Synopsis struggles

writingJoe’s Post #155 — Okay, everyone seems to agree: writing a synopsis-thingee is hard. It’s harder than writing a novel in many ways.

I learned this first by trying to write one, then by looking up how to write ‘a damn synopsis’ on the internet. The internet wouldn’t lie and the general consensus is it’s difficult to distill a 400-1000 page novel into a few paragraphs.

So, why am I doing one?

I’ve decided to get a few more of my stories out there. And while some agents or editors just want a query and a few pages or a query and a ton of pages, every so often you’ll find one that challenges you with the words “and include a 1 page synopsis.”

They may as well have written “and stick your head in a blender and send me the results”. It can be as messy.

So, for some, if you can’t do one, you will get rejected. Bang. Just like that.

How’s that for stakes?

Well, that just made me all the more determined to make sure I sent out my best synopsis, so I wanted to see what advice there might be.

Jane Friedman had a great blog about it, and my take-away was that we have to make readers care. I have a hard time making my dog care, so making my readers care may be something beyond my reach.

How to Write A Synopsis on Pub Crawl had some great worksheet stuff that might help you organize your thoughts. Me, I love worksheets. They give you step-by-step direction to what goes where. Like an Ikea manual.

Chuck Sambuchino had some great advice for queries, synopsisesess and first pages. My take-away from him, expand your query rather than trying to contract your novel.

So, armed with lots of information, I went back to write the damn thing.

And failed.

I knew it the moment I’d finished.

Despite my best intentions and all the warnings, I wrote out a ton of “and this happens, then this happens”. Then the book ends.

Sigh.

Now what?

Now you phone a friend.

It took a bit of doing, but we worked through the problems. Or at least both agreed that my first attempt sucked hairy monkey balls.

In the end, I produced something that I hope grabs the attention of an agent or an editor. Who knows if it’s awesome, all I can tell you is it doesn’t completely blow.

******

Page count:  90ish still

5/5/5 Word count. I don’t think I got past 22,000

Words that will get thrown out: The way I feel today, all of them

Blogs Written Since Last Post: 6 (a burst of 5 at Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise days: Did my very first one today. At a gym. With gym equipment. I’m sore. A 90 year old granny kicked my ass on the rowing machine. I think she told me to man up, and stop crying.

Movies Seen: None, but first two Walking Dead episodes were the best TV I’ve seen in a while.

Book I’m Reading: None at the moment. Kinda sad, I know.

Rejections: 1 – it came fast.

To go or not to go

Joe’s Post #153 —

headerThat is the question.

I’m talking about the Surrey Writer’s Conference. Oct 23rd -24th.

It’s a toss-up this year. Pros and cons.

So I did what I do when I can’t decide.

I make a list. And drink. Here’s the list.

the authors

My best writing buddies, The Five

Top 6 Reasons to Go

  1. I could pitch 2 books to an editor who’s interested in my genre.
  2. There are 3 agents there I could take to about my books.
  3. 9/10 times I get inspired.
  4. The food’s pretty good.
  5. I love to learn and there’s always something to learn.
  6. My best writing buddies are there.

 

Top 5 Reasons Not To Go

  1. don maassDon Maass is NOT there. See #3. He is my biggest inspirer.
  2. No Chuck Wendig, so that means I won’t spend 2 hours laughing my ass off and I do love to laugh my ass off.
  3. It costs a lot of money at a time that I don’t have that money.
  4. Most of the agents showing up don’t want to look at the books I write, or I’ve pitched to them and they’ve rejected my brilliant stories.
  5. I can’t find a full day of things I want to do. There’s a bit Friday and Saturday, but that’s a huge cost for basically 2 half days.
  6. My best writing buddies will not be there. Joe sad.

I tell ya, it’s a tough call. Not that there aren’t some great people there, not that there aren’t a few good workshops, and it’s always amazingly well organized, but this year, I may choose not to go. The weight of the list is clearly on the No side, but then there’s #1 on the Go side.

Is it worth it?

Thoughts?

 

A challenge to my writing friends

Joe’s Post #152

A Call Out To Writers

So it looks like we have 7 writers now committed to getting a novel done in 5 months.

Silk – Writing a great story set in Texas

Karalee – 5 short stories in 5 months. I’d personally find it easier to write a novel in that time.

