Category Archives: writing
There’s nothing like spending time with others who love books as much as I do — writers, editors, publishers — and no place like high up in the mountains. At 8500’ elevation, the Georgetown Indie Conference was the perfect location to be inspired, motivated, and not surprising, a little light-headed.
I am grateful for having the opportunity to present, as well as to make new friends, both aspiring writers and other published authors. I hope sharing experiences, frustrations as well as successes, will help others in the writing community continue their journeys. Writing is difficult, but the rewards are worth it.
If you have a chance to attend a writers’ conference, go. Whether to hone your craft or just network with other like-minded folks, you can’t help but have your passion reignited. And I can’t wait to go back … well … after I recover from altitude sickness.
A shout-out to those who supported the conference: the Colorado Independent Publishers Association and the Georgetown Trust for Conservation and Preservation. They put on a great show!
I can’t recall ever wanting to comment on a tv, movie, or video series, but after watching 9 of 10 episodes of the first season of Netflix’ MINDHUNTER, I feel compelled to spew forth kudos and congratulations in an effort (however small and insignificant) to assure there is a season two, three, four … well, you get the idea.
The fact that I’ve watched “only” 9 of the 10 episodes of season one is not an indication of my disinterest. Quite the contrary. I’ve purposefully and painfully contained myself to watching only one episode a day in order to delay the season’s demise and extend my gratification. Not sure whether to call it discipline or masochism, but regardless, MINDHUNTER is magnificent.
The basis for the series, from the book of the same name by John Douglas, is fascinating (rather than regurgitate a summary, google it), the cast is superb and surprisingly, not necessarily household names (again, google…), but most important to me – and the reason for my devotion – is the writing. The script is absolutely perfect. Like the recipe for a cake or the architectural plans for a house where each measurement is calculated for a specific outcome, the dialogue is so exact that each and every word sounds and feels like the only possible word that could be spoken. I found myself not only wanting to listen, but to write down everything I heard.
Granted, I’m already a true crime addict, so the theme of dissecting the minds of serial killers is my version of candy. For those who get squeamish on the subject of deviant and depraved behavior, this series could cause extreme emotional disturbance. Regardless, if you’re willing to take a walk down the dark alley to experience and appreciate the skill of MINDHUNTER’s storytelling, I believe your own writing will be the better for it.
You might not sleep well (if at all), but just think… you can use all those wide-awake hours to scribble something spectacular. #mindhunter #mindblowing
As I prepare to participate in a panel discussion on writing non-fiction and memoirs for the Central Oregon Writers Guild (and shamelessly promote the event!) I thought I’d share these points:
Your best chance of writing a salable memoir is to read as many successful memoirs as you can. Here are a few examples (in alpha order by author, not necessarily by rank):
- Augusten Burroughs ~ Running with Scissors
- Elizabeth Gilbert ~ Eat, Pray, Love
- Howard Shulman ~ Running from the Mirror
- JD Vance ~ Hillbilly Elegy
- Jeannette Walls ~ The Glass Castle
Each memoir is unique, but if your story can illustrate a theme that resonates so that others can identify with your experiences, you will have a more memorable (haha) book.
- Surviving horrific challenges (Running from the Mirror)
- Coping with a parent’s mental illness (Running with Scissors)
Tell the truth (be real, for better or worse, because that’s what gives you credibility).
- If you fudge on details to make yourself or others look better or change names, why are you writing a memoir? Write a nice fictional romance and be done with it.
But… don’t get hung up on accuracy.
- Unless writing that you were home at 2:00 instead of 2:30 proves you didn’t rob the bank, don’t be specific with every detail, or readers will miss the big picture.
- Eliminate junk words. “I remember being three-years-old when blah blah blah.” Of course you remember; it’s your memoir! Just say what you need to say: “I was three-years-old when …”
Come up with a great opening line to get the reader into your story.
- Yes, this is true for any book — fiction or non-fiction. For some reason, though, memoirists feel it is more important to be factual than dramatic and entertaining.
- Cut scenes or situations that are irrelevant to your theme(s). You do not have to include every single life event. Remember, a memoir is not an autobiography!
