Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Don't Rush

(I will be playing with the settings for this blog for a while. Just so you know.)

Some people write faster than others. This is just the way they work, and there is nothing either better or worse about it. There's the first truth authors need to realize because when you start judging a writer's ability by the speed at which they create, you are looking in the entirely wrong place. Only the story itself can be used as a judgment of worth -- and then sometimes it comes down to taste as well.

Now let's talk about the difference between writing fast and rushing through a story to publish it.

I almost always write fast first drafts. The important words are First Draft just in case you missed them. For me, the story unfolds and I move with the flow, sometimes caught up so much that I hate to step away. The first drafts are often sparse of description and may have a few illogical leaps I will work out later. I make notes in the manuscript as I write and keep going. It's far too easy to say 'I need to fix this stupid little problem now' and get stuck and never move on. I've found the answer to the problem often comes as I keep writing, because I now have a feel for where I want to go, and I can see what I need in the earlier spot to turn the story on the proper path.

But this still has nothing to do with rushing. Rushing comes after the first draft.

Whether you are preparing to send your manuscript to an agent or publisher, or you want to self-publish -- now is not the time to rush through the rest of the steps. You need to do more than a quick edit to clean things up. Now is the time to look seriously at your story and fix problems, not just the typos and missing punctuation.

Here's another little truth. No matter how difficult it is to write that first draft, it's still the easy part.

And even if you edit as you work, don't trust that the story is now perfect. You will be terribly embarrassed later. Don't take the chance.

The first thing to do is set the manuscript aside for a while. Go work on something else and get the story out of your head. Unless you have a deadline, there is no reason to rush ahead now. After at least a few days, go back and read it for what it is, not what you think is there. This is a huge part of editing, especially for those new to the work. You might get better at going straight from first draft to edit later, after you begin to recognize some of your problems, but at first it's important to step back.

Sometimes it's easy to fix things like grammar and punctuation; however there may be other problems which you shouldn't ignore. After plot, grammar and punctuation, the flow of the prose is an important place to focus. The best way to find prose problems is to read aloud. You can't trust the voice in your head for this task. When you read aloud, you are going to find yourself stumbling over lines which seemed fine until now. Those are the lines you want to look at and see if they need changing.

Don't give yourself an excuse for this one. No 'I hate the sound of my voice' or anything else as silly. So what? You are only reading to yourself, and you are doing it to be a better writer. Get over it and do the work.

I have found a free program which has helped me with those dreaded overused words which can often go unnoticed. Go here and click on tools and look at the Manuscript Analyzer.


There is an on-line and download version. I use the download one because I don't want to have to go online every time. And besides, when you rely on something online, it's bound to be down at the time you really, truly need it.

I work through one chapter at a time, and do several rounds for each chapter, checking for each problem word using the 'find' function in Word. The analyzer gives you words like 'the' and 'a' which you can skip. Click on the frequent offender column and check those, too. I also do a quick check of the adverb section, too.

This program is probably going to point out some other words you need to try and cut down in the manuscript. One of the most common overused words for me turned out to be 'it' which I had not noticed until now. I knew 'that' was a problem, but 'it' took me by surprise, especially since the words appears more often than 'that' in many of the chapters.

I can see some of you wincing at the idea of going through each chapter several times. And this brings me back to the point of this little note.

Don't rush.

Don't tell yourself the work will to take too long. Focus, instead, on getting the story right, paragraph by paragraph, no matter how long and how many edits it takes. There is no reason to rush and every reason to slow down and do the best you can.

Every story that you put out will be read by someone who might become a fan. You owe it to that person to take your time and do the writing right. You must make your best impression with every piece you put out. You will grow as a better writer and my earlier stories are not as good as my later ones -- but I never stop thinking I can improve, so this is to be expected.

