"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I’ve Learned on the Freeway of Mediocre Success ...or... How I Survived the Wild Switchbacks Without Tearing Out All My Hair

I am sitting here Christmas Eve day, pencil in hand, writing this blog. No kids, no blaring music, no Christmas reruns. The tranquil silence is broken only by the ticking of a clock. Outside, all is white. An occasional snow flake angles down to earth. Ah, such peaceful solace....

Why the pencil? And why the silence?

Because the blasted electricity is off, that’s why! Plus my computer blacked out on me. So it’s back to my humble beginnings. I had written my first book with pencil and paper, deliriously ignorant of all the mistakes I’d made. Since then the more knowledge I gained, the more I realized that it would be the last time I’d write with pure abandonment.

For my second attempt I started writing on a manual typewriter, the contrivance of choice, to pound out my stirring prose. Oh, I remember the bottles of whiteout I drained trying to fix typos, and the slightly skewed alphabetic characters after re-adjusting the paper and retyping the letters.

Then came the electric typewriter. Wonderful gadget! And much nicer to use. All one had to do to return the carriage was to push a button. No more of that manual stuff. However, I swear I still bought enough whiteout to gain controlling interest in the company. Maybe it would help to know how to type.

Next came a new invention called the personal computer. More and more of my fellow writers bought one and dove right in, composing their books on odd-named brands. I, on the other hand, waited almost three months before gathering the courage to type on my new Kaypro instead of using it as a glorified flower stand. What if I hit the wrong key and lost something important?

But one significant factor hit home. No more cockeyed symbols or having to use whiteout!

Buckling down, I faced the screen and typed. By evening, I had written the first chapter of what was to become my second published book. When I started to shut off the computer, I lost it all. Frantic I called my salesman, and he helped me restore my document. Right off I learned not to pass out in such situations. Most of the time, all is not lost.

Now, we writers are laboring in a whole new field where it’s even easier to write the book of our dreams using built-in spell check, thesaurus, and a dictionary. And let’s not forget the Internet, be it for good or bad. Many of us began our careers on antiquated machines. (Anyone can view these items at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.) We weren’t born with a silver computer chip in our mouths like the younger generation. Even self-promotion has changed and is made easier by Cyberspace. That is, for someone who knows how to build web and blog sites.

Both projects are daunting to those of us who cut their writing teeth on typewriter keys. But to be successful, do it we must. Then there’s e-mail lists and electronic newsletters. Phew! When would a person find time to write?

What comes after you sold your book? Advance buzz.

If you publicized your novel as it is released, you’re too late! I learned an author should start online promotion at least six months before publication. I didn’t have this tool with my books.

The Internet and modern technology have opened new pathways not only for promotions, but for reaching out to readers and networking. When you post to loops or groups, think before you write. Or you might regret it later. The Net is not the venue for trash-talking peers or dishing editors or agents.

Nothing you vent or complain about is sacred, and CAN get out. There are authors who still do this after being warned against it.

I also learned we authors should periodically Google ourselves to see what pops up. Others might attribute comments to us we did not say, or something we did not do. On a whim, I Googled. A name came up along with mine, and I was flabbergasted!

Seems a famous model is on the cover of my first book. Hard to believe, I went to his official fan club site, clicked on book covers,(page 4)scrolled down, and there on the bottom row, third from the left is a picture of my book, TENDER DECEPTIONS, featuring Fabio. What I could have done, promotion wise, with that knowledge if I had known. I could have joked about it when I was on an ABC morning show. Darn!

So, in the end it all boils down to one question...does anyone want to buy a case of whiteout, cheap?

--Sherry Roseberry
Sherry Roseberry won Idaho Writer of the Year with her first novel. Besides her historicals, she's the author of four plays, short stories, and articles. A dedicated thespian, she's given workshops on using acting techniques in writing at local, regional, and national conferences of Romance Writers of America. Her lifelong dream came true when she had the opportunity to appear in the movie, HANDCART. The experience was glorious even though the winter scenes were filmed in (average) 20-degree weather. Writing is in her blood, but her greatest treasures are her five children and nineteen grandchildren.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dreaded Critique

If you are lucky enough to belong to a writer’s group, you are no doubt familiar with the critique process. The critique offers the author an early impression of their work and ideas for improvement before it finds its way to a persnickety editor. However, submitting your work in person to a group is like baring your soul, taking the risk of being made painfully aware of your creative shortcomings. But the critique need not be a dreadful experience if a few simple rules are observed by the reviewers and the author.

First, before submitting your pride and joy to the group, be sure it is well polished and edited. No first drafts please. On occasion the author may seek comments on a synopsis to flush out plot problems, or may ask for brainstorming on ideas for plot improvement.

The critique should overlook trivial problems with grammar and punctuation, but rather view the bigger picture, offering help on plot inconsistencies, poor dialogue, factual problems, shifty point of view, loose ends and the story killers of too much passivity and “telling” not “showing.”

To start the process, the author may provide a short background on the piece being presented along with suggestions on areas where they wish the group to focus. The author should read (or have a colleague read) their text out loud without interruption. A maximum of five pages is suggested. Handouts are ok, as long as reviewers can resist using the text for line by line editing.

After the reading, comments should start with a person next to the author and proceed around the group in order. Each reviewer should offer positive comments, followed by a single, constructive thought, the most important of his/her observations, and one not noted by a previous person. Less critical points and grammar/spelling/punctuation issues can be passed on to the author afterward, perhaps jotted down on the handout.

During the critique, the author should absorb the comments without argument or explanation, but instead listen, take notes and ask questions for clarification. Later, locked in his/her lonely garret, the author should decide what to do with the feedback, remembering that the story is his/her own, and not all comments are going to necessarily improve the work.

--Richard Earl Rice

Richard grew up in Southern California and received his BS and MS degrees in Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. In an exciting three-decade technical career, he was involved in NASA’s space program and in nuclear energy and novel energy production research for the Energy Department. He traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia, presenting the results of his work and collaborating with other research institutions. Richard began writing as a teenager, covering high school sports for the local newspaper. He continued writing throughout his career, producing a number of technical papers, articles and reports. He recently decided to end his engineering career and write full time. Since then, he has produced two novels and has started his third. He has also written several short stories, two of which were accepted by the Idaho Magazine. Richard lives with his family on the Snake River in Southeastern Idaho.