Sometimes Something Magical Happens

 

After a crazy, busy, two-week whirlwind, I’m back at my laptop pecking out some thoughts.  It’s not that I’ve taken a complete hiatus from writing. It’s just that it’s been scribbled in a notebook, several notebooks actually. Sure hope I can find the ones I need today.

Since my last two posts were about the SCWW conference in Myrtle Beach, I’m going to wrap that up first and then move on to Christmas thoughts and memories. Just like everyone else in the Christian world, I too have my reflections to share, the saddest of which occurred yesterday when I went through a McDonald’s drive-thru. I asked the young woman at the window if she’d had a nice Christmas, and she gave me a sad, bored expression and flatly stated that it had been just another day. I’ll get back to this. For now, let’s wrap up the conference.

One afternoon, I went to a session about travel writing that was led by Bill Starr. Since I’m always taking notes when I see new sights, I think this is something I’d like to do. Interesting and informative, Starr said that the keys to successful travel writing are good writing and keen powers of observation. He also suggested talking to the “natives” and asking them questions.                                                   

Andrew Gross, author of Eyes Wide Open and several other best sellers, was the keynote speaker. In addition to his own books, Gross co-wrote six books with author James Patterson. Personable and inspiring, Gross talked about the importance of believing in your ability to write and then sticking to your work. “Sometimes some magical happens when you sit down in front of a screen,” he said. From his website, I picked up one of Gross’ favorite quotes from Henry Ford that seems to summarize his philosophy: “Some people think they can and some think they can’t and they’re probably both right.”

Gross’s statement about digital sales is so important that I’m putting it in a paragraph by itself. For would-be writers who are still a little gun shy of the digital format, Gross shared that 50 percent of his sales are digital. This information left me wondering about the future of “real” books, the kind of book you can hold in your hands, turn its pages, write in its margins, turn down its corners, and “sense” its essence.

Before the award winners were announced, Brenda Remmes, author of The Quaker Cafe and member of our Camden chapter, told an inspiring story about a parachute packer. Without going into a lot of detail (hoping Brenda will do that on our chapter blog), the gist of the story was that we all need to be there for each other. We need to be the encouragers and parachute packers for our fellow writers. No one, repeat NO ONE, makes it alone.

After my three days in Myrtle Beach, I came home with lots of useful information and a more “can-do” attitude. If I had to choose just one idea that has stayed with me after all these weeks, it’s this one: writing is work. Just like any other endeavor, if you want to be successful at it, you’re going to have to do the time. Hmmm. I think I just got the idea for my next post!

No Head Hopping

The first afternoon of the SCWW Annual Conference in Myrtle Beach was just as informative as the first morning. After a delicious lunch enjoyed while overlooking the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, I attended a session by David Coe, award winner and author of twelve books. In case you haven’t heard of him, he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe. Quick, energetic, and informative, Coe offered some suggestions for editing one’s own work and then gave several recommendations for writing in general.

The first afternoon of the SCWW Annual Conference in Myrtle Beach was just as informative as the first morning. After a delicious lunch enjoyed while overlooking the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, I attended a session by David Coe, award winner and author of twelve books. In case you haven’t heard of him, he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe. Quick, energetic, and informative, Coe offered some suggestions for editing one’s own work and then gave several recommendations for writing in general.

When writing, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your work is any good or not because you’re so close to it. Stepping away from your writing for a while is a good recommendation, but when you’re actually in the rereading and reviewing stage, there are other things you can try. Here are three of Coe’s recommendations:

  • Role play. Coe puts himself into someone else’s shoes, someone like an editor or a friend, and sees things like they do. I thought that was a great idea and one that I already practice. I often find myself thinking, “Ann would catch that,” or, “Doug would say something about those gerunds.”
  • Go back and read an older piece that you’ve written and look for all your warts or bad habits as a writer. Then go back and read some of your new stuff. This practice will not only help you see how you’ve developed, but it will also show whether you’re still doing some of the same things. I have a tendency to be a bit wordy (would you have guessed that?), and I’m working on that. It’s hard. Last week, two members of my writing group suggested that I scratch out the entire first sentence of a piece they were critiquing. And you know what? They were right.
  • Step into role of professional editor and act like you’re him or her. Just like an editor would do, tell yourself the good things about your work and then be honest in spotting all the things you need to do to get the manuscript where it needs to be.

