Monday, April 30, 2012

May Is Short Story Month

When I was a kid... oh, boy, here we go. But seriously, most of us remember reading stories in school by O. Henry, Guy de Maupassant, and Edgar Allan Poe.  The short story was part of my literary education from grade school through college. Later, I read short stories in magazines like the Ladies Home Journal, and regular contributor, Rosamunde Pilcher, is still one of my favorite authors. But as I grew older, novels became my entertainment of choice, and it wasn't until I got my Nook last year that I rediscovered the short story.

E-books have changed reading habits for gazillions of people. Not only are we able to buy books in the blink of an eye, we can carry small libraries with us wherever we go. It's particularly convenient if one does a lot of research,and these gadgets are so smart, we can even make notes right in the books! But even better than that, we can sample lots of writing because many authors are using the short story format to introduce readers to their work, many of them free stories available for download. It's definitely a readers market out there.

This month we'll focus on the short story here at the Blood-Red Pencil. I'll share with you a project members of the BBT Cafe have going - a short story collection by 20 of the members which I'll be formatting for Kindle this month.  More about that later. We'll also make sure to share with you any short stories and collections we hear about so you have a chance to sample some new writing.

And what a great month to do it in - it's officially Get Caught Reading Month. What are some of your favorite short stories? Any authors you particularly favor? Do you write short stories yourself? Do you think e-readers will renew an interest in short story collections? Share with us some thoughts about the genre.
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Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, and currently spends most of her time either working on special projects for Little Pickle Press or tending her much-neglected three acres of gardens. These days she doesn't have much time for anything except short stories.








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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Making Money as a Writer

Unless your name is Grisham or Steele or Rollings, you may not be making much, if any, money writing books. Authors must be prolific, and have excellent marketing skills or someone to do that for them.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make money as a writer. Freelance writers who write newspaper and magazine articles can develop a nice income by treating their writing as a full-time job. You must constantly be putting out queries, doing interviews, and writing articles. I have been a freelance writer, and although I didn’t work at it full-time, I managed to bring in extra money to contribute to the household income.

My money-making “job” now is mainly freelance editing. Again, I’m not working at it full-time, as I’m still trying to be an author as well. Editing takes knowledge and experience and a certain skill. Not everyone can jump into this field. It also takes time to build a clientele. I worked at acquiring clients for several years before they started coming to me. I love this work, and I love helping other writers improve their manuscripts.

Another thing I do to earn extra “pin money” is teach classes in beginning fiction and memoir writing. After I took a university course in fiction writing, I wanted to share what I had learned with my fellow writers in my community. So, with great trepidation and my heart pounding like a drum, I put a notice in the newspaper, sent e-mails to all my writing acquaintances and started a class. I had ten students in that first eight-week session, and about half of them followed me through that year and the next. I found I also loved doing these classes and sharing what I know with others.

I remember there was a book out a number of years ago titled “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.” I’ve found that is true. But it takes patience and perseverance. It doesn’t happen overnight.

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A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

On Bartending and Writing

When asked what other jobs they’ve had, novelists usually have an oddball list. They may dream of job security and a health plan by night, but by day they are seduced by interesting experiences, diverse characters, a bit of income, and the flexibility to write.

Most of my jobs have had to do with writing, though. Shame inspired me.

My first husband, Ron, a bar manager with a keen sense of what his time was worth in cash, called my writing my “volunteer work.” This maddened me because I was a newspaper dance critic and always paid—although at the peak of this career, writing some 50 articles per year, I managed to pull in no more than $2,500. My husband could make the bulk of that tending bar on New Year’s Eve alone.

To preserve my self-respect as much as to show Ron I could do it, I had to find a way to use my writing skills to bring in more respectable money.

So I started a desktop publishing business, producing newsletters, custom-designed written communications, and resumes for businesses and non-profits. I thrived on the diversity and flexibility of the work, as it allowed me to stay involved with my school-age sons while tucking in the laundry and other chores.

This flexibility proved vital to my family’s survival when, two years into this proud display of my writing’s worth, Ron committed suicide.

The work sustained me an additional six years
while I re-sorted my motivations and priorities. I had to maximize the use of my time—not just the hours in a day, but the days that would add up to my life.

Once remarried to Dave, who was more supportive, I felt called to a higher purpose with my writing.

First, I left the paper. After 19 years, I decided I wouldn’t write for such low pay any more. That worked well: I’ve basically written for free ever since, powering up new skills as a novelist.

Then, too distracted by its multitasking nature to write, I closed my business. I thought, with conferences and classes and concentrated effort, I could sell a novel within a couple of years. Who knew it might take ten years to get the agent that could usher me to the starting line of a paid career?


As the years dragged on it got harder and harder to look Dave in the eye. Yet I was so close I could taste success. I couldn’t quit now—but I had to find a way to fund what was now a serious writing habit.


Harnessing my analytical nature, the skills I’d honed as a critic, my love of (and two degrees in) teaching, my lifelong love of reading, and an intense self-education in story craft, I started Writing-Partner.com, my developmental editing service.


Over the past six years, through editing, speaking, and hosting writing retreats for women, I've once again made money to support my writing—just not enough to impress my younger son. In his college application essay he cited both Ron and me as negative influences: he would never allow hidden financial woes to drag him into a life-ending depression, as he sensed happened with his alcoholic father, and he would never acquire a master’s degree and countless years of continuing education only to work for peanuts, like his mother.


Ah well, we can’t always control the ways in which we inspire our children to their own heights.


But I’m pretty sure he’s noticed one thing: turning long, dreaded hours into cash by serving cocktails did not sustain his father. I, on the other hand, do work that feeds my soul. Each afternoon I sit by a sunny downstairs window, nurturing the development of another writer, so I might earn the right to spend the following morning at the computer in my loft office, writing stories that inspire others to think about what makes life worth living. My writing uses every single one of my natural and developed talents. I feel plugged in.


