In Bed with Jill Hamilton by Amanda Wayne

When I started researching Jill Hamilton for this interview, I ran into a rather unique problem. Every site I visited had her essays and tips. I kept getting sucked into them and forgetting that I was there to do actual work. I wasn’t there to learn about the weirdest sex inventions, seminars for vagina meditation, or octopus fetishes. I just wanted to find out about her degree from the University of Michigan and any random tidbits on her personal life that I could. I used every millennial surfing trick I possessed. I was all over social media, scouring website “about me” blurbs, and lurking on professional networking sites. I was this close to paying one of those stalker sites to get some good info on her. I knew super intimate details about her, but not the boring surface stuff that I knew about my neighbor’s sister. Jill manages to make it feel perfectly ordinary to read about things I only talk about with my best friend after we split one of the really big bottles of cheap wine.  It turns out that reading all of Jill’s entire anthology of essays was all the research I needed on this enigmatic lady. Jill has written for major magazines such as Rolling Stone and Cosmo and Entertainment Weekly. Her blog, www.inbedwithmarriedwomen.com, is hilarious and full of useful information. She agreed to answer a few questions for me and it was every bit as entertaining as I had hoped.

You have built this persona as a sexpert, writing for Cosmo, Salon, Alternet, Jezebel and many others. How did you fall into this crazy line of work where you make money talking about sex? 

My first Cosmo story was about 10 Weirdest Sex Devices or something like that. One of the things was a 70s-era bra with built-in nipples. The joke was about would happen if your actual nipples decided to make an appearance.  That is, 2 nipples = sexy, yet 4 nipples = not so much.

It mutated into me doing a stint as a sexual guinea pig, testing out Ye Olde Cosmo Tips–Use a scrunchie during a BJ! Smear food all over yourselves!  I have literally taken money for having sex (with my husband, for a Cosmo story, but still.) Whorish? Best job ever? Answer unclear.

What was the first big break you got as a writer?

I found out (long story) that there was a concert at a local nudist park in Michigan featuring Foreigner, Eric Burdon and others of that ilk. I sent a query to the delightful Jancee Dunn at Rolling Stone and she sent me to cover it. In case you were wondering, no one in Foreigner got naked, but everyone around me–who were exactly the age and demographic you could expect of older, not especially-toned nudists in Michigan– were butt naked, but for, incongruously, shoes and socks.

At what point did you decide to just embrace the baser side of humanity and write about the kinds of things people read in an incognito window?

Short answer:  Why bother with anything else?

Longer answer: I was sitting at the friggin’ Chuck E. Cheese with my friend, and we were discussing our moribund sex lives. What were the other preschool mothers doing about this? Was that one lady who looked like a grandma still banging her grandpa-looking husband? Were people having affairs? Did people just let their sex lives die, chalking it up to “maturity” and focusing really really hard on something like scrap booking?

I decided to start a blog In Bed With Married Women to ask people just this. (I am alarmingly nosy.) The idea was going to be a sociology study, with women just telling their stories. Like Studs Terkel but with more nudity.  The thing was, stories about marital sex are about as interesting as actual marital sex.

About the same time I saw an ad for something called Anal Ring Toss and I kind of veered in a whole different direction. This is still the central tension in the blog today–between a serious look at sex and what the hell it even is vs. the immature joy of finding a Japanese sex spray that smells like “secretary.”

What advice do you have for moms trying to live both lives?

My kids are kind of like Stepford children and are bizarrely good and smart. Advice for others:  just do the parts you want. Like I don’t really fold clothes as much as bend them into smaller shapes.

Do you ever have trouble making those pieces work together? “Lift your left leg on to your partner’s right shoulder and- Hey! Don’t eat with scissors!”

I actually have said “Don’t eat with scissors.”  They were safety scissors, but still.  My kids are older now and they know way too much about what I do. I think it’s good though. Knowledge is power and all that. My sixteen-year-old, Maddie, is cheeky as hell and makes up fake positions that I should be sending to Cosmo.  I think the most recent one was the New Year’s themed “The Ball Drop” for the older gentleman.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get their first set of words in print? 

Write something. If you don’t, maybe you aren’t actually a writer. Maybe you’re a chef or something.

Do you ever get tired of writing about sex? 

Positions, yes. So yes. But sex, not yet.

Does anyone ever recognize you and ask for sex advice?

People ask me about sex toys. If you’re asking, I am currently going steady with an iRock by Doc Johnson.

You have a very intimate writing style. It is unapologetically frank and quite charismatic. Did this come naturally to you or did you develop it over time?

This sounds so ick and pretentious, but if you’re not talking about something real, what’s the point?

You seem to go to a lot of sex seminars and workshops, is it usually a sausage fest? Or are the sexes equally represented?

Both; people are generally earnest.  They want to be decent lovers, have good sex lives and are open to learning something new.

In the 60s, America had a sexual revolution and women came out of the kitchen burning bras and marching for rights. Women have started to march again. What do you think the future generations will have to say about what women accomplished now?

I think they will think it’s ridiculous that we were so backwards.

Do you think we have gone too far? America’s modern mother is a bread winner, bacon cooker, house maid, PTA president, soccer mom, 5k runner who also is forward thinking enough to want to be on top when the lights go down. Is this equality?

Equality is when we all can feel comfortable and able to be whoever we are. Men women, black, white, whatever.

If you could have a one minute Superbowl ad to impart your wisdom to the masses of men and women in America, what would you say?

Science is real, you fucking morons.  Hmmm, maybe should tone that down a little. (Nah!)

You interact with your readers a lot. Are you ever afraid an overzealous fan will use internet skills to find you and show up at your door? 

