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Showing posts from February, 2011

Building A Room Of One's Own Though I have never read A Room Of One's Own, something in the very words strikes me as deeply profound. In order for creativity to thrive, there must be time and space for it to grow. Many enter "creative" professions--writers, designers, and illustrators, for instance--with the expectation that their creativity will grow and flourish in others' rooms. It's not so. Writers and designers in the communications and advertising industries--where I work--expend enormous amounts of creativity every day. And we should. We are paid to be creative. The hitch is, we are creating to serve someone else's dream--we are writing in someone else's room, so to speak, and they get to set the house rules. Often, those rules don't make a lot of sense to outsiders. Successful writers (and designers) have to learn how to offer up their best work and most informed opinions--and then smile and make the client's often less-infor

A Writer’s “Defining Moment” Book

What is a “defining moment” book? Well, for me, it is a book that made me think, made me move, made me change something in how I wrote. Most of the stories and books I wrote pre-defining moment book were relationship based, delving on the lives and loves of my characters. If I had to pick a genre, I would say it was women’s fiction with a heavy romantic element. That all changed for me when I read Mary Higgins Clark’s All Around the Town . I was taking a novel writing class as an elective and for the class, we had to select a book we would read and analyze. While we did that, we would write the first three chapters of our own novel in the same genre as the book we selected. I had always loved mystery, thriller, and suspense fiction, but never thought I would or could write it. There’s so much to think about when writing a mystery and making sure the puzzle(s) fit just seemed too daunting. So, as a challenge, I picked AATT , one of the few books from Clark that I hadn’t read.

The First Line Hook

I love to pick up a book and read the first line. Sometimes they really are a “hook,” set to reel me into the story. Writing gurus tell us we need to do that, especially when submitting to agents and publishers, because if they’re not compelled to read beyond the first line, your manuscript will find its way into the rejection file rather quickly. Sometimes they stay with me…for weeks, months, even years. My all-time favorite is “The last camel collapsed at noon” from Ken Follett’s Key to Rebecca . Our writing group once did an exercise using that sentence as their opening line. The results were fascinating. Every story was different. Another one I especially like is “The man with ten minutes to live was laughing.” (Frederick Forsyth) That’s a line that makes you wonder, why is he laughing when he’s about to die? I want to know! And then there is “I stopped shooting people two weeks after I won the Pulitzer Prize” from Dead Sleep , by Greg Iles. Again, makes you think. The writ

Same Word, Different Word

Please welcome our guest, Peggy Herring and have some fun with words. English is rife with words that can easily be confused with other words. For example: There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row. They were too close to the door to close it. The buck does funny things when the does are present. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow. The wind was too strong to wind the sail. After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number. Upon seeing the tear in the painting, I shed a tear. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend? I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt. Our melting pot language keeps growing, and readers must become more and more sophisticated to glean meaning from context. Many words have multiple definitions and even pronunciations. We communicate more and more by impersonal means like texting and email, which don’t allow for helpful cues like facial expression,

Does Your Book Need an Index?

While it may seem that the author of a book would be best at preparing the index, since he or she knows the work most intimately, too often they lack the objectivity of the reader. The role of the indexer is to match the author’s content with the reader’s specific information needs. The indexer visualizes potential readers and anticipates their needs when searching the book. An index is successful only if it is usable. Usable indexes improve the written work and builds reader confidence in the author. The purpose of the index is to save the reader time and energy in their search for relevant information. Rapid information retrieval is critical to the success of a book, manual, database or website. That is not to say the author can never be the indexer. If the author can view their book from the perspective of the reader and understands how to use cross-references to guide the reader through their work, then they may be able to index their own book. An index is not a concordance.

Changing times: Changing book design

I sent a book to print yesterday. I had to prepare six different files with three different sets of printers' specifications and three separate ISBNs and bar codes. Confusing? To say the least. Why? Because the times, they are a-changing in the publishing world. Writers and publishers now have an array of options from which they can choose. The upside to this is that publishing a book is no longer dependent on having a book that can be expected to sell enough copies to justify several thousand dollars in printing and distribution fees. Print on demand services like Lulu and CreateSpace offer writers a cost-effective way of producing books for audiences right down to one person. Kindle, Nook, iPad, and similar technologies offer readers the option of downloading books at steeply discounted prices, and saving trees in the process. If there's a downside to all this, it's that preparing books for print has become far more complex. The book I sent Friday is being produced as

What guilty pleasure powers you through your writing?

