Tag Archives: E-book

Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors

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We are always wanting to glean what other authors know about writing.  This blog by Steve Silberman gathers together authors and has them give suggestions on how to improve your writing and make your book great. I thought it was something worth sharing. Have a blessed day.  Shirley

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I love books. My late father Donald, who taught Wordsworth and Melville to inner-city kids for decades, used to read Ulysses to me while he carried me on his shoulders. Perhaps it was inevitable that I grew up to be a writer. Now, after years of investigative reporting for Wired and other magazines, I’m finally writing a book of my own.

The subject of my book is autism, the variety of human cognitive styles, and the rise of the neurodiversity movement. The seed of the project was an article I wrote for Wired in 2001 called “The Geek Syndrome” about autism and Asperger syndrome in high-tech communities like Silicon Valley. I’m happy and humbled to say that it was an influential article, and I still get email about it from the families of kids on the spectrum and from autistic people themselves, though it was published more than a decade ago.

The science of developmental disorders has made significant advances in recent years, and some of the social issues that I raised in the piece — such as the contributions that people with atypical cognitive styles have made to the progress of science, technology, and culture — seem more relevant than ever. At the same time, the wave of kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the ’90s is now coming of age, and their heroically devoted families are facing fear and uncertainty about the future as crucial government-funded services and support provided to families of special-needs children dry up. Meanwhile,neurodiversity advocates are challenging narrow definitions of “normal” cognition, and autistic people — even those who are unable to employ spoken language — are using assistive technology like the iPad to express themselves. There’s a lot of new ground to cover.

I’ve signed a contract with a wonderful publisher — a Penguin imprint called Avery Books — and a sharp and enthusiastic editor named Rachel Holtzman. One of the most thrilling moments of my life as a writer was walking into Penguin headquarters in Manhattan and seeing classic jackets for Jack Kerouac’s novels like The Dharma Bums framed on the wall. It was reading the exhilarating, compassionate, and perennially fresh poetry and prose of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and their friends that made me want to grow up to be a writer in the first place.

I’m not sentimental about old media vs. new media. Nothing will ever replace the sublime feeling of sanctuary created by the printed page, but I treasure the books on my Kindle too, particularly when I’m reading at 30,000 feet. What I love is words — storytelling, the flow of well-wrought sentences, the gradual unfolding of a long and thoughtful tale, the private communion with an author’s mind.

But now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to work up a 4000-word magazine feature and another to sit down and write a 100,000-word book. I’m acutely aware that I’ve been granted a precious opportunity to cast light on forgotten history and provide a platform for voices that are rarely heard. At the same time, I’m scared out of my wits that the two decades of journalism that have led up to this project have not prepared me to write a good book. I wake up at 3am staring into the darkness, wondering if I’ll have the skills, discipline, and inner resources to pull it off.

I’ve chosen to deal with my anxiety by tapping into the wisdom of the hive mind. I recently sent email to the authors in my social network and asked them, “What do you wish you’d known about the process of writing a book that you didn’t know before you did it?”

I’m delighted with the sheer range of practical advice that poured in. The writers in this group are as diverse as the volumes that line the shelves in my home office.  There are top science writers and journalists like Carl Zimmer, Jonah Lehrer, Deborah Blum, Paula Span, and David Shenk; prolific blogger Geoff Manaugh of the endlessly fascinating BLDGBLOG, which focuses on architecture and the future of urbanism; award-winning poet and essayist August Kleinzahler; a wise-beyond-his-years entrepreneur named Ben Casnocha; a Zen master named John Tarrant and an author of Buddhist bestsellers, Sylvia Boorstein; two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee David Crosby of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and two of the geniuses who helped launch 21st century digital culture and the spunky “maker” movement, Cory Doctorow and Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing. A more diverse group of writers, talking about the nuts and bolts of their craft, would be hard to find anywhere on the Web.

A few things became clear as soon as their replies came in. First of all, I’ll have to throttle back my use of Twitter and Facebook to get this writing done (and I may never rev up my idle Quora account after all.) Secondly, scheduling intervals of regular exercise and renewal amid the hours of writing will be essential. And thirdly, I’ll certainly be buying and downloading a software program calledScrivener, which is a powerful word processor specifically designed for writing books and keeping vast amounts of related data in good order.

Reading these tips has made the voice in my head that whispers I can do this a little louder when my eyelids snap open before dawn. I hope the advice here inspires the creation of many great books, not only the one I hope to write. I’m deeply grateful for the time and attention of the master writers assembled here.

Enjoy — and good luck with your own writing!

