Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing Without Writing

Roman Wall, London
This week has been what I thought was an off-week.  I've not spent any time in the library, have done no research and hardly any writing, apart from my regular journal entries.  I have spent almost the entire week in some park in Bloomsbury: Russell Square, Gordon Square, Tavistock Square, St. George's Gardens.  I've been reading novels and listening to experimental music.  I've been musing, fretting, crying, and feeling the cool rain on my face.  I've walked through Kensington drenched in the rain, in fact, from head to toe.  I've walked through the City, leading a group of bored twenty-somethings along the ancient Roman London Wall.   I've spent hours sharing thoughts and ideas with my best friends, 4500 miles away. 

But I have accomplished nothing.

And right there, that's the lie, do you see it?

The truth is that I have accomplished a great deal this week.  I have seen and felt and thought. 

It's true I have a project due in a week and I haven't written a word, until today that is.  Today I've already typed 1000 words, and I'm still on a roll.  I was frustrated with myself all week long because I had nothing to show, no time researching, no time writing, and so no words.  I forgot that I had in fact been writing all week long. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Critique Partners: Gift from Heaven or Necessary Evil?

Writing can be a lonely process but it doesn't have to be a solitary one. Every writer is a member of a larger community whether he or she wants to participate in said community. I haven't always been particularly gung-ho about jumping into the community of fellow authors because I'm a loner by nature--and most writers are. Writers also tend to be very, very controlling. When most of them learn about my partnership and collaboration with Vivien Dean, reactions tend to be a combination of shock and intrigue. Collaborating? On a book? How is that even possible?!

"I'd never be able to do that," they tell me. "I'd be too afraid of what they'd do." Or something along those lines. The subtext of fear at relinquishing control to somebody else is always present. I think that fear is also present when the subject of beta readers and critique partners comes up. I've noticed there's a strange dynamic at work, both sides wary of offending the other, the author trying not to take the feedback personally, the beta reader doing her best to phrase everything in a delicate, but positive manner.

Monday, June 13, 2011

5 Questions to Ask Before You Submit to an Agent

You've finished your novel, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're ready to face agents. Not quite anyway. Here are five important factors to consider before you start submitting your manuscript to an agent.


1. Do I have a hook?


Also known as the elevator pitch. Can you summarize your story into one sentence? Is it an interesting sentence? Is it so interesting that it would stand out among a pile of thousands of other queries? Your hook needs to clearly state the conflict and the stakes. A man is about to commit suicide when an angel shows him what his town would be like if he had never lived. What's the conflict? A man is so tortured (doesn't matter by what) that he wants to end his life. What are the stakes? A man's life and apparently the future of an entire town. Who are the characters? The man, the angel, and on the periphery, the entire town (they'd have to be otherwise who would care about what happened to them, right?).


2. Do I have a platform?  


It used to be that you would have to publish some short stories in respectable magazines or journals before you had a real shot at an agent. Nobody offers that advice anymore--because most of those magazines and journals are now defunct and even if they weren't, the book buying public sure doesn't read them. These days you need to have an online presence, you need to be able to reach thousands of people, and you need to prove that you're not going to fade into the night. Taking the time to keep up a blog and a decent webpage is a wise investment.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lindy Takes Some Photos

Our youngest sister, Lindy, just graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in Gender Studies.  We think she's brilliant, but we might just be biased.  We asked her to write a post this week on some of her creative endeavors in the last year and she decided to showcase some of her photos from her Digital Photography class.  Enjoy! 




I took an Intro to Digital Photography course last semester because a friend of mine was teaching it and I thought it would just be a fun last course to take before I graduated. Well, I discovered that I actually enjoy taking photos! I was nervous about my skill level at first because a lot of people around me had professional SLR cameras that take beautiful pictures, and I just had a little Nikon. But, as the course continued my instructor told me that I was doing well and she was so happy that I was actually trying to compose photographs, and not just take snapshots like some students in the class. I realized that my anxiety over these photos was unwarranted. I knew the fundamentals of how to take a good picture and I did not need an expensive SLR camera to do it. I just had to jump in and take pictures and keep taking pictures until something works, so that’s what I did for each assignment, and it worked out pretty well.



Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wanna Be a Writer? 5 Things Every Writer Must Do to Succeed

Today my sister asked me an interesting question and I was at a loss to answer. How does one start writing fiction? I wrote my first story when I was four. It's one of my earliest memories, so I don't really remember starting. I knew the alphabet, I knew I wanted to tell a story, so I wrote a story. After that, I literally never stopped. So, how does one start writing fiction if one hasn't ever tried before? Clearly it's possible. Many, many successful and brilliant authors came to writing late in life. Probably they were successful and brilliant because they waited until they had something to say.

If you're feeling a little nervous or unsure about your future as a fiction author, below is a list of five things I've learned from a lifetime of writing that I feel are essential for success. Feel free to add to the list in the comments!

1. Read. A lot. Read some more. Read, read, read.


But don't read for pleasure and don't read like a lit student (and let's face it, you probably are a student of the humanities). Read like a writer. How does the author handle dialogue and action tags? Is it realistic? How does the author balance narrative style and characterization? How does the author handle pacing? Did the book begin in the right place? What's the rhythm of the language? Is the descriptive passages florid or tight? Where are the exposition dumps? When do the major plot points and plot twists happen? What works for this book? What passages do you wish were yours? Then read some more. Read across your genre, read across subgenres. Always read. Read, read, read.


2. Watch Movies.


Good movies or shitty movies, they're all helpful. Movies are essentially pure plot. They're all approximately the same length (90-120 minutes) and we all recognize the beats and rhythm of a narrative told in this way. Watch terrible movies with long unedited scenes, ridiculous dialogue, exposition dumps, plot holes, and offensive assumptions about people in general and the viewer in particular. Watch popular movies that everybody loves but aren't high art (the summer blockbusters, Lucas and Spielberg, etc). Watch foreign films, art films, independent films. Think about how they use plot and dialogue to move the story forward and keep you engaged.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Right Beginning: Grab the Reader by the Throat, the Heart, or the Balls.

