It begins

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And so it begins. While I have enjoyed writing all of my life, I started taking it more seriously years ago. And, like any idiot, I started by trying to write a book. The story was good, but after a … Continue reading

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Leonardo Da Bunni, a children’s book about art and rabbits.

My children’s book, Leonardo Da Bunni, is up and running. I’ve never had so much fun writing anything, and I’m crazy proud of it.

Leonardo Da Bunni's book cover.

Leonardo Da Bunni’s book cover.

It all started because I wanted to make a shower gift for a friend at work. I work in a regional theatre costume shop. We had just opened a play called Red, about artist Mark Rothko. Then we began work on Velveteen Rabbit. Which inspired this stuffed toy for my friend’s baby:

Isn't he cute!

Isn’t he cute!

That led to me thinking about rabbits and art, and Leonardo, the baby rabbit with a penchant for painting, was born.

I have an extensive art background, but I am not an illustrator. When I had the idea to do parodies of famous works of art for the illustrations in Leonardo, everything fell into place. The pictures came before the story, which seems a little backward to me, but that’s how it went down. Once I had ten parody paintings, I started writing the story to incorporate them.

Leo's self portrait.

Leo’s self portrait.

The story pretty much wrote itself. I love Leonardo, and that made him easy to write about. The tale was written over a few days, then came the required polishing and tweaking. Then it was time to fight with upload to CreateSpace.

Now it’s promotion time. It’s my first time trying to promote a book that I’ve self-published. I know it’s going to be an ongoing process, but I’m looking forward to the journey as well as to learning new things. The first thing that I learned was how to make a book trailer.

Then it was time to give Little Leo a webpage of his own.

And a Facebook page.

I also got a whole slew of bookmarks printed to give to local libraries and such. I know it takes a great deal of work to promote a book, and I have time that’s limited by a day job as well as taking care of my parents. I’ll give it my best shot. I may not be as successful at it as people who have been through this rodeo before, but we all have to start somewhere. I love Leo. It’s the least I can do for him.

Spread the word if you can. If you are looking for a guest blogger, or starting a blog hop, let me know. I’ve never done either of those things, but it sounds like fun to me.

Leonardo Da Bunny is available on Createspace, Amazon, and Kindle.

Posted in Art, Children's books, E-books, Leonardo Da Bunni, reading, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

User Unfriendly: Age makes a difference when using computers.

I was born in 1965. When I was a very small child, my Dad worked on one of the first computers in the state. He took me to see it. It filled an entire room and was programmed with punch cards. My non-smart phone probably has more memory than that behemoth did. My Dad used to bring me punch cards home to play with.

It was the 60's

It was the 60’s

I didn’t see anything like a modern PC until I was a senior in high school. Our high school got a couple and put them in the library. There were no classes to teach you to use them, and it was hard to get time on them. I didn’t try. I was busy enough as it was, and I didn’t have time to fight for limited time on a machine I didn’t know how to use.

It was the 80's.  A fun time, but not very computer-ridden.

It was the 80’s. A fun time, but not very computer-ridden.

College wasn’t much more computer friendly. Students did not yet have personal computers, as they remained too expensive for personal use. There was a computer lab with banks of the things that were used by people taking computer classes. The only available classes were for programing and already outdated computer languages such as BASIC, and FORTRAN. There were no classes at the time that simply taught one how to use a computer. It was the mid-1980’s, and while the internet was being born, it was still a realm for academia. Neither I, nor anyone I knew, had ever been on the internet. It didn’t really become mainstream until the 90’s.

In 1989 I first put my hands on a computer. I was working at a theatre in Syracuse, and my boss had a PC in her office that she encouraged her employees to learn to use. No internet yet, but I ran into my first word processing program, and taught myself to use it. It wasn’t easy. When you are 24 before you first get to use a computer, and there is no internet or Google to answer your questions, it’s difficult to learn to use any sort of program.

