Category Archives: Archives 2016

Knowing what to accept and reject

 

I usually advise  new writers to grow a thick skin. We’re talking rhino skin. We’re talking skin thick as the Earth’s crust. That’s because editors and people in critique groups  will make dents in that skin when editing your writing.

We need to be a good listener and hear their suggestions. They may have a point about problems in your story. That’s because they are reading it as readers. It is painfully true we can sometimes get too close to our work to see beyond our keyboards.

It is an editor’s job to make your writing better and people in critique groups only want to help (good people that is.) Be open minded about work. I remember a woman asked me to read and comment on one of her stories. It was good but I had some suggestions to improve it. She got so mad she never talked to me again. Her writing skin turned out to be thin as rice paper.

That said, we must also learn when to reject, politely, criticism with which you totally disagree. You know your writing best and if there is something you believe is necessary to the piece, then stick with it and be prepared to defend it to editors or critiquers. You might have to compromise but usually they will understand and let it stand.

Be willing to listen to advice on how your writing can be improved. Don’t get insulted. Don’t get mad. Be professional.

Realize that not every word we write is gold, but those words might polished into shining brightly nevertheless.

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I’m Not Retired, My Husband is, HELP!

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Last month Patricia talked about the “r” word and how frustrating it can be when others who know you work from home think you are retired. This month I’d like to take that one step further and talk about how frustrating it can be to work from home when your husband retires. I speak from experience.

I left a good job to pursue a career in writing. For years I worked from home while my husband hopped into his truck and drove to his place of employment. For years the hours between 8 and 5 were mine and I could arrange them any way I wanted to to meet deadlines, conduct interviews, and write. But that changed when my husband retired. The days suddenly became “ours” and I had to learn to adjust to having someone else in the house.

Instead of soft music in the background to inspire my writing, I had the TV blaring non-stop with all the bells and whistles of game shows and the banter of Judge Judy. While trying to concentrate, I’d get a blow-by-blow description of the Ellen DeGeneres show until in frustration I’d turn off the computer. I’d wait until my husband went to bed before I tried to do any serious writing. Or, I’d write in the mornings before he woke up. I tried to adjust my schedule to his, which was, of course, no schedule at all.

At first it was pretty bumpy. Excited about new freedom and opportunities, my husband woke up chattering. “What are we going to do today? Want to run over to …. and look at ….?”

I always wanted to say, “Um, no, I’m supposed to be writing.” But truth was, I wanted to go, too.

I found myself frustrated and wishing he’d go back to work. I didn’t suffer from “retired husband syndrome” but there were days I wanted to shoot him. I even considered an office away from home and often went to the library just to write.

After years of having the house to myself, I had to do some serious thinking. Did I want to retire too? Did I want to sit in the house alone while he was off playing? No, I wanted someone to share life’s journeys, not sit in the corner and watch while I worked. I had to realize that he wasn’t the problem, I was.

So I readjusted my thinking. I would scale back my working hours. I would spend more time with my husband, and be glad that he still wanted my company.

Now, a year after his retirement, we’ve settled into an agreeable arrangement. Monday and Tuesday he volunteers for local businesses. Wednesday he golfs. That leaves me three days to get my work done. Then I can play, too.

Writers can become obsessed about their writing routines. But life is about more than how many books you can write or how many stories you can tell. Life includes lunches with your spouse, walks on beaches, and new adventures, all of which make your writing better if you relax and let it. Juggling writing with a newly retired spouse can be tricky. But it can work if you remember that this is a big change for them, too. Learn to compromise and set play dates. Be flexible and stop taking yourself so seriously. Learn to let go and enjoy the journey.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

 

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I’m not retired, darn it. I’m writing

A few years ago, I quit my day job to focus on writing. It has been a productive period resulting in a new book and near completion on two more. But when people hear I no longer have the proverbial day job, they ask me how I like being retired.
Maybe I’m sensitive but it makes me crazy.
No, I am not retired. In fact, I am working harder than I ever did at my day job on novels and screenplays. Of course, I am enjoying it more, but I am working.
My writing friend and I were talking about how non-writers don’t necessarily believe that we writers can be toiling away at a computer telling stories. Some people probably believe that if we aren’t receiving a regular paycheck or filling out a time card, that we must be just playing around.They don’t understand the sacrifices, frustration and how much labor it takes to come up with stories, the right sentences and descriptions. How much pounding our hands and fingers take to get it all right.
Yes, I love it. And I will keep at it until I do decide enough is enough and I have told all the stories I want to tell. Until, then I am working, darn it.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Should You Co-Author a Book?