Avoid 5 Plotting Mistakes By Using Scenes is a brilliant post that you should go read right now. I'll wait, it won't take you long, and I'm declaring it required reading if you're a writer.

There. Read it? Good. It's great, right? It's simultaneously obvious (of course you don't want to be predictable!) but extremely informative and helpful. Do You Start One Story But Finish Another is my favorite section. It cuts through all the crap and gets to the heart of today's topic--beginning in the right place. Sometimes it's difficult to find the start of your story. Most likely, you're starting too soon (and if you're tacking on a prologue you're probably starting years and years too soon). It's critical to begin the story in the proper place for two reasons.  First, pacing. Somewhere in your mind, whether you're a pantser or a plotter, you have to be aware of the pacing of the story. Starting in the wrong place can throw off your pacing and ruin the rhythm of the entire story. The second reason is audience. You need to grab the reader by the throat, the heart, or the balls, and never let go. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

PEP Rally: Ideas for When You're Stuck

Productivity

The productivity activity this week might seem pretty rudimentary, but trust me, it’s not as easy as you might think. A few weeks ago, in my first PEP post, I talked about keeping a time diary to see where you are wasting time doing other things that could be spend writing. I suggest you take a day or several days to try that out first, but you don’t really have to if you’ve got plenty of time on your hands. Once you see where you are free, take a sharpie and block out an hour or two, more if you’re lucky, where you pledge to do nothing but focus on your work. Create a fake contract with your old Crayolas, sign it, and tack it up on the wall for you to see every time you think about opening just one more game of solitaire.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Review: In Leah's Wake



Life got in the way and I almost didn't have the opportunity to read this book, much less finish it and write a review. But I set aside two days to focus on it, and I'm glad I did. It was worth those two days. It was worth much more than that. In Leah's Wake is beautifully written, haunting, fascinating, and a book that has a lot to say, a lot to teach you, without getting preachy. Since we're all about editing around here, I wanted to talk about a few things that really stood out for me.

Terry Guilano Long did two things exceptionally well with this novel. First, deep POV. Sometimes deep POV is a hard concept to keep in mind when writing, but she pulled it off perfectly. She switched between several POVs within the family, and even one cop who is in the position to view the family. Whenever she switches, it's with purpose. The reader learns something new about the characters, or the world. We may learn new information about a past event or understand how one event greatly impacted the lives of the family in startlingly different ways, for example. We learn there is a thread of memories, of intimacy and love, good times and bad, binding this family together, and sometimes the greatest tragedy is that they don't see that. But we can.

Writing With Purpose: Why Do You Write?

If somebody asks you why you write, you’re supposed to say “why do you think I have a choice?” or something equally witty that conveys everything it means to be a writer while actually not saying anything at all. As I’ve mentioned before, you have a choice. You always have a choice, even if it feels like you wouldn’t be able to function if you didn’t get to write regularly. So take the time to ask yourself that question and leave off the automatic responses that removes your agency and autonomy.

Why do you write?

What’s your purpose?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Happy Birthday Lindy!

Once upon a time there were two adorable little girls named Haley and Jasie.  They were sweet, playful, funny, and never got into trouble of any kind.  They frolicked in the fields with puppies, read books, told stories and were very happy. 


Then, one fateful May morning Lindy was born. 


And life was never the same.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Golden Age for Women Writers?

"So, if we may prophesy, women in time to come will write fewer novels, but better novels; and not novels only, but poetry and criticism and history.  But in this, to be sure, one is looking ahead to that golden, that perhaps fabulous, age when women will have what has so long been denied them--leisure, and money, and a room to themselves" Virginia Woolf, "Women and Literature," 1929.

I am currently sitting in my own room (in Bloomsbury, I'd like to add), with the entire day ahead of me and devoted solely to writing.  It's true I borrowed money to be here, but it's all in my own name and it's government subsidized, and when I go back to the US in a couple of months I'll have a fellowship waiting for me.  No amount or degree of education has been out of my reach.  I am currently working on a project that unites literary criticism and history, and all of the major scholars in my field are women.  I just spent an afternoon with a  woman who is so dedicated and intelligent, and who has leisure time, her own space and her own money, that she will quickly rise to the top her field.  My sister and countless other women I know write for a living.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This is About Your WIP (you know the one I mean)

There’s a file on my hard drive called fivemurder. It was created in 2006. Three apartments ago and at least four computers. But this file hangs on, showing up in later permutations as Gone and GoneDraft2. Both of those were last modified about 15 months ago. Unlike other WIPS on my computer, I haven’t forgotten a single detail of this story. I still remember exactly where I was when the story first occurred to me, I still remember why I named the characters what I did, and how excited I was to write it, and even what I planned to write. Right now, it’s about 33,000 words. It’s been about 33,000 words since early 2007.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Writing With Fear

I think you have to be a little bit crazy to be a writer. Jasie, Lindy, and my husband Jaime have all told me at various times that they’d love to write something, but they’re afraid for some reason. Maybe they fear whatever they write will suck. Maybe they fear that they’ll only waste everybody’s time with the attempt. Maybe they fear whoever reads it will mock them. Maybe they don’t want to put too much of themselves on paper for anybody to read--and worse, anybody to understand. Maybe they don’t know how to begin, don’t know where it should start, don’t even know what their ultimate purpose is. They think I don’t understand their fears because I write all of the time. Every day. And when I’m done writing, I send it out to the world, either through publication or my private journal.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"There's a Skirmish of Wit Between Them": A Review of Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate


Last week I went and saw Hamlet, one of my favorite plays and one I have seen countless times, at the Globe in London.  As we were standing there in the yard I read in the program (over someone's shoulder) that the episode of Doctor Who where they meet Shakespeare was partially filmed there.  That was a little too much for me and I got a bit swoony.   Yes, that is precisely the kind of geek I am.   When a friend mentioned she had bought tickets to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing I knew I would have to go.  I found a ticket, but it was £75.  That's about $115.  My hesitation didn't last very long and I bought the ticket for last night's performance at the Wyndham Theatre in the West End.  I might not be able to eat lunch for the next couple of weeks, but it was definitely worth it.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finding Your Writing Process

It’s tricky blogging advice for writers. I never realized how tricky until I actually started keeping this blog and thinking about what I know and what I can share, and further realizing that what works well for me might be just that. Something that works well for me. Nothing drives this fear home more than thinking about the Writing Process (when I use caps like that imagine discordant chords on the piano).

