Are you a Part-Time Writer Looking for Inspiration for 2014? You’ve Come to the ‘Write’ Place!

I’m starting of the year with a guest post from Nikolas Baron, from Grammarly.com. Have you heard of them? It’s a great site for writer’s who need help proofreading their work. From blog posts to essays, they’ve got the tools you need! But first, get inspired to start 2014 off the ‘write’ way!

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The Part-Time Writer

part_time_writerBeing a writer is, for many, a lifelong dream. Writing for payment is a thrilling accomplishment, but it’s usually soon followed by the realization that most writers do not make a living from writing alone. In fact, many writers pursue a separate, unrelated career while writing part-time, whether as a hobby or as a secondary source of income. For the part-time writer facing deadlines, a quality online spelling, grammar, and plagiarism checker can be a valuable tool. Saving time is just one aspect of creating success as a writer, however. Writing takes dedication, patience, and a willingness to learn the craft.

Being a writer is an admirable goal, but it’s not a realistic one. How does one become “a writer”? There is no pill, no bottled potion to be ingested, that will magically bring about the transformation. Becoming a writer begins with picking up a pen; but, having taken that first crucial step, the aspiring writer will discover that the journey has just begun. First, the writer must decide what type of writing he or she wants to do. Fiction or nonfiction? Short stories?

Articles? Novels? Each type of writing requires a unique skill set, and there is a distinct path to follow to the individual definition of success for every writer. It’s important to study the craft and read within and outside the genre to become a well-rounded reader and a better writer. Wanting to be a writer isn’t enough. It’s important to decide upon a genre and a style that best suits the writer’s individual dream. Becoming a writer is a dream. Transforming an abstract desire into a concrete success takes deeper thought.

Once the budding writer has decided upon writing mystery novels, for example, the next step is to set some goals. Novices may want to keep the goals reasonable, setting themselves to the task of writing for a set amount of time per day or obtaining a certain word count, depending on the time that can be found in between other obligations. Some professionals suggest that writing every day is critical to success, while others claim that a certain amount of time must be invested. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Time and discipline are important, but the definition of success is an individual one that only the writers themselves can create. Goals create personal milestones, giving the writer a measuring stick against which to check progress. Setting the goals is entirely up to the writers themselves.

Time can be a precious commodity in our fast-paced world. Between work, family obligations, hobbies, volunteer work, and other commitments, the idea of finding time to write might seem out of reach. However, it can be done. It may be necessary to write out a simple schedule, noting work, family obligations, and other time constraints, and then consider the blocks of time that are not already committed to other pursuits. Television viewing might have to be sacrificed. Getting up a little earlier in the morning, for a morning person, or staying up a little later in the evening, for a night owl, might be an option as well. Moreover, a shorter lunch break might provide some time to indulge the muse.

Time, however, is not always the only consideration. Many writers need to “warm up” to the page, to shift gears from their day jobs into the mental work of writing. It is necessary not only to find time to scribble a few words on a page but also to find long enough blocks of uninterrupted time suitable for writing. Indeed, protecting the quality of one’s writing time is as important as finding time to write in the first place. If writing is not a priority and if the commitment is not as firm as the Saturday-morning golf game or the monthly martini lunch with the girls, it will never get off the ground.Marjorie Facklam, author of numerous children’s books, began writing while raising her five children, with several still in diapers. If a harried mother of five can find time to research and write rhyming science picture books like Bugs for Lunch while chasing toddlers and maintaining a household, any writer can find time in their schedule. Often, the question isn’t one of time, but of commitment.

Connect with  Nikolas Baron on Google+      Plagiarism Checker

nick-Grammerly Guest posterAbout the Author:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading.

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Thank you for stopping by! I love to make new friends. Got questions or comments? Leave a comment, or connect with me online!  If you’ve enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter and follow this blog!

MJ

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Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the WTH???

Attractive Woman with Her Books

Book reviews. Every author wants them. Every author fears them. They can be the shining star used to promote your work, or the one thing holding readers back from deciding to one-click and add to their growing collection. Over the last week, both of my books have received reviews: a 3, a 4 and a 5 Star review, and each has seen the dreaded 1 and 2 Star reviews. Each reviewer has had something different to say and it made me think…

What good can a review do for the author? How can you read through the lines? And when do you ignore them?

The first rule to any book review is: everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Easier said than done sometimes, right?

The fact of the matter is, no matter how well your book is written, no matter how clean you edits are, or how many people sing your books praises, somebody out there is going to hate it.

What’s that old saying, “You can’t please everybody?” No truer words have been spoken.

Above all things you must remember readers have different taste, like different types of storytelling, or crave a certain type of drama, fantasy, or escape from reality. If your book doesn’t hit the mark for them, chances are they will not like it. A good example of this is the romance genre. There are many ‘heat’ levels out there. Everything from Hard core BDSM, to the tame ‘bedroom door shuts in your face’, and where I fall, somewhere in between…not erotica, but definitely erotic. (I recently had a reader tell me my scenes made her blush, lol, and they are in no way close to what makes me blush!)

