Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Using Real People in your Novels

Quite often I'm approached with the following question, "Can I use real people for the characters in my book"? My first response is to say, no, but, sometimes the opportunity to use a real person in a fictional setting just can't be ignored.

Let's say someone your met on a bus had some real interesting quirks that you want to have in your main character or your neighbor up the street has a way of talking to children that makes him the best guy on the block, or one of your customers really strikes a chord with you when it comes to a positive attitude.

Should you use these real people in your books?

In this case, (because they are not family members) I would say, yes, with these caveats:
  • Change the first and last name of the character(s).
  • Mix and match hair color, clothing styles, eye color, etc. If the name has been changed to protect your innocent neighbor, make sure distinquishing physical traits are not 100 percent accurate.

  • Place a disclaimer at the beginning of your book. My book, "A River of Stones," says, "Athough this is primarly a work of fiction, some true-life experiences have been woven into the narrative. In presenting this story, every effort has been made to protect the feelings of others. Characters based on real persons do appear in this book; however, their names and many of their traits and circumstances have been changed."
Because my book was based on my experience as a young girl with divorcing parents, there are many reasons that I was cautious in presenting this story. Although fiction, and although I had taken great care in writing this novel, there were still family members who were concerned about what I had written. 

When using family members in your work of fiction, take as many precautions as possible using the ideas above, but prepare yourself for some possible fallout.

In the end, if you know your story must be told, (and you have done everything possible in protecting others) tell it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Finding the Right Writing Mentor or Ghostwriter

How do you find the best writing mentor for you?

A few months ago I was approached to help someone with their first novel. The person was sincere enough and had actually written the first few chapters. They wanted me to continue with the work from chapter 3.
I was initially excited to work with this potential client. The writer was eager to get started and was open to my comments and suggestions.

Then came the first read. The first thing I noticed was that the book's topic was far beyond my comfort zone. I do very little science fiction, especially books that rely heavily on data and other scientific information. Also, I felt like the first few chapters needed a re-write--something the client did not appear to want to have me do.

I turned down the project, hoping that the writer was later able to find a mentor/ghostwriter that more easily fit into his plans, that more easily connected with his dreams. And I learned a few things:

  • Writers seeking mentors need to be open to revision. If they're not, they're probably not ready for a mentor.
  • Mentors seeking writers need to be careful about who they take on. Consider your personal writing style and the style of writing the client wants. Have an initial consultation to make sure that you are a good fit. Anything less than connection will not produce the work your client seeks for and the quality of writing you want to deliver.
  • Writers need to look for mentors that understand and appreciate their genre. It's important to ask questions at the initial consultation. Questions like: How do you feel about the science fiction genre? Have you ever written for it? are good places to start.
  • Clients need to make sure that the mentor has time for their work. If you need editing help, that's one thing, but a ghostwriting job takes much more time. Questions such as: How much time can you give to my book on a weekly basis? When do you see the book at the first-draft stage? will let you know if the mentor is a good fit when it comes to future time spent on your project.

A writer mentor connects with you and with your writing. He/she enjoys this connection and helps you along the road to better and greater things; something both the mentor and the client wants. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

5 Best Writing Prompts

As a writing mentor I have many opportunities to help writers not only find their voice but to create a living, breathing piece of work. Work that comes alive isn't just about the words you use and the subject matter you present, your best work comes when you travel beyond the words to the heart and guts of your piece.

Say you're writing a story about a boy who has been adopted by pretty good parents, but he still feels like a part of his heart is missing. What would you have the boy do, say to express these concerns, this lack in his life? How would you have him behave around other "true" families? What does it take for the boy to wake up and see the good in his life he already has? Does he need to meet his "true" parents first, or does something else happen to awaken him?

I love writing exercises, because thoughts like these can be visited. A writer can go deep into their soul and pull things out that they never knew existed. The writing prompts below are those I have used in my mentoring workshops. Even if you don't use everything written from a writing prompt, you will definitely find a gem worth using.

Write a spell for catching a fish. Make heavy use of your five senses--taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. One client of mine used this writing prompt and created a beautiful short story about a fishing experience with her grandfather--her best work thus far.

Write about why you deserve to win a trip to some exotic location. There is something about writing about your dreams that elicits great ideas to win over any audience.

Write about what you think some inanimate object knows. Get into the "head" of the inanimate object, think and feel as the object thinks and feels.

Write in third person. Then write the same piece in first person. I often have clients do this exercise to discover if their novel or short story would be better in one form or another.

