Tag Archives: writing tips

Writer’s Block, an Adventure in Randomness

MP910216414I’m about 1/4 of the way through writing my seventh book.  (I know! The total is freaking me out too) .  Anyway, today was an excellent writing day. I spent the morning at a local coffee shop.  The past few weeks have been brutal, words limping out onto the page, scenes forming with in pathetic randomness. So, instead of sitting in my office, I opted for a change of scenery and a very large cup of coffee.

I’ve determined that I should write 10,000 words per week to get this book finished. Unfortunately, the only way to make writing easier is to write. It sucks but it’s true. If I write 2,000 words every weekday, I can use the weekend for editing, administrative tasks, or heaven forbid, cleaning.  Three nights this week I sat up until midnight to get the words in. One day I still fell short. Today started out much the same. Four hours at Panera netted me my daily minimum.  I set out to run errands. In the car, scenes and dialogue started flashing into my head. I had to turn off the radio. The music was competing with my characters.

I hurried home, panicked that I’d forget half of what was in my head.  I grabbed my laptop and vomited out another 2K in under 2 hours. I didn’t think I could type that fast. I happily wrote myself into a nasty headache.

Why does this happen? Why does the story hate me one day and love me the next?   Why does it seem so random?  I’ll never figure it out, but I’m surely going to enjoy the days when the job really seems as easy as friends and family think it is.

Now back to writing. Maybe I can make it 5,000. Wishing you all a writing day as successful as mine.

- Melinda

Moving Your Story Forward

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about forward movement in fiction. A good story starts at the beginning, moves through the middle, and ends at the end. But this isn’t as simple as it may sound because without forward movement, even good characters get stuck in dull stories. If your characters are reflecting, wondering and thinking a lot, be wary. Odds are all that thinking and wondering aren’t getting them from point a to point b.

Characters must do things, say things, go places, and interact with other people. A young man thinking about death isn’t a story. A young man digging his own grave is. Don’t ask who your character is; ask what your character does. Trust in your skills as a writer. Your character will reveal who he/she is once you’ve undertaken the task of describing him/her through their words or deeds. This happened to me while I was writing my first book, All You Need Is Love. A secondary character I created, the heroine’s Gram, wound up becoming the real life Gram I wished I had while growing up. Reviewers even mention the quirky senior citizen as endearing and memorable. Go Gram!

When your character’s personality and motivations emerge, this revelation may be so deep you might have to make changes to your plot when you’re done with your first draft. Gram’s constant knudging, made me change her from a one scene character to a six scene character. Quite a difference.

Our characters often reveal themselves to us when we least expect it and this is what makes being a writer, at least for me, so much fun ☺ These aren’t just voices we hear in our heads urging us to write their story down, they become real people we can relate to through the process of writing their story, and in some instances we hate to say goodbye to when the story is over.

Plot turns into story when we convey emotional information to the reader. A woman discovers the end of her marriage. A young man is left at the altar by the love of his life, a child realizes his mother isn’t coming back. Use these emotional discoveries that make real life interesting, horrifying, and beautiful.

Once you entwine them into your story, you begin to mesh plot and character together. Your reader will experience real heart break, loss or joy. Through this process of meshing you’ll feel the difference because the emotional information you convey will create a memorable three-dimensional character that might just grow his/her own fan base : )

Best,

Cathy Tully

Revising: A Scene by Scene Checklist

Pad of Paper & PenWith my draft 98% complete, I’ll soon be entering the sacred revision zone with my latest work-in-process.  (Hallelujah!)  My first read through will be to take out the sucky parts. The second pass will be to address stuff that’s missing. I’ll make  notes on open threads and check them off as I address them.  Step #3 is the final scene checklist.  I’m sure other authors have different lists, and my checklist differs depending on the particular difficulties I experienced during the writing process. I usually start with general concepts and progress to the more nitpicky stuff.

Scene Checklist SHE CAN HIDE:

  • Can I identify the scene goals? Have I met them? If no to either of these questions, do I really need this scene?
  • Is the tension working the way it should?
  • Is the POV (character point-of-view) clear and consistent? (I added the definition here because when I received notes back on my first ever contest submission, POV was noted all over it. I had no idea what POV meant.)
  • Who is in the scene? Have I lost anyone? Where is the dog?
  • Emotion, there should be some.
  • Are the beginning and ending hooks strong enough?
  • Eliminate repetitive and/or boring prose.
  • Are my characters repeating the same physical movements. Seriously, I read a progression of scenes recently in which my characters just stood in doorways through the whole thing.
  • Is the scene rooted in place, time, weather, etc.

