Myths and legends are perhaps the oldest stories we humans tell each other. They go back to before human beings were literate. They may go back to before agriculture, which would make them some six to ten thousand years old. Yeah, legends are that old.
We might, at least here in the west, think of Greek and Roman mythologies before we consider others. Or maybe we do not know any others. But there are plenty! However, rather than getting into specific culture’s mythologies, I would instead suggest considering certain ancient tropes.
Floods make for great storytelling. This is because they are a kind of ancient people’s disaster movie. The effects are legitimately frightening and off the scale. Furthermore, most of us have experienced some species of flooding in our lives, even if it was just water rising in a creek and pooling around our ankles.
For a religious group, a flood is also a great way to separate out the righteous (using whatever criteria the group so desires) from the wicked. The best people can be quite literally be saved and the evil people can be swept away. It is also far less messy than a fire or earthquake would be (although being swallowed up by the earth is another option when it comes to the fate of the wicked). There is nothing to clean up.
The fall of Troy makes for a great story. Can it inspire? Of course. Between the death scenes, Helen’s love affair and then her fall from grace, and the Trojan Horse itself, the story is fascinating reading. Another (probably) mythological battle is Joshua’s invasion of Jericho. The story includes the image of a wanton woman (Rahab, who was most likely intended to be a prostitute) offering aid and comfort to the enemy’s spies, to the walls falling from trumpet blasts and not traditional attacks.
Without getting into faith or religion (which will be handled in a different post), it is perfectly legitimate to use myths for writing. They are, after all, within the public domain.
It’s the kind of story I tossed off rather quickly and then it kind of took on a life of its own.
This story started because I had stayed at my childhood home and noticed something odd in the front yard. And the truth is, it was nearly nothing. However, I sometimes have an overactive imagination, and so I took this idea and I ran with it.
What did I notice? It was only a few ruts near a flower bed. They were nothing, really, and were most likely made by a hoe or a rake. However, in my mind, I decided they would be tire tracks. And then the fun started.
A holier than thou narrator tells the story to an unnamed police officer. The plot circles around the narrator’s elderly parents’ next-door neighbors. And the narrator refers to them as the POJ Family. That is, the “Pair of Jerks”.
As the story progresses, our narrator gets more and more self-righteous as the POJ Family continues to perform more and more outrageous acts in her parents’ sleepy, leafy Northern New Jersey suburban street (Note: my folks live on Long Island and they don’t even live in the inspiration house any more).
Sharp-eyed readers should be able to follow along, at least in part. The narrator keeps a lot of information close to the vest, so it pays, actually, to read the book again. And no, I’m not trying to inflate read counts.
No one is actually named in the story. The main character is the narrator, who is telling the story to an officer of the law. The other characters are her elderly parents, her son and daughter, various neighbors, and her next-door nemeses, the so-called POJ family.
The narrator is a divorced middle-aged woman and that’s all a reader learns about her. Her children are teenagers; her parents, elderly and coming to the time in their lives when they’re just about ready to move into assisted living.
As for the POJ family, they have a decidedly more earthy philosophy than our heroine. And so she takes matters into her own hands.
I returned to my parents’ home and the three of us began washing the many plates – eighteen in all. My mother declared that perchance these city people did not understand our ways and so she carefully hand-lettered a number of delicately-worded thank you notes to everyone in the neighborhood. We knew who had provided the apple pie, the cherry cobbler and even the New York-style cheesecake.
The story’s sole posting is on Wattpad, where became a Featured Story a few years ago.
This story has had better traction than nearly anything I have ever written. With (as of the time of the writing of this blog post) over 57,000 reads and over 500 comments (many of which referenced the surprise ending), Revved Up remains an unqualified success. Of course having had Featured Story status helped a great deal.
Could I sell it? I have toyed with that idea, but the story is so odd and it’s really too short for a novel. Plus it does not really lend itself to a sequel. While sequels are far from necessary, it helps if that’s an option.
Choosing an editor can be tricky. Sometimes, you just end up with whoever is cheapest or whoever you know. But if you have a choice in the matter, consider it carefully.
It’s a business relationship like any other
Do yourself a favor, and write a contract. This is a sample copy editing contract, and it’s pretty good. Be sure to change the contract to indicate the laws of your state apply, and clarify it is editing rather than copyediting you are contracting for (unless you are also contracting for copyediting services, naturally).
