My 4 Rules for Enhanced Creativity . . . and nailing the word count

The following is a guest blog post from Michael Cairnes as part of The Planets Blog Tour of July 2014.

 

My 4 Rules for Enhanced Creativity . . .

. . . and nailing the word count

By Michael Cairns

 

In the last twelve months I’ve written 1,374,000 words. 732, 400 of those have been since January this year. This has enabled me to publish eight distinct works, blog three times a week and have a virtual drawer full of manuscripts eagerly crying out for editing. Many writers struggle with getting words out so I thought it might be helpful to share a few things that have made this possible and, more importantly, done so without leaving me feeling drained/miserable/tired or otherwise funky.

 

1. Form the habit.

There are many creatives for whom the concept of combining art and habit is counter-intuitive, almost as much so as combining art and money! But just as money may enable you to create as much as you want, habit makes the creation easier, even when you don’t have all the time in the world.

I have a number of simple habits. They take, on average, 21 days to form, but realistically, you’re looking at one or two months to really bed it in.

  • Choose a time. For me it’s between 7:30 and 8:10 every morning.
  •  Find an effective way to get into the flow before hand. For me it’s drum practice for twenty to thirty minutes directly prior to writing. Drumming is great because it works both sides of the brain, but jogging, yoga, skipping, trampolining or alligator wrestling are all just as good.
  • Sit down and write. Depending on how easy creating comes to you, you might put down 20 words and you might put down 2,000. It doesn’t matter, so long as you are creating.
  • Repeat. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Imagine your source of income depends upon you doing this every day. It won’t always be the most fun in the world, but if you are passionate about your writing, then do it.

 

2. Always be Dreaming

As a child I would spend my lunch and break times doing slow walking laps of the playground as me and my friend took turns to tell one another stories. Mine would inevitably involve GI Joe and, depending how long break time was, a dragon or two. Once I moved to London, I’d stroll around town watching people and inventing stories for them. Or I’d sit in coffee shops and figure out all the relationships between the people working there.

More often than not though, I find myself dreaming about me. About winning the lottery or discovering the cure for something horrible. Maybe I’ll take a trip to the moon via a chance encounter with a strange but compelling creature with three heads. Honestly, the lottery one is more popular than the three headed dude, but it’s a close run thing.

I love dreaming. There’s a film/book/movement called The Secret that is, in essence, all about dreaming, only with some substance behind it. Use your free time to dream. Fan fiction is a great tool, because it gives you ready-made characters with which to dream, but you don’t know any of them as well as you know yourself.

 

3. Read, watch and listen, consciously.

This one’s easier said than done. I struggle massively to do this, mostly because I’m a sucker for a good story and find myself lost in anything I’m taking in. I’m the guy who got to the end of The Sixth Sense and went ‘No way, you’re kidding me?’ while my brother nodded off half an hour in, having already figured it out. But consciously digesting art is a fabulous way to enhance your creativity.

A quick exercise to do is this:

Choose a TV show at random and put it on. While you watch have a pad of paper and a pen beside you. Note down the following things:

  • Character names, defining characteristics, relationship to the protagonist/antagonist.
  • Setting including weather and other relevant points – this one particularly matters if you chose The West Wing, which you should, because it rocks.
  • Plot lines as they occur. For brownie points, you can do this with the timings as well.
  • Dialogue. Any particularly juicy dialogue that crops up. You can also say why you liked it. (see point about West Wing above)

This process becomes much easier once you’ve done it a few times. I was worried the first time that it would drain the magic from what I was watching, but it did quite the opposite. I started to appreciate the different facets of storytelling in much greater detail and came away hugely inspired.

 

4. Live well!

Between my teaching day job and my writing, I work 13 to 15 hour days, five days a week and between six and eight hours over the weekend as well. Around a 70 to 80 hour working week. I spend quality time with my family and I feel amazing!

There are however a few very simple things that must be adhered to in order to keep the clock ticking efficiently without going cuckoo!:

  • Sleep. When I finish work around half nine or ten, I go to bed and read. I don’t stay up an extra hour and surf rubbish on the net. I sleep. If I’m lucky and my daughter and wife sleep as well, I’ll do almost eight hours till the alarm goes off at 5:45.
  • Eat: I eat freshly cooked, homemade food 99% of the time. I don’t have refined sugar, I eat lots of vegetables and fruit and I ration my chocolate to less than my body-weight on a daily basis. I also drink lots of water.
  • Exercise: in my job I walk an average of 7km a day. I also drum every single morning and spend the weekends being beaten up by my 3 year old daughter. And being an airplane.
  • Laugh. I do my utmost to make my students laugh as much as possible. When I succeed, I normally laugh as well. When I fail, they laugh at me and that sets me off as well.