Open up any book, point to 10 words randomly, and use these 10 words in a 15 minute writing exercise. Often, our writing gets boring and sort of lifeless because we use the same words in the same way in the same combination of ways. Mix it up by doing this fun writing prompt.

Writing prompts will not only keep you writing, they will help bring your writing alive--something we all want and need.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Publishing a Christmas Book

If you're thinking about writing a Christmas book, now is the time, for next year's crop.

Unfortunately, Christmas books are looked at mid-year or sooner by publishers and if you're just starting on your book now, better plan for a release next year at the earliest. Many book publishers want your book near the first of the year, in spring at the latest--and that's if you can glean some interest--a tough cookie in this tough market. The good news is that if you plan to self publish your book before next Christmas, and your ideas are already pumping, you can use most of the year to write your book and plan out your marketing strategy.

Here's some suggestions to keep all your reindeer's or (book plans) in a manageable line:
My granddaughter makes some time for coloring fun
  • This time of year, more than ever, you need to plan your writing time. It's easy to get focused on parties, gift buying and decorating and forget about your book. 
  • Get up early. It's amazing what can be accomplished with just one hour a day of writing time.
  • Keep your Christmas book short; around 150 pages or so. Folks will spend even less time reading a Christmas book than at other times of the year. 
  • Make it inspirational or fun. Few people want the heavy, dark stuff at Christmas, unless it's a fun, cozy-centered Christmas mystery. Making your book light to carry as well as light on the eyes and heart will give you high marks.
  • Set a date for your work to be finished. Mark out first and second draft times leading up to your final draft.
  • Get some readers/writers to critique your work. Folks not in your immediate family are best.
  • Study up on marketing techniques while your book is being read, or get some help from an expert. Even if your book is great, marketing makes up for about 90% of your sales.
  • Don't be afraid to publish your own work. and their imprint CreateSpace will give you the help you need to publish your book with little or no out of pocket cost.

Don't forget to have some fun during your book writing and take the necessary breaks needed; even Santa makes some time to put his feet up.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I wasn't planning on writing today; things are so busy. But it so happens that I actually have some time. Thanksgiving isn't at my house and my husband made the cranberry salad we are taking, and so I am left with some wonderful time to write.

If you read my blog yesterday, you're aware of what I am thankful for as a writer. I think it's important that we celebrate Thanksgiving, not only to remember what we are thankful for as a writer but to reflect on the great opportunity it is to spend time with friends and loved ones.

There's a lot of negativity out there about the "pains" of getting together with loved ones especially at Thanksgiving. We may not get along with one or more of our relatives, we may find that we are at a loss for words in a large group that we see only once or twice a year, we may even feel as if we've somehow been made to feel invisible or unappreciated; whatever we feel, however, we need to remember that the end result really is about love.

We gather together not just because we have to, but because we want to. We want to know what Uncle Fred is doing in his life now, what Aunt Jane is doing in her new business; we want to see how big the children have gotten and what the varying families are doing for Christmas. We want to be a part of something memorable.

Thanksgiving connects us, and makes us better people because of what we have learned from those who love us best. What would we do without them?

Family portrait at my daughter's wedding in 2008
(You may see someone familiar in the upper left hand corner)

And so, this Thanksgiving, I give love and thanks to all those I love. Without my family I wouldn't be where I am today. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gobble it Up

Gobble it up. All that is out there to inspire you!

I was thinking today about my many blessings and I couldn't help thinking about the blessings I have received in regards to writing. Here are just a few:

  • I'm thankful that God has given me the gift to write.
  • I'm thankful that he has placed others in my life to encourage me to continue.
  • I'm thankful that perseverance equals success; that through daily striving to improve I have improved.
  • I'm thankful for a husband who takes my writing seriously and who encourages me to live my dreams.When money gets tight, I'm the one who thinks that I should go out and get a 'real' job; my husband reminds me of what my 'real' job is.
  • I am thankful for friends who critique my work and who are honest with their critiques so that my writing may improve.
  • I am thankful for you, my reader, because without you, I wouldn't have this fantastic outlet to share my heart and writing dreams. Thank you.
Blessings are all around you! Thank you for being a blessing in my life. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Let the Hermit Rat Go!

I'm always amazed at how people look at writers. I have been through the "Why don't you get a real job?" comments, the "I have a hobby, too," comments, even the "Do you ever think you'll make any 'real money'" comments.

I understand these feelings because I haven't just received them from others, I have given them to myself.