By 1990. I had at least used a computer.

By 1990. I had at least used a computer.

Around 1995, my fiancé and I got our first personal computer. It was a hand-me-down from Brian’s parents. They had switched up to a better machine, and were kind enough to let us have the old one. By this time, more and more people were getting personal computers, but they were still outrageously expensive. The average price for a computer was around 3,000 bucks. Far more that we could have afforded. Our first computer had 4 bytes of RAM. Yeah, you read that correctly. I did not forget to add an “M,” there wasn’t one. Bytes. Not Megabytes, and Gigs were a pipe dream at that time. It was enough to get us online to check email, but if we tried to access a website, the entire system would crash. My fiancé had majored in computer science at college, and between his know-how, and my sister-in-law’s spare parts, he upgraded the computer enough that we could go on the internet. It was fun, but it wasn’t the information superhighway that it is now. Google wouldn’t become a thing for two more years. If you wanted to view a website, you kinda had to know where it was already.

1990's.  Webcams become a thing.  They took really grainy pictures.

1990’s. Webcams become a thing. They took really grainy pictures.

So what is the point of this history of computers in my life?

I have learned a great deal about computers during my lifetime. I’ve taught myself to use programs like Word, Paint Shop Pro, and FrontPage. Brian has taught me a lot about computers. I can swap out a hard drive, and remove viruses. For being 49 years old, I am pretty computer savvy.

Computer programs still occasionally make me want to tear my hair out.

My children’s book, Leonardo Da Bunni, is in the process of being published through CreateSpace. I was smart this time. I picked my trim size, font size, etc., and wrote the book in the format I planned to use. I had already taught myself about page breaks and linking or unlinking sections when I formatted my mother’s book for her. When I uploaded the book for the first time, I had some picture DPI issues, but no formatting errors. Sometime during the editing process, I had a few minor issues to fix.

That’s when I lost page 58.

I’m not talking about the page numbers that I inserted, I’m saying that my word document did not have a page 58 at all. The tab that tells you the page you are on skipped from 57 to 59. 58 didn’t exist, so when I uploaded it to Createspace, they added a blank page with no border, no formatting, no nothing.

Because I did not grow up knowing about computers, because I taught myself the basics of Word, and learned new things as I needed them, I had no idea what to do.

I tried shouting at Word that there was too a page 58, but it didn’t believe me. Google was no help. Try searching “missing page in Word” and you’ll get a lot of information about inserting page numbers and sections, which was not the problem.

It took countless hours and thousands of lives, but I fixed the problem. Ok, I am exaggerating. It took about 30 minutes of hair-pulling-out fun. I fixed it, I’m not even sure how. It involved moving words and then trying to put them back in place without making page 58 disappear again. The new file was uploaded, and Leo should go live tomorrow.

I’m proud of all I’ve learned about computers during my life. The knowledge didn’t come easy, and a lot of my self-taught lessons have holes in them. Some days, there is no such thing as user friendly.

Leonardo will be released if I have to pull all my hair out!

Leonardo will be released if I have to pull all my hair out!

Posted in Change, Leonardo Da Bunni, Self Publishing, writing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Why I won’t do NaNoWriMo ever again.

As you may have known, I took part in July’s NaNoWriMo event, which is much like the November event, with some relaxed guidelines. I did well. I wrote over 50k words on Teatime of the Living Dead, and got it about 80% finished.

Then I never wrote again…

Staring at a blank page is so boring.

Staring at a blank page is so boring.

Okay, that’s being a bit dramatic. How about:

Then I fell off the face of the Earth…

Still dramatic.

I got burn out. That’s what I did. Trying to handle that kind of writing load on top of other responsibilities was too much. I did it, and I don’t regret the experience. It was fun to be grouped with a bunch of other authors and work on a project I was very excited about. Then it was a chore. Then it was writer’s block inducing. Then I was just relieved it was over.

