Tag Archives: How to

Whatever you write, be happy

I had lunch with a woman who is also a writer and throughout I was struck by her love of what she was doing. She had no bloodthirsty goal to be on the New York Times Bestseller list or climb the lofty heights of the Amazon ranks. She wasn’t out to make sure that her writing was on all the Nooks and Kindles in the universe.
She just loved what she was doing. She was happy, and her happiness was comforting.
I will admit to you I’ve fallen into that unhappy underworld when I begin to wonder why the heck I’m not selling millions, okay maybe thousands, of books on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble, or why Hollywood hasn’t optioned any of my stories for big screen or little one, for that matter. These are times when my ego takes hold like a rope. But as I’ve grown older I have learned that pinning happiness on those two things alone will lead straight to unhappiness. It’s like high school when you wish the cutest guy would ask you out or that you make the cheerleader squad. When those two things don’t happen, you are in high school hell. Thankfully, high school is over.
And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not knocking ambition. If your only goal is to sell lots of books, then I wish you all the happiness. Damn, if my books do hit no. 1, I certainly won’t be sad or turn down the royalty checks.
But I’m not going to be holding my breath either.
I’m just going to keep on writing and learning how to become a better writer because that’s why I began all this in the first place. I love to tell stories and create characters. I love to have someone read my writing and feel a bit of the emotions I felt when writing the words. Or have them say, ‘Hey, I know what that’s like.’ I like to make them laugh, cry, feel scared, or rewarded. I like them to think. Mostly, I pursue what Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
That gives me the greatest joy–giving people another point of view through my writing.
I’ve had my share of successes and I am grateful and lucky, but as in life, I have to realize there will always be people with more success and less success. People with more money and less. At times, I still have to work to keep myself out of that hades of unhappy writers, but it is getting easier and isn’t that something to be happy about?

Following is the link to the best list I’ve read about how to be a happy writer by novelist, screenwriter and game designer Chuck Wendig. Enjoy!
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/03/26/25-ways-to-be-a-happy-writer-or-at-least-happier/?subscribe=success#blog_subscription-2

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Checklist for writers

January is a month for new beginnings. While everyone is setting goals and making resolutions, I have a few of my own I’d like to share. Years of writers’ conferences, workshops, and book signings have taught me what to do as well as what not to do as I try to present myself as a professional writer.

  • Professional writers listen and observe. At workshops, they don’t talk unless they are the keynote speaker. They respect the presenter even if they think they know more than the speaker. They don’t hog the time or offer their opinions unless they are specifically asked.
  • Dress appropriately. Professional writers don’t show up in pajamas even if they write most of their books in pjs. They pay special attention to their appearance and put their best self forward. They brush their teeth, comb their hair and wear clean conservative clothes at presentations and book signings.
  • Be courteous. At book fairs, professional writers don’t shout out, “Hey you, buy my book.” Nor do they interrupt other authors talking about their own books by saying, “Hey, I’m a writer too.” Or “Hey, I take credit cards.” They wait their turn and are considerate.
  • Don’t gossip or complain. Professional writers are mindful of what they say in public. They don’t gossip or burn bridges. They know that the writer they pan today may be the best-selling author they’d like a back cover blurb from tomorrow. They know that the writer they berate may be the person they may have to chair a committee with some day.
  • Be on time. Professional writers realize that time is a precious commodity. They don’t make others wait. They call when they know they are going to be late and stick to schedules, no matter what.
  • Continue to learn. Professional writers know that writing is an ever-changing industry and that what worked five years ago isn’t going to work today. They read, study, and attend meetings and conferences to stay current in their industry.
  • Don’t brag. Professional writers check their egos at the door. They realize that everyone has an opinion or something to boast about. They don’t pontificate or shove their personal opinions on others.
  • Be dependable. Professional writers keep their promises. If they sign on to do something, they do it. They are honest and reliable. They finish what they start.
  • Exercise self-control. Professional writers control their emotions. They realize that writing is a subjective career. They know how to handle rejection. They don’t shout or scream in public if their feelings are hurt, or if they have a problem with another writer. They settle disputes privately with discretion.
  • Be present and give your all. Professional writers believe in themselves and write even when the writing is going badly. They believe in the process and they always do their best, knowing that their audience deserves only the best.

And lastly, professional writers know the difference between work and play, and count themselves blessed that they get to do something they love every day. As you begin the New Year, put your best foot forward. Be professional and enjoy the journey.

-Bonnie Dodge

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How to get through that dreaded book signing.