Working with an editor
Be your courteous and professional self. Editors are a more professional group than beta readers (what I mean is, this is a profession, whereas beta reading is for free and is not a paying gig) and are generally people you hire. They will do copy editing, where they check for typos, etc., although there should be a last pass by a proofreader before publishing, no matter what.
Editors can also check for continuity, but they will mainly read with the audience in mind. They are a good enhancement to the work of a beta reader, and are a good idea before you send your work out for querying.
Finding an editor
The best way to get an editor is to do some research. Ask people you know who have been published, including your online friends. An editor no longer has to live in the same city or country as you do. However, you will be best served by someone who is a native speaker of the language your book is written in. Work with the editor on a sample chapter. Do you get along? Are his or her suggestions reasonable? Are they slow? Does it seem to cost too much for what you are getting?
Finding an editor on a budget
If you are absolutely, utterly stuck for funds, try a local college or university. You might be able to get an English major to help you, but be aware they probably won’t have experience and they may not be the best fit. But they may be all you’ve got.
If you go the collegiate route, don’t just put up flyers. Instead, talk to a professor! Ask who the best students are. The professor may have an idea of who (a) knows what they are talking about and (b) is looking to make some money.
Helping the editor
No matter how much you spend for editing services, be sure to recommend that person wherever they wish, whether it is on LinkedIn, Yelp, or elsewhere. Be kind and helpful to this person, and you could start a lasting professional relationship that will benefit both of you for, potentially, years to come.
Descriptions are a must. You need them for any type of writing beyond the barest drabbles. Involve the reader in the piece. And that means pulling descriptive prose out of your head. You must commit it to paper or pixels.
Scene setting is covered elsewhere in this blog. However, that’s closely related to your descriptive abilities. Consider what is important.
Describe human beings as soon as you can. Unless the character’s appearance is some sort of spoiler, you should get their basics down quickly. Otherwise, your readers will picture one thing and, when they are told something different about the character, it will feel jarring to them. If I think your Mary character is Asian, and then you later (finally!) tell me she’s a blonde, that has the potential to take me right out of the story.
I’ll blog about describing people of color elsewhere. For now, just concentrate on basic descriptors. Those are, generally: gender, age range, height, body size and shape, hair color (or baldness), facial hair if appropriate, and eye color. Furthermore, add any unique identifiers. These are a disability or tattoos or the like.
Think about what is normally considered in a standard police lineup. For example, police officers can’t conduct an overly suggestive American police lineup. And it might even be unconstitutional. That is, if the witness claims the suspect is male, then the lineup is no good if it consists of four females and one male.
More natural exposition
You don’t have to dump a garbage can full of expository data in the first sentence. A female pronoun or name can give away gender. A nickname might indicate age, such as Junior or Grandma. Maybe you can comment on agility or speed or fatigue in order to get physical condition across. And height can come up fairly naturally if your character has to reach something on a high shelf, or look up or down at another character. Or maybe they have to determine if they’re tall enough to get onto an amusement park ride.
Any of these is better than a list of vital statistics. Those don’t really come up naturally unless you’re writing about medicine or, maybe, a beauty pageant or a sporting competition.
Describe aliens very quickly. The basics should still be your guide. However, you might need to cover other issues, such as whether they can speak or hear, or whether they can breathe our air.
Give your readers as much of the picture as is necessary. Don’t describe the corners of the room unless you need to. But at least tell them there’s a room.
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
But this is not copyright! Instead, the concept exists to work with copyright, in order to help you refine the rights in your work. Also, it can work to help you understand the nuances of rights in others’ works. But which others? Cover artists and songwriters, to name two.
Can I use all of the images I find online?
Absolutely not. Just because you can right-click an image or take a screenshot does not mean you have the right to just take it. And do not get me started on wiping off someone else’s photographic watermark.
Attribution CC BY – this is the most open of the licenses. It allows others to do nearly anything to a creative work.
Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA – this one is similar to CC BY. Except, it requires you attribute to the original artist. Wikipedia uses this one!
Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND – you can pass along the work. However, you can’t alter it. And you must credit the creator.
Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC – you can alter the original work, but you must credit the original artist. Furthermore, you can’t make any money from the work.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA – this one is the same as CC BY-NC. Except, you must license any new creations under identical terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND – this is the most restrictive license, allowing for sharing. But attribution is required. Also, you cannot make any changes. Further, the sharer can’t make any money off the creative work.