You can't rush the work and hope for the best, or think the editor or reader will overlook a few mistakes because the story is so good. There are far too many other good stories out there, and you are in competition with them all. Never take the easy way and think something is good enough. Make it the best it can be.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sample Sunday: A Ride Through Hell and Back

The night brightened as lightning forked across the sky. I flinched, but at least, in the sudden flash of light, I could see the stranger moving ahead of us on the narrow trail. I had feared we'd lost him in the worsening weather. We'd been lucky he came along when the carriage floundered on the road. He showed us the path to higher ground, but even this narrow, hard-packed trail had turned to a mucky morass in the downpour. The road below had likely flooded by now.

My horse protested again and came to a sudden stop. I'd been leading the animal on foot for the last quarter mile, arguing with the animal the entire way. I yanked on the reins, even though I knew it wouldn't help.

"Let him go, Lauren," Janus said, slapping the beast on the haunch and nearly winning a hoof on his foot. "That damn horse is going to get us all killed!"

"You're free to go on without me." I pulled the horse aside so the other two could pass. We'd met a few hours before when we boarded the carriage and I didn't trust them much, even though I didn't actually want to be left behind, either. "I'm not leaving the horse. Once this storm passes, I have no intention of walking to the next town. We're in the middle of nowhere."


The trust was that I didn't dare get caught without transportation -- caught being the important word. I am a professional thief, though I hadn't told my traveling companions about my occupation. They were both larger than me and even the surly carriage driver appeared inclined to mayhem at the slightest provocation. A bag full of jewels, to which I could claim dubious ownership, might be provocation enough.

When the stranger came and helped extricate us from the mud, I had untied my horse from the carriage and brought him along while the driver turned the other two beasts free. Now the recalcitrant animal disagreed with me again, head shaking as he tried to back away.

I pulled at the reins, wishing I knew his name. I had -- well -- acquired him rather quickly this last dawn, right after I finished work in Acklin. I'd ridden all night to Bowith and caught the carriage post there, where people had thought I'd spent the night in a room at the Inn.

I wasn't getting far and if things didn't change, I might be forced to use my less reliable magical skills to get out of this mess. The only good thing about the weather was how the downpour would slow anyone coming after me as well. I just needed to stay ahead of the pursuit.

The farmer reached the top of the hill and stopped. I could see him outlined by frantic lightning rushing across the sky at quick intervals. I decided being at the top of the hill might not be wise, but the others trudged up the hillside. The farmer had said there was shelter nearby, which probably meant the other side of the rise.

I didn't want to be out here alone where robbers preyed on single travelers.

"Come along, you obstinate beast, or I'll leave you here to drown. I only need the blanket, you know."

The horse bared teeth at me: Just my luck to find such a bad tempered animal in a city full of fine steeds. I'd had enough of the creature. A glance showed the others nearly to the top of the hill where the stranger waited. I cursed and grabbed at the saddle, intending to loosen the cinch and pull the blanket free along with the small, leather bag of jewels I'd tied into the cloth. They might think I only wanted to make certain I had something for warmth when we reached wherever the farmer led us. Besides, unsaddling the horse was a kindness I would do even for this brute. I wouldn't turn the horse loose weighed down with something he might on a branch and never get free.

I had my fingers on the cinch when the animal neighed and took a step backward, pulling me down in the mud. Cursing under my breath, I glanced back to see if my companions saw this new embarrassment.

They still scrambled up the hillside where --

Where something other than a man now stood.

I thought what I saw an illusion in the first flash of lighting. I sat unmoving in the mud and stared, making myself not blink. The next flash of light confirmed the last. What stood upon that hilltop had a huge, horned head and massive arms. The next flash made the image twice as horrific, mostly because a second joined the first horrific figure. Then a third. I saw the glint of metal in their hands, and suspected they didn't hold nice farmer's hoes, either.

"Good horse," I whispered, taking hold of the stirrup and preparing to stand. "Damn good horse. You're right. We do not want to go up there."

I pulled myself up from the mud and muck and cautiously made certain I hadn't loosened the cinch after all. Those were Devildins, though I had thought no tribe existed in the kingdom. The sight of the creatures set my hands shaking and I had to fight away old memories..

By the time I got to the saddle, the first of my companions had almost reached the crest of the hill. Though no friends of mine, I couldn't just ride off

"Devildins!" I shouted, despite my better judgment against drawing attention. "On the hilltop!"