The flip side to this is if your book is intentionally written to draw on a readers emotions – depending on their personality type – they may dislike your characters because they cannot or do not sympathize with your characters decisions. They get so upset they are personally offended or pissed off and no longer read the full story.  They base their opinions on the characters actions and what they feel should have happened, thus the bad review.

As an author, what can you take from this?

For starters, learn to read between the lines. Once the emotional sting is gone and the tears have dried, or you stop using the ‘f’ word, whichever comes first, try to decipher what the reader is trying to say. Did they dislike the character, the plot, or the writing? Was the character unrealistic or did the decisions they make just piss them off? As the author, only you know what motivates your characters and what emotions you want to draw from the reader. So the questions you must ask yourself are:

  • Did I do too much or too little?
  • Was enough back ground information given?
  • Was the scene or reason behind the decisions made explained clearly?
  • Were questions/goals asked, defined, and reached?
  • Were there enough unanswered questions to keep the reader interested without boring them?
  • How well thought out was the plot?
  • Are there gaps in the story that leave the plot line open?
  • Was a resolution found and satisfying?
  • What about the pacing? Too fast, too slow, or just plain boring? (you’ll know the answer to this if a majority of your reviews say the same thing)
  • What can I take from this review to make my next project better?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Some characters are meant to piss people off, but you want your main characters to pull the reader in, keep their attention and have them rooting for them to reach their goal. One of the most important things to remember, no matter what genre you write, pleasing the masses (lovers of your genre) is the key, not the people who don’t or won’t agree.  In other words, if you write Sci-Fi Erotica, don’t expect a Historical Romance lover to go crazy about your book. That’s not to say readers won’t cross over to different genres, but some are more comfortable with what they know.
  • If your book is getting an influx of negative reviews, pay attention to the market your promoting to. If book lovers of your genre continue to say the same thing, you may need to step back, re-evaluate your style of writing, learn more about storyline structure, and find honest beta readers or a writing group to help you find out what went wrong. Revamp, rewrite, try again!
  • Like TV shows and movies, there are various book genres that have a different style of pacing. Some readers want the satisfaction of a full ride that has them hanging on from the beginning to the end with no breaks. (Think roller coaster ride, 0-60 in 2 seconds). They want if fast, hard, and with a sudden stop. Other readers like the slow walk on the beach, long conversations, the romance, staring off at the sunset, and a satisfactory ending. And then there’s the in-between reader who likes the road trip. They want to leave the house doing the city speed limit, but when they hit the highway, they cruise with the traffic, enjoying the twists and turns and the fast pace. They like to visit the rest stop and stretch their legs before merging with the flow of traffic again. A well written story has the mixed pace of fast, slow, and cruise control to keep the ride interesting.

What does all of this mean?

As writers, we know what our comfort zone is when it comes to telling our stories. We know what our intentions are and what we want our character to see, think, and feel. We view our work as our babies and it’s often hard to put down the laptop and share it with the world. Will we ever be able to win over the masses? No, because there are too many genres which means readers what different things. If your book doesn’t deliver for them, chances are it’s not your story, but your style of writing or vice versa. Either way, don’t let a bad review get you down. See it as a learning tool. If you can find room for improvement, make it! If it’s more of a personal issue for the reviewer, ignore it and move on! In the end, YOU, the writer, know how much time, effort, and work you put in to make your ideas hit paper. Don’t let the negative stop you! As a good friend and fellow author says, ‘you have to put on your big girl panties and get over it!’ – Carmen DeSousa

MJ on Writing: Viewpoint Tips and Tricks

WritingOne of the first things I learned about writing was the correct way to write a scene. After years of reading I had become accustom to what is known as ‘head hopping’. For those who may not be aware of what that is, ‘head hopping’ is where two characters point of views are shared in the same scene. This is not to be confused with conversation. I am referring to the scene starting with the heroine’s POV and then in mid scene, it switches to the hero’s POV, and back again or to another character without a change in the scene or start of a new chapter. Sound confusing? Imagine how it feels to a reader!

That style of writing is no longer accepted in manuscripts today, unless of course your one of the old school authors who were allowed to do it years ago. Chances are they haven’t been forced to change. In fact, I know they haven’t. One of my favorite romance authors who have been around for years still does it in every new book. But for the new author, agents and publishers are looking for a more polished style of writing, starting with characters whose POV’s are the only one featured in a chapter. Even if you plan to self-publish, taking these extra steps to polish your writing will make your work stand apart from the rest!

So how do you make this happen? Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you stay in one viewpoint from the beginning to end or your scene! (I write in 1st Person POV, so I will write these examples in both 1st and 3rd POV when needed.)

Make sure your reader knows who is speaking.

The easiest way to have this done is by having them addressed by name by another character in the scene. Doing this in the first few lines of the chapter will let your reader know who’s speaking:

Example:

(1st Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” my brother asked.

“Things could be better.” I grimaced while holding my stomach.

Or

(3rd Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” John asked.

“Things could be better,” she said while holding her stomach.

