Stephen King on Getting Inspired

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Acknowledging that one of the things he’s most frequently asked is how he gets his ideas, Stephen King discusses his thought process and how he generates inspiration for his writing. Note: this is a long talk — nearly an hour — so be sure to set aside some time to watch.

Friday Links

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Happy Friday, everyone! I hope 2015 is treating you well so far, and that you’re all back in the swing of your regular schedules. I feel mostly caught up with post-holiday backlog and am preparing to tackle my extremely full submissions box. If I fall in and disappear, never to be heard from again, you’ll know what happened. Smothered by a sea of manuscripts…

I’ve got this week’s assortment of links for you. It turned out fairly reading-centric for whatever reason. Just the nature of what caught my eye. I hope it inspires your reading activities for the week ahead, and that you’re inspired to do a little writing of your own, as well. Enjoy!

They’re Watching You Read – Interesting piece by Francine Prose.

Author Robert Stone, Known for ‘Dog Soldiers’, Dies at 77 – A lovely little remembrance for the author by NPR.

Hearing Is Believing – Fascinating article on the rise of the dramatic podcast as a form of entertainment.

23 Words for Book Lovers that Really Should Exist – Just a bit of fun, but I agree some of these ideas really do need their own words.

Kazuo Ishiguro: How I Wrote ‘The Remains of the Day’ in Four Weeks – NaNoWriMo isn’t the only approach to drafting quickly.

Referrals, or The Art of Giving Yourself Away

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I never thought this was something I would need to explain to people, but recent trends in my inbox suggest otherwise. So I am taking a moment here to discuss how referrals work in terms of sending me a query for your project.

If you begin your query letter by stating that so-and-so referred you to me, then I need to actually know that person. And by know, I mean they are my client or an editor I work with or a friend with whom I chat at conferences/online/by phone/in person on a fairly regular basis. Just because I spoke with someone once at a conference eight years ago, does not make them a valid connection. It needs to be a person with whom I’m comfortable confirming that referral, as in, “Hi, did you send such-and-such author my way?” Because I will do that. I will check up on you. So do not name drop if it won’t stand up to my verification.

Also, please understand what a referral actually is. It is when someone who knows both of us specifically suggests that you drop me a line. It is not a referral if someone you know read my name in a round up of agents who represent a specific genre. It is not a referral if your critique partner (who does not know me personally) suggested you add my name to your submissions list. Nor is it a referral if we know someone in common, but they never actually suggest you query me. Referrals are based on real-world connections, and involve a suggestion that we might work well together.

Now, I realize writers talk among themselves and brainstorm and share information, and it’s wonderful if your fellow writers or industry friends give you lists of agents to check out because they represent your kind of book, or represent some author you love. This is how the business works, how you come across people to query. But suggestions and recommendations are not the same as referrals, and it’s important to keep them separated in your mind, and in your query language.

Every writer hopes to find that foot in the door, the trick that will help get them to the next level, and referrals, when genuine, certainly qualify. As an agent, I’m always looking for ways to weed through the material coming my way for a clue as to quality, so if a writer or editor I know and admire suggests that I take a look at something, I trust their judgment and give that writer’s work a chance. That doesn’t mean I’ll sign someone just on someone else’s say so; I still need to love the writing and feel I can sell it. But a true referral definitely serves as a short-cut to my desk.

And that’s the key. It has to be real. Because no agent wants to work with a writer who lies to get a foot in the door, and there’s no quicker way to find yourself with a rejection letter than to pretend a connection that does not exist. I’ve seen a sharp increase in name-dropping in my inbox the last few months, and maybe it’s something I should simply ignore — shake my head and send the rejections and let the writers in question struggle on. But I suspect some of these are honest mistakes, a misunderstanding regarding the terminology that results in some writers giving an incorrect impression, so I’m putting this out there in hopes of setting them straight.