I spun the horse and raced for my life back down toward the flooded road. Better to drown rather than to fall to these monsters.

Someone screamed, spooking the horse and me. The mount nearly lost his footing on the slick, muddy trail and I had to grab tighter hold of the pommel. Another scream, but soon the sound of the storm covered whatever happened behind us. I fought the urge to look back. I didn't want to know or to see a scene replayed from my own childhood. I had nightmares enough.

I realized more Devildins stood on the trail between me and the flooded lowlands. They obviously intended to make certain no one got away. The storm had covered all sound of them.

The horse reacted far more quickly than I could have when the first raced forward. With a scream of terror and anger, he rose up, battering the Devildin with his hooves, while I held on. The animal went down with a grunt and the horse trampled the creature as we headed off the trail.

I wasn't as keen on that part since I couldn't see much around us. Horses didn't have exactly the best night sight, either. Soon we passed through a small stand of trees, branches trying to knock me from the saddle. I flattened myself to the horse's rain-slick neck, the hard pommel pressing against my shoulder as I held on. The enemy came after us with their wild, inhuman screams, getting too close, even with the horse rushing pell-mell through the trackless hillside.

A Devildin raced forward and caught my leg, nearly dragging me from the saddle. I kicked it in the face and nearly got free before claws dug into my leg.

I screamed as much in panic as pain. The horse, wise creature, took the sound as a sign that I really wanted to go quickly and he found the swiftest way down the hill.

He leapt straight over a cliff.

For a moment we flew. The Devildin screamed and let go of my leg, and I heard it hit with a dull thump against the stony outcrop. The horse hit the ground and went down on its forelegs with a gasp. We slid in the mud.

I don't know how I held on until the horse rose and stood motionless in the rain. Lightning flashed all around us. I shivered from both cold and pain as I twisted to see behind me.

And wished I hadn't. I could see, in the intermittent flashes of bright light, the Devildins lined atop of the cliff, with even more coming down the hillside at us.

"Run, friend," I whispered to the horse, wrapping the reigns tight around my hand and leaning forward. My leg, at least, didn't seem to bleed much. The boot had stopped the creature from digging the claws in too deeply. "If you have anything left in you, run for your life."

He tried, but he'd injured his right rear leg when we landed. He took several limping steps forward, shuddered to a stop and nearly went down. I had no choice but to do something daring.
A Ride through Hell and Back is on sale at Smashwords for $0.99

Monday, March 14, 2011

The one Writing Rule not to break

Here's a rule that, unlike other writing-related rules, you must never break:

You must be willing to learn.

And I mean to learn everything you can, not just things specific to writing. Everything you learn gives you a wider range of knowledge to draw on in writing. You know the saying 'Write what you know.' But really, the saying should be 'Write what you can learn.'

And you can learn at least a little about anything you put your mind to. That doesn't mean you are going to become a quantum physicist by reading a few low level books. However, you can learn the basics. Or you can learn how Egyptian's built and furnished their homes. You can find out how Paleolithic people made their stone tools and used them.

I can hear you. "I don't write about quantum theory, Egyptians or Paleolithic people. Why should I want to learn about them?"

Everything you learn makes you a better writer. It gives you a wider field to play in. Don't think of them as individual pieces. I can easily see a story that would talk in all three of those divergent pieces and more. How?

A science fiction story in which a ship, using quantum theory as part of its inner workings, travels to another world. The beings there are humanoid, with a technology on the level with ancient Egypt. Some humans from the ship become stranded there and in order to survive, they must go off by themselves. They must learn to become a hunter-gatherer people, and use stone tools to survive until rescue.

I could write that book. And I would use the Grzmek Animal Life Encyclopedia to help create viable alien creatures. I would use the dozen or so books on Egypt to pick out the pieces that would work, without re-creating Egypt itself. I would use the science books to help build up the basics of the ship. This would not be a hard science book, of course. My interest is not in how, but who. I could see a tale of trying to avoid contact with the native aliens, of misunderstanding, mistrust and fear.