As mentioned above, NO HEAD HOPPING!

Doing so destroys the tension your building by staying in one character head. You know the saying, ‘the right hand can’t know what the left is doing?’ When sticking in one POV, it’s the same way. If Phil has a secret that he is trying to hide from Bob, his actions and what he says should say that to the reader, but the reader can’t know that Bob already knows that Phil is guilty.

Example:

Correct:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie. He tried his best to ignore Bob when he asked another question, and continued to stare out the kitchen window.

Incorrect:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie.

Bob knew Phil was guilty, because he refused to look at him. It didn’t matter if he answered his question or not. He was going to tell grandma.

Phil knows he’s guilty, but tries his best to hide it. If we are only in his POV, he can’t know what Bob is thinking, only assume, or in this case ignore Bob all together. What he thinks Bob knows or doesn’t know is not important. You only want to share Bob’s thoughts if/when his POV is addressed in another chapter.

Describing your character from their POV.

Every now and then it’s necessary for a character to tell the reader what they look like, what they are wearing, or describe their expressions. You have to be careful their voice does not slip into the voice of another character that may be looking at them. Try some of these tricks:

  • Have your character stand in front of a mirror and talk about what they see, but don’t be technical (and it should be relevant to the scene!)
  • Use feelings and descriptions to guide your reader into visualizing what the character is trying to say about themselves.
  • Quote another character’s thoughts about their appearance.

Example: Here’s how my character, Ebony Campbell, describe herself in the opening chapter of A Heart Not Easily Broken: (1st Person)

I smirked (facial expression) before sipping my margarita. Yasmine’s light-skinned complexion, slender ballet dancer body, long legs, and B-cup breasts suited her personality. There were times I wished my body was more like hers, though. It would make shopping for clothes a lot easier. As it was, I had been blessed with the shapely figure my Nana called ‘bootylicious’. According to her, and her photo albums, I looked just like her when she was my age, with caramel-colored skin, perfectly proportioned hips, a butt that drew major attention, and D-cup breasts, making it hard for a man to look me straight in the eye. (Opinion of others)

And last but not least, select ONE character to focus on in a scene!

In other words, don’t split up your chapter into two different points of view. Extend the scene, or shorten it, with chapter breaks instead of scene breaks. Doing so will keep the reader from missing the POV switch at the break point, because sometimes inserting *** just doesn’t do it. Doing so generally means there is a change in the scene itself, not POV.

I hope this helps! For more tips on writing, check out my page with links to previous articles on writing. Until next time, Happy Writing!

MJ

#WriterWednesday- Interview with Chicki Brown!

This week I am happy to introduce you guys to one of my writing mentors, Chicki Brown! I met Chicki at Writer’s Workshop that was held at my local library in 2010 when I started writing. Chicki was kind enough to take me under her wing and bring me into her critique group, introducing me to several other very talented women. She guided me as I floundered around, trying to find my writing voice and style. This was just about the time she self-published her first book, Have You Seen Her? I’ve had the privileged of watching Chicki continue to grow as an author, friend, and mentor. So grab that cup of coffee and take a few moments to get to know Chicki Brown!

My Author Photo 

What inspired you to write?

Honestly, it was pure boredom. At the time I worked on a job that was so slow that I was desperate to find something to do to keep myself awake. When I’m bored, my mind wanders, and the idea for a short story about an interracial couple popped into my head. I hadn’t written anything in two decades, but once I started I couldn’t stop. That short story turned into a four-hundred-page manuscript I entitled, Lyrics. I never published the story, because it required too much work to make it publisher-ready.

What genre do you write? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

I write contemporary romance, women’s fiction, and inspirational romance. There are the genres I read, so I suppose they chose me.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

 I get up around six AM, make a cup of tea and go through my e-mail and check my online sales numbers for the previous day. Next, I go to my social networks and respond to messages, retweet for followers and post book promos for the day. That all usually takes about two hours. Around eight o’clock, I’ll shut everything down, make my second cup of tea, read my Bible or daily devotionals and pray before I start writing.

For the rest of the morning I write/research, break for lunch then write until I have to break to fix dinner. After dinner I watch TV or read until I crash, because by then my brain is so fried I’m useless.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

This probably isn’t all that interesting, but I have to work with music. Complete quiet stifles my creativity. Vocals are distracting when I’m writing, so I listen to smooth jazz, New Age or classical instrumentals. When I work out in a public place, my headphones are standard equipment.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I am definitely a plotter. My normal process when I begin writing a new book is to start with a general outline, fill out character profiles for each of my main characters, find photos that represent what the characters look like, where they live, what they drive, etc. and create a collage. This helps me to keep everything fresh in my mind. Recently I even purchased a copy of Scrivener, a well-known writing software program to help me with my plotting ways.

MJ: I must say thank you again, Chicki, for staying on me about the panster thing! I remember numerous conversations on the phone and in your car about why I should stop flying by the seat of my pants and plot it out! When I did, I really did see a difference. Now I can’t write any other way!  J

Are your stories based on experiences or someone you know, or are events in your own life reflected in the character/stories you write? Can you share an example?

