Blogs, Podcasts, and Craft Books, Oh My!

When I started writing, I’d go to the library and work on my romance novel. The concept of trying to find other writers and learn from them didn’t dawn on me. So, I started off not knowing about writing blogs, podcasts, and craft books. Instead, each day after I dropped off my children at school, I’d travel to the same library, open my word document, and write. Without letting anyone read my work and without editing, I made twenty copies of my voluminous novel and sent them to agents and editors. I received nineteen rejection letters in short course. Then, I found out I was pregnant with twins and stopped writing every day until they entered preschool. When they started Mother’s Morning Out, I knew I had to write again. My fingers were itchy, the stories had been brewing and, more than anything, I wanted to write a book. This time I heard about a writing class offered at a local bookstore. When I attended the class, I discovered a new world. The authors defined literary fiction and genre fiction, and I knew I was a genre author. Equally as important, the authors talked about local organizations and I resolved to attend one of these local programs to find out about romance writing. Fast forward almost six years and now I see so many offerings to writers of all levels. Everything from craft books to blogs (exactly like this one) to podcasts to conferences to websites and beyond. There are so many writing tools an author could get lost in the “dos” and “don’ts” if she’s not careful (although I’d like to say that no one way to write is the right way. What works for me might not work for someone else, and what one author might consider a rule of writing might be something that another author learns so she can break the mold). With every tool that’s out there, what is worth an author’s time and what isn’t. Here’s some advice for writers of every level.

  1. Bottom in chair, hands on keyboard. Yes, it’s important to work on your craft and learn from other authors, but it’s important to have something to work on. Writing a book is hard work, and it requires day in, day out perseverance. Otherwise, there are enough podcasts for you to do nothing but listen to podcasts rather than producing words.
  2. Find writing groups whether in person or online. Writing is solitary. When it comes down to it, it’s your imagination and you sitting down at a keyboard (or pen and paper) and writing. Writing friends can get you through the hard times and understand what you’re going through in ways no one else can. Whether you have a critique partner, a street team, faithful beta readers, or a local writing chapter, it’s important to have another writer you can open up to, brainstorm, share good news and the bad, and celebrate typing “the end.”
  3. Know yourself. I like reading craft books a little at a time, and I seek out recommendations from friends. I’ve discovered I love reading James Scott Bell’s writing craft books. For me, he’s easy to relate to, he explains concepts in an easy-to-understand manner, and his observations are worth the investment and time. As far as blogs, there will always be certain bloggers you read a couple of times and then you want to shout from the rooftops, “A-ha.” With podcasts, I like to vary my time between listening to a writer or motivational speaker and listening to something for fun. I’ve rediscovered radio programs, such as the Lux Radio Theater, where actors and actresses would act out a recent movie. These are a great way for me to pass the time in traffic, but they have the extra advantage of making me think about acts, character arcs, and plots. Hearing a movie as a radio program makes me listen to the dialogue and think about what I like or don’t like about the characters. By knowing how much time you have for learning about the craft and knowing your schedule (for instance, you might travel an hour to and from work every day and might want to listen to a podcast one way and an audiobook or a radio program or music on the return route), you’ll get an idea of how to prioritize according to your learning style.
  4. Try something new. If you like reading craft books, reading blogs for a couple of days might be able to help you target an area of writing where you’re having trouble. If you like podcasts, an audiobook might be a nice change of pace or vice versa.
  5. Don’t break the bank. Libraries are great places if you want to check out some different craft books, and many offer audiobooks to download if you have a library card. Blogs are free, and many blogs will give you a free writing book if you sign up for the author’s newsletter. Along with not breaking the bank, decide beforehand how much time you have each week to read about the craft of writing or about marketing your book and stick to it, making sure not to cut into your actual writing time.

Regardless of what fits your learning curve the most, thank you for taking time to read my blog today. If you’re a beginning writer, reread your favorite book taking note of how the author writes her characters and uses strong verbs. If you’re a writer who just published his or her first book, read blogs about marketing books and making good use of your time before a book launch. If you’re a more experienced writer, continue to learn.

And please feel free to share your favorite blogs, podcasts, or craft books below.

 

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Reading Wednesday: When Do You Read?

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As a parent of an inquisitive five-year-old, I often get asked about time. How many seconds are in two hours? How many minutes are in a day? How many hours are in a week? And to sound like a cliché, it’s times like that I realize I need six or seven clones or thirty hours in a day to get everything done. This week was one of those weeks that went by in a blink of an eye. Doctor visits, dentist visits, and writing occupied much of my time. And with many of my minutes occupied driving from one place to another or bouncing like a yo-yo between different rooms in a doctor’s office, something had to give this week. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read as often as I like. That brought a question to my mind: when you are busy, what is the first thing that gets eliminated on your schedule? I hate to admit that reading got pushed back to mere minutes instead of hours. When you get busy, do you seek more time to read to try or do you set your book aside for a couple of days until your schedule evens out?

For me, I always try to read my craft book before I read my fun books. I think that was one of the reasons I loved Stephen King’s On Writing so much. It was the guilty pleasure book that read more like a pleasure book than a book about the craft of writing. So there were days this week I read part of Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel and nothing else.

Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel. Now that the introduction by Anne Perry and the first chapter are out of the way, I’m reading more about his pointers for writers. I’m enjoying his insights into a well constructed and breakout novel. For instance, he asks writers to stop at think not only about their character’s stakes in the book but what is the writer’s personal stake in the book? His point is writing a novel to meet a deadline isn’t the greatest personal stake in the world. Chances are if you’re no longer having fun, your characters may reflect your disinterest in writing. As I read through the section, I considered his questions. Thought-provoking questions for a thought-provoking book. So far I recommend this writing book. It helps you think about the character’s stakes in the outcome, it sprinkles in ideas to help with crafting different genres, and it addresses the premise of the book. And all of that in the first eighty-plus pages. This book is worth the time and money.

