Archive | April, 2013

Write where your heart is . . .

17 Apr

In addition to writing and editing (and reviewing) I also coach people who are interested in writing or publishing. I find this to be absolutely fascinating. Everyone has a story, to be sure. Some of them you would never, ever suspect of having lived the life that they have, However this will indubitably influence their style of writing, not to mention the whatever it is that they’re going to write.

People say “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” 

And I say, “Well, why don’t you?”

Person replies, “Oh, I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Simple answer: “Start anywhere. Put your rump in a chair and start writing.” My next favorite line is: “Nothing happens until someone writes something!”

Almost always, the final product bears almost no resemblance to the original thought. And that’s fine – nothing wrong with that, at all. It simply means that the would-be writer has progressed from dreamer to real writer. Something has grabbed hold of that person and diverted their original idea to something not immediately evident at the beginning of the process.

I know from my own experience how it is when a story really grabs you and refuses to let go. I’d wanted to be a writer since high school. But I didn’t really know what to write, (other than very long letters) and then marriage, kids, jobs, etc., pushed the dream to the back burner. I was a very late bloomer, so in my late 40s I decided it was time. I’d found a subject that really grabbed me – Katherine of Valois – and I’d been reading whatever I could find about her which was nearly zilch, further fueling my dream of writing a book about her.

Then came a blizzard in January, 1987. In Cleveland this is not an unusual occurrence, but being totally confined to the house began to wear on my nerves, and I suddenly hatched the notion of writing a play instead. Three days later, the first rough draft of my one-woman play was done. I was shocked! I still like it a lot — it came very close to a production, but time constraints prevented it at the time, and I’ve gone on to other things since then. But still, I proved I could do it. 15,000 words in three days is not to be sneezed at, believe me!

A funny thing had happened while I was reading about Katherine – I re-discovered an early love – Regency Romance. I knew about Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland (opposites, to be sure!) but was not totally aware that all of a sudden, this light, costume drama/romance genre set in the early 1800s was experiencing a resurgence in popularity. To my delight I discovered several authors I’d not previously known – Sandra Heath, Edith Layton, Mary Balogh – and many others whose words thrilled me – and kept me company while doing research into the early 1400s!  

I’d been making notes for a possible Regency of my own, but not very seriously, when an incident at my work prompted a dream that night in January, 1988. The next morning, I had a working outline and a good sense of the story, so I sat down at the typewriter and put it all on paper. The next morning there was more of it, and I thought – gee, maybe there is something here after all. Three weeks later (Super Bowl Sunday, 1988, as a matter of fact) I typed those two beautiful words – The End. Coincidentally, at almost that same exact moment, my very first computer was being connected and set up. It was a CPM machine with dual floppy drives and no hard drive. I loved it.

So the very next morning, I began typing the story into the computer, editing and fixing as I went. Everyone loved my book! Of course, they did. It was the birth of a miracle child, after all! I’d been saying I was going to write a book for so many years that when it finally happened, it took everyone by surprise. Including me! (And during the next four years, I wrote four more books and another play!)

Fast forward to 2006 when I heard about a publisher in Akron who was looking for Regencies, so I submitted my baby – and they accepted it. I was delirious with joy! Trust me, I had submitted it to every single publisher of Regency novels in New York and elsewhere, but – it was in first person, and that’s a big no-no for romance novels. What did I know from romance? That wasn’t what I wrote. Or at least I didn’t think it was! Still, eventually it was published as Bertie’s Golden Treasure, and it is available in print or e-book from my publisher or the on-line stores. (My pseudonym is Hetty St. James.)

The point of all this is – you have to write what you love or you won’t get too far. It’ll be too sterile, too dry. If your heart is not engaged, your brain will not be very happy either.

A case in point – I have a friend who has long been enamored of Richard III and even belonged to the Society named for him. Me, too! We were both excited beyond belief at the discovery of his burial place in Leicester last fall. Her very first books were a series about him and his family. So, she thought (and I certainly encouraged her) that perhaps the books might be re-issued under these new circumstances. Funny thing happened, however.