The Tangled Bank by Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer

Author of A Planet of Viruses, The Tangled Bank, and Brain Cuttings

  1. Do as much research as possible away from the Internet — with living people, in real places.
  2. Be ready to organize vast amounts of data. Use a wall, or software like Scrivener.
  3. Be ready to amputate entire chapters. It will be painful.

The Genius in All Of UsDavid Shenk
Author of The Forgetting and The Genius in All of Us

  1. Make it great, no matter how long it takes. There’s no such thing as too many drafts. There’s no such thing as too much time spent. As you well know, a great book can last forever. A great book can change a person’s life. A mediocre book is just commerce.
  2. Get feedback — oodles of it. Along the way, show pieces of your book to lots of people — different types of people. Ply them with wine and beg them for candor. Find out what’s missing, what’s being misinterpreted, what isn’t convincing, what’s falling flat. This doesn’t mean you take every suggestion or write the book by committee. But this process will allow to marry your necessarily-precious vision with how people will actually react. I find that invaluable.
  3. Let some of you come through. You’re obviously not writing a memoir here, but this book is still partly about you — the world you see, the way you think, the experiences you have with people. And trust me, readers are interested in who you are. So don’t be afraid to let bits and pieces of your personality and even life details seep into the text. It will breathe a lot of life into the book.

For the Win by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow
Author of With a Little Help, For the Win, Makers, and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

  1. Write every day. Anything you do every day gets easier. If you’re insanely busy, make the amount that you write every day small (100 words? 250 words?) but do it every day.
  2. Write even when the mood isn’t right. You can’t tell if what you’re writing is good or bad while you’re writing it.
  3. Write when the book sucks and it isn’t going anywhere. Just keep writing. It doesn’t suck. Your conscious is having a panic attack because it doesn’t believe your subconscious knows what it’s doing.
  4. Stop in the middle of a sentence, leaving a rough edge for you to start from the next day — that way, you can write three or five words without being “creative” and before you know it, you’re writing.
  5. Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement.

And Then There's This by Bill WasikBill Wasik
Author of And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture

  1. The first tip is that readers expect books to be exhaustive on their subjects. That doesn’t mean they want the books to be long — it means that they expect that you will cover all the basic ground that needs to be covered to understand the subject, even if they know some of it already. This piece of advice may or may not be relevant to your subject. In my case, with a very idiosyncratic book on viral culture, it led to people asking me at readings why I hadn’t included an analysis of X or Y viral phenomenon in my book. “Because you already know about it,” the magazine guy in me always wanted to respond. But in the book world, people want to see you mention the stuff they already know, at least in passing (or to knock it down)– otherwise, how can it claim to be a book on the subject? It’s worth taking that point of view seriously.
  2. This is a basic piece of advice, but it can’t be overstated when you’re trying to go from magazine-length to book-length writing: hone your outline and then cling to it as a lifeline. You can adjust it in mid-stream, but don’t try to just write your way into a better structure: think about the right structure and then write to it. Your outline will get you through those periods when you can’t possibly imagining ever finishing the damn thing — at those times, your outline will let you see it as a sequence of manageable 1,000 word sections.

The BLDGBLOG Book by Geoff ManaughGeoff Manaugh
Author of The BLDGBLOG Book

  1. Don’t hold back on that fantasy site visit / phone call / interview / query / meeting that you have always wanted to do, lest it become too late to include the results in your book. Do it now! This book is your golden ticket.
  2. Don’t lose track of your notes and/or future ideas for inclusion by writing things down in multiple notebooks or on scattered pages of the same notebook; concentrate, aggregate, cohere, reread, and compress. Keep it all in one place (with back-ups). Obsessive-compulsive organizational habits are your bestfriend; telling insane and vaguely embarrassing stories later on, about how you used eight different colored markers, four highlighter types, and multiple versions of extra pages stapled into a vast mega-notebook that you re-read every night before bed – and that you also took digital photos of lest you lose the whole thing in a house fire – will be a lot more fun than explaining how you forgot to include certain things and your book sucked because you never got your shit together.
  3. Quick, tossed off, last minute additions, typed right before you submit the final manuscript, probably aren’t a good idea, no matter how funny or emotionally powerful you might feel they are at the time of impulsively writing them. Always allow time to come back and read something from a distance.
  4. And run all quirky one-liners that you hope to include in your author’s bio (do you “always enjoy a good latté”?) past a close friend; they don’t age well.

The Mad Professor by Mark FrauenfelderMark Frauenfelder
Author of The Mad Professor and Rule the Web

  1. Use Scrivener to write your book. Awesome organizing tool as well as word processor.
  2. If you have the feeling an interview isn’t yielding much, get off the phone as soon as you can. On the other hand, when you strike interview gold, keep it going as long as you can.
  3. Don’t forget to write the book that you want to read.

