Monday, January 26, 2015

5 Tips on Blogging

One of the promotional tools writers have been told to use as a way of getting their word out about their stories is blogging.  It can be both fun, but also time consuming. And coming up with ideas for blogs every week can become an issue.  What is there to blog about that can be helpful to your fiction writing?

1.      Blog about your research – This is a no brainer.  I always find items that I look up that I might not use in my story that might make a good blog. For instance, my research on ghostly legends of the southwest took me back to my childhood and hearing my mother tell me of the story of La Llorona, an infamous story of a ghostly woman who haunts the waterways and rivers in the southwest, looking for her lost children. It was an old legend that Hispanic parents told their children to keep them from going out at night. I used it for several blogs around Halloween.

2.      Blog about places you visit – this too was part of research on one of my stories. I spent a weekend travelling by train across the Rocky Mountains and was able to use it as the basis for a blog about train travel. But it can be a fun car trip you make, or even a visit to the local museum. One of the places I also blogged about was a visit to the historic Brown Palace in Denver.

3.      Blog about simple, every day things – one of my friends, Darla Bartos, who has written a wonderful mystery set in South Africa, has a great way of coming up with blog ideas. She writes about many every day events, ideas that just hits her and how they affect her writing. She did a great blog on hitting all the stop lights and how that encouraged her writing progress.

4.      Blog about classes you might be taking – I have often blogged about the conferences I attend and about the workshops I’ve attended. One of the reasons I like to blog about them is that it encourages me to take better notes at the conference, and it also serves as a way of reinforcing what I learn. It also is a good way to force me to get those notes transcribed when I get home.  Then I can keep them in a file on my computer and available should I ever need them again.

5.      Review a book on your blog – I’ve done author profiles on My Writing Corner blog and have sometimes offered up reviews, but this is another way to get in some interesting writing and also can give you some help with your own writing. 

I am going to try reviewing writing books on this blog. I have dozens of writing books and recently someone asked me what my favorite books on writing were and which I always keep handy.  Starting next week, I will give a list of some of those books and then I will begin to review some of the ones that have been so helpful to me.

Monday, January 19, 2015

5 Tips to Increasing Writing Output

On Saturday I attended a workshop on increasing artistic creativity, and it spurred some wonderful creative thinking on my part. We were told that writers should work on developing the more visually artistic side of their brains to increase output on the writing side. That got me to thinking, not just of ways to increase that visual side, and I will be working on that, and writing about it once I try it, but it also made me think of other ways to increase your fiction writing output overall and how sometimes just plain writing can help us over dry spots or when we think we're plagued by writer's block.

For instance:

1.      Try journal writing.  Many writers started using and demonstrating their writing skills by keeping diaries or journals when they were young. Do you still keep a journal?  I don’t, but I have plenty of them when I was young. However, off and on I find that it just feels good to sit down and write down thoughts or ideas that only I will ever see. It is often good to go back and look at those writings later because they can give you more perspective on who you are now and how you might have coped with a problem in the past, some little thing that you might have forgotten. The best thing about writing a journal is that you can do it in any form, type it, write in long hand, and say anything since you are the only one who will read it.

2.      Try writing a non-fiction story.  I saw on facebook recently that a published fiction author friend was going to write a non fiction story about a well known historical figure.  Her ideas was to learn all about that person and write an article about the person. Eventually she would then write and publish a fiction book based on that person. I thought that was a great idea. Writing non fiction is a wonderful way to spur thinking creatively. I know that when I was writing news stories every day, I was always thinking about my writing. It was my job, I had to do it, and that carried over into my fiction work.

3.      Write a blog.  This sort of combines those first two ideas. Write a non-fiction story and a journal entry all in one – and do it in a blog form. I have heard some fiction writers say this blogs can be a waste of time because it takes time away from fiction. But just like I said before about non-fiction can stimulate fiction writing, the same is true of blogs. And when you wonder what you want to write about, well, go back to that historical figure and look at yourself. You have lots of experiences and ideas you can write about.

4.      Write an article for a local paper. Small neighborhood newspapers are always looking for content and you could either volunteer to write a weekly column or do a story and submit it. How can this help? Well, besides giving you a chance to write about something other than your thoughts, it can also spur new story ideas for future books. You might meet someone fascinating that you want to base a character on, or you might find a profession you want to use for a story.  And again, this doesn’t need to be a wasted effort. Write a story on that police detective you interviewed as research for your story. How about a story on glass sculpting or owning a business? Again, this might be something you did as research, but find out more about the person behind your research. Several years ago when I was working as a public information officer for a city, one of my jobs was putting out the monthly newsletter. Instead of just doing stories on whatever project the city manager wanted me to feature, I started visiting all the city departments and doing feature stories on the people there and on their jobs. It livened up the newsletter and it also had some of those city employees appreciating their jobs more. I remember visiting the public yard where they had they city signs and fixed the police cars and everyone was excited to talk. They’d never had a representative from the city manager’s office come to visit them, much less give them space in the city newsletter.  It was great fun!