Yes, I still make less than Ron did as a bartender, and yes, I hope that my agent can sell my book and that its sales will one day improve my lot.

But for me, the most important thing is that I love my life and I’m here to write about it—and that’s priceless.

What kind of odd jobs have you held to support your writing habit?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, was published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Making Money: Sidra Smart's Spring Fling

It’s really a little too early to tell if the release of my first three books in the Sidra Smart mystery series makes any money or not, but when you change publishers mid-series, it seemed like a wise thing to do.
 
Philip Martin, at Crickhollow Books, published my national award-winning historical novel, A War Of Her Own, and did such a fabulous job, I asked him to publish the fourth book (The Swamp Whisperer) in my Sidra Smart Mystery Series. To do that, he and I agreed for him to pick up the whole series, re-release the first three, building new interest and energy for them, then release the fourth with a splash.

In our decision-making process, as to what stays and what goes, we decided to not change the titles of the books, or the series, since Sidra Smart already has a strong following. Rather we decided to focus on tighter, cleaner edits, and fresh new covers. Also, we corrected any errors in plot, setting, and location that might have been overlooked in the first releases.

The first book in the series, Dance On His Grave hit the shelves a couple of weeks ago, all cleaned up, edited, and with a fresh and exciting new cover, along with the re-release of Sassy Southern Classy Cajun, a cookbook that is a part of the series.

(Also, Dance On His Grave is now in the process of being adapted to a screenplay. Inspired by a true story, this is a tale of three strong women and their attempt to survive.)

The second and third books (Deadly Sins, Deadly Secrets and Dead Wreckoning) are in the process of being freshly edited and given bright new covers. They will be re-released in a couple of weeks, then, right after that, the brand new release of the fourth in the series, The Swamp Whisperer.

With the re-release of the first three, my publisher started a new imprint, Crispin Books. With this imprint he plans to re-release good books that may currently be out of print, but are too good to let die. I’ll take a little credit for his new imprint. (Just kidding.)

How does one market such a series? We are figuring that out as we go along. Once the series gets completed, we will begin an aggressive campaign we call Sidra Smart’s Spring Fling. As a part of the effort, we will be looking at many of the tried and true efforts at marketing such as Goodreads, Shelfari, plus other e-marketing opportunities, book clubs, workshops, as well as looking for other exciting ways to market the “new” series.

We realize in order for this to be successful, it will take even more work than it did the first time the books were released. But we are determined to make this happen. Time will tell. Of course a screenplay would change everything. That is where I will be putting my effort in a concentrated way.

Visit author, Sylvia Dickey Smith at her website or email her.


Sidra Smart, fifty years old, is not your ordinary P.I.  A recently divorced preacher’s wife, Sid knows next to nothing about running the private-detective business she’s inherited from her brother. But her first client bursts in with vague flashbacks of a grisly thirty-year-old murder.



A Good Times Cookbook by the author of the Sidra Smart mystery series.

In the land where southerners and Cajuns sleep under the threat of hurricanes and where mosquitoes grow as big as dragonflies, good food is the common denominator. Gregarious folks welcome any excuse to get together for fun, fellowship, music and great eating.
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Money, Money, Money, Money! - Susan Malone

Welcome to guest blogger, Susan Malone, who is addressing our April theme. Can you guess what it is? (smile)

A necessary evil, money.  For most artists, we hate to even think about it.  And as a measure of success, well, the money often doesn’t match up with critical acclaim. 

That part hasn’t changed in this business. What constitutes a Best Seller often doesn’t correlate to “well written.” We all know that. Especially in this day and age of the e-book revolution, what sells well is often something quite different from a great book. Not always of course. But the devil is in the marketing now more than it ever has been. And we, as writers, of course, have to watch that dreaded bottom line. 

We all wear two distinct hats in this industry: the Writer and the Marketer. And most writers really hate that other hat. But without it, not only do we not pay our light bills, but our books languish in obscurity as well. All writers (at least on some level) want to find audiences for their babies. 

As publishing has been turned on its head over the last decade, the mid-list author has virtually disappeared. And with it, advances from traditional publishing houses. Not entirely of course.  Contracts with advances do still exist. But you hear about the big ones because they are of the one-in-a-million variety. Yep, happens. As do auctions. Just not very often, and with huge disparity between best-selling authors and everybody else. For most folks being traditionally published, that $5,000 average advance has gone with the wind. 

The good news about this revolution, however, is that social media has opened a huge door for authors to promote themselves, and many are gaining greatly because of it.  Now rather than going through the traditional gatekeepers, you can put out a book, fashion a savvy marketing plan, and make money, where in past decades that book might have never seen the light of day. And a new mid-list is sort of creating itself, online via e-books. 

As a mid-list author, I’ve had four books traditionally published. All earned-out the advance, and all made some money in later royalties.  The keyword here is “some.”  But the funny thing is, one of those, Five Keys to Understanding Men, which did fairly well when published, has gotten a kick in the butt of late.  The publisher re-issued it last year, along with an e-book version. To my delighted surprise, I’ve been receiving fairly fat royalty checks for over a year now. What fun! And on a book that had been out of print for years

I’m liking this revolution more and more all the time. 

But all of that is the side story. Yes, we have to make some dollars doing this or we might just lose whatever is left of our minds.  But for the artist in us, that’s not why we do what we do.  We do it because we grow somewhat insane if we don’t.  It’s as Rilke asked that young man in Letters to a Young Poet, “This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? . . .  then build your life in accordance with this necessity . . . “ 

And we do.  We fashion our lives so that creativity blossoms, no matter the financial constraints. 

