Tag Archives: Writing
May’s Writer’s Roundtable is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 2 at the Paseo Verde Library’s Coffee Press cafe.
This month’s theme is TBA
UNLV writing professor Greg Miller will host this fun, free-flowing discussion, where you’ll have a chance to share ideas and insights with your fellow writers about topics you want to discuss.
Bring examples from your favorite works and from your own stories and essays.
Free for WSN members, $5 for guests.
by Diane Taylor
As a retired writer now enjoying freelance, I’m having a great time. I can do the stories I want to do, and I’ve found that I love the whole process of writing, photographing and making videos….yes, making videos.
I grew up in a family of photographers and I typically can hold a camera without shaking. A couple years ago, I found that in telling some stories in Las Vegas, I was desperate to show my subject (a convention, a new destination, etc.) in all its moving glory. I experimented with the video option on my point-and-shoot Sony camera, and because I’m somewhat of a ham, I talked while I shot. By golly, the pictures were good and the sound was much better than I imagined. One small camera: I could take pictures AND video.
However, playing back my video, I found that not everything I filmed was wonderful, so I then had to learn video editing. I had a MAC computer and it came with iMovie. I gradually leaned how to use iMovie to stitch scenes together, to eliminate throat-clearing sounds and dumb remarks by yours truly, to brighten scenes and to use a scene of just background noise to re-record segments where those not-so-bright remarks could be corrected. Yep, I spent hours editing….not as a professional, but as an interested amateur.
Because I post a story every week for Living-Las-Vegas.com, I typically spend two to three hours filming and then many more hours editing and writing. (I do it for love and the money I save by NOT gambling.) Before each filming episode, I research the project so that I can include a few facts in the narration. If I go to a convention, for example, before filming, I find out the convention sponsor, expected attendance, the convention’s history in Last Vegas, the kinds of folks who will attend, etc.
The videos accompanying my stories are first uploaded to You Tube and then an “embed” link is included in the Living-Las-Vegas stories. People also find the videos directly on You Tube, and they may even subscribe to my channel. (My channel is “DTBenefits”. In my working life, I was a benefits manager.)
You Tube keeps track of statistics and as I write this, my channel has 619 subscribers and 602,973 views – not Justin Bieber stats, but not bad for an aging amateur. Comments on You Tube are typically quite kind, and when I check my email, I will get a notice that someone has subscribed to my channel or sent me a comment, and that news makes my day.
You Tube will typically cull out spam, and I can delete any messages that are racist, nasty, etc. and I have had a few of those. I leave negative comments that are reasonable – and because I have the time, I answer most of the comments. For me, hearing that someone from Holland or Australia has watched one of my videos is quite an honor.
Making videos is “free” once you have the camera and the computer, and if you have a writer’s sense of organizing a story, you can organize your commentary as well: tell the viewer what you’re going to show them, show it (with narration), and then clearly end it. Make the scenes short and leave out extraneous words. If you film a scene and know it isn’t interesting, re-do it – maybe two or three times. Yes, you have to think on your feet, and you must be your own vicious editor.
I typically film an ending to a video before I get to the end of the visit I’m filming. I believe in endings so the viewer isn’t confused. And oh yes, bring along an extra battery and have a generous memory card. The videos I make these days are between 15 and 20 minutes long, and I typically edit out a third to half of what I film.
Always have business cards with you so you can tell filmed subjects where they can see the video.
I have much more to learn, typically about cameras, sound and lighting, so I’ll keep at the video-making. I do believe journalism’s future will increasingly depend on writers who can talk, photograph and make interesting videos.
by Fred Rayworth
How long have you been at this game, this passion, this ahem… business of writing? It’s of course, all of these things, yet when you break it down, looking back at where you likely stand right now, it’s basically either a bunch of effort for a: nothing or b: a great deal of fun with tentative results.
Here we are at the beginning of a new year. What will you resolve to do in 2014 with regard to your writing? Perhaps 2013 brought the hoped-for success but if you didn’t get the contract for your latest effort or can’t seem to finish a project, your outlook will make all the difference as to which choice you make.
Things to consider
Do you have goals? This one’s a bit more difficult. Is it to get published? Or, is it to write? More than likely it’s both, but if you’re a true writer, it probably leans more toward the writing part. It should, because that’s where all the passion is, where your prime motivation should be or there would be nothing to take to a publisher. However, if you want anyone else to ever see what you’ve written, the next logical step is, of course, to get published.