Then I stopped writing and blogging for almost three months. Not exactly the effect I was going for. When I did start writing again, it wasn’t the project I was expecting to write. I love Teatime, and hope to finish it soon. I also have a couple re-writes to do on two other books. So what did I write?

A book for young children. That’s a very different genre for me, though I have written one before. A co-worker of mine is going to have a baby. I made her a stuffed rabbit for baby moonbeam, and it ended up very cute. Crushed light brown velvet body, and blue fun fur ears and top of head. It’s adorable.

At the costume shop, we were working on a play about an artist. I kept thinking about bunnies and art, and this is what happened:

Leonardo Da Bunni.  Leonardo Da Bunni is what happened.

Leonardo Da Bunni. Leonardo Da Bunni is what happened.

Now, Leonardo Da Bunni is going through the proof stage, and should be released mid-month. I’m very excited about it, so excited that I made my first book trailer. Not only will it make my friend at work squee, but I’m really pleased with the final outcome.

I’m glad to get back to writing. I will never do NaNoWriMo again. At least, I don’t think so. We’ll see how I feel next July, but I will never do the November event, not while that’s such a busy time at my day job. I think it’s a wonderful event which ended up being not for me. I encourage my fellow writer’s to try it out, at least once. Without it, and the subsequent break from writing, I might not have been inspired to write Leonardo Da Bunni, and I really love Leo.

Leonardo Da Bunni is coming out later this month, and you can check for release date, etc., at leonardodabunni.com

Posted in Art, Children's books, Leonardo Da Bunni, reading, writing | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Sometimes “Show Don’t Tell” is BS

My third book, Descending, has been out at some publishers. I got a rejection on one partial a while back, and it had a little feedback attached. I don’t often get feedback from anyone, so I was excited at first.

Until I read it.

Don’t get me wrong; there was a point of useful information that I am taking into consideration, and I may make adjustments to the opening chapter. It’s an easy fix that requires little more than a couple extra sentences. My biggest problem with this feedback is that it was beating that favorite literary horse of the month, Show Don’t Tell.

Maybe I should write picture books.  So easy to show with pictures.  This is my view at the end of the trail I bike.

Maybe I should write picture books. So easy to show with pictures. This is my view at the end of the trail I bike.

You can’t participate in any literary group without hearing that phrase bandied about. It’s right up there with “Adjectives are the Devil.” In case you are unclear on the meaning of the phrase, here’s an example:

“The rabid wombat slunk closer. Jayne was worried that it would soon attack.”

“The rabid wombat slunk closer. Jayne could feel the hairs lifting on the back of his neck. The muscles in his legs tightened, as if his body was ready to run as soon as his mind made the decision to do so. A growl from the beast made him flinch, and he sputtered out a breath he hadn’t been aware he’d been holding.”

In the first example, I, the writer, am telling you that Jayne is worried. In the second, I’m describing what that worry looks and feels like—I’m showing it to you.

My Bike

I could tell you about how cool and awesome my new bike is, or I could just show you this picture.

In many, many cases, the second example if far superior to the first. The writer is really allowing the reader to get involved and experience what is going on. In Descending, I use that showing often, because it’s very close third person POV. I want the reader to be in the narrator’s head. However, I don’t always show rather than tell. I know it’s sacrilegious in these “Show Don’t Tell” times, but there are cases where I believe tell is a better choice.

Such as in fast pace action scenes, say for example, a plane crash.

Descending opens with a plane crash, and then goes straight into what the characters need to immediately do to survive. In the first chapter, we see how our heroine deals with the crash and the aftermath, and we also see what she thinks of the coworkers that she’s flying with. It’s deep POV. This isn’t exactly how her coworkers truly are, it’s her opinion of them. As we find later in the book, some of her opinions are wrong. But we’re in her head, so at the start of the book, we don’t know this.