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah BlumDeborah Blum
Author of The Poisoner’s Handbook and Ghost Hunters

  1. here are a few things that i’ve learned or that people have told me along the way. i’ve written five books. the first two (monkey wars, sex on the brain) were issue books. the best advice i got when writing an issue book was to write the first chapter LAST.  this isn’t absolute, but it’s in the research and writing of later chapters that you often figure out what your primary points will be and how best to frame them.
  2. the best advice i got in writing narrative non-fiction was to get my hero in trouble and keep him there. this was with my first narrative book, love at goon park. my editor suggested that as the over all arc — how is harry harlow ever going to persuade the scientific community that love matters? — and within that to have him confront an obstacle in every chapter. i’m a little looser with that now, not an obstacle in EVERY chapter, but it’s still a great way to think about structure. for instance, in poisoner’s handbook, every chapter is a poison. so my heroes must confront arsenic in one chapter and thallium in another…
  3. i usually try to have a single sentence that describes the primary message of the book. this turns out to be really useful when your editor asks you for the one sentence the sales force can use to persuade book sellers to buy your book. but, again, it’s also a useful organizing principle. so with monkey wars, the primary sentence (not brilliant for sales, but still) was “animal research is really about us.” number one species on the planet, can do whatever we want to other species. and i used that to frame every chapter around a decision that a researcher was making in his use of non-human primates, from brain surgeries to testing on endangered species.
  4. i let my first draft suck. kind of the anne lamott advice on “shitty first drafts.” to me my first draft is just an attempt to start unfolding the flow and logic of the story. if i get stuck, i just put xxx in the draft (for figure this out later.) with one of my books (sex on the brain) i did this so often that i had literal nightmares about it, that people were coming up to me and asking me if i had adopted an avant garde writing style.
  5. i’m obsessive about the research. i organize and cross-list and file from the very beginning. i make notes of key points, issues, and themes. the amount of research one does for a proposal is very different from the amount of research one does for a whole book. so i keep track of all these key moments in a way that lets me recognize patterns that i didn’t see earlier. and also so that when i’m later actually writing, i know where to find everything. writers waste a lot of time looking for that study that they filed, well, somewhere.
  6. i recognize that today’s book author isn’t done even after the manuscript is accepted. publishers expect us to be part of the marketing of the book and the sooner that starts the better. i used to tell people that i wanted to be the j.d. salinger of science writing and just stay home and let the royalties wash over me. but that’s mostly in the moments when i’m just overwhelmed. the new public version of a science writer is actually pretty fascinating.

Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, by August KleinzahlerAugust Kleinzahler
Author of Sleeping It Off in Rapid City and Cutty, One Rock

  1. I find it helpful sometimes — and still to my surprise — trying to explain to someone what it is I’m trying to write about, usually someone bright but in a different intellectual zone, and not a writer. Or, likewise, in a letter or email to such a person.
  2. When my self-disgust reaches critical mass I seem to be ready to go.
  3. I tend to discover the structure, a structure, after diving in the deep end and swallowing water awhile, until I stop swallowing water, make my way to the surface and figure out how far it is toward shore or the side of the pool, and what mixture of treading water and the Australian crawl, given my limitations/aptitudes, might get me safely home.

My Start-Up Life by Ben CasnochaBen Casnocha
Entrepreneur and author of My Start-Up Life

  1. Shitty first drafts. Anne Lamott nailed it! But with books, it seems to be more like “shitty 20th drafts.” So shitty, for so long.
  2. Develop a very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions. I use an app called Self-Control on my Mac.
  3. Develop a very, very, very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions.

The Mindfulness Revolution by Barry BoyceBarry Boyce

Author/editor of The Mindfulness Revolution and In the Face of Fear

  1. You’re better off than you think, because you’ve done this before, just not in as large a format. Almost every technique and skill you’ve used to structure and tell a story at feature length scales to book length. So, let go of the excess anxiety about never having done this before.
  2. Planning. Planning. Planning. It’s a campaign. I used some project management tools in the end to put some order into the vastness. That’s the thing about the bigger scale. It requires more management to support the creativity. Cultivate a good relationship with your editor from the beginning. He/she is going to be your task master at some point. That’s going to go so much better if he/she is also your friend, colleague, supporter, and fan. The campaign of writing a book can get so lonely sometimes, you need a good attaboy just to remind yourself of why you’re doing it and that you’re not the crazy loser who needs to get out more.
  3. As Trungpa Rinpoche said (I paraphrase): enjoy refreshing activities from time to time. If you’re planning and scheduling well, you can find opportunities regularly to breathe more fresh air into your life and replenish yourself, because “the work fills the available space” is nowhere more true than on a book project. Watch out for self-indulgent and cheap substitutes for actually taking an honest to god break, of whatever duration.

