Writing Process

Dear Authors: Cut Down on the Turning

Turning. We all do it. Throughout our days, our commutes, our hokey-pokeys.  We turn this way and that as we go about our lives, zigzagging through the years like a hockey puck.

But I’m finding that many characters are doing way too much turning these days:

Juliet whispered Romeo’s name. He turned and walked over to her.

Joey’s mother called him from the open window. He turned and said, “I’ll be right there.”

Turns may be a part of life, but that does not mean you have to mention all of them in your book. Turning is one of those actions that’s understood by the reader even if you don’t write it. Kind of like when a character walks down the street. Do you write that he is putting one foot in front of the other? Or that he is bending his legs at the knee to do so? That’s extraneous information.

For example:

The doorbell rang.  Guy Fieri turned and walked over to the peephole to see who it was.

The doorbell rang. Guy Fieri walked over to the peephole to see who it was.

Now, the only extra bit of info the first sentence gives us was that the poor sap wasn’t facing in the right direction when the doorbell rang. But is this so important that the reader has to know this? When Guy discovers no one at the door, will he TURN back the other way and walk into the kitchen? Well, he will, but does the author have to mention it?

Turning is one of the surest identifiers of the newbie author. Turns clog our manuscripts with unnecessary words. A good idea is to do a search for all the turn mentions in your book. What would your text be like without the word? Take it out. Does your sentence have the same meaning? My hunch is that unless your character is doing things like turning off the television or turning red with embarrassment, it will.

By |2014-07-23T14:42:42-04:00July 23rd, 2014|Uncategorized, Writing Process, Writing Tips|2 Comments

Handling Criticism from Author-Friends

Chances are your closest family members will love whatever it is you have written — even if it’s just a shopping list. They love you and, in turn, will love it.

But what about your author-friends? Those people who, like you, pen books? Many of my friends, who are authors themselves, have taken the time to read Baby Grand — out of the legions of books out there — and I am truly grateful for their time and their support. Many times, these author-friends will have positive comments (yay!) or have questions about plot and character and back story (that I love to answer!). But, other times, author-friends have had criticisms. And because they are authors themselves, we tend to take these critical comments — which can be very specific and very insightful — seriously. One author-friend went as far as sending me an email itemizing all the “errors” he said he found in Baby Grand. Now, THAT was a fun day. :)

Okay, so what do you do when faced with such criticism. What did I do on that fateful day I received an innocuous-looking email with the subject line: BABY GRAND? Did I open up a can of whoop-ass on him? Tell him he was ugly and his mother dressed him funny? No. Actually, I did nothing. There’s nothing TO do. Damn, I may have even thanked him for his time.

But, why?

Well, first of all, I do believe — with all my heart — that, despite the laundry list of “errors” he was kind enough to send me, this person had my best interests at heart. After all, he is my friend.


By |2014-07-21T15:56:10-04:00July 21st, 2014|Uncategorized, Writing Process, Writing Tips|6 Comments

Don’t Let a Few Beta Readers Throw You Off Course

In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard from no fewer than three fellow authors talk about reworking their books, second-guessing their instincts, or scrapping their manuscripts altogether based on comments from a few beta readers. Now while I’m the first to admit that novel writing is a two-way street — books are meant to be read and loved and cherished by other people or else we’re simply writing diary entries — I am seeing authors put way too much emphasis on early reader input.

I can hand Baby Grand to 10 people and get 10 different opinions about it — all of them valid, of course, because reading is very subjective and personal, but that doesn’t mean that I, as the author, should be adapting my book to honor each and every one of them. As with parenting, I think ideally we should listen to what everybody has to say, but only put into use what resonates with us. After all, these are YOUR characters. This is YOUR story. We don’t just toss our kids out the window when they aren’t to others’ liking.

Listening to input is great and helpful, but it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for your own instincts. You cannot make everyone happy. Only yourself.

This discussion brings to mind an article I recently read in the New York Times about actor Zach Braff crowdfunding his latest film, Wish I Was Here. The crowdfunding aspect aside, I loved this quote from Braff about the final cut of his film, which, by the way, received lukewarm reviews by critics: “I can say wholeheartedly that it is a full articulation of what we wanted to say.”

THAT is what I think we should be striving for as novelists. Is this book a full articulation of what I wanted to say?

If it is, and a few beta readers aren’t getting it, the answer may be to get new beta readers rather than a new manuscript.


By |2014-07-14T11:53:57-04:00July 14th, 2014|Uncategorized, Writing Process, Writing Tips|17 Comments

Copyright Registration: Should You Do It?

Attorney Omid Zareh discusses copyright basics at the East Meadow Public Library on Long Island.

Attorney Omid Zareh discusses copyright basics at the East Meadow Public Library on Long Island.