What is the Writing Process? Do you have one? How do you find one? Is it working or is it hindering you? Should it be something natural or should you impose a structure onto the process? What’s the point of it? What’s the point of any of this?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Bit (More) PEP To Get Over Writer's Block

Welcome to a new week! I know we're a little slow on the uptake, but that's Monday for ya. Here's a bit of PEP (that's Productivity Ego Procrastination) from Sam, our lovely guestblogger, to get your writing week started off right. 

Productivity



I tend to find that when I’m writing, no matter what it is, I start getting inspiration for other projects. This was a problem when trying to finish essays for class, but has proved to be quite helpful with my creative pieces. When I come to a block on one, I simply open a new document and write bits and chunks of something else to help get the ideas flowing again. There are two different ways that I do this; one is more character driven and the other is all about descriptions.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Travel Journal: A Canterbury Tale

Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
  Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
  And smale foweles maken melodye,
  That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
  So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
  And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
  And specially, from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunturbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for the seke

That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke

Cathedral and St. Augustine Abbey ruins
If you don't know already, those are the first lines from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. I had to memorize these first lines in Middle English and recite them in a class I took on the 14th Century, and it was actually really fun. (If you've never heard anyone read these lines in the Middle English before, I've included the youtube video at the bottom of the page.) For the few of you who don't speak Middle English, here's the gist: Once spring comes along in April, and the weather starts getting really nice, people grow a little antsy and start thinking about leaving the house and going on a pilgrimage. A lot of those people, from all over England, head out to Canterbury to visit the cathedral where St. Thomas a Beckett was martyred. And there you have it.

Today I joined in that very long tradition of pilgrims to the shrine in the Canterbury Cathedral.  Just like Chaucer explains, once the weather turns nice and the warm breezes blow I get antsy and feel compelled to leave the city, enjoy the clean country air, and visit some cathedrals.  Today was the loveliest day I could have chosen for such a pilgrimage.  My journey was actually quite short. Since I took the fast train from London, it was only a 50 minute, rather comfortable and boring, pilgrimage.  There certainly wasn't enough time to tell any tales (and I was alone anyway), but I did enjoy the beautiful countryside.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

PEP Rally: Fleshing Out the Plot

It's time for another PEP Rally by our guestblogger Sam. That's Productivity Ego Procrastination, and it's three suggestions to help start your writing week off right.  Last week Sam posted a successful post about getting to know your characters through a character interview.  This week we're working on plot development! Have fun!

Productivity

This week for Productivity, it’s all about fleshing out your plotline, and it’s a bit of an arts and crafts moment, too. Grab an old binder, get a cheap one at the dollar store, or one of the single binder rings you can sometimes get at office supply stores. If none of those things are handy, a bit of string or old shoe lace will do just fine. Find yourself a nice stack of index cards (or cut a bunch of paper into uniform-ish rectangles) and punch a hole in the upper left corner of every one so that you can put them on the binder or piece of string like flashcards. Use these cards to write out the different plot points that you want to hit over the course of your story; just a few keywords to keep your ideas in line.

I like to treat these things as a sort of writing diary, keeping several blank cards by my bed and in my bag. They fold up pretty nicely for a pocket as well, just flatten them under a few of your most massive books. Don’t worry about not knowing exactly where you want to go, the binder ring allows you to add and remove things as you please. If you’re using string, do remember to tie with a bow instead of a knot! You might not find divine inspiration through this but it will put everything up in plain sight. Hopefully this new perspective of organization, moving away from a traditional outline in word, will smooth your way from beginning to middle and end.

Friday, May 6, 2011

CW White Trash: Depictions of Class

I’ve been thinking about class structure in America a lot lately. It started at the PCA/ACA conference two weeks ago when I inadvertently angered Supernatural scholars. When the Q&A began at a panel about Supernatural, someone asked the panel what they thought about Dean and Sam’s class position. The exact question was, "Are they white trash?"
Personally, I'd never thought about Dean and Sam’s class position. One panelist responded said she viewed Dean and Sam as "blue collar workers rather than white trash." I asked the panel if they see Dean and Sam as working class rather than white trash because Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki are attractive, they have a nice car and they dress well.
The ladies on the panel did not look pleased with me.

Oh dear.

One said that while Dean and Sam do not get paid for their work as hunters, they work full time and aren’t "welfare sponges and trailer trash". (She's right, they don't have welfare. They live off of pool hustling and credit card scams). I didn't debate the point, though I disagreed with her assumptions about the lower class. Much like when you think of a good comeback to an insult hours later, I feel like an idiot for not calling them out on their class privilege.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Write Now!