Does anyone else have any items I missed?

Stumped for Story Ideas?

newspapers

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

This by far the most common question I’m asked by readers and other writers.  I’m going to share my little secret. Some of my plot ideas come from news headlines. Here’s my trick:  I don’t click through to the article. Instead, I let my imagination fill in all the details.

Obviously, not all headlines are created equal. Take the following:

First of all, we skim right through celebrity news.

  • “Surprise Proposals Shock Bachelorette”
  • “Octomom Dons Tacky Wedding Gown”
  • “Jennifer Hudson’s White-Hot Ensemble”

 Sorry, even I can’t do anything with these. Moving on to politics:

  • Senate Narrowly Passes First Budget in Four Years
  • Health Insurers Warn that Premiums could Spike

 Yawn. I got nothing.

 Next up:

  • Crude Joke Costs Two People their Jobs”
  • “Fighter Apparently Tried to Fake Own Death”
  • “Shootout in Texas may be Linked to Colo. Deaths”
  • “Manhunt Begins in Coney Island Shootings”
  • “Congolese Warlord Arrives at War Crimes Court Jail”

Jackpot! This is what I’m talking about. Reading any one of these headlines gets my imagination rolling. My brain is already making connections and naming characters.

In fact, there are many occasions when I have a plot hole and I need an event and I go perusing headlines to find just the right one.  Using headlines and actual events to spur my fiction gives my story lines realism. The only caveat: sometimes real events are truly stranger than fiction and critics will call your “real” event “unbelievable.”

The Misplaced Muse. . .

Funny thing about being a writer; some days I can sit down and write non-stop for hours. Other days, however, like yesterday, not so much. I sat down to write this blog and stared at the computer screen for far too long. I almost yelled out, “Muse where the heck are you? but since this was far from the first time this has happened to me I knew it would be a complete waste of energy.

I take comfort in the fact that there are dozens, probably hundreds of writers also experiencing a misplaced muse and I move on.  The first thing I do is get as far away from my computer as humanly possible. No email, no facebook, no blog…

I resolve that today will be a day I use to clear my head. Since I live in the Northeast and it is bone chillingly cold, venturing out won’t happen. I mean, it could, but it won’t.  I’m not a big fan of the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing.

There are tons of options to choose from for this day I’ve given myself: I could curl up with a book on the couch in front of the fire, I could set a pot of soup to cook on the stove and fill the house with that wonderful aroma of home cooked love, or I could work on a cross-stitch project I’ve been meaning to finish. All of these tasks sound wonderful, and I could  do any one of them. . .only I don’t.

You see, I have this problem. I am a perpetual neat freak, and admit my issue openly and honestly. At this point in my house, if any family members are home, they make sure to get out of my way, because I come through the place like a banshee. I rip apart a closet I’ve been wanting to get to, I run the laundry and the sheets and all the towels, I clean out the fridge, the stove, and anything else that isn’t bolted down, and I keep on cleaning until my hands actually hurt.

My husband once asked, “why are you punishing yourself?” and I laughed at him because he didn’t get it.  I’m not the kind of mom/wife that can write when I know there’s stuff that needs to get done; i.e., household chores, etc. And since he’s never scrubbed a floor, or cleaned a toilet, he won’t understand the rush I feel when I’m done, cleaning, scrubbing, washing, and it sets me free. Yup. You read that right. I get into cleaning.

My mind is clearer than it’s been in weeks. I step back and look at the finished projects with a deep contented feeling and then after a hot soak in the tub, I pass out and go into the deepest sleep I’ve experienced in months.

The most wonderful part of this process is that the next day I wake refreshed, renewed, and invigorated. I no longer dread my computer and usually wind up putting in a full day at the keyboard.

