Great Stuff for Writers, March 21 & 22, 2013

Variety in your writing life. Rachelle Gardner advocates it and we’ve got it: craft-wise, business-wise, life-wise, even wise-cracking-wise. Great—even wise—tools for your toolkit.


Allison Vesterfelt (@allyvest) guest posts on Jeff Goins’ blog with the question, Is Your Writing Timeless? Yes, she really does mean, is your writing dealing with issues that will still matter a long time from now? Now, that seems like a tall order, a task reserved for “literary” fiction and not for the other genres that are too often dismissed as “mere entertainment.” Yet non-literary fiction can certainly deal with questions of how people deal with big issues in their lives—mortal or psychological danger, loneliness, fear, conflict—without descending into plotless maundering. (Okay, Vesterfelt doesn’t say it quite that way.) But she does say, “What often sets timeless writers apart… is their ability to use writing as a vehicle to bare their own humanity.” That’s genre-independent.

If trying for timeless sounds too trying, how about digging for depth? Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) has a very practical set of 8 Ways to Add Layers of Depth to Your Scenes on The Kill Zone. It’s not that her suggestions—such as unique character voices, sparing but woven-in backstory, essentials of emotion, to name three—are particularly new, but she provides examples and illustrations of each so you can see how they can be employed. Her commenters add a few ideas of their own, so the list grows from 8 to closer to a dozen.

Now here’s an interesting idea that just might work for you. In a prior life, Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) was a toy designer. (Who knew?) One of the tools she used was a board on which she captured symbols, images, and anything else that would capture the mood of the children (and sometimes the parents) involved, sometimes subtly, with the toy she was creating. So now she recommends that you Use a Mood Board to Boost Your Writing in the same way: to capture those images and ideas, including the tension and conflicts, that will underlie your story. Another way of adding depth!


It was interesting to have these two posts come into my Reader inbox in sequence. Second was Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) When an Agent Gives Up on a Project, in which she discusses why that happens: no more options, poor editorial response, market concerns, the agent was simply wrong about the book. If the client doesn’t have anything else or anything better to offer, both agent and author are stuck, at least for the time being. Preceding this post was Dean Wesley Smith’s (@DeanWesleySmith) New World of Publishing post, A New Slush Pile [this post has been removed from his web site]. After some historical background on the term “slush pile” and its previous incarnations, and his usual (and to this reader, tiresome) anti-agent and anti-traditional publishing ranting, he says, in effect, that the slush pile now is on the reader’s desk: it’s now readers who buy works by unknown authors and decide whether they’re worthy or not. Instead of rejection letters, bad writing now gets few sales and bad online reviews. There. Now you don’t need to read his post.

Then Rachelle comes back with Making a Living as a Writer, Part 2. This piece focuses on variety to complement the volume of work she wrote about in part 1. She lists 5 options from self-pubbing shorter work that complements trad-published novels to breaking into ghostwriting or working for hire. These ideas may not be for everyone but show what other options are out there if you’re looking to live off your writing.

Aw, geez, here’s yet another publisher with really sucky (for the author) terms. Victoria Strauss (@victoriastrauss) reports on the Author-Unfriendly Terms at Autharium.  How author-unfriendly? Well, there are all the usual suspects: life-of-copyright terms, total control by the company of what happens to the work, near-total inability of the author to terminate the contract and get control of the work back, inadequate definition of “out of print,” and much of this buried in online documents authors rarely read, setting them up for huge disappointment, to say the least. Bottom line: this is yet another company to stay away from—far away from.


Maybe you’ve heard of Guy Kawasaki’s (@GuyKawasaki) ebook APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. It’s gotten a lot of good press and my copy is nearing the top of my to-be-read pile. But Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) noted as he read it that it doesn’t address offset printing. Is that even a reasonable or realistic option for self-publishers? Joel says yes, under certain circumstances, and now Guy has given him the chance to add a short chapter to his book, which Joel previews in Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Offset Printing for Self-Publishers. He lists the kinds of self-pubbed books that would benefit from being offset printed and key things authors need to know and do in order to have the work done right and ensure the not-insignificant up-front costs are well spent.


Michael Swanwick’s Jan DeFeo’s Rose—and the Lesson We Should Learn From It, while it’s about a visual artist, certainly is, and is intended to be, a cautionary tale for writers. Briefly, DeFeo was a more than up-and-coming artist with what seemed to her to be a brilliant idea. She worked on it—and worked on it and worked on it—for nearly a decade. Until it defeated her. Swanwick considers the piece, called The Rose, “overworked.” I’ve never seen the piece—except for the photo accompanying the post, which I presume is the artist at work on it—so I can’t comment on that, but his point is clear: there’s a point where you have to stop obsessing over a work and put it out in the world. Left unsaid, of course, is the question of when you know that it’s time.

Taking a different angle on the word “overworked,” small business writer Donald Cowper describes Why You Should Fire Yourself—as a writer and hire yourself as the CEO of your business. Say what? His point is that a CEO’s job is to think strategically about her company and where it’s headed. That can mean trimming off divisions that aren’t performing, or just stopping doing work that isn’t productive. The CEO has the perspective that the worker-bee does not. Then, with that focus established, you-the-CEO can hire back you-the-writer to do the work that will best benefit you-the-company.


I don’t know that Noel Coward was always right when he said “Work is much more fun than fun,” but comedy writer Gene Perret’s point in How Humor Can Make You a Better Writer on Katie Weiland’s WORDplay blog, is that writing one-liners can make you a better writer. How? By telling the briefest of stories, being concise, and using vocabulary and sentence structure to make your point powerfully. And when they work, those zingers can be lots of fun to write, too.

Have a great weekend!

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