Archive for the 'Tips/Advice' Category

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 by Sasha White
Around the Net for Writers.

Check out Roni Loren’s post about using pohotos when you blog, or so on…You CAN get sued for using images

The Renegade Writer talks about using her short attention span/ADD in ways that help her writing.

50 Habits of Highly Successful People by LifeHack.

And lastly, to get your imagination going and get you revved up. check out 21 Really Stunning Photoshopped Photos for Creative Inspiration.

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 by Sasha White
The Writer I Was

When I first started writing, I had no idea what a Critique Partner was, or that there were writer forumns online, and workshops, and all manner of learning tools out there. Then again, I started writing 10 years ago, and online wasn;t as populated as it is today…anyway…what I’m getting at is this. WHen I started writing, I wrote, to the best of my ability, and I submitted. The only people who saw my work was me, and the editor I submitted to.

I did take a correspondence writing course, and had a mentor who was supposed to go over my work before I submitted it, but, well, like I said, online wasn’t as populated then as it is now, and the correspondence was snail mail, not e-mail. Combine that with my impatient nature and I never waited to hear back from my mentor before submitting my work. Needless to say I never finished the course either.

Because I started out like that, and because of my own personality quirks, I always wrote fast and furious, and totally by the seat of my pants. I never gave much thought to book planning, let alone career planning.

Times have changed.

Now, I look at trends, keep up with industry news, and think harder about what each story/release means on my career path. Some are certainly just for fun, but others are written with more in mind. I’m still not a plotter, but I’m no longer strictly by the seat of my pants. I’ve changed, my process has changed, and my writing has changed. And it’s not a bad thing.

So if you’re finding yourself a little lost, or feeling down because you’re doing the same thing you’ve always done, and it’s just not working anymore, think about this. Change = growth. And unless we’re talking about weight gain, growth is a good thing. 😉

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
Teh Crazy

Look, I know individuals personally who act like they’ve lost their damn minds sometimes.  If you start talking about their hot-button subject, they will lose all sense or decorum and rant like an old-time revival preacher.  It can be about religion, politics, sports or even whether or not the world “irregardless” is legitimately a word.

You can’t let these people get up their full head of steam or you’ll be picking brains and bone out of the carpet for weeks when someone finally snaps.  It’s never a pretty scene.  And if alcohol is involved it’s even uglier.  Practice your intervention skills before it comes to this.

In the real world, people get Teh Crazy.  We’re funny that way.  We are passionate and not always rational.

But, bear in mind, that’ s the real world.  In the real world, crazy stupid shit happens all the time.  It’s as predictable as the weather (more of a probability than an actuality).

When you are writing, however, you don’t get to use that level of temporary insanity or you’ll lose your readers.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure there is someone out there with enough chutzpah and savvy to pull it off and will take this as a dare to try.  More power to ya.  But in general, when you are dealing with fictional characters you have to give them enough internal consistency for the readers to follow without suffering a terrible case of whiplash.

If you want your character to rant about sports, give us some indication they are a sports nut.  If they are a religious fanatic who preaches in the grocery store, damning someone for the sin of High Fructose Corn Sweetener, you had better give the reader fair warning, or they will drop any empathy for that character like a hot shell casing.

Sure, you can have all kinds of nutso people in your books and stories.  Just give us enough build up, enough justification that when the wack-job comes out, we are not totally surprised.

Unless, of course, you intend to shock and awe us.  In that case, you’d better have a damn good reason, or your audience will be flipping back to the next story in the magazine, or drop kicking your novel in favor of the next “HOT NEW THING” to come off the presses.

Unlike the real world, your written world needs to allow for a level of logical cohesion that will drag the reader along for the roller coaster ride without losing them along the way.

George R. R. Martin does some very bad things to his characters.  If you’ve read the Song of Fire and Ice series, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  But, no matter how dastardly the deed, there is always some motivation, some player spinning the wheel behind the scenes that justifies the actions taken.  You don’t have to like it.  But the man knows how to twist a character.

Think about your own character (if you are a writer) or the character you are reading, if you enjoy story without the psychosis of being a writer.   When you find one that works — even if they drop their cousin George into a wood-chipper — examine what was the justification given by the story?  Find that thread.  If the book is worth two shakes, there is a level of cohesion there that allows you to go along with it, without tossing the book into the fire.