Eighty-five percent of my readers are exactly who I hoped–super smart, funny and curious. I adore them. The weirdest people were a group of Nazis on Twitter who got all roused/riled up by a piece on pegging I did. They were super furious, yet oddly obsessed. They were like “Are you a Jew? Cause you write like one.” I said “No, but thank you!” and they got even madder.

What’s next for Jill Hamilton? Your own sex toy line? Lingerie? A book? Directing female friendly adult films? Parenting books? Cooking show?

I’m eternally working on a book, though by “working” I mean thinking about it, then playing Words With Friends.

Grammar Matters by Melissa Heiselt

Language is constantly evolving. New words are rising up and taking the world by storm. “Google” is a verb in the dictionary and pronouns such as “they” are now an accepted gender-neutral third person singular option. Even spelling evolves as what was once okay is now also OK. Yet incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation can be as off-putting as bad breath on a first date. Especially in the world of online business (and who doesn’t do at least some portion of their business online anymore?) your primary contact with customers will come via the written word. Think only Grammar Nazis care about that stuff? Think again.

In 2017, Global Lingo conducted a study to see how much impact poor grammar and spelling would have on a business. The result? Fifty-nine percent of participants were less likely to patronize a company whose materials contained obvious errors. Obvious to whom? Well, over half of their prospective customers, clearly. Failing to fully vet marketing and communications shows a lack of attention to detail and professionalism, which leads customers to question the quality of the product or service at stake.

The folks at Grammarly proved that good grammar was a decent predictor of success; participants in their study who were promoted just four times in ten years made 45% more grammar errors than their counterparts who were promoted six to nine times in that same period. A 2014 study found that freelancers on eLance (now Upworks) with the fewest grammatical slip-ups on their profiles land higher-paying jobs than their competitors with flawed profiles.

It’s not just in corporate matters that grammar can be a problem. A pair of studies conducted by two linguistics professors found that 100% of the time, emails from strangers containing typos and common grammar mistakes resulted in a lower opinion of the email sender. Need a new housemate? Updating your profile on a dating site? Check your grammar. When it’s a friend or associate we may overlook substituting “their” for “they’re” but when it’s a first impression, it’s one of the few things we have to use in forming a judgment. The jury has spoken: Grammar matters.

So, spelling and punctuation are not your strong suit? Have someone with stellar word sense look things over. Grammarly is a popular option for people who want a filter for casual online communication, emails, twitter posts, and the like. Unfortunately, it can’t catch everything. You need an actual human to catch things like a wrong word (not just a misspelled one) or to edit for clarity. As Canadian communications giants Bell Aliant and Rogers Communications discovered, a misplaced comma can cost you two million dollars. For more enduring output that will be an official reflection of you or your company, think contracts, advertising brochures, web content and consider hiring an actual editor. The LetterWorks staff can look over everything from menus and marketing materials to a resume and cover letter. Truly. It’s worth it.

Reading for Writing: Essential Books for Writers by Josh Smith

Who do you turn to when you’re stuck? Who can you reach out to if you’re chained to a manuscript in the middle of the night and nothing you write is lining up? You may be lucky enough to have a close writer or editor friend who will drop everything to help you out, but at some point, they’re going to need a break too. Every once in a while, you need some pointers when no one is available to give them, and when all seems lost, what better place to turn to than a book? Several seasoned pros are always at the ready when you’ve got a well-stocked bookshelf, so prepare your arsenal with The LetterWorks’ staff guide to essential books for writers!

A Book of Surrealist GamesA Book of Surrealist Games by Alastair Brotchie, Mel Gooding
Got writer’s block? Dip into one of the exercises in this book and you’re bound to coax something out of the depths! This is a collection of creative prompts, challenges, and idea-prods developed by Surrealists and Oulipo artists to help them approach creating from different angles, often with very specific sets of rules and restraints.
Buy this book!

 

 

BooklifeBooklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer
This one stands out for me because it is not so much a book about craft, but a book about every other element of writing life. VanderMeer discusses balancing your public and private lives, marketing, maintaining good physical and mental health, and much more. VanderMeer delivers a bounty of insights linked to tales of his own personal experiences—failures and successes alike—and leans heavily on helpful concepts, such as leveraging your actions to benefit your writing career in one way or another. Booklife is also unique in that VanderMeer anticipated the looming expiration dates of some subjects such as social media (the book was published in 2009, and as such, there’s a brief discussion of Myspace), so he had the foresight to create www.booklifenow.com to exist as a support site for both updates to tools in transition, and as a place for writers to continue finding supportive resources of all kinds. While the site hasn’t seen any new content since 2014, there’s still no shortage of helpful information.
Buy this book!

 

The Elements of StyleThe Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
What more can be said? The Elements is just a classic, boring but useful. Also, it’s nice and cheap these days.
Buy this Book!

 

 

 

 

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King
You’d be hard pressed to find a useful list of writing books that doesn’t include this one, but even as my inner contrarian urges me to leave it aside, On Writing, much like King himself, cannot be denied. There’s only one Stephen King, and you’d be remiss to sleep on an opportunity to absorb anything he’s willing to pass on. It doesn’t hurt that his approach here is hilarious and uncouth, keeping you absorbed in what can be a terribly dry subject matter.
Buy this book!

 

WonderbookWonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer
Before you roll your eyes for including VanderMeer on this list twice, take a quick glimpse at this book. Seriously, just look at this preview. This, clearly, is not your average writing book. It is geared toward visual learners, loaded with pages of diagrams, exercises, essays, and so much more, beautifully illustrated  by Jeremy Zerfoss and many others. It also features a bevy of contributions from outstanding writers like Ursula Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, Karin Tidbeck, and Peter Straub, to name just a few. If that’s not enough to snag your interest, an expanded and revised edition was released in July of 2018. Forget fueling your creative fire, this book will dump a barrel of gasoline on those hungry flames!
Buy this book!