Think Harry Potter, which is almost completely written from Harry’s point of view. In this POV, Professor Snape is shown as a completely horrible being, because Harry thinks he is. As we read through the series, Snape has actions that are in conflict with this view, because Harry’s view of him isn’t an objective view. Our opinion of Snape is colored by Harry’s opinion.

In this blog, you are in my head, where my sweetie is the cutest and smoked chickens are delicious.

In this blog, you are in my head, where my sweetie is the cutest and smoked chickens are delicious.

It’s the same as in the beginning of my book, though I’m not pretending that I do it as effectively as JKR. I can’t have the cast of characters show their foibles, because they don’t all have them. It’s just my MC’s opinion of them. It’s meant to get the reader inside her head.

And you know where I think show vs tell has the least effect? During high-paced action scenes. For those that think every single line of a book should be show and not tell, take a look at some of the classics.

“Can’t sell his head? — What sort of a bamboozingly story is this you are telling me?” getting into a towering rage. “Do you pretend to say, landlord, that this harpooneer is actually engaged this blessed Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, in peddling his head around this town?”

That’s from Moby-Dick. I suppose that today Mr. Melville would be chastised for not giving us lengthy prose describing that towering rage, but his telling us about it isn’t hurting his tale in the least.

Yes, showing instead of telling can be a very useful tool to improve the quality of your writing. However, like most such rules, there is a time and a place for it. In my opinion, the middle of a plane crash is not the time to wax poetic.

I took this picture while I was riding my bike.  I didn't have time to adjust focus and shutter speed because of all the riding.

I took this picture while I was riding my bike. I didn’t have time to adjust focus and shutter speed because of all the riding.

It took me time to decide not to change the telling that I have in my first chapter. My first impulse was that all my writing sucks and I must immediately re-write the entire book! (Word of advice—never make sweeping changes based on one reader’s opinion.  Also, this initial reaction to crit is normal.  Breathe, it will pass.) Luckily for me, I have learned to step back for a period of time before changing things based on crit received. I came to the conclusion that it would bog down the pace and bore the reader in this specific instance. At the least, I want to hear from a critter who has read more than a couple chapters before making sweeping changes. It did not help that the critter in this case gave me an example that was not true to life, which made me distrustful of the advice given.

MC thinks another character drinks too much. This proves not to be the case later in the story. That character has no difficulty being away from alcohol. Critter suggested that rather than have the narrator think this, the character should pull a flask out of his pocket. On an airplane. In America. Where airlines allow no liquids to be carried on, not even a bottle of water, let alone a flask of flammable liquid. Nope. I’m not making that change. I’ll lose the line about the MC thinking he drinks too much before I will put something so unrealistic into my story.

As is the general rule, critters often can tell you what’s wrong with a story, but they rarely know how to fix it.

In conclusion, yes, for the most part showing is better than telling based on current literary style. However, keep in mind that there is a time and place for both, and flasks have no business on airplanes.

Neither do duckies

Neither do duckies

Posted in Bad Writing Advice, Habits in writing, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Review: Ravage

Ravage
Ravage by Iain Rob Wright
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can’t recommend this book. I went into it with high hopes. The author has quite a few books under his belt, and this title came with good reviews. I’m very fond of apocalyptic tales and I was looking forward to the read.

What I liked about the book: Writing style is good. Very engaging. It could use another trip to an editor due to a few typos and grammar oddities, but nothing that can’t be overlooked if one is enjoying the story.

What I did not like about this book: There were too many things in the plot that did not make logical sense. I will try to explain this without wanton spoilers, but I will speak of some plot points, so stop reading if this concerns you.

*********A few spoilers**************

The plot is a basic zombie story without enough differences to make it stand out in a crowd. The plot itself is full of things that are nonsensical. For example, early on, the zombie of a small girl in pigtails manages somehow to attach herself to the windshield of a bus. It remains unclear in the narrative how she reached it or what she clung to. She also manages to completely block the drivers sight, despite being only one small girl. Then she beats at the window until cracks appear throughout the glass. Despite this damage to the windshield, rather than breaking, it pops out as a complete piece, manages to turn itself in mid air to avoid the driver, and lands harmlessly in the aisle. In the author’s mind, perhaps this made sense, but he was not able to convey this with any believability. I almost put the book down at this point, but reviewers said that it picked up past the 1/3 mark, so I stuck with it.