Your creativity is directly linked to your well-being. If your body isn’t functioning properly, for whatever reason, the synapses in your brain will stop working. End of story.

 

I should probably also mention that writing has become as essential to me as breathing. I love it, it feeds my spirit and my mind so, whilst I definitely work hard, it doesn’t feel like hard work. It’s vital to be doing something I’m passionate about, that is wholly authentic.

So over to you. Do you follow any of these? Do you have your own methods for ensuring creativity? Please let us know in the comments below.

 

Michael Cairns headshot low res copyChocoholic Michael Cairns is a writer and author of the superhero fantasy series, The Planets and science fiction adventure series, A Game of War. A musician, father and school teacher, when not writing he can be found behind his drum kit, tucking into his chocolate stash or trying, and usually failing, to outwit his young daughter.

Download a free copy of Michael’s novella Childhood Dreams from Kobo; and be sure to check out The Planets Blog Tour.

 

 

 

One Fictitious Moment: Two New Videos

By Angela Misri­, author of Jewel of the Thames

Writing mysteries is one of those specialized crafts that requires a constant escalation – in tension, in speed and in exciting your reader. There are two key ways to do this – by Creating Tension and by Writing Great Dialogue – check out some key tips below!

 

Watch for more writing videos on this blog, or you can subscribe to my Youtube channel One Fictitious Moment.

Amgela MisriAngela Misri is a Toronto journalist, writer and mom who has spent most of her working life making CBC Radio extraterrestrial through podcasts, live streams and websites. Her first book Jewel of the Thames, was published by Fierce Ink Press in March 2014 and is the first in a series called A Portia Adams Adventure.

Dear Writing, I Hate You: How To Be A Writer In The Real World

By Shayna Krishnasamy

Whenever I’m asked what I’m most passionate about, I answer, automatically, writing. I feel a certain amount of pride in being able to give a confident answer to this question that often stumps a lot of my friends who are still searching for their “thing.” I am a writer. Writing is my passion. It sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? Of course, this easy answer doesn’t tell the whole story, and it’s the inevitable follow-up question that makes this clear. Here it comes:

frustrationSo, what do you love about writing?

Love? Who said anything about love? I hate writing with a passion. That’s where all the passion comes from—hate.

I realize that not all writers feel this way. Some writers live in a bubble of serenity in which words flow from their fingertips to the page with ease, ideas are plentiful, inspiration is constant, and self-doubt? Such a thing doesn’t even exist. But the rest of us, the non-bubble dwellers, who live in the real world of mortgages and stress and uncooked dinners, the act of writing can sometimes, not all the time, okay maybe about half the time, be a little unpleasant, and other times, once in a while, okay maybe half the time, be downright painful.

Let’s face it, writing can be hard. To begin with, unless you’ve already hit it big, you’re doing it on top of working a full-time job, which means any time you devote to it is cutting into your time with your husband, your kids, your friends, your fun. You have limited time to actually write, and when you do find the time, you need to make it happen on the spot because there’s no time to dilly dally around waiting for inspiration. Now it’s summertime and your friends are all off at the beach or the park or Mexico, and you’re stuck inside, writing. On top of which you think you’ve lost track of the plot, your characters aren’t fully-formed, you’re pretty sure you aren’t any good at this, the book you self-published last year isn’t selling, like at ALL, and nobody, I mean nobody you know actually understands WHY you’re spending so much time on this “book” when you should be training for that marathon and making sure your kids eat balanced meals.

First, let me just say: I know. I’m here for you. Let’s avoid writing together by going out for coffee to discuss it.

Or, even better, for all the miserable writers out there, here are some tips from me to you to help you make your life as a writer just a little, not completely, but maybe about 10% less miserable:

You’re Overworked and Underpaid – Tell Everyone!

It can be hard for non-writers to understand the agonies of writing, and more specifically the amount of time it takes up in your life. Friends may become irritated when you have to turn down their dinner invites and Friday night get-togethers because you have to write. Imagining your buddies having fun together while you’re holed up in the basement hunched over your computer isn’t much fun for you either.frustrated-writer-4-e1322631376404

To combat the idea that you’re blowing everyone off and wasting your time, start telling yourself and everyone else that you have two full-time jobs. If you have kids, you can even boost that to three. Three Jobs! That’ll shut them up.