A few weeks ago I received a call from a fellow writer. Knowing I’d co-authored Billy Neville Takes a Leap with Patricia Santos Marcantonio, the writer wanted to know how hard it was to co-author a book. She had been asked to help write a sci-fi story and she wasn’t sure if she should do it.

Co-authoring can be tricky. There are pros and cons and a constant shuffle for balance. If it’s something you’re considering here’s some tips to help you decide.

1) Pick someone whose writing you know and like.

Pat and I have been a writing team for almost twenty years. We met in a college creative writing class, formed a critique group, and have been working together ever since. We know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, and we’ve learned how to agree to disagree when we have to.

2) Set your ego aside and let the story take you on a journey.

As a co-author, your partner will love some of your sentences and hate many of your ideas. Like that old saying ‘kill your darlings’, this is the time to check your ego at the door. The story is more important that your brilliant words. Once you set your ego aside, you’ll be surprised how the characters unfold. Once we discovered the essence of Billie, she took over, and all we had to do was sit back and take dictation. We alternated writing the chapters and there were times when we couldn’t tell who wrote what. That was when we knew the process was working and that Billie had come to life.

3) Be flexible and willing to compromise.

It’s good to establish a schedule and try to stick to it, but life often gets in the way. There’s no reason to be rigid and insist that you keep to schedule if your co-author is ill or expecting out-of-town company. Also, be flexible when it comes to disagreements. As you write the story, be open to suggestions and willing to listen to your co-author’s ideas. Be willing to win some, lose some, and don’t take it personally. This is a product, not your first-born.

4) Have a long-term plan, and if necessary, put it in writing.

Who is responsible for writing each chapter? Who is responsible for research? How will you market the book? Who pays for what? How will you split royalties? Who owns the copyright? All of these business questions should be addressed before you begin writing. When we started River St. Press we learned how to maneuver through all the business questions before we ever thought about writing a book together. With all the technical stuff out of the way, the writing part was easy.

Writing Billie Neville Takes a Leap was a rewarding experience. Together we developed a character with spunk. Marketing is a pleasure instead of a chore because we don’t have to do it alone.

There are lots of ways to write a book. If co-authoring is something you’re considering, don’t be afraid to take a leap. You just might surprise yourself and have fun along the way.

-Bonnie Dodge

Ten-year-old Billie Neville wants to be a daredevil, just like her hero Evel Knievel. She also wants a best friend. Riding “the best bike in the whole world” Billie’s desperate to enter a bike jumping contest with three boys named The Meanies and show them her cool bike skills. When Evel comes to town to jump the Snake River Canyon, Billie learns she has to be a friend to make friends and that not all heroes have to soar over canyons.

 

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Find out more here: Billy Neville Takes a Leap

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In time for second canyon jump, check out YA novel about the famous Knievel stunt

In 1974, daredevil Evel Knievel failed to cross the Snake River Canyon in his Skycycle near Twin Falls, Idaho.

Forty two years later, stuntman Eddie Braun will attempt the canyon jump in September. His rocket bike, called the Evel Spirit, has been constructed by Scott Truax, the son of rocket engineer Bob Truax who built Knievel’s rocket .

Billie Neville is a young girl who wanted to be a daredevil like Evel Knievel when he came to Twin Falls. Check out a free preview of the award-winning YA novel BILLIE NEVILLE TAKES A LEAP by Bonnie Dodge and Patricia Santos Marcantonio.

Billie Neville Takes a Leap

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Be thankful for privilege of writing

I had a recent book signing at Barnes & Noble and got there a little early to buy a book for my sister’s birthday. Walking around and checking out all the books, it was overwhelming. The number of books, the number of writers. All stories to tell, some good, others not.

I remembered that as a fledging writer without a published book, the book store gave me hope that I too would have my book on the shelves someday. When my first book was published, I was so excited to have finally made my goal. My book was there.