 

Writing Down the BonesWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Writing Down the Bones is a helpful jumping off point, especially for beginning writers. It’s packed full of free-writing exercises that help get that pen (or cursor) moving and help transition into a writers’ state. I still use it when it’s time to write but I don’t have a specific project I’m working on.
Buy this book!

 

 

Writing ExcusesWriting Excuses (Podcast)
Writing Excuses is a podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and Mary Kowal. Occasionally there is a guest author along with, or instead of one of the four. They cover absolutely everything and their slogan is “only 15 minutes long ‘cuz you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” It’s light and fun, but packed full of helpful ideas from multiple perspectives. Howard is a graphic novelist, Sanderson likes to write LONG epic fantasy, Mary tends toward realistic fiction on a shorter scale, and Wells writes in a variety of genres. They cover things they’ve done well, things that work, things that haven’t worked, and besides being a lot of fun, it’s incredibly helpful. Each podcast centers around an idea, such as “time,” and how to use that to your advantage in a story. They recommend a book that well demonstrates the idea at hand, then there is the jovial discussion of the book and topic. They end with an actual writing assignment. Now you’re all out of excuses, so go write! Sanderson actually teaches creative writing at BYU and one year decided to model their discussions after his typical class schedule, so if you start on Episode 10.1, it’s like taking a college level writing class for free. Melissa loves recommending this podcast.

Listen to this podcast!

 

Writing books aren’t for everyone. Catherine has a different approach:
I wish I could give you a great and comprehensive list of titles that I learned from, but nothing comes to mind. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot. I mostly learned from a great compilation of classics, and nothing in particular about the writing craft itself. I had what I would term a stellar education in the reading of the classics, from the Greeks to the Medieval to the Renaissance to a tour of the Puritans and early American writers. This was all in high school. I studied poetry, from the Fireside poets to Victorians that instilled and firmed up my love of the written word. That in and of itself does not a good writer make, unfortunately. For the heart of writing, no one person inspired me, but my favorite poets are Poe (lamentably still an old emo favorite) and Tennyson. They didn’t have any personal direction to steer me into the field, but their poetry was enough to inspire forever and make me want to repair the cracks in other peoples’ foundations. Can’t ever get enough of it!

What are your favorite books on writing?

Note: We aren’t Amazon affiliates, we just love these books! We get nothing if you purchase.

The Big Book Proposal Post (part 3) by Catherine Foster

Welcome to the final edition of the Book Proposal post. In part one, we defined a book proposal and clarified the differences between a proposal and a summary of your book. In part two, we broke down the first ten headers that a successful proposal might include and discussed them in detail. In this post, we’ll tackle the remaining twelve sections that comprise a thorough proposal. Let’s get started!

Competing Books/Competitive Title Analysis
It may seem counterintuitive to list your competition, but it would be a mistake to omit this category. A common refrain from a new author is “There’s nothing like my book out there! This is the only thing out there of its kind!” First of all, that is simply not true. There are more books in print now than are able to be read by a person in their lifetime, even if they spent every moment doing nothing except reading. You are now trying to add to that enormous stack of published works. Given that fact, agents have seen, read and have been exposed to an astonishing variety of ideas. This need not distress you, however; the savvy author should view this as an opportunity. Your agent needs assurance that there is a market for your book. If your book is, indeed, so niche that there is truly “nothing else like it” out there, then agents typically have no interest in pursuing it. As an author, you are conditioned to think of originality as something positive, but agents/publishers tend to shy away from the unproven and untested ideas. It would be better to come forward with a list of competitors in your field and show how you can improve on what they have done, list how you differ, or point out in what ways you are better. The key is to angle yourself into a trend that will be a safe bet for your agent, but to also show how your book differs from what is currently available on the market. You do not want to skimp on this research; a list of five to ten titles would be necessary to establish a strong foothold in your genre. In each case, list your competitors’ title, subtitle, author, publisher, year of publication, page count, price, format, and the ISBN. Then take the time to write a 100-200 summary of their book and how yours differs, fills a gap, offers more, etc. It is imperative that 1) you remain respectful of their work and resist the urge to criticize it and 2) always have in mind the need to reveal that evidence of need we first discussed in section one. This is critical for the success of your acceptance, and if you can prove that your book provides a need for readers or society, it will make it easier and easier for your agent to say yes to you. Every opportunity you have to provide evidence of need is valuable, and this section is one of the most important ones to help your case.

Proposed Back Cover Copy
Your imagination gets a workout in this section as you get to visualize the ideal back cover for your book. What is the layout that showcases your book to its best advantage? This can vary quite a bit from genre to genre: nonfiction covers may ask a few questions and follow up with a list of bullet-points that are covered inside. This style breaks up some heavier topics that will snag the reader’s interest without bogging them down in technicalities. Short fiction or anthologies may provide a list of titles on the back. Novels might prefer to summarize the plot with a blurb. This is a chance to have fun and be creative. The more you take interest in your own book and every part of it, the less the agent will have to do. They will see you as an active participant in your own product, and they will want to have you for a client.

Marketing and Promotion
Perhaps the most crucial section of the entire proposal, this relies on your careful preparation of facts and figures. Your agent/publisher is going to be looking for you to provide a history of connections. It is imperative that you do not use words like “hope”, “would like to” or “goal” here. Your agent is seeking someone who is strong, confident and determined—a person who is going to follow through on their plans, with or without [an agent’s] help. They are not only looking for sings that you have what it takes, without hesitation, but that you have a history of this kind of behavior. You are going to need to provide clear statements here, such as:

-I have blogged every week for the past year, and every post receives [insert page views]. I have current invitations to guest blog [here] and [here], and those sites each reach [give stats].

-Do not say: I plan to reach out to different sites and try to guest blog in the future.

-Say: Within six months of launch, my website reaches [insert statistic].