What do you do when your muse is on vacation? Do you physically throw yourself into a task? Do you relax and play it by ear? Do you turn on some music and exercise? Do you clean like a banshee? What do you do to clear your head and reboot your muse? I’d like to know because sooner or later, I’m going to run out of “stuff” to clean : )

Best,

Cathy Tully

Judging A Book By Its Cover

I’ve always thought a good cover helps sell a book, but recent events, have turned me into a believer. One day last week, I ran into a local beauty supply store I’d heard good things about, but had never visited. The owner stood behind the counter animatedly chatting with two women about the antics of her new kitten. As I took my merchandise to the check-out, the owner mentioned how her cat is so much happier now that she has a companion.  I nodded in agreement, because I’ve lived this, only with dogs, and know the truth in this statement.

The women’s smile widened in appreciation of my acknowledgement. As she rang up my sale, we spoke in more detail about her cats. The subject soon focused on my pets. I told her I didn’t have any pets right now, and that we’d lost our dog to illness a little over a year ago. All the women grew quiet. One blotted her eyes; another patted my arm and my heart instantly warmed. I love animal lovers. They are honest, sensitive people, and I adore being around them.

After paying for my merchandise, I mentioned my book that featured my dog. I pulled out a copy from the bag I bring along when I run errands. They asked me questions about the cover, and pointed to the coffee cup, the steam in the shape of a heart, the young couple gazing into each others eyes, and the little dog sitting proudly in the corner. These women commented on how much they loved the cover and how inviting they thought it was as we talked about how all of the elements on the cover related directly to the story.

Wow. That was an enlightening experience for me. I’d always thought a cover was important, but this interaction with complete strangers proved to me just how important a good cover design can be.

I sold five books that afternoon, and am so grateful for publishing companies like Astraea Press and The Wild Rose Press, who encourage their authors to communicate in great detail with their cover designers, allowing us to work hand in hand to create a beautiful finished product.

Before this experience, I’d never even thought to ask potential publishers how much input an author would have in their cover design. Instead I got lucky. I sold to two publishers that do believe an author’s input is invaluable and since there’s no guarantee to my luck holding out, I can assure you, how much author input goes into a cover design will be the first question I ask any potential publisher in the future.

Best,

Cathy Tully

Keeping it Real

What I love about teaching the occasional karate class , particularly working with newbies, is explaining and instructing basics. Good basic form and technique are the keys to strong skills later on. They are the foundation to a house of cards or the stock to a good soup. Form and technique also enable a small student able to generate more power and hit harder than someone twice her size.  So, if you want your smaller heroine to land a strong blow to your big, bad villain, it’s possible. But writers have to keep it real. This isn’t TV.

Martial arts employs the use of physics. Here are three ways to generate more power when striking.  Good use of one of these natural forces allows a small person to hit very hard. (Bruce Lee was not a big man, but he could deliver incredibly fast and powerful blows!)

  1. Gravity – Your heroine can stomp on your villain’s instep, ankle, or knee. If she does it properly, gravity and body weight will add considerable force to the kick.
  2. Momentum – She can shift her body weight forward while striking, using her forward motion on the horizontal plane to increase her power.
  3. Torque – A roundhouse kick is  one example of using torque to increase power. The kicker uses the turning motion of the body like a golfer or baseball player.

There are forces karate students learn to maximize their strengths. Size, strength, and conditioning are factors as well. But every student can use correct form to increase his or her personal power.

I leave you with a clip of Bruce Lee. Yes, it’s a choreographed scene, but he is still amazing to watch. Notice the tight efficiency of his body. No wild swings. No unnecessary motions. Incredible speed, power, and grace. He is economy of motion in action. Enjoy!

Revisions and the Value of a Fresh Perspective

Woman reading bookI’ve learned an important lesson recently:  I am not always the best judge of my own work.

My deadline for SHE CAN SCREAM was tight. This was my doing. I wanted to push myself and my career, but the compressed time frame didn’t for much “thinking” time, those days when I stare at my plot board and let my imagination go. Writing the first draft in 10 weeks was a huge challenge for me. Yes, I know plenty of people who can crank out a draft in half that time, but not me. I am not a fast writer.

Anyway, I finished the draft and 2 rounds of revisions. Even after my agent read and approved the manuscript, I still had concerns. (I always doubt my own writing) But the deadline had arrived. So, holding my breath, I pressed SEND.