Or, to turn a popular song around a touch:  "You gotta write, like you don’t need the money . . . " 

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Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at: www.maloneeditorial.com

Posted by Maryann Miller, who thinks we actually have three hats, writer, editor and marketer. She likes wearing the first two, the third, not so much.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Show Your Setting through the POV Character’s Eyes - Jodie Renner

Jodie Renner is our guest today sharing some pointers on description.

Fiction writers—one of the fastest ways to bring your story world and characters to life is to portray the setting through the senses, feelings, reactions, and attitude of your protagonist.

Enhancing your fiction by filtering the description of the setting through your viewpoint character’s senses is a concept I instinctively embraced when I first started editing fiction about six years ago. I was editing a contemporary middle-school novel, whose two main characters, a boy and a girl, were both eleven years old (details slightly changed). The author had them describing rooms they entered as if they were interior decorators, complete with words like “exquisite,” “stylish,” “coordinated,” “ornate,” and “delightful.” Then, when they were in the park or the woods playing and exploring with friends, each tree, shrub and flower was accurately named and described in details that were way beyond the average preteen’s knowledge base or interests.

Besides the obvious problem of too much description for this age group (or for any popular novel these days), this authorial, “grownup” way of describing their environment would not only turn off young readers, but also create a distance between any reader and these two modern-day kids. As a reader and editor, I didn’t feel like I was getting to know these kids at all, as I wasn’t seeing their world through their eyes, but directly from the author, who obviously knew her interior design terms and flora and fauna! Through this unchildlike, out-of-character description of their environment, the author puts a barrier between us and the two kids. If we don’t get into their heads and hearts, seeing their world as they see it, how will we get to know them and bond with them, and why will we care what happens to them?

I advise my author clients to not only show us directly what the characters are seeing around them, in their words, but to bring the characters and story to life on the page by evoking all the senses. Tell us what they’re hearing and smelling, too. And touching/feeling – the textures of things, and whether they’re feeling warm or cold, wet or dry. Even the odd taste. And don’t forget mood—how does that setting make them feel? Emotionally uplifted? Fearful? Warm and cozy? Include telling details specific to that place, and have the characters react to their environment, whether it’s shivering from the cold, in awe of a gorgeous sunset, or afraid of the dark. Bring that scene to life through your characters’ reactions.

As Donald Maass says, in Writing the Breakout Novel, “Place presented from an objective or omniscient point of view runs the risk of feeling like boring descriptive. It can be a lump, an impediment to the flow of the narrative.”

He continues, “Do you have plain vanilla description in your current manuscript? Try evoking the description the way it is experienced by a character. Feel a difference? So will your readers.”

James Scott Bell also advises us to “marble” the description of the environment in during the action. “The way to do this is to put the description in the character’s point of view and use the details to add to the mood.”

Jack M. Bickham gets more specific on this: “When you start a scene in which Bob walks into a large room, for example, you do not imagine how the room looks from some god-like authorial stance high above the room, or as a television camera might see it; you see it only as Bob sees it, coming in….”

And include what he’s feeling, hearing, and smelling, too. Filter the scene through his perceptions and feelings. “This leads to reader identification with Bob, which is vital if the reader is to have a sense of focus.”

Fiction writers – what’s your preference? Describe the settings of your story from the author’s (omniscient) point of view, or filtered through the POV character’s perceptions and reactions?
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Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction, as well as YA and historical fiction. Check out Jodie’s website 

Posted by Maryann Miller who agrees that descriptions should come from the character's POV.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

More Eggs, More Baskets - Terry Odell

Please welcome Terry Odell for another interesting and informative guest piece.

I started writing a new book last week. I'd been between projects with other writing-related activities taking up my time. What I didn't realize until I immersed myself in Chapter 1 was that I need to write. It's a stress-release for me. If you're a writer, you write because writing is like breathing. You simply have to do it.

But will it make you rich? If you're looking at the success stories of the few rich and famous authors, you're going to feel like a failure from Day One. There are no overnight success stories. No shortcuts. A writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. And nowadays, when the odds of a new author breaking into the Big Six are getting slimmer and slimmer, and the mid-list authors are going the way of the dodo, I decided to investigate alternate publishing methods.

Yes, I'd heard Joe Konrath preach that e-books were the get-rich-quick scheme of publishing. Two of my publishers focused on e-books, so I was a very early reader of the format. When my publisher remaindered my first Blackthorne, Inc. book, I took it the indie e-book route. I priced it at 99 cents and waited for the money roll in. Only it didn't. Even though I had 5 other books published via more traditional, albeit small presses, I had no track record in the indie market.

But I kept going, adding more books to my list as rights reverted to me. Slowly, I saw royalty checks that were bigger than the ones I'd been getting from my publishers. Mind you, those were so small that "bigger" didn't mean much. I remember rejoicing in my first 3 digit (in front of the decimal point) check.

I watched countless people tout their successes with the Amazon Select program. However, by now, I was selling books at other venues as well as Amazon. I didn't want to risk pulling them and locking them into Amazon only for 90 days. The perk of getting to price books as free didn't make enough sense to me. Most of the stories I'd heard raved about how many copies they gave away, and how high their books moved in the free column at Amazon. But I didn't hear nearly as many stories about how much money they made when they had to move to the for sale side of the business.

My theory, for whatever it's worth, was to make my books available to as many readers as possible, regardless of what kind of an e-reader they had. The fact that I have a NOOK, not a Kindle, played into that decision. Even though the majority of my sales came from Amazon, I wasn't ready to dismiss my other readers.

I took out the occasional ad, played with Facebook and Twitter, but to be honest, those are all crap shoots. Most people don't want to see promotions in the Social Media networks.