Mark Twain is known for his cigar, but also loved biscuits and real butter, buckwheat cakes and thick Porterhouse steaks. Hemingway and Poe are associated with heavy drinking and drugs. I’m sure most of us in this group don’t turn to those mind-altering substances, but how many of you NEED a hit of chocolate to get you through that next paragraph? I like dark chocolate and recently discovered Ghirardelli’s “Sea-Salt Soiree.” Oh my! With that sweet-salty taste combination, I’m fast becoming addicted and undoubtedly need to contact Chocoholics Anonymous. Or maybe you like crunching while you’re creating: potato chips, pretzels, popcorn. In an attempt to eat healthier, I’ve also become addicted to dry-roasted almonds (with grapes. Mm-mm good!) And periodically I’ll go through a baby carrot phase. I know it’s a bad idea to get in the habit of eating at my computer, but sometimes I eat lunch while working or trolling through e-mails. My keyboard doesn’t like that so much. Occasionally

Emerging from the Imagination: Giving Your Characters a Life of their Own

It starts as young children. We have imaginary friends who we talk to and pretend are real. We go on imaginary adventures with them, we make up families for them, and we imagine where they go when they are not with us. This can be the birth of an author. We may not be aware of what we are doing at such a young age, but we are creating characters. Imaginary people who become real enough to us that we talk to them…and they talk to us. I recently posed a question to some authors asking them what was the funniest thing one of their characters had ever said to them was and the response was amazing! Our characters have minds of their own in our minds. They compliment, they insult, and they even refuse to do something we have written for them. The power of imagination is an amazing thing to behold. Have you ever listened to a child have a conversation with someone who is not there? Not only does their voice change, but their whole demeanor can change as well…the way the hold their body, the

The Care And Feeding of a Writer - Perseverance

Christine Fonseca first shared these tips on her blog and was kind enough to agree to visit us as a guest today. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Pulling Yourself Back From the Cliff As writers, we’ve all been there – ready to throw in the towel and send our laptops flying. Maybe it’s the rejections inherent in any creative endeavor. Or maybe it’s the writer’s block that seems to have overtaken every writing moment. Whatever the reason, we have all found ourselves on the cliff ready to jump off. So, what’s a writer to do? Having faced my share of cliffs in my career, here are some of my tips for backing away from the edge: •    Answer this question - Are You a Writer? This is a critical first step. I not asking “Are you published?” or “Are you good enough?” I’m asking whether or not you’re a writer at all. Do you see the world as a series of scenes? Do you look at people in terms of their character traits? Do you remember good lines and think “I really need to use this in a story

Survive Your Writing or Editing Career

As a full-time freelance manuscript editor, I do all of my editing on-screen and online, using Microsoft Word Track Changes, so I’m sitting at the computer all day, editing and sending and receiving documents, with comments, by email. I have a PC, a laptop, and, for the past year, a smaller Netbook. I like to travel, so use the laptop or Netbook when I’m away. For the last year, I’ve been taking my Netbook for plane trips, as it’s light and compact for my carry-on, and small enough to fit on the airplane’s flip-down tray, with room for my cordless mouse and a cup of coffee or tea. But I notice when I’ve been using this smaller notebook-type computer for hours that my shoulders, back and arms become tense from hunching over, my fingers ache from the small keyboard, and my eyes get sore from squinting at the small screen. Retail $39.99 When I’m at home, I stay away from my laptop or Netbook and stick with my large-screen monitor, my curved ergonomic keyboard with padding at the fr

I've Got My Eye on You

Staring at that screen? Do you remember the last time you looked away? How about the last time you blinked? Screen work is now one of the leading causes of dry eyes, which can lead to other eye-health problems such as eye inflammation and blurred vision, and leaving your eyes more susceptible to infection. It can also train your eyes to optimise for short distance viewing, which can compromise your distance vision. Time Out for Some Eye Exercises Turn away from the monitor. Focus on something in the middle distance. With your head still, move your eyes up and down and side to side, making sure that you move your eye as far as you can comfortably go towards the periphery of your eye socket without actually closing your eyes. Now do this exercise diagonally: look to the top left and slide your eyes down to the bottom right and back to the top left, and then look across to the top right and slide your eyes down to the bottom left and back to the top right. Now draw a slow large ci

Giving Love to Writers' Hands

As part of the new Blood-Red Pencil feature, The Care and Feeding of the Writer , I wanted to celebrate Valentine's Day by giving love to the busy little worker bees in the writer's arsenal: the hands. As a writer, I spend ungodly amounts of time on my computer and needless to say, my tendinitis is none too happy with me for it. Even if you don't have tendinitis or Carpel Tunnel, from time to time, all writers will get the cramping in their hands or pains that keep them from writing. Because our hands work so tirelessly for us, we ought to dedicate part of our VDay to saying thank you and letting them know just how much they are loved. Below are a few things you can pick up to help in easing hand pain. Of course, if the pain is persistent, then you should contact a doctor and be examined; however, even then, these products can only help alleviate the pain. HAND MASSAGE Now, you can go somewhere and have a full body massage and tell them to pay extra attention on

It's All in the Wrists

I recently had writer’s block for the first time in decades. It was perpetrated by sore hands and wrists, so bad that I was waking up in tears during the night.  Just the idea of writing left me staring at a blank page. Osteoarthritis and rheumatism runs in my family, so this experience had me more than a little concerned, especially since I already follow a healthy diet and exercise lifestyle.  How would I find even more healthy options, and especially relief from the pain? Painkillers will be my last choice of remedy. I also don’t want to step away from the computer too often, as Helen suggested in her recent post , though that is a good way to get back into typing shape. But weeks at a time can be tough on the pocketbook. I quickly found the fastest and easiest relief came from heat, especially hot water soaks. My husband was really quite thrilled that I’d taken over doing all the dishes last month! Epsom salt soaks and soothing capcaisin cream (red pepper) also aided trem

