Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Marabella - Discovering Magics (part 3)

This is the third and final installment of the prologue to MARABELLA - DISCOVERING MAGICS, along with my critique. To sum up, in the first part Geremiah has just given his young son a gift to hold on to and keep safe, they're on a ferry, and there's a storm brewing. In part two the storm gets worse, and one of the ropes breaks. Geremiah empties a barrel of its contents...

“Wesley” was all Anton said.  Geremiah grabbed for the child as the ferry rocked and spun out of control.  Still clutching the saddlebag, Wesley stared bewildered into the big man’s kind face.  Geremiah slipped his knife into the bag Wesley held and lifted the tiny boy into the barrel.  Anton yelled over the din of screams and cries of the passengers scrambling to cling to the out of control ferry, “Don’t fear my son.  Be brave.” Together the men pounded the lid back on the barrel.  “Always take care of your mother” Anton continued.  “Don’t be afraid!”  Steadying themselves and pausing for just the right moment, Anton and Geremiah heaved the barrel with tremendous force toward the north shore.   Geremiah held his hand aloft as if willing the barrel toward the land. “Drifan.” His whisper was lost in the gale.  The tiny barrel and its precious contents sailed northward over the turbulent waves.
The current smacked the ferry again and a torrent of icy water washed over, (I forget what the rule is but I know you need a comma before the majority of these types of sentences – any readers out there who know this grammar rule?) taking several more passengers with it.  Anton made a grab for Broxton but the old man’s arm slid through his wet hands and he was dragged over the side.  “The rocks!” someone shouted.  Geremiah grasped Benji around the waist just as the ferry was jolted, smashing into the first of the boulders jutting from the frigid swells. Geremiah’s broad back crashed through the railing and both went over into the cold gray surge.  The remnants of the ferry spun again exploding into splinters on the rocks.   
Shouts of alarm sounded on the shore but already little was left, save debris swirling in the current and drifting toward the land; a plank of wood, a straw hat with pink ribbons, a small flour barrel bouncing off the rocks along the bank and several lifeless bodies. 
            This tragedy would hang over the village for many years.  But life went on and the seasons turned and turned and turned again. (I’d consider losing these two last sentences. The prologue reads stronger without them and that last image: “…a small flour barrel bouncing off the rocks along the bank and several lifeless bodies.” is far more powerful than a banal comment about how life goes on the seasons pass, don’t you think?)

My first thought is that this is a pretty darn good beginning. There are a number of elements within this prologue that could be expanded upon in the first chapter. The boy, Wesley, the gift for his mother he's supposed to keep safe, another survivor perhaps...that's the fun of prologues. How do they tie in to the rest of the story? That said, I’d suggest thinking long and hard about whether this information – the tragedy – can be imparted elsewhere, because prologues can be a very difficult sell to agents and editors. I happen to like a good prologue, but I think I’m in the minority. Anyway. If you decide to keep it, I would suggest remaining a more distant narrator and lose the description of Geremiah; it isn’t important to know whether he’s good looking. What’s important is what’s happening: the ferry is going to go down and Geremiah has to save his son and the gift – a ring – to “my lady, Mara.” The other option is to see if the information about the tragedy can be imparted another way, either through dialogue,  a history lesson, research, family tales, dreams...whatever. The important thing is that if you're going to have a prologue, you have to make it indispensable to the story.

Readers, what do you think?

Oh! To see more of this story, come back on Monday when CD will be critiquing the first chapter. I know I'll be here!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Marabella - Discovering Magics (part 2)

This is the second installment of the prologue to MARABELLA - DISCOVERING MAGICS, along with my critique. Read the first part here. To sum up, Geremiah has just given his young son a gift to hold on to and keep safe, they're on a ferry, and there's a storm brewing...