5.      Write what you see!  Even if it isn’t a journal of your thoughts, or an interview or a visit
to some special place, think about writing something descriptive. Look around wherever you normally write and try writing a description of your work area. Write about the sights and sounds of the coffee shop where you’re working. Look around the restaurant where you're dining and get the picture in your head and go home and write about. Again, this may be work you don’t ever put out anywhere, but it can help you next time you go to write a setting. If you can describe what you’re seeing around you, you will have a better handle on writing descriptions for your book of the picture in your head.

So just write!  In any form. Keep it as long or short as you want. But you might find that once you’ve warmed up with those other words, you’re more than ready to dig back into your book.

Monday, January 12, 2015

5 Tips to Writing What you Know

In the past I’ve talked about the importance of doing research for your writing, but there is also something to be said about writing what you know. As a former broadcast journalist and someone who has worked in public relations and media relations, I’ve often used those careers in my books. Using your career is a good way to bring realism to your books, but what if you’ve never been a police officer, or doctor or even a medical technician. That’s where the research comes in handy.

 But you can also use the many things you already know that aren’t connected with any profession. There are plenty of areas where you can use your own personal expertise that others might not have. Often you may not realize how much you actually know about other subjects that you can use in your books.  You may not think of the simple things you know that could actually be important or fun subjects to write about.

1.       Remember time and places you know. 

These elements can play a big role in your setting.  When is your story being set? In today’s world?  In a city? In a small town?  Even if you live in a big city now, what about the atmosphere of the small town you grew up in?  I channeled some of those younger memories as I wrote my Dead Man series and used some of the things I remembered in Dead man’s Rules. Every time I go back to New Mexico I take some time just soaking up the sights, the smells and the sounds from the towns to the mountains.
I used my small town past as well. There was the local café where we often had lunch and where my sister worked. I remembered that atmosphere as I brought the Matador café in my book to life. Right now I’m part of a Facebook group – one of those “You know you’re from…” groups and in addition to re-connecting with old friends we’ve also spent some time reminiscing about the old days and it’s helped me think of new subjects I can write about.
2.      Consider your hobbies.

Do you knit, sew, rock climb, hike or ski? What about bowling or reading groups you may belong to? All the intricate knowledge you get about those subjects can be wonderful writing fodder. If you are writing a mystery novel, why not try the idea of a cozy based around crafting. Those sort of books can be very popular with a certain audience. You can base the murder around your knitting circle. Perhaps the relative of one of the members is killed and she is a suspect. The same can hold true for someone in a reading group.  What about a romance novel where the new entry into a book club is someone who drives the heroine crazy, both in reading opinions and personally? Or how about a fantasy where the reading group is reading a vampire book and a real one shows up?

3.      Vacation visits

Don’t let that vacation go to waste, either when camping in the mountains or visiting Hawaii. Consider setting a story in Washington D.C. if you find yourself spending time in the nation’s capital.  Your protagonist doesn’t need to live there necessarily, but perhaps be visiting there. That can give you a perspective to draw on as a tourist.  Are you frightened by everyone rushing by you because you come from a small town where all the people you see you might know? Or is it invigorating but then you discover some dark secrets about a politician from back home?
I took my first train trip in years last fall  and I paid special attention to the atmosphere aboard the train as well as paying attention to the scenery. I know there's a story there I want to work on!

4.      A walk in the park/anywhere

I’ve written about this before. When you take that daily walk in the park or a short hike, wherever you go, don’t just run for exercise.  Spend a few minutes paying attention to the atmosphere around you.  Think of what you are seeing as you run. Pay attention to the people on the street or that you run into in the park.  Are there people you could set your watch by? What if one day they don’t show up?  When I walked regularly I always ran into the same man and I could hear him coming up behind me because he had his audio turned up so loud I could hear him coming even though he wore ear plugs. We’d nod and say hello every day but that was our only acknowledgement. But we always ran into each other around the same time and location. I can still describe him. I can say what he would be wearing in the winter and summer.  Sometime I might still use a person like him in a book.  I used to always notice the differences in smells, temperatures and feel of the mountains as opposed to when walking in the city.  Remembering those types of things can come in handy when trying to make a setting realistic.

5.      Visiting

Do you remember what it was like when you visited your grandmother? Do you recall the scents in the air, like cookies or baking bread? My grandmother lived in a very old fashioned house and they still had a wood burning stove. I can still remember that smell and strangely enough a few years ago when I was visiting a small New Mexico town I came out of my hotel room in the morning and I smelled the scent of wood burning. It not only took me back to my visits with her, but it came in handy when I was trying to show what some of the scents might be in a small town atmosphere when it gets cold and people still wood in stoves.  I always pay attention to those type of unique details when I visit some place new, whether it be a house, a shopping mall in a different part of the country or drive through a new area.