The White Hand Society by Peter ConnersPeter Conners
Author of Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead and White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg

  1. When I’m writing a book I only read other books that somehow inform my book. If it doesn’t serve my process — no matter how much I want to read it — I don’t. I suspect there are a lot of people who will give the opposite opinion (take a break from reading about your subject matter, etc.), but I’m not one of them. This is your time to be completely and justifiably obsessed. So go ahead — bask in the madness.
  2. Non-fiction shouldn’t mean poorly written. Writing is writing and art always counts. Make your book beautiful to read and you’re more likely to communicate your messages to your reader.
  3. Don’t focus on the promotional aspects of social media. Just share your passion for the subject matter as it filters through your writing process. The promotion aspect will be an organic extension of your passion.

Long Time Gone by David CrosbyDavid Crosby
Singer-songwriter, founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, author of Long Time Gone and Since Then

  1. Cathartic effect.
  2. Love of the well-turned phrase.
  3. Set specific times to work.

When the Time Comes by Paula SpanPaula Span
Author of When the Time Comes

  1. You already know what you need to know to do this.  The fact is, my 60,000-plus-word book was pretty much like writing 8 to 10 long-form pieces.  I didn’t do it differently, in terms of research or writing or rewriting.  My existing skills were perfectly adequate to the task; yours will be too.  It took me 2.5 years but then, I was teaching and freelancing at the same time; had I focused solely on the book, it probably would’ve taken 18 months.  So you will make your deadline, even if your book is longer and more complex.
  2. Unhelpful, right?  But maybe not.  Bottom line, this is not some whole different sphere for which you are ill-prepared.  For better or worse, whether you use some nifty software to organize your material or you use a whole bunch of yellow legal pads and photocopies in hanging files (like me — so retro), this is familiar territory and you are an old hand.  So get to it.

Aspergirls by Rudy SimoneRudy Simone
Author of Aspergirls: Empowering Women with Asperger Syndrome andAsperger’s On the Job

  1. I had the easiest time of my life writing my three Asperger books. I just ran like Secretariat once I got going. But, I did learn that questionnaires make good research tools. I had three levels of questionnaires, each expanding on the one before it, so I didn’t have to individually interview each person. I did that by email or phone if and when it was warranted. By the time I wrote Aspergirls I had it streamlined: The questionnaires were posted on my site, the first one visible to the public so anyone could use it, then the 2nd and third were on hidden pages that I gave my participants the URL to. The data was compiled and I received email alerts whenever there was a new entry. So while I was researching certain elements of my book, the questionnaires and the people who used them were doing a lot of the legwork. Being that I’m fairly uneducated, I think I did a pretty good job with it.

Short by John SchwartzJohn Schwartz
Author of Short: Walking Tall When You’re Not Tall at All

  1. Advice from a Newsweek editor I worked with in the ’80s, Nancy Cooper. Roughly my age, but so much smarter and more worldly and sophisticated. I was worried about writing the opening story of the nation section. And she sent me a note that read: “You just start working and you keep working til it’s done. That’s all there is to it; no mystery.”

Happiness is an Inside Job by Sylvia BoorsteinSylvia Boorstein
Author of Happiness is An Inside Job and It’s Easier Than You Think

When I settle into writing, i.e. proposal signed, accepted, etc., I…

  1. Do not open email until 5PM on any weekday or other day when i expect to be writing much of the day.
  2. Do not read other people’s work on the same subject. That might be hard for you, since you are collecting research data, but I say very little about what other people have said or thought. They’ve already said or thought it.
  3. I am VERY selective about having other people read it as I go along other than my editor, and that only when I have enough written to feel secure that I have found my voice.
  4. When I do not like how what I’m writing is sounding, I quit. I leave the computer. I do something else, like cook soup. I “hear” what I am about to type before I type it and if it is not sounding like me naturally talking, I know i am not clear or balanced enough to go on.
  5. I do not write from the beginning to the end. I write in the order that particular parts take form in my mind and I enjoy mulling them over… I mull and mull and imagine I am explaining them to someone and then I write them down. I have the order in mind, so I write whatever part is bubbling energetically in my mind, print it out (always) and begin a stack on THE BOOK on a corner of my desk into which I can add pieces (in their proper order) as they get written and so I have a visible proof at all times that something is happening.
  6. I take the due date for the first draft EXTREMEly seriously., like everything depends on that day. it makes the project energetically alive for me, like a James Bond five-minutes-and-fifty-two-seconds until the whole world blows up movie and even if the draft is finished a week early I push the SEND button just after 12AM on the day it is due. Theatrical, I know, but I learned it from a friend of mine whom I admire as being a fine writer who prides himself on doing that.