-Do not say: I am going to try to register for a website and start blogging soon to increase hits.

The more concrete evidence you can give that you are reaching an established audience and that you bring fans with you that are eager to read your work, the easier it will be for your agent to say yes. If you sound unsure, unmotivated and uneducated, they will pass. Fast. Do your research beforehand and make it impossible for them to say no. Now is the time to bring it all home and provide that evidence that you have connections and readers that are ready and waiting for this book. All this agent has to do is sign on the line and it’s a go. Make it sound so easy. Now is the section to persuade them that you have done all the work, there is a readership waiting … just sign it into being. Provide the facts, and it will happen.

Potential Endorsers
Not a strictly necessary section, it is just an extra. It helps to have a list of important, relevant or famous people who are willing to vouch for you. Of course, not everyone has a list of celebrities who are willing to sign for them, and that’s all right. If you are writing a book about gynecology, and you have a colleague or two who is willing to put their name and credentials in, it helps to lend legitimacy to your material. If you don’t have an endorser, though—and many of us don’t—it is perfectly fine to skip this section. If you add it in, just list your names in any order you feel shows to your best advantage. It is usually best to include how they are relevant in parentheses or with a comma after their name. This list may be as long or as short as you like.

Other Details
This includes miscellanea such as the format (hard or soft cover, dustjacket or none), the wordcount, page count and deadline. You may choose to include some or all of these details—or perhaps none—depending on how close you are to completion of the book. This is optional, of course, and merely a guideline.

About the Author
Somewhat self explanatory, you can make this section as long or short and as personal as is your preference.

Sales History of Previously Published Books By Author
If you have a great track record, now’s the time to shine. Show ’em off here!!!

Proposed Outline
Break it all down here. You have some leeway—you can propose the number of pages you want to spend. Dedication: 1 page. Acknowledgements: 1 page, Title page: 1 page. Table of Contents: 2 pages, Introduction: 9 pages. Etc. You can also give a more in-depth summary of your book here. It would be appropriate for the agent to finally get to the meat of what they are trying to say “yes” to: here is where that starts to happen.

Table of Contents
If you are including a Table of Contents in your book, you may choose to list that here.

List of Chapters/Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
If you have chapters in your book, particularly if they have names, you may want to give a list of those and include the number of pages within each chapter. I would be a good idea to give a brief thirty-fifty word description of each individual chapter.

Sample Chapters
Choose one or two sample chapters to copy here, or include a portion of your book. Make sure you note for the agent which chapters or sections your are attaching. Make it your best work! This is what your agent is going to be judging you on, so be sure to select carefully.

It is important to remember that this is merely a template for a book proposal. You may want to select different sections that meet your individual needs. Of course, you may highlight, add, rearrange or completely omit sections that do not work for your needs. The most important aspect to remember is to elevate the evidence of need for your manuscript when you are crafting your proposal; there are many ways to do that. Agents and publishers are difficult to secure, but they are not above wanting to profit. If you can successfully highlight evidence of need, you are sure to be in print someday. It may not be the first or the second proposal you submit, but someone will be able to see the worth, and you will be a (monetarily) successful author before you know it. But this post shows that this is a side to writing that may not appeal to everyone, and if you find that dealing with proposals and agents and writing business plans is crushing your creative spirit, that’s important to recognize, too. Whatever path you choose as an author, I wish you much luck and success. If you have any questions or concerns, I’m here to help! Please e-mail me at catherine@theletterworks.com. Happy writing!

Organizing Your Creative Chaos by Melissa Heiselt

Authors tend to be creative people, and creativity tends to be messy. Everyone has different ways of bringing order to that chaos, and finding the way that suits you is an endeavor well worth the effort. In “The Wand and the Word,” Leonard Marcus interviews various fantasy authors revealing their path to success, and their methods. The most fascinating thing about these interviews is how incredibly varied their responses are. There is no hard and fast rule about how to successfully organize information, but there are a few main categories that encompass different personalities and styles of organization.

Highly Structured

Brandon Sanderson has mentioned in his podcast, Writing Excuses, that he organizes everything from characters and their motivations and network of connections to world-building details in spreadsheets. He finds it a useful way to track and cross-reference those crucial story points. I am a very visual person, and that is so not for me. I can say this with confidence because I tried it, and it was miserable. For me it took so much effort to think about how to arrange things in an unfamiliar terrain, and I didn’t have enough room to see what was in each box. For people who love organizing things so they are neat and tidy and put away, it may be right up your alley. If you are more familiar with spreadsheets, I am sure there are many ways to layer and search information efficiently in that format. If you like to see the big picture, or flip from one idea to the next quickly, it might not be the best fit.

Visually Organized

Graphic novelists, designers and cartoonists (for obvious reasons) tend to gravitate toward storyboarding, where the story is told on a large horizontal space with images and text together showing what the story is to evolve into. Some authors use sticky notes to create a timeline for their work, which can easily be moved around and experimented with before the actual writing begins. Mind mapping is a highly visual way of showing connection, cause and effect, and the underlying moving forces in a piece. It is one way I have enjoyed organizing information for a smaller project, such as an article. It can also be a useful way of showing character connections and motivations, or even a useful way of revealing those less-obvious connections in a non-fiction piece. Many times I’ve had a revelation as I surround the nucleus of an idea with its many outgrowths and discover truths I hadn’t seen before. XMind is an excellent digital way to record an extensive mind-map.