If you’re serious about writing, never call it a hobby or a side-project or a pastime. Writing is work, hard work. Sure, you’re doing this work voluntarily, but that doesn’t make it less difficult or deserving of respect than your salaried job. As a writer, your free time is precious and limited, and anyone who gives you grief about how much you have or how you spend it should go out and get a few extra jobs first. See how they like it!

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper, Mister

It’s really difficult to stay positive about your writing when you’re always comparing yourself to other writers. Sure, it’s important to read great novels and aspire to that kind of greatness yourself, but only if it doesn’t turn you into a weepy puddle of self-doubt. Thinking you’re not good enough is a common problem for writers and can be crippling.

To keep your confidence up, remind yourself that the book you’re reading is a finished product. You don’t know how many awful drafts there were before it was published. Maybe this book you think is so spectacular went through 20 drafts and a few severe edits before it became the tome you know so well. It isn’t fair to compare the second draft of your novel to a polished book, so don’t even go there.

That goes for writing speed as well. Many of the more successful self-published authors are releasing four or five books a year, and here you are slaving away at your manuscript for a third year. Nothing good will come of comparing yourself to these speedy authors, so why do it? There are plenty of famous authors who wrote more slowly (J. R. R. Tolkien, for one, ever heard of him?). The important thing is to write the best book you can, no matter how long it takes.

Be Trendy Only If You Really Love The Trend

writers-block21When you hear reports that authors are really raking it in writing about vampires or apocalypses or naughty sex, it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon. There’s nothing wrong with branching out—I’d even say it’s a good thing—but trying to force yourself to write a book about time travel for teens when your niche is really historical romance can be disastrous. Some writers are good at genre hopping and can write equally well in a variety of styles, but it’s not for everyone, and writing in a genre you don’t enjoy can suck the soul out of you in a jiffy. If you really want to be a happy writer, ignore the trends altogether and write what you want to write. You never know, maybe your idea will end up spurring a trend of its own!

Give Yourself a Break

Write every day. You’ve heard this rule, we all have. Given the famous tendency of authors to procrastinate, I understand why the rule is useful. You’re never going to get the book done if you keep marathon-watching Mad Men instead. But the rule can also be confining and has lead me to feel that I was failing as a writer because I couldn’t manage to get my butt in that desk chair two times this week, or because I took the day off to take my nephews to the amusement park, or because I wanted to go shopping.

Life doesn’t stop because you have a book to write, and I don’t believe you should cut yourself off from all human contact just to get your book indexwritten. You’ve heard of work/life balance? Well, I believe in life/write balance. You may not be able to hang out with your friends and family every night of the week if you want to finish your book, but you don’t have to stay home every night either. You can pick and choose.

I’m not saying don’t try to write every day, because you absolutely should. I’ve found it much more difficult to get back into my book when I haven’t engaged with it for several days in a row. What I’m saying is beating yourself up when you have to skip a day is a waste of time, and giving up everything else in your life to write your book, though it might get the book finished pretty quick, isn’t the best formula for a happiness. Your writing should be a priority in your life, but so should your life. If you stop living to write your book what in the world will you have to write about, anyway?

 

So, as you can see, when I say I hate writing, I don’t really mean it. It’s not writing that I hate, but rather all the challenges that come along with being a writer today, challenges which can ruin the act of writing for us, if we let them. It’s hard enough coming up with a great story idea and making the written product actually resemble that idea, and be coherent, and brilliant, and marketable, and exactly what you want it to be. Doing it while also missing out on all the fun things in life, being resented by your friends, feeling like everyone is writing better and faster, writing a story you don’t even care about, and feeling like crap because you aren’t writing enough—well, I’d say that’s practically impossible.

Being a writer in the real world is hard, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Next time you want to punch writing in the face, maybe go get an ice cream cone instead. And remember, if you really are a writer, there is no cure. You can give it up and become a circus clown and believe that’s the end of it, but writing will always come back to haunt you. It’s like an ant infestation that way. So, buck up, soldier, you’ve only got about 50 or 60 more years of this to go.

Now, didn’t that make you feel better?

Shayna's PhotoShayna Krishnasamy is a Montreal author of literary and young adult fiction by night and the merchandiser for Kobo Writing Life by day. Shayna’s books are available on Kobo.

Click here to visit Shayna’s website!

Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen!

By BlueInk Review

In our mission at BlueInk Review to review self-published books, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. While it’s difficult to explain how to create stellar prose – as there’s always a touch of genius involved in the best literature – there’s no secret about where writers go wrong. As our reviews show, authors tend to commit the same writing crimes, book after book.