Mostly, I kept writing books. I have 8 e-books available now. I bypassed the publisher for my last 3 releases. I've watched my Amazon sales climb each month, so I'm now selling about 80+ books a day there. I don't play with pricing. I don't move books from one venue to another. I find the best promotion is simply keeping one's name visible, and that's a slow process. Just remember: Marathon, not Sprint.

But I broke my own rule last month for a special promotion offered by Barnes &Noble. It was only a 30 day commitment, and only a one-shot deal, unlike Amazon's program. I decided to gamble with my newest release, Saving Scott.

For me, it was a major success. I now have many new readers from Barnes & Noble. I'm selling hundreds of books a day there, where I used to be thrilled with ten. But as soon as my 30 days are up, I'm going to be adding  Saving Scott to all the other e-stores. For me, it's about having lots of baskets, with as many eggs as possible in each one.

If you're interested in my experiences with the NOOK First program you can find them on my own blog in the following posts.

Nook First or Amazon SelectNook First, Week 1:   Nook First, Week 2:  

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Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Her newest indie release, Saving Scott, is part of the Nook First promotion. It will be exclusive at Barnes & Noble for 30 days, but will be available at all other e-book stores the latter part of April.  Her next traditional release is Rooted in Danger, which is book 3 in her Blackthorne, Inc. series. It's available for pre-order. Buy links are HERE. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who agrees that slow and steady wins the race. Wait, isn't that a cliche?
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Monday, April 16, 2012

How to Pay a Ghost

It’s usually the first question I am asked: “How much do you charge?” It is also the hardest question for a ghostwriter to answer.That’s because ghostwriting fees can have an extensive range, depending on a host of factors. Costs are unique to each project. Some of the factors which may determine the price are:
  • the probable length of the manuscript
  • what kind of book it is (memoir, business or financial, technical, scholarly, how-to, children, fiction, and so on)
  • how much, if any, research needs to be done, and what kind of research it is
  • how much, if any, material already exists (such as articles, blog posts, speeches or speaker notes, class notes or scripts, audios and videos, diaries, napkin jottings, etc.)
  • how many interviews with how many people will be needed
  • if there is travel involved
  • if there are tables, graphs, or unusual formatting
  • when the book needs to be finished
    • and many more
      The next most popular question I am asked is whether I will ghostwrite a book in exchange for a share of the sales of the book, or for credit as co-author and a share in the royalties. Usually the people asking this are not writers and are brand new to the “book biz”, so they have unrealistic expectations of what an author may earn in royalties. They also may not know how to market and promote a book and how much time, effort, and expense it takes.

      Some ghostwriters will write “on spec” in exchange for a share in the profits, but many are hesitant to do so. My preference is to work on a work-for-hire basis only, meaning my client pays me a fee (usually a flat fee based on those factors above), and the glory, copyright, royalties and profits belong solely to the author. The reason I am not usually thrilled about royalty-sharing is simply because the financial success of any book, no matter how beautifully written, is heavily dependent upon marketing and promotion – which the author must do. I prefer not to tie my compensation to something over which I have no control. Royalty sharing means the ghostwriter is gambling that we may or may not get paid, and because most books do not make a lot of money, especially those from first-time authors, the odds are quite good that we would not make enough to adequately compensate us for our time and skill.

      I often wish I was wealthy enough to ghostwrite on spec, because I’ve had to turn down some books that would have been fun to write. But I make my living by ghostwriting, and I find it surprising that people would expect me to work for as long as three, six, or even nine months for nothing but hope.

      Of course there are exceptions; for instance, if a prospective client is famous, or their topic is super-hot, or if they already have a to-die-for marketing platform. I might also accept royalty-sharing with a book in the genre of my own books or that match my own particular passions. For instance, because my book Making History is about how to see your own individual life as part of “big” history, I might be interested in co-writing or sharing the royalties in a book about history, historical detection, genealogical research, or other topics that would dovetail with my own book. I might also be interested in royalty sharing in a book about dogs, because my book Dog Park Diary, and a book I’m currently writing, are about dogs. So if a dog trainer wanted me to ghostwrite a book about her new dog training methods, I might be more flexible in how I am paid. Plus, I’d help with the marketing.

      It’s important to remember in choosing a ghostwriter or an editor that the most important factor is not cost. Does the ghostwriter share your vision? Are they excited about the project? Are they knowledgeable about your topic, or if not, are they willing to learn? How good are they at listening to you? Can they ask penetrating questions that draw out your stories? Can they write clear and compelling prose in your voice? Can they be fiercely dedicated to producing an excellent work of art, and yet still be able to recognize that the work is yours and not theirs?

      Money and how it’s paid are negotiable. The answers to the above questions are not.

      ~~~~~~~~
      Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit http://www.primary-sources.com/.
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      Friday, April 13, 2012

      Cues from the Coach: What’s for Dinner?

      Have you ever noticed that writers are often not taken seriously? Like the prophet who gets no respect in his home territory, the writer finds herself (or himself) universally available to family and friends.

      “Mommy, Suzie hit me!”

      “C’mon, Mary, you can work on your book after the kids go to bed. This spring dress sale only lasts eight hours!”

      “Honey, can you bring me a beer? I don’t wanna miss this next play.”

      You know the mentality: Writers don’t work. They play on the computer all day while the laundry piles up and the kids create art masterpieces in the dust on the end table.

      We’ve talked about scheduling, about setting aside time to write, about keeping the creative juices flowing—but the reality is that these things are a lot more difficult than they sound.

      In the fantasy world of the writer, we spew out an endless flow of literary magnificence from 8 to 5, stopping only long enough to fill another cup from the coffeemaker that’s perpetually full and fragrant, grab a scrumptious sandwich that our mate prepared and refrigerated before he left for work, and shoot a quick glance into the kids’ spotless rooms that were tidied before they went to school. The phone doesn’t ring unless it’s our agent calling to tell us that she’s placed yet another of our manuscripts with a New York house, or it’s our accountant to report that the latest royalty check has arrived—and it’s thousands more than we expected. Yeah, right.