Helga – Not sure what she’ll go with at this point, but it’ll be high concept and probably amazing.

Me – Writing a WW2 mystery set in Holland

Paula – Writing a mystery set in Hawaii that I’d love to steal

Richelle – Working on a sequel to her published book, Saints and Strangers.

Sue – A mystery? With all that’s going on in your life, a good murder may be in order.

we want youThat’s awesome. I can’t tell you how cool it is to have 2 more writers trying to get that novel done. Welcome!

But, as I look at our readers, I think to myself, self, why not more?

What do you have to lose?

It’s not the NoMoWobat or whatever the novel in a month is, it’s a novel in 5 months. Look at the math Silk did.

So, I officially issue a challenge to my writing friends. Oct 5th. Start a novel. Completion date – March 5th. Elena, write the sequel to your steamy mystery romance. I know you want to. Sheila, you’ve got a great fantasy story started, why not complete it (though for you, I would suggest starting the challenge after your black belt test.) Bev? Got another novel in you? Elizabeth? JM? Soffer? Luraos? Eugina?

Come on in. The water’s warm.

So, here’s what you need to know

  • If you leave it all to the last month, you will likely fail. This I base on my own experiences. It’s super hard to write a novel in a month, especially since life seems to throw all kinds of curve balls at you when deadlines loom. Start on day 1 if you can, or day 10, if you’ve got commitments, but start as soon as you can and keep at it every day.
  • You are NOT ALONE. Text other writers. Email us. Post on the comments of our blog. Even post on our blog. Stay connected with other writers. Meet them for coffee. Plumbers won’t understand your pain, your struggles. Accountants won’t get it. Only other writers can really empathize.
  • You will hit a wall. We all hit it. The middle sucks. My minor characters have taken over. I don’t know where to take the story next. I have overused the word penis. Whatever. Writer’s block, in whatever Gollum form it takes will eventually visit and pour poison in your ear. My advice, take a day off. Have a massage. Binge-watch Game Of Thrones. And call or text a writing friend who’ll understand, give you support, then tell you to get back to it the next day.
  • Do something to honor each milestone. Outline done. Maybe some new shoes? First 10 pages done. Maybe buy yourself a nice bottle of scotch, the writer’s drink of choice. First 30. Play a day of Candy Crush. First 100 pages. A wonderful dinner with waiters who will refill your wine without you asking.
  • You may not feel elated when you finish the novel. You may feel exhausted. You may feel like you’d rather read Twilight novels over and over and over, again, than take on another task like this. You may feel like you need a drink. Or a box of chocolate. Or a weekend in Vegas with Tatum Channing. That’s all normal. But if I may offer my last piece of advice… when you’re done, celebrate. Not everyone can get a novel done let alone done in 5 months.

So, if you take on the 5/5/5 challenge, would you also like to post on this blog? Let us know and we’ll sort something out. We’d LOVE to hear about your journey, your challenges, your successes, your thoughts.

We are all in this together.

*****

As for me.

30 pages done on my novel.

5 blogs written (see my journeys here.)

10 reasons why blogging is better than novel writing

Joe’s Post #149

So this week, wrote a short story and sent it off. A good market if it gets picked up, but I’m new at this short story stuff. Blogging, though….

10 reasons why blogging is better than novel writing

  • Instant feedback. Or at least near instant. Instead of having to wait a week for a friend to give you feedback, or a few months for an agent, or a few years for the public, blogging will have people telling you suck within hours. How cool is that?
  • There aren’t any character arcs to worry about. No plots to plot. Nothing fancy about a blog. It’s a blog. Sort of like the difference between having 200 cats or one dog.
  • They are usually done in a few hours. You complete something. In. A. Few. Hours. It takes weeks or months or years to finish a damn novel. And it still may suck.
  • readersThey are easily read. Like reader’s-digest-bathroom-reading easy. A good book can be devoured in a day, but a good blog is done by the time you finish peeing.
  • They can start some conversations. Not too many people will talk about how amazingly I wrote a fight scene in The Darkest Desert, but they sure will when I make fun of Surrey.
  • I need no brainstorming help with blogging. I do need A LOT of brainstorming help from my friends to make my novel work. I tried calling Stephen King to help with my last book, but apparently he’s busy.
  • No critique group savages your baby. Oh, the trolls may savage your ideas on a blog, but they’re, well, trolls and don’t count for much. Luckily I have a good group, but the stories I’ve heard about bad ones would make your doubt your soul.
  • More people read the blogs than my books, which, granted isn’t a saying a lot. With the exception of my dog, my family and my few friends, not many have read my novel.
  • This is me pandering to my audience. Magic Mike eye-candy.