Another example of convenient but unbelievable plot device. The folks are holed up in a restaurant. There’s lots of food in the freezer, but the power is already out, and the generator will only last two days. Weeks later, and they are still eating hamburger from the freezer. It’s at least six weeks. There is talk amongst the characters of finding diesel fuel to put in the generator, but it isn’t shown to happen. The characters are using candles and such and talking about the lack of power throughout the story. If the idea was that they refueled the generator only for the freezer, this is not made clear at all. It read as if they were eating rotten crap, and after weeks, it would be disgusting. But the characters don’t describe it that way, only that they are tired of hamburger.

Those are only two examples of many. Character decisions and the laws of probability and physics seemed to be for no better reason than to further the author’s plot. This is a broken world, where tiny zombies can fly, unrefrigerated meat lasts for six weeks, Glass with a million cracks doesn’t break, and men who fall hundreds of feet can survive to add conflict. What bothered me most was that the author could have justified all of these choices by taking the time to explain them, or by making more believable choices in the first place. If this author can get his plot to the level of his writing style, then I would enjoy his tales, instead of feeling cheated by them.

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A Rebel Writing at Camp NaNoWriMo

Tomorrow starts the opening day of Camp NaNoWriMo. Some of you know that NaNoWriMo is a site and group dedicated to National Novel Writing Month. What you might not know is that they do a version of this in July instead of November. I’ve never participated in any of the events, but since I don’t start the new job until August, I thought this would be an excellent way to try to get book four finished by that time.

Today I found out than I’m a rebel, but that’s ok, because rebels are not only tolerated but encouraged. Rebel writers are writers that are working on a project that they started before the first day of the event. I started book four on the 21st of June, and I’ve written 16k words so far. I won’t count those words in my Camp goal, but I have indeed started my project early. I couldn’t wait, the plot bunny was too hilarious to be put off.

Camp is less structured than the November event. Writers can pick their own word count goal, instead of the regular 50k words. Some of my cabin mates have goals of 20k or less. Me, I’m a masochist. My goal is 60k words to be written during Camp. My 16k that had already been written doesn’t count.

Campers can also choose a goal other than novel writing, for example, editing a previously written book, or writing blog posts, etc. It sounds like a fun way to get your feet wet and tackle a project, whether that’s a new project, or something you’ve been putting off.

I’m looking forward to it. Having a group and posting daily word counts is a great way to keep your momentum going. I’ll try to take a break from rabid novel writing from time to time to let you know how it’s going.

It’s not too late to join! Camp doesn’t begin until midnight tonight! The link is here: Camp

Teatime!

Teatime!

 

 

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Changing Horses

It’s funny how the creative process works sometimes. As I’ve mentioned before, I have trouble finishing one book until I figure out what story is next. I’ve wanted to try my hand at horror, and had a plot all pondered out. I’ll still write that book, but I was driving to the store the other day and another plot bunny hit me. A horror/farce tale that combines a theatre company and zombies. Inspired by the fun I had working on Stage One’s production of Night of the Living Dead, as well as The Zombie King himself, author and friend, Jack Wallen.

I’ve written farce before, and it’s big fun to do. There’s nothing that beats throwing ordinary people into ridiculous situations. I thought of this tale yesterday on my way to the store, pondered out all the major plot points last night, and the first chapter practically wrote itself today. I loved writing Wyrd House and Descending, but this is fun like I haven’t had since Ghost in the Park. I’m going to have a ball.

Teatime of the Living Dead is going to be hoot.

Teatime!