 Anton guided the boys to Broxton, an elderly tailor from the village.  He looked again to the north shore.  The ferry was creeping along at a snail’s pace.  The wind seemed to (either it did bear down or it didn’t – I’m guilty of this one, too…) bear down, pulling and grasping at the boxy craft.  The current pounded the creaking wood and the blackening sky looked as if it might open up at any moment with a deluge.  Geremiah and another man were already tossing bags of seed into the now raging river.  “Better my seed-corn than my family” grunted the farmer glancing back at his worried wife and two young daughters. He had to shout over the roar of the ever increasing gale. The huddled passengers were mostly silent except for murmurs of concern and a few fitful children.  They all tried to ignore the chilly water washing over their feet when the waves broke over the sides.  Now near the middle of the river, the current beat the ferry and it shook more violently as it inched along. (This is good, too, lots of active verbs like pounded, roar, broke, beat, shook.)
Anton helped Geremiah as he strained against a large beer barrel.  (Don't forget to get rid of these extra spaces between sentences.) A stonemason by trade, Anton was tall and lean with corded muscular arms. His seemingly thin frame hid great strength.   Putting their backs against it, the two shoved the huge barrel overboard.  The rain began coming down in fat frigid drops but they continued, throwing barrels of whiskey and flour.  The storm gained momentum. The wind howled like an angry beast attacking its prey.  The gray waters pummeled the ferry.  The terrified passengers clung to one another and clutched their belongings as if to protect them from the river's icy grasp.
            Suddenly, the ropes propelling the ferry along groaned against the pull of the chilly waters and snapped, taking one of the ferrymen with them into the swirling current. His body was sucked under the turbulent waters before he could cry out.  The ferry bobbed dangerously and began to spin downriver. Women and children began to scream as water poured over the side.  The timbers holding the rope mechanism splintered and ripped free, falling into the water dragging with it, the farmer and his entire family. His yellow-haired daughters were both entangled in the thick ropes still clutching their new straw hats with pink ribbons.  Amid the chaos, Geremiah pried the lid off of a small flour barrel with his hunting knife and quickly dumped its’ contents.  A knowing look passed between the two friends. (Excellent - great compelling description of this unfolding disaster with more active verbs. Nice!)

Readers, your thoughts? 
Tomorrow I will have the third and final installment of this prologue, along with my final comments. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Marabella - Discovering Magics

Hallelujah! Someone finally sent me something to critique, and not just a first chapter, a prologue, too! So, without further ado, here is the prologue to MARABELLA _ DISCOVERING MAGICS:


            The clouds hung low and ominous in the East.  Dark and angry, a grim line pushed its way closer and closer, threatening violence. As the first faint rumble of thunder was heard, two strong men helped the last farmer board the overloaded ferry.  “This doesn’t look good,” commented Geremiah as he surveyed the choppy waves on the river.
            His companion eyed the sky. “Aye.” Said Anton.  “The wind is already picking up.”  (I would start a new paragraph here)The ferry was a simple craft of thick, sturdy wood planks sealed all around with pitch.  It was a long box sitting atop the water.  There was a pulley mechanism midway of the ferry where a rope, thick as a man's arm, wound around and was pulled by the ferrymen to propel the boat along from shore to shore.   
            Geremiah helped the ferrymen push off from the dock, then stood facing the cold spray coming off the water. River and sky were both the same flat gray color.  He adjusted the saddlebag on his shoulder.  He was a big man clad in the heavy boots and leather breeches of a woodsman.  His thick coat was fastened against late winters’ chill and stretched tight across his broad shoulders. Despite his rough attire, Geremiah was exceptionally handsome.(this seems an odd statement, only because, lots of rough looking guys are handsome…just sayin…) A close- cropped beard covered his strong jaw and squared chin.  His shaggy chestnut hair reached just below his upturned collar. He had a very expressive mouth (usually prone to smiling) and captivating green eyes.   Today there was no smile.   (too many spaces after the period. One space is standard) He chewed his bottom lip, staring anxiously over the waves. (I’m not sure about this description. It feels off, and very cliché. I wonder if it might be better to give us one or two attributes and let our imagination do the rest. In fact, you could just go with the first 5 sentences. Just a thought...)
            The rope creaked and the ferry shuddered as the force of the river’s current buffeted the craft.  They were hanging low in the water due to all the extra weight of passengers and cargo trying to make the last ferry of the season. Most days it carried ten to fifteen men and their cargo, sometimes as much as twenty-five. Today there were forty souls, counting children and cargo aplenty.  Anton saw the tension in Geremiah’s clenched jaw.(I’m beginning to think this little ferry ride isn’t going to end well. Great foreboding atmosphere/description.)   
            The clouds moved in and the sky darkened. Flashes of lightening illuminated the swirling clouds and the rumbling increased.  The ferry shuddered again.  (I think you need to start a new paragraph here at the beginning of this dialogue - any dialogue really.)“We’re too heavy.” Anton’s voice was filled with dread.  He clutched his tiny son Wesley, barely five seasons old, and his nephew Benji tightly to his sides, his eyes glued on the north shore, so far away.  The distance, an easy stroll on land, seemed a mighty journey across the menacing waves. (another nice description)
            Geremiah laid a hand on Anton’s shoulder.  “We’ve got to lighten this load.”  Kneeling down, he faced skinny little Wesley and handed him his saddlebag.  “Hold tight to this for me, little man.  I’ve something very special in there to give my lady, Mara.”
            Wesley smiled and reached for the bag.  “The ring?” he whispered, leaning toward his father’s friend. 
            “Yes, the ring, very important.  I’m trusting you with this solemn task. Hold tight,” He touched the bag. “to my most precious things.”  The big man stared into the child’s eyes, then winked and smiled with his crooked grin. 
                        “I promise.” The boy smiled back, hugging the bag.