Friday Links

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It appears 2015 has got off to a galloping start, as it’s already Friday again. I, like many people, spent my week digging out from a stack of holiday e-mail, and reading/editing client manuscripts. And once again, I find myself wishing I could read (effectively) a little faster, as the backlog feels rather more immense than it was before Christmas.

I hope you’ve all had a good first full week back to reality, and that you’ve managed a bit of writing in with your other obligations. Especially those of you who took the December writing challenge! No slacking off; the idea is to maintain your wonderful new writing habit and accomplish great things in 2015.

But today is Friday, which means Friday Links, so I will cease the rambling and get to it. I hope you find them inspiring. Enjoy!

The Great 2015 Book Preview – If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you know I love this wrap up of books due to be released in the coming year. The Millions posts one bi-annually, and I always walk away with a long list of things that sound fascinating.

Joan Didion’s Favorite Books of all Time – A great list, but do scroll down and watch the short teaser video for the upcoming documentary of her life, as well. The video was the promo piece for the Kickstarter to back the film (which was successfully funded several times over), and is a wonderful peek into Didion’s world. I can’t wait to see the completed doc.

Cool Maps of Fictional Literary Places – A round up of imaginary regions from Hogwarts to Narnia and beyond.

Writing Excuses, Season 10 – The gang from the Writing Excuses podcast has decided to change things up, and they are offering a master class to be spread out over the course of the year, completely free and accessible to all.

10 Questions to Ask When You Create a Fictional Culture – Useful reference for anyone doing some world building.

Polish Your Prose: An Editorial Cheat Sheet

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No matter your resolutions for the year, regardless where you stand with your current writing project, the time will come when you need to edit. I don’t mean rework your plot, heighten dramatic tension, or beef up your protagonist’s motivations. Rather I’m referring to that nitty gritty editorial process of looking at your work word by word, sentence by sentence, and examining the language you’ve used. Do your descriptions dance on the page? Have any cliches snuck into the mix? If you had to read aloud in front of an audience, would you find yourself running out of breath?

Sentence-level editing involves more than checking for missing words or making sure your Find-and-Replace changed a character’s name all the way through your manuscript. This is your chance to shape up your prose and show your skills, not just as a storyteller but as a wordsmith. But a manuscript can be a fairly long document, and sometimes it’s hard to remember everything you want to check as you work your way through from first page to last.

Here’s a handy cheat sheet of things you might want to keep in mind while editing:

1.  Cut your adverbs and make your verbs stronger.

2.  Rework any cliches.

3.  Eliminate filler words and phrases, such as “currently”, “that”, and “in order to.”

4.  Refer to people as “who” not “that.”

5.  Cut repetitious words and/or phrases.

6.  Divide long, hard-to-read sentences into two or more shorter sentences.

7.  Fix any inadvertent double negatives in long, complex sentences.

8.  Hyphenate modifying words.

9.  Minimize use of “very” and “really.”

10. Beware of overusing passive voice/passive verb structures (is/was/-ing verbs).

11. Double check the definitions of any words you’re not 100% sure you know.

12. Determine and weed out any words, actions, or punctuation that you personally overuse as filler, such as characters smiling or taking deep breaths, ellipses in the middle or end of dialogue, exclamation points, etc.

13. Replace general words with specific ones, such as “thing(s)” or “stuff.”

14. Cut unnecessary chit-chat from dialogue; limit conversations to substance that moves your story forward.

15. Limit distinctive dialogue quirks or movements to a single character; don’t give “signature” details to more than one person unless there’s a reason (child emulating a parent or older sibling, etc.).

Of course, these are just a sample of common errors you should be checking for at this stage of the editorial process. Depending on your writing style and personal habits, you will add to (or maybe subtract from) the list to customize it for your own use. Likewise, many of these are aspects of usage to keep in mind but not hard-and-fast rules. For instance, I don’t expect you to wipe every single adverb from your work, merely to avoid overusing them. Reliance on adverbs suggests your verbs need to pull more weight, but adverbs on their own are not evil parts of speech.