Below, we have compiled excerpts from the more than 2,000 reviews we’ve done, each of which expose common writing blunders. So what makes the bad review rear its dreaded, beastly head? Here are five traps you should avoid at all costs:

1. Writing rife with spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors

The fact that this is at the top of the list is both discouraging and heartening: discouraging because, let’s face it writers, a book should be free of all spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors long before it’s reviewed or even published; heartening because this is one of the simplest problems to remedy.

Mechanical errors detract from the plot by forcing readers to wade through a veritable pool of inaccuracies in an attempt to decipher meaning. Don’t punish your supporters for reading your book; reward them with flawless mechanics.

Simply put: Hire a professional copy editor. And when he/she is finished, don’t rest easy. Proofread, my friends, proofread.

Here’s a sample of what our critics said on the subject::

“More frustrating, however, is the inundation of spelling and punctuation errors in the novel, specifically the incorrect use of the question mark, which is employed improperly in countless sentences. The seeming lack of any proofreading leads to an exasperating reading experience that is made even more challenging by a storyline that is disjointed, aimless, and, at times, self-indulgent.”

BlueInk Review2. Fiction containing overpowering agendas

Readers don’t appreciate picking up a romance novel or thriller, only to be inundated with an author’s opinions about abortion or saving the rainforest. Yet authors often feel it’s appropriate to hammer a political or social message home through their characters.

It is perfectly acceptable for a character to have strong opinions,  provided that this point of view is in keeping with the character’s overall persona. But if readers can tell that the character is simply acting as your mouthpiece, they will feel used and manipulated, and your story will collapse under the weight of your agenda.

Before you write, ask yourself: Is this my character’s opinion or am I simply trying to get a pet message across?  Am I focused on telling a story, or presenting a diatribe? Let the story lead the way, not your politics, your religious beliefs or your social attitudes.

3. Mixed genres

You don’t go to a Chinese restaurant for tacos. Readers have similar expectations when picking up a book. If your book cover promises a mystery, science fiction novel, romance or other genre story, only to deliver an odd mash-up of fantasy, erotica and young adult, readers aren’t likely to appreciate – or in many cases – even understand your book.

Before writing, study highly regarded books in your genre. Read, read, read!  And then read some more. This will help you understand the plot elements, character requirements, and pace that readers will expect of your story.  And if you’re tempted to mix genres in the interest of creativity, without the skill of a professional with decades of writing experience behind him/her, think again.

Here’s what one reviewer had to say about that:

“At heart, (title deleted) is a brash mash-up of kung-fu flicks, superhero capers, and airport thrillers that skews along the lines of John Carpenter’s cult bomb ‘Big Trouble in Little China’.  The narrative is immature at best, while unwieldy dialogue and overlong expository sequences hinder the book’s pace.  Ultimately, the story’s atmosphere of spiritual mysticism is overpowered by childish notions of heroic fantasy that often feel out of place in the midst of an adult-oriented thriller.”

4. A lack of focus

It seems to us that many authors simply sit down and write whatever comes to the top of their heads, leaving readers baffled at the book’s ultimate purpose. When writing, every word you choose must help you make your overall point. Ditto every sentence, every paragraph and every chapter.

Ask yourself: What message am I conveying with this book? How does each chapter – in fact, each and every word – help convey this point? Here are some review excerpts:

“The weakness of the book is its lack of cohesion. The author jumps from subject to subject – farming methods, family reminisces, tangents about personal interests, people with no connection to (the author’s) story – without a clear thread or progression. Information about (the author’s) disability is interjected at intervals that lack the chronology or firm contextualization to be of real benefit to most readers.”

“Unfortunately, the book’s bland recitation of history continues, without benefit of a theme or thread to tie together or promote the author’s slant. When readers finish this book, they won’t know the ideology of either major party, let alone how each evolved to the present day.”

 5. Unsubstantiated arguments

When writing nonfiction, self-published authors often feel that presenting their opinion is enough. But you can’t expect readers to buy your argument if it’s not backed up with coherent logic and/or research.  Why, after all, should your readers just take you at your word?

Successful authors lead readers through their thought process logically.  They cite credible sources to back up their arguments, along with facts and examples.  Don’t simply share your thoughts and/or opinions.  If your argument is to make a lasting impression on your audience it must be properly supported.