Nameless Book by AnonymousAnonymous
Author of notable books on science and psychology

What I wish I didn’t know now that I didn’t know then:

  1. How hard writing a book would be  on my body — two major illnesses and two surgeries in two years, a health record unprecedented in my life, and unrepeated in the two years since. No idea what to do differently, other than maybe make sure I have good health insurance. (But you shoulda seen me revising my last draft as they wheeled me into the OR for an appendectomy.)
  2. How important and valuable the final reward would be. Not the money, but (in my case) the promised trip to a very special place. Wish I had put the photo of my destination on my screensaver long before I did, as it worked like an extra force of gravity pulling me to the end. The trip also gave me a coda to write into the book, just an extra added benefit.
  3. How inept publishers are at selling books, even books that, as in my case, they have a significant financial stake in and that they profess to love. Once they get rejected by Today and Terry Gross and once the Sunday Timespasses (or, as in my case, assigns a  review and then never runs it), they’ve exhausted their playbook. Solution: what you’re already doing, which is to build your brand among your intended audience.

Playing in the Band by David GansDavid Gans
Musician, radio producer, and author of Playing in the Band and Conversations with the Dead

  1. The most striking thing about my book processes was that no one at the publisher did any editing at all.  No fact checking, no line editing.

Lincoln's Melancholy by Josh ShenkJosh Shenk
Author of Lincoln’s Melancholy

  1. Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.
  2. Find ways to break it into chunks and set concrete deadlines with friends/agent/editor. I’m sending my agent material every week now. The shit is super rough, but at least I’ve got *something* on page. Also consider a writer’s group. When I asked Bruce Feiler for this advice at the start ofLincoln’s Melancholy, he said: “emotional management.” I told him, yeah, but I really want practical advice, etc. etc., and he repeated the phrase. Writing a book is a crushingly lonely experience in ways that no one who hasn’t been through it can really imagine.
  3. What’s the idea/argument in a sentence or two? You shouldn’t have this necessarily at the start but will want to by the time the book is done.
  4. Apply to MacDowell, Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center, Headlands — a few other good residencies, including one in Cali I can’t remember now. Four to eight weeks of you, quiet, among other artists, with people feeding you on schedule can do wonders.

Bring Me the Rhinoceros by John TarrantJohn Tarrant
Author of Bring Me The Rhinoceros & Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life, and The Light Inside the Dark: Zen, Soul & the Spiritual Life

Here’s a triplet of things that may apply only to me.

  1. Ideas don’t come from anywhere identifiable, so I’ve come to trust that they will be given. This is along the lines of not whipping the donkey.
  2. The process of lining the book up, giving it a bedside manner, asking “Is this what it is about? But what is it really about?” was a plunge. I had to explain the work to myself in more and more elementary language. I came to enjoy doing this. It helped when I realized that the discovery process was part of the writing and I didn’t have to be through it already.
  3. There is always period when I wrestle alone with my own process and at the same time I like collaboration. So I’ve learned what kind of editing works for me. A good editor is an impersonal force who says things like, “You could ditch the first half of your first chapter and start with what comes next,” and immediately I know if the edit is true or not. So I learned to be confident about sharing my work when it is not fully formed, learned that the process is robust and will look after itself.

How We Decide by Jonah LehrerJonah Lehrer
Author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist

  1. My one piece of advice is to insist that your editor be brutal — there should be red pen on every page. At least in my experience, the book only gets decent during this phase, as all the darlings and digressions get killed. It’s such an important process, and yet too many editors are too meek (or overworked) and too many writers resist their edits. A good editor is a great thing.

The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin
Seth Mnookin

Author of The Panic Virus and Feeding the Monster

  1. If you’re a Mac guy, I whole-heartedly, full-throatedly recommend using Scrivener. I think you can get a free 30-day trial, so it’s at least worth checking out. Especially with this last book, it totally saved me from having hundreds of (virtual) stacks of thousands of (virtual) scraps of paper.
  2. For me, it was vitally important that all non-book related reading be as mindless as possible. I binged on mysteries…Rex Stout and Donald Westlake/Richard Stark in particular.
  3. I tried, not always successfully, to start each day with some discrete goal I wanted to accomplish: write 200 words, or get through a certain amount of research, or conduct two interviews, or whatever. If I set out to spend a day “writing,” that would be so overwhelming I’d end up just farting around online all day instead of starting the climb the mountain.
  4. Finally: assume your book is going to completely tank commercially. That’ll help you remember that you’re not writing this for the purpose of writing a best-seller (at least I assume you’re not), but because it’s something that you care passionately about and excites you intellectually and because you hope to be able to share your thoughts and observations and conclusions with a group of people you respect and want to discourse with. Everything else is gravy. At the end of the day, what’s important is producing something you believe in…not producing something that’ll catch people’s eyes at B&N.