    This is me pandering to my audience. Magic Mike eye-candy.

    I get to put pictures in a blog. I wish I could put pictures in my books, too. Oh, and music, that would be super cool. But no, at the moment, no music or pix in my books.

  • It’s fun. Not that novel writing can’t be fun, but this is more fun.

And, is it just me, or is it harder to write in the summer?

Anyone else have any thoughts on blogging?

 

James Scott Bell on 7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel

JSBJoe’s Post #147 (though it shouldn’t count as a Joe’s Post) — Every so often, I take a few moments to read some of my most favourite inspirational writers. My mentors, if you like. Yesterday, I re-read something that really struck me by James Scott Bell (via Writer’s Digest.) Please check out his entire article as he tends not to be all blah-blah-blah preachy, but does what all good writers do. He entertains us. Plus, you can pick up a free download on how to write a novel). So, without further boring-Joe commentary, here’s James Scott Bell’s 7 things not to do, and my thoughts. Enjoy.

7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel (and How to Avoid Them)

By: | June 5, 2012 – Writer’s Digest

inspirationOh, my goodness, this is a hard one for me not to do. I honestly think it’s the difference between pro writers and wannabes. Pros get it done, day in and day out. Like taking fish oil every day. Or eating kale.

Simply put, they make inspiration happen by sheer force of will. Or they will find a way to get inspired. For me, that way is often by reading, but I need to readjust my thinking on the whole ‘waiting for inspiration’ thing.

2. Look over your shoulder.

Bell writes about the inner critic here and that inner critic is born from fear. Of all the things I have to overcome, this one is the most difficult. I love writing, but hate rejection. It’s like a hockey goalie loving to be a goalie but hating to get pucks in the face.

To be a writer these days, we need to be like the old school goalies, like Gump Worsley one_worsley03who never wore a mask and took a lot of pucks in the face for something he loved to do.

Insane? Maybe. But aren’t writers, by definition, insane?

So you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to put up his picture and look at it every time I get all ‘fraidy cat about sending out a query. I mean, he took pucks in the face and his mom had named him Gump.

3. Ignore the craft.

I don’t do this. It’s not one of my issues. I read about it, have a critique group and constantly look at other writers to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

4. Keep a chip on your shoulder.

voodooEver have one of those friends who call you on your bullsh*t? You kinda hate it at the time. You may even get mad at them and threaten to pee on their petunias or make a voodoo doll of them and stick that doll with a million needles, then light it on fire, then toss it in a tub of acid while screaming at it, “I hate you, I hate you.”

Everyone does that, right?

But Bell’s right. I have to let go of the chip on my shoulder. So what if agents don’t get back to me? Why should that stop me from getting another query out? (Hint – the answer is this is really masking fear, again.)

5. Write for the market only

I’ve only done this once. And I did it this year. For an open call from TOR. Otherwise, I’m like an anti-market writer. I don’t write to the latest trend. I’m not even sure what that would be, to be honest. I write what I write.

But Bell also talks about voice and that’s something I’ve worked hard on. But here’s the odd thing. I think I have several voices.

Ok, stop looking at me like that. We all hear different voices in our heads, right? Right?

I love my noir voice that I used for my Lou Rains novel and my WW2 mystery set in the Netherlands. I love my goofy-Joe voice that I use for blogs. I even love my YA voice, but I seem to be the only one who does.

See, for me, voice comes a lot from character and genre. Part of the fun is playing around with voices, seeing what I can do. Like trying on a different style of underwear to see what fits. Bikini briefs, not so much. Boxy boxers, nah. But a nice pair of boxer-briefs, yah, I don’t put those back after trying them on.

But of all of all my voices, the goofy-Joe blog voice may very well be my most authentic.

6. Take as many shortcuts as possible.

This really applies to self-publishing, a route we 5/5/5 may be taking soon. Read up on what Bell says. It’s gold.