      Here’s the reality: The school nurse calls; Johnny’s fever’s 104. Jenny needs a ride to soccer practice, and she’s volunteered Mom to pick up five teammates on the way. Of course, they need a ride home, too, and expect Mom to stay and cheer them to victory. The hubby phones, and buddies from work are coming by for beer and snacks while they watch the game. It’s a juggling act, and somebody just added six extra balls to the ones we must keep in the air. How do we find time to fit writing into our crazy schedules?

      When my younger children and disabled husband lived at home and the teenagers and I cleaned houses to keep a roof over our heads and bread and margarine (couldn’t afford butter) on the table, I didn’t find that time. Since then—with perfect 20/20 hindsight—I’ve realized that my writing skills might have been put to practical use in a number of jobs, which would have set an example for my youngest son, who, even then, was a very talented songwriter. (A piece written in four parts that he composed at age 15 for a high school choir assignment was recorded for him by the Seattle Chamber Choir.) Now in his mid-forties, he’s working on his first album, which could have been out two decades or more ago. Would it have been? I’ll never know. But he learned a great work ethic while he stifled his talent. What’s the point?

      Yesterday’s gone. Tomorrow’s an unknown. We have today to use to the best of our ability. If you can buy out just a few minutes to write or even make notes on what you want to write, it will give you the joy of expression, which also is put on hold when you let everything else crowd out those creative moments. Could you manage ten minutes while the baby’s napping? How about slipping out of bed fifteen minutes earlier or jotting a few notes on a pad while you eat lunch? Whatever your challenges, can you spend a few moments to let the writer in you blossom? Even if you must put handwritten notes in a paper file folder to retrieve at some later time, you will be amazed in the future at your creativity under duress. Take it from someone who’s been there—this is important for you.

      The baby’s still sleeping, and the school bus won’t bring the other children home for half an hour. You sit down at the computer and open the file that contains your most recent endeavor. With your scribbled notes beside you, you immerse yourself in the world you’ve created and mingle lovingly with your characters.

      A sudden sound startles you. The front door opens and closes. A familiar voice calls out.

      “Honey, I got off work early and I’m starving. What’s for dinner?”

      How do you nurture the writer within when your life screams "no way"?

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Retired editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing. With several manuscripts started over the years and then shelved, she's determined to finish each one of them within the next two or three years. Meanwhile, she may take on an occasional editing job or mentor a writer who seeks voice, style, and effectiveness of expression. Visit Linda's website to learn more about her mentoring team. http://www.denvereditor.com.

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      Thursday, April 12, 2012

      Self-Editing

      Some writers love writing. Others love the editing phase of writing. They're probably in the minority. I'm one of those that loves both phases.

      Those days when I seem to channel the character are bliss. I can't seem to type fast enough. I can sit at the computer and write her/his story for hours. If the "voice" in my head falters, I stop and re-read the last few pages and, voila, the character begins to talk to me again.

      When I edit those pages, the process is slower - but just as much fun. I read more slowly, analyzing the words. If a phrase makes me stumble, I tear it apart and figure out what is "off". Is it a particular word? Is the construction awkward? Is it out of place? Does it need to be cut altogether? Is it repetitive? Once I have "perfected" it or even cut it, I move on.

      I try not to edit while I'm in the "flow" of writing. For me, it works to do the writing in two phases. The first is "creative". The second is "critical". If there is a third phase, it's "peace." Peace is reading the passage or manuscript and not making a single note or change.

      What is your method of writing and editing?
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
       Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its thirteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series. Bookmark and Share

      Wednesday, April 11, 2012

      10 Lies You Might Tell Yourself While Editing

      Completing any manuscript is a Herculean task. The icing on the cake (which has somewhat bitter tang) is that you're not done yet. No, not by a long shot. First...you must edit. You must edit with purpose and without emotional attachment.

      But before you head bravely into that good night, lighten your mood with these ten half-truths (lies is such an ugly word) with which I've had more than a nodding acquaintance.  Please note, I am not referring to professional editing, but to the labour of love - I had to say that - that every writer must complete at some point in their manuscript's development. I will admit to trying to sell myself on many of these; I will not admit to my success rate. I will also not admit the number of editing purges, er, passes,  some of my manuscripts have needed. I have enough pain.

      I hope you enjoy these.


      10. The front door changing colour half way through your manuscript is obviously symbolic.

      9.  This same symbolism seems to be at work with the colour of your protagonist's hair. Or she secretly dyed it. More symbolism. You're so literary!

      8. The three afternoons on one Wednesday explains why Wednesday seemed so long when you wrote that earlier draft. Problem solved.

      7. Your protagonist's best friend who you thought was funny and wise, is somehow now coming across as snide and self-absorbed. You've written multi-layered characters. Well done. See #9.

      6. Every character expresses surprise in the same way. You obviously wrote this to demonstrate that we're all the same inside.

      5. The sagging of pace in the middle is compensated by the rushing of the ending. You're good.

      4. You can't have too many "that"s. Or "just"s. Or...

      3. No one will notice the giant plot hole. You didn't notice it when you were writing it.

      2. The extreme coincidence which helps your protagonist leap to the necessary conclusion in order for your plot to wrap up could happen. It could.

                                   It could, it could, it could.

      1. Your next editing pass will be easier.

      ----------------
      Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her latest mystery game,  "A Fatal Fairy Tale" was published in February. Her next game "Curiouser and Curiouser" will be published this month. All her murder mystery games and two plays are available through host-party.comShe has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Her blog, It's A Mystery, explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites




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      Tuesday, April 10, 2012

      Self-Publishing: The Numbers Game

      This post by Scott Nicholson first published on September 16, 2010. What has changed in publishing since he wrote this? Has it gotten any easier? Please leave us your comments!