I think most authors know that copyright registration is not a requirement for protection under the copyright law, since copyright is secured automatically when a work is created. So why bother registering a copyright?

That’s what I’ve always wondered, so I decided to attend a seminar last night at the East Meadow Public Library, Long Island, N.Y., titled, “Long Island Writers and Authors: Copyrighting Your Work.”  The presenter was Omid Zareh, a co-founding partner of Weinberg Zareh & Geyerhahn, LLP, based in Merrick, N.Y. Zareh advises in various areas of the law, including technology, intellectual property, real property and corporate disputes.

According to Zareh, although registering a copyright is considered a legal formality, doing so does give authors some additional protections under the law. In particular, if copyright registration is made within three months after publication of a work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. (Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.) It also establishes a public record of the copyright claim and is necessary should an infringement suit ever be filed in court. Additionally, it allows you to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service to protect against the importation of infringing copies.

And if that wasn’t compelling enough, registering a work is super-easy and -inexpensive. Simply visit the U.S. Copyright Office’s website, and file a copyright registration for your work using the Office’s online system. To file online, it only costs $35 (to file a paper claim, it’s $65).

Ease of filing. Cost-effectiveness. Added legal protections. Really, there doesn’t seem to be a reason NOT to register a copyright for a work. I think I’m sold.

5 Reasons You Should Write Right Now

1. Because time has a habit of going by. If you don’t make your writing a priority — on the same level as your job or your family — it will always come second or third, and you’ll find that valuable days or weeks will go by in between writing sessions. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

2. Because you have a unique story to tell. As creative writing instructors (myself included) tell aspiring authors across the world, no one can tell your story but you. So get cracking.

3. Because it’s an exciting time to be in publishing. A chorus of new voices. A variety of formats. A slew of new author services. Seemingly infinite ways to reach new readers. What are you waiting for?

4. Because you ARE good enough. Silence that self-critic, but good! And even if you think you’re not, write anyway. You might surprise yourself.

5. Because somebody has to be the next Stephen King or JK Rowling. Why not you?

By |2014-03-15T08:46:40-04:00March 15th, 2014|Uncategorized, Writing Process|1 Comment

Just. Do. It.

At the beginning of this month, I announced I would finish the first major edit of In the Red, my current work-in-progress, by April 1. And, lo and behold, I’m still on schedule. I’ve been editing 25 pages a week, so by tomorrow I’ll have edited 125 pages. Thrilled doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel. There have been so many stops and starts with this book that I had forgotten the secret to getting things done: Just sit your butt down and do it. Commit. Commit. Commit. Make writing/editing your book just as important as feeding your kids or working. That’s it. Just. Do. It. I knew this when I wrote Baby Grand. I’ve always known it, but somehow lost my way. Well, I’m back. And determined. I know the next 100 pages will be the toughest — the middle always is. That darn muddy middle. But my hope is that I’ll report at the end of February that I’ll be at 225 pages and ready to hit the homestretch.

In other news, my nonfiction book Daft Punk: A Trip Inside the Pyramid (St. Martin’s Press) was published on January 21. Daft Punk - Mech_croppedVery exciting! You know how people talk about the summer of 2013 being The Summer of Daft Punk? Well, it was doubly so for me, as I spent those three months, as “Get Lucky” raced up the charts and broke records, researching and writing this book. When Daft Punk won Album of the Year at the Grammys last Sunday (among other awards), I was smiling to myself as I recognized all their collaborators who were standing up at the podium with them: Paul Williams, Todd Edwards, Nile Rodgers and DJ Falcon, among others. I had learned so much about them that I felt as if I knew them. :)

What are you up to these days? Tell me what you’re working on. Together, we can get our WIPs done and toast our successes.

25 Pages a Week, or Bust!

Those of you who follow this blog know that I wrote Baby Grand, in large part, by writing 1,000 words a day. For my current novel, In the Red, I followed the same regimen, more or less (my work schedule was interrupted quite a bit, however, for this book). As of today, I have a nearly 90,000-word first draft that I need to edit. So, I have set aside these next three months to do just that. Come hell or high water. This. Will. Get. Done. By April 1. You heard it here, folks!

So, I was just staring at my calendar trying to figure out how to plan out a first edit so that I can keep on schedule. I think it’s difficult to know how many pages you can edit in a day. I’m trying to remember how I did a first edit of Baby Grand, but I can’t recall, and I’m too lazy to check earlier posts of this blog. I may have, indeed, met daily edit goals, but this first draft of In the Red is so messy — much messier than Baby Grand was upon completion — that I know it will be nearly impossible. There will be lots of rewriting going on. That’s for sure. So I’ve decided that I will edit 25 pages a week. That gives me a little wiggle room in the day to day. So, by tomorrow, the first 25 pages will be done; by next Friday, the next 25, and so on. That should do it. (Fingers crossed!)  So, off I go. Wish me luck!