7. Quit

never quitAlthough some days, the days I look at my stack of rejections and think, hey, maybe I just don’t have the skill to be a writer, I admit, I do think about quitting.

But I don’t. I’m really not sure why. Overwhelming evidence seems to suggest that I’ll never be able to make a career at this. So why continue?

I write because I need to write. It’s a part of me. Like Gump needed to be a goalie and probably would have been happy to play even if he was never picked up by the NHL. So, if I continue to write, continue to persevere, continue to improve and combat all the how-not-to-succeed things inside my head, maybe one day I’ll make it.

*****

megan foxAnyway, that’s it from me, today. Going to take down that picture of Megan Fox fixing her car and put up Gumpers. Going to finish off my 30 pages for submission to my writing group. Going to get in the headspace of a successful writer and write me some writing.

For anyone interested, here are a few awesome links to writing guru’s you should check out. Other than Mr. Bell.

Donald Maass (on character)

Hallie Ephron (supporting characters)

Nancy Kress (writing flashbacks)

These are all short, fun articles. Easy to digest. But you can also follow-up on those writers a bit more and see what other bits of advice they have to offer.

Also, if anyone would like to post their comments on what JSB had to say, let me know.

Hugs.

 

 

 

Writers cannot hide in a room

Joe’s Post #145

Taking the Blindfold Off

homers headAs writers, we live in our heads a lot. I think I may have said this once or twice. We often sit in dark rooms, alone, gulping cold coffee and creating worlds filled with all manner of characters or monsters or fluffy bunnies.

But every so often, writers are forced into the real world. Into the big city.

It’s a scary place. There’s light and the smell of hot dogs and lots of people. There’s the ear-splitting sound of jackhammers, gritty air that makes your eyelids feel like sandpaper and even more people … everywhere … in cars, on the sidewalk, in malls, wandering into traffic, or shouting at imaginary demons …

In such a chaotic environment, though, is writing gold.

If you’re willing to observe it.

I watched an old Chinese couple navigate the Skytrain with only nods to each other. An unspoken language that only they understood, but understood completely.

I sat a seat away from an Aboriginal man who bobbed with the rhythm of the train, reading his bible and mouthing the words to himself.

I laughed as three young men, not even 20, gave each other advice on how to attract women. Apparently the secret is the right cologne.

And that’s just from a Skytrain run.

In the real world, there are more details, more ideas for characters, and more character traits to be mined than being in a room by yourself.

A balding man with a ring of hair, all well-combed, well maintained, except for the very back which stood up as if he’d been electrocuted. But it was the one place he couldn’t see, or had no one else at home who’d tell him.

A woman changes out of her high heels to ride the Seabus, wearing simple flipflops with her expensive suit until the Seabus had landed on the other side.

A gruff construction worker complains to his friend about aspheticides that killed pests with a lethal combination containing lead and arse-ianic. Personally, I think he’d sniffed a bit too much of that arse-ianic.

But there’s so much to see. To smell. To hear, taste or touch.

Or to imagine.

Opening line – “22 people sat beside the dead man and before someone noticed the blood.”

Or – “When Rebecca arrived at the airport, she realized she’d forgotten three things: the book she’d almost finished reading, her lucky jogging socks and her boyfriend. Well, she would miss two of those things.”

I honestly wished I’d brought a pen and paper to make notes, but I was on a different mission. Fun with the family. So I didn’t record all that I should have recorded, but the whole adventure did remind me that, to be good writer, you can’t just sit in the dark and make shit up.

Unless you’re Stephen King.

all work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a fussy reader?

Joe’s Post #144

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve become a fussy reader. Really fussy. All those voices that I have in my head when I do my own writing come out when I read other authors.

Hey, at least I’m expanding my self-loathing out into the universe. That’s a good thing, right?

So, here is a list of things that turn me off, because, you know, everyone wants to know what turns me off.