It can be said that a true writer can just write for writing’s sake, and be happy. Yet there’s nothing wrong with wanting others to be able to enjoy the stories real, or unreal that you’ve created. You have the passion and creativity and are constantly developing your skills as a writer. However, the most difficult thing is getting it out there so someone else can read it.
All the passion for writing makes no difference to the outside world unless you can break into the world of publishing. There are hundreds if not thousands of others with the same idea, trying their best to do the exact same thing. We, as writers are flooded with advice on how to break in. I’ve heard it all. It never ceases to amaze me how many variations on the same thing come from different experts on how to break into the game.
The basics are simple
It takes writing talent, a great story, face time, perseverance and just plain luck.
Talent and a great story go without saying. Unfortunately, there are literally thousands of talented writers with great stories.
Sure, there’s dumb luck, but the only way to make your own luck is with plenty of face time. To do that, you need to go to conferences and meet agents and publishers face-to-face. If you think query letters work, I’ve got a drawer full of them, mostly ignored. If you think sending the full manuscript works any better, I’ve got a bin full of returned, mostly unblemished and unread manuscripts.
Numbers make a difference
The only thing left in making your own luck is the numbers. Like they say, if you don’t play the Lotto, you have zero chance of winning. I started querying agents in 1995. My first attempt was The Greenhouse. I’ve pitched many different manuscripts since then and have accumulated 669 rejections as of last count. Perseverance.
You’ll get nowhere if you don’t try.
In eighteen years, I’ve actually nailed two book contracts. Publication is tentative right now, but it’s a start. Many people would’ve given up long before that.
Do you have perseverance?
I’m not exactly sitting around waiting for a publisher to find my great novels, either. I’ve had multiple short stories published, a newspaper article as well as several astronomy articles in a national magazine. I also publish a monthly astronomy observing project that’s been ongoing since 2009. I’ve written 787 reviews on Amazon, so far, and am a continual contributor to the Cloudy Nights astronomy forum. On top of that, I’m always working on the next novel, which right now is number twelve (is it?). I’m also editing constantly as well as occasionally editing for friends. My world, when not working is mostly about writing. I keep busy.
Right now, even though I have two books tentatively under contract, I’m still gearing up for the next Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. More face time with agents and publishers and everyone else involved in the industry. You can’t win the Lotto if you don’t play. Perseverance!
Writing and trying to get published is all about keeping at it. You have to make your own luck. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try. Perseverance.
NOTE: Thanks to Morgan St. James for the special formatting of this page and the 2nd paragraph. You rock!
By Richard Warren
Some time ago a member of the Las Vegas Writers Group expressed concern that a book she was working on might be too controversial. It was a work of fiction where the male protagonist was a pedophile. It certainly was a sensitive topic but my response to her that no book is too controversial. The role of an artist is to provoke the mind, invite debate, and challenge the status quo and the norms of society. That is how we progress. That’s not to suggest that all writers are required to do so; for many the goal is simply to provide the reader with entertainment. However, the books that are memorable or stand the test of time tend to be those with a more powerful message.
Throughout history there are many writers who have made political or social statements in order to raise awareness of an issue or support a cause. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense” illuminated the reasons for the American colonies to break away from Great Britain. A short time later a number of English authors engaged in a spirited literary debate in the form of essays about the French Revolution. Richard Price, a Unitarian minister, wrote an essay in support of the revolt. This elicited a reply from English author Edmund Burke in support of the French Monarchy. The debate didn’t end there. Another author, Mary Wollstonecraft, published her rebuttal to Burke called “A Vindication of the Rights of Men” and Thomas Paine penned “Rights of Man” as his own response to Burke. These writers were the internet bloggers of their day.
Eight decades later Charles Dickens used the French Revolution as the backdrop for his novel A Tale of Two Cities. In other works he stirred controversy by creating characters that were oppressed by titans of industry. His novels were critiques of the social and economic conditions of the industrial age. These books are considered classics of the Victorian era and helped curb the abuses that were rampant in that period.
Many books have been deemed so controversial that they were banned for a time. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and James Joyce’s Ulysses all shocked people in some way yet these books are now considered literary classics. Two decades ago Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was considered such blasphemy by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini that he issued a fatwa that called for the author to be killed. In many countries authors risk death simply for writing what they feel they must.
Contemporary author Alissa Nutting, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, wrote a book that has been called “the most controversial book of summer” by numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Her novel Tampa explores the sexual relationship between a female teacher and her fourteen-year-old male student. Pedophilia is a sensitive topic to be sure, but discussing it in literature raises awareness of the issue. Since the book’s release in 2013 there have been numerous reports of female teachers molesting male students. Coincidence? Perhaps, but maybe the book’s controversial press brought the subject into the open and made people more sensitive to such situations.