I have seen so many writers lately who say they don't like to read and others who hate research. They have their imagination and they know how to use it.

Imagination needs food, and I don't mean just the latest television or anime you happen upon. If that's all you take in, then you are going to limit what you write. You don't have to give it up, like some people claim, but expand beyond those limited boundaries to places where you choose to go, not where they direct you.

I'll tell you something you might not realize: Learning what you WANT to learn is far more exciting than all the 'learn this, there will be a test' stuff you did in school. You don't have to worry about the grade. Sure, you want to get it 'right' in the book if it's something you are using exactly. If you are writing a historical book about Egypt, you are certain going to want to make certain you know about an ankh, aten, lotus, scarab and uta. However, if you are creating your own world in an Egyptian-like setting, you get to take as much or as little as you like and build on it. This works for science fiction and fantasy.

Sure, you could make up a world without knowing about Egypt and how they lived and built. However, the more you know, the richer your own imaginary world will become. Better still, there are ideas everywhere in nonfiction -- ideas you tap at the source, rather than picking them up second hand from some other story you read. When you start from a nonfiction source, you are far more likely to write something unique, rather than only being inspired by the latest book you loved.

However, that inspiration is important as well. Everything you read, watch and learn melds to make you a better writer. If you cut yourself off from a source of information, you are only hobbling yourself. So don't be afraid to read a history, science or other nonfiction book now and then. If you want to learn something, look for a simple book on the subject and if it still appeals to you, move up from there.

You'll be a richer writer for it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sample Sunday: For the Honor of the Hunt

For the Honor of the Hunt


Lazette Gifford

Rain pounded the bike's cab as I arrived at the edge of the wildwood refuge. I'd been wise to pull the top over before I left town and forgo the joy of the wind in my hair and bugs in my face. The intensity of the deluge took me by surprise, though, and I almost swept straight past the black and gold Andradora Police Force vehicle sitting at the side of the road. I abruptly braked, cursing when my bike slipped on the wet pavement. Careful, sister, I told myself. Careful. Not even this bounty is worth getting killed over.

But my headlong race from the city seemed to have paid off. I couldn't see another transport in sight, which meant I had arrived ahead of the pack. I would be the first bounty hunter in and I'd only have one competitor, somewhere behind me. Time to move quickly.

I found Milisin leaning against a stout, old bara tree. Her black Force uniform made her nearly invisible until she took one last drag off her cig. She ground the remains into the dirt, and stalked over to my bike, a formidable and unhappy woman.

I pushed open the cab and climbed out. Rain hit my neck with cold icy spikes and I grimaced at the bitter scent of wet bara leaves and dank, rotting vegetation.

"Hey, sister," Milisin said with a slap on my shoulder. I'd expected the blow and had already braced my legs. "Bad night for the bastard to show, eh?"

"Bad night and bad place," I said, tossing my waterproof pack over my left shoulder. I unlocked the rifle case and pulled my weapon out. An older model, but we'd had a long, good relationship together. "I hope he didn't think a little rain would keep him safe."

Milisin grunted agreement as she dug a comp out of her own pack and keyed the screen on, obviously in a hurry to get out of the weather. She leaned forward, shielding the screen as best she could from the falling rain. "Britta NiGwen, do you swear by the Laws of Andradora that you are a licensed Hunter in good standing, and you are fully cognizant of the danger and responsibility with which you now accept this Hunt?"

"I do."

"I, Milisin NiJulia, do entrust you with the hunt for one Pal Delphison, wanted on seventeen counts of murder. A bounty of forty thousand credits shall be paid for the delivery of the quarry, alive, to any Andradora Police Force station or patrol. A consideration of fifteen thousand credits will be paid if the quarry is delivered dead. Do you understand and agree to these terms?"

"I do."

"Then I do grant you leave, and luck, on the Hunt. Please place your palm on the scan for confirmation."

I shook water from my fingers and put my hand over the computer screen, watching the bar shift from red to green as the officials drew the thousand credit fee from my business account for the hunt registration.

"You want the bad news now?" Milisin asked as she snapped the comp closed.