You’ve written a book. You actually have it published and just committed to a book signing, which is still a week away. Already your knees are shaking. Your head hurts. You’re sure you’re coming down with a cold. You’d rather wait tables or clean toilets. Welcome to the wonderful world of being an author.

Book signings can be intimidating. Under pressure, our insecurities bubble to the surface. No one will buy my book. No one will show up. No one will like me. This is a natural reaction for most writers. But book signings don’t have to be painful. Here are some ways to help you have a good time, even if you don’t sell a single book.

Organization goes a long way in making your book signing successful. Once you set up your signing, keep calling back and checking in to make sure everything’s on track. They have you on the calendar. Books have been ordered and will be there in time. If you are bringing your own books, make sure you have them with you and remember to bring them to the store.

Several weeks before the event, promote your signing. Send out press releases and do radio spots if possible. Post on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to get and keep a buzz going. We’re all busy. It’s easy to forget.

The day of the signing, arrive early. Bring signs promoting your event. Dress professionally and try to arrive fresh and relaxed. Make sure you have

books
business cards
plenty of pens
water
tablecloth just in case
bookmarks/promotional material
a smile and positive attitude

Remember to smile and talk. Don’t hide behind books or look away when a customer approaches. Look them in the eye. Extend your hand and say, “Hi, I’m having a book signing today.” Put the book in their hand and ask a question that relates to your book. “Do you like xxxx stories? Did you know xxxxx?” Even a genuine comment, “I like your scarf,” is enough to begin a conversation. People buy books from people they like, so find a way to make these strangers feel comfortable and interested in what you have to say. Forget about selling books and sell yourself instead.

Have realistic expectations. Everyone who walks into the store is a potential customer, but they may not like the kind of book you write. Hand them one of your bookmarks and ask them to recommend you to their friends.

Rather than dread the signing, take advantage of this opportunity to meet people and make new friends. Hope for the best and expect the worst. The result will fall somewhere in between. But mostly, try to relax and have fun. And don’t forget to thank the store for hosting your event.
-Bonnie Dodge

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Make that novel happen this month

Today is the start of National Novel Writing Month and the challenge is to write a novel within the month of November. It’s a fantastic way to get that idea that’s been rumbling around your head onto paper. You just charge ahead every day and at the end of November, you have a great start. It’s fun and free. So what are you waiting for.

http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/whatisnano

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How to tackle the writing of subtext

How do you write words that say one thing, but are really saying something else?

This is an excellent article on that subject.

http://www.screenwritingu.com/screenwriting-articles/36-general-articles/64-the-mystery-of-subtext

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WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?

I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is simple. “Everywhere.” Let me explain. Story ideas can come from a number of places such as newspaper and magazine articles, movies, plays, paintings, conversations, and landscapes to name only a few.

Take for instance the trip Pat and I took to Stricker Ranch that I wrote about in an earlier post. On one hand this outing was simply a review of local history. On the other hand, it provided a wealth of information we hope to turn into interesting stories. Why is a ghost hovering at the top of the stairs? How many ghosts haunt the dry cellar?

I read once that by the time a person reaches age 30, he/she has enough life experiences to have something to write about for a lifetime. The trick is to know how to turn those life experiences into good stories.

So the question then, is, what makes an idea a good story?

1) The idea must be interesting.

What if Shakespeare really was a woman?

2) The idea should appeal to a large number of people.

Shakespeare is a well-known playwright. Everyone has been subjected to him at least once before finishing high school.

3) The idea is specific.

Who really was this mysterious man? Did one person really write all of those brilliant plays?

A lot of people would like to know more about the person who wrote so many entertaining plays and sonnets. Virginia Woolf, in fact, speculates on that very thing in A Room of One’s Own. Thus, a story exploring Shakespeare’s gender is an idea that has universal appeal. It would make a good story.

Conversely, let’s say I want to write a story about my dog. I love my dog. My dog is cute. But she isn’t extraordinary. She can’t speak English. She can’t even sit up and beg for food without falling over. A story about my dog would be zzzzzzzzzzboring. It wouldn’t appeal to a large number of people, and there is nothing specific that sets my dog apart from any other dog, except, of course, that she belongs to me.

That’s a simplistic example, but you get my point. As a writer, everyday I am surrounded by possible story ideas. Some of them are interesting. Some of them are not.  My job as a writer is to find a way to turn those ideas into great stories that have universal appeal.

What if I told you my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net? Then you might be interested in reading about my dog. Most likely not, but you get the picture.