Eavesdropping really works, and it is probably a writer‘s best tool. Once you start listening in on conversations, you will open up a whole new world. Because real dialogue, interspersed with your created dialogue, adds realism.
First of all, you have got to be subtle. This means maybe you pretend to play with your phone. Or you look out a window or stare into space. Because you should not be obvious about such things.
Furthermore, conversations are often layered. While you are perhaps listening to one person talk to three other people, there is a give and take between that person and the others. However, there are also words passed among the others in the group. Then they might even break off and begin their own conversations.
This doesn’t even get into what happens when you’re in a crowded room. Since it is hard to follow a lot of conversations, concentrate on only one or two. You won’t hear it all, anyway. Furthermore, if you split your focus, you won’t get anything good.
I am not saying you need to be nosy. Furthermore, this is not for gossip. Rather, you are a writer and you are doing research. Do yourself a favor and mix up what you hear. Don’t copy paragraphs outright. Instead, grab a sentence here and there. Write them down and put them away for later. Since you will presumably be writing for years, a sentence might work a decade from now. You never know.
The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent
Have you ever heard that? Make sure to change names. Or eliminate them altogether. You can also swap gender. Hence if a friend is complaining about her boyfriend, why not change the friend to a man? Or slip the complaint into something else. The complaint could be about your protagonist’s coworker.
Be subtle. Don’t use what you hear in order to gossip. Change the details. Finally, don’t repeat truly personal information (bank accounts, divorce proceedings, fatal disease diagnoses, etc.) unless you change nearly all of the verbiage. Be your usual pleasant, polite, and caring self. Yes, even as you gather some writing fodder.
I hope you’re interested in writing progress reports. Because I will be adding them.
I love to write and I try to do it on a somewhat regular basis.
For 2018, one of my resolutions (a fancy word for plans) is to write a lot more like the late, great Ray Bradbury. Bradbury did two things.
He wrote something like 2k words per day.
He wrote whether he was feeling it or not.
And that’s a great attitude right there. For Bradbury, there was no such thing as writing 52 bad short stories in a row. Because, yes, those weekly writing sessions would turn into short stories. I am certain some of these did not sell nor see the light of day. Others did, and became parts of The Illustrated Man, etc.
Practice Makes Perfect-ish
So the chances of writing a good story vary, of course. However, the chances of writing a good story if you do not write at all are, naturally, a big, fat goose egg.
Writing is also good practice for more writing. And I have also found that, at times, I have cribbed from an older work and stuck it in a newer one where it worked better. But I would not have had that bank without writing the older story first.
A Word About Fan Fiction
Egad, I wrote a ton of it! As in, over 2.5 million words – no lie! It wasn’t until around 2014 or so where I came to the conclusion that I had learned everything which writing fan fiction could possibly teach me, so it was time to let it go.
However, that cribbing I mentioned, above? I’ve done it with fan fiction the most. Obviously, I don’t copy the canon stuff which other people created. Instead, I use my own in new ways.
You’ll be seeing a lot about current WIPs (works in progress). The truth is that any work not yet published is technically a work in progress, for it can be altered at any time up until release, and that’s even after a successful query (a query is where you fling your work off to a publisher or an agent to try to get it published). A WIP even encompasses works tossed into drawers and kept from the light of day for a long time. So those will be in these writing progress reports although, I admit, sometimes they’ll just be a placeholder for “nothing much happened”. Because not everything is worked on all the time.
Writing is not all that there is to writing. Uh – what? What I mean is, you don’t just write. You research and plan. And you also edit and send out work to beta readers and address their feedback (which is sometimes to reject their feedback, by the way). Plus you put together queries and send them. In addition, you promote published works and collaborate with a publisher or an agent, a cover artist, etc. Or you self-publish. And you handle rejection. And bad reviews.
All of these are important activities. However, they are also all dependent upon writing. You can’t query without a written project. And you don’t get reviews on the dreams in your head. So writing is paramount, a good chunk of all of it. But these other things matter as well. If I may, I think this is a pretty decent breakdown:
Idea generation 5%
Research and outlining (planning) 10%
Preliminary editing 5%
Beta reader contact, nurturing, and addressing feedback 10%
Work with a professional editor 10%
Querying (including creating the query letter and blurb) 5%
Working with a publisher or agent (or both), and a cover artist 10%
Handling reviews and rejections 5%
Idea generation, preliminary editing, querying, and dealing with reviews are all small because they shouldn’t take too much of anyone’s time. Ideas are everywhere. Usually you’re stuck trying to choose among them. Preliminary editing is really just for glaring errors as you run spellcheck and also handle anything you know is a problem for you (for me, it’s the word ‘that’ and also too many characters saying ‘all right’). Querying is small because you really can’t simultaneously query most places, so you send a query out, wait a month, etc. Handling reviews, etc should also be fast. Don’t get cocky with glowing reviews and acceptances, and don’t let rejections and bad reviews get you down. Learn from all of these things and move on.