We'd like to welcome as a guest blogger a good friend a great writer, Amanda Von Der Lohe.  Amanda is finishing up her MFA in Creative Writing at Hollins University in Virginia and teaches English and Drama in Draper, Utah.  She is currently working on a YA novel. 
So you want to be a writer and/or improve your writing skills. Excellent! You have come to this site looking for advice and I would love to pass on some of the best writing advice I have received. Here it is, plain and simple: If you want to be a writer...
Write!
Musicians compose, artists create, athletes train. Professionals become good at their craft because they practice. If you are serious about becoming a writer, writing has to be more than a “one day I’ll get around to it” thing. Start writing now.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

POV Pros and Cons


POV, or point of view, is the perspective from a which a story is told.  Sometimes there's a specific narrator and sometimes the story is seen through many different eyes.  It is important to be aware of POV while self-editing , especially in order to watch out for inconsistencies, which often do slip in unnoticed.  Also, you may start by writing in first person only to discover that third person is  a more appropriate approach for the story.   Either way, it's helpful to consider and evaluate your options for POV.  Today we'll briefly examine each of the three major POVs and discuss their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing a Synopsis? The Information You Need Before You Begin

I'm now editing for Breathless Press and Silver Publishing and I couldn't be more thrilled. I've been following both presses for awhile now, researching possible submissions, and I'm excited to be a part of two very awesome companies. I'll be evaluating manuscripts as well, so I wanted to talk about what editors look for. What makes a perfect submission? It begins with a pretty damned good manuscript, but a kick ass query and a thorough but engaging synopsis doesn't hurt.

Nathan Bransford's How to Write a Synopsis is required reading, the thrust of which is Everyone has a different idea of what a synopsis should entail, how long it should be, whether it should be single- or double-spaced, whether it should include all of the plot or just the really important stuff... I mean, how I can even begin to summarize this and offer any advice is frankly beyond me.

PEP Rally: 50 Questions to Ask Your Characters

It's time for another PEP rally by our guestblogger Sam.  Just as a reminder, PEP stands for Productivity, Ego, and Procrastination, the three most important things to a writer after their computer or favorite pen. Even though the Rally was created to start a week off right, it can help combat the dreaded writers block any day of the week. These tips and activities will get you moving towards that word count in no time. Well, maybe not the last one, but who said you have to be all work?

Productivity

One of my most difficult challenges when writing is trying to get into the mindset of my characters. Would they really say this, do that, wear that hat? Sometimes I find that I can really get into their heads and understand everything about them down to the most finite of details for their existence. For example, I know exactly what one of my original characters is going to name all of her children and how far apart they are going to be born. But it’s taken me several years now to fully understand her in that way. Some of you might not have the luxury of not actually having to finish anything and are under more of a time crunch when it comes to learning things about the character you’ve created. Even though they are in your head, there are most likely several things that you don’t actually realize about them yet. 

Today’s productivity task is an interview to help you get a better grasp of your characterization.

Name and age?

Nickname? Who gave it?

What is most noticeable about your character’s appearance/physical presence? How does he or she feel about it?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Editing Your First Draft? Don't Forget Audience and Purpose!

Anne-Mhairi Simpson had an interesting post about what to expect from your first draft, and I wanted to comment on her experience. One paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

Now, if you’ve ever wondered about this, chances are you will have come across a huge amount of advice regarding the quality of your first draft and 99% of it will say exactly the same thing: that your first draft is 100% guaranteed to be a complete crock and you will need to do drastic re-writing and editing, including filling in numerous plot holes and wholesale murder of little darlings before you should even think about letting that beast see the light of day.
Perhaps it's irresponsible of me to say this, but some people don't need to tear apart their first draft in order to get to something good. Some authors will make a pass through to check for technical errors, and then call it good. Others will tweak and fiddle and agonize until they have something that's been revised so many times it bears absolutely no resemblance to the original.  Some people are never satisfied with their work, even if they started with something fantastic, and other writers will be pleased far too quickly by far too little. Editing too much can be just as detrimental to your novel as too little editing.

In an effort to smooth out the prose, fix all the grammar, remove passive voice, and expunge florid description, you may remove the very thing that makes the manuscript unique. When you "kill your darlings," don't kill yourself in the process. Your quirks contribute to your style, and sometimes a work is interesting for the reasons it "fails".

Different genres have different rules and expectations. When you edit your manuscript, consider what your audience wants to see, not simply what blogs call "good writing." As Anna-Mhairi discovered, what fails in one genre might be the strength in another genre. She went too far in one direction and lost the spark her readers loved up to that point. I think the primary lesson from her experience is to always let audience and purpose be your guide while editing. It's more important to find a style that works than it is to blindly follow writing advice.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Self-Publishing a Book to Snag an Agent? Not Likely.

A follower on twitter asked me to respond to a few different blog posts about self-publishing, querying agents, and “legacy” publishing. The Writer’s Digest article Life After Self-Publishing addresses the possibility of finding an agent for a self-published book, and it's…well, naïve pap. Sorry, but it is. If you’re self-publishing a book because you think it’s a great first step towards New York and traditional publishing success, you’re going to be in for a very rude surprise.

Publishing is a very, very conservative business. You know when agents say they only represent books they love and editors encourage people to write great books to get published? Sure, you can do that, but what they’re really saying is “Write a book I can sell.”
It’s challenging for a self-published book to move on to mainstream success. That’s why, for some authors, acquiring a literary agent to represent the book is often considered the next logical step.
That’s not true. An agent doesn’t want your self-published book. Not even a little bit. There are a few quotes from agents in the articles that indicate otherwise, but I’ve never seen anything to convince me that’s actually the case. Agent sell the first rights to publishers, and if you’ve already published your book anywhere in the world, they can’t sell those rights. The Writer’s Digest article never mentions that very fundamental point, and in many cases, it's a deal breaker.

Book Review: The King Whisperers

I was immediately intrigued by the concept behind Dr. Kerwin Swint’s The King Whisperers and I jumped into the text with a great deal of enthusiasm. Justified enthusiasm, as it turns out, because the book is engaging, informative, accessible, and even funny at times. It’s not a dry recounting of facts or historical biographies intended for academics or students. Anybody who has an interest in history, politics, violence, or drama and betrayal that outstrips any show on HBO, Showtime, or Starz would enjoy this book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Random Bits of News: PCA/ACA Conference, Writing Guides, and Fellowships

Much is happening at ArchEditing this week.  The three of us are packing up and heading to San Antonio where Lindy and I will present papers at the Popular Culture Association/ American Culture Association Conference.  Haley is coming along, although she won't be presenting.  She'll be there to represent ArchEditing, to network and hobnob with the awesome academics who inevitably show up at this conference, and to promote our college writing guide, Put the Body on the Slab: the Anatomy of College Writing. 