Do your character’s actions flow from the events of the book?  Keeping it fresh, is not an excuse to suddenly change how a character behaves.  Show us in the prose.  Plant clues along the way, so when your pretty blonde cheerleader turns out to be a alien robot from another dimension who happens to burn down orphanages, you’re reader will look back and say, “man, I should’ve seen that coming.”

All the good stories do this (in my humble opinion).  It’s one of the key things that can make or break a story.  And it’s really not hard to keep straight.  Think about how your weird uncle Hugo acts at the New Year’s Eve party and fill in the reasons along his life that justified him standing in the punch bowl, reciting Elizabethan poetry while wearing a tutu.

Then it’s a story you can sell to a reader.  If he’s just bat-shit crazy, save it for the water cooler chatter.

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012 by Sasha White
Healthy Writer

I had to work yesterday. Not writing, although I do that when I get home from work, but work, at a job, outside the house. I started it 2 weeks ago, and am quite excited about it. It’s a retail job, nothing special or different, just something to get me out of the house, and interacting with real people more often. I’m not going to lie and say the money from it won’t be nice, but I will tell you the money isn’t the main reason I went looking for a job outside the home. Depression is.

Ten years ago I was diagnosed with depression. The Dr. prescribed some pills, and recommended seeing a therapist. I took the pills for about three days, and saw the therapist once, but that was it. See, I was raised to believe in mind over matter. That you could do anything if you set your mind to it, and that included ‘thinking yourself happy‘. I’d told my Mom, who is my best friend, about the pills and such when it happened, and we talked about it.

We talked about how I’ve always been a pretty moody person,(creative/artisitc people often are, right?) and how I was always happier when I was working out regularly, and traveling, and keeping busy. And she’s right. I have always been happiest when I’m busy. Having two or three jobs, was normal for me, and that had changed after I moved to Alberta. Anyway, I didn’t like the headache the pills gave me, so I stopped taking them, and moved on with my life. Keeping busy and focusing on thinking myself happy. :)

It worked, for a while.

When I quite working to write full-time, things changed a bit. I live alone, and I’m single. I’ve always been single(90% of the time anyway), and I’ve always loved living alone. This was no different. I wasn’t working three jobs, but it didn’t matter because I was writing a lot. I mean, a lot. (as in three or four books a year, as well as short stories.) I was busy.

The obsessive part of my personality paid off in building the career, but worked against me when it came to my health. I was super focused on writing, to the exclusion of almost everything else. I stopped going out with friends, and since I live alone I basically became a hermit (Although I did make many online writer friends). I stopped going to the gym, and I gained a lot of weight, and soon… I started to hate writing-especially sexy romances when I felt like I might never have a man in my life again. I burnt myself out.

So I took a break from writing and went back to work at the pub. But it didn’t help like I thought it would. I felt different, I was different. I was a 39 year old woman working with a bunch of 20 year olds in college. I had fun, but I didn’t feel able to connect. My writing friends slowly but surely disappeared because I wasn’t writing regularly, even though I was totally open to critique for my partners still and talk writing.

I have to say that really hurt. I’d thought of many of them as true friends, not just co-workers, and it was sobering to notice that when I took a break from writing/promoting/selling, they had nothing really to say to me. It didn’t happen with everyone, but it was the majority.

Last year I tried to get serious about writing again. I left work, to stay at home and write full time. It worked for about two months, then it slowly became clear that no matter how many deadlines I gave myself, or how many promises I made to get something done, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get my health back on track, or my writing. And it was frustrating, because I had no other real pressures or job or anything.

Two casual writer friends, who, strangely enough, were not super-close friends when I was on the bestseller lists or ever critique partners, and I got closer. They were having some issues of their own, and we talked a lot about the industry and market and pretty much anything. We formed a bond, trying to help each other get ourselves back on a track we wanted to be on. It was those two who pointed out that I seemed to be struggling more than I should, and that maybe something was wrong. At the beginning of 2012 I was once again diagnosed with depression.