After a glorious 10 days of not having to work on this book, my developmental editor returned it. Yay! Only one of my concerns turned out to be valid, and fairly easy to correct once she pointed it out in the document. But in reading through her comments, there were a number of remarks that surprised me, places in the book where she felt my heroine sounded cold or mean. I reread the text over and over and couldn’t see it.  As a writer, my first instinct is to reject criticism that doesn’t seem logical. But the emotional impact of words isn’t something that can be predicted with an algorithm.  If my editor was put off by these sections, some readers will surely have the exact same reaction to the text that she did.

Different people can read the same words and have completely different reactions to them. 

When people open a book, they don’t do it alone. They bring their own history and personality with them, and their reactions can be as different as the lives they’ve led.

So, I’m off to rewrite these sections of text to make sure the emotions I intended to convey are clear to as many readers as possible. And I’m thankful that this book still has two more layers of editing, with two more entirely fresh perspectives, before it goes to print.

Never Assume.

When I published my first book, a children’s non-fiction, titled, NEBRASKA, eight  years ago, I was tossed into the ‘deadline’ world clueless of the work involved and the time entailed. Needless to say, my family was less than happy, and I was tired, stressed, and instead of being excited when I handed the book in, I felt more like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders.

Instantly I questioned, what the heck was I doing? After all, I worked hard to write and sell that book. and I deserved to see it through to completion. I should have been fulfilled, excited and elated when I finished. So, I knew to maintain my sanity, I ‘d have to make some changes in my life if I wanted to be a successful, published author, and I had to make them fast.

I think it’s important to note that my husband and daughter’s are my biggest cheerleaders, my website designers, my promo gurus, if you will.  They are proud of what I do and often brag until they’re blue. . . but they’re also human. And being human, they were used to my being at their beck and call without my writing getting in the way, so in a sense, their negative reactions to my deadline schedule were my own fault, simply because I hadn’t prepared them.

So, I sat them down and explained how important meeting a deadline was and how I much I needed their help. Once I put it that way, they smiled and said they wanted me to succeed and they hadn’t understood how important my deadline or my daily writing schedule was to me. After all, I usually wrote while they were in school and stopped when they got home. This change in my schedule, and theirs,  had pulled the rug out from under them. They promised to pitch in around the house so I’d have more time to write.

Hence, my daughter’s began doing the laundry, keeping their rooms neat, and cleaning the bathroom they shared. My husband began dropping off his own dry cleaning and running the vacuum through the entire house once a week. As my girl’s have grown,  they’ve taken on more chores, and I am beyond grateful for all their help. To a layman this may not sound like much, but to those stay at home mom’s out there doing their best to keep all the balls happily in the air, you know any help is good help.

And, no, these changes didn’t happen overnight, but the point is they did happen. And please don’t tell me talking to your kids  won’t work for you because you have sons, because, let me tell you, I have a friend with three boys and they do a better job of cleaning than some women I know : )

As my daughters mature, so does their understanding of what it is I do. They share in my happiness when a sale occurs, and feel the sting when I receive another rejection.  In my heart I believe their increased support and pitching in all took place because I sat them down and gently, yet firmly, told them years ago that ‘this is the way it has to be’.

Children never cease to surprise me. They adapt fast; they can bend to new situations when they’re asked to, and they come out shining and proud of what they’ve done in the end.

The important thing to remember is, a child won’t change merely because he/she can: you, my friend, must first ask them to.

Best,

Cathy Tully

Trying a New Writing Software: WriteWay Pro

I’ve recently turned in a book. (YAY!)  Since the manuscript was finished in a serious crunch, there’s no time for a break before getting my next project underway.  Time to plot!

I tried Scrivener last year for help with this process but found the software too cumbersome for my taste, but I really wanted software that would help pull together some of my plotting steps, especially since I’m writing 2 series simultaneously.

A friend recently told me about WriteWay Pro.  I downloaded the trial and was hooked.  It’s a simple program that allows me to keep my outline, characters, research, synopsis, and many other aspects of my new project in one file.  I had no trouble figuring out how to work anything without consulting the help button even once.  My absolute favorite function is the ability to import character profiles from previous books into new files. This will be a big help when I jump from one series to the other.

Here’s a YouTube tutorial if you want to check out WriteWay.

If I was going to give the folks at WriteWay any advice, it would be to add audio to their tutorial clips.  But you’ll get an idea of how the software functions.

Has anyone tried WriteWay?  What do you think?