Teatime!  Behold my mad paint skills!

 

 

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Review: Witch for Hire

Witch for Hire
Witch for Hire by N.E. Conneely
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What I enjoyed about Witch for Hire was the storytelling. It’s an imaginative piece of speculative fiction with a decent plot at its backbone. The author has a nice touch with world-building, letting us get to know the realm of the tale, bit by bit, without any info dumping. The book begins well, right in the middle of the action, and gives the reader clues as they go along to help them understand both the world of the story and the thoughts and feelings of the main character.

What didn’t work for me was the writing itself. The author is a good story teller, but many times I felt that I was fighting writing style to get to the story. Commas are often used in place of conjunctions, which makes it a choppy read. Redundancies are frequent. For example, the following sentence: “Without a doubt I wasn’t suited to scary, life and death situations, where my life is in peril.” Redundancies occur in other ways. The MC often repeats the same reflections, or explains the same event in detail to multiple characters. Pace sometimes gets boggy when the main characters inner reflections and opinions on life steal too much focus from the tale. The MC sometimes seems preachy because of this. Dialogue tags become important, as most characters seem to have the same voice.

I enjoyed reading the book. While it’s a trope I have read before, the writer’s ideas and imagination bring it life. That said, I do not plan to read more in the series. I would like to give the author a few more books under their belt before reading more of their work.

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Why I won’t read your free book on Kindle

What is awesome about Kindle and the self-publishing age is that there are tons of books out there that are being sold for 99 cents or even free of charge. Free books are fairly common. Authors who have put up the second book of a series often offer the first book free for a little while. Writers who are looking for more readers will do the same thing. Authors who now have several titles will offer older ones for free. It’s good marketing strategy. If one self publishes, and has to do the marketing oneself, then these are good ways to get readers interested. There’s even websites and blogs that will alert you to what free titles are available.

I thought that this would be wonderful. I have a ginormous reading habit and a limited budget for books. I am more than willing to pay for future books if I have enjoyed the free one. In fact, that gives me and my limited funds a sense of security. It’s safer to spend money on a book when you know that you enjoy the author’s writing already. Me, I’ll read almost anything.

There’s the rub. The key to that phrase is “almost.” My life is on a timer, and someday those seconds will run out. In a world full of amazing tales, I don’t have time for bad books.

I'll drive through Kansas in a dust storm, but I won't waste my time on bad books.

I’ll drive through Kansas in a dust storm, but I won’t waste my time on bad books.

I have looked at many free books and I’m sure that I’ll download one eventually. So far, I haven’t. I’ll tell you two reasons why.

1. Your description sucks.
It’s the same as query letters. It doesn’t matter if your book is the most awesome and well written tale in the cosmos. If your description is bad, I’m not reading it. Not even for free.

Here’s some examples of what I mean. No titles or author names—I’m not trying to shame anyone or put them off writing. For heaven’s sake, if you see your description here, don’t freak out. Work on making it better.

New York. 2120. American has been decimated, wiped out from the second Civil War.

(Edit due to error pointed out by alert reader. Thanks alert reader!) I had originally had some snarky umbrage here about the use of the word “decimate.” This is a word I automatically think of the meaning as “reduced by ten percent.” It also has a common usage that basically means the same as “wiped out,” so now I’m just annoyed by the redundancy. The whole first bit of this description turns me off. A city, a place, a badly-worded event that is backstory. It leaves me wondering what this book is about and why I would read it in the first place. It could be brilliant, but I’ll never know because I’m not wasting my time on reading one more word of this description.

Evil erupts. Four are called. The universe awaits.

Oooooh, short mysterious sentences! How original! Stop trying to be coy and tell me what the book is about. Nope, too late, you’ve already lost me.

Evil erupts!  Oh, wait, it's just a weird butterfly.

Evil erupts! Oh, wait, it’s just a weird butterfly.

Once soulmates, the witch and warlock covens of the California coast have been estranged for a century.