Authors should never fear pushing the envelope and stirring the pot, they should embrace it.
By Tami Cowden
I once attended a workshop that focused on sharper, clearer writing. The speaker discussed many common grammatical and word misuses, and offered lots of strong advice to improve writing. But there was one bit of advice to which I took exception, even though this advice has practically become a mantra among romance writers.
It had to do with the dreaded flying body parts.
I can’t count the number of times I have heard speakers tell a roomful of nodding writers “Eyes don’t drop, they don’t meet, they don’t fly across the room. Gazes drop, meet, fly, etc.” Everyone gets a good (embarrassed) chuckle at the exaggerated images painted by the speakers, and rushes home to removed the offending phrases from their own work.
Now, literally, these speakers, and their agreeable audiences, are correct. These things don’t really happen. Or, if they do, we certainly don’t want to be there to see it.
But why do we care about literal meanings? We write in the English language – why shouldn’t we use it in its entirety? In the English idiom, eyes DO meet. They do drop. They fly, dart and shoot across rooms, and sometimes even bug out of heads. What’s more, other body parts fly, rove, wander, and so forth, metaphorically, if not literally.
According to Merriam-Webster, an idiom is “an expression that cannot be understood from the means of its separate words.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with using one. Or even, in moderation, more than one. In fact, writers who write in English ought to have command of the language in all its richness.
We use many idioms in our speech and in our writing, with nary an objection from our zealous critique partners. For example, I have never literally “taken” a walk down the street – that would require me to somehow pick up a walk and transport it. But no one objects if my heroine takes a walk or ride across town. If my hero takes a plane to New York, I am not chastised for having my hero steal things that don’t belong to him. But just let me mention that his eyes traveling up the heroine’s legs, and boy, oh boy, will I get pounded by some well-meaning critiquer.
Sorry, folks, but the flying body part rule is one of those rules that really isn’t a rule – because frankly, it doesn’t make any sense. These expressions would make it past any grammar teacher, and, more importantly, past any reader who hasn’t been tainted by having someone sneeringly point out the literal meaning of the words.
Don’t believe me? Okay, I can understand your not wanting to take my word on this. But how about taking Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s words? Here’s a line from one of my favorites of her books, Nobody’s Baby But Mine: “He saw that Jane’s eyes were glued to his mother’s face, and he took in her stunned, happy expression.” (p. 322) When I read this story, I was caught up in the emotion of the moment. A horrific vision of the heroine’s eyes being removed her head and pasted to the face of the hero’s mother just did not enter my mind. And that’s true even though I read that book after my mind had been polluted by the dreadful flying body part rule.
Still unconvinced? Maybe Nora Roberts will be more persuasive. Here’s a line of hers from Homeport: “His eyes held hers, and were a dark, rich brown that took little drifts of gold from the sunlight.” (p. 70). You don’t really think anyone is going to read that and imagine one pair of eyeballs clutching another pair, do you?
If bestselling authors can having flying body parts, so can the rest of us. In fact, I am sure one reason (out of many!) that Susan and Nora are bestsellers is because they employ our language in all its rich forms.
When self-editing for clarity, the question to ask yourself is this – “will my reader misunderstand my words?” If the answer is yes, then change what you’ve written. But if there won’t be a misunderstanding, don’t change your words just because you worry that other writers will laugh at the literal image. After all, you are writing for readers, not writers.
So, in future, if you discover the line “their eyes met across the crowded room” in your work, go ahead and flinch at the cliché, but don’t worry that readers will imagine two pairs of eyeballs hovering just under the ceiling. That only happens when you’ve had the idea pointed out to you at a writing workshop. Most readers haven’t had that experience.
Like this stuff? Read more of Tami’s articles on her blog!
By Richard Warren
Over 1300 years ago a man tended the animals of a monastery located in Northumbria in what is now northern England or southeastern Scotland. His name was Caedmon and he would later go on to become a monk himself. Though thought to be illiterate, he created a nine-line hymn that was later recorded by an English monk known as the Venerable Bede. Caedmon’s Hymn is the oldest known work of Old English writing. The Old English period spanned about 700 years and approximately 400 literary works from that period have survived. Today that many books are published every 10 hours ‒ and that’s just in the United States.
