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WHAT’S THE MUSE, ANYWAY?

November 21, 2018

I had an interesting conversation the other night at the writer’s group meeting. I got there relatively early. I mean relatively, because I’ve been working overtime and I was later than usual. Yet to my surprise, our guest speaker beat me there and we were alone in the room. We’ve met before and got to talking about writing (go figure!). During the conversation, he mentioned that he doesn’t have a muse. If I got what he said right, he doesn’t believe in the muse. To him, it’s an excuse not to write. It’s a made up “flowery” thing that says if you’re not in the “zone,” you just can’t make your story happen.

I asked him what he does for inspiration. He takes the mercenary approach and writes for money. He writes for whatever is hot, to make money. If someone asks him to write something, he does. No muse, he just does it. To me, this was kind of like technical writing.

INTERESTING OUTLOOK

I had to ask if he even enjoyed writing, and his response, was “of course.” He went on to explain that he just focuses on what makes money.

While I admire his tenacity and drive, my motivations are different. I certainly don’t fault him for it. In fact, I believe that’s pretty much the same philosophy of Lee Child. Lee writes the Jack Reacher series and they’re great. He seems to love what he does, but he writes strictly for commercial purposes, from what I’ve read about him.

EVERYONE HAS THEIR REASONS

We’re all doing this writing thing for a reason. Whether it’s strictly artistic, for money or a bit of both, we’re still doing it.

I’m a bit of both, though I can’t deny my artistic side. Whether anyone agrees with that, is up to my readers.

How about you?

SO, WHAT’S A MUSE, ANYWAY?

Is the muse your inspiration to sit down and write?

Is it just something to blame writer’s block on when you can’t get it done?

I can only speak from my personal experience.

Muse is inspiration, the drive to create, at least to me. It’s that deep well within my soul that my ideas spring from. I don’t derive it from a person, like some infamous movie makers of late. It’s nothing physical. It’s, to put it blunt, my imagination. It’s always with me. It has been since the fifties with the polka-dot sewer back in kindergarten in Lakewood, California. Probably before that, but I just didn’t have a name for it. It’s only since 1995 that I finally had a true outlet (writing) to channel it.

Now, going back to the guest speaker. He’s a mercenary writer. He writes for trends. He writes for what’s hot, based on the market or what his publisher wants him to write. He doesn’t guess what’s going to be hot or write to temporary hot items that’ll die off by publication time. He writes to stuff that stays hot (we went over that too).

As I said above, he scoffed at the idea of a muse and said that was just a phony excuse to blame for writer’s block. If he needs to write something, he just sits down and writes it. Case closed (or words to that effect). He alluded to another famous writer, who’s name I didn’t catch, that touted that philosophy.

DO WE NEED A MUSE?

Do we need a muse? As I’ve defined it, it’s inspiration.

If you want to get all artsy fartsy about it, some of you maybe DO need a muse to create your art.

I call it my muse when maybe all I’m really talking about is my imagination. Plain and simple.

Why?

When I sit down to write, I get the inspiration (muse?) for a story. So, now I figure A and B beforehand. That may take a few minutes to a few days. Once that’s done, I start writing and it all just falls into place. Whether it’s muse, imagination or channeling, it’s out of my hands. It just happens and I no longer worry about it. I don’t get stuck, I don’t fret about the next step. I don’t freak out because I can’t figure the plot twist or whether character A is violating something to do with character B.

I just write. Simple as that. I don’t have a person, object, place or whatever to inspire me. It comes from within.

I’m also not a mercenary writer, so I don’t get orders from a publisher to “write this,” or “write that.” I have been in those type situations, or have put myself in them before. I can do it, but I much prefer not to.

Do you let the thing like muse get in your way? Do you let the IDEA of the muse get in your way?

Do you let writer’s block, imaginary or otherwise (like the story), bog you down?

Is it just excuses, as this writer said it was?

SUMMARY

The muse is a nice flowery, literary term, one I’ve used freely and liberally throughout this series of articles. Maybe what I’ve meant all along is something that has never failed me because it’s never got in the way of me getting the job done. Inspiration and drive.

