Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Scattered Ruminations on Some Writng Basics

Today I'm feeling a bit unfocused so I thought I'd do a matching, rambling blog post. This is going to be far from laser-focused - I'm going to bounce from one subject to another in brief paragraphs.  Bits and pieces of experience I've had along the way. 

Join me if you dare.

First I'm often asked, where do you get your ideas?  This could be a long, rambling post in itself, but I'll keep it short and be blunt:  Open your eyes, ideas are all around you. In the news, in magazines, in people you see on the street, in fluffly clouds that drift across the sky.  They're everywhere - open your mind along with your eyes and you'll see.

Many times people want me to give specific guidelines, rules for writing.  Hello!  There really aren't any.  Okay, rules of grammar, spelling, etc.  if you want to be understood. But there's no particular number of pages to a chapter, no number of words to a page.  You'll need guidelines from publishers if you want to submit directly or from an agent you wish to approach. But your writing itself, that's up to you to develop your style and polish your craft. There is no neat box you can cram yourself into and be guaranteed publication.

Another good one I hear frequently is "I've been told to write what I know."  Uh huh, like Stephen King has all those weird things he writes about happen to him or may be Dean Koontz, or perhaps H. G. Wells traveled through time. (well, actually, maybe he did, but that's another urban legend altogether).  When you're told if you don't know about it you can't write about it, that's a bunch of bull you-know-what. Life is your experience and the trick is to relate that experience into what you write. Of course you haven't experienced everything life has to offer so you hone your research skills. Research is central. Your mind coordinates it all, quite amazing that. Write only what you know.  What a crock that is. And if you take it too much to heart it is the one piece of 'advice' that may stop you from reaching your full potential.  Writing what you don't know may be the most exciting thing you've done.

Writers, would you PLEASE proof read your work in addition to the spell check?  There are many typo slips that are actually words which the spell check will skip over and may make absolutley no sense.  I know, I know, it takes a lot of time, and after the umpteenth read-through it may even bet to be trying, but it's worth it.

Then there's the 'nose-to-the-grindstone, write every day no matter what crowd.  Yes, it's important to have a schedule and to stick to it most of the time, but there are days when we simply  have to give ourselves a break and step away from the computer. Keep your schedule but occasionally let yourself play some hooky.

Please don't try to explain your work.  Quite simply, it's there on the page.  If you have to constantly 'explain' what you're trying to get across, then you aren't. It's just that simple.

Here's a little tip about agents.  Do you need to have one - need is a tough word.  Maybe.  Do you want to have one?  That's another question.  For a lot of reasons yu may.  But remember the agent can't sell your manuscript.  The agent represents your manuscript.  What's on the page is what will sell your manuscript.

Promotion.  Yes, you the writer have to do it.  It won't happen magically and unless you're already a famous author it's doubtful your publisher will budget much, if anything, to promotion for your book. Start thinking about promotion before your book is sold; while you're writing it.  What can you do to get the buzz going?  Who can you partner with to do cross promotion? Can you get a book tour going?  Build your platform, let your publisher know you have it.  It makes you just that much more saleable.

That's it for today's ramble.  Hope you've plucked a few helpful nuggets from the heap. 

Best of luck and keep writing.

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