The Book That Shall Not Be Named. It’s been great to hear from people about why you stop reading books. If I were going to start putting a book down in the middle, this book would be the book. As a writer, I understand how hard it is to write a book. As a person, I try not to give bad reviews (except for the Holiday Inn I stayed at with my WH in Charleston-13 years later and I’m still willing to give that hotel a bad review). But as a reader, I cringe at not finishing a story, always hoping for a little nugget somewhere in the book. I’m still waiting with this book for that nugget.

The Rancher’s Reunion by Tina Radcliffe. This is the book I’m reading on my Kindle. It’s a category inspirational romance. So far I’ve only read the first twenty pages, but I’ve loved these twenty pages more than any of the pages in the book that shall not be named. Will has picked up Annie at the airport as she has just returned from Kenya. Over the next week, I look forward to finding out more about these two: why did Annie leave his ranch the day she realized she loved him, why is she returning to the ranch? So far it’s a great story, and it makes me want to finish the other book so I can spend some enjoyable time engrossed in this story.

This week promises to bring less doctor’s appointments and less deadlines. Family Friday’s blog will introduce a new member of our family, creating another reason I haven’t had as much time to read. But hopefully things are settling down because Donald Maass’ book is becoming interesting and thought-provoking, Tina Radcliffe’s book is promising a relaxing few hours of fun, and well, the other book has a finite number of pages.

Is there anything in your life that reduces the amount of time you read or do you try to stay consistent with the amount of time you devote to reading? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: Do you finish what you start?

stack-of-books-10022022There’s a trend going around that I’m not on board with. A lot of people who like to read are discussing how they’re more than willing to give up on a book early on if they don’t immediately fall in love with the story. I’ve talked to more than one person who has told me that life’s too short to read books that don’t interest them. Overall, that’s not my nature. I try to finish stories once I start them. It took me three tries to finish A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, but I finally made it all the way through the classic. I’ll admit something. Right after MJ was born, I tried to read Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. While a classic, it’s not the best book to read two weeks after having a baby. I couldn’t get past the realistic violence. Instead, my WH had started reading the Harry Potter books and convinced me to give them a try. I never picked up For Whom the Bell Tolls again. But the fact that I remember quite vividly the one book I couldn’t finish in the past twelve years does show that I do believe in reading a book all the way through.

Before I write about the books I’m reading now, I have another little story. My WH kids that I’m a high maintenance person masquerading as a low maintenance person (I love When Harry Met Sally). But my WH is pretty lucky in one respect. I love to get books for Christmas. Now that I’ve attended three writing conferences, my bookshelf is heavy laden with books acquired at them. I still ask for the occasional book, but it has to be one that I don’t have on my shelf. More often than not, I either ask for a book about the craft of writing or the next in a series I absolutely love. So I was excited to receive Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel at Christmas from my WH. Yeah, I actually enjoy reading books about how to become a better writer. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m reading.

Craft book. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. So far, I’m only on the second chapter. I enjoyed the foreword by Anne Perry. She posited one very interesting premise. People choose books more on word of mouth and previous author experience than the cover. In the past couple of years, cover reveals have taken front and center on many authors’ blogs, but I still give credence to what Ms. Perry proposed. Even though I acquired many books at the RWA 2014 Conference, the minute I came home I headed to my laptop and ordered Sarah MacLean’s Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake. Why? Because I heard so many great things about this book at the conference. And I wasn’t disappointed. It really is a wonderful read. I highly recommend Nine Rules. To me, it illustrated the truth of what Ms. Perry wrote. Even though I had shelves filled with books, I put this book at the top of my must-read pile because so many people recommended it.

To me, the first chapter boiled down to the following. No matter what, the craft of writing is the foundation for writing a book. It’s not creating and maintaining a website. It’s not about an advance received from a publisher. It all comes down to dedicating time to learning the craft and putting what you learn to work. The breakout novel comes from finding the story within you, taking time to properly write it, learning the craft, and weaving a complex tale that people will want to read and tell their friends about.

I’m continuing to read the book, little by little. It has some interesting points and I look forward to finishing it.

Romance Novel. I’m not going to name the romance novel because while I like it and it’s getting more interesting as it’s going along, it’s not my favorite and I try not to give a bad review. It’s not that I would give the book a bad review. After all, I do like it, but I wouldn’t tell someone to rush out and buy it either.

Kindle book. I just finished reading three anthologies of Christmas novellas on my Kindle as well as Tiny Treats, small snippets of 1000 word tidbit stories designed for a reader to become acquainted with different romance authors so the reader could then explore new authors in the upcoming year (I read it in 2014). The great thing about novellas and anthologies is getting introduced to new authors when you’re reading new stories by authors you’re already acquainted with. With me, I really liked 9 of the 13 stories in the three volumes, liked 1 of the 13, was so-so on 2, and really didn’t like 1 of the 13 (but I did finish it, much to the dismay of my WH who got an earful on why I didn’t like it). The great thing about reading nine really good stories is getting introduced to some new authors. And to my delight, I have one of the author’s stories already downloaded on my Kindle from a time when it was offered for free. So I’ll get to read it in the near future.

Do you finish every book you start or do you put some aside? Let me know.