Readers, what do you think of the first part of this prologue? Any comments or suggestions?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book I can't forget

Do you ever think about certain books long after you've read them? I'm sure you do; I think everyone who loves books has a few they continue to admire. Here are few of books I continue to think about:

The Hunger Games; specifically, the way Collins had me thinking I knew who Katniss was going to choose in the end (when really, I should've guessed) and the end when the cat shows up again. That about did me in. I wasn't expecting to love this series after all the hype, but I did.

The Night Circus; this is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read and I am so envious of the magical way the author managed to convey the extraordinary. If I could write like this...*sigh*

White Cat; What a fabulous concept: Curse Workers! I grabbed it on a whim out of my library, expecting to maybe like the book, and I ended up adoring it to pieces. Cassel is one of my most favorite characters (reminds me a little of Artemis Fowl grown up) and I loved his plan to con the conmen ;)

The Graveyard Book; God, I loved this book and I hated that it ended. I wanted another chapter or ten, or better yet, a whole new book about Bod and his graveyard friends.

The Commonwealth Saga: Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained; because I love scifi and this is one I've read more than a few times. It's almost like LOTR. Every so often I need to go on a grand adventure and sometimes the far flung future is exactly where I want to go.

What books do you keep thinking about?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

This week at UB...

This week I would love to critique someone's first page or first chapter. Get it to me fast here: marcy@tidewater.net. If I don't receive any submissions then this week will be a surprise...maybe I'll talk about some books I've read that I loved, or something I've learned, or...I don't know, the cool moth I saw on my porch (and yes, I did take a picture). Regardless, I'll have something for you tomorrow. Enjoy your Sunday :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Author Interview—Ilima Todd

So excited to have author Ilima Todd with us today! Ilima's debut novel, Remake, will hit stores October 14th. Here's a little more about Ilima and her amazing novel...

Author Bio:

Ilima Todd was born and raised on the north shore of Oahu and currently resides in the Rocky Mountains. She never wanted to be a writer even though she loves books and reading. She earned a degree in physics instead. But the characters in her head refused to be ignored, and now she spends her time writing science fiction for teens. When she is not writing, Ilima loves to spend time with her husband and four children.

Book blurb:

Imagine a future without family...

Nine is the ninth female born in her batch of ten females and ten males. By design, her life in Freedom Province is without complications or consequences. However, such freedom comes with a price. The Prime Maker is determined to keep that price a secret from the new batches of citizens that are born, nurtured, and raised androgynously.

But Nine isn't like every other batcher. She harbors indecision and worries about her upcoming Remake Day—her seventeenth birthday, the age when batchers fly to the Remake facility and have the freedom to choose who and what they'll be.

When Nine discovers the truth about life outside of Freedom Province, including the secret plan of the Prime Maker, she is pulled between two worlds and two lives. Her decisions will test her courage, her heart, and her beliefs. Who can she trust? Who does she love? And most importantly, who will she decide to be?

Find Remake on Goodreads here.
Pre-order Remake here.


I absolutely love the premise for Remake. Can you tell us what inspired the novel?

My family means a lot to me, and I wanted to write a book about the importance of families and the role they play in our lives. So I basically imagined what the world would be like without them. Nine’s story is about courage and choice and what it means to be free, but at its core it’s really about family.

As a mother of four children, when do you find the time to write?

Good question. It’s an ongoing battle. I homeschool two of my children, so my time is severely lacking. I *try* to write during the day, but to be honest I get most of my writing in late at night when everyone is asleep. Diet coke is my friend.

What has been the most surprising thing about publishing your book?

The publishing industry is sloooow. Very slow. Writers must be extremely patient people. Either that or completely bullheaded. :) One nice surprise, though, is how supportive the writing community is. Writers are always willing to help each other out and lend support where needed, no matter where you are in the publishing journey.

What authors/books have most influenced your writing?