If you’re self-publishing, then querying is 0% and working with a cover artist should probably be a quickie 5%. The 10% you just saved should be shunted off to promotions because you’re it.
The Middle of the Road
Middle ground activities like outlining, working with beta readers, working with an editor, and with a publisher and cover artist, etc are middle of the road because you’re often working on someone else’s timeline. Plus outlining isn’t for everyone. If you don’t outline, then that time should be split between preliminary editing and working with beta readers.
Beta readers are important and perhaps I should give them more weight. It kind of depends. Some give detailed, helpful feedback. Others say nearly nothing or are s..l..o..w. Same thing with pro editors, and I do mean pros. Editing should be paid for. But if you’ve done good preliminary editing and gotten (and acted upon) good feedback from beta readers, then pro editing should take less time. And it might even cost less. As for time spent with a publisher, these days they are rather hands-off and that is especially true for newbie authors. Unless you’re JK Rowling, you’re probably not going to get the royal treatment. Particularly because publishers are so hands-off these days, you’ll have to pick up the slack when it comes to promotions.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Of course writing is the big one – it’s why we’re here in the first place!
I will do my best to write at least 1,000 words every day during odd-numbered months (January, March, etc.). This includes NaNoWriMo in November, when that number should rise to at least 1,800 words per day.
I will do my best to work on the ancillary activities for at least one hour per day during the even-numbered months.
Oh, and you’ll see writing progress reports at the end of every quarter, so look for the next one at the end of March of 2018. You will also see stats if I can put them together. And I will occasionally give you the specifics about the WIPs and published works (and will try to keep those spoiler-free) so you’ll have a better idea of what the heck I am talking about in these writing progress reports in the first place. Thank you for your kind support!
It says so much more about Social Media than most can say, and it does it in a breezy, easy to understand style.
The main idea behind this rather detailed video consists of a retelling of the Nativity Story. The video does so through the medium of social media, with everything from Facebook statuses to Foursquare checkins, to tweets, and more. Even electronic mail gets into the act. The Virgin Mary apparently uses Gmail.
And then there is even more, with a look at Nazareth from Google Earth. Of course there is a check for directions from Nazareth to Bethlehem. A check for hotel space reveals only a stable available (but of course). Joseph buys a cow (from Farmville, I would guess).
The Magi discuss their offerings (over Gmail – man, Google has its hands in everything!). And they pick up their gold, frankincense and myrrh at, you guessed it, Amazon. Twitter gets into the act as the Magi, naturally, follow the star there (very clever play on words there).
Eventually, the visit to the baby by the Magi gets placed onto video and uploaded to – could there be any other place more perfect? – YouTube. The video shows, I suspect, a play.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
This beautifully made and cleverly written and produced video comes to us from ExcentricGrey, which is evidently a Portuguese advertising firm. They report that this viral video has over 20 million views. Viewers are concentrated more in the United States and Western Europe than elsewhere, a function (probably) at least in part due to the video being made available in both English and Portuguese. Oddly enough, Portugal did not seem to have a very big concentration of viewers. Neither did Portuguese-speaking Brazil, Mozambique or Angola.
Employment colors most people’s lives (or the lack of a job). And whether your job is a creative one, or has to do with business, athletics, science, the Internet, or anything else, it can help propel your creative spirit to new heights.
Employment as Metaphor
So let’s say your characters are on a spaceship deep in the Andromeda Galaxy. Hence the time frame, pretty obviously, is the deep future. Yet even if you feel we’ll all be part-cyborg pod people, you can still see your current position (or a past one) as a kind of metaphor. Because even your heroes in space suits might become peeved if someone else uses their favorite ray gun. Or maybe they have a conflict over a meal – even if that meal is an alien carcass or a mess of nutrition pills. Since it’s your show and your universe, why not show someone who resents the person in charge?