Spontaneous

Notebooks are a huge part of cultivating a healthy writing habit. Writing every day is essential! It’s also a place to capture the genius that visits in the night, or the moment that would otherwise be lost. The problem is: how the heck do you find anything useful in there? It’s as good as lost if you never revisit those words. Enter the card file idea. This was a method suggested to me for organizing research papers back in the day, but never have I found it more useful than when I have the seeds of several good stories, but need time to flesh out the details and characters more fully. On my countertop I keep an old school card file box. I know. So retro. But it’s in the center of my home where I work, and right at my fingertips so I can jot down snippets while passing by. I have color coded notecards for each of the stories I have in progress at the moment, with headers on each card noting what the card relates to; anything from character name lists, plot twists, or map sketches. They are then chronologically ordered in relevance to the story. You could do the same thing in Evernote as Josh recommended a couple of posts ago, which would make it available across platforms, making your ideas that much more accessible and searchable, which is hugely helpful as a project grows.

Don’t be afraid to try out something new on your next project… but also trust yourself. Just because Jack Kerouac typed it all out on a typewriter, or Brian Jaques hand wrote his work nearly flawlessly in beautiful flowing script doesn’t mean you need to follow suit. Same goes for these organization ideas. Do what works for you, and keep writing!

Five Writing Rules You Should Break by Amanda Wayne

There are hard and fast rules of the writing industry. A story must… a poem must.. We are fortunate enough to live in a time when many of those rules can and perhaps even must be broken. Sure, you still have to follow basic grammar and spelling structures. An “i” must always precede an “e” (except for those twenty or so times when it doesn’t). A story must have a beginning, middle, and end. It must have characters. It must have a plot. Flash fiction defies most of these. A single fragment of a sentence about unworn baby shoes can convey an entire story. Poems once needed to rhyme in order to be considered poetry. Should you break the rules? It is a calculated risk. Breaking the rules merely for the sake of breaking them achieves little. Breaking the rules in order to showcase facets of your story is far more rewarding. Language isn’t permanent. It changes and bends. So which rules should be broken?

Ending a Sentence in a Preposition, are you going to?

I’m from the Midwest. We drop prepositions at the end of virtually every sentence. They are often entirely superfluous. Otherwise, they require a sentence structure that is entirely too formal. It isn’t that we don’t know this rule, its just a regional vernacular pattern. We also say, “Do what?” which means “Huh?” and drop our g’s like we’re sellin’ em.

“Where are you going to?” (Where are you going?)

“What did you talk about?” (About which topics did you converse?)

and my favorite, “Whadjuh do that for?” (Why did you do that? or For what reason did you do that?)

Now, I’m not advocating that your prose be full of sentences that end in prepositions. That would be tiresome. Instead, embrace your character’s vernacular. If your protagonist isn’t an old school grammarian, they probably don’t speak like one. If your prose does occasionally end in a preposition and the alternative is too weighty or formal, just run with it. Your personal writing style can be looser than your professors taught you.

And Beginning a sentence with a Conjunction or Additive

Thou shalt not begin a sentence with “because”. Why? “Because I said so.” It isn’t often appropriate to begin a sentence with an additive or conjunction. The definition of these terms almost precludes you from doing so. An additive is also known as a copulative conjunction, which sounds sexier than it is! The function of a conjunction is to add together words and clauses and phrases. This usage seems to insist that something came before it. It can be a powerful stylistic move to break this rule. Using it yanks your reader’s attention. It is unusual. It stands out. Use it sparingly and wisely. It is especially effective in a climactic moment. Breaking this rule feels delicious. It’s a flagrant word foul and my seventh grade English teacher would be appalled. It isn’t wrong, just frowned upon.

The will they/won’t they couple finally gets together? “And then she kissed him.” The use of the copulative conjunction here connects it not directly to the sentence before it, but to everything that came before it. All of the tension and angst builds to this powerful little additive.  “Or she would have if not for…” The oppositional conjunction here set us up against what came before it. Its use can pull a reader out of a character’s fantasy or daydream and back into the real action. Other good additives to begin with are “moreover” and “plus.” These are easier to pop into dialogue than into your prose.

Use Small Words (not Infinitesimal Language Constructions)

Don’t say saffron if you mean yellow. Don’t say ambulatory if you mean walking. This rule can easily be broken. Be wary of breaking it too much. I like some descriptive language as much as the next person, but overly poetic sentences that run on are pretty much guaranteed to annoy the reader. A man doesn’t always walk, sometimes he struts, slinks, or creeps. A woman sometimes puts on lavender eyeshadow with teal eyeliner. Use those bigger, more descriptive words to draw attention to where you want your reader to focus. A cream colored horse in a herd of white ones draws a picture in the reader’s mind. If every horse is described in great detail, nothing sticks out. Try to keep the landscape in your mind. What features do you most want to highlight? Place your descriptors there and leave the rest in plainer language. Finding that exact word that precisely captures what you were looking for can be exhilarating. So, if your character is obsequious and that’s exactly right, let them be. Just make sure they aren’t an obsequious boniface enjoying vespertine recumbence. No one likes garrulous loquacity.

Middle, End, Beginning

A story has a beginning, middle, and an end. True. Does it also follow that you must read them in that order? Some of my favorite books have teased the end first and made me work to find out how we get there. Sometimes the prologue is the last page of the book. I read a popular very long series where the last sentence was the same as the first. It was intensely disappointing and satisfying at the same time. I know a woman who always reads the last few pages before she begins a book. It saves her getting immersed in a story that won’t pan out. Flashbacks are also a great way to jump around in the timeline of a story and reveal bits and pieces that become important later. The beginning of the story doesn’t always begin on the first page. Often, the beginning of the story happened before the novel even begins and the reader has to catch up to where you are in the action. There are lots of constructions to make this really work for you. Remember, though, that just because they aren’t in order doesn’t mean you don’t need all the pieces.