Speaking of our writing guide, Haley and I will be putting together the second part in the coming weeks, The Anatomy of Analysis.  This part of the guide will focus on how to construct an analytical response to a text, and it will feature analytical papers written by myself and our minion Lindy.  If you're lucky, you might be able to expect some awesome analyses of Mad Men and/or zombie movies, with some fine art analyses thrown in there for good measure because that's how we role.

In other news, we are still looking for more writing interns, but we have found cover artists to add to our staff as we move into self-publishing services.  We're really excited about the self-publishing and about the amazing artists we now have on board for covers.  In the coming weeks we plan to feature a couple of blog posts about Mel and April, but for now you should check out their websites.

Finally, some personal news.  I found out last week that I've been awarded a fellowship at the University of Louisville beginning this fall for the Humanities PhD program.  That means I'll be moving from London to Kentucky, which might sound like a bit of a downgrade, but I intend to make the best of it.  The fellowship will at least allow me to finish my PhD and focus on ArchEditing without worrying so much about having money for food.

So there's some ArchEditing housekeeping and news. Let us know if you plan on attending the PCA/ACA conference this week in San Antonio.  We'd love to meet you!

Click here for your copy of Put the Body On the Slab: The Anatomy of College Writing, available for a limited time for only $2.99.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Pizza Post: Il Rosso

Jasie and I can be a bit competitive with each other. We push and encourage each other, providing support in little ways while we try to outsmart or out-perform the other. This weekend, we decided to challenge each other in a new field.

Pizza.

I've never made pizza from scratch. When I issued this challenge, I didn't know how to make dough, didn't even know what my favorite pizza toppings are (every time somebody asks me my brain freezes, and I blurt whatever comes to mind that doesn't seem too objectionable). Pretty much the only thing I can do is make tomato sauce (which I taught myself how to do since I hate tomato sauce). But I eagerly embraced the challenge, reasoning that no matter who won the prize for the best dish, we'd have two large pizzas. Which was enough of a prize for me.



In the end, I created something I called Il Rosso. It looked beautiful and it tasted even better. It was the best slice of pizza I ever had--I know I sound super modest--and I learned a very valuable lesson from the experience. It didn't matter that I had no idea what I was doing. I just made the most reasonable choices and carried on like everything would work out in the end. And it did. So here's the recipe for my delicious pizza.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Five: British Comedy on Netflix Instant Watch


Hi everybody, I'm Lindy, the main minion for Arch Editing, and sometimes I have thoughts about things. I will be posting on Fridays from time to time when Haley and Jasie don't feel like writing a blog post. Today 
we'll be looking at the wonderful world of British sit coms and sketch comedy.

That Mitchell and Webb Look
I was watching this show a few days ago with Jasie because she had not seen the third series yet. I laughed at every joke and I have seen the third series at least five times. You may know David Mitchell and Robert Webb from Peep Show, which is one of the funniest sitcoms made in the last ten years. Their sketch comedy isn’t always as funny as Peep Show, but there are some true gems. Any sketch in which David yells at someone (especially the posh waiter and vicar sketches) are gold, Sir Digby Chicken Ceasar is a hilarious recurring sketch that never gets old, and Numberwang is delightful and insane.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Showing and Telling: How to Create Active Narratives

Not all of us are novelists, but I can guarantee that we are all story-tellers.  We both experience our world and communicate our experiences through narrative.  When someone asks what you did yesterday, she is asking for a narrative that you're likely to provide: I woke up, went for a run, did laundry and wrote all afternoon.

Most fiction, novels, short stories, etc, come in narrative form, but not all narratives are created equal.  The above example is a very simple narrative, but it is also a very boring narrative.  While it is completely reasonable to share these types of simple narratives to convey information, when it comes to fiction there is a huge difference between telling a story and showing a story.  Below are some tips (many of which I've learned while reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers) to help you create more active narratives in your creative writing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Self-Publishing Services From Arch Editing

Last week at the Romance Times Convention, I spoke to many authors, editors, and industry professionals. People were interested in our editing services, but what I heard again and again was a demand for self-publishing services. Not that I'm particularly surprised! There were more panels for self-publishing this year than ever before, including a well-attended panel by HP Mallory on how to sell 100,000 self-published books. Even authors who are quite happy with their publishers are looking into self-publishing out of print titles or free reads for their regular readers.

As a result, we've added more self-publishing services to Arch Editing. We've lowered the cost of fiction editing, and we've added formatting for digital outlets, as well as cover art design. Once I'm more comfortable with the marketing aspect, we'll probably branch out to include that as well. I'm really excited about these additional services! It's an exciting time to be a writer right now, with more options for publication than ever before, and I'm happy to provide whatever support and assistance I can.

I've also started a group called Daily Editing Tips at the new ARe Cafe. I love the Cafe, I think it's a brilliant idea and format for a community, and I'm already looking forward to seeing you there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

5 Life Lessons from the Romance Times Convention

Haley spent last week in LA at the Romance Times Booklovers Convention, and while we missed her and nothing got done at Arch Editing without her home, it sounds like good times were had at RT.  But RT is not just a big party.  It's one of the biggest romance author and reader conventions in the country, a place for people in the industry to network and make connections with other authors, agents and readers.  I asked Haley what she learned or accomplished at the convention and she gave me five lessons that I thought would be helpful for writers who are planning a future trip to a writing convention or conference. 
  • A smile and a friendly word will open a lot of doors. Publishing is a business about who you know, and you never know when you're making an important new friend.
  • Agents can sense desperation. They're much more responsive when you're not there to sell them anything at all, strangely enough.
  • Make it a point to eat breakfast every single morning. When you're at a busy conference, there's never any guarantee you'll get fed again until dinner.
  •  It's a very small world. I found a cousin, Vivien found somebody from her hometown, and I watched two women realize they used to be neighbors. And in every small connection and delightful coincidence, there are hundreds of stories.
  •  It's always better to dance, to drink, to laugh, especially if you're with hundreds of like-minded fellow authors.