I have included some childhood memories in my stories and have thrown in a character or two based on someone famous. For instance, in Have You Seen Her? Dani Reynolds recalls happy days as a young girl with her family in Atlantic City, one of my father’s favorite places to take our family when I was young. In Hot Fun in the Summertime, Kinnik was loosely patterned after an infamous former video dancer who made a name for herself by sleeping with famous rappers and music moguls.

Do you have any suggestions to help new authors become better writers? If so, what are they?

I talk to a lot of aspiring authors online, and the main point I always try to stress is that being a published author is a business and it is a LOT of work, particularly when you are self-published. They will need to learn how to go from creative mode to analytical mode, from artist to businessperson in order to do the necessary e-book formatting, marketing, promoting, accounting tasks. As authors we thrive when we’re in the creative zone, but the business tasks can’t be ignored.

Getting the story down on paper is only the start. They need to learn as much about the craft and about the industry before they jump out there. Things are changing in the publishing industry at the speed of light, and if they don’t know what’s going on, someone will inevitably take advantage of them.

If they understand the basics of their genre and sub-genre and the basics of how the publishing business works, they will have a much better chance at success.

MJ: Great advice! Yes, being aware that being an author is more than just writing, it’s about marketing and selling your product (yes, once it’s published, it’s a product!) and time management – and that’s before you add in real-life responsibilities – is something every aspiring author needs to know. Learning that too late can make the dream of becoming a published author turn into a quick nightmare! Thanks for the warning! J

Are you self-pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed?

After trying to go the traditional route for almost ten years, I made the decision to self-publish. Back in 2008-2009 I had been following the rise of electronic publishing and was fascinated by author Joe Konrath’s Great E-book Experiment (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2009/08/great-ebook-experiment.html.)  The more I learned about his success, the more I wanted to try it for myself. I released Have You Seen Her? which was actually the sixth book I’d written, onto Kindle in 2010. It became my bestselling book up until the release of Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

What are your current projects?

 I had an idea about writing a family story about a large family with several sons. As I began searching online for pictures that represented my idea of each of the sons, I ended up with eight men that looked similar enough to be related. Eight was too many, so I cut it back to six and decided that each brother would have his own story.
The patriarch of the Stafford Family is a successful doctor who wanted all of his sons to follow in his footsteps. Three of them went into medicine. The youngest has just finished college with an undergraduate degree focusing on pre-med courses, but is still undecided about making medicine his life. Only two of them went against the grain – Greg, who became an on-air television host and Marc, who went as far from traditional medicine as he possibly could.

A Woman’s Worth, the first book in the series, is Marc Stafford’s book. He is a personal trainer and raw vegan who lives in Las Vegas.

AWW REVISED COVER

When Marc comes home to Atlanta for the first time in four years for a family celebration, he meets Gianne Marvray, a woman who hijacks his heart. He soon discovers she’s recovering from a catastrophic illness and that she is his father’s patient. I can’t tell you too much more without giving spoilers. J I anticipate a late summer release

Where can readers find you online?

Blog      Twitter     Facebook     Amazon Central Author Page     Pinterest

Thank you so much for stopping by!

MJ

#WritingTips- Use Your Microsoft Word Doc Tools to Make Writing Easier!

When my Muse wakes me up in the middle of the night, or I have an epiphany of a new scene to add more life to my manuscript, the first thing I do is search for any means of recording my thoughts. Paper and pen, notes on my iPhone, voice recordings if I’m driving, or sometimes I just grab my laptop, open up a blank word doc, and let my fingers fly over the keys. Then I file it away until I’m ready to work on it again.

I am a plotter with a hint of panster. I take my time when I write, letting my stories marinate as I decide what trials to put my characters through. I spend even more time discovering who they are. When my research is complete, my outlines written, and I’m ready to add dialogue, the last thing I want to do after spending hours bringing my story to life, is have to go back and reformat the entire manuscript before editing it.

Let’s face it, authors, the mere thought of the words edits, editing, or editor are daunting, especially if you are new to writing!

I remember those days! But, have no fear! Since then, I have learned when you put in the work, the editing process can run so smooth, it’s nearly as fun as watching your story come to life from the blank page!

Okay, okay, stop laughing!  Let’s keep it positive people! 🙂 I’m about to share a tip that will have you grinning from ear to ear! (If you had no idea about it, that is!)

Did you know there are tools built into Microsoft Word that can cut down the amount of editing you or your editor need to do if used while you write?

I learned this while working on my first manuscript, (A Heart Not Easily Broken), and my dear friend and fellow author enlightened me to these amazing settings. I can’t lie; I am NOT a tech savvy person. What I’ve learned to do with my laptop, be it building my webpage, (the one you’re visiting now), or surfing the web, all of this has been because of being pointed in the right direction by people who discovered these shortcuts and shared them with me, or by taking the time to keep hitting buttons and trying over and over again until I figured it out. In other words, HOURS of frustration mixed with patience, coffee, and chocolate!