Caedmon’s name may have been known but the vast majority of works in the medieval period were penned by authors who remain anonymous. Could you imagine pouring your heart and soul into a book and then not putting your name on it? Seems inconceivable today, but that’s how it was. That didn’t change until the mid to late 14th century. Geoffrey Chaucer ‒ considered the father of English literature ‒ probably did the most to change that. He is famous for his Canterbury Tales written between 1380 and his death in 1400. Writers from that time onward were rarely anonymous because writing had become a commercial venture that could actually be profitable.
The publishing world has always been changing. Back in the days of Bede books were duplicated by monks who were working by hand. In 1476 William Caxton brought the first printing press to England and set up shop. The first book he produced? Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The works were hugely popular and placed books in the hands of the common people rather than just the elite. English literature flourished and many writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, Coleridge, Locke, Marlowe, Dryden, and others made their mark.
The next major technological advancement occurred almost 400years after Caxton’s printing press with the 1860s invention of a commercially viable typewriter. This meant increased speed and productivity as well as the end of cramps from writing by hand. The next jump didn’t take as long and happened about 100 years later with the introduction of word processors that used floppy disks ‒ remember those? Of course, it was the introduction of the PC a short time later that allowed just about anyone to try their hand at writing.
The birth of the internet heralded the arrival of the digital age. The speed of change today is absolutely mind boggling. Watch a ten year old movie and you can marvel at the technology that isn’t there. Just as the printing press made the transcription of monks obsolete, the internet is causing a cosmic shift in the world of publishing. In the last decade many publishers have gone out of business, others have merged, yet many new ones are being born. Like a meteor killing off the dinosaurs, the publishers that don’t adapt to a drastic change in the environment will fall by the wayside. However, in any time of upheaval there is significant opportunity. That opportunity is there for the large presses that can adapt, for the mid-size house that can capture a greater market share, and the small presses that can prosper from new technology and the ever-growing pool of writers seeking to become published.
Lastly you have those who have chosen to take matters into their own hand and join the brave new world of indie publishing. That means you will not only be a writer, but an editor, marketing guru, promoter, and PR person. Whichever route you have chosen there are a host of new realities you need to deal with. Actually writing the book has become the easy part. Even if you are with a major publisher you are expected to do the lion share of the marketing. Your manuscripts also need to be clean and well edited because you can no longer count on a publisher taking care of all that. Let’s not forget social media. Caedmon didn’t have to deal with Facebook and Twitter, he didn’t have to maintain a website, and he certainly didn’t spend time updating his blog. But you have to do all that.
And you just wanted to be a writer!
One of the biggest challenges writers face (that is before finding an agent, finding a publisher, editing to the publishers specifications and then marketing the crap out of your manuscript) is finding the time and the motivation to write. It seems like a grand joke that the universe plays on us. If we have time to write, our minds are as blank as freshly driven snow that hasn’t been peed on yet. But when we finally have the motivation, the inspiration and the focus… we can’t find the time.
Whether you are caring for a family, climbing the career ladder or just trying to make ends meet, finding time to hit the page can be a challenging venture. Here are a few suggestions. Skip the evening news and use that time to write. I can sum up what you will miss: the economy sucks, another pedestrian got hit and tomorrow will be sunny with a chance of spontaneous combustion. If you have already cut television out of your daily routine, maybe use your bathroom time. No, I’m not suggesting you stop doing that, but maybe bring a small laptop in there with you. Just make sure you don’t answer any Skype calls. If none of that appeals to you, perhaps just train yourself to write while other things are going on. Kids playing on the floor? Write. Lunch break at work? Write. Dinner in the oven? Write.
But what about finding the motivation and the inspiration to create a story from thin air? This is something that I myself am struggling with right now. As a committed practitioner of Yoga, I recently picked up a book called The Journey From The Center To The Page by Jeff Davis. He suggests approaching your writing practice as you do your yoga practice – with a clear intention. Instead of sitting down in front of your computer and waiting for a white clad muse to pop out of your USB port, you need to ask yourself “What am I writing for?” Are you looking to sort out personal problems, make peace with an incident in your past, entertain your reader or create a fictional world for your characters to play in? Whatever the reason, discovering why you write should inspire you to do so. No muses required.
Once you’ve set an intention, take a few deep breaths to settle into the practice of writing. You can even bust out of a few yoga poses to prime your body and your brain. Once you’ve done your breathing exercises, sit down at your computer and write something. Anything.
Davis suggests beginning with a 3-60-15 schedule to ease yourself into a regular writing practice. This means that for the next 15 days, you will write 3 times per week for 1 hour a pop. In the scheme of things, this is nothing. I am committing to this “trial period” to get my writing practice back on track. Will you join me?