I grimaced. "Let me guess. I'm not the first one in."

"Right," she said. She waved her hand toward the huge, black and gold vehicle. I could see a smaller, battered bike sitting in the mud to the right. Someone had hit hard times. "A loner went in ahead of you. Para's kid."

"Para's kid?" I echoed. She'd been a damn good hunter, before she went crazy and killed herself. "I didn't know she had a daughter."

"She didn't."

I had pulled the rifle to my shoulder and turned to Milisin with shock and disgust. "You've got to be joking. She had a son? And the government licensed him to hunt?"

"All perfectly legal," Milisin said, and then shook her head, scattering more water than a dog in a puddle. "We're part of the Inner Worlds now, you know. Can't discriminate against the males. His name is Teon Parason. He went in about fifteen minutes ago. You're number two -- and at least I can close the site before we get any others applying to go in there."

"How the hell did he get here so fast?"

Milisin shrugged. "Said he'd tracked Delphison to this area, but didn't know where he disappeared until we put the call out."

"Well, damn. I don't need some lunatic male with a gun in there."

"Two of them. Don't forget your quarry."

"Damn crazy men," I said. I double-checked my rifle to make sure I had registered tracer bullets in place. I didn't want any question on who bagged this one. "You have a picture of Para's boy? I don't want to confuse him with the other male."

"You don't? Could save us all kinds of problems in the future," Milisin said. Then she shrugged and pulled the comp up again. "About your height, thin, and long hair. No facial hair, and real pretty, if you know what I mean. Sure didn't get his looks from old Para."

She held the screen out and I glanced at the picture of Teon. No, he didn't take after his gruff, craggy-faced mother. I nodded and Milisin closed the comp yet again.

Pal Delphison, my quarry, stood a head shorter than me with a squat, muscled body, and had a full beard. A shame they weren't more alike. I might reasonably mistake them -- but I wouldn't do so on purpose. I had a reputation to protect, even with a bastard male Hunter in there trying to get my bounty.

"I don't get it," Milisin said. "Men could hold any job except those handling weapons. Do you know there are almost as many males in politics now as women? Hell, my next-door neighbor's husband is an exec, and he makes more than she and I put together. They can have any other job -- we don't need to give them guns besides! Why the hell did the IWC have to come in and screw things up for us?"

"Because we asked them to," I said.

(Coming soon to Smashwords, two story set)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Writing and focus

From Zette's Stuffed Plot Bunny Collection

Everyone knows I love to write. The 'Joyously Prolific' title of this blog isn't just a saying: I write a great deal. Even on days like today, when my brain refuses to focus on any one thing, I will get considerable writing done. Just do it, right?

When I'm in chat over at Forward Motion, I often use the 'write 100 words' method of working. It's a relatively easy and painless way to make progress. I announce I am going to write 100 words on the latest WIP and then come back and talk for a moment, then leap again.

Those two paragraphs there equal 100 words. That's not so much, right? Do it ten times and you have 1000 words. Of course, there are tricks to it, even so. First is to always remind yourself that you are working on a first draft. First Drafts are a gift of the writing gods. They allow you to get the story down and fix it later. Take advantage of it. Embrace it and let yourself fly with the words. They aren't set in stone. You can fix anything later. In fact, as I've said before, the only story you can't fix is the one you never write. Or finish, for that matter.

The second trick is what to do when you can't seem to move forward at all. There are several things you might try:

1. Skip the scene and come back to it later. Even for linear writers like me, moving ahead by a scene will sometimes help. Sometimes it turns out you don't need the scene after all. Other times you only need to see what comes next to figure out what is needed in that spot.

2. Try a different story, notes, world building -- whatever. Move away from the story for a few hours or a day and work on some other bit of writing. It's amazing how well this works to break up a problem that had stopped you.

3. If a new shiny is calling to you and you can't concentrate on the older story, don't abandon it. Give yourself a goal of X number of words before you can work on the new story. 500 to 1000 (depending on how much you usually write each day) is a good amount. You'd be surprised how well the 'hold out the carrot' trick works for writers. Even better than treats, sometimes, though chocolate is always a good second inducement.