Deep Point of View or How to Avoid Head-Hopping

I’ve been editing fiction for years, and the most difficult concept for many of my author clients is to portray their story world mainly through the point of view of the main character(s), rather than hovering above them, and to stick to one point of view per scene or chapter instead of jumping back and forth from one character’s viewpoint to another’s (head-hopping). Point of view (or POV) simply refers to the character through whose perspective the story events are told. We see, hear, smell, feel, and experience events as that character would – with no additional information provided “from above” by the author. This helps your readers identify with the viewpoint character and get immersed in their world. A hundred years ago, novels were often told from a distant authorial point of view, hovering over everything. That omniscient point of view is no longer popular today, and for good reason. Readers want to experience the events of the story vicariously through the viewpoint charac

Step Away from the Computer

This February here on The Blood-Red Pencil we’re celebrating a month of The Care and Feeding of the Writer . Okay, actually it’s supposed to be the second half of the month, but since I only post in the first half I thought I’d get in my two cents. I looked at this topic from two viewpoints. The first is from the writer’s POV. We tend to sit our behinds in a chair and work. And work and work. We type furiously, sometimes literally. Sometimes we only have twenty minutes or maybe an hour or two. Some of us may have all day. Doesn’t matter. We sit and we type, getting up only to fix lunch, which we bring it to our desk and eat in-between typing. We breathe stale air (there is no time to go outside) and hear only the coded ring that alerts us a child is calling (husbands know better). As one writer to another, I beseech you: Step Away from the Computer. Sit down at the table or outside on the porch to have lunch. Spend five minutes relaxing on the couch, lost in thoughts not related

10 Tips to Ensure a Productive Writing Day

Are you ready? Really ready? Here's a checklist to help your writing day go swimmingly. 10. Disconnect your computer from the internet. NO! Not now! Wait until you've finished reading this post! And maybe a few other blogs...and checked your email...and... 9. Know the location of the sugary snacks. Check to make sure they're still there. Knowledge is power. 8. Have a vague idea of what you're going to write. This is no guarantee that you will write what you expect. 7. Wander around the room flexing your fingers and muttering encouragement. The yelp you just heard was caused by, in your daze of self-glorification, your treading upon your pet's tail. Crouch down, apologise and try to ignore the thump of pet-guilt that just wrapped its legs around your shoulders. 6. Go get a sugary snack. Wash your hands afterwards. Chocolate fingerprints tend to make seeing the letters on your keyboard a challenge. 5. Ignore the baleful stare emanating from your pet. Real

Please Leave A Tip On The Blood Red Pencil

Are you a Tuesday morning quarterback? Could you have executed some great Super Bowl plays, if only you'd had the chance? You may not have been able to share your expertise there in the football arena, but you're more than welcome to do so here. I invite you today to Leave A Tip On The Blood Red Pencil. It can be any helpful tidbit you've picked up about writing. Even if you're a beginner, but have learned something useful, please feel free to share. Also, if you absolutely love a tip someone else has already mentioned here, by all means feel free to agree. A tip's popularity is usually a good indication of its effectiveness. Here's my two-part tip: Use shorter sentences to pick up the pace. Use longer sentences to slow it down. Your turn. Our comment section is open. Be sure to leave your name, along with your website or blog link. Also, if you wish to do so, please tell us where you've heard of us. -----------------------------------------


I have never written a book that I didn’t get bored with somewhere in the middle. I think this happens to many writers. The excitement of a new project has worn off, the end is a long way away, and you have read, re-read, thought, and re-thought so much about it that if you weren’t bored there would be something wrong with you. In the past, when this happened as I was writing my own “stuff”, I would often take a break. (To be honest, sometimes I still do.) I’d put whatever I was bored with away, and start something else – something shiny, exciting, and new. The downside to this is that I might never come back to it, or come back years later, when the momentum had to be built up all over again – and guess what, another spate of boredom would ensue in the middle, so I had really gained nothing. Yet another downside is that I always had a niggling in the back of my mind that a story wasn’t being told, that should be. In fact, I can’t think of many upsides to taking a break, except

Busted! Anna Quindlen caught with no inciting incident

As a developmental editor beginning a new manuscript, I am always on the lookout for the inciting incident. This is the story event that tips the protagonist out of the everyday world and into the specific arc of the story. Among other things, an inciting incident can: Establish genre (murder mysteries and romance stories, for example, kick off quite differently) Suggest what kind of story this will be (tragic, comic, inspirational, etc.) Apply dramatic imperative (the character better undertake the story, or else…) Create crucible of story (a time element that ratchets up tension) Define the protagonist’s goal (the desire that will compel the character to undertake the journey) Perhaps define the antagonist’s goal Raise a story question strong enough to keep the reader turning pages With all that potency, the inciting incident is the cornerstone of story structure. Experienced storytellers build from it; rookie authors trip over it and send their stories in any number of un