How about you? What are you working on in 2014?

By |2014-01-01T20:15:50-05:00January 1st, 2014|Uncategorized, Writing Process|3 Comments

Should Authors Heed eBook Reader Data?

A recent New York Times article discusses how technology is allowing authors of eBooks to see all kinds of reader data:

  • How long does it take readers to read your book?
  • Do readers finish your book?
  • Do readers skip chapters? If so, which ones?
  • Do readers linger over certain scenes?

Some critics argue that having this kind of information will make authors more like pushers of product rather than creators of art, catering to the whims of a fickle consumer. They argue the information interferes with the creative process. Personally, I think the notion of authors writing to the market’s needs/wants is not something new. I have author-friends who have been “persuaded” by agents and publishing houses to write about topics that are “selling” or “hot now.” This kind of nudge or coercion, if you can call it that, is now coming directly from the consumer, rather than the publishing industry and, perhaps, has never been at this micro-level before, although you can argue that it has.

Is this kind of stuff good for authors to know? Sure, why not. Information is good. When I attend book clubs, readers tell me all the time what they’d like to see happen in the sequel to Baby Grand, and I always listen — readers have been very passionate about the book’s characters, which is so cool. But the truth is I already know in my heart how the next book will go, and I don’t think anything anyone says will change that.

I guess that’s the key. It’s like parenting. You listen to what’s being said. You read the information that’s out there. The reviews. You consider the suggestions. But then you do what you think is right. If authors feel strongly about their characters and their books, nothing should sway them from the book they set out to write, whatever the reader data says.

Do you agree? What say you, authors? Would you like to have this kind of reader information? Would it change the way you write?

Writing Tip #118

Idea capture is not writing, but it IS the first step to writing. A coaching client of mine, in response to an email I sent to her offering suggestions on a chapter, decided “you are right. I am throwing out most of Chapter 2.”

I was confused. I didn’t think I said she should.

She had submitted a chapter to me that had some issues — with pacing, clarity, information dumping — so I made quite a few notes and suggested she take another look, never thinking she’d decide to start again.

Of course, that is her choice, and she is very brave to do so. Starting over — whether it’s a chapter, several chapters or an entire book — is always a disheartening prospect, whether you are a new or a seasoned writer. The thought of killing those darlings, crafted with such care over hours, days, weeks or years, can be painful. But sometimes it’s necessary.

But not always. As I wrote to my client regarding her decision to scrap the chapter: “That’s totally up to you. There’s a lot of good stuff throughout the chapter that may just have to be fine-tuned. I think what you say…is true: ‘Idea capture is not writing.’ But it IS the first step to writing.”

Remember, there are times when you don’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater when a simple siphoning will do.

I told as much to my client. Just so she knows. In the end, the decision will be hers.


By |2013-11-24T16:20:05-05:00November 24th, 2013|Uncategorized, Writing Process, Writing Tips|0 Comments

When Are Things ‘Supposed to Happen’?

One of my writing coach clients was working on the first few chapters of her novel and was struggling with knowing when things were supposed to happen?

What should be in the prologue? Should there even be a prologue? When does the action start? Is there a “thing” that’s supposed to happen in the first chapter?

As far as I’m concerned, there really are no rules to fiction writing. I know there are lots of books out there that say otherwise, but for me it’s about just getting the story down — even in a loose, rough form — which is hard enough without worrying about all that other stuff.

A writer-friend of mine keeps changing her manuscript to whatever folks tell her will make it sell. “You can’t just write for yourself,” she told me.

I disagree. I think, in the beginning, you really do need to write for yourself in order to tell the story you want to tell. I’ve shown early manuscripts of Baby Grand to enough editors to know that everyone — even editors who work for the same publisher — have different opinions, and if I changed Baby Grand every time someone had a criticism I wouldn’t be writing the book I wanted to write. That is not to say that I didn’t change the manuscript at all. I did, but only when I felt the criticism was valid regarding the story, not the book’s marketability. I really believe readers are open to more kinds of stories than publishers give them credit for.

It’s true, though, that you should know who your audience is — adult fiction, women’s fiction, romance, YA, children’s books. If you really, really want to write a horror novel, good for you but you shouldn’t expect to be selling it to middle schoolers.

But as far as formatting your book for an audience, or employing literary devices, and all that stuff you’re “supposed to” do? You’ve got plenty of time to worry about that. For now, just write.

By |2013-07-18T16:23:34-04:00July 18th, 2013|Uncategorized, Writing Process|2 Comments
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