Monday, April 11, 2011

National Poetry Month: A Supermarket in California

I was first introduced to Allen Ginsberg my sophomore year in an American Literature course. My professor played a recording of Howl, and since we had time left that day, he played the mp3 for A Supermarket in California as well. Howl was amazing, of course. But something about the second poem grabbed me by the throat and refused to let me go. Perhaps it was the opening lines.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Setting Writing Goals and Planning for Success

As I mentioned yesterday, I've recently decided to expand a paper into a book.  It will be a non-fiction cultural analysis of the myth surrounding the band Joy Division and their enduring impact on contemporary popular culture, thirty years after their lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide.  The paper I wrote is 4000 words and provides me with an expandable introduction and a rough outline of how I want the book to fall into place.  Now, all I have to do is write it.  Then revise it.  Then revise it again.  And while it is not the thing that concerns me the most at this point, I'd also like to have it published. 

This is all new to me, and I'm learning a lot as I go.  Haley, who has been publishing for the last 6 years has a bit more experience and is helping me along the way, and she's told me that I need to set writing goals if I want to have a finished product within my lifetime. I've taken her advice and done some research and am now ready to set those goals.  Here's what I've learned and what I plan on doing. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Setting Writing Goals: What's the Point?

I recently wrote a paper for one of my PhD classes about a favorite band, Joy Division.  The research was fascinating, and the topic was one I'd been thinking of writing about for years now, but had never had the opportunity.  I didn't want to stop researching or writing, and I felt that the final paper was more of an outline for a book than a self contained essay.  So, with Haley's encouragement, I've decided to expand it and turn it into a book. 

I'm not really intimidated by the thought of writing a book, but I think it's because I'm naïve and have never written anything longer than a master's thesis.  I mean, how hard can it be? Isn't it just like writing ten 20 page papers?  Haley informs me that no, it's not like that.   She also told me that I needed to start setting writing goals if I wanted to actually start writing the book, let alone finish it.   But, why would I need writing goals, I asked her, can't I just write when I feel like writing, when I have some spare time?  She laughed at me.

National Poetry Month: The Highwayman

It's National Poetry Month and I wanted to do something special to celebrate on the blog. I suggested to Jasie we should each pick a handful of poems that mean something to us, but she seemed less than enthused about the idea. When I questioned her, I learned she didn't have any poems that held special significance to her. I already had a list of a half dozen in my head, I figured everybody would have a similar, if smaller, list. Now I've reevaluated my assumption, I think everybody should have at least one poem that speaks to them, that inspires or challenges them. It doesn't have to be Important Literature. Poetry can be fun, too. The first poem on my list may not have an literary value whatsoever, but it's near and dear to my heart.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Romance Times Convention 2011 Los Angeles


We've been quiet for the past couple of days because we've actually been offline for once. Jasie arrived in Utah late Thursday night and since then we've had to run errands, go on a shopping spree, take hundreds of pictures, have a birthday party, and spend one day walking around in mild spring weather and the next driving through a blizzard. But we'll be back to our regular schedule tomorrow, which will include special features to celebrate National Poetry Month.

I'm also busily preparing for the Romance Times Convention in Los Angeles. I'm really excited about it because it's always a blast and there are so many people I can't wait to see and catch up with. I hope to post regular updates from the convention featuring some of the best names in romance, urban fantasy, and more. I can't make any promises, though. I may get sidetracked at the bar.

Saturday April 9 is the Romance Times Book Fair. There are going to be 300 authors there, and one of those faces in the crowd will be mine. So if you're in the LA area and you love romance or meeting awesome people, you should come by the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Resort and say hi.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Bit of PEP to Get Over Writer's Block


Today's PEP Rally post is brought to you by our very special guest blogger, Sam Spellman. Sam is currently an undergraduate at Beloit College and hopes to obtain a degree in Creative Writing, with a possible double major in Psychology. When not tackling school, Sam spends time with her friends and Kappa Delta sisters or re-mastering old school Mario Video games. She works in the technical services department of Beloit’s library.


For those of you who never experienced the Monday doldrums, consider yourself lucky. Those of you who know exactly what I’m talking about can attest that if you don’t get something done on that first day to set the tone, the entire week will be ruined. That’s where a PEP Rally comes in. PEP stands for Productivity, Ego, and Procrastination, the three most important things to a writer after their computer or favorite pen. Even though the Rally was created to start a week off right, it can help combat the dreaded writers block any day of the week. These tips and activities will get you moving towards that word count in no time. Well, maybe not the last one, but who said you have to be all work?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Review: The Writer's Block

There's no doubt writer's block is real, even if it is elusive and difficult to talk about, even if it stems from a deeply psychological place, as most of the books I've found about the treatment of writer's block suggest.   Since writer's block has been on my mind this week, I've been looking for books that might prove helpful in overcoming the affliction. I've mostly found, as I just mentioned, psychology books, but I did come across this book called The Writer's Block which is actually a little block, a possibly handy 3x3x3 inch cube of thoughts and prompts for someone who feels stuck.  Here's a sampling of some of the prompts the author, an editor by the name of Jason Rekulak, thinks will be helpful for you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Author's "Big Mistake"

Last week in a post about self-doubt, I mentioned The Author's Big Mistake. In case you missed it, The Author's Big Mistake is basically responding to a review. In a situation where an author shows up at a review blog to defend him/herself or the book, the readers never, ever walk away with a good impression of the author. Authors never sound like fully rational human being when they discuss their own work, because...well, they're not fully rational human beings. It's especially difficult to remember that reviewers can only review the book they read, not the book you wrote.