I had to read A Wrinkle In Time in the fourth grade and was blown away that a book—for a school assignment no less—could be so cool. That book started my love of reading, but it wasn’t until I read a certain sparkly vampire series *ducks tomatoes* that I considered giving writing a try. I thought…if that stay-at-home mommy writer can do it, why not me?

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I can sing the ABC song backwards like a boss.

If your house was burning down, what would you take and why? (other than your family)

My laptop, of course. I couldn’t bear it if my fictional characters perished in flames. :)

If a genie granted you three wishes, what would they be? (And no, you can’t ask for more wishes)

Ha. That I could eat all I want and not gain a pound. That I could write a book and get it right that first draft. And that I could become invisible at will…can you say running around naked without a care? Lol.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Fake people. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. If I’m sad or happy or upset…you know it. Not that I think it’s okay to be rude or mean. Being kind and considerate is wonderful, and I expect most of us to behave as such most of the time. But the whole fake-overly-cheery thing people do that is completely not genuine? *shudders*

Thank you, Ilima! It was so great having you on Unicorn Bell today. Can't wait until Remake comes out! 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Author Interview—Liesl Shurtliff

Today we have author Liesl Shurtliff with us to talk about her middle-grade novel, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. But first, let's learn a little bit more about Liesl and the premise of her award-winning novel.

About the Author:

Liesl Shurtliff was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the mountains for her playground. Just like Rump, Liesl was shy about her name, growing up. Not only did it rhyme with weasel, she could never find it on any of those personalized key chains in gift shops. But over the years she’s grown to love having an unusual name—and today she wouldn’t change it for the world!

Before she became a writer, Liesl graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in music, dance, and theater. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and three young children, where she still dreams of the mountains.

In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke.
Rump has never known his full name—his mother died before she could tell him. So all his life he’s been teased for his half-a-name. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. For Rump discovers he can spin straw into gold. Magical gold.

His best friend Red warns him that magic is dangerous—and she’s right! That gold is worth its weight in trouble. And with each thread he spins, Rump weaves himself deeper into a curse.

There’s only one way to break the spell: Rump must go on a quest to find his true name, along the way defending himself against pixies, trolls, poison apples, and one beautiful but vile-mannered queen. The odds aren’t great for a small boy in a land full of fairytale bullies, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—Rump just might triumph in the end.


My boys loved Rump. What was your inspiration for the book?

Yay! I’m so glad they loved it.

Fairytales and names were my primary inspirations for Rump. I was actually brainstorming another fairytale idea when I thought it would be cool to create a world where a name determines your destiny. I instantly thought of Rumpelstiltskin, since his name is key to the tale, but it’s also very mysterious. We know almost nothing about Rumpelstiltskin, and even though he ultimately rescues the miller’s daughter, he is the villain because he wanted her baby. So I suppose my biggest inspiration was my desire to do justice to Rumpelstiltskin. Things really took off when I decided to call him Rump.

Do you outline or “fly by the seat of your pants”?

I do a little of both. I do a fair amount of pre-writing, which I think is quite different from outlining. I develop a few main characters, sketch their strengths, weaknesses, and their motivations that will influence the forward movement of the story. I spend some time developing the fantasy world, topography, creatures, and the rules of magic. Fleshing out some of these details helps me begin.

As far as plot goes, I usually have a vague idea of beginning, middle, and end, but most of it I can’t plan or even know until I’m there in the moment, so I just have to go off into the wild and discover a lot along the way. It can be a little unnerving, but as E.L. Doctorow said, “You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on the third fairytale in this series, RED: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, which features the same Red in RUMP. I’m nearly done with a first draft and I’m so, so excited about this one. I had a few false starts and failures with her story, but once I found the right thread it came together almost faster than I could write.

What bit of advice can you give to aspiring authors?

Craft is key. There’s simply no substitute for a solid story and great writing and the bulk of your time is best spent on honing your craft. At the same time, there’s a business side to all this that can’t be ignored, and sometimes the difference between failure and success isn’t about talent, but simply industry knowledge. If publishing and selling your work to an audience is your goal, spend some time researching the industry. It’s a very quirky business with lots of different paths, none of them necessarily better than any other. Do your homework. Learn the pros and cons of all your options. Decide what’s best for you and then go for it! There’s a place for your story in the world.

In Rump, we see an underlying theme regarding the name we’ve been given and how it can define us. If you could have picked your own name, what would it be?