Clarity should always be your first goal. You wish to tell a story and have your reader understand it. Beyond that, you combine your personal voice and writing style with the style in which you’ve chosen to write this particular work in order to impart everything else to the reader — setting, tone, atmosphere, culture, etc. Use this editorial phase to hone those details for consistency and strength of impression. It’s your last chance to polish your prose, eliminate the ordinary and unnecessary, and make your work sparkle.

Friday Links

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Welcome to a new year of Friday Links! It was nice to take a couple of weeks off during the holidays, especially since I wasn’t online that much. Normally I discover fun things to share over the course of the week, and I’ve found going purposefully in search of suitable material just doesn’t work out quite the same way.

I hope you all enjoyed your holidays and that you’re as excited for 2015 as I am. I have great plans for the coming months, some of which might very well include a few of you! So let’s get this party started with the first set of links for the year. Enjoy!

Neil deGrasse Tyson Selects the Eight Books Every Intelligent Person on the Planet Should Read – An interesting collection, most of which aren’t what you might expect.

How the Humanities Will Save the World – Not so sure about that, but I do think it’s important to keep them alive in a world increasingly obsessed with science and technology.

Publication Opportunities for Writers: January and February 2015 – A list of contests and calls for work with deadlines in the next couple of months. Great way to kick off those resolutions if you’ve vowed to submit more!

National Readathon Day – Trying to read more? Looking to support literacy? Spread the word about this national effort to spend a few hours reading on Saturday, January 24th, 2015.

A Year in Reading: 2014 Wrap-Up – The Millions ties up this year’s end-of-year reading series, which included an amazing 74 posts from assorted contributors. The perfect article to check out if you’ve got some bookstore gift cards burning a hole in your pocket.

Reading Diversely: Reflecting on the Year

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If anything seemed to characterize this year in reading, it was the ongoing discussion about the importance of reading more diversely, whatever that meant for you as an individual reader. The conversation touched on a number of points, but focused primarily on reading women authors, reading authors of color, and reading books where the characters themselves were more representative of the diverse population of the world. Reading diversely is especially important for writers, because of all the ways it provides you with a broader outlook, greater empathy and understanding, cultural insights, and more scope for your imagination.

Like many dedicated readers, I like to think I’m pretty broad in my choices of reading material, but I made a point of paying more attention to what I was reading this year, mostly because I had the nagging feeling I could do better. While I still have a couple of books in progress, and I may finish one or more of them before we ring in the new year tonight, I think we’re close enough that I can take a general look at the shape of my reading for 2014.

I’ve never tracked my reading choices beyond noting the title, author, and date I’ve finished reading the book, but it’s easy enough to run through the list of authors and determine how they fall in terms of gender and race. As has been the case the past few years, I read much less than I’d have liked this year, but certainly enough that I can share my percentages.

In terms of gender of authors, 55% of the titles were written by women, and 45% by men. These percentages include one book that had three authors, one female and two male, which was weighted accordingly. This is actually a more equal distribution than the last few years, when I read more books by women than men by a much larger margin, something I know is partly due to the fact that I read a fair amount of romance and young adult fiction for work reasons, and those genres seem to boast more women authors than male authors.

As for racial/cultural diversity, approximately 25% of the books I read were by authors of color (male and female), which isn’t a horrible percentage but is certainly smaller than I would like it to be. One of the two partly read books currently on the nightstand is by an author of color, but I have a bit more left than I’m likely to get through tonight. The upside is that it will be the first book finished in 2015 and thus get me off to a good start for next year’s reading goals. Reading more diversely has become part of my ongoing reading objectives, not simply something to think about for one year and trade for a new goal the next. I loved that my efforts to read a bigger variety of authors in 2014 led me to finally read James Baldwin, after years of meaning to pick up one of his books; to delve into Roxane Gay’s emotional novel An Untamed State; and to discover Zadie Smith’s wonderful essays.