As I wandered around the book store, which I love to do, I began to feel so privileged that I was doing what I loved to do, and that is, write and to tell stories. I have been honored that traditional publishers have wanted my books and that I earn royalties from their sale.

Along with a writing friend, I have also self-published several books that have not only paid for themselves, but made us a little money.

Not many people love what they do. Even if you hold a day job and write at night, which I did for years, you are still privileged to have found your passion.

Enjoy it and be thankful.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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How to Write When You Lack Inspiration

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You’re half way through your novel and suddenly you don’t want to work on it anymore.

You’re past deadline and your editor wants to know where your manuscript is.

The thought of writing gives you a headache and sends you to bed.

We’ve all been there, the writer who doesn’t want to write. We’re tired, we’re bored. We’d like to take a break and do something else more exciting, even if it’s scrub the toilet or feed the pigs. Ernest Hemingway said it so well. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

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I believe writing is a gift. Others look at writing as a job. Either way, we all come to the page the same, inspired or not to get words on paper.

How we do that, though, is another story. Some writers designate a specific time, say, every day 8 a.m. to noon, as their writing time. During those hours they write, whether they feel like it or not. Others write in big chunks of time when they feel inspired. They let artistic inspiration take over and write until they are empty. Then they wait for the well to fill and repeat the process. Productivity is as varied as there are writers, and we each handle writing-time differently.

I don’t write everyday. Many days I lack inspiration. But I do do something writing-related everyday. This is my job and fans are waiting for the next story. I can’t let lack of inspiration keep me from doing the work. If I did, nothing would ever get done.

So here’s what I do when I don’t feel like writing.
I work on something writing related, like marketing.
I research for the next story.
I edit.
I do something writing related and record it on a calendar I keep on my desk. Too many blank days in my calendar means I’m lazy and unfocused and I need to get busy.

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If you’re feeling uninspired, here are some tips that may help.

1) Show up.

If it’s a workday, work. Record your progress on your calendar and then go play. At the end of the day you may not have written five pages, but you will have done something to move forward and the day won’t have been wasted.

2) Reward yourself with Internet and email after writing. You’d be surprised what a motivator that is.

3) Set a timer and start writing.

Turn off your internal editor and just start writing. Anything. Even if you write ‘this is crap’ for ten minutes. Free writing stimulates the brain and before you know it you’ll be in the zone. You can’t edit a blank page, so get to work.

4) Change your location.

Sometimes a change in location can be just the boost you need. Go outside and write in the sun. Go sit by a stream. Even a coffee shop or library can inspire you to be productive.

5) Work on something new, or collaborate with another writer.

Often we get tired of working on the same thing everyday. It’s boring and unchallenging. Work on something else. Have more than one story in the basket at a time. When you tire of one you can still be productive. Just be sure to complete those stories and not use this as an excuse to procrastinate.

6) Have a writing buddy.

Having someone who understands the writing process is invaluable. Whine to your writing buddy when you don’t want to write. Finding out that they are having a good productive day will tweak the competitor in you and send you to your desk. Before you know it the words will flow again.

7) Get up and move.

Take a walk. Take a coffee break. Physical exercise often stimulates the muse.

8) Listen to music and set the mood.

I have a meditation CD I play when I lack inspiration. Sometimes I also light a candle. These stimuli tell my brain it’s time to work and add pleasure to what can some days be daunting.

9) Read a good book. Read a bad book.

Either one will get you thinking. Why did he/she use that word? Why does this work so well? This is a piece of shit. I can do better.

10) Allow yourself to make mistakes.

The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written.

Not every writer approaches the blank page the same. Some writers work best at night. Some in the morning. Some during the day when kids are in school. Some only when the muse strikes hot. How you approach the blank page is up to you. The trick is to be consistent, to keep writing even on days when you’d rather mow the lawn.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Make Monday your marketing day

The rack. The iron maiden. Those forms of torture are nothing compared to the way some writers feel about marketing.  We love writing, but not especially marketing because we’d rather be writing and marketing takes time away from us sitting in front of our computer, or writing on our yellow pads of paper.

Make no mistake, we are damn proud of what we wrote and want to get it out there to readers. But we also consider ourselves writers and not necessarily advertising madmen.

I have been both traditionally published and self-published, and have gotten use to the fact that marketing is just another part of the business. If you are self-published, no one else is going to market your book for you, unless you pay someone to do it. Even with traditional publishing, you will be expected to help spread the word about your book.