I actually really like my name (though I didn’t always) but if I could have any other name, I think I’d choose Red. It’s short, simple, and bold and I wouldn’t have to spell it for anyone. (Oh, the luxury!)

What is something you have that is of sentimental value?

Wow, this almost stumped me. I am not very sentimental and I’m the opposite of a hoarder. I throw stuff out that I should probably keep, but I do have a set of china and a full tea set that belonged to my great-grandmother. My mother used it on special occasions and I only use it on Thanksgiving and Christmas. If a single dish broke, I’d be very upset.

Finish the sentence. On Saturdays, I like to…

…run along Lake Michigan, then jump in it.

What is your motto in life?

Take what you need. Give more than you take.

Love that motto! A BIG thank you to Liesl for taking the time to do this interview!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Author Interview—Juliana Haygert

We are excited to have New Adult author, Juliana Haygert, with us today. A big thank you to Juliana for being willing to do this interview! Here is a little more about Juliana and her books...

About the Author:
While Juliana Haygert dreams of being Wonder Woman, Buffy, or a blood elf shadow priest, she settles for the less exciting—but equally gratifying—life of a wife, mother, and author. Thousands of miles away from her former home in Brazil, she now resides in Connecticut and spends her days writing about kick-ass heroines and the heroes who drive them crazy.

All Beatriz “Bia” Fernandes wants is to prove herself—to her family and friends—though it’s hard to prove anything with an overbearing father and three famous polo-playing older brothers. After her acceptance into college results in a heated family argument, the Brazilian girl leaves everything behind to find her own American dream.
College life away from home is perfect until the people she believes to be her friends turn on her. With lies and rumors threatening to suffocate her, Bia turns to her only freedom. Riding. But one thing gets in the way of her escape. Garrett Blackwell and his bad cowboy attitude. Working at the ranch is his obligation, bugging Bia is his newfound hobby. His thick skin and easy grin don’t hide what Bia already knows—this misunderstood and lonely cowboy fights his own demons. Brushing horses’ coats and mucking out stalls shouldn’t be this sexy, and it isn’t long before he becomes a part of her distraction.
However, escaping won’t solve her problems, and it’s up to Bia to break down the fences around her and prove her strength—not to her family and friends, but to herself … and for Garrett. Because standing on her own doesn’t have to mean standing alone.
** Companion novel of Breaking the Reins. Can be read out of order.**

You are the author of several New Adult novels. How do you receive inspiration for your novels?
From everywhere. My problem is actually having too many ideas and not having time to write them all! Music and movies are big sources of ideas.
But it really comes from anywhere. For example:
For my fantasy trilogy, the idea came from a sentence my husband said, about gods not being immortals.
For The Breaking Series, was several things—mainly Britney Spears’ music video for her song Radar, and Facundo Pieres (a famous polo player) and his family.
For Playing Pretend, the idea came from having my heroine meet the love of her life during spring break.

Plotter or pantser?
Once upon a time, I used to be a 100% pantser, but I simply can’t start without knowing where I’m headed anymore. So now I’m 70% plotter, 30% pantser.

What books or authors have most influenced your writing?
I’m not really sure. When I was around ten years old, I read Danielle Steel and Nora Robert, thanks to my mother. Since I started writing when I was thirteen, I guess they influenced me in the beginning.
As for nowadays, I really, really like Richelle Mead’s and Jennifer L. Armentrout’s style and like to think I could, someday, write like them.

What are you currently working on?
I finished a secret project a few weeks ago, and now I’m writing Captured Love (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22664642-captured-love). It should be out by the end of October, beginning of November.

List five adjectives to describe yourself.
Happy, friendly, caring, irritated, impatient.

Finish the sentence. Someday I want to visit Egypt.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Hard question. I never know which power to choose. Maybe telepathy? That would be neat, I guess.

What is the most unique place you’ve ever visited?

I can’t think of any unique place, but I can think of a unique experience in a great place.
When I was 12 and 13 years old, I spent my summers in Rio de Janeiro, with friends my age (no adults), taking dance classes from 8am to 8pm, 6 days a week, with the Municipal Ballet (the best dance company in Brazil). It sounds tiring, and it certainly was, but I loved dance so much (still do), it was perfect.

Thank you, Juliana! It was so fun to learn more about you! :)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Writing Prompt #5

Same rules. Read the prompt and write up to 400 words to share with us in the comments.

Prompt #5

A movie hero steps out of your television and proclaims that you are his/her arch-nemesis. Write about what happens.