This time, it was a relief. This Dr was a blessing. He talked to me quite a bit, explained I’d been depressed for a while-as in years, and that it wasn’t a “toughen up buttercup” type of thing. It was chemical. It was physical. And if I didn’t deal with it, it would continue to get worse. I started taking anti-depressants, and it was like flipping a switch. Seriously, if nothing else could convince me he was right, it was that.

Things are slowly, but consistently, getting back on track for me. I went job hunting because it was time for me to get myself back in the world physically. I’ve become a hermit, and it’s not a natural thing for me. Anyone who’s met me can probably attest to the fact that I am a people person. I love to chat and hang out, and just be with people – which is also why I love to live alone…for that ‘me time’ everyone needs. However, having ONLY me time, isn’t healthy.

So, while I’ve blogged about health issues of writers before, and I’ve seen others do it too, I’ve yet to see someone talk about the mental health issues of the job. Sure there’s stress, like any job, but we joke a lot about living in our own heads so much, but I know I can’t be the only person who’s had to deal with being a bit overwhelmed by it.

Let me clear though….Writing did not cause my depression. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that even though we toss around words like “balance” and talk about how important physical activity is because this is a job where we sit so much, these things are important to more than just our creativity. These things are important to our mental health….and our mental health is important to our life…and our writing. It’s so very easy to narrow our focus so much that only the work matters, and I just thought I’d share this part of my story to show that if you narrow your focus too much, losing your way can become an issue.

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
Happy Independence Day

Happy July 4th.  Today we in the United States of America celebrate our country’s independence from England.  It’s a much hullaballooed tradition involving cook-outs, drinking and fireworks.  Those don’t always mix well, but we will fight for our right to drunken explosions and possible bottle rocket induced maimings.

I’m only mostly kidding.

Every year I take some time to contemplate what the true meaning of this day is to me personally.  I’m proud of my heritage.  I think the good old U S of A is a great place to live despite our dysfunction and assorted craziness.   I look beyond the dazzling displays of pyrotechnics and grilled meat to seriously consider  what  we are truly celebrating.  Two-hundred and thirty-six years ago  our forefathers took a stand for a dream they believed with such conviction that they were willing to sacrifice life and limb, reputation, livelihood and even personal freedoms  to see brought forth into reality.

That’s what I think about.  What dreams are so powerful to me, today, right now, that I’m willing to sacrifice comfort and security to achieve?

I have to tell you, most of us balk when it comes down to that point.  Things get too scary, too hard, too boring, etc. for us to break out of our comfort zones and really reach for something greater than we currently have.

What do you cling to that you need to eschew?  What is out there that is so powerful, so overwhelming, that the thought of getting rid of it makes you faint?  What is that one dream, that one goal that is so life-changing that you are willing to sacrifice anything to see it come to fruition?

Do you have anything like that in your life?  I know military folks who do.  I know doctors and teachers, parents and artists who find that moment — that ideal or goal that is bigger than themselves.  There is a point in their lives where they step beyond, throw fear and complacency aside and lean out from that wooden pony to grasp the brass ring that has so far eluded their  reach.

What is holding you back? What fears are smothering you?  What obligations have you learned to hide behind that are stopping you from freeing yourself to pursue your destiny?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating you abandon your families, or quit your job (today) on a pie-in-the-sky flirtation with the gee whiz and the what-if.  But I am suggesting that you may want to look at the life you have built and dare to dream the risky dream.  What would it take for you to throw off the chains that tie you to the mundane?

It is never too late.  Mary Delaney became an artist at the age of 72.  You need to raise your head and look toward the horizon.  Life is a journey of discovery.  What is that one thing you need to do with your life?  From what do you declare your independence?

It’s never too late, it’s never too hard.  It only takes a willingness to breathe deeply and call to the heavens that you have had enough.

Then, as the euphoria settles over you, pick the path to the first goal, the next plateau where you can find a glimpse of your golden city, your rainbow, your land of unicorns and leprechauns.

If not now, then when?  No one is going to rescue you.  There is no fairy godmother.  You need to pick your own pumpkin coach and get to the ball all on your own.

But when you do, the wine is sweeter, the air is richer and the life so much more rewarding than you ever imagined.

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 by Sasha White

I had a different post in mind for today, but I changed my mind, which seems to be a pattern lately. Which is also why I’m going to share my Three favorite tricks to increase productivity.