      Self-publishing as an act of artistic independence, political manifesto, or corporate defiance is all well and good, but most writers have the dream of earning money from their work, if not making a career out of it.

      That’s where it gets scary, no matter which route you take. Industry advances for typical genre books range from $5,000 to $15,000, with more desirable upper-midlist books getting between $20,000 to $50,000. The more you get, the better you do, but after agent cut, income taxes, self-employment taxes, promotional expenses, and health insurance, it’s clearly a struggle even for those edging toward the top.

      Now imagine how hard it is to make that much without a publisher. Making $2 an e-book on Amazon, you’d have to sell 15,000 a year to even dream about doing it full time, living uninsured in a garret somewhere and eating bread crusts. And since many indie writers are selling their books for 99 cents, and making 35 cents per sale, they would need to sell 100,000 copies a year. That’s a lot of readers, and if you could appeal to that many, it’s likely New York would have bought your book in the first place.

      But here’s one great advantage where self-publishing makes financial sense: all your books can be in print and earning you money at the same time, which is rare in the world of major publishing. In fact, New York has a vested interest in making sure your book gets moved to the side to make way for its next bull rush of bestsellers and new product. That's why books are carefully scheduled and why books of equal quality are a coin flip when it comes to acceptance and rejection.

      If you have 10 books out, you only need to sell a few copies a day of each to consider making it a career. You can do that with e-books, but with paper books, you’ll never get the chance, because there’s not enough bookstore shelves in the world to carry books that sell so few copies. It's also a logistical nightmare, and we've reached the point where selling a book in a bookstore is not only the most difficult method possible, it's also the one that earns the writer the least money. If you want to self-publish today, you need to think electronically.

      And you need to forget everything you thought you knew about the publishing industry, because it not only doesn’t apply to you, it is now your competition. You will have many advantages over New York, especially in competing on price and availability. You don’t have to worry about corporate strategy, the stable of writers and editors, the sales staff’s approval, the well-placed chain book buyers’ enthusiasm, or the release schedule of your imprint’s stars. All you have to worry about is reaching your readers.

      One reader, actually.

      And you need to repeat that personal transaction thousands of times.

      Impossible? Nearly.

      Difficult? Yes.

      I know three people who will make six figures off their self-published work this year. One is Joe Konrath, always held up as the exception but he’s only an exception because he quickly figured out every writer is an exception. He had a New York career. The other two writers never published anything until they put up their e-books last year. One had been getting steadily rejected since 2003, and now those same books are about to buy him a house. His name is J.R. Rain and I’m currently writing a book with him that will be out in November, because I’d like to pay off my house, too.

      But I know a lot about indie publishing, sales rankings, and income. Most indie writers are selling one e-book a week, maybe two. Others will sell 10 in a year. Seriously.

      But that part is up to you, and up to your reader. Maybe that one reader will like your work and tell someone else, and you have two readers, and then four, and then thousands.

      It will be no easier to make money self-publishing than it is in traditional publishing. But how much has traditional publishing paid you in the last decade? That’s probably the only question you need to worry about.

      I’d rather have 100 percent of a little bit than zero percent of a theoretical gold mine.

      Remember what I said about your advantages over New York? Now comes the disadvantages, but that's another story. In the next installment, we’ll look at what it takes to get self-published, including finding editors, a print designer, cover artists, and an e-book formatter. Yes, if you do it on your own, you either have to learn all these trades or find good freelancers.

      Difficult? Yes.
      ------------
      Scott Nicholson is an author and brilliant marketing guru. (Okay, I made that up.) You can get his free writing manual Write Good or Die at http://www.hauntedcomputer.com/writegood.htm

      Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
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      Monday, April 9, 2012

      Writing in 140: Situating Oneself in the Publishdom

      In 2005, I interviewed my fave author, Bernice McFadden, at my blog, ChickLitGurrl. She offered three pieces of advice to writers: One, remain true to the story the characters are sharing with you; two, keep in mind that publishing is a business - and that publishers are in business to make money, so decide what you're in it for; and three, develop a thick skin. Seven years later, this advice still stands. Often, we talk about how to strengthen one’s writing and how/where to publish. Just as important as these things is the advice McFadden gives. Today, situate yourself in your literary journey. Are you remaining true to the stories you write? Have you thought about where you want to fit in the Publishdom? Are you standing and walking through the criticism that arises during the journey?

       ~~~~~~~~~~


      Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. Her second mystery, Into the Web, drops April 23. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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      Friday, April 6, 2012

      Busted!—Kelly Simmons Caught Featuring an Emotionally Troubled Character

      In her novel Standing Still, Kelly Simmons writes of a woman who has panic disorder. Contemporary fiction and memoir are full of such emotionally troubled characters, and their story arcs can be most satisfying (brooding, wounded hero, anyone?).

      Yet since the novelist’s primary goal is to entertain and/or enlighten, pitfalls abound in such an arc. You will not want to fray your reader’s nerves with your character’s annoying, repetitive characteristics any more than you’ll want to use your exceptional skills to drown the reader in the biological muck and mire of her troubled realities. To do so would be to invite your reader to set down your book.

      Kelly’s protagonist, Claire, has had experiences that cause her to succumb to the grip of irrational fears. Here are some useful techniques that helped Kelly deftly handle this arc.

      She gives voice to the reader’s concern by allowing another character to express exasperation. After a troubling doctor’s appointment, Claire sits in the parking garage, shaking, holding up traffic behind her. Her toddler provides commentary.
      “Mommy?”
      “What, Jamie?”
      “You’re embarrassing me.”
      Then she allows her character to respond to this pronouncement in a way to which any of us can relate—as a parent:
      “What a big word,” I said. “What a big, grown-up word.”