From: http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/page/4

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Writing Prompt #4

Same rules for today. Read the prompt and write up to 400 words to share with us in the comments.

Prompt #4 

Your computer won’t shut down when you are getting ready to leave work at five. Instead, it is looping a message, and then attempts to tell you something. What is your computer doing? Write this scene.

From: http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Writing Prompt #3

Same rules for today. Read the prompt and write up to 400 words to share with us in the comments.

Prompt #3 

You’re a pirate on a small pirate ship, that consists of only you, one other pirate and a captain. Recently you ransacked another ship and found a treasure map. After weeks of following it, you’ve finally found the island where “X” marks the spot. Write a scene where you find the buried treasure, only it’s not exactly the treasure you expected to find.

From: http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Writing Prompt #2

Same rules for today. Read the prompt and write up to 400 words to share with us in the comments.

Prompt #2

You wake up in—wait this isn’t your room. Confused you step to the mirror and see that you’re famous actor Robert Downey Jr. How did you get here and what do you do?

From: http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

Monday, July 14, 2014

Welcome to Writing Prompts Week!

How's your summer going? It seems like writers fall into one of three categories in the summer--

  • those of us who need an idea, any idea to get us started
  • those who have an idea and get more writing done in the summer than the rest of the year
  • those of us who desperately await the return of the first day of school to write anything at all
(There are other categories, but humor me)

I fall into that last category. However, I also need to keep writing and finishing something during the summer or it's hard to get started again in the fall. So...

This weeks prompts will help those who need ideas, and those who just need to keep writing during the summer.

Read the prompt and write up to 400 words to share with us in the comments.

Prompt #1

You’re outside cutting your grass when you come across a large hole in the ground. You’ve never noticed the hole before, but it looks to be some sort of tunnel to another world. You decide to peek through and see where it leads, only it leads you to a pivotal moment in your past—and it’s giving you an opportunity to change it. Write this scene.

From http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

Friday, July 11, 2014

Non-Traditional Tips for Surviving Camp NaNo: Breaks

For my final tip for this week, I thought I'd go a bit more counter intuitive on you.  

Take a Break

When I say break, I mean take a day off. Surely you didn't think my mini-goals to get ahead of par was because I want to be an over-achiever, did you? 

No no. I'm a firm believer in rest. No, I'm not lazy. But some days, you just need to slow down. Or stop writing entirely. Maybe it's because your brain feels like mush. Or maybe you have a family member who needs your attention. 

Either way, it's better to not write for a day, than to try and cram everything in at once. The way I see it, cramming just sucks. Yes, you write, but odds are you're not going to enjoy it. And let's face it. What's the point to writing if we don't like it any more? Also, writing without actually enjoying it tires you out. Emotionally and mentally. Which means that although you might manage to force yourself to write today, it might mean that you end up not writing for a week. Or if you manage to keep forcing yourself to write until you win, you might not write again for months. 

No one wants that. 

So if you're feeling a funny burning sensation in your brain (Really. That's how it feels to me in any case.), or life just gets in the way, set a reduced mini-goal or don't write. Preferably, you'll have a buffer of extra words built up. Otherwise, you just need to split the difference in between your remaining days and work it in later. 

That's actually why I didn't post yesterday. I had every intention to do so, but got knocked over by a migraine. Still feeling a bit achy, so I'm going to reduce what I want to do for today as well. Lucky me, I was two days ahead. But there's simply no way I'm going to melt my brain by writing through a migraine. 

Furthermore, I have a strict six day policy in my writing. In other words, I only write for six days a week. I always take the seventh off unless I can't resist writing. It sounds strange, I know, especially in a world where people keep shouting that we should be writing every day. But in the end, I know I'm more productive after resting than if I slog through writing day after day until I burn out. 

Anyone else doing Camp NaNo? When was the last time you took a break? 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Non-Traditional Tips for Surviving Camp NaNo: Mini-Goals

I thought I'd write about this other nifty trick to surviving Camp NaNo because I'm actually a bit pressed for time. Because of this nifty trick. 

Today's tip: 

Set small, easily achievable mini-goals. 

I don't know about you, but I used to find a 50k words in a month goal to be a daunting prospect. Especially when I'm writing by hand. See... when I write by hand, my writing speed is pretty much halved. However, the benefits to writing by hand much outweighs the disadvantages, so I've had to learn to adapt. 

One way I've adapted was to break my big goal into little goals. Usually I work something like this: Each day, I aim a bit higher than the daily average. I do it in such a way that by the time I day six, I can take day seven off. 