1) Time Me.
Get an egg time or use Write Or Die, or even use Twitter, but the key is to set a time limit, and do nothing but write for that time.
I see a lot of friends doing 1K1Hr (1 k in 1 hour) on twitter, but I find an hour of pure focus on writing a bit beyond me most times. (Unless I’m right up against a deadline.) If you’re having a real busy day and don’t think you even have time to write, set a timer for 5 minutes. You’d be amazed at what you can get done in 5 minutes..
Me? I like to do 15 minutes focused writing, then 15 minutes of something else (Dishes, laundry, cooking, eating, surfing the net.)
Any way you look at it, a timer helps you focus when you need to.

2)Find your time.
By that I mean try working at various times of the day/evening/night and seeing which time slot seems to be your most creative. I often find writing at night to be my best creative time, and use the daylight hours for other aspects of work than putting down new words. Knowing this helps prevent me from spending hours during the day at the computer staring at a blank screen or rewriting the same page over and over and getting super frustrated.

3) Go somewhere
Sometimes getting out of the house/office helps jumpstart the juices. I’m not a fan of coffeeshop writing but I do like to take my iPad or a notebook and go to the library, or the park. Sometimes just getting away from the same 4 walls really helps.

Monday, June 11th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Summer Reading

Theme week!  This week, we’re talking about summer reading recommendations.

Here’s a concept I never really understood:  the beach read.  The idea that summer is the time for mindless pulpy paperbacks because you’re sitting on the beach or by the pool or on an airplane and don’t want to think too hard.  I mean, I get the concept.  But I’ve never really engaged with the idea of the “beach read.”  I’ve never picked a book because I thought it would be light or easy or mindless.

I have too little spare time to waste on mindless reading.  I have too, too many books on my “to read” pile to ever indulge in reading that I won’t have to think about.  I think about all my reading.  Even the pulpiest, beachiest read will teach me something about writing, and reading.  What’s more, I’m always looking for the novel that will blow my mind.  Even in summer, even on the beach.  (I imagine this is why I’m such a slow reader.  Which is why my to read pile never seems to get any shorter.)

So, what I can recommend?  Oh, so many things to recommend.

Classics:  summer’s a great time to catch up on classics, because in the summer, on the beach, reading Jane Austen will not make you think of the horrible high school English teacher who ruined Austen for you for the next five years because she insisted that it was serious, serious literature. (A-hem.  I may have some issues.)  In fact, Austen is romantic comedy of the highest order.  Persuasion is my favorite.

Others I recommend:  Charles Dickens, Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities.  Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  (There are two kinds of readers, the ones who love Moby Dick and the ones who don’t.  I love it.  The whole thing is one long piece of foreshadowing building to the last chapter.)  Twentieth century classics like John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.  I didn’t read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time until just a few years ago, and I absolutely loved it.

Are you going on a trip?  Find a classic novel about the place you’re visiting, and you’ll see it in a whole new light.  Hit up Project Gutenberg for books that have entered the public domain.  My feeling is that if people have been reading and talking about a book for fifty years, seventy years, a hundred years, two hundred years — there’s a reason.  These books are “classics” because, in general, they’re really, really good.

Genre books I’ve read recently and loved:  China Mieville’s Embassytown and The City and the City.  I reread Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga which is always, always good.  I finally read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy and loved it.  (No, really!)  For older science fiction:  Alfred Bester is making a comeback, for good reason — he was ahead of his time.  Try The Stars My Destination.  Peter S. Beagle has a number of short story collections out, and I’m catching up on those — Sleight of Hand, most recently.  His The Last Unicorn is a classic that I’ll always recommend.  For more fantasy:  Patricia McKillip’s books are what I would consider great summer reads:  compact, stand-alone novels that transport you to magical places.  Robin McKinley is one of my favorite writers for the same reason.

Go to the awards lists.  The Hugos, Nebulas, World Fantasy Awards, Stoker Awards, Edgar Awards, Tiptree Awards.  Gosh, there’s dozens.  Locus Magazine has links to most of the major science fiction and fantasy awards.  The communities most directly involved with these awards bicker a lot over them, but they’ve really never failed me when I needed to find something good to read.

I could go on…but I think I need to go read something.