I have a confession to make. I don’t like making decisions. In fact, it’s akin to sticking pins in my eyes. I’ve always been like this. It started with shopping. I search and search and then tired and disgusted from the journey, I buy something. I have to shop in stores that allow refunds because I will inevitably be struck with a roaring case of buyer’s remorse and have to go back to the store, tail between my legs, to return my purchase.
The reason I’m outing my skeleton for fellow writers is to explain a recent situation of mine, one which we all hope to be in at some point: I received an offer to publish my first novel. Now, before you jump up and down like a twelve year old girl at a Justin Beiber concert, let me tell you a bit about the specifics. As all writers should, I poured my heart, my soul, and six months of my life into writing this novel. Making light of a serious situation with my signature morbid humor, I felt (and feel) that it is a topic which deserves to be discussed.
After just a few weeks of submitting my manuscript to agents, my inbox was filling up with overly polite form rejection letters. And then came the one email I’ve been waiting my whole life to read: “We love your manuscript and would like to publish it.” I was filled with warm fuzzies. My hard work, my blood, sweat and tears were finally paying off. I lept around the house like a gazelle on Ecstasy and phoned my nearest and dearest.
The high lasted about 48 hours before the reality of the situation struck me. The publishing company was brand new, there would be no advance, and for these reasons, I would not be eligible to join the Writer’s Guild. It’s not that I was expecting a check for three million dollars, or that I was waiting for the president of Penguin to phone me personally to extend his congratulations. It’s just that I really had my heart set on joining the Writer’s Guild. It may sound silly, but I hope to have a long writing career and that will be my signal that it’s begun. I will finally be A Writer.
You might be asking yourself right now, “Is she crazy? She got a publishing offer.” And I might be. I mulled over the decision for months, consulting every writer, life coach, friend, and dog that would listen before, in a moment of false bravado, I turned down the deal.
I still don’t know if I made the right choice, and I’m not sure I ever will. As writer’s we struggle with the decision to take the first offer that comes our way, it’s an offer after all, and may be the only one we get, or to hold out for that amazing deal which will catapult us into fame and fortune (sort of). No one can make that choice for us.
The offer is still on the table and fingers crossed, there’s another one out there with my name on it.
By Sheryl Greenblatt
Whether you are a seasoned writer or just dipping your toes into the craft, you are going to need a critique group. Even if you have a Greek Muse whispering creative brilliance into your ear as you write… they probably can’t spell either. Let’s take a look at seven reasons why everyone needs a critique group.
- Procrastination is an art form that many writers have perfected. Whether it be the dreaded writer’s block or just thinking that you’ll “start that novel next week”, some writers are really good at not getting their backsides in gear. A critique group creates an air of accountability. You will be responsible for a certain number of pages each week, and if you don’t come through, you will be drawn and quartered by your fellow critiquers.
- You cannot critique your own work. Let me repeat that in case you missed it. You cannot critique your own work. You are often too close to your story to notice whether the murder occurred on a Tuesday, the dragon had red scales or blue, or whether during a sex scene, your protagonist was wearing enough layers to be an Eskimo stuck in a strip poker game. Let someone else take a look, they will notice things that you could’ve missed.
- You cannot trust the opinion of anyone who relies on you for food, shelter or sex. The only question that a man likes to answer less than “Does this make me look fat?” is “Do you like my story?” You need a group of impartial writers who will tear you to shreds (in a nice way) and then build you back up.
- Critique groups prevent you from being a lonely hermit who only converses with cats… and inanimate objects. Writing is a lonely calling. Being part of a critique group will ensure that you shower and brush your teeth at least once a week.
- The habits that keep you from being invited to parties (correcting people’s grammar, pointing out spelling mistakes) will be respected and appreciated.
- When you are starting to doubt your skills as a writer, your critique group will prevent you from throwing your computer out a window and becoming a Walmart greeter… or they will get you an application. We all have moments where we feel like the only thing we should be writing is a suicide note. Your critique buddies will be there to tell you how much you’ve improved and remind you that life is worth living.
- If you show me yours, I will show you mine. If you are writing because you just want to write, then good for you. Writing is a wonderful cathartic tool. But, if you have any hopes of being published then you will have to put on your big boy pants and show your work to other people. A critique group provides a safe environment in which to do that. They will also make sure that your writing is in the best possible shape before presenting it to an agent.
So what are you waiting for?