(And I do take at least one day a week off from writing. Even in NaNo.) 

But I don't stop there. I try to write in such a way that there's always a widening surplus of words between the goal and my writing. Because a few hundred extra words don't take all that much out of me. On the other hand I know that towards the end of the month I might get tired. So it's good to have a buffer. 

The reason is actually the same as why I set mini goals. It's actually easier to say: "Hey, today I only need to write a thousand words and tomorrow I can take the day off." Than I have to write "30k more words to win." 

Yep. It's all psychological. 

This month, I have to write 2420 words every day to stay on par. Which means I'm trying to write 3k every day so I can take one day off per week without falling behind. 

Now 3k per day might sound daunting in itself, but I've easily been able to beat it on most days. My average for the days on which I write is 3223 words per day at the moment, and I'm not done writing for the day yet. (Hence my comment from earlier.) 

How I do it: 

1) Because I'm working on seven projects, I work out how many words I have to write per book to get to my goal. This is 429 words per project. Which equates to about four handwritten A5 pages. So I aim to write five. 

Again, this is a psychological trick. "Only five pages" is easier than saying "I have to add 3000 words to my writing." 

In truth, I almost never write less than 500 words into any of my projects at any given time. And furthermore, I don't ever write in all of my projects on a single day. 

The trick is that I say: "I'm going to start writing and for now, I only need to write 500 words." My mind takes over from there and I write until the scene is done. Obviously, the more I write, the easier it becomes for me to start on the next story.

Because the amount I'll need to write in any subsequent session decreases as I write. Which makes it so much easier for me to write without really worrying about whether I could possibly reach my goal. 

2) Word sprints. You'd think that with my slow speeds I wouldn't sprint on Twitter. You'd be wrong. I do it almost as often as the sprints are happening (assuming I'm awake. Damn you time zones!). Again, it's purely psychological for me. 

Don't tell me you find the idea of writing for ten minutes daunting. Especially not when you take a five minute break afterwards. But twelve ten minute sessions add up to two hours of writing. (Math. I know.) The thing is, you're probably going to find yourself writing easier because you can keep your inner critic at bay for short stretches of time. And writing easier means writing more. 

So even if you do have say three hours available, try 10, 15, 20 and 30 minute sprints followed by short breaks to recover. 

This method also means you won't be as likely to burn out in the long term.

If you're on twitter, you can follow @NaNoWordSprints or check out #NaNoWordSprints if the account isn't active.

And that, my lovelies, is my tip for today. Trick yourself into thinking each writing session you do is a cinch, and it will be. 

Anyone else doing Camp NaNo? How are you doing? 


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Non-Traditional Tips for Surviving Camp NaNo: Multitasking

Hey all! It's Misha again.

Usually I'm here to critique people, but I only got the memo that I'm up yesterday, and... well... in case you don't know, it's Camp NaNoWriMo.

I'm taking part, mostly because I think NaNo's awesome. Mainly though, I'm about four months behind on my writing goals, and my Camp NaNo goal will catch me up on two. (I'm aiming to write 75k words.)

Since my mind is pretty much locked onto Camp NaNo this month, I thought I'd share some tips that help me get through writing marathons. (Actually, I do them much more than you'd think.)

But be warned. I'm not going to give you traditional advice. I'm basically sharing what works for me and why.

My first tip to get through Camp NaNo (especially if you have a huge goal set):

Work on multiple projects. 

Now when I say this, I hear two camps of people screaming at me. "But I can't!" screams one side. "But the rules!" screams the other. 

Easiest will be for me to go into the rules. Basically, NaNo is about writing a novel in thirty days. And furthermore, it's on an honesty system. It makes allowance for rebels of every creed. Including but not limited to: 

1) People who started the story before and now want to finish it. 
2) Script writers
3) Poets (Kudos, if you're one.) 
4) And people working on more than one novel at a time. 

All of the above qualify as winners when they hit 50k words or whatever. 

Is any of it cheating? No. I think not. If I rebel, I'm not disadvantaging any other writer by doing so. So what do you have to lose? 

Now onto the "But I can't!" camp. I admit that some of you really can only focus on one thing at a time. And those of you who have tried and failed to work on more than one project, you'll know you're someone who really can't work on more than one thing at a time. 