In addition to the above editing recommendations, Coe presented the following beneficial tips, also known as do’s and don’t’s:

  • Don’t overwork the manuscript. A book is never perfect. Sometimes you have to let it go.
  • “Adverbs are a part of speech and people can use them intelligently. I just did,” Coe said.
  • It’s not a good idea to start a book with a dream.
  • Change chapters if you’re changing point of view. No head hopping.
  • Use said unless you’re talking about volume, and in that case you can use whispered or mumbled or something.
  • Exposition slows things down and dialogue moves it along. We like eavesdropping and dialogue allows us to do that.
  • Short fiction sales are really the way to go. You’re working on stuff and getting it ready for novel.
  • Get “street cred.” It shows that somebody paid you and that you can finish what you start.
  • Nobody can really teach you how to write. The MFA isn’t going to make you a writer but will show you some stuff.

I left the session thinking of some material I needed to edit using David Coe’s suggestions and wondering what I could do to get street creds. I’m still pondering his recommendations and have put most into practice.

Writing Conference Tips


This morning I found some notes I took at the annual South Carolina Writers Workshop held in Myrtle Beach in October, and reading over my scribbled notes brought to mind the great time I had and the information I learned. From the time I arrived on Thursday evening until I parted company with my new friends on Sunday, it was a wonderful experience. Or rather, it was a series of one memorable experience after another. The three days were instructive, inspiring, motivational, and downright fun.

My primary job as a volunteer was to work at the registration desk, but I basically filled in where needed. For instance, I helped Kia stuff attendee bags on Friday, and I helped Kim and Kathryn with the silent auction winners on Sunday. While the best part of the conference was probably getting to know and rub shoulders with some amazing people, it was also great to learn so many tidbits about writing.

Time and space prohibit a rundown of everything so I’ll just hit some of the highlights of Friday. That morning, I attended a couple of informative sessions, and these are some things I learned. Most had to do with societal change and believability.

Often grandparents writing children’s books sound like grandparents. I knew exactly what the speaker meant by this. Lately I read some negative comments on Face Book about the Junie B. Jones books, and guess who they were written by? A grandparent. A grandparent who’s out of touch with the way children perceive the world and the way they talk today. This grandparent also criticized the language in the Junie books and went on to say that it’s no wonder children speak  the way they do when they read “crap” like this. I’m wondering if exposure to grandparents’ language is more likely the culprit in this case.

Technology is tricky because it dates a book. While I know this, I don’t know exactly how to change it…or whether it’s even a bad thing. Is a person using a land line phone, a cell phone, or a smart phone? Language dates a book too, and examples such as “wassup” were given. Too, words like netbook, apps, and Skype weren’t even in our lingo ten years ago.

Although societal changes and advances in technology alter the way people communicate with each other, character motivation stays the same. Basic psychology isn’t going to change, but the methods used to reveal character are different. One presenter told about a spooky guy who lived in her neighborhood when she was a child. One Halloween, he built a casket, placed it in his front yard, and lay naked in it. When a brave and curious child tentatively opened the lid for a peek inside, he grabbed her and pulled her into the coffin with him.Today this predator would be online. This grabbed my attention because according to psychologists, online solicitation of children is becoming more common.

Before breaking for lunch, the presenter shared some other tidbits. When you edit your own work, try to find out what your quirk is like colons, commas, no paragraphs, or using a word or expression too much. When I heard that, I couldn’t help but think of Pat Conroy, one of my favorite Southern writers. In My Reading Life, Conroy admits that he has a problem with wordiness. He can’t help his verbosity, however, and says he was stung by a wordsmith, his mother, at a very early age. Is there a Conroy fan anywhere who could deny that his voice is unique and that his long winded style works for him?

The last tip was my favorite. Why? Because it works! If you’re stuck, go do some laundry, and when you come back, your writing will be crisper. It doesn’t have to be laundry. It could be a walk around the neighborhood, lunch with friends, or an episode of NCIS. The point is to get away from the work for a bit.

Wow. The more I write, the more I realize that I learned that weekend. Stay tuned. I need to take a break and will share the rest of Friday’s information  in a day or two.