Repetitive or Unpleasant Work
For even the most exciting and glamorous occupations, there can often be a great deal of repetitive work. Actors have to memorize lines or go to cattle call auditions or autograph stacks and stacks of head shots. Models have to travel a lot and miss their families, and they wait around a lot at photo shoots. And singers get colds. In addition, lawyers have to answer emails and phone calls and travel to court. Furthermore, doctors – even world class ones – sometimes deal with less than cooperative patients. And politicians deal with the polls and the press.
Most noteworthy, you’re a writer. So you know all about artist’s block.
Hence consider what you do, over and over again, at work. Maybe it’s running database queries. Or filing papers. Maybe you fill out tax forms or dig holes to embed fence posts or you clean animal cages or perform oil changes.
Now, please keep in mind, I want you to stay safe at all times! However, doing a repetitive task can sometimes lead to your mind wandering. So why not let it wander to and then linger on your writing? Maybe you can envision one of your characters performing your repetitive task. Never mind if the time frame is wrong; this is just an exercise. And then start thinking about other tasks your character could be performing. While writing about a repetitive task might not make it into the final cut of your work, it could give you insights into your character’s personality and motivations.
Maybe your character makes mistakes. Or maybe they’re perfect at executing the task. In addition, some character might rebel or be repulsed by your task. So, can you extrapolate that to your work and your universe? Maybe you can.
Whether you’re an accountant or an astronaut, you might be able to use your employment as a vehicle for writing inspiration.
Libraries are the unsung heroes of the American (and other countries’) educational system. They are where people look for jobs, listen to lectures, or teach themselves all sorts of things.
They are also a marvelous home for your newly-published book.
First of all, you probably can’t just write to or visit every library in creation. While writing is something of a number game, it won’t do you much good to just launch your book at every single library out there. You need to have a plan.
The best and easiest plan is to go with a library where you have some sort of a connection. Did you grow up in Cleveland, go to college in Dallas, and are now settled in St. Louis? Then try your local library from when you were growing up. Don’t try every single Ohio or even Cleveland library. The same is true of Dallas, plus you may want to try your alma mater. For St. Louis, do yourself a favor and get a library card before you even start. They want to know you, at least a little bit. So go and let them at least know that much about you.
I’m going to give you three approaches.
With the book
Take your book with you, in a purse or tote bag or backpack. Ask to speak to whoever is in charge of acquisitions. Go to them, book in hand, and explain how you are related to the library. E. g. “I grew up down the street, on Parkland Road.” or “I just got a card three months ago.”
Now explain what you’re doing. “I’m a first-time author. This is my book. It’s about ____.”
At minimum, tell them the genre. I find it’s helpful to tell them either where it’s shelved elsewhere (is it science fiction or fantasy, for example). Also tell them whether the work has any triggers or heavy sex or violence scenes. Mention if it is LGBT-friendly. This isn’t just a courtesy to help keep small children from taking out works with explicit sex scenes. It also helps the library decide how they are going to display the work and what they are going to say if anyone asks them about it.
Then give them the book. Yes, just hand it over. Make sure it’s a perfect new copy. Do not give them a signed copy. Why not? Because those can potentially be stolen. In addition, the library has to think ahead. Your book will probably end up in their book sale, and maybe even in less than a year. A pristine copy is easier for them to sell.
Without the book
No book? No problem! Come over with a business card instead. Again, ask to speak with whoever is in charge of acquisitions. Explain who you are and what your book is about. Hand over your business card. And if you’ve got the ISBN handy, then write it on the back. But also get their address of where you can send the work. Don’t make them ask for it. You have to do all the legwork here.
On the phone
This one is similar to when you go in but don’t have a copy of the book with you. Again, ask to speak to whoever is in charge of acquisitions, and explain about your work. Make it clear the book is free to them. Then ask for their shipping address, and whose name should it be addressed to. And the best part about this approach (or if you need to mail the book for any reason) is, you can just have Amazon ship it to them and send it as a gift.
What do you want in return?
Pictures. Yes, really! Tell them you will do this if they take pictures of your book on their shelves and send the images to you. Explain you are going to use them in your marketing campaign. And then do so, making sure to thank them profusely and link back to any libraries which help you out.
You just sold another book! Never mind that it was to yourself. You still sold one, and that counts for Amazon’s rankings system. Plus your book now is in a position to be seen by others. And the librarian knows your title. Finally, I have personally found talking to librarians to be easy. Because you’re not really selling. Instead, you’re giving them a donation. Libraries want authors to succeed.