Writers Block 101: Three Ways to Get Over It

Okay, maybe that's false advertising and this isn't the one and only cure. There are as many reasons for writer's block as there are genres. But out of everything I've ever tried, this seems to be the key.

Relax

Or as Don Draper once told Peggy Olsen: Just think about it. Deeply. Then forget it. And an idea will jump up in your face.

Often what we call writer's block isn't anything of the sort. Your brain needs a chance to process what it knows, to build a network of connections, to consider problems from multiple angles. Sometimes that means that everything stalls, and you can't think of the next word. Or you don't have an "in" for an analysis you need to write. Or you've got a story on the tips of your fingers, waiting to pour out of you, but you don't quite have the beginning.

Thinking about what you need to write, what you plan to commit to paper, and where you want to start is a good thing. Stressing, obsessing, dreading, and finally working yourself into a frenzy of anxiety and disappointment is a bad thing.

So think about it. And then do something else for awhile--an hour, a day, maybe a week. All of the procrastination tactics you love so much, as every writer does? Now is the perfect chance to indulge.

Don't Stop Writing

Don't break your writing routine. If you write for an hour every night, still use that hour, even if you have to trash everything you produce. One day the writer's block will be gone, and when it finally lifts, you want to be there and ready to work. Write something outside of your typical genre or purpose. This past month, I couldn't find a story anywhere. I couldn't hear my characters, I couldn't think of a plot. I focused on writing non-fiction and blogging, so every day I could tell myself "It's fine, you're still writing. Don't worry about the other stuff."

Introduce Something New to Your Life

In the past two days, I found my voice and my characters again, and I already have 7000 words on a new project. In the past three days, I've introduced new music into my life, using Pandora and last.fm to find artists I either didn't know or didn't know well enough. Now I've acquired albums by Radiohead, Florence and the Machine, Interpol, and Arcade Fire. I know, I know, hardly new acts, but theses albums are new to me. This isn't a coincidence. Finding new books, new music, and new movies always helps me. Sometimes just varying my shopping routine or introducing new food into my diet will help push me out of a rut.

Images thanks to lukey dargons, tonyhall, and Man Alive! on Flickr.com

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Inspiration

In case it's as gray and dreary where you are as it is in Utah today, I'm posting three quotes and three photos to help you get inspired for the week. And if you write something based on one of the prompts or the pictures, I'd love to see it!

Around the Writer's Block

It's probably appropriate that I don't know what to write, given that our theme this week is the dreaded writer's block. I know I've seen this said before, though I don't remember the source--the only thing worse than writing is not writing. Truer words have never been spoken (by whoever I stole it from), and I think writer's block is particularly vexing because it hits the core of every writer's fear. What if you can't do it a second time? What if you can't do it a tenth time? What if you forget how to write? What if you're right and the world is on to you, and soon everybody will know you have no business writing at all? Where's the story you should tell?

Writers, being at times temperamental creatures, may be particularly prone to frustration, which doesn't help the situation. I'm also very good at avoiding things I find uncomfortable, frustrating, or maddening, and my procrastination skills are honed to a sharp edge. But I think that might be a requirement for authors. Either way, the longer you practice avoidance and the more non-writing work you do to fill your time, the worse the block will get.

I'm just emerging from my own bout of writer's block. I'd say I've been suffering for a month, but deep down inside, I know it's longer than that. Because writer's block isn't just about the inability to put words on paper. There's nothing stopping anybody from writing at any time, and "I have writer's block" is a weak excuse for not getting work done. Writer's block is a deeper sense of dread, a brush with an alternative life where you're no writer, and it's usually self-imposed. It's not something that happens to you, it's an obstacle you've built yourself, consciously or unconsciously.

We plan to have some good discussions about and suggestions for overcoming writer's block this week, and hopefully it'll be enough to get some people inspired.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Housekeeping

As you can see, we've moved to new digs. We realized that while weebly was wonderful for a website, its blogging option sucked. None of the widgets we wanted to use work properly, and there were other little annoying things that added up until we decided we needed to find a new home. Fortunately, that happened after only 3 weeks, so it was a relatively simple matter of moving all the posts (weebly doesn't support importing/exporting, apparently). So here we are and some of our exciting blogging plans can move forward.

I'm devoting most of my time to building up College Writing Resources. It now has several helpful articles, an essay guide, and a research guide.

I think we found one of our writing interns, but we're still looking for one more.

This week we'll be discussing Writer's Block. We'd love to hear about some of your experiences with writer's block, or some of your tricks to combat it. What do you do when the words just aren't coming?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Five: Kick Ass Women Guaranteed To Make You Smile

I only just sat down with my laptop though I've been up since 5:30. Our minion had her tonsils out this morning, and she's quite miserable right now. I got her the wrong popcicles, nobody can find the bottle of Ibuprofen, she's hungry but she can't eat, so that shortens her already short temper. All we can do is what we did when she was just a grumpy baby--give her mac & cheese and park her in front of the television. So in honor of Lindy and all the television she'll be watching, I've made a list of 5 Kick Ass Women Guaranteed To Make You Smile.

Babs Bunny
Well, she's sort of a woman, and she definitely fulfills the most important criteria of this list, namely kicking ass. She's funny without being obnoxious, mischievous without a cruel streak (except once and she learned her lesson), always sticks by her friends and stands up for herself. She still makes me laugh, and very few things I loved when I was ten still has that effect.

Memorable Quote [lost in New York]
They'll make a TV movie out of this starring Eve Plumb! 'Babs: Portrait of a Teenage Toon'!