What not to do:

“The authors cover everything from 12th century BC Arabian trade routes to proper coffee roasting temperatures, but without giving the context or explanation that would affirm their expertise. They emphasize that, while critics focus on the risks of consuming caffeine, coffee has antioxidants and many other beneficial components, but they do not cite studies that prove these benefits in any detail. Stronger claims are hedged (“There is a lower incidence of type II diabetes among coffee drinkers …”) and difficult to fact-check, given that there are no footnotes.  Ninety-seven of the 101 chapters have exactly three sources referenced for each.”

“He might be justified in claiming credit, but readers will find little persuasive evidence here to validate these undocumented assertions.”

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit  http://www.blueinkreview.com to learn more.

One Fictitious Moment Video: Writing a Great Villain

By Angela Misri­, author of Jewel of the Thames

Who are your favourite fictional villains? I’ll bet that they share some common traits and I’ll further up the ante in saying that their creators are as careful about developing their villains as they are in developing their heroines. Your villain needs to have more than the goal of committing the crime – they need motivation, they need the ability and most of all, they need a back story of their own. Here is how I write compelling (mysterious) villains.

Watch for more writing videos on this blog, or you can subscribe to my Youtube channel One Fictitious Moment.

Amgela MisriAngela Misri is a Toronto journalist, writer and mom who has spent most of her working life making CBC Radio extraterrestrial through podcasts, live streams and websites. Her first book Jewel of the Thames, was published by Fierce Ink Press in March 2014 and is the first in a series called A Portia Adams Adventure.

Get A Clue: Writing Detective Fiction

By Angela Misri­, author of Jewel of the Thames

If you’re a curious person like me, you live for a good whodunit. You’re someone who actually times themself while watching an episode of Monk/Bones/Elementary for how long it takes for you to solve the case (personal record: 8 minutes in). You might even be the type who when reading a mystery novel skips ahead to the back to confirm your deductions, too impatient to actually read through all the way to the conclusion.

Ok, maybe that’s just me.

JeweloftheThamesBut, if you are in that minority of humans who enter into otherwise normal conversations with an unnatural suspicion about hidden motivations then it might be time to channel all that into a really good detective story.

Besides the usual advice for writing genre fiction – for example to voraciously read/watch as much as you can from the genre you’re trying to write – I have some suggestions for how to construct a case.

I always start with the crime. Being who I am (read paragraph one if you’ve forgotten) I think about crime a lot, but picking through all the options for a new story is a special time in my process. It’s like being given exclusive access to the Apple Store on Boxing Day – the options are endless. It’s a powerful feeling.

I’ve written about jewel theft, kidnapping, arson, bank robbery and lots of murders – from poisonings to stabbings to shootings and I’m not done yet. So pick your crime.

Now get to know your crime, read as much as you can about crimes like it, make notes, watch news coverage of them, make more notes. In the case of my arson story I did a whole bunch of research on accelerants and then took that notebook to a chemist friend and talked it through with him to make sure my findings were in fact accurate. I then spoke to a history professor about the availability of the chemicals in the time period I set for the story. I took more notes, crossed out entire pages of research, and started again when I discovered one of the chemicals wouldn’t be readily available at the time my detective is detecting.

While I’m getting to know my crime, I start picking out clues specific to it – this will be a list I later divide into:

  • What my reader needs to know (so as to feed their curiosity and keeps them reading)
  • What the characters in the book need to know
  • What the perpetrator(s) know(s)
  • What my detective knows/notices/must figure out

From this sub-divided list I find it easy to lay out the players. Who is the victim? Who are the by-standers who may also become suspects? Who are the ‘others’ in the room who influence the case? You may think that this is the point where the perpetrator becomes obvious, but that’s not true! You’re jumping ahead to the last chapter! Stop that!

Bruce Wayne said it best in the DC series Identity Crisis when he (slumped deep in thought in the bowels of the Bat cave trying to solve a murder) mused on the question. “Who benefits?”

That’s the question I find myself circling with that list of clues and players in front of me while wearing my Batman cape and cowl. Ok, maybe not the cowl because it doesn’t fit well over my glasses.

Think about who would benefit from the crime. What would their motivation be? Is it believable? Would someone really kill someone over a game of chess? Really? Yes they would it turns out – look up murder chess-related on Wikipedia. No seriously.

Back to the case: is that a motivation I can hint towards through scenes in the book and investigation by my detective? What kind of clues can I lay down to lead to the discovery of this motivation?

I now extend this process to my by-standers-who-will-become suspects. It’s from this web of suspects and their motivations for committing the crime that I pick my perpetrator.