I still remember the day a little over a year ago when I finally decided to take my writing career to the next level. This is after publishing part-time for over 25 years. After searching for a writing job with no results other than fine opportunities to meet great people, I became convinced that the reason I was not finding the writing job of my dreams is because my writing dream was not out there--it was in here. In my heart, and in my home.

The day I discovered this secret my husband and I were sitting across from each other at lunch. He said, "Why don't you go out on your own? Start your own business?"
My grandson sees his potential

I remember telling my husband that he was crazy, and besides, I was too scared to do it on my own.

What I realize now is that fear is an important factor in starting something new and scary. Fear can be conquered or it can live in you like a great hermit rat. I chose to let the rat go, and climbed out on a limb. I moved my writing life forward to entrepreneurship.

I decided that with my skills and desires to help other writers that I could start my own business. I am still in the beginning stages of this business, gathering new clients and opportunities as the days pass.

And I am happy.

I have created a writing career that suits me instead of a mold I must conform to. And I continue to do what I do best.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Writing Right

Not everything you're going to write will be liked; in fact, sometimes I write things, think I like them, go back to edit, and trash the whole thing!

I save the "thing" of course, but sometimes many years go by before I take a peek and decide to continue with the project.

I often tell my clients that timing is everything. Just because you've written something marvelous, doesn't mean others will see it as marvelous. While it's important to write what you're passionate about, it's not always the most appropriate time to sell it. And this is not always because the idea or your writing is "bad," but more than likely, that the suject matter itself needed some time to gell before other folks got excited about it.

My sisters and I take some time off--sister on the left is a dancer, on the right, a writer
Ten years ago I wrote a short book on drawing closer to the Lord at Christmas. For many reasons, the timing wasn't right. This year I'm going to try it on this blog, so come back and take a peek. You will see the first idea on December 1st. If you're already a journal keeper, you will find the spiritual ideas that I present an extension of what you're already doing; if you haven't picked up a journal in years, you may find that my journal ideas will get you going again.

Writing Right means you hold off until the time is right. You put away that novel for another time, you share that poem with close friends only, you keep that story in your heart.

The best news? When the time comes to share it, you'll know.

Friday, November 18, 2011

When Editing is Sweet

It seems all writer's hate editing their own stuff, even if they feel they are good at it. There's something about tossing out what they still consider "great" and getting rid of the stuff they have slaved over. Years ago someone compared writing to a baby. You are creating this baby and suddenly have to edit parts of it; like only being able to accept half a child.

Does this sit well for you? (No pun intended), it never did for me. Sure, writing is creation in action, but the most beautiful things out there must be weighed and analysed to see if they still fit into our creation of life. We need to know what binds our words together, and what takes us on a side road. We need to know what works and what doesn't, and while writing from our heart will bring us great things that may not always connect, they are still great things to be kept.

I like the idea of letting go but only to a new file. Say you don't think that scene is right for your book, instead of tossing it aside for eternity, you place it in a new file for later. Maybe that first chapter doesn't work but the second one does, or that article on fruit flies leave little to be desired--at least for now. Save it. You may just go back to it later, even it it's only to see how far in your writing you've come.

My first article was terribly written, I look at it now and am embarrassed to show it to anyone. But I have it. When I'm down on my writing I go back to it and instantly see how far I've come. And it doesn't hurt me a bit.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Continuous Learning

I think it's important to learn new things; not only for yourself, but to help you in your relationships with others. Knowledge what my body is really doing has usually in my life outweighed my fears of finding out. Confronting my fears and seeking out knowledge does more for me than pretending that the "potential" problem doesn't exist.

I know a few folks who would rather pretend all is wine and roses rather than accept the reality that is. I know of others that live in the muck "that is" and never venture beyond the sand pile. The trick I think is to find that spot somewhere in the middle, where reality is in existence and the light is shining overhead.

Grandpa and Bekah learn about Photography

Continuous learning is about seeing the tough stuff in our own lives; it's about reaching out our hand at the public library, and seeking out that book. It's about filling our minds and hearts with the goodness that is out there and having the wisdom to see the bad for what it is. An opportunity to see what we want to do with our own life.

Continuous learning is about change. It is seeking for truth, and when found, discarding the old stuff. It's about dreaming and hoping and cheering when someone we love meets their milestone and has the courage to go even further.

Continuous learning is about us. It's about looking in and looking out at all there is to life and having the courage to write it all. It's about faith. It's about work. It's about returning home with a newfound desire to make every moment count.

