Spring Writing Prompt

As the temperatures rise, I thought it might be fun to suggest a writing prompt that would tie into what has always been my favorite time of the year. Spring means rebirth and new life and yet we tend to live such hectic lifestyles that we may  not be noticing the changes around us. For a writer, this is wrong! We should never be too busy to open our eyes and use our surroundings to inspire our writing.  So spend a few minutes this week doing the following:

Choose a color, any color. Then go for at least a fifteen minute walk in your area. Use all of your senses, but be sure to notice everything that is that color. When you go home or if you choose to sit down and write wherever you are, describe what you saw in its richness and fullness. Use adjectives that are unique and draw out uncommon comparisons to what you saw. Make the reader feel and experience what you did.



There has been a lot of press lately about Barry Eisler and his "walking away" from a huge deal to publish his latest book, instead opting to self-publish it. This brings up some interesting questions when it comes to writing--do you try and "do it yourself" and hopefully maintain more of the profits, or do you let a publisher help you, but essentially leave you with pennies on the dollar.

Well, here's my take on the whole issue, for what it's worth. After all, there are pros and cons to both sides.

Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing
The obvious 'pro' to this is that you get to keep a substantial amount of the profits yourself, especially if you skip the printing and opt for e-books. Percentages can vary, but we're talking a HUGE difference.

You also have more control over creative input, such as designing the cover or deciding how to edit it (not that you shouldn't have a professional editor help you anyway, but you can 'put your foot down' if you have creative differences more easily). In a sense, you are the master and the final product will have to have your stamp of approval.

That being said, that also means that you get to foot the bill for that editing and design work and so hopefully you have some trusted connections because it can get pricey. Shop around and ask other authors for some advice. You'll want to study up a little bit on the whole process of what makes a cover successful. 

You see, that's the main drawback of self-publishing: the work. Besides determining who your printer will be or getting things set up for an ebook, you're also responsible for any marketing that will take place which includes advertising, networking with bookstores for book signings and even trying to GET your books in the bookstores. You have to make up all promotional items such as bookmarks and posters yourself. This can all take away from that bottom line.

But if creative control is most important to you--and not necessarily the number of books you sell or the hours you'll put into selling them--then this could be the way to go. And to be honest, with the way the market is changing, the chance to have a breakaway best seller is getting better and better.

I admit that I have to be careful here because this is the route I've chosen and to be honest, even though it's not a perfect system, it works best for me. By having a publisher, I may have less control over the finished product, but I know that finished product has a better chance of reaching more readers. My publisher sees that I get into all of the pertinent ads and bookstores, they send out the press releases and arrange for book signings. They make bookmarks for me and take care of all of the printing arrangements for my book. I also have an editor to help me out with the book itself, an art department to design the cover and a market department to see that it gets publicity. Not to mention the "clout" that comes from having a publisher--being "self-published" is akin to a "vanity press" where anyone can write anything and get it published. You don't have to "prove" yourself as much if you have a publisher to back you up.

But, like I said, I lose some of the creative control. If there are creative differences that you have with your editor, you may find yourself doing a lot of compromising. You may also never see the cover until it's actually on the book! That's why choosing a publisher is important and then developing a sense of trust with them. And if you don't think you're a natural salesman and struggle to talk about yourself, there may not be another solution, unless the only people you want to have read your book are family and friends.

So while not an in-depth analysis of both worlds, at least it's a hint as to what each entails. Good luck deciding!


Adjectives and Adverbs

When it comes to adjectives and adverbs, it's easy to make a lot of beginner's mistakes. The simplest rule is to avoid the overuse or misuse of adjectives and adverbs. Here are five reasons why:
1) More is less. A string of adjectives is distracting and harder to read.
2) You end up “telling” vs. “showing” the reader what is happening when you
use too many adjectives.
3) Adverbs can weaken their subjects. It’s like saying the verb isn’t strong
enough to stand on its own.
4) Beginners tend to use common adjectives and adverbs. They become cliché.
5) You end up using more commas than necessary which makes for awkward

So a good exercise to do with any of your writing is to go paragraph by paragraph and underline or highlight all of your adjectives and adverbs and then ask yourself the following questions:
1) "Is this really necessary? Can I just cut it out?"
2) "Is this word too cliche/common? Is there another adjective/adverb I could use?"
3) "What other nouns or verbs could I use in its place to strengthen the meaning?"

Try rewriting the paragraph now. You'll find that with practice you'll begin to naturally edit yourself as you write.


Advice for Young Writers

From time to time I get questions for young people who are interested in writing. When I consider my own life, I really wish I'd had someone growing up who gave me the idea and the confidence that I could be a writer. I feel like I kind of stumbled onto it on my own. So here's some of what I would have wanted to know:

First, becoming a good writer can be a product of being a good reader. And don't limit yourselves to one genre or particular writer. Learn to appreciate writing in all of its forms--from poetry to science fiction to non-fiction. It will give you a broader perspective of different writing styles and possibly open up new avenues for you to consider.

Second, keep a journal. One day when you're old and decrepit, you're going to want to write a story that includes a teenager or a 10-year-old. By writing down your thoughts now, you'll be able to tap into that authenticity for the characters you'll write later.

Next, don't let your abilities now discourage you from thinking you can be a writer later. Remember, you're young and may not have the life experiences needed to truly write a masterpiece. And when you look back and read these early attempts, you'll probably laugh but know that right now it's more the desire than the ability to write that counts.

And lastly, don't think that writing well just happens. Take creative writing courses (though don't let anything a teacher or pupil may say discourage you) and network with other writers. If you can find a mentor that's great. But there are a lot of resources out there for you to tap into that can help you achieve writing success. Take advantage of writing opportunities: for a local newspaper, your school literary magazine, the year book even. You'll gain confidence this way and gradually work your way up to where you want to be.