Friday, March 23, 2012

It's the Best Time Ever to Be a Novelist

When I started full-time freelancing in the late 1980s a publisher advised me that more money was to be made in periodicals than in books. He was right. And when it came to books, non-fiction was a better choice than fiction. That was true, too.

That was then. This is now.

Yes, the Internet has decimated magazines and newspapers. Over the last decade I've lost a lot of (paying!) customers as periodicals get tinier or blink out of existence.

What I hadn't realized is the same thing is happening to non-fiction books. A (relatively) recent article in USA Today points out that fiction is now the genre because if folks want something non-fiction they look for that topic online. For free. They can't do that with a novel, with a unique story, but can get that story in an e-book format for less than the price of a cup of coffee or Hallmark card. (A what?)

Just as the public flocked to the movies during the Great Depression of the 1930s to have a bit of an escape from their challenging daily (real) lives, now readers are choosing fiction for an escape from the Great Recession (and all the challenges of our own era).

There's an audience looking for new novels. And there's a way (e-books!) you can get your novel out there that won't cost you a dime.

It's the best time ever to be a novelist.

Just keep writing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Advice on Writing from Sinclair Lewis

I've mentioned I wasn't a reader-for-fun when I was a kid. I must have been a young teen when Dad handed me an old paperback of a Sinclair Lewis novel. For a long time, Elmer Gantry was my favorite book. I still love the opening sentence: "Elmer Gantry was drunk."

In college, in an awful course of nineteenth-century British novels, the professor asked what authors we liked. I said Lewis. He brushed that aside because he "only" tells the story.

Seemed like a good idea to me then. And now.

I'm sure he influenced my own novel writing. (Two ways that come to mind are his use of dialogue to tell the reader something about the speaker and the way he made up a Midwest state for his books. I have a made-up Central American country in the novel I'm working on now.)

Today when I did a Web search of Sinclair Lewis and writing tips I was startled to find a blog post about his advice and amazed that he advocated writing one hour a day six days a week. Lewis' piece is titled "How I Wrote a Novel on Trains and Beside the Kitchen Sink."

That formula sounds very familiar. At that rate, using a word count instead of daily time requirement, one could write a novel in nine weeks.

This is the blog post from Jason Hayward.

I'd be delighted to find out where Lewis' essay is available online. Please let me know if you come across it. And . . .

Just keep writing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I'm an Iowa Boy

My family moved from Iowa to Nebraska when I was eight and to Washington state when I was eleven. It wasn't until many, many years later that I found out the University of Iowa is famous for its writers' program. (I learned a lot at the University of Washington, thanks especially to Lois Hudson, a writer (and teacher) who agreed to work with me one on one. And earlier in the seminary, thanks to Lois Selmar. God bless them both.)

I like what the University of Iowa's program has to say about teaching and learning writing. I remember reading that one member in that program said you can learn it all on your own but it takes longer. I think that's true. A lot of writing is "self-taught." Not all.

Here's what the Iowa program points out:

Though we agree in part with the popular insistence that writing cannot be taught, we exist and proceed on the assumption that talent can be developed, and we see our possibilities and limitations as a school in that light. If one can "learn" to play the violin or to paint, one can "learn" to write, though no processes of externally induced training can ensure that one will do it well. Accordingly, the fact that the Workshop can claim as alumni nationally and internationally prominent poets, novelists, and short story writers is, we believe, more the result of what they brought here than of what they gained from us.

Just keep writing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Don't Need to Be a Genius to Be Creative

I'd like to think being creative means being very smart if not actually a genius, but it just t'ain't so. A writer's creativity, like a ballplayer's physical abilities, gets stronger the more he or she uses it.

Turns out, according to a recent book, there are different kinds of creativity and they . . . what? pop up? . . . in different ways.

I wrote about some of my "ways" in Week Two, Day 1 of How to Write Your Novel in Nine Weeks. The podcast for that day (and all the others) is here.

Wait! It's much better to buy the book, How to Write Your Novel in Nine Weeks. Really. Would I lie to you?

This little video is based on an article in last weekend's Wall Street Journal. (And both are based on the book, Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.) You can find the article here.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bad Tips for Writers 014

SASE is always optional. (Don't know
what SASE means? No problem!)

Make your motto: Publishing houses
can afford envelopes and stamps!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ray Bradbury on Perseverance

I'm not sure what the author takes out of the fridge (cheese?). He does grab a fresh beer. I like what he says about hanging in there, especially when you're first starting out.

In my college days I used the word "fridge" in my manuscript and my professor made a note by it: "The hell you say!"

That was a while ago.

Just keep writing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bad Tips for Writers 013

Remember creative writers
don't have to worry about getting
any facts right.

Make your motto: I'm not a reporter.
I'm a writer.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Where's Elmore?

I've heard some readers were having a hard time viewing the Elmore Leonard video. I'll try again:

Elmore Leonard, part 2

As long as I'm on the subject . . .

I came across this video from 2010. (And I just finished watching season two of Justified. Leonard is executive producer.)

The video may give you some suggestions, if you use the approach he does. (He's not a plotter. He lets the characters tell the story to the reader . . . and to him.)

Notice the marketing: A Time magazine video with Time magazine showing in the magazine rack.

And, who knows why?, the interviewer isn't wearing shoes.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Elmore Leonard's Rules on Writing

Elmore Leonard is one of my favorite writers. I don't agree with all of these, or always follow the ones I tend to agree with, but they do help:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Just keep writing.

Nine, or So, Weeks Later

Novelists who began their new books -- or returned to a not-yet-completed manuscript -- at the beginning of this year have been on my mind lately. (And in my prayers.) If you were using the nine-week approach you may be near the end.

Good for you!

The first one, completed!, is the hardest.

Once you know you can do it, you can do it again.