Being aware of surroundings and some of the simplest things around you can be great resources for your writing.

Monday, January 5, 2015

5 Tips to Meet Your Writing Goals

Have you made a resolution to write more in 2015?  We are five days in, how are you doing? Every year I set wonderful goals for myself and then when I sit down to accomplish them, I find myself stumped. Okay, I wrote down the goal of writing a thousand words a day, why am I not doing it?

That got me to thinking how I might do things differently this year. 
Every year I also keep a chart to check my daily word count. I started that because I liked looking back at how much I was accomplishing during NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month).  I liked watching the word count go up every day so I started doing it on my own outside the month. I’d just write down my daily count and then my monthly count and then add it all up at the end of the year to see who well I’d done.  It also helped me see which months were better than others, and if there were times I was more prolific.  As  a result of keeping those daily records I found I was writing more every week, and subsequently I was also writing more every month.

But I needed daily tools too, to keep me going. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with for meeting my goals that might also help you  meet daily writing goals.
1.      Start with a realistic daily goal.  I was very envious of a woman who said she had to write 1500 words a day, and then I heard someone else say she wrote a thousand words a day. Both sounded good but what I found was that I struggled to meet that 1500 word goal so as a result I would give up. Writing a thousand words is more realistic for me. But then I heard best selling mystery author John Sandford say he aims at 750 words. That is the length of a normal newspaper piece, and as a former newspaper reporter he had to do that every day, so he knew he could do it.

 I decided to try a smaller number too. The point was to write every single day so I lowered my daily goal to 500. I’ve discovered that goal is very possible for me. Knowing I don’t need to fight to get to that thousand words has freed me up and I know I can do at least 500. The result, of course, is that I now normally hit that thousand, but knowing I get to count the day as productive by hitting 500 has made a big difference.

Start with 300 if that helps. Or 200. Try writing just a page a day. The idea is to get something on the written page.

2.      Keep a record. As I’ve mentioned that daily record shows me problem times, but it also showed me the days of the week when I could really take off and write.  I also noticed that when I got on a roll for several days, I might write more than my normal goal. It showed me days of the week when I was more prolific so that I could concentrate on getting my word count up then. And it showed me those down stretches when I was letting other things get in the way. That made me work on other ideas for picking up the word count.

3.      Try writing sprints. This is a wonderful tip I got from Candace Havens, a prolific romance writer. At a conference I heard her say she would keep an egg timer on her desk and when she was looking to get her writing jump started, she would set a timer for five or ten minutes and then sit and write until it went off. Sometimes she might set it for 20. As a result she would not only get some writing done, but it would get her going on those days she just didn’t feel like working.

4.      Write dialogue.  If I’m faced with a scene I don’t want to write I sometimes write it from two characters talking things out. I don’t put in anything but their conversation. Letting the characters speak not only helps me get a better understanding of them, but it seems to free up my mind to just get the words out. Let them describe the events to each other. Let them react to what happened. If you don’t like the conversation you can always change it.

5.      Write a scene you want to write. This is a great way to get started when you don’t feel like writing. Yes, it means writing out of order and some people find it hard to do, but think of it this way – now you have a scene done and you can build toward it. If you are one of those people who likes to outline, then consider it part of your outline. Best selling author Suzanne Brockman says her outlines are often so involved she can sometimes just  write in the dialogue or expand on it and the story is done. 

The big key to keeping up your word count and reaching those daily writing goals is to come to the keyboard every day ready to write. As Nora Roberts says about how she continues to complete book after book: “It’s your job. Would you call in sick for no reason? Would you ignore it for days on end? It’s your job. You do it.”

John Sandford says the same thing. When I got a chance to talk with him in November, I asked about the advantages of being a journalist and how it helped in his fiction writing. What he told me made perfect sense. “When I got to work every day, I knew I was going to have to write a story. I couldn’t just say I didn’t want to or didn’t feel like writing today. I had to write a story or I wouldn’t get paid.” I knew what he meant. With 30 years spent in TV newsrooms, I showed up every day ready to write. There was no way around it and no room for excuses.

And that is the bottom line in setting your goals. Like Nora Roberts said, writing fiction is a job. If you’re doing it for fun, then those goals don’t matter. But if you want it to pay, then you have to put in the time like John Sandford said.  My overall goal for this year is to set realistic goals and then look at how to make them work.



Getting off to a Fresh Start

At the beginning of every new year don’t we always look at different ways to start off fresh? We want to make our resolutions or set goals ...