With the perpetrator in hand and the rest of the suspects spread out around them, I build my timeline of events. When did the crime occur? When did my detective get brought in on it? When did each of the suspects interact with the victim enough to become suspects?

Using this timeline approach I’m able to identify the scenes I need for my detective to solve the crime.

Now I’m not saying that this approach is for everyone or even that it works for me every time for every crime (look, I’m a poet too!). Think of this as a chalk outline at a murder scene my friends, it’s just the outline. You still have to fill in all the details in a convincing way that keeps pulling the reader along clue by clue and scene by scene.

What are your tricks for writing detective fiction? Leave a comment to let everyone know!

Check out this cool video that gives even more insight into writing detective fiction. It can be found on the Youtube channel One Fictitious Moment.

Amgela MisriAngela Misri is a Toronto journalist, writer and mom who has spent most of her working life making CBC Radio extraterrestrial through podcasts, live streams and websites. Her first book Jewel of the Thames, was published by Fierce Ink Press in March 2014 and is the first in a series called A Portia Adams Adventure.

Introducing Red Door Reads and WHO’S BEN SKREWD?

Who is Ben Skrewd? Who is Red Door Reads for that matter, you might be wondering. The 21 bestselling authors who make up Red Door Reads offer romance in all flavors and genres – contemporary, historical, YA, western, sports, etc. – with new releases popping up and topping the charts all the time. So that’s Red Door Reads. Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 3.09.04 PM

But WHO’S BEN SKREWD? Well, that’s a little bit of a story. You see, last year, a number of the Red Door authors met at the RWA National Conference for a chance to bond in person vs. online. This group of ladies were discussing what sort of project they could do as a group. They didn’t want to do a holiday theme or something that had been done already, but they did want something universal. Someone posed the loaded question, “So who’s Ben Skrewd?” Though, in all honesty, it might not have been spelled the same way. Or maybe it was. After all, the question wasn’t written down, but posed verbally. But we digress… Red Door Reads 'Ben Skrewd' Novella Banner

Anyway, after a few chuckles, we all realized that everyone has had the feeling of “Ben Skrewd” at one point or another in their life. Story ideas began to flow, and it didn’t take long for half of the Red Door authors to decide to take those story ideas and create a novella series like no other. There are 11 different novellas in the collection, and it is comprised of stories set in 19th Century England to present day Milwaukee and Ireland. Heroes who are cops and some who are aristocratic lords. Heroines who slay demons and some who see ghosts.

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Each novella is as different and diverse as our membership, but each story has two things in common. One – A red door on each cover outside, and Two – a mysterious character named Ben Skrewd somewhere on the pages inside. And, of course, the novellas can be found here at Kobo. Naturally.

We have had such a great time working on this project together and might be planning something surrounding a certain unscrupulous beach house owner – though that’s another story for another day. Do stay tuned, however.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll all be able to join us as we celebrate the launch of WHO’S BEN SKREWD? For a short period of time, each Who’s Ben Skrewd novella is on sale for $0.99.

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And beginning this afternoon (April 15th at 2:00pm Central Time) we start celebrating our launch with a Facebook release party. (Confetti is most definitely allowed.) There will be all sorts of prizes/giveaways and the opportunity to talk to your favorite Red Door authors. Please join us – https://www.facebook.com/events/798282543534467/

Also starting today, we’re sponsoring slightly different kind of contest that runs through April 22nd. Each Ben Skrewd novella author has hidden a silhouette of “Ben” somewhere on our websites. Can YOU find all of the missing Bens? If so, submit your answers Here – for a chance to win an iPad mini!

 

 

Without further ado…

The Red Door Reads ‘Who’s Ben Skrewd?’ Novella Series – click each link below to buy the eBooks on kobo.com!

Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness by Deb Marlowe, A Half Moon House Series Novella

 Hexed by Andris Bear, A Deadly Sins Novella

Dances with Demons by Lori Handeland, A Phoenix Chronicles Novella

Firebird by Linda Winstead Jones, A Columbyana Novella

In the Stars by Ava Stone, A Regency Encounter Novella

Her Muse, Lord Patrick by Jane Charles, A Muses Novella

 

It’s Okay To Talk To Yourself

By Kevin J. Anderson

[This is an abridged version of an article from KJA's April 8, 2010 Blog Post entitled: Dictating, Writing, Hiking]

It’s been about fifteen years since I gave up the keyboard and took up a recorder for my first drafts.  Since that time, I’ve dictated nearly fifty novels on an innumerable number of micro-cassettes, speaking the words aloud, rather than typing them into my word processor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile this might not seem to be a writer’s traditional technique, remember that the storyteller’s art has always been a spoken one.  Revered shamans would tell tales around the campfire, legends of monsters in the darkness or heroes who killed the biggest mammoth.  Homer did not write his epics down.  What could be more natural than speaking your novel aloud before committing the words to a computer hard drive or an editor’s red pencil?