Superbug by Maryn McKenna

Maryn McKenna
Author of Superbug and Beating Back the Devil
  1. Find an organizational scheme for your notes and materials; keep up with it (if you are transcribing sound files or notebooks, don’t let yourself fall behind); and be faithful to it: Don’t obsess over an apparently better scheme that someone else has.  At some point during your work, someone will release what looks like a brilliant piece of software that will solve all your problems. Resist the urge to try it out, whatever it is, unless 1) it is endorsed by people whose working methods you already know to be like your own and 2) you know you can implement it quickly and easily without a lot of backfilling. Reworking organizational schemes is incredibly seductive and a massive timesuck. (I use DevonThink, OmniOutliner and Filemaker Pro. David Dobbs apparently has a quite different flow. We hope to do a workshop on this at NASW.)
  2. Don’t wait too long to start writing, especially if your book incorporates descriptive or narrative elements. Write at least a quick sketch of the sensory and emotional elements that stick with you as you come back from field reporting.
  3. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your head. Take care of your physical self too. Be just as committed to that as you are to getting your writing done every day. If you don’t care about your health, think your vanity — there’s an author video and a lot of public appearances in your future.
  4. Bonus tip: Be good to your spouse/partner and protect time for them. They’re in this with you, but unlike you, they didn’t choose it.

A New Contest

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Hello to everyone. Today I’m making a big announcement.  I am sponsoring another writing contest. The topic of this contest is National Pride.  It can be fiction or non-fiction, and no more than 1200 words.  The winner will receive  three ebooks of your choice and posting of your story on this blog.  The runner-up will receive a copy of the Historical Fiction, Dobyns Chronicles when it is published in a few months.

Please send the stories to shirley_mclain.com with your email address and the three ebooks you would like if you win.  All entries must be to me by May 31, 2012.  The winner will be announced June 15, 2012.

Use your creativeness and get out of your comfort zone a little bit. I look forward to receiving some great stories.

Shirley

Better Than Sex Cake and a Guest

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OK, let me start out by saying this is my second attempt at posting for today. I’m not sure what happened to the first one but I think it’s floating around in cyberspace somewhere in a few hundred pieces. I’m not one that gives up easily so I’m doing it again.

Today I feel like a cook and I want to share one of my favorite dessert recipes with you. It is mouth-watering good and easy to put together. I gave this recipe to a friend of mine in California and she now makes it every Easter for her family.

Just to let you know, I did not name this cake. You will have to make your own judgements about the title. The ingredients you will need are: 1 yellow pudding cake mix, 1 large box of french vanilla pudding mix, a large can of pineapple, 1 cup of sugar and whipping cream.

Bake the cake according to package directions. I bake mine in a mall aluminum turkey roaster for the high sides. Punch holes over the top of it and let it cool. While the cake is cooling place the sugar and pineapple in a saucepan and heat until all of the sugar has melted and you have a thin syrup. Pour this over the top of your cake. Let it cool. I put mine in the freezer to chill it down quickly. The trick is not to forget it. Mix up your pudding and spread it over the cooled cake. At this point you can sprinkle anything you want on top of the pudding. I use coconut and pecans but it’s entirely up to you what you use. Mix up a bowl of whip cream and put it on top of the pudding. You can sprinkle what you want on top. That’s all there is to it and you have a super moist melt in your mouth cake. Be sure any left overs are refrigerated.

Changing subjects completely, I want to remind you to enter the 100 word flash fiction contest. You can find the instructions in the previous post. I am also posting for Mark Lee, from the Masqueradecrew blog spot, Click HEREHe is wanting to tell you about a contest the crew is doing.

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We’re hosting a short story writing competition. The prompt is being emailed to early responders right now, and it will become public on our website March 15th.

But we need more than just submissions, although we’ll take as many as would like to enter. There’s lots of other things people can do to help us out, however. For instance, we need judges or readers. We’ll also need people to help us edit the winning entries.

Last but not least, as is being done here, we need people to spread the word, tweeting on Twitter about it or hosting a guest post from us. Whatever you would like to do. We would like to get the word out now, but also during the competition. In exchange, we’ll promote you and/or accept guest posts from you.