Thinking about reading in 2015, I’m recommitting to my standard “read more books” goal, and also to reading more diversely. In addition, I’m going to try and get through more of the books I own rather than continuing to buy books that end up collecting dust for years before I get around to them. I’m considering a number of writing challenges that I’ve discovered around the bookish internet as a way to focus my personal reading efforts. Of course there are the standards, that involve setting a goal of a certain number of books read for the year, or reading books only by women or only by authors of color. However, there appear to be many more specific challenges, addressing every facet of reading you can imagine, from tackling more classics to reading regionally. I’ve linked to a few that sound intriguing below, and I’d love to hear about any others you might be giving a try.

So how was your year in reading? Did you have a specific goal in mind for 2014? Have you discovered any wonderful new reads simply because you opened yourself up to books outside your traditional comfort zone? What are you excited to read in the year ahead?

Reading Challenges for 2015

The Classics Club – Commit to reading at least 50 classics (of your choice) over a 5-year period.

2015 TBR Pile Challenge – Commit to reading 12 books that have been on your TBR pile for a year or more.

Reading England 2015 – Travel England by reading one book per county for as many as you choose to tackle.

The Pre-Printing Press Challenge – Read some serious oldies, such as Beowulf or History of the Peloponnesian War.

The Literary Movement Challenge – Read a book (or more) each month for that month’s assigned literary movement, such as Romanticism, Post-Modernism, etc.

Victorian Bingo Challenge – Read Victorian novels that fulfill a Bingo card of statements, one book per square.

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2015 – Read books to fulfill the 50 statements/categories on the challenge listing.

Happy Book Day!

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Shieldof_Winter_small

Happy book release day to Nalini Singh, whose SHIELD OF WINTER is now available in mass market paperback. Those of you waiting patiently for the soft cover edition can scoop it up now online and at your favorite bookstore.

Assassin. Soldier. Arrow. That is who Vasic is, who he will always be. His soul drenched in blood, his conscience heavy with the weight of all he’s done, he exists in the shadows, far from the hope his people can almost touch—if only they do not first drown in the murderous insanity of a lethal contagion. To stop the wave of death, Vasic must complete the simplest and most difficult mission of his life. For if the Psy race is to survive, the empaths must wake….

Having rebuilt her life after medical “treatment” that violated her mind and sought to suffocate her abilities, Ivy should have run from the black-clad Arrow with eyes of winter frost. But Ivy Jane has never done what she should. Now, she’ll fight for her people, and for this Arrow who stands as her living shield, yet believes he is beyond redemption. But as the world turns to screaming crimson, even Ivy’s fierce will may not be enough to save Vasic from the cold darkness….

As an added bonus, the paperback includes some deleted scenes. Happy reading!

 

 

December Writing Challenge: Final Check-In

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How goes it, challenge writers? Have you managed to write every day this month? Did you commit to a new, secret project? Are you pleased with what you’ve accomplished in December?

We have a few days left before month’s end, but whether or not you choose to write through the holiday, right to the bitter end, be sure to take a few moments to consider how the challenge has gone for you. Was it motivating to aim for writing at least a few minutes every day? Did you miss days? What was the reason? Did holiday obligations get in your way or did you find yourself needing a mental break?

Only you can decide if a daily writing habit is the best course for your writing style and your life, but I’m willing to bet even the attempt to write daily opened your mind up and allowed your creativity to flow a little bit more swiftly. And for those of you who didn’t manage to write as often as you wished, determining the why behind those less productive periods can help you figure out how to motivate yourself going forward.

Those of you in the secret-project category may or may not have a viable new work in progress, but even if you’ve been working on something purely for your own enjoyment, I hope you had a wonderful time and feel like your creativity has been pumped up and refreshed for a new year of writing. No matter where you are in your writing career, it’s always important to allow yourself some time to play occasionally. It keeps the prime pumped, and it also lets you remember why you love writing, especially on those days where the work feels more challenging.

I encourage all of you to keep writing daily if you can right into 2015. The more you write, the more you stretch your talent and exercise your creativity, the better the work you will produce. Happy writing!

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