- Combine or rearrange sentences that begin with the word “I.”
- Find and delete repeated words (-ly words, such as “quickly,” however, really, just). We all have favorites that we don’t even realize we overuse. Readers, will find them and get annoyed!
- If you find yourself skimming a paragraph, consider deleting it. If it doesn’t interest you, it’s a good bet your readers won’t be interested, either.
Print out your manuscript. It’s amazing what you’ll catch on a physical copy.
Read your manuscript aloud. If you stumble over phrases or sentences, it’s quite possible your readers will, too.
And finally, competition for readers’ attention is fierce. For greatest chance of success, your story must be in the best possible shape. Hint: get a professional editor!
I collect books. I don’t mean in the sense of stalking garage sales or funky antique stores in search of rare tomes, though I certainly have and appreciate my signed first editions. I’m talking about collecting books whose titles have randomly caught my eye, reviews that have piqued my interest, or ones that friends have recommended. I have amassed a list — and pile — of books that will keep me occupied for a very long time.
But here’s the problem, and I’m guessing I’m not alone: I anxiously await the moment I can dig into a new book that I’ve been coveting only to discover that I don’t really like it. The “digging in” becomes a chore. Thankfully, I discovered Nancy Pearl, librarian guru, whose 2003 book, Book Lust: Recommended Reading For Every Mood, Moment, And Reason gives permission for us to stop torturing ourselves!
Unlike the mantra we probably all heard—clean your plate, there are children starving in Africa—Nancy offers a formula for reading that relieves me of my guilt. As she explains in the book’s introduction, her “rule of 50” says that those under fifty-years-old need to read 50 pages of a book before calling it quits. Those over 50—who, she gently reminds us, have less time to squander—need only read the number of pages that is their age subtracted from 100.
She also admits, and I wholeheartedly agree, that while we might not be able to slog through a book now (and can quit according to her formula), we might actually love the book at another time when we are in a different frame of mind. Case in point: I struggled with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road… the first time … and had to put it away. Six months later, I loved it.
With that, I am formally putting a few books on notice. I don’t want to identify them—to avoid hurting “their” feelings, or more importantly, influence anyone who might be swayed by my inability to lovingly devour a book that was rated 5 stars on Amazon or Goodreads. Being the optimist, however, I am hopeful that I will eventually embrace them. And if not, there’s a mountain of reading material to choose from waiting patiently by my bed, on my bookshelf, in the closet …
For many of us, warmer weather inspires us to want to clean out closets, wash windows, declutter. And with the latest onslaught of “organizing” books and blogs telling us to let go of items we don’t use, don’t wear, or don’t really like, the message is clear: use it or lose it.
I realized that this also applies to writing and to my efforts in editing. The goal is the same: help writers organize their thoughts, declutter their stories, and clarify their meaning. To put in more tangible, spring-cleaning terms:
- Like washing windows, choose words and use words that sparkle and allow the light to come in. Instead of “She ran around the room making sure everyone was comfortable” … “She fluttered …”
- Donate (or delete) words that take up space. “… with a smile on his face” is just as effective using “… with a smile.”
- Throw away worn-out phrases like, “Her eyes twinkled like diamonds,” “Little did he know,” “Needless to say,” blah blah blah.
- Say goodbye to that old sweatshirt (your go-to favorite words) that you unwittingly sprinkle throughout your manuscript. This is tough, because you probably don’t even realize how often you are using your favorite words, but they usually pop out to me when I’m editing. They can be anything from “just,” “so,” “that,” to “quickly,” “suddenly,” “longingly,” or any “ly” words.
- If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it (or save it until you lose those ten pounds). That is, pulling out the thesaurus to find a word for “happy” sounds like a good idea, but replacing it with “jubilant” or “whimsical” might be overdoing it. Use alternatives with care.
- Maybe go-go boots and polyester pantsuits work at a 70s costume party, but they don’t fit well in today’s world. Same with words; be sure to use words and phrases that reflect the time period. Writing “on the world wide web” is awkward now, just as “swipe right” doesn’t mean a thing to that go-go dancer.
Good luck – and good riddance!