Interested in helping, let Mark know.
http://masqueradecrew.blogspot.com/2012/02/interested-in-sponsoring-judging-or.html

I wish you well until the next time.
Shirley

You Can Never be Sure

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Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

My blog today is going back to the subject of writing and publishing.  It was brought to the forefront in my mind today that you can never be sure that your book will come out from the publisher like it was sent to them.  My problem only came to my attention because of a cancelled book tour.  I was told my book was not ready to be toured.  I couldn’t understand what was going on.  I had gone over my book with a fine tooth comb and couldn’t find a problem.

When I received my galley from the publisher they were fine, and I signed off on them and sent them for printing.  I received my author books and they looked great.  That took place about a month ago.  Since that time I have actively been advertising my book and a sold a few ebooks.

Yesterday after my book tour had been cancelled I went back over my book and could find nothing wrong.  It dawned  on me that I’d never looked at my ebook, so I downloaded me a copy to my Kindle.  I looked at the first page and it immediately jumped out at me that something was missing.  In fact it was absent throughout the book.  What had been left out was the italicized print for the characters inner thoughts.  It made it look like I was changing tense in the middle of paragraphs.  When your writing that is a big NO, NO.

I immediately got on the phone with my publisher and told them of the problem.  It took awhile for me to convince them they caused the problem.  I finally got through to the ebook department after explaining the situation to at least three people.  I was then told sometimes the code messes up in the ebooks and it makes an error in printing.

It makes me want to jump up and down screaming at the top of my lungs that I did everything right and it still came out messed up.  So the moral of this story is check your ebooks to make sure they are correct. I made the mistake of assuming because my hard copies were correct my ebook would be also.  Learn from my mistake.

When Does Your Muse Strike?

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Little Pets 6

Image via Wikipedia

When do you think of new stories to write, or new books?  I was sitting at the dinner table yesterday evening and it came to me what my next book is going to be, along with the title.  I had an outline completed in my head and it all took place within a fifteen minute period of time.  It was  one of those times when no effort was being made but it all came together.

I can remember the content this morning, so it was something which touched me.  I find stories coming to me while lying in bed trying to read another book, or watching tv.  It seems anything can get those creative juices flowing.  I find it a rather amazing how my Muse comes into play at the oddest moments.

Todays video is about finding your Muse, just in case you lose it.  Have a great day.

http://youtu.be/dGwBVTsTPTM

 

Train Robbery (Microfiction)

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This small piece of fiction was wrote for a contest where I could only use 100 words to tell my story.  I have also included an article by GW Thomas on how to write Flash Fiction.  I found it very helpful.

Train Robbery
MicroFiction 100 words
The high-speed train was on time. Holly kept her purse draped across her body, making her feel secure traveling with all her money.  Usually time was taken to get travelers checks, but this trip she didn’t. She felt it was unlikely this train would be robbed, because of its rate of speed.

Holly looked at the ceiling of the car when she heard the thumps. She didn’t see the parachutes opening, and the precision landings on the top of the train.  A Loud noise and a burning smell come next.  Two men drop through, guns in hand. “Money please.”