Happy writing!

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SHORT STORIES – AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL OR EDITORIAL?

November 7, 2018

I ran across a situation recently when I wanted to submit to the latest short story anthology for my writer’s group. I submit something almost every year. Though I’ve been featured in many of them, I still get rejected often enough. For some reason, I seem to do better with autobiographical and editorial/op-ed pieces lately. While I have plenty of short stories stocked up, the batch of judges we’ve obtained to screen the stories apparently doesn’t favor icky bug (horror), which is what I usually write when it comes to short story fiction.

On the other hand, I’ve had good success with both autobiographical (as in Galf), and editorial (as in Orange Orange Orange). There are others as well.

On the fiction side, maybe literary is their thing, so my action-based get-to-the-point style isn’t what they like. I’ve noticed that on the critique sheets I’ve received. When I submit something reality-based, that usually resonates.

APPEALING TO HOT BUTTONS

Submitting to a short story anthology can be tricky. You, of course, have to have the writing chops. On the other hand, no matter how good your writing is, if you piss them off at the outset, it’s all downhill from there, which is what I did with my last story. I spotted a UFO in Spain. It was half real and half fiction. Because I mixed it, I hit a hot button that set me off on the wrong foot with the judges. It was downhill from there.

My most recent successful submission was the story before the UFO one and dealt with road construction. This was a hot-button topic I KNOW the judges could relate to, though at the time, I hadn’t made the connection and wrote it because I felt it. In this case, it worked.

This time, my submission is a mix of autobiography and editorial, dealing with my military service. It resonates on many levels, but at the same time, may piss some people off. A lot depends on the background of these judges. If I piss them off on the first page, I’m sunk.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE?

Many of you write more than novels. If you’re like me, you can step back and if a particular muse hits, you find the time to pour out something spur-of-the-moment. I know I do. When my military story idea hit me, the initial idea was an op-ed. However, there was no editorial to rebut, so I approached it different. I needed real life examples, and what better example than myself. Why? Because I was feeling it in the first place. So, it became an autobiographical editorial.

On the other hand, Galf, was an autobiographical story about my father. I had another one called Dye-no-myte about almost blowing up Lompoc, California. That was pure autobiographical.

It’s always better to do an editorial when you have lived the example. In the case of Orange Orange Orange, I have, and still live it every day. In fact, today, as I write this, I dodged orange cones going out to do several tasks earlier today.

SUMMARY

An autobiography is your story. An editorial is basically complaining about something. An op-ed is a rebuttal to an editorial you have issues with. If you’re going to complain about something, it’s best that you lived it rather than complain about it second hand. Therefore, the editorial is best a mix of autobiography and opinion.

Happy writing!

WASTED WORDS

October 31, 2018

I’ve talked plenty about tautologies, redundancies and writing tight.

The other day, we were driving home from the bookstore (hey, isn’t that a coincidence), and we were in the turn lane. This was an obvious turn lane with no other option. I had to wonder why everyone had their turn signal on. Even though I suppose it’s a state law, it made me wonder about the redundancy. We obviously can’t go anywhere else, so why do we have to let everyone know where we have to go anyway? We can’t change our minds and go somewhere else.

Redundant info.

Then I thought of the most common tautologies.

To remind you, a tautology is saying the same thing twice.

Stand up.

Sit down.

MYRIAD OF WAYS

There are a myriad of ways we waste words. Though I like to rag on literary writers, as much as they’re in love with words and like to ramble endlessly about description and feelings and inner thoughts, even they have to get to some kind of point eventually. As long as it takes a literary writer to get from A to B, there’s still some sense of word economy they have to adhere to.

On the other hand, if you’re a genre writer, or even a mix of literary/genre, you still have to get to the point eventually. To me, the quicker the better. I want description and characterization as well. However, I believe it can be done in as few words as possible, so the story moves, not at a glacial pace, but with reasonable speed.

The hazard for any writer, no matter how practiced you are, is that those wasted words inevitably creep into the story in a myriad of ways.