Continous learning has to do with what you learn today, and what you learn tomorrow. It's about never giving up when times get tough. It's standing ready when a friend needs you and dropping everything else. It's standing true to your spouse when it would be far easier not to. It's staying in the game.

Continuous learning helps a good writer to be a great writer. And what writer doesn't want that?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rejection Slips Revisited

It's another day of writing. Have you ever considered what your life would be without it?

When I have moments when I think I have nothing to share, or nothing valuable enough to share I remember the successes in my life already obtained and the constructive criticism I have received.

Before I sold my first article, I successfully wrote every day. After my first sale I was even more motivated to write every day. When I received my first rejection slip, some 8 years before my first sale, I was offered an opportunity to continue with my craft--or quit. Every rejection slip after that (and I'm still getting them) gives me the opportunity to reevaluate what I love; and what I love is writing!

Quit? No way! There is too much to learn, too much to offer. I have often called writing free therapy and it is! I can write what I need to get out and get on with life. God is the best listener on the planet anyway and I can write to him and he will listen. There's nothing better than a coach who never takes a nap.

Don't let rejection slips get in the way of your life as a writer. Use each and every paper as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Save them if you want. I know of a writer who has saved every rejection slip she's ever received and has laminated them. You should see the long roll! She rolls it out when she gives a speech so that other writers can see that even though she has written and published multiple books, she has also received many rejection letters.

These rejection letters have done her some good.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Better Late than Never

Today I'm getting to my blog later than I initially planned, but I want you to know that I've been thinking about what I wanted to write all day.

Often, the ideas are swimming inside me and all I need is a minute or two to get them down on paper.

Do you ever feel like that?

My newest book, still in construction, was mostly written through the years; only recently have the words come through my fingers and onto the screen of my favorite laptop. It's amazing really, how my experiences through the years have finally come together to create a book.

That's why it's important to keep learning and to keep writing, even if the moments are short lived like this one, because like that box of chocolates, "you never know what you're gonna get."

I love the thought that experiences may, at one time or another, translate into a book. I know of authors who keep a notebook in their purse or inside the glove box of their car. Whenever a great idea, a great experience, a great anything comes to them, they record it in this little notebook. The really organized ones take the notes they record in their notebook and organize them into categories like, "Great Dialogue," or "Funny Experiences," or "Beautiful Settings." When they decide to write a book they pull out their notes for great ideas.

Great ideas, the best ideas, come from life; how you live it, how you experience it, and how you choose to share it with others. You may turn a perfectly true story into something with a bit of fiction added or vice-versa. You may find a great title for your first story from an experience you had while cooking up your favorite recipe, or eating your favorite doughnut.

And you may find that your life really means something after all. Because it does.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writer's Block

Is there really such a thing as writer’s block?

You bet.

But there’s also such a thing as moving beyond it.

Just this morning I was thinking about what I should write for this post and it suddenly came to me that writer’s block is something that all writer’s face. It isn’t easy to come up with new ideas day after day; especially when that day is filled with other concerns.

Working beyond writer’s block is as easy as setting words to paper. It doesn’t even matter if the words make sense or if they are somehow connected with the sentence before it. What matters is that the words come out.

Some of my best stuff has come out of just playing with words and allowing them to play with me. I look out the window; see the fall leaves on the ground mixed with white earth, snow-filled drifts of joy. I will need to rake them when the snow completely melts so as not to have to clean up icky mulch in corners that I’d rather avoid if I forget.

I see a bird as it flies past my window; see the trees blowing ever so slightly in the November wind. Another bird flies overhead; black and gliding. I live on the top floor of a two story house and can see the tops of roofs, tiles of yellow, orange and gray. I see the fence that needs mending, new slats have already been offered and the differing colors distinguish new from old. Leaves continue to flutter, and as I write this post I realize that life has more to offer me than writer’s block.

Much more.

Today, take a look outside your world and see what life has to offer you.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Life Throws you Lemons...

...throw them back!

I woke up this morning intent on doing some reading to better improve my life; instead I got a babysitting opportunity. I'd planned on sitting back and relaxing today, doing what I wanted to do instead of what was usually expected of me.

And a lemon hit me right in the face.

Instead of throwing it back, getting rid of it, and just accepting what was, I held on to it and sucked all of its royal juices out. Boy was I mad! Didn't I deserve a little time to myself? Didn't I deserve a little respite from the work of life?

Some hours later I've decided to throw the lemon back and get to work. Sure, I can still read with some interruptions, and I can still write, but I need to make room for last minute changes. You know the kind.