I’m reading this one over my dead body. One, “soul mates” is two words. Merriam-Webster says it’s been that way since the phrase came to be in 1822. Two: There are exactly 1,235,692,876.5 books about witches and covens out there at the moment. If you aren’t going to tell me in the first line why yours is different, then my eyes are going to glaze over and I’ll move on to the next offering. Bonus Three: Don’t start with backstory.

It’s the summer of 1976 and Vince Moody is a quiet and unassuming projectionist at the run-down Empire cinema in the small town of Langbridge in the middle of the Somerset Levels.

Oh my fucking wombats. How many details can you stuff into an opening sentence? Well, all of them if you are Dickens. Free book writer–you are not Dickens. Stop using your synopsis for a description. I don’t need to know the MC’s entire life story in your opening sentence. I don’t need to know that he lives in Langbridge or where that city is. You should be showing me why I want to read about your MC, but I already hate him. I hate Vince because he made me read that stupid sentence.

Free book writers- for wombat’s sake, please take the time to learn to write a good and effective description. This is what sells the book. Don’t make me want to jab out my own eyes with a pointed stick rather than read your book!

2. Your writing sucks.

That’s harsh. I know it is. The self-publishing world has some wonderful and well written stories in it. That is, if you can find them through the oceans of crap.

There are more poorly written books e-published today that there are specks of dirt in this dust storm.

There are more poorly written books e-published today that there are specks of dirt in this dust storm.

The e-book world has this wonderful feature that lets you read the first few pages of a book. If I like the description, the first few pages are what I look at next. The first few pages of all the free books I have looked at so far have been bad. Very bad.

I think that the problem is this. Anyone can self-publish these days. So they do. In most cases, the first book you write, and the second, and the third, aren’t going to be trade published. Why should they? Do you want to pay for a haircut from someone who is cutting hair for the first time? It takes time to develop a good writing style and well-crafted tales. It takes practice to write a novel worth reading, even for free. However, with the ease of self-publishing, aspiring writers are putting their first work out there in the public eye right away.

This practice isn’t helping anyone. It’s not helping the readers, because they are tired of slogging through poorly written work to try to find the diamond in the rough. It hurts green writers because they can’t help but get discouraged when the sales don’t come rolling in. I imagine that many give up writing altogether, though they should not. No matter how clever one is, it takes practice to craft a good novel. Take that time now, before you publish. If you don’t, and put your work out for the world to see and judge, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. If I hate your first book, published before it’s time, why should I give you another chance when you write your fifth book? Even if it is the best novel in the whole history of the whole history, it’s too late. I’ve already been disappointed in your writing before, and I won’t be willing to spend my limited book buying funds on you again. Learn to write with some sense of style and grace. Then, and only then, publish your work.

To mitigate the harshness of my words, a cute baby duckie!

To mitigate the harshness of my words, a cute baby duckie!

Posted in E-books, reading, Self Publishing, writing, Writing Advice | Tagged | 12 Comments

Word Overuse and How You Find It

keyboard

I finished the book. It’s had several rereads and rewrites to polish it up. Two lovely beta readers have had their eyes on it, beat it with a comma stick, and found some typos. The query is written and polished. You’d think my little book was ready to fly out into the world, wouldn’t you?

It is now, but it wasn’t yesterday. I always leave my most despised task for last. Overused words. We all have words and phrases that we rely on a little too much. There are websites and articles that point out common and lazy words to avoid. However, every writer has words that they overuse that are specific to them.

For example, from a website of weak words to be avoided: stuff. Not a word I use much. My book is 63k. In all of that, I’ve used the word “stuff” 7 times, with one use being “stuffy.” They occur in dialog. 7 out of 63,000. Not a problem. Many of the words I find on these advice websites no longer apply to my writing.

In fact, I don’t worry much about anything that appears less than 100 times in a novel this length, unless it is a truly unimaginative word such as “very.” How many “verys” do I have? 21, not bad at all.