Okay, so you’re perfectly satisfied with sitting at your cramped card table after shoving aside the checkbook and the bills to clear a spot for writing.  If you can truly work that way, then I salute you.  For me, as I write this article, I am hiking in a canyon above the Colorado River, making my way up to a pristine lake and a spectacular waterfall — I wouldn’t trade places in a thousand years.

One of the primary advantages of writing with a digital recorder is that you can be outside in a spectacular area, bombarded with inspiration.  There, the details of nature or history itself can provide story fodder.

I just spent a week in Capital Reef National Park in the slickrock canyons of southern Utah, where I wrote a significant portion of my “Saga of Seven Suns” novels.  During my hikes, I dictated the adventures of characters exploring ancient, abandoned cities within rock overhangs, very similar to the Anasazi ruins I visited.

Even if you aren’t in a place precisely comparable to your subject matter, you can still experience sounds and smells and sensations that add vivid details to your prose — details you may not remember while sitting numbed in your cluttered office at home.

Another advantage of dictating while out walking is the solitude and the peace-of-mind you’ll encounter.  While hiking, you can let your mind sink into the universe of your story, blessedly without interruptions.  Out on the trail with your digital recorder, you can avoid telephone calls, faxes, the temptation to log on and read your email, do the dishes, scrub the toilets, clean the attic. . . .

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KJA near the peak of Mount Nevada (12,800 ft) – Aug 2011

Let’s face it, writing is a sedentary profession.  Full-time authors spend their days seated firmly in the chair, fingers the keyboard, without a great deal of invigorating exercise.  Personally, I hate being cooped up in the office and would rather be hiking, or even just walking along bike paths in an urban area.  Once I learned how to dictate, I no longer had to choose between a day of hiking or a day of writing.  I can do both at the same time.  It keeps me fit and active, and it prevents me from becoming one of those “pear-shaped people.”

When I’m out dictating I manage to produce far more pages in less time than if I’m chained to my desk.  I’ve even learned how to fool myself into writing more than I originally intended to do.  In a trick I call the “round-trip deception,” I will keep hiking outbound until I have completed one entire chapter . . . at which point I should have just enough time on the way back to dictate another full chapter.  Since I have to walk back anyway, I might as well be writing.

The most obvious drawback with dictation is that once you’ve recorded a chapter, then it must be transcribed.  Depending on how fast you type, you can transcribe your own files, of course — but to me this defeats the purpose of using a recorder.  In the time it takes to transcribe a chapter, I could just as well have written a completely new one.

Typists offer their services in the classified ads of many writers’ magazines; transcribers or stenographers are also listed in your local yellow pages.  The going rate seems to be around $2 – $3 per page.

You may need to try several different typists before you find one who works well with your material.  (I burned out one stenographer with a single DUNE tape; she simply couldn’t handle the strange science fiction setting and vocabulary!)  My regular typist has learned my quirks and knows when to change dialog, when to break paragraphs, what punctuation to use.  She has even offered insightful comments on novels-in-progress.  Often I feel like Charles Dickens writing a weekly serial, handing one chapter at a time so the typist can see what happens next.  I upload the files, email them to her, she transcribed them, and emails me back the Word files.

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Photo taken shortly after KJA dictated a couple of DUNE novels

Always keep in mind that, like any other writing technique, dictation is a skill that must be learned.  Give it time and practice.  I started out carrying a recorder to dictate occasional notes because I liked to walk while mulling over storylines and developing characters.  This habit evolved into speaking outlines, laying out scenes, and then detailed rough drafts.  Now it’s graduated to near-finished prose.

Some people try the recorder once and give up, claiming that it feels too “unnatural.”  By comparison, writers are accustomed to thinking up sentences, breaking them down into words, spelling those words, then moving their fingers across a scrambled keyboard to put down the prose one letter at a time.  (Remember, the QWERTY keyboard was intentionally designed to slow down typists!)  Just talking out loud doesn’t seem any less natural to me!

So keep an open mind if you are willing to try a new writing technique.  Go out and talk to yourself.