The best stories come from taking an ordinary situation/idea and applying the “What if” factor. What if Shakespeare really was a woman? What if my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net?

Using the “what if” factor, look around you, and at the things that have happened to you, your life experiences. Then give the ordinary idea a little twist, and you’ll be on your way to writing some great stories.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Grabbing story ideas at Stricker Ranch

As a writer, I look for story ideas everywhere I go. Recently, Patricia Santos Marcantonio and I took in Fright Nights in Old Towne Twin as a way to increase our cache of stories. For two hours we heard about the history of Twin Falls County and some of the colorful people who lived there. Not only did we come away with a better understanding of the area, we also came home with several new story ideas.

What if a ghost really haunts the public library?
What if Lyda Trueblood isn’t really buried in the Twin Falls Cemetery?
What if Stricker Ranch really is haunted?

As The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz declared, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I doooo.”, I do believe there are good story ideas all around us. All you have to do is reach out and grab one.
-Bonnie Dodge

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You’ve got to love and hate the Internet

We all can admit to this one.
The Internet is a wonderful tool, for not only communication, but also research. For my latest book, I used street level Google maps for the city where I have set the novel, among other great tools.
The Internet allows us to pitch stories on line and keep in touch with other writers through such sites as email, Facebook and Twitter, the latter of which I especially love.
However, the Internet also poses a danger as a vicious eater of time through those very social networking avenues.
I wanted to share this blog from veteran freelance writer, author, and political blogger Julie Fanselow about how she deals with the balance.
She doesn’t go on Facebook until she’s put in time first on her writing.
So enjoy this inspiring column, which she so generously let us post on our site.
I may not be as dedicated as Julie, but I’m working on it.

“My last morning on Facebook”

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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New Year’s writing resolutions

OK, so we’ve all made the usual New Year’s resolutions about dieting, exercising more, and all that. But as a writer, we should make a whole other list of resolutions to keep in the New Year.

  • Write five times a week — This is a hard one and so easy to break, but so important to work at. What we really are doing is setting goals for ourselves. Even if you just write a sentence or two, you’ll feel good. (Notice I didn’t say the weekend, because those are my times to relax. As I’ve written ad nauseam, if you don’t live life, what have you got to write about?)
  • Write expanded life sketches for the characters in your books and stories. I find that when I don’t do the most comprehensive job of character sketches, their motivations become a bit hazy. That is not to say they won’t change as you go, but a good character sketch will help you create a living, breathing person.
  • Don’t beat yourself up so much. We know that we are our worst enemies when it comes to self-doubt about our writing. Don’t do it. There is enough negativity in the writing world, what with rejections and the state of publishing. Instead, say to yourself, “I love my job as a writer. I’m doing the best that I can and will write more to hone my craft.”
  • Take a writing class or attend a writing seminar. Spend the time and money to learn and it will re-energize you, I promise.
  • Network, network. Writers need to get out there and find out what is happening in the writing world. If you live in a tiny tiny town, join national writing groups.
  • Join a critique group. It may take a bit to find the right people, but they will help you immensely.

Those are a few resolutions to start. E-mail the Other Bunch if you have more to share and we can post them.
And don’t forget to diet and exercise more.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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What is creative nonfiction?

Perhaps the best way to define creative nonfiction is to first define nonfiction. Generally, nonfiction is anything that isn’t fiction, or made up. In other words, nonfiction writing is the truth as reported by a reporter or a journalist.

Creative nonfiction goes one step further. Based in fact, rather than a story being told in the journalistic manner of who, why, when, what, where, the “reporter” or narrator of the story shapes the facts to read like fiction. In addition to “only the facts, Ma’am,” a reader will encounter the elements of fiction–plot, setting, character, conflict, symbols, and point of view. In creative nonfiction, the facts come alive, and a reader will encounter the narrator’s voice and style as themes of the story are shown rather than told. At its heart, creative nonfiction has an interest in universal human values, not just facts.

Personal essays, memoir, food writing, biography, literary journalism, autobiographies, travel writing, history, cultural studies, nature writing–all fit under the broad heading of creative nonfiction.

Authors noted for creative nonfiction include Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Maya Angelou, Russell Baker, Wendell Berry, Truman Capote, Rachel Carson, Pat Conroy, Annie Dillard, Gretel Ehrlich, Maxine Hong Kingston, N. Scott Momaday, David Sedaris, Alice Walker, David Foster Wallace, and Virginia Woolf, to name only a few.

If you’ve never read creative nonfiction, give it a try. It’s an entertaining way to learn something new.

-Bonnie Dodge

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