Marketing requires a different mindset. As a writer friend of mine is fond of saying, it is time to put on your big girl panties and just do it. For male writers, you can do the translation.

To make it more palatable and convenient, I set one day aside and have designated Monday as Marketing Day. I make my business calls, write news releases or contact reporters, arrange book signings, seek reviews, update my website, etc. And part of that mindset is doing as good a job at marketing as you do at your writing. Get creative. Have fun.

Big girl panties, remember?

We want to get our writing out to people to read otherwise, it’s just a journal for our eyes only. And in order to do that, we need to tell readers about our book with marketing.

So designate your marketing day. Be it Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Even Tuesday and Thursday will do.

 

 

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Show, Don’t Tell

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Beginning writers are often instructed to Show, Don’t Tell. Sounds simple enough, but exactly what does that mean? Here are a few examples.

Telling. Bob Jones was fat.

Showing. Bob Jones pushed himself out of the chair. His arms wobbled has he hefted his large body up and tried to stand. His knees buckled under the weight and he had to sit down and catch his breath before he could try again.

Telling. I hurt myself.

Showing. My arm throbbed. Blood streamed from a large gash, staining my shirt and pants.

Telling. I was nervous.

Showing. Waiting for my teacher to reply, I grew dizzy. My face flushed and I hoped my deodorant was strong enough to mask my fear.

Telling. It was hot.

Showing. Max sweltered under the noonday heat. Beads of perspiration formed a river, dropping into his eyes and clouding his vision. If he didn’t find water soon, he knew he would pass out.

These are simple examples, but you will notice two things. It’s easier to tell because it uses less words, and often the word “was” shows up in the sentence. I was doing something; he was doing something. Your reader will get a better picture and be more invested in your story if you can describe what is happening with action. A man is so heavy he can’t get out of his chair. Blood streams from a cut on an arm.

Remember to use Show, Don’t Tell wisely. If you “show” every sentence in your novel it could easily reach 200,000 words. Show the things that are important and the things you want your reader to remember. Tell the small things that don’t matter. He started his car. He walked to the store.

Don’t forget to incorporate the five senses. What does your character hear? The sound of the chair creaking as he tries to stand. What does he smell? The grease from his cold French fries. What does he see? Blood staining his clothes. What does he taste? Salt when he licks his dry lips. What does he touch? His wet forehead when he wipes away the sweat. Using the senses is another way to make the scene more intimate and allows your reader to experience what your character is experiencing.

Balancing show and tell is tricky, but once you master it your writing will sparkle and your readers will ask for more.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

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Learn the writing business

Whenever I tell people I’m a writer, they usually say they’ve also written a book and want to have it published. Usually my first advice to new writers is about craft and becoming the best writer they can be. But after having been around publishing for awhile, I have additional advice. That is, learn about the writing and publishing business.

Look at it this way. If you decide to start a restaurant, you’re not just going to throw open the doors to your new place and start cooking. You’re going to learn about the restaurant business.  The same is true for the writing business.

I will emphasize that most of my experiences have been good with people, but I too have had my hair singed on occasion. So start by learning about what type of writing you’re interested in, from novels to nonfiction to screenplays to magazine articles. There are hundreds of books and internet sites with advice.

Here’s some things I learned along the way that I hope will save you heartburn.

  • If you’re offered a contract by a publishing company and don’t have an agent, hire an attorney and have him or her look at it. This is well worth the money to make sure you aren’t giving away your rights and do you have an option to get back your publishing rights.
  • Do research on the publisher or whoever is interested in buying your writing. There are many sites on the Web to warn you about the good, the bad and oh so ugly.
  • Ask lots of questions. Don’t be shy. If a publisher doesn’t want to answer, beware. But always be polite and never obnoxious about it.
  • Get paid. Don’t give your writing away. If someone wants to publish it and make money off your talent, then get your share. And get this in writing. A guy still owes me money for a writing job.
  • Keep copies of everything, including emails. Hopefully you won’t need those but if you do…

I know many of you may not care about making money from your writing and your reward will be to share it or give it away, which is great. However, if you want monetary compensation — even if you consider writing a hobby — then it’s best to learn the business or you may end up getting the business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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