Show, Don’t Tell

Of all the rules, this one is the big one. Don’t say that the man is compulsive, show it in his actions. Don’t say that it was an important day, make it obvious. That’s all well and good, but sometimes it is necessary to just tell your reader something and move on. I’m not advocating the detested “info dump.” However, it can be better to add a line or two that answers some questions than to write a whole page showing it. Not every small fact about your fantasy world must be fleshed out in agonizing detail. There is a fine line between showing and swimming in verbosity. Again, this is a violation of the rules that you want to do judiciously.

Most rules of language can be broken if you break them wisely and with purpose. To break a rule just for the sake of breaking it may be satisfying to you as an author, but if you alienate your reader it achieves little. Overusing adverbs is as bad as using none. Writing a cliché metaphor is bad, but creating a new metaphor that makes no sense is worse. For every writing rule, there is an author who broke it well and beautifully. You can be that author so long as you approach it with caution and determination.

 

 

 

Mind Gremlins: Should I Pursue This Idea? by Josh Smith

If you’re anything like me, you have a stockpile of story concepts that multiplies like wet Mogwai. If you’re even more like me, most of these ideas are half-baked at best, and just like our little Mogwai buddies, should probably never be exposed to the light of day. Determining which of these critters is worth taking the time to develop into a full-length work can require some careful consideration, but where does one begin?

Get organized!
For years, I carried a pen and small notepad everywhere I went and would scratch things down as they hit me, but I’ve since switched to archiving these flashes on my smartphone. In the notepad days, I would typically wait until it was full to sift through it and weed out all the obviously bad ideas, but now I just scroll through my notes any time I’m ready to start a new project and see if anything clicks with how I’m feeling. There are several note taking apps out there and they all do basically the same thing, but I highly recommend Evernote. It’s free, has a relatively low learning curve, lots of organizational capabilities, and it syncs across devices and platforms, which means if you write something on your phone, you can pull it up on your computer or tablet almost instantly, regardless of whether it’s Mac, PC, Android, or other. I use it for everything. I’m composing this draft in Evernote right now so I can pick it back up during my lunch break! Whichever method you choose to collect your grand schemes, just make sure to clear out the clutter regularly, or you’ll have a mess of slimy Gremlin cocoons and nowhere to release them when they hatch. Why yes, I am running with this absurd metaphor.

Are any of these good?
Sifting through an avalanche of story ideas can be a tedious task, and you may very well hit a pile of ideas so dumb you stop dead in your tracks. Just remember that not everything works, delete the ones that make you cringe and keep going. Usually you’ll know right away if you want to pursue an idea, but sometimes it helps to set it aside for a couple days and see if it still holds its appeal. If you’re still on the fence after a little time, take it back to the curio shop and get back to inventing.

Is it enough to work with?
Sometimes the potential of an idea doesn’t become clear until another element snaps into place. If you have the skeleton of an exciting plot but no character or settings in mind, flag it and continue through your idea mine looking for something to compliment it. Like a furry little Rambo in a Barbie car, wildly different elements can unite with a spark that gives your piece a unique tone and give your voice a platform all your own. If this method doesn’t yield the results you’re looking for, you can always take the basic concept and use it to guide character sketches, or even write a couple rough scenes. If those results don’t stir enough excitement to get you working, it’s time to try a different approach.

Google it!
Seriously. Sometimes a title or a situation comes so clearly into focus that we can’t wait to get it on paper, but it’s always smart to do some quick research to make sure someone didn’t beat you to it. I’m not even talking about plagiarism here—there are just so many writers and creators, so many platforms for people to create with little to no editorial input, that you never really know what’s out there unless you search for it. Parallel thinking is an interesting concept, but it doesn’t do you any good as a writer, so avoid being panned as a ripoff artist by doing a little digging before you pour your soul into a story about cute, fuzzy creatures who morph into monsters if they eat after midnight.

What is it?
The best way to approach work on an idea is to understand your ultimate goals for it as a completed piece. These goals will likely evolve over the course of the writing process, but you should know going in what points you’re trying to make, and what you hope your readers will take away from it. It’s also good to know if you’ve got the makings of a flash fiction, epic poem, novel, novel series, or something else entirely. When I first started writing a novel, it began as a poem because poetry was all I had written up to that point, and I simply didn’t have the experience to realize that the concept was much larger than the couple pages of free verse I had scrawled out. I kept returning to it, and eventually the verse became prose, the prose became a short story, the short story became a chapter, and the chapter became one of several in what became a (relatively short) novel. Had I realized from the start what these words were trying to form, I could have approached the entire project with a clearer perspective, and likely produced a finished product much sooner than the several years it took me to compose a readable draft. Not every concept is birthed with a clear intention, so when you find one that speaks to you, keep listening until you know what to do with it. At the end of the day, you will guide your adorable conceptual Mogwai through its transformation into a wild-eyed, mischievous story Gremlin, but it’s up to you whether it becomes a Stripe or a Vegetable Gremlin.

Why?
http://gremlins.wikia.com/wiki/Vegetable_Gremlin

Seriously, whose idea was the Vegetable Gremlin?

The Big Book Proposal Post (part 2) by Catherine Foster

Welcome to the second edition of the Book Proposal post. In the previous post, we defined a book proposal and clarified the differences between a proposal and a summary of your book. In this post, we’ll begin to detail some of the sections you may want to include in a thorough proposal. Let’s get started!

Information

            This belongs at the top of the document and contains your identifying information, such as name, address, phone number and e-mail address.

Proposed Title

            This is self-explanatory. You need to provide a title here, and this is the title you will use throughout the rest of the document when you refer to your manuscript. Don’t worry, however, if you haven’t quite settled on a name for your story yet. This is not a legal document and it doesn’t bind you to a commitment to name your book. It is exactly what it says it is: a proposed title. You can change it later at any time. The purpose here is to show your investor that you have a vision and an understanding of your finished product.

Author

            You only need to put your name (or pseudonym) in here.