You were going out to lunch with friends but your car broke down. You were intent on finishing your novel--today--but your youngest got sick. You were more than ready for that new assignment given to you by the PTA but, instead, you are working on getting the plumbing restored.

My advice? Make sure that you're one of those folks that doesn't hold onto lemons. If you have to make lemonade out of it, go for it. If you'd just rather throw them all back, feel free to do so.

Take it from me. There's something to be said for starting again--fresh.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Start Small

There's nothing worse than getting overwhelmed about writing--okay, maybe your car breaking down is worse or the plumbing backing up, but hopefully you get my drift.
What you want to do is to start small. I'm talking short stories here instead of novels, short articles over a nonfiction book, even a blog over an entirely mastered website.
Starting small does many things. It helps you to keep things in perspective. You want to write but you also have a job and and career at home that keeps you hopping. It helps you to finish a project on a daily or weekly basis, and it allows for growth.
Because you can't expect to be a best seller right away, you should also use this time to perfect your craft. Say you're pretty good at dialogue but your setting stinks. Maybe your great at details but your writing is all over the place and needs to be honed in and organized. Whatever you're good at, start small and focus on the writing you do well. The following day, focus on an area of writing that you need help with.
Fifteen minute writes allow you to record just what you want. Even if the stuff you begin with is crazy, you will find that as you continue to write more great stuff will pop up. And this great stuff can be used in the short pieces you will later write.
Starting small is like taking one bite out of a piece of chocolate cake. You know the entire piece, the entire cake, is sitting there waiting to be eaten, but you don't want to get sick, so you take one bite at a time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Get Smart!

Get smart about your writing! Take yourself seriously!

When I was a beginning writer I should have had business cards made up to promote myself as a writer! Instead, I snuggled under my down comforter and wrote my heart out. I didn't see myself as a writer then, just a writing fanatic. I wrote whenever I got the muse and this satisfied me. My husband knew that I was a writer, but I didn't share my dream with others.

This was a mistake!

Today I tell my writing clients to create a business card with "writer" written on the top, talk about their writing to anyone who will listen, take writing classes where they can meet other writers and get their work seen, start a blog; in other words, get the word out!

The best way for others to see that you're a writer is for you to believe it first. If you have to write it up on paper for you to say every day, do it! If you have to look in the mirror and say, "I am a writer," fifty times, do it! No more excuses for you today. Today is the first day of your "get smart" writing career.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Talent & Publishing

Am I talented enough to publish? The question may be one we ask ourselves often because we are either in the beginning stages of writing or we have been writing for a few years without a single acceptance of our work.

I wrote steadily for 8 years before my first acceptance and I thought everything would be smooth sailing after that.

It wasn’t.

I still struggled to sell my work, to get the right piece to the right place, to take criticism. Though that 8 year mark was my send off point, I still continued to hone my craft, get cuddly with the genres (I enjoyed children’s writing, journalism, story writing, and novel writing) and continued to learn from mentors who knew more than I did. I took writing classes, received feedback on my work, and spent time reading books and writing every day!

Many years later I am still learning! Though I am a mentor for writers who are just beginning I am still learning what makes a story work, what creates writer’s block, what keeps writers writing what they are most passionate about, and why a certain piece of work never sells.

You are talented enough to publish if you haven’t given up. Say it’s been 10 years and you haven’t published a single solitary piece! Keep writing! Keep learning! You’ll never be talented enough to publish if you quit.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Time waits for no Woman (or man)

Prior to this day I have been less than a terrific blogger. Let’s just say that “life” as I know it got in the way, and blogging, shall we say, was at the bottom of my list.
I was busy mentoring, cleaning, errand running, writing my newest book, and many of the other things that transpire in a given day for a writer. But I was forgetting you.

I read blogs myself, and I love that I can glean ideas from other writers who are struggling to make successful the sorts of things I am. Gleaning ideas is really the only way any of us writers have anything to write about in the first place even if we don’t always get our ideas from a blog.

Your husband might be sick for an entire week, like mine was from a diabetic seizure, and it’s all you can do to take care of him. You may find yourself struggling to provide the money necessary for that next mortgage payment or finding time for your grandchildren. You may wonder when “your time” will come, when you will have time to write and to get on with your life.

What I love about my life is that it is mixed in with other’s lives. I am not an island. I don’t stand alone. My best writing comes from my experiences, as well as who I am, and the way I choose to live. And spending time doing the most important things in life, whether it’s writing the next blog or experiencing the next outing with my grandchildren, is what life is truly all about.