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KJA at Kobo’s home office in Toronto (he hiked up to the 4th floor) showing his Rush album tie-in novel Clockwork Angels on a Kobo reader

Check out Kevin J. Anderson’s books at Kobo

KJA uses an Olympus DS-3500 digital recorder

Curtis Brown Creative’s Kobo Writing Life Scholarship winner: Kalbinder Dayal

WebAlmost a year ago, Kobo Writing Life and Curtis Brown Creative, the UK-based writing school run by London’s leading literary agency, launched the Kobo Writing Life Scholarship, choosing one talented writer to receive a full scholarship to each of the CBC’s on-location courses.

Our first scholar was Callum Church, and our second was Antoinette di Michelle, both attending sessions of the Curtis Brown Creative Three-Month Novel-Writing Course over the past year.

Kobo Writing Life and Curtis Brown Creative are now happy to announce the third KWL Scholarship winner and the first for the upcoming Six-Month Novel-Writing Course, starting in February: Kalbinder Dayal. Ms. Dayal is working on a novel called MidLands – which follows three second-generation siblings of an Asian family coming to terms with ‘belonging’ in the UK and the implications of breaking with tradition.

“We were extremely impressed by the opening of her novel, which was submitted with her application,” said Rufus Purdy, Editor, New Writing with Curtis Brown Creative.  “We felt Kalbinder was the most exciting voice amongst the many applications for the scholarship place, and both we – and she – are thrilled she’ll be on the course.”

Congratulations to Kalbinder Dayal for winning the scholarship with a strong story with great promise, and we look forward to seeing the finished novel soon!

And a reminder to all London-local authors: applications for the May session of the Three-Month Novel-Writing course are now open! The course is eligible for the KWL Scholarship, too!

The twenty-thousand word wall

By Antoinette di Michele

I was a third of the way into my writing, and coincidentally the writing course I’m on, when it all seemed to fall apart. The story wasn’t leading anywhere dramatic enough, it was petering out. I was out of words. They warned me this could happen. So now what?

Skyline with Tower Bridge at night

Skyline with Tower Bridge at night

At first I sat for hours everyday, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote a 5,000-word plan. I wrote the first 20,000 words without breaking a sweat. It was incredible. I read them. I reread them. I read them again. I was stuck. Everything stopped. Nothing else was there.

Then the class reviewed my first chapter. The level of professionalism put me instantly at ease. A round table is an incredibly useful part of the process. This goes for any good idea. Fourteen well-read storytellers – problem solvers too – agreed unanimously on certain items and divided completely on others. My next chapter was reviewed four weeks later, and the feedback was even better, more specific. The class pinpointed an overarching issue: I’m struggling with POV.

I like to think of myself as a craftsman; I imagine I am a chef. If everyone thinks my dish is too salty, then the real beauty of my dish isn’t shining through. When the room divides, and it will, this is where the real work (and conviction) for the craftsman, the writer, begins. How and what do you choose to hear, to rework, and to rewrite? The questions confirm your confidence or reveal your doubts, and your doubts speak to answers that you don’t yet have – decisions you will need to make. The questions raise questions (and more questions) before you get to any answers, and those answers (and that process) is what will make you the writer you know you want to be. It’s no easy task. It’s incredibly overwhelming. This is usually the moment you think you are having a heart attack.

Skype calls home with story updates

Skype calls home with story updates

I did what I usually do in times like these: I got on the horn. I sent SOS e-mails to my fellow writers and friends. I asked not what I could do for this crisis, but what this crisis could do for my book. Never waste a good crisis or a crisis state of mind.

I asked for help with research, and our program director, Anna, connected me immediately with an amazing person to interview for information I needed. I asked for additional feedback in specific areas from my classmates, and they all wrote back. I gave myself permission to write badly – at least to get the story out (whatever it takes to write). I wrote notes and more plans. I read more, and more widely.

The trouble with writing is the writing. A good idea is one thing, but the process, the ability to execute, research, rewrite, “kill your darlings,” knead the words you keep, push through walls and the sickening black fog of self doubt – that is the job.

If you want to be a writer, you need to ask yourself one question: do I want to be a writer? And then: really? If the answer is still yes, pass ‘Go,’ collect $200 (NB: this is a metaphoric $200). Enter your own Act Two with purpose and direction. Writing is the first step, the next step; it’s every step. You’re making progress even when you don’t think you are as long as you stick with the work.

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About the Author

antoinette 1Antoinette di Michele is currently in London as the Kobo Scholar on the Curtis Brown Creative 3-month course on novel writing. She is at work on her book for her family and friends, the patrons of her art.

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