Now it’s my turn to reciprocate!  If any of this is new to you, I hope you find this information useful, and that it makes writing easier!

***NOTE: The following directions and screen shots are based on Microsoft Word 2010. Similar functions can be found for 2007, though they will not be as detailed. For more advice, I suggest searching Google or YouTube for instructional videos on how to use your editing/proofing features.***

Unknown tricks to Word 2007 and 2010 to avoid unnecessary editing issues (AKA – Quick Access Tool Bar). Let’s face it, we all didn’t sit down to read the manual…

IMG_0438[1]

Screen shot of the steps below. Daunting, but well worth the work!

Use of this function will allow you to set up Word to point out common editing issues as you type, allowing you to rethink your sentence before you continue, or make it easier to find some of the editing issues that make your writing passive. To customize this feature, follow these steps:

  • Open up a blank Word Document
  • Select the REVIEW tab at the top of your screen; Right Click and select CUSTOMIZE
  • Select PROOFING. (Here you can choose what kind of typing issues you want Word to ignore or point out to you).
  • Look lower in the box marked: WHEN CORRECTING SPELLING AND GRAMMAR IN WORD
  • Select WRITING STYLE, then click on the drop box, choose GRAMMAR & STYLE, then click SETTINGS. (From here you can have Word point out EVERYTHING!!! From punctuation issues, misused words, fragment and run-on sentences, to the use of cliches phrases, and so much more. Using this feature to help point out issues you need to correct before submitting your manuscript to an editor will make the editor quickly fall in love with you!)
  • Be sure to select OK before exiting to save your settings.

***By the way, once these settings are saved, they stay that way  for every document you create, until you go in and reset them.***

I touched on this a few posts ago when sharing tips for writing query letters, but again, putting this simple step into practice BEFORE you write one word will make the rest of  your writing experience pleasant.

The Universal Settings for your Manuscript (or Prepping you MS for Query Letters and you Editor)

IMG_0440[1]

Your screen should look like this when selecting your font type and size.

Set your Font:

  • Open a blank document.
  • Select the HOME tab.
  • Choose TIMES NEW ROMAN Font with a 12 Point  size.
  • Save and exit

***Check these settings for each new document created! They do not always stay the same!***

IMG_0441[1]

This is the easiest fix!

To Set Page Borders/Margins:

  • Select the PAGE LAYOUT tab.
  • Choose MARGINS.
  • Set to NORMAL. (1 inch border on both sides and top and bottom)

***This usually the normal setting, but it never hurts to make sure it’s set correctly. Technology is funny, and can revert back to the original settings  without warning!***

IMG_0439[1]

Set your page to automatic indent and line and paragraph spacing.

  • From the HOME tab, select PARAGRAPH.
  • In the INDENTION box, choose HANGING.
  • In the SPACING box, choose DOUBLE, and change the  AFTER PT to ZERO (O)
  • Check the box below to avoid  spaces between paragraphs
  • Select OK to save changes.

***Again, check this feature with the start of any new document. The default settings are not the same as what you need when writing. Any new document created will not have your new settings.***

 Other Advice:

Here are a few more things you can do to make your writing cleaner:

  • Make sure you have clean chapter breaks. In other words, when Chapter 1 ends halfway down the page, Chapter 2 should start on a fresh page. The final page of Chapter 1 should not have the first part of Chapter 2 .
  • Italicize words meant to stand out for emphasis, do not highlight or underline.
  •  When inserting a scene break in a chapter, use ### or *** to show the break in time, or the start of a new scene and/or location. Which ever one you use, stay consistent throughout the MS, do not flip-flop.
  • If you have already written you MS and have not used these settings, there’s no need to type it over again! Simply go to page one, hold down the CTRL + A buttons; it will highlight the entire manuscript, from page 1 to 1000+. Follow the steps to set PAGE MARGINS and FONT while highlighted, and it will fix all of your work. Be sure to scroll through in order to separate your chapter headings on fresh pages, or else, some of them may find their way into the previous chapter. Don’t forget to save and back it all up when you’re done!

I know, I know, if you are technically challenged, the whole idea of learning how to properly format your work is daunting. But believe me; editors appreciate working with authors who take the time to learn how to use their writing programs. It cuts down on the amount of tedious stuff they need to do to get your work up to par, and allows them more time to focus on the real work, the mind-numbing technical side. And who knows, less work may end up saving you money!

Happy Writing!

MJ

 

Why Do I Write?

That is a question I’ve asked myself for the past three years. Before then, I was never a writer, but man was I an avid reader!

I grew up in a rural area and my mom didn’t allow me to play with the neighborhood kids as much as I wanted to. Being an only child, I spent a lot of time by myself. Barbies, stuffed animals, and Strawberry Short Cake (the original version, not the new one!) were my BFF’s. Like any little girl, I spent time making up stories and acting them out. There were times when I would borrow my parents audio cassette tape recorder (omg, now I feel dated and old!), sit down with my stuffed animals, and make up stories and songs, record them, and use them to entertain my parents.