Once Sentence Description

            While this might seem self-explanatory, it can be tricky. It is often difficult for authors to boil down their novels to a single thesis, and sometimes the sentence that they might choose is not the idea that is most advantageous to them in terms of marketing. Think carefully when you construct this sentence: it is, in essence your “elevator speech” for your book: it is your one chance to distill the idea for what you’ve written into one, single clear and cohesive sentence. You are trying to aim for clarity and totality. It is a bit of a tall order, so you need to take some care to craft this part. Try to stay general and less focused on details or plot here. It can be done, but it will take some careful thought.

Category

            This is simply the category under which you might label your book, such as: science fiction, psychology, romance, etc.

Audience

            In this section, it is necessary to identify an audience for your book. This is where it is pivotal to  focus on who you are specifically targeting and avoid general statements about readership. This section is where you will begin to implement evidence of need to your investor. It is of dire consequence that you are able to demonstrate who this book is for and why they need this book. In this section, a savvy author would begin to provide a clear portrait of exactly who will be purchasing this book. Do not think that terming groups as “book buyers” and “readers” will suffice as an identifier. Including statistics that are meaningless or irrelevant would also be a mistake—make sure to include hard facts in this section, but make them consistent to your book or topic:

People who read [your genre] account for 30% of book sales last year.

Recent polls of [your genre] indicate that people want more books in this genre.

[Your genre] has the fastest-growing number of readers in the young-adult demographic.

Readers Say

            This is a nice place to include reviews and blurbs from friends, family or beta readers, if you have any. If you are an author with a larger following, you may also include anything of note that includes statements about you and your website or blog or possibly other books and articles. This is your time to promote yourself and your writing through the words of your fans! A few statements are sufficient—between thee to five individual testimonies are enough. Make sure each statement is a few sentences long at most.

Purpose and Need

            This is another important section. It can be a paragraph or two, and it should illustrate exactly what it asks in the header: the purpose and need it brings. What are the bigger questions it addresses or answers? Why do people want to read this? What it is style in which it is written: conversational, humorous, serious, academic? This is the time to discuss the current climate, how your book fits into that, why it is timely and what it has to offer. While this section need not be overly lengthy, it should offer some thoughtful insight on why it is necessary and highlight that evidence of need that will make it ever-more-difficult for your agent to turn down your proposal.

Unique Angles

            While similar in some ways to “purpose and need”, this section can be skipped for some shorter novels or some genres that do not lend themselves to exhaustive categorization. If you have a firm grasp on the concept and you feel you have something to add, however, or if the subject is applicable to it, this is a chance to shine. A nice choice for this section might be the bullet-point format.  You may choose several points to highlight in a list. This will break up the tedium and allow the agent to see some items of interest that stand out about your writing. A list of between five and eight items is acceptable here, and you can include anything that you deem noteworthy about your book or writing style.

Current Interest

            As with the previous sections, this may seem like more of the same. This difference between this section and the “purpose and need” one is that you are defining the current climate and why the time is not just right but perfect for your particular book to be released. There may be many books out there on your topic, but sometimes current events, political or religious developments can change the landscape for authors. This can and should be used to your advantage. Every time you submit your proposal you should update this section. It may not need to be rewritten at all, but you should have this section in mind and keep it fresh.

            We’re about halfway through! In my next post we’ll wrap up how to write a successful book proposal with the final eleven headers. Thank you for sticking with me, and as always, if you have any questions about this topic or any other writing questions, please address them to me at catherine@theletterworks.com. Thank you, and happy writing!

 

Writing the Hero’s Journey: The Embryo Technique by T.N. Rosema

Heroic stories boil down to a common template called the Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth. In short:

A hero goes on an adventure, triumphs in a crisis, and returns transformed.

Does this describe the story that you want to write? If so, read on…

 

“The real structure of any good story is simply circular,” says Dan Harmon, creator of the NBC comedy Community. Harmon adapted the monomyth into a circular plotting technique that he calls the Embryo.

Let’s break down the Embryo’s 8 Plot Points.

YOU

Establishes your hero. They are in their comfort zone…

NEED

…but their normal world isn’t perfect. They want something.

GO

They cross the threshold to an unfamiliar situation…

SEARCH

…and adapt to it. This is their Road of Trials.

FIND

Both Joseph Campbell (creator of the monomyth) and Harmon call this point “Meeting the Goddess”. Your hero finds what they wanted…

TAKE

…but they pay a heavy price for it. For example, this is where Luke’s mentor Obi-Wan dies in Star Wars.

RETURN

They return to their familiar situation…

CHANGE

…having changed. Congratulations, this is where your hero saves the day!

The Embryo also addresses the hero’s Internal Realm (their mind) and their External Realm (the story world which they traverse). The hero moves from external order to chaos and back again. They cross from mental ignorance to enlightenment. Indie author Rachael Stephen has vlogged extensively on the Embryo, and her videos address the deeper implications of these Realms.

The savvy reader will instantly see that not all stories can or should follow the Embryo. For example, tragedies do not follow the monomyth, as the hero cannot be victorious. Furthermore, the Embryo’s 8 Plot Points are super vague, and some writers require more structure. However, the Embryo is so generic that you can make it your own. The circle and its quadrants map well with other story structures, e.g. anything with four acts or seven milestones.

Harmon’s Embryo is a visual, flexible, and simple method to plot heroic narratives. I recommend it most to pantsers, who write from intuition but wish to craft a compelling arc. If in doubt, try it out!