Writing Flash Fiction By GW Thomas
With the advent of the Internet, editors are looking for shorter works, more easily read on a computer screen. The current term is “flash fiction”, a tale between 300-1000 words long. Longer than micro-fiction (10-300 words) but shorter than traditional short stories (3000-5000 words preferred by most magazines), flash fiction is usually a story of a single act, sometimes the culmination of several unwritten events.
This article will offer several strategies for writing flash fiction. Used by themselves or in combination, the writer can focus their story to that brief, interesting event.
1) The small idea
Look for the smaller ideas in larger ones. To discuss the complex interrelationship of parents and children you’d need a novel. Go for a smaller piece of that complex issue. How kids feel when they aren’t included in a conversation. What kids do when they are bored in the car. Middle child. Bad report card. Find a smaller topic and build on it.
.2) Bury the preamble in the opening
When you write your story, don’t take two pages to explain all the pre-story. Find a way to set it all in the first paragraph, then get on with the rest of the
tale.
3) Start in the middle of the action
Similar to #2, start the story in the middle of the action. A man is running. A bomb is about to go off. A monster is in the house. Don’t describe any more than you have to. The reader can fill in some of the blanks.
4) Focus on one powerful image
Find one powerful image to focus your story on. A war-torn street. An alien sunset. They say a picture worth a thousand words. Paint a picture with words. It doesn’t hurt to have something happen inside that picture. It is a story after all.
5) Make the reader guess until the end
A little mystery goes a long way. Your reader may have no idea what is going on for the majority of the story. This will lure them on to the end. When they finish, there should be a good pay off or solution.
6) Use allusive references
By using references to a commonly known story you can save yourself all those unnecessary words. Refer to historical events. Use famous situations from literature. If the story takes place on the Titanic you won’t have to explain what is going to happen, who is there or much of anything. History and James Cameron have already done it for you. Beware of using material that is too obscure. Your reader should be able to make the inferences.
7) Use a twist
Like #5, the twist ending allows the writer to pack some punch at the end of the story. Flash fiction is often twist-ending fiction because you don’t have enough time to build up sympathetic characters and show how a long, devastating plot has affected them. Like a good joke, flash fiction is often streamlined to the punch-line at the end.
Let’s look at these techniques in my story “Road Test”. I wanted to write a story about taking my driving exam. I didn’t mention the pre-test or practicing. Just the test. (#1 THE SMALL IDEA) This narrows our
subject down to a manageable scene.
I didn’t have room to describe the driving examiner in detail. I set my main character in two sentences.(#2 BURY THE PREAMBLE) “The man in the government-issued suit sat down without looking at the person across from him. We’ve established the main character and his chief flaws. (He’s mediocre and probably hates his job.)
I started in the middle of the action by having the driver very quickly go from good driving to dangerous driving. Johnson, the driving examiner realizes the driver is not human but goat-headed (#3 START IN THE MIDDLE). “He had changed. The beard was longer, the skin darker and two large curved horns crowned his skull.” This creates tension and has created an image: a man trapped in a speeding car with a monster (#4 A POWERFUL IMAGE). It pushes the reader on because they want to know what will happen next, maybe why is it happening? We won’t tell them until the end (#5 KEEP THEM GUESSING). The monster keeps yelling the same word, “Pooka!” Johnson begins to understand. He knows the old fairy stories about the Pooka, about how they pretended to be horses so they could drown their victims. (#6 ALLUSION) Now is the time for resolution, our great twist ending that no one sees coming (#7 TWIST ENDING). As the monster crashes the car into a pond, Johnson realizes a modern-day Pooka wouldn’t look like a horse, but would use a car. The car crashes and we finish with: “They would die, only Johnson would live long enough to feel those large goatish teeth chewing the flesh from his bones. The souped-up V8 hit the slick surface of the pond like a fist
into jello. Windshield collapsed under tons of water, washing away the high, shrill laughter of the driver.”
“Road Test” clocks in at 634 words. It is essentially a man gets killed by a monster story, but the crux of the idea is “How would mythological creatures adapt to the modern world?” This is really the small idea. The allusions to the Pooka will work for some, but I gave enough explanation to help those that don’t know about the old stories.
This example story was chosen because it illustrated all 7 methods. Using only one in a flash story can be enough. Writing flash fiction is a great way for writers to write everyday, even when larger projects seem to daunting or they are pressed for time. Using these short cuts can have you writing in minutes.

More Ideas for Blogs

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The second day of a new year and here I am at the computer, keeping my New Year resolution to blog every day.  A couple of posts ago I posted the review of Steven Aitchison’s book “100 Ways to Find Ideas For Your Blog Posts”.  One of his recommendations was to review books.  Blog the review and give the unvarnished truth about what you have read.

I’m going to be totally self-serving today, and ask you to consider reading my new book “The Tower.”  It is a mystery with lots of twists and turns.  Samantha Jensen is kidnapped from outside her home in Tulsa Oklahoma finds herself without memory in “The Tower.”  Sam’s twin- brother Allan operates a company, IDEA  (International Diagnostic

EThe kidnapping, smuggling betrayal and murder, take you around the world.  It is also a story of love and devotion, as well as retribution for crimes committed.  You learn tidbits about the countries traveled.

This was a book which was fun for me to write.  I love travel and adventure and I got put myself everywhere my characters where.

To end my self-serving section of this blog, you can go to http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_24?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=the+tower+shirley+mclain&sprefix=the+tower+shirley+mclain and take a look at my book.

What ever book you read and review keep it authentic.  According to Steven Atichison, you will find that once your blog gets known you will be approached by authors who give you their books for free in return for a review.  It’s ok to have a review once in a while, but if you’re going to do this make it a balanced review and don’t sell it to make money.  Review the book as if you were giving a detailed report to a friend, warts and all.

The paragraph above was directly out of his book.  It’s easy to read and understand.  I think reviewing books will give all of us avid book readers a new outlet.  It would be even nicer if the books are given to you.  That is a win-win situation, the way I see it.