Now that the world knows for certain where he had been buried, he came to life again in her creative mind, and she completely re-wrote the first two books in the series – 100,000 plus words for each – in one month’s time for each book. That’s unbelievable! Except that I’ve read them both. They’re wonderful and quite different from the first versions, which I also really liked. But geeze Louise! 100,000 words in a month! I’m amazed she still has fingers! (I’ve done 70,000 in three weeks twice in my life, but separated by a few years from each other.) Believe me, it ain’t easy! Try it for yourself sometime.

And then today, one of my coaching clients wrote to say she’d been working on her book (which is really going to be at least three, once she gets the proper alignment settled in her mind) but once again she detoured. “I have been doing some writing but it surprised me as to what it was when it started to unfold.  Guess it is where my heart lies – it is about my last airplane.”   This woman was one of the last of the Powder Puff racers! Flying has been a constant factor in her life since our high school days.

Writing from your heart lends an air of authenticity that cannot be imitated, in my humble opinion. Another client is writing a cozy mystery series, and has just finished the second in the series. Her sleuth is a woman who was an insurance investigator but who now trains other investigators. However, that’s not the heart of the story. Each of them is built around the author’s avocation, which she has gifted to her sleuth – kayaking. Those scenes are so real the reader needs to keep a towel handy to wipe the water splashes off the face! This author is self-publishing, but she’s doing it the right way. She has an editor (me! I’m proud to say) plus marketing experience and know-how. She approaches each step with logic and caution. I will be so proud to say I knew her when!

So – the bottom line here is: WRITE. That’s the most important thing. You’ll get in the habit of doing it, but only if you actually do it! Don’t worry if your mind wanders and you find yourself writing something you’d not anticipated. Just let ‘er rip – and see what happens – where you wander. You may be very pleasantly surprised!        Happy writing!

Questions and/or comments are welcome. SPAM is ignored. 

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Essays —

3 Apr

Not necessarily on purpose, but for whatever reason, since the beginnings of this blog – lo, those many years ago – it has been mainly been directed towards writing fiction. Obviously, there’s a huge wide world of non-fiction out there, as well. So, this week, we’ll take a brief look at one form: The Essay.

First off – just what is an essay, anyway? I was amazed to discover nearly as many definitions of the term as there are people who write them!

Did you ever have to write about a summer vacation when you returned to school in the fall? That was an essay. Length and content (not to mention quality!) are extremely variable.

One very famous writer of the 20th century, Aldous Huxley, noted that “the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything”, but briefly.  Although primarily known for his novels, he also wrote a bunch of essays. So I would take his word for it.

Unlike novels of any sort, essays benefit from the lack of length requirements. They can be whatever length the author likes, but are most likely to be less than 10,000 words. Way less. An essay can be motivating or instructive – or simply entertaining, as long as it is interesting – to the reader. I would think a primary requirement would also be similar to any work of fiction – it needs a beginning, a middle and an end. The end may be ambiguous, but there must be an element of finality. Or closure.

An essay is quite different from an article. An article is (usually) non-fiction, but based on fact, whereas an essay is also usually non-fiction, but is based on an opinion by the author. Or maybe the point of view of the author on a possibly controversial topic. It might be criticism, observation, recollection, reflection, and could even bridge the gap between an article and a short story (fiction.)

From my research on the topic, it appears that a good length for an essay (on average) would be 1500 to 5000 words, but probably best at about 2500. A collection of essays for publication would probably begin at 50,000 words, and go to 70,000. Beyond that, it might be better to break the collection into two volumes, although an e-book could certainly incorporate that many words with no difficulty, whatever. It would be pointless to look for an agent or publisher until you have a completed (book-length) manuscript available for reading.

The collected essays might have a connecting thread running through them, or not. They may be a demonstration of how the author’s opinions changed as he or she grew and matured. What was great fun as a ten-year-old might not be all amusing at one’s fiftieth birthday party!

The essays must be engaging – quickly grasping the reader and keeping him or her in the moment. I think blog posts fall into that category, don’t you? I’d really be interested in your opinion!