So, how does a writer find those problem words that are specific to their particular work? I like the word cloud method. There are programs online that make a picture out of common words in writing. There are many free programs online to choose from. I’m fond of Word It Out. Not only will it accept a novel worth of words, but it has options to change colors and size gradients so that it’s easier to see the problem areas. Words that are used most often appear bigger in a word cloud. You are likely to see main character names and the word “said” in giant letters, and other words common to the document in smaller letters, depending on frequency of use. Words used sparingly won’t show up in the picture at all.

I'll help you find them, Momma!

I’ll help you find them, Momma!

I plug my shiny new novel into Word It Out, use the search feature on my Word document to look up words that appear in large letters, and what do I find?

120 uses of the word “still.” Mostly when what I wanted was “continued” or “remained.” I went through the book document by navigating with Word’s find feature (such a godsend!), and knocked that down to 46.

229 uses of the word “like.” WTF? Hedge pigs on a pogo stick, what was I thinking? Yes, it’s a contemporary piece with lots-o-dialogue, but honestly! “Like” was most often misused when what I wanted was “as if,” “such as,” or “as.” Yes, it’s a common word, and it will show up in dialog and analogies, but it’s often a vague and boring choice. I trimmed usage down to 96.

Speaking of vague words, “Things” wasn’t much of a problem at 56 times used, but it is a wishy-washy word, so I trimmed it to 25 times.

The setting sun painted a palette of things in the sky.

The setting sun painted a palette of things in the sky.

It’s an ongoing battle. An old overused word of mine reared its ugly head. I used to have this one licked, but the characters in my current novel wanted to keep saying it. “Just.” “Just” reared its boring head 148 times, so I lobbed it off to 37. I often used it when what I wanted was “only,” “barely,” and “scarcely,” and times when it wasn’t needed at all. Kill “just” with fire.

A new problem word arose, and I blame it on writing reports for a job I had working with at-risk kids. In these reports, we were not allowed to say anything like “Bob was sad,” because we didn’t know it, we were only observers. So we had to write things such as “Bob seemed sad.”  Seemed. Unless one is a lawyer or an eye witness in a court of law, seemed is a very boring word choice. My usage was under 100 times, but I axed quite a bit of them for being too uninteresting to live. If it wasn’t for my word cloud, I wouldn’t have known “seemed” was a problem.

“But won’t my beta readers notice this and alert me?” you seem to ask. No, not likely. Not if your writing is smooth and you haven’t used the same word too many times in the same segment. Even an editor or agent might not catch it. However, if you find these uninspiring word choices and substitute words that are more engaging, that agent or editor might go from thinking your book is all right to thinking it is something worth backing. It’s these small choices that make a book more interesting to read. “Scarcely” is a far more specific choice than “just,” which is a catch-all word with a variety of meanings. Stronger word choices make your writing interesting and your meaning clear.

That last sentence was almost “more interesting and your meaning more clear.”

“More.” Used 134 times in my book. Cut down to 63. Often used in place of “again,” “most,” or using a specific amount or an amount word such as “few” or “brighter.” So many times not needed at all.

I learn. I use my word cloud, I search my document, and I learn. I automatically cut the “mores” from that sentence above.

Was it worth the entire day I spent doing this yesterday? Was it worth the mind-numbingly repetitive task, and all the times I yelled at my screen “what was I thinking?”

We're going to pretend that "What was I thinking?" is what I shouted.

We’re going to pretend that “What was I thinking?” is what I shouted.

Oh, yes. It absolutely was. My book is better for it, and I myself know what problem words I need to watch out for in my next project. It was worth every second and every single shout.

There’s two “everys” there, but I’ll let them stand for emphasis. Deciding when repetition of a word is useful or not is all part of the job.

Posted in Habits in writing, Word Clouds, writing, Writing Advice | Tagged , | 5 Comments