You can’t help it. Unless you’re a very slow and rigid writer, when you spit out your verbal diarrhea in a spurt of inspiration as the muse hits, you’re going to throw in wasted words. Your mind doesn’t always translate to the page what your fingers type (or hand writes, or mouth speaks). There’s a certain disconnect between what you’re thinking and what you actually write.

It’s natural, it’s inevitable. It’s why we have editing.

WEEDING OUT WASTED WORDS

This can be tougher than it seems. Tautologies are a good start. However, some of them are so naturally occurring, you may not even be aware of them.

Then there’s the turn signal in the turn lane. While it may be state law in the real world, in the literary world, it may be automatic, but reads poorly. Is it supposed to be there?

A blatant example.

“I think I’m going to get myself a cup of coffee.” Amy stood up, walked to the counter and poured a cup of coffee. She took a sip, sighed, then sat down in the chair at the kitchen table.

Oh…kay.

How about this?

Amy poured a cup of coffee, eased into the chair, leaned her elbow on the kitchen table and took a sip. “This tastes great.”

From 39 words to 24 words, eliminated two tautologies, removed an obvious and unnecessary statement and made it all simpler. Plus, I made it more active.

Here’s another one for you.

Of all the things Scott hated, none was worse than coffee. When he took a sip, his face screwed up, he spit it out, and said, “Aaagh! I wanted tea.”

How about this?

Scott took a sip, gagged and spat it on the ground. “I can’t stand coffee. I’ll take tea instead.”

Cut to the chase. No need for the turn signal when you obviously can’t go anywhere else.

One more.

“Loren, do you want to go to the movies?”

            “I can’t stand going out in the traffic, the heat, the dust and wind. The movies are so expensive. The popcorn smell gets to me, and the crowds close in on me. I don’t like the sticky floor in the aisles and around the seats. Oh, and did I ever tell you about the seats? Are you crazy? Why would I want to go to the movies?”

How about this?

“Loren, do you want to go to the movies?”

            “No.”

SUMMARY

You have to think of your blathering and rambling and how much color you really need and how much of it is relevant to the story. How much of it moves the plot.

Fluff you don’t need, whereas key elements you do. Color is fine. You do need to add life to your story, but not at the expense of wasted words. There’s a way to do it without bogging down the narrative.

Happy writing!

 

GRAMMAR LESSON SIX

October 24, 2018

We’re back with another set of similar sounding words with entirely different meanings.

Our illustrious former Henderson Writer’s Group el-presidente, Linda Webber, used to present grammar lessons each week on the back of our meeting agendas. The gist of them were the improper use of words.

As a reminder, I’ll add the standard intro below before I get into the word list.

BACK IN THE DAY

I once wrote a screenplay with my bud, Doug Lubahn, a famous musician. During our correspondence, I once told him I was waiting with “baited” breath instead of “bated” breath. He’s never let me live that one down.

The proper use of words is something a lot of (especially) new writers don’t always get. So, for your reading pleasure, below is a list of words and how to use them properly.

The list is not near complete, so that’s why this is called Grammar Lesson Six.

Once again, my many thanks to Linda Webber, who has gone through the trouble to compile these words all in one place for me to steal and present to you here at Fred Central.

These are common words that are often used out of context. They can be a quandary for a writer, and warrant a quick trip to a dictionary, or on line.

COMMON SIMILAR SOUNDING WORDS (WITH ENTIRELY DIFFERENT MEANINGS)

Forbear                      To refrain

Joe could not forbear a smile.

Forebare                    An ancestor

His forebares were early pioneers to this territory.

Foreward                   An introduction to a book

The foreward to Cindy’s book was elaborate but unnecessary.

Forward                     Onward, ahead

It’s time to move forward with our plan.

Freeze                         To turn to ice

If you leave it outside today, it’s going to freeze.

Frieze                          A decoration along a wall

I attempted to strip the paint from the frieze without damaging the detail.

Grisly                          Gruesome, revolting

The horror movie was full of grisly scenes.

Grizzly                        A type of bear

It’s a good idea to avoid the grizzly bear in the woods.