As I got older, dolls were put away, and books became my number one source of entertainment. Stories like, The Box Car Kids, A Circle In The Sea, and Homecoming were my favorites. I can’t remember how many times I journeyed to the local community and school libraries to check them out. If you were to look at the back on the little slip of paper where you signed your name when checking them out,  (dated again!) My name would be there repeatedly.

And then I hit high school. Alice in Wonderland became my favorite read. It was around this time I ran into books from Steven King and John Grisham. I remember being freaked out by Needful Things, unable to sleep at night, yet I couldn’t put it down. A Time to Kill brought tears to my eyes, the amount of emotion and feeling the father experienced was so well written. I remember the moment I finished that novel, I made a note to read each and every novel written by John Grisham. And for the next couple of months I did just that.

That was also when I discovered movies based on books, while good, are seriously lacking. No matter how well the actors portray the characters, no matter how well the screen writer adapted the film, there is absolutely NO WAY for the audience to feel everything the author put into the story. Explanations, feelings, and reasons why a character makes the decisions that drive the plot, can never be explained without taking the time to read the words the author slaved over to tell his/her tale.

Guess movies are the fancier version of Cliff Notes, huh?

But I digress…

Somewhere down the line I decided to start reading Sci-Fi . I love stories that follow a character as they grow and evolve, you know that elusive “they’ve found their HEA, but what happened next? Are they still happy???”

Around 2002, when Star Wars: Attack of the Clones was released, my family went to watch the movie. I had always been a Star Wars fan, having developed my love of the series as a child from my father. The original SW movies were mainly about Luke Skywalker leading the rebels to overthrow the evil Emperor and his henchman, Darth Vader. But then came the new movies based on events years in the past that lead up to the original motion picture. Talk about deep character development. It answered so many questions as to who Darth Vader was and why he became the man behind the mask. (Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, by James Luceno tells you what the newly named Vader felt like in that suite!)

I found myself immersed in the world of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels. For those who have no idea what those are, let me explain. If you’ve ever watched the Star Wars movies, Episode 1-6, and I say IF because I have a family friend that has NEVER watched one in his life. (I threaten to tie him down and force him to watch a marathon, lol) For those SW die hard fans who have to know what happens after Darth Vader dies and is redeemed, the Expanded Universe novels follow Luke, Han, and Leia, their kids, and numerous other characters in a wide variety of series. The amount of novels are too many to count. How do I know? I’ve read over 40 of them, and there are more than that I have yet to read! Yep, SW geek!

As I’ve said before, I am a lover of stories that continue and don’t end with just one book. Another great series is The Lord of the Rings. Somehow I found myself reading the trilogy…twice. Tolkien was a master at not only creating worlds beyond your imagination, and characters that are memorable, he also created languages. It took him years to pull all of his stories together. Just think of the sheer magnitude of the work. Not to mention the fact that a portion of his novels were written while he sat in the trenches as a soldier during World War I as he watched his friends die around him.


What does any of this have to do with the reason why I decided to write?

Everything.

Authors write for different reasons. Some have over active imaginations that drive them to put pen to paper. Others do so as a hobby or to entertain people around them. A lot of authors write to heal while recovering from a painful memory. Be it diary, blog, endless notes, short stories, or novels.  There is some kind of a writer in all of us.

I was never one to keep a running diary. I tried it once and got bored with my life. But my imagination, on the other hand, has always run rampant, even as an adult. I found myself making up stories to keep myself entrained while waiting in the doctors office, sitting in rush hour traffic, even while lying in bed at night unable to sleep. But it wasn’t until several life altering experiences affected my family did I realize putting pen to paper and letting the emotions flow from my fingers into the lives of my characters did I start to heal. I realized I had a story to tell.

So, for me, writing and learning the craft of writing, has become my passion on many different levels.

The stories I tell, while they fall in the romance genre, are not just about romance. Yes, sex is involved because it is a part of life, but my stories will never be considered erotic romance. Contemporary romance? Yes, because my characters reside in the same day and age as you and I. Interracial Romance? Yes, because my characters are from various racial backgrounds. The love, the relationships, the bonds formed between the men and women that reside in my head go well beyond skin color. Women’s Fiction? It can fit here too because the topics I write about pertain to the many issues women today face.

Yet, my stories are not just about the women. They’re also about the men.

My stories are about love, redemption, healing, and evolving into something more than what they were in the beginning. My characters lives are like yours and mine. We ride a roller coaster of emotions. Some days are good, some days are bad. There are times of overwhelming joy, just like there are times of pain and grief. And even though my characters go through these growing pains, they come out on the other end as changed individuals, having learned from their experiences, and become better from them. And that, my dear friends, is the message I write about.

Hope, love, understanding….evolving.

Just like a butterfly…

And that is why I write.

MJ

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Protagonist and Antagonist Are People Too!

Protagonist and Antagonist are the basis of every story. No matter what genre you write, the way these figures are developed can make, or break, your manuscript.