  • A bad opening. And by ‘bad’, I mean ‘boring’. I don’t need an explosion or a car chase or someone whacking some poor girl with a belt. I need something or someone to care about. Even beautiful language can only hold my attention for a page or two. What stuns me, though, is no matter what they say at workshops or conferences or retreats, books get published that suck at the very beginning.
  • You hide too much from me. I like to be teased, sure, like anyone, but when someone writes, “they saw the guy, then something happened,’ that books gets put down. I need details. I need specifics. I don’t need to be jerked around. Hello, Baldacci, I’m talking to you. I love your books, but every so often, you almost phone it in.
  • Too much narration. Ok, this is new, but I’ve found that the books I love to read have more than one character talking to his or herself. Too much narration, even in the first person, and I become like a man on an island desperately seeking some form of conversation. Even in Cast Away, Tom Hanks talked to a ball for Christsake.
  • No voice. Ok, like this is a lot harder to define, but a great voice will propel me far into the story, while a common voice, the one with correct sentence structure, rigidly proper punctuation and a bland delivery will be like some bureaucrat going on and on and on and on and at some point I fall asleep and start to drool.
  • Too much backstory. Oh, lordy, this one is a killer for me. Sometimes I’ll get hooked into a story and then whammo, I’m forced to read about who begat who and who begat them before that and how the world was created. Ugh.
  • Too much swearing. Ok, I totally know that makes me f*ing sound like some sort of uber PG a**hole, but sh*t, sometimes it’s like an author thinks voice is all about using them cuss words. Not that I’m against swearing, not at all, but the overuse of foul language seems like a copout to me.

GRROne thing I love, both in movies and in a book is a good surprise.

I’m jaded. I’ll admit that. I’m picky.

But if you can surprise me, then you’ve got me. For 2 hours, in the case of a movie, or for a week in the case of a book. Sixth Sense surprised the hell out of me, and it’s one of my most favourite movies. GRR Martin continues to surprise me and I’ll tackle each and every one of his 1000 page tomes with ravenous glee.

But screw something up, published or not, I won’t want to read ya.

So what things turn you off a book? The cover? Book length? Spelling errors (someone more common these days, much to my horror.)

Let us know.

Oh and who’s going to Surrey International Writer’s Conference this year?

Getting back to work

Joe’s Post #143

Getting back from a writing retreat or a workshop, or even a conference, is a lot like coming back from a vacation with a bad case of the runs. It’s not like you don’t want to get on with life, but sh*t just keeps cropping up.

orange is the new blackBack at home, there’s all sorts of distractions, from Orange is the New Black to a regular life full of ball hockey practices, dishes and yelling at the dog for barking at the cat who’s hissing at the frogs, to bills and fights with Canada Revenue Services.

So while it’s easy to find time to write when you’re on a retreat, or at a workshop, it’s hard to keep that momentum going.

In the last week, I wrote 30 pages. Better than most weeks in 2015, that’s for sure, but far below what I should be doing. And that got me thinking.

How do you keep up the momentum?

Thoughts?

For me, it routine is still my best hope, but I can write for 2 hours a day in the morning and produce 2 hours of crap. So that may not be everything.

keyFinding inspiration is the key. I mean, that’s what those other events are for, right?

Can you find it from other writers? Sure. So you need to be part of a group. A fun group that loves to write.

Can you find it from books on writing? Maybe, but it’s just as easy to get bogged down in editorial mode and that could mean you’ll be writing and rewriting and rewriting the same 30 pages over and over.

Can you find it from novels? Ah, that’s the ticket. At least for me. Nothing inspires like a good book.

Can you find it alone? Hmmm. Maybe, but inspiring myself is kind of like trying to cut my own hair. It usually ends in tears and a trip to the doctor to reattach an ear.

So how do you stay motivated?

talents

What I learned from the writer’s retreat

Joe’s Post #142

Or how you can make it better.

writing quotes

  • The energy of writing is always there. Even if someone’s off having a walk, eating salmon omelettes at Molly’s or taking a snooze, there’s usually someone writing. It’s hard not to write when someone else is writing.
  • There needs to be a place for everyone to retreat to for naps, quiet time, looking at shoeporn, whatever. It’s hard to write for a whole day. Not impossible, but for me, I needed a place to recharge my brain.
  • Going from 0 pages a day to 30 is hard, if not impossible. Going from writing 0 hours to 8-14… same thing. It’s hard. Practice ahead of time. Like you would for a marathon or a binging 3 seasons of game of thrones.
  • Don’t forget to take breaks. Oh, it’s easy to get lost in the writing, to sit and write, write and sit, but breaks allowed me to clear my mind. Exercise helps. I worked out plot problems while walking in downtown Gibsons. I worked on character while wandering the beach. I reworked dialogue while looking for chocolates to buy my cutie.
  • When you’re in a house with writers, you can talk writerly stuff. Like how do I make an opening scene better, or what’s not working here? No more asking yourself those questions in your own head, you have other heads to help you out.
  • IMG_7017Get some sleep. Have coffee. Eat well. Sure they’re the basics of any life, but sometimes these things are easy to forget when you’re retreating.
  • Have some fun.

