Quill & Quire has assembled on its blog some quotations from several authors capturing a selection of writing rules. Not sure how I made the list but Q&Q is clearly excerpting the Canada Also Reads piece the finalists were asked to submit last week for the National Post’s Afterword blog. I’m delighted to be there amidst some wonderful writers and their sage advice.
Archive for February, 2010
Taking a cue from the Guardian’s Rules for Writers series in the U.K., Brad Frenette, at the National Post and its Afterword blog, asked the authors of the eight shortlisted books for Canada Also Reads to submit their own fiction writing rules. My contribution, hastily considered and created to meet the National Post’s deadline, appeared on the Afterword blog this morning. Who am I to be cooking up writing rules anyway. But I always try to do what I’m told.
So, here are my ten rules, such as they are:
- Very few rules apply to all writers. Every writer is different, so only observe these rules if they happen to work for you. If they donâ€™t, make up your own rules to break.
- Create a quiet, comfortable space for writing. Then, write there often. If thatâ€™s too regimented, carry a notebook and try writing wherever you find yourself, whether itâ€™s Starbucks or the JiffyLube when your car is up on the hoist. As well, write in stretches of at least four hours so that you can get into a groove and not feel rushed or forced by the clock. If you donâ€™t have four hours anywhere in your life, try writing in short snippets and see if that works.
- Iâ€™m an â€œoutlinerâ€ so I favour investing the time up front to map out a story in considerable detail. For writers with a fulltime job and not enough spare time for writing (like me!), I find you can maximize efficiency if you know what happens and where youâ€™re going in each chapter. If that doesnâ€™t work, try starting with a blank page and follow where your story leads you. This seems to work for many writers, though itâ€™s a foreign concept to me.
- Read. I donâ€™t know many great writers who arenâ€™t also great readers. Although I do know lots of readers who arenâ€™t writers. What was my point again? Oh yes. Reading is professional development for writers. In other careers, people go to conferences and take courses. Writers read. (Having said that, Iâ€™ve spoken at a few writers conferences and will be teaching a course in the fall, so what do I know?)
- Worry less about finding an agent or publisher, and more about your manuscript. (I know, I know, easy for me to say.) But most agents will tell you itâ€™s really all about writing. Landing an agent and/or publisher will be easier if your manuscript is as good as it can be.
- When your manuscript is finished, for the first time, let it sit for a couple of weeks before you return to it. Time inflicts distance and perspective, which almost always inform and aid editing.
- Read your writing aloud. Youâ€™d be surprised how often I rearrange a sentence or choose a different word after hearing my writing, rather just looking at it. It was one of the benefits of podcasting my first novel before it was ever a book.
- Print out your manuscript-in-progress once in a while. Itâ€™s easier to read it, and the growing stack of paper provides a sense of progress and satisfaction that can help you through the home stretch.
- Visualize the scenes youâ€™re writing as if youâ€™re a movie director. This will add realism to your words, and help you decide what to describe and what not to. If it helps, go ahead and cast major stars as the main characters so you can see them in your mind.
- I know this seems like a drag and may appear to contradict Rule #5 above, but when your book is written, commit as much effort to promoting your book as you did to writing it. Build an audience by using the online tools to which we all now have ready access, like podcasting and blogging. Offer to do readings at libraries and book clubs. Enter your book in competitions and awards. Sit on panels. Get out there, even if itâ€™s uncomfortable. Publishers like it when you do this because you sell more books. And, you get better at it with practice. You might even come to enjoy it. I know I have.
On Monday, March 1, the essays defending each of the Canada Also Reads finalists begin. TBLP is being defended by singer/songwriter and all-round great guy, Andy Maize of the Skydiggers. I’m not sure which day his essay will run but you can bet it will commemorated on this humble blog.
I quite like The Best Laid Plans. I have a soft spot in my heart for it. In fact, I’ve even read it a few times. But even I wouldn’t pay this price for it. The seller on eBay is a book store in Hammond, Indiana, clearly a veritable hotbed ofÂ Canadian political interest!Â I can’t figure out how it got down to the U.S. in the first place. I imagine the seller will be waiting for quite a long time before any bids come in. Bizarre.