Is your story a comedy, mystery, chick-lit, historical, paranormal, or sci-fi? Depending on the type of story you are telling, the amount of work needed to make these characters realistic is up to you. I write Contemporary Romance and Women’s Fiction. The subjects I tackle delve deep into character emotions and motivations. I also write in first person. So, the more work I put into getting to know my characters, the better I can bring my readers into their head and allow them to feel the emotions they feel. Understanding why a character makes the decisions they do – both good and bad – are best done when the author truly understands them.

For me, writing each character is like becoming an actor. I don’t sit down and just write what they say or do, I figuratively shed my skin, step into theirs, and let their words and emotions flow.

As Shrek said, “Onions have layers…Ogres have layers.

We have layers to our personalities. Some of them are obvious, such as our temperament, external wants, desires, and needs. Are those the only things that define us? Not by a long shot. An internal layer defines us as individuals and makes us who we are. We pick and choose who is allowed to see that deep inside, beneath that extra ‘onion layer’.

The same is true of our characters. What are the layers that make them who they are? What experiences made them change their outlook on life? What plot in the story is going to shake their world, make them question their core beliefs, and push them to change, or send them on that quest to find happiness? Before that can be determined, we have to know what mindset the character has before life knocks them off balance. If we don’t know these things, then the reader will not know, and your character will be one-dimensional.

That’s a lot to think about isn’t it?

What exactly does having those layers mean?

No matter how great a storyline you weave, if your characters aren’t real, then the plot won’t matter. Readers should be able to relate to them and feel the love, hate, fear, and joy they experience. The characters are what drive a plot, pull the reader in, and make them want to know what happens next, even if the plot stinks. The way the character responds to the situations thrown at them are what define them and make them relatable. Your reader should be able to look at the situation they face and think, “I would have done the same thing,” or “Are they crazy?” Those types of reactions are what draw them into a story.

Think about your favorite book. What was it about the story that grabbed you the most? Was it the characters reaction to the plot? What about their strengths? Vulnerabilities? What part of the character did you relate to most that made you invest countless hours of late nights staying up to finish a chapter, or sneaking in a few minutes to read while in the bathroom? Was the characters quality a focal point of the storyline, or something in a backstory that explained why he or she choose to react the way they did?

A few months ago, I wrote about building real characters, and shared the steps I take when developing mine. This time I’m going to strip away a layer and delve deeper into that technique. One of the best books I’ve come across is, The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, 2nd Edition, by Linda N. Edelstein, Ph. D. This book helps writers distinguish personality types. The book is a hidden gem. It delves deep into the human psyche and breaks it down. The likes, dislikes, how they think, emotional responses, and so much more. The beauty of this book is that it is about real people. As you read the breakdown of each personality type, you will literally see yourself. Using this book as a base to develop your characters will make them more realistic.

I’m going to share with you a few of the character traits and descriptions listed. For more information regarding the external and internal facets of the personalities, I strongly urge you check out this book!

The Boss: They want to be in the limelight at home, work, or play. The theme in their lives is control of themselves and others around them.

The Conformist/Conventionalist: In favor of compliance to nearly everything around them.

The Creator: Life gets meaning from the ability to produce new ideas or products (very artistic)

The Dependent: Their world revolves around having their needs met by others.

The Loner: Life seems directionless. This person has little strong attachment to anyone.

The Man’s Man: This character is very one-dimensional.

The Passive/Aggressive: They try hard, but always feel misunderstood.

The Resilient: They have the remarkable ability to recover from life’s disappointments.

Do you see your character here? This is only a prototype of what your characters could be. Now you have to fill in those blanks. This is where the handy character outline comes in.

Are those creative juices flowing yet?

The key to all of this is time. Not everyone feels the need to delve this deep into character development in order to tell the story. That’s fine, because everyone writes in his or her own way. My intention is not to tell anyone how to write. I am not a master, nor am I a published author. My goal is to share what I’ve learned on my writing journey with anyone willing to listen. The method I use may not be for you. I hope that you will find something useful to guide you in developing your writing style, or at least give you the extra encouragement needed to get over that writing hump.

So, planners, pansters, what is your technique for stripping away those onion layers? Please share!

MJ

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To Hire an Editor or Not to Hire an Editor…That is the Question!

Editors. In the world of writing, we all need one. The question is when.

During my writing journey, I’ve heard various tales, feedback, and opinions.

No, don’t hire an editor to read your work before submitting. You’ll be wasting money. Let the publisher pay for it.

Yes, hire an editor; it could increase your quality of your product and give you an opportunity to actually find and agent and/or publisher.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

When it all comes down to it, the true question is: how much money do you want to invest?


Two years ago, the thought of an editor reviewing my work scared me. The idea of someone ripping it to shreds, and spitting it back at me, demanding that it be re-written because it wasn’t good enough, had me cursing the profession. I pushed that thought aside and focused on writing a story I wanted to tell. Next, I focused on learning as much as I could about sentence structure, setting up the paragraphs, scene breaks, chapter breaks, and POV changes. Then, I built the infamous repeated/passive word list to tighten up my prose. I’ve gone over my list so many times while doing my own edits, I rarely have to pull it up to know what words to avoid. In fact, when I write a scene, I now catch those words and change them before they hit the screen.