I think we 5/5/5 had a great success with our retreat. 4 writers broke out of their slump and began to write, again. I broke out of my ‘getting stories out into the marketplace’ phobia. We had a few laughs, brainstormed a few ideas, and had a chance to spend 3 wonderful days in sunny Gibsons.

So, if you get the chance, go on a retreat. It doesn’t have to be in Maui or on a cruise in the Mediterranean. It just has to be a group of writers getting together to write.

 

 

 

The time has come to write

Joe’s Post #141

retreatA writing retreat, you say? How can we 5/5/5 make this a success?

Silk outlined her research. Paula has her hosting planned out. We have pets to keep us company. We even have an agenda of sorts. Our agenda even has some writing planned.

But the real question is can we capture the magic of writing, again.

Or is that impossible?

I think it is. I won’t lie. However, do you need writing magic to write or can you replace it with something else? Like replacing coffee with green tea? Or the Coke with New Coke?

My solution… replace the magic with routine. I managed to get a novella of 37,000 words written in a month by simply putting my somewhat large butt in my somewhat comfy chair and pounding out the words. I know in the grand scheme of things, that’s not super impressive, but that’s more writing than I’ve done in a long time.

So on this retreat, I’m going to go with what worked. Get up about 7. Get coffee. Start writing. Stop for lunch. Maybe stop before that to pee. Go for walk. Write. Look at the pretty world for a bit. Write. Stop for supper. Eat something vaguely healthy. Read. Go to bed at a decent time. (If I write past about 7, then I get all writer-ie in my head and I can’t shut off my brain enough to sleep.)

In the meantime, 9 things to avoid while on a writer’s retreat. (Cuz I couldn’t think of 10 due to a lack of conviction on following through with #3.)

Avoid….. negative calvin and hobbs

  1. Negative people. We all have enough negative voices in our heads, we don’t need them personified in our writing space.
  2. Watching TV. The opiate of the masses. Aka my favorite thing to do. When time is precious and writing time scarce, there’s simply no time for the Simpsons.
  3. Drinking (a lot). Why? Once upon a time, I could drink and still be a functioning adult (though candid pictures of me may show otherwise). It’s not like I get all Hemingway-ish and suddenly find my muse after one drink. No. I find a pillow and start to snore – and I’ve found I cannot write in my sleep.
  4. Gaming. No Clash of Clans. No Candy Crush. No FIFA 2015. Sacking someone’s town hall in CoC will not get me published and I may even be sacking the town hall or an agent or editor. Luckily, though, I go by the name of SeanSommerville69, so I’m tanking someone else’s career.
  5. Eating too much food. Very similar to too much alcohol, minus the dancing on the table and singing My Sharona until the bouncers throw me out. Too much food makes we want to do #2.
  6. Shopping. No heading out for new shoes, new iPhones or new appliances. No buying dog toys, waterguns or new, non-stick pans. No looking at cars, dresses or houses. Just say no to shopping until you get back.
  7. Spaghetti sauce and white shirts. Trust me on this. Either don’t bring a white shirt, or don’t eat spaghetti with sauce. If you do, you’ll run out of clean shirts and that leads to either having to go shopping, spending time cleaning the damn shirts or having to eat your oatmeal topless.
  8. Facebook. It’s the work of the devil, anyway. If you can’t give it up, then limit it.
  9. Fear. Fear feds doubt. Makes it fat. Doubt then sits on your shoulder and poops all over you. Just let the fear go, have some fun. Write.

Will we be able to find a way back to writing? I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you at 8pm, we’re sitting with our laptops open, some of us are muttering to ourselves, but all of us are pounding away on our keyboards.

Stories are being created. Characters developed. Worlds built.

What better way to start?