Hoard                         A store of items

The homeless man guarded his hoard of cans jealously.

Horde                         A large crowd of people

The Mongolian horde stormed the castle.

Imply                          To suggest indirectly

Are you implying that I’m guilty?

Infer                           To draw a conclusion

Without any evidence, his testimony inferred that Roger was guilty.

Pole                             A long, slender piece of wood

She used the pole to push the boat along in the canal.

Poll                              Pertaining to voting in an election

We polled the democrats and republicans in the district to see who had the edge.

Pour                            To flow or cause to flow

She poured the milk into the pan.

Pore                            A tiny opening: To study something closely

Stephanie pored over the document to see if she could make sense of it.

Practice                      The use of an idea or method: Work or business of a doctor, dentist, etc.

The doctor’s practice is in that building over there.

Practise                       To do something repeatedly to gain skill: To do something regularly

(NOTE: This is also the British spelling of the word. American English usually uses the C instead of the S. It covers both definitions.)

We went to band practise but spent most of the time partying.

Prescribe                    To authorize the use of medicine: To order authoritatively

The doctor prescribed ampicillin in a very small dose.

Proscribe                    To officially forbid something

The council proscribed dancing on the holiday.

Principal                     Most important: Head of a school

The principal shut down the school in order to address a gun threat.

Principle                     A fundamental rule or belief

A fundamental principle of drumming is the paradiddle.

Sceptic                        A person incline to doubt

There are true believers who go on faith, and sceptics who won’t believe it unless they see it.

Septic                          Infected with bacteria

The leg wound went septic because it was left untreated.

Elusive                                    Difficult to find, catch or achieve

The fish made elusive targets, especially with the wrong bait.

Illusive                                    Deceptive, illusory

The magician used illusive movements to fool the eye.

SUMMARY

Once again, thanks to Linda Webber for her hard work putting these original words together!

Happy writing!

 

NOT GETTING FRUSTRATED WITH THE NUMBERS

October 19, 2018

It’s hard not to get frustrated with the numbers, especially when the only “numbers” you really have to dangle in front of you between quarterly checks are Amazon stats. Keep in mind, that this is IF you’re conventionally published.

If you’re self-published, you also have those numbers, but in addition, instead of quarterly checks, you have what you sell out of your garage, the trunk of your car, or from whatever other marketing devices you can come up with.

In any regard, when it comes to numbers, the only source on the net I’ve found so far that even post any is Amazon.

THE EXTREMES

Let’s face it. Unless you’re a top ten to one hundred seller, you can watch your numbers go from an initial burst of say…30,000 on the best seller list to then take a nosedive in a couple of weeks to 2,000,000.

That’s quite a swing, right?

What about Barnes & Noble? Smashwords? Any other sources?

Those sites don’t post numbers on line, so if they sell anything, you have no way of knowing until you get a royalty check (or a direct sale check), depending on which way you swing.

With only Amazon numbers available, it can get pretty frustrating unless you have steady sales, which at least keeps your numbers in the thousands instead of the millions.

None of that matters when you sell books directly. Direct sales bypasses those numbers on Amazon.

Does even that matter?

Of course it does, because that also affects your rank, which in turn affects how often your book shows up in other areas on Amazon, which in turn affects how exposed your book is, which in turn affects the chances more strangers will possibly buy your book.

In other words, those dismal numbers on “the only site that matters” affects how exposed your book becomes to a wider audience.

Hence, when and IF you decide to write a second book and want to market it to a wider base, it’s going to be easier or harder, depending on exposure of the previous one.

If your numbers aren’t high enough to spread through Amazon, that’s one potential marketing tool going to waste.

DEALING WITH THE NUMBERS FRUSTRATION

As a small-time author, it can be extremely hard to get the word out, no matter how good the story may be.

Why?

There are a million other writers out there with great stories, each clawing for a foothold.

All you can do is try your best, and hope for a bit of luck. You’ve got the writing behind you, but you also need to get the exposure.

The biggest challenge is persistence and waiting.