However, that doesn’t cover everything. There are still the annoying details of correct grammar usage, using the right word tense, and spelling. Unless you were a serious English major in high school, college, or took a class specifically for this type of detail, there’s no possible way you’ll ever be able to catch every errorl. To be honest, no one ever will, even if that’s what he or she does for a living. Why? Because we are all human. And humans make mistakes, whether we want to believe it or not.

A perfect example: how many times have we as readers picked up a novel by one of our favorite New York Times Bestselling authors who have the backing of a big name publishing house, only to discover a major editing error? Come on, we’ve all done that. Why? Human imperfection. No matter how many hands and eyes touch a manuscript is read, no matter how many attempts are made to dot all the ‘Is’ and cross all the ‘Ts’, humans make errors, especially if it is your own writing.

So, what does that mean for the aspiring author, or for an author who is self- published?

It means you have a decision to make. How much do you want to invest in yourself?

The investment is not only about money; it’s also about time.

If you decide to use an editor, how do you know you’ve found an editor you can work with and who is qualified? Of course, the first thing everyone looks for is reputation. Word of mouth from other authors in your writing network is great, too. Nevertheless, in the end, it comes down to one-on-one communication. Does the editor understand your type of writing ? Do they edit a lot of work in your genre? Will they be able to understand the rules of the genre you’re writing? What time-frame are you looking for? Will it take a few days or a few weeks before they return your work? What type of editing are you paying for?

Type of editing? If this is new to you, then it’s something you must know. There are several types of editing available. What’s the differences?

Copywriter or Copy-Editing:
Their job is to be sure your story is written well and logically structured. Correct grammar and spelling is checked, as well as ensuring the manuscript fits the publishers ‘style’. They ask questions of the author and check story facts.

Content Editor:
Their job is to ensure your work meets the standards for accuracy and style. They check for spelling, grammar, coherence, consistent style. They also proofread to be sure copy-editing work has been completed.

Proofreader:
In the publishing world, a proofreader is generally the last person to see your manuscript after it’s been through other editors’ hands and before it goes to print. Their job is to do a final read through to catch any mistakes the first editor may have missed. This is generally the most affordable.

If you are not shopping your manuscript around and have decided to self-publish, you should seriously consider having at least one of these editors review your work. Depending on what phase of your writing career you are in, it may not be in your budget. If you go the proofreading route, then know, you MUST review your work again after it is returned. If you don’t and there are issues that were pointed out and you don’t review them, it is on you, not the editor.

So, what route will you choose?

Here’s what I’ve learned. Today’s agents are meticulous. Not only does your story have to engage them and keep them interested for at least the first three chapters, the quality of your writing has to as well. Sending them an unedited copy – and by that I mean, work you haven’t spent time searching for errors yourself – makes a difference. The cleaner the read, the more focused on the story they will be, not the plethora of errors littering the pages. Taking that amount of time, or money, also lets them know that you, the author, are willing to put in the work it takes to make a better product. With the current economy, every business is looking for ways to cut down their expenses. If you walk in the door offering a product they can spend less money on before making it available for sale, you increase your chances of them choosing your manuscript.

Sell yourself.

Here’s another fact you must remember: if you decided to use an editor…don’t just pay them and expect what they send to you in return doesn’t need to be reviewed. Any editor, especially a professional, will tell you that after they do their magic, it’s up to you, the author, to review your manuscript. Just because they make changes or suggestions does not mean you have to accept it. It’s up to your discretion. But, you still have to re-read your work from beginning to end. It’s up to you to put that stamp of approval on it before sending it out into the world . That requires more work on your part. If you don’t do the work, then you will have to deal with the consequences of any un-corrected errors. The editor’s job is to work with you, which means you in turn must work with them.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a proofreader many of you may have seen on Facebook or Twitter, @TJProofs. She shared some helpful information on how to determine what type of editor you need, depending on the amount of work you’ve put into cleaning up your manuscript.

“A proofreader, which is my specialty, is generally the last person you see. They focus on clean manuscripts, after they’ve run their gamut (through a publisher), but many people try to skip the steps. The fact of the matter is, if you are horrible at punctuation, you choose a copy-editor. If you feel you’ve got punctuation licked, but your story needs a scouring for consistency, you may choose a content editor. If you have a great idea, but need someone to go through your MS with a fine-toothed-comb – rewriting sentences for clarity, passive statements, content, and punctuation – then you need a full-scale editor.” 


To learn more about TJ and the services she offers, visit her at www.ManuscriptProofing.com. Other places where she can be found are:

Facebook, Twitter
Blog: manuscriptproofing.blogspot.com
Email: TJProofs@gmail.com or TJ@ManuscriptProofing.com

I hope this information has been informative. Whether or not you choose to use the services of any of the above editors, I wish you the best on your writing journey!

MJ