However, I know from own experience that at least some of you aren't quite being honest. I also said "I can't", preferring to stick to one project at a time. Then one day I had an epiphany, where I realized how much time I wasted. See... if I only had one active project and it stalled, I'd wait for months for inspiration that would get me going again. And in those months, I often didn't write at all.
This stalling in a project can be murderous in NaNo, by the way. Because the words stop coming. So you try and force them. Which makes them less likely to come. And probably pushes the inspiration part further away. Odds are, your idea won't come back if you keep poking at it. 

Multiple projects solve this. 

It works like this. I have somewhere between three and seven (current record) fiction projects running at the same time. One is my priority project, which I try to work on every day. The others I work on at random, or as inspiration or interest strikes me. If I stall on any of them, I let it lie and move on with the other projects. (Temporarily prioritizing another book.) Believe it or not (and you'll only know if you try), this is actually a really liberating way to write. 

It's saying that I HAVE TO WRITE 50k (or whatever) while saying BUT I GET TO PICK WHAT TO WORK ON. 

This is especially useful when you have a shiny project that's diverting your attention from your current one. Write both, making the shiny one the carrot at the end of the stick. If you finish writing a chapter in your main project, you get to work on the SNI. 

Because there's less pressure on performance, I've found I perform better. Whenever my project stalls and I work on something else, it now takes a few days to revert back to form. And the whole time it was stalled, I was still productive. 

And my stats don't lie. I failed three NaNos the traditional way because I kept stalling at 30k (at most). Then April last year, I decided to try and write more than one project. I won easily. So in November, I did it again. I won while revising another book in the same month and moving house on the 19th. With all the packing afterwards. 

If you're thinking that I won't finish any drafts this year... You're right. I might not. (Although I suspect I will.) But where NaNo has a way of wiping out writers faster than you can say "I'm a winner!", I'll be able to continue writing for the rest of the year. And by next month, I'll possibly have two or three books finished instead of one. 

So if you've been feeling stuck and struggling to reach your goal, why don't you try adding one project to work on when you're tired of the first one? Could be that it'll make a huge difference to your writing.

Anyone else doing Camp NaNo? How's it going? 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Getting Started With Freelance

Since we've been talking about ways for writers to make money, I thought I'd talk about freelancing and how to get started. Monday, I said non-fiction often paid well with more venues to sell your work and the strong possibility of selling on proposal, before you've actually done the work. This is true, but there are other things you can write to make money. Press releases, copywriting(marketing), and some companies even hire freelance technical writers. If you're a fiction expert you can also edit.

When you're freelancing, you're basically in business for yourself. The start-up costs for a freelance business is low, but all the things you would think through if you wanted to open a bistro or hat shop still need to be configured. So how do you get started? One blog I read said just start somewhere. And I understand what she means. You'll never get anywhere if you don't try. But I think it's a better idea to start with a plan. So to help you out with that, I've gathered some resources. The Savvy Freelancer has a 31 day guide to start up any kind of freelance business you want. It wouldn't even have to be writing. And she says she learned a lot from Mom Masterminds. And if you think press releases might be something you want to try your hand at, I found this free ebook to help you write better press releases. I've written press releases before and am enjoying the book.

I've made the leap into the freelance industry. You can find out why and what I'm offering here. I'm also giving away a $10 gift card and a couple of one chapter critiques to help kick off. And I've started a new blog to talk about my adventures with my daughter, real estate, and freelance writing here. But I'll still host your favorite romance blog ;). I just started the new blog yesterday and currently have no followers. So you could be the first. Please be the first! LOL.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Beth Fred: The Freelance Query

On Monday, I talked about ways to make money writing and said that nonfiction often sold on proposal and could be a good income source for the starving writer. Since of all my suggestions freelance nonfiction is the one that will probably pay out the quickest with a flexible schedule, I thought it would be a good idea to look at a freelance query today.
Good news! If you've learned the hell that is a fiction query, you're half there!
The basic parts of the query don't change.

Dear Ms./Mr. _______ (You could also use something less formal here like Dear First Name or Hi First Name, but some people might prefer you be formal so it's kind of playing it safe).
Hook/Research Paragraph. (Most people recommend leading into the query as you would the the article. The suggestion for the research paragraph here is to have read 3 copies of the magazine you're querying and once you've hooked into the premise explain why it would appeal to this audience).
Give an estimate of the completed word count and let them know a time frame in which you could deliver the completed article upon acceptance.
Give a brief bio that states your experience as a writer. Make sure you list anything that especially qualifies you for this kind of article. (In nonfiction this is important).

What do you think? Are you going to give this a try?

P.S. You can still sign up for my plotting/blurb writing class here.