Maude

We actually haven't seen too many episodes of Maude, but it doesn't matter, because every episode we've seen is packed full of gems. The series itself is pretty boring, though Rue McLanahan is great, of course. But even if the episode is slow, Bea Arthur's performance and timing is always perfect. The other day we caught an episode on TV, and she casually mentions calling somebody she met when she was "running for the state Senate." You never hear women on television casually mention the time they campaigned to be a senator.

Memorable Quote
Maude: When he says wife, he means possesion.
Walter: So what, Maude? You told me a hundred times you wanted to be possessed.
Maude: Walter Findlay, I never said that standing up and you know it!

Dorothy Zbornak

It's a Bea Arthur twofer. I can't help it. Bea Arthur is my hero. I hope to be her when I grow up. If that's not possible, I'll settle for her timing and trademark growl. I've admired Dorothy my entire life (that might explain a lot actually). The Golden Girls is one of the funniest sitcoms ever--I've done the research--and Dorothy had all the best lines. She didn't suffer fools, she was confident but still had her insecurities, she loved her mother and her friends, and she could deliver a line as dry as the Sahara.

Memorable Quote
Rose: Can I ask a dumb question?
Dorothy: Better than anyone I know.

Dana Scully
There are many, many, many, many reasons to love Gillian Anderson and her character, as we all know, so I'll leave it at that. But my favorite thing about Scully was her understated but undeniable sense of humor. The teasing comments accompanied with a wry twist of her lips, the small smiles Mulder coaxed from her, and of course, the casual way she ate a cockroach. She makes me laugh every time I watch Bad Blood, the Rashomon-style episode about vampires.

Memorable Quote
Last time you were so engrossed, it turned out you were reading "Adult Video News."

Buffy Summers
Of course she had to be on the list, because she's the best. Smart, strong, funny, and can literally take on anything and kick its ass. The only thing more legendary than her skill are her quips, and quotes from BtVS have infiltrated my daily language like cliches and Biblical metaphors. I don't think there's a better cure for what ails you than curling up under a blanket and watching twelve solid hours of episodes like Band Candy, Lover's Walk, or Superstar.

Memorable Quote
The Master: You're dead.
Buffy: I may be dead, but I'm still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.
The Master: You were destined to die! It was written!
Buffy: What can I say? I flunked the written.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Self-Doubt: The Root of All Evil

Authors love feedback. And once a work is published, reviews are the main source of feedback. This would be fine, except for two facts. Fact 1, authors should never read reviews. Fact 2, it's not a a two-way street, and no matter what the reviewer says or doesn't say, responding is never, ever a good idea. It's called The Author's Big Mistake and it carries that name for a reason.

I never break the second rule, unless it's to thank somebody for taking the time to read and write a review. But I never remember the first rule. I knew an author who claimed he never read reviews because if you believe the good things, you have to believe the bad. I don't disagree with the logic. The problem is, as a writer, I'm often plagued with doubt.

Sometimes I'm plagued with so much doubt that by the time a book is published, I can barely stand to think about it. Usually once a book goes on sale, I never revisit it, never re-read it, never remember the good times I had writing it. I know deep down inside it sucks, nobody's going to buy it, and if they do, they'll hate it. I should have worked harder on the prose, I should have tightened the plot, maybe it needed another round of edits.

I've never received a review as harsh as the ones I give myself for every single book, and I find it very difficult to talk about my work, much less claim it under my own name. Because then everybody will know I've successfully published one hundred titles under two pseudonyms, and every single one is "terrible".

4 Steps to Choosing the Perfect Essay Topic

What do you do when a professor says that you can write about anything you want? This can be a really scary, or at least annoying, experience for students who have never written an essay without some kind of prompt. 

As a PhD student I've grown used to this fact of life, and yet coming up with paper topics is still one of the most harrowing experiences of my term.  I just wish a professor would tell me exactly where I should be looking and what I should be looking for.  And yet, they just throw me to the wolves.  Fair enough.  I am supposed to have my own research interests after all, and I should also be competent enough at research to know where to start, but it still remains daunting.

Today I must decide on a paper topic for a seminar on Sophocles' Antigone, so I've been thinking a lot about process of deciding on a paper topic.  I don't want to be reductive, but it amazes me how this harrowing decision can turn into a rather simple one if you follow a few steps.  These steps are not always easily discernable, and they may be different for everybody, but this is how this process has worked for me for the last eight years, and hopefully it can help you out the next time a professor utters those words "You can write about anything you want."

1. Follow your gut, and then write a list


It's helpful to keep note of the things that have sparked even the slightest interests during class or while reading and researching.  Make a list of 3 of those thoughts, 3 things that made you think "hmm".  They don't have to be formulated topics or ideas, but just get them out of your head and on paper.  It might be good to talk about those ideas with a friend or other classmate.  Often verbalizing ideas help you know how strong they are or how much potential they have.

This is one of my favorite parts of the process because I love how odd the connections I make have become over the years.  Even the craziest idea could turn into a compelling paper.  For instance, in my recent course on coldness and culture, when my professor was talking about ice palaces and ice hotels I immediately thought of Kubrick's The Shining and as silly as it may have sounded to everyone else, I held on to that connection and ended up writing one of my favorite papers. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Opening the Door: Stephen King On Writing and Feedback

Wednesday is book review day at Triumphal Writing, and I was slated to review Stephen King's seminal On Writing, but I can't.  First off I haven't finished it yet, and secondly I can't review it once and then put it away.  There's too much in it to talk about, and I couldn't really "review" it anyway.  Am I to assign a mark and a stamp of approval for such a book, Haley's writing Bible?

No, I won't review it, but I will draw on some wisdom from it as we continue to address the issue of feedback and constructive criticism this week.  Yesterday Haley listed five suggestions on giving and receiving feedback, something writers are (or should be) always engaged in.  Do you want to hear what Stephen King says on the matter?  Well, ok, I'll tell you.   Then, afterwards, you should go to the library or bookstore or amazon or however you acquire books, and read the whole thing for yourself.  Or come back here where we'll surely talk about it again.