      She creates psychic distance. This can be tricky to do, especially in first person. But Kelly has given Claire a background in news reporting, and the reader gets the sense that Claire is reporting about herself rather than spitting up emotional bile. Here she investigates sounds in her house:
      …Finally I make out the contours of His face and eyes, human skin among the plush bears and cloth clowns and nylon-lashed dolls that line Jamie’s floor.
      I shake but do not gasp, do not scream. Of course He is there; I expected Him, I heard Him coming for years, each night when Sam left me alone with my obsessions.

      She gives her character a very real adversary to fight. She imbues her foe with archetypal power by capitalizing the pronoun that will be His only name. As His goals become apparent and even relatable, His actions seem no less predictable. What we can’t name or predict seems worthy of our fear as well, a fact that binds the reader to Claire.

      She offers her character redemption. Early. From p. 13, this excerpt from the inciting incident promises that Claire is worth sticking with:
      He moves, but not toward me. Holds a finger to His lips, a warning, and glides soundlessly, on cat burglar feet, to Jamie’s canopy bed.
      “No,” I cry, but it comes out mangled and small. A croak.

      I drop to my knees and utter the only fearless words I have ever spoken:
      “Take me,” I say. “Take me instead.”

      She allows the disorder itself to give us a new way to look at our lives.
      Those are my last words: My purse is in the bedroom. Not “take care of your sisters,” not “I love you.” If He kills me now, that’s the deathbed utterance. Later, I’ll obsess over my bad judgment. Does she even know how to use the cell phone in the zippered pocket? Is “send” one of her spelling words?

      She allows both poignant detail and her sense of humor to shine through.
      I look over my shoulder. Jamie is aglow from the nightlight. My daughter, my beautiful, solemn first girl. The blue scissors sit on her desk with her reading camp homework. She has tears in her eyes, but doesn’t scream, or speak, or follow. My youngest child, Jordan, a small tiger of a girl, might have leapt on His back. My middle daughter, Julia, ever vigilant, the last one to fall asleep, could have split atoms with her scream. It seems He had chosen the right one.

      She moves plot along even during a panic attack. Bound in the backseat of the car, Claire does more than pant and sweat. She frets over how the kidnapper knew her husband was away, in a way that reveals much about her life:
      Couldn’t anyone watching me know? Count cars in the driveway, watch Sam’s golf magazines pile up on the marble counter, see one person picking up twigs after the storm. I had five laundry baskets, six garbage cans, three daughters, two hands. I carried in dry cleaning, rotisserie chicken, and false cheerfulness at dinnertime. I doled out the father tickles the girls needed at night. And I wonder: Couldn’t any thief, kidnapper, or murderer watching me juggle the mail, the groceries, and a briefcase as I wipe the cat’s feet and put juice into sippy cups recognize me as a woman whose husband was gone? That was the kind of zoom-lens the FBI needed: Look, there, go in tight…see that, Lieutenant? That woman is about to detonate all over her recyclables!

      She gives Claire a physical scar that suggests her problem began with a very real trauma—and then delivers on that promise brilliantly near the end of the book.

      She creates symbols that tells us Claire is having an attack so we don’t have to relive the biology of its onset. “The shaking begins again”—we know what that means. Or Claire will employ a therapy technique of grounding herself by pinching skin on the inside of her arm. ’Nuff said.

      Even within her novel’s tight one-week frame, Kelly offers Claire realistic healing. At the end we sense that she is strong enough to face life head-on, despite her imperfections. Isn’t that what we all want?

      Could incorporating a few of these techniques help endear your troubled protagonist to your reader?

      For more about my experience reading Standing Still, read a previous Busted! post here.

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      Kathryn Craft is an author of women's fiction and memoir who specializes in developmental editing at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and editing service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right."


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      Thursday, April 5, 2012

      Hearing Voices: The Whispering Trees

      Oregon Rain Forest Watercolor by Stephen Quiller
      Writers spend enormous amounts of time and imagination creating memorable characters, paying special attention to appearance, habits, speech, and interactions. We try to develop strong and identifiable voices, some so distinct and vital, we don't really need tags to know them in dialogue. There isn't a good writer in the craft who hasn't asked himself the question, "would he really say that?"

      Today, as I was writing a new story, my characters spoke to me in crystal clear voices. There was a reason for it. Morning brought a blissfully calm and quiet winter day, the ground muffled in a heavy blanket of wet, gleaming snow. It was a blessed reprieve after several days of intense lashing winds that kept my muse well tucked away someplace safe, while I grappled with a stabbing inner earache from the wicked drop in barometric pressure. Who could write? The weather was like a demon, and that got me thinking about how "place" and all the elements that create it can become a character in itself when penning a story.

      A good writer builds a deep sense of location into every story. The land, the flora and fauna, the air itself, aren't just props on which to hang a plot. This tangible place, more than just a setting, can become the underlying pulse of your story. Think about books you've read that take you to another land - to ancient Britain, like Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, or novels rooted in the deep South. The setting of the story becomes as palpable as one of the characters. Without the attention to that special "character" the story would be diminished, wouldn't it? We can even convey a a sense of refuge in our place descriptions, or imbue malevolence into our plots, simply by shifting the elements of place and giving it a different voice.

      How do you create a vivid sense of place in your writing? Do you use an actual location as a model to envision your book setting? Or do you create a world from your imagination? Can your reader see, hear, smell, taste, and feel where they are in your imaginary world? Do you ask yourself, "would this really happen here"?

      Share your thoughts and if you can, give an example of an author you think is particularly good at using this writing technique in their novels.