#######################

 

LINKS

Dan Harmon’s original Embryo blog

http://channel101.wikia.com/wiki/Story_Structure_104:_The_Juicy_Details

Rachael Stephen’s Plot Embryo vlog series

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLS55lX3rGvav5FnjSnFV9sB1q2kfsswXe

 

Author Spotlight: Nelson Lauver by Amanda Wayne

Nelson Lauver is a man of extensive talents. An advocate for dyslexics, author, motivational speaker, and syndicated radio storyteller, he has made his life about words. As a child with undiagnosed dyslexia, he struggled with words. Nelson is a successful businessman, having learned outside the classroom how to work the world around him.  He hired people to handle the reading and writing aspects of his various businesses. He didn’t become literate until his late twenties, and then he made up for lost time by making words his life, his living, and his calling. He speaks to audiences around the globe, even to NASA! His acclaimed book is given away for free to parents and teachers in the hope that his personal story of successes and failures can help adults engage with dyslexic children and spare them some of the hardships he overcame. You can find your free copy of his memoir at https://www.nelsonsbook.com.

 

You have written extensively about your life with dyslexia and how you overcame those challenges to become a successful author. To what do you attribute your success in moving past those obstacles? 

N — Constant curiosity, especially about people and the desire to learn something new from them, and then share what I have learned.

 

What advice do you have for other authors struggling with learning disabilities?

N — I don’t think of myself as having a learning disability.  I certainly respect the opinions of others who feel they have a learning disability.  I think of myself as having a learning difference (I learn differently from others).  With that said, there are upsides and downsides regardless of what label one puts on it. Tech has changed everything!  There are many tech options for every individual reading and writing style. For instance, I prefer to read with my ears and write with my voice.

 

You have made a name for yourself doing motivational and comedic performances in front of audiences across the country. Is there any venue or audience that really stood out for you? 

N — Yes, those who know my story know that I was an academic failure.  I just couldn’t learn in the traditional brick and mortar schoolhouse, and the punishments at school were brutal, archaic, and downright criminal.  My local school district couldn’t wait to purge me from the system. Eventually, new administrators replaced retiring ones, and things slowly started to change. Imagine my delight when I received the invitation to appear at my old school to discuss achievement and success with the students.

 

You have said that you believe dyslexics make excellent problem solvers because they learn to read society as a way around learning to read and write. Do you think this unique learning experience aided you in being a successful businessman and entrepreneur? 

N — A study by the Cass School of Business found that 35% of American Entrepreneurs identify as dyslexic.  This fact plays out over and over again in discussions as researchers try to discern why.

The “why” is pretty simple; by the time we finish with all things educational, we’ve had our bellies full of people telling us how to do things that don’t work for us.  It’s good to be king — It’s better to be your own boss.

 

What do you think non-dyslexics can learn from the dyslexic way of learning? 

N— That everyone learns best when they learn in the style that is best for them.

 

You have an impressive online presence. Do you have any marketing tips for writers looking to improve their sales or recognition?

N– It’s a business and nothing happens in business until someone sells something.  My dad always said, “Selling is like shaving, you have to do it every day.”  Sell!

 

You provide your memoir free to parents and teachers. What do you most hope your book teaches those interacting with struggling dyslexics? 

N– That the only reason people with the dyslexic mind struggle to learn is because society struggles to teach them. After I broke even on my Memoir (10,000 or so copies), I simply started giving books away (at cost) in service of the true mission of the book.  The e-book is 100% free.  I owned a broadcast media company and because of the similarities, it was very easy and suited my needs better than using an outside source for publishing.

To date, I have sold, provided at cost, and given away somewhere north of 250,000 copies of my original book.

 

As an author of a memoir, is it difficult to put your private life out into the world? Do you ever find it unsettling to run into someone you have never met who knows such personal things about you?

N– What I find unsettling is not what I have shared, and always happy to discuss with a stranger, but what questions a reader may have but finds themselves afraid to ask… and moreover, why are they afraid to ask.

 

What was the moment when you decided that your life was interesting enough that other people would actually want to read about it? Were you just brushing your teeth one day and thought, “Wow, I am just a really fascinating person. I should write a book about my life”?

N– I never wrote a book thinking my life was interesting.  I knew for a dozen or so years that I needed to write a book regarding my early life.  Finally, I could no longer turn away; I had a duty to tell my story as a way of helping others. I gave it a great deal of thought and decided that if I were to undertake a book, It would be necessary do it right. If you want to write a book to become famous or because you are famous and you just want to hear yourself talk; best of luck to you.  If you need to write a book because you feel compelled to help others, it will be necessary to cut yourself open and bleed onto every page of every chapter.  Your blood must saturate your book if you truly wish for change.  As hard as it is you must relive the experience to tell your story; best of luck to this type of author, as well.

 

What accomplishment or accolade makes you proudest?

I have a lot of plaques, awards, and citations for my “achievements.”

What I don’t have is even one award for any of my many miserable “failures.” Almost everything I do well is a direct result of learning by screwing up. I would be so happy to hang an award for “failure” as it has been my greatest teacher.

 

What can you tell us about speaking for NASA? Did you do any special research before that performance?

N– I have been a keynoter for NASA twice. They are lovely people, as I find all my audiences to be.  The thing that struck me most about the folks at NASA came during my tour of the space station assembly area.  I got to walk through a space station unit that had returned to earth, AND it had the same identical $39 microwave in it that I had at home.  I figured the rocket scientist at NASA were either as down to earth as I am OR I’M AS SMART AS A ROCKET SCIENTIST!

 

Your book is ironically entitled “Most Unlikely to Succeed.” Why did you decide on this title versus others you may have considered? 

N– The raw honesty that comes with adversity and the fact that we should never negatively speculate on the outcome of anyone’s life.

 

Do you have any advice for new authors hoping to become published?

N– Your best chance to become published is to become a publisher. It’s never been easier.  Read “The Well-Fed Self Publisher.”  As I said earlier, it’s good to be king; It’s better to be your own boss.

 

What’s your latest or next project? 

N– I’m wrapping up another book about dyslexia and then moving on to a highly curious subject: the female soul.  Stay tuned!