There are tricks to working the system, which I can’t go into because I don’t know them all myself. I attended a session on one of these tricks at the last writer’s conference, but only half understood what the instructor was talking about. It had to do with key words. It never quite clicked with me.

What am I doing?

I’m continuing to write, as in sequels to my first books. I’m doing the best I can to let everyone know about my books using social media. I engage my readers through my web site and social media. I’m hoping they’ll spread the word as well.

I watch the numbers and admit I’m as frustrated as the next person. The soaring heights, and dizzying nosedives on Amazon, can be quite disturbing if you let them get to you. One of my experienced writer’s group members told me she never bothers because it would just frustrate her. She tends to do well at book signings and has a very good social media platform and a good group of fans. I’m working on that. My series is still new.

I watch the numbers and though I get frustrated, I also take them with a grain of salt. I’m no best-selling author yet. I know that, and I’m just so happy I have something out there at all. I’m grateful I HAVE a book on the list. I don’t care if it’s so and so on the list. It’s ON the list!

One day…

BE PREARED

It’s going to happen to you, so get ready.

Your book isn’t always going to sell like hotcakes. Especially the first one, it may sink like a lead balloon. It may take several sequels or other efforts before the world recognizes how great you are.

Don’t let the numbers get to you.

Happy writing!

PARTICIPATING IN FORUMS

October 11, 2018

Another way to get the word out to people is to participate in forums. There are many web sites and forums on Facebook either directly related to your genre, or to your writing interest. Why not take advantage of them and participate? Not only can you sometimes sneakily plug your book, but maybe even overtly. Plus, you can also learn stuff, maybe get some new ideas along the way.

WHAT ARE FORUMS?

That may seem like an obvious question, but if you’re new to all of this, you may not know the term. So, indulge me.

A forum is a web site or chat space (as in a page on Facebook) where people sign up and discuss aspects of a subject. In the case of what we’re talking about, it’s writing.

Writing what?

It could be writing in general such as a broad topic web site like The Absolute Write Water Cooler https://absolutewrite.com/forums/ Absolute Write is a multi-genre forum that has distinct subject-matter areas to discuss all aspects of writing. I participate mostly in the Horror, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Mystery/Thriller/Suspense genre sites, as well as rarely, the Announcements, Events and Book Promotions.

Within these forums, you can participate in discussions with from total newbs up to professional writers. Sometimes, the info is highly opinionated, sometimes it’s useless. Quite often, you get some great insights and good info. It all depends on the individual posting.

The same could be said for Facebook. I participate in Genre Writers (Fantasy, SciFi, Steampunk et al) and Writing 101 – hints, tips, tricks. These forums are excellent places to ask questions and post your own tips and tricks on writing.

INSPIRATION

I often get inspiration for my articles from these various forums. I currently participate in only three at the moment due to time constraints. In some ways, I wish they’d been around twenty years ago when I first started. It might have made things easier for me. Then again, I think the hard knocks I went through helped me get where I am today. On the other hand, I also believe no one should have to struggle the same as I did.

FILTERING THROUGH THE BULL

There can be a lot of misinformation and frankly, bull spouted on forums. You have to have a balanced approach when you participate in these things. Generally, the moderators are good at filtering out trolls. The members are also good at countering whacky and way-out-of-the-arena advice as well.

On the other hand, spirited back and forths are great ways to see multiple sides, so you can make your own mind up about some issues. That’s one of the points of forums. Learn from the opinions and experiences of others in the same trenches that you’re in. See what works for them and what doesn’t.

Clicking on line can be a lot cheaper than buying a lot of books, though I also strongly recommend reference books, especially the ones that really click with you. Though I’ve had plenty I never even opened, there are a select few I DO keep on the shelf and actually use, like the Chicago Manual Of Style.

SUMMARY

Forums can be a great place to learn, and a great place for inspiration.

The thing is to use them wisely, Grasshopper.

Happy writing!

KEEPING PEOPLE INTERESTED BETWEEN BOOKS

October 4, 2018

They always say the easiest part of the writing process is the actual writing. The rest of creating a book kind of sucks.