      ~~~~~
      Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, a free-lance writer, developmental editor, professional artist, wannabe gardener (God, can't I just play in the dirt?), and special projects coordinator for Little Pickle Press. You may connect with her at Facebook and at Twitter although she refuses to go online until after lunch.

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      Wednesday, April 4, 2012

      Little Fixes to Improve Your Book

      There are so many little fixes we can do to a manuscript so we don't insult our reader's intelligence. Consider the following:

      "Perfect," he said to himself.  If the character is the only one in the scene it is obvious that he is speaking to himself.

      When you have internal dialogue in italics, then the character says something out loud, what they say is put in quotes, so you don't have to write "he said aloud".

      Instead of writing: She stood up, simply write: She stood. When a person stands, it is always up, unless a drill sergeant says, "Stand down, soldier."

      Could we be a little less awkward? These are examples from published books:

      1. Fred drove down the palm tree-lined street

            Fred drove down a street lined with palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze.

      Not only is the second try at this more visual it gets rid of that awkward punctuation dilemma of where to put the hyphen.

      2. My favorite item on that list: positive attitude: arguably the most important item on the list.

            My favorite item on that list, a positive attitude, was arguably the most important item.

      Again, some weird punctuation that is fixed with this change. Plus, the reader already knows the item is on the list so that last phrase can be cut.

      3. I picked up the glass gratefully, it slipped down easily.

             I picked up the glass, grateful to have another drink to still my pounding heart. The booze slid down easily, maybe too easily.

      The fix gets rid of two clunky adverbs, as well as establishes that the character was not swallowing the glass.

      This I just discovered in my own work and realized that by changing the placement of one word I could make it stronger. First effort:  But she wasn't going to give their baby away. Second effort:  But she wasn't going to give away their baby.

      Give the reader something better than the same old same old.

      Instead of saying a character is nervous, how about something clever like "tense as a second hand jerking its way through time." 

      Instead of writing "Leslie felt a chill invade her stomach." How about, "Leslie's stomach convulsed as if she'd been sucker-punched."

      And to end on a lighter note. This was sent to me by a good friend: No English dictionary has been able to explain the difference between the two words complete and finished, in a way that's easy to understand.

      Some people say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED. I beg to differ because, there is :

      When you marry the right woman, you are "complete".
      And when you marry the wrong one, you are "finished".
      And when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are .... "completely finished".


      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at www.maryannwrites.com Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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      Tuesday, April 3, 2012

      Money, Money, Money - What's Your Answer?

      This month's theme is Making Money From Writing. I'll offer three questions, and it's your job to answer one or more of them in the comment section. If you answer one, you're welcome to expand. If you choose more, please make your answers shorter. Also, provide one website or blog URL, but no more. If you don't have one, you're still welcome to comment.

      Today's Questions And My Answers Are:

      Question:
      Do you have a day job, or do you make a living solely from writing?

      Answer:
      I'm retired, and make more money from Social Security than writing, but I'm working on reversing that trend.

      Question:
      Name one or more ways you've made money from writing, even if it's not a lot.

                                               Answer:
      I did sell books on my Blog Book Tours, most recently the one for my romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. For further details, including topics, dates and links, click here.

      Along with the tour, I've made sales through my personal and group blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
      Question:
      Is giving books away a good way to increase sales?

      Answer:
      I didn't think so when I first learned of Amazon's KDP Select. Since then, I've heard many reports of increased book sales through participation in the program. That leads me to believe there has to be some validity to the method. As soon as my sequel, Blessing or Curse, is ready, I'll put it on Kindle Select. In the meantime, I've contributed to the Corner Cafe, a collaborative anthology, which is scheduled for release around June, with free days planned.

      Your turn. What about you? What's your Answer(s)?
      ----------------------------------------------------------


      Catch Morgan Mandel's romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse on all electronic media, as well as print. Also available find her romantic suspense, Killer Career, her mystery, Two Wrongs, and her romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams.

      Links and Excerpts for all of Morgan's books are at: http://morgansbooklinks.blogspot.com/

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      Monday, April 2, 2012

      Grammar ABCs: J is for Jargon

      Jargon is the special language of each profession, sport or hobby. We can all spout words when talking about our current passion that make another person frown and say, “Huh?”

      When I was a 9-1-1 dispatcher years ago, I learned a completely new language that revolved around numbers. But even that wasn’t necessarily translatable by other law enforcement agencies. For example, in our community the code “211” meant there are no wants or warrants on an individual or license plate. We once received a call from a California agency, wondering how a small town in Montana could have so many armed robberies. Their code “211” meant robbery in progress.

      Jargon is sometimes merely doublespeak, and it is also often responsible for wordy, heavy-handed sentences. When it comes from government or business, we call it “bureaucratese.” It’s almost as if the writer has deliberately ignored every opportunity for clear, concise writing.

      Here’s an example: “The necessity for individuals to become separate entities in their own right may impel children to engage in open rebelliousness again parental authority or against sibling influence, with resultant confusion of those being rebelled against.”

      Huh?

      Rewrite: “Children’s natural desire to become themselves may make them rebel against bewildered parents or siblings.”

      Ah, now I get it!

      Jargon can turn into buzzwords that everybody adopts until they become cliches. These are terms that have spread beyond their original field, and people outside the occupation often use the words imprecisely or pretentiously, for example: downsize, cutting edge, holistic, benchmarking, paradigm, synergy, tipping point, off-shoring, next generation. Here's an amusing article about new terms being introduced in marketing.

      When we are writing our first drafts, we may find ourselves resorting to jargon if we feel we want to sound more important or knowledgeable, especially when we are unsure of the subject or when our thoughts are tangled. But, on the rewrite, make sure to eliminate jargon and strive for clarity.

      Cut all those extraneous words.
      -------------------------
      A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.


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