself.

Even if your novel isn’t historical fiction or science fiction, finding an avenue for research can inspire. In my case, a textbook on criminology and Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. (Samenow is a great last name!) inspired pages of notes. Inside the Criminal Mind also showed me that many of the behaviors I had already written were right on track which felt great! It’s not often a writer manages to find her own positive feedback.

3. Names: A new fun technique for me– One of the most important things I have left to do is come up with names for the tertiary characters. Looking through lists of baby names or name engines online did not inspire me. I enjoyed looking through the most recent local candidates and trying to mix lasts with firsts, and talented friends have told me to look online for another country’s white pages, but these techniques were not what I needed either. Today, I found an unlimited fountain of names in my piles of old records. If you don’t have records, CD liners or movie credits will do just as well. Think of all the people that work behind the scenes to make music and film happen, then think about the multitude of combinations you can make by mixing and matching those first and last names.

For my example, I had a sampling of my old records and my parents old records. I had records from Sweden and France. I had a selection of Pop, Rock, Musicals and Classical. I made three columns in my notebook: Last names, Male character and Female character first names. This way my lists created unique randomized combinations as I wrote them down so when I look at it later, I won’t have to worry about using an actual name.

4. Those pages you don’t want numbered – When I send out my draft, I want to make it very clear to my first readers that I wrote a piece of fiction, so I created a page with the well known statement “All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. After typing it into the center of my new page after the title page, I had a major page numbering dilemma. This bugged me. I knew how to not number my cover page in Word, but I hadn’t figured out any extra pages until today. The magic? Section breaks.

How to: Delete your header. Create all the front pages you want: I created a disclaimer, but you might also want a couple quotes and a dedication; like I said this is for my first readers, so I might make a page of my expectations for reading time, editing/commenting expectations and easy directions for making notes inline. Once you know how many pages you do not want topped with a header or page number, make a section break. To do this in Word, leave your cursor at the end of the text that does not want a number, select the page layout tab, click on Page Breaks and scroll down to New Page. That will most likely create a break and a blank page. I recommend clicking on the Home tab and clicking on the paragraph symbol to see the backspaces needed to delete the extra page.

Once you have created a new section, click on the page you want as page one then click on the Insert tab and select Header. Make sure to click (unclick) Link to previous. Once you’ve created the header that you want, click pages and choose your style and placement then select format page numbers and select start at and enter 1. That should do it.

(I had to go back to the beginning of my first section and edit Header and delete it, then recreate the second header in the second section, but that is most likely because I was making changes instead of starting from scratch. Happy news, it worked).

So there you have it. The tips and tricks I am using to finish my revision and prepare for first readers. I hope you found something useful. Happy writing.