4. Spend some time with writers. You can do that via Twitter (#amwriting is excellent), or someplace like one of the Forward Motion Chat rooms, though we are not always talking about writing. Bring it up and we usually leap into the discussion. Sometimes just talking about writing can get a person motivated again.

5. (ADDED LATE) There is one more problem you might have and that is insufficient planning.  I don't mean you have to outline, but if you don't know what you want from a scene or a story, you are going to have a harder time getting to The End.  Throwing scenes together does not make a story.  They need to build on each other, so having a least a list of 'this problem leads to this problem' will help. 

Last, though is an important reminder -- have fun. You don't have to be writing if you don't enjoy it. That doesn't mean it is all skipping down the yellow brick road and singing, fun. There will be difficult, and even painful, passages to write. You will write dark scenes that you dread. However, you need to want to write them and to enjoy the process and end result. Otherwise, there are far better pastimes to take up.

Only you can write the story you want to tell. No one else can do it for you.

Go write your 100 words.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Happy Birthday to me

Today is my birthday. Since I knew I wasn't going to have any celebration, I decided to do something for me. I've worked hard on Kat Among the Pigeons, and it still almost didn't get done and up in time. However, the book is available at Smashwords for $1.99, and I hope people will give it a try. It's a fun book! And remember -- even if you don't have a Nook or Kindle (or other ebook reader), you can still read it as a PDF or online. I hope to have a few sales today, just as my own form of celebration.

About the novel:

Kat and her boyfriend frantically fight the enemy with the aid of a lazy tom cat, an African gray parrot who only speaks in verse, and a wise-cracking cockatiel with a bad attitude.

She's trying very hard not to think the world is doomed.

Kat Among the Pigeons


And the second half the gift to me is also done. This is something that I have been working on for a full year with two other authors. I am happy to announce that the conspiracy is ready:

A Conspiracy of Writers


ACOA is only the barebones of the site so far, but it will grow. We have a plans for newsletters, contests, games, reviews and more. The other two authors are preparing work to go to our editor and up for publication, but I am blazing the way with several of my own pieces.

Eventually, the site will have its own storefront, but for now we're redirecting our sales to Smashwords and the Nook and Kindle sites.

I am really very happy with both of these. I think people will enjoy Kat Among the Pigeons, and I believe that ACOA is going to be a wonderful and fun publishing site when I get more of the odd things added in.

I hope you'll check them out!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

I survived!

From For Blog


Yes, I am alive. Really. I've just had a few weeks of misery and work, which is never a good combination. The misery came in two forms. First was the return of some nasty cold weather that just sapped my strength. I was ready for spring, had gotten a taste of it, and then the snow and cold returned.
The worst problem, however, was a horrendous pain through my neck that made it almost impossible to turn my head or to sleep. Not a good combination, but after a week it mostly cleared up. Still a bit sore and I'm careful not to do any sudden turns and such, but I have faith it's nearly gone.
This after nearly two months of horrible back problems. I've just been cursed this year.

On the other hand, I do have two new short stories out at Smashwords for $0.99:

A Ride Through Hell and Back (Fantasy) :

Stand the Line (Science Fiction):

The new issue of Vision: A Resource for Writers is done and posted, so I'm good there. And my, I love the new Joomla version. So much neat stuff to play with!

Kat Among the Pigeons is very nearly done. I should be working on it right now, but I haven't had the chance to post in so long that I thought I had better do one (copying to both LJ and Blog) before I forget how to post. If I can get a few things done off my list, I might even have the final draft done tonight. Then another read and possibly a few pre-production copies out for reviews. Kat is my birthday present to myself (next week), and to fulfill a promise I made to myself last year. I think I'm going to make it. (Cover Art. Must finish Cover Art -- another thing to add to the list.)

It doesn't help that I am being side-tracked by Vision. I am starting to get the back issues in, and that's going to take a LOT of time, but it's so much fun to tag them and get them in the right sections. I have to get my focus back where it belongs today and get caught up on other things.
Work. So much work to do and so little time. I best get back to it!