Personally, I love almost the entire process. The one part that’s a chore to me, though I don’t necessarily hate it, is the marketing.

Why?

I’m not a salesman. I’m not a natural at it. It’s a forced thing with me. The idea of going out and begging people to buy my books is just something against my nature.

Like a lot of people, I’d rather put all my effort into producing the best product (the book) I can, and leave it to either fate, or others to sell the book.

Unfortunately, the reality is much different for 90% of us writers.

Every year at the writer’s conference, I run across a writer who puts little to no effort into marketing. Their book or books sell like hotcakes. I could envy these people, but I just sluff this off to what I call the Axl Rose syndrome. Axl’s some schmuck from Indiana, without a high school education, who happened to strike it big by some hard work, sheer accident, and a bit of talent. Is he the best rock singer in the world? Some might say so because he got lucky and got exposure. Yet there are literally thousands of singers out there just as good, if not better, who will never be heard.

Why?

Lightning in a bottle.

It could happen to you, but it probably won’t without hard work and MARKETING.

We’re the regular schmucks that have to plow the trenches and get our hands dirty. We have to work for every single sale to make our names.

THE LONG HAUL

Okay, you have a book out there, it may be selling a bit, but what next? Are you setting the world on fire? If you’re like most writers, ah…no.

What to do?

If you’re not a New York Times Best Selling Author (don’t get me started on that misnomer), if your books aren’t already on the shelves at every book chain in the country, you have to have alternatives to keep people interested.

IF…you HAVE your books on every shelf across the country, you can sit back and concentrate on your next work. Maybe the publisher will interrupt that and have you tour. However, you get to spend most of your time doing what you do best.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, you’re stuck watching your Amazon numbers sink like a rock. You have to attend every book festival and signing within reason (and your budget), and eke out as many sales as you can. You have to rely on your web site and social media to keep people interested between books.

You have to keep your fans interested.

KEEPING PEOPLE INTERESTED BETWEEN BOOKS

A static web site isn’t going to cut it if you’re a small time author.

The whole point of social media and a web site is to keep you from having to go out in the trenches and spend money and lots of time you probably don’t have.

Social media is a tool, so why not use it?

I must emphasize that when I’m talking about social media, I’m usually citing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.

When I mention a web site, that isn’t strictly social media. However, a web site should be strongly linked to your social media. Some use Facebook as their web presence, in other words, their web site, but that’s not good enough. You need a separate web site.

Why?

You can put a lot more stuff on a web site than Facebook, plus you have more independent control of it.

How do you keep people interested between books?

You keep your web site and social media accounts busy with stuff about your books (or your platform).

SOCIAL MEDIA AND WEB PRESENCE ARE CRITICAL

Since you probably work for a living, or maybe have other commitments, the most economical way to get the word out to your readers and potential fans is through web presence and social media.

These are critical if you want to do marketing on the cheap and spread to the widest audience possible.

How?

To keep your readers interested between books, you need to tantalize them, pique their interest with tidbits either about the previous book, or about the new one, for instance.

Give out details like profiles of the characters, technical details, info on the towns, peculiars, or something to keep your readers engaged.

Maybe have a contest about the story.

Do something to spread the word about your books.

Another good example is progress reports on the new book.

The idea is to keep you and your books in the forefront of your fans and potential readers memories so that when the next book comes out, they’re more likely to buy it.

Also, it keeps them engaged with you. They give you feedback and let you know they’re still interested. They may spread the word to friends who may link up.

You can either post the details on your web site with links through Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (or whatever) and the details on your web site, or you can post these things directly on each social media site. However, I suggest having them based on your web site with the links on social media. That way your readers are drawn to your central page at the web site.

If you don’t already have a platform like I do, at least on your web site, you can have a depository of info on your book or books.

SUMMARY

The key is to engage your readers and keep them interested between books. Do whatever you have to, and keep them interested. It doesn’t have to be every day, and in fact, should NOT be every day! Once a week, or every couple of weeks, drop something to let them know you’re still around, and still working on the next book.

Happy writing!