I’m really looking forward to speaking at the Waterloo Public Library (McCormick Branch) tonight. The branch’s book club has been reading TBLP. As I’ve noted before on this blog, I’m happy to speak about TBLP pretty well anywhere, and to anyone, but it’s particularly enjoyable to be amidst a group of book lovers who have read the novel. The discussion is usually deeper and more interesting. Plus, I had such a wonderful time in Waterloo last fall when I attended the Words Worth Books book club, that I’m very pleased to be going back this evening. Here’s hoping the snow holds off until I get there!
Okay, so now it’s really official. The cover is out there on the M&S website and in online retailers. As well, I’ve just received the “proofs” of the novel, as it will appear in book form. A few copies of the “proofs” will be bound and sent to our list of reviewers from whom we hope to secure positive “blurbs.” So the publishing process continues apace. My next task is to have a new author photo taken by my twin brother Tim, who is quite accomplished with a camera, and send it in to M&S. I take terrible photos so I’m not looking forward to this but it has to be done.
It may be because it usually takes me about an hour to tell the tale of what I often call my unorthodox journey to the published land, but I’ve fielded many requests for a brief and visual overview of the odyssey. “Put something on YouTube!” is a regular refrain at readings. So, in a spasm of self-indulgence, there now is such an offering. This is really just an animated PowerPoint presentation we pulled together against the backdrop of Jon Schmidt‘s great piece of music, Winter Serenade (which, incidentally, opens and closes each episode of the podcast version of TBLP).
My thanks to Mike Edgell who helped turn it into a video.
Well, here it is, the cover design for The High Road. I have to say that I’m very happy with it. I particularly like how the designers captured the look and feel of The Best Laid Plans, leaving the bookstore browser without any doubt that this is a sequel to The Best Laid Plans. The same funky font is used, the same Peace Tower image is there, and the same snaking text curls its way between words and letters. At the same time, a few different elements signal that this is in fact a different book, distinguishing it from TBLP, including the blue background colour and the flash of red ribbon. A perfect balance between the familiar (TBLP) and the new (THR).
Okay. I know what you’re thinking. What’s with the cookies? Well, you’ll have to read the novel to appreciate the connection, along with the link to the red ribbon.
I’ve been sitting on the cover design for a couple of weeks now, getting used to it. It was tweaked a bit and was finally given the go-ahead yesterday after a big meeting at M&S. So this post is its coming out party. I’m glad to be unveiling it first on this blog. Hope you like it as much as I do, as you’ll be seeing at lot more it in the coming months. In fact, it should start to pop up on the M&S website and on Amazon.ca and ChaptersIndigo.ca in the next week or so. Now, it’s on to drafting backcover copy and nailing down the endorsement blurbs. We’re actually ahead of schedule…
You may recall a blog post I wrote at the end of December about being long-listed for the National Post’s Canada Also Reads competition. I was really happy to be among the more than 60 books on the list. So imagine my delight late this afternoon at finding The Best Laid Plans on the shortlist. What’s more, my old friend, Andy Maize, co-founder and lead singer of the great Canadian roots rock band the Skydiggers has agreed to defend the novel in the competition. I’ve known Andy for more than 25 years. He was the lead singer in our band at McMaster University. He was by the far the best of us, as his subsequent music career illustrates. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with Andy.
Starting on March 1st, the defenders will author articles about their designated books, extolling their virtues and urging Canadians to read them. There will also be a live online chat with the authors and defenders in early March. Finally, Canadians will vote for their favourite. So there will be a role for all of you in making sure TBLP has a good showing! There are some wonderful books in the running including Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day the Falls Stood Still, so check them out.
I’m over the moon that TBLP is a finalist. This is wonderful news, particularly with The High Road being published in September. Stay tuned and get ready to vote!
I blogged a couple of weeks ago about a mysterious leap in TBLP podcast downloads as 2009 drew to a close. I still have no explanation for the sudden uptick in listeners (not that I’m complaining). Well, it seems the surge continued in January, topping out at just shy of 2800 downloads. You can see from the chart that it’s about four times higher than the pre-October download numbers. (The line falls off precipitously in February because we’re only five days into the month.) I’m pleased that so many more people are discovering the podcast version of TBLP. I just can’t explain the sudden growth. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for an announcement about podcasting plans for The High Road.
Later in April, I’ll be heading east to St. John’s to speak to the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs about social media as part of their annual conference. My talk will likely lean more heavily on my day job in PR but I often use my writing odyssey as a social media case study of sorts, and may, in this instance, too. I’m hoping for beautiful weather.