Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Write Your @ss Off

Write Your @ss OffOne of my favorite publishing-industry bloggers, Moonrat, of the famous Editorial Ass Blog, has proposed a “Write Your @ss” Off” day…sort of a way to start the new year off right.

This will be the second, not quite annual –perhaps more than annual– running of the event.

Would you like to participate?

The original idea stemmed from JES on his blog, Running After My Hat.

He himself stole it from the New York Writer’s Coalition who gathered together in NYC last year to do their write-a-thon in person.

(You can read JES’s post that started it all, here.)

JES proposed a “Write Your @ss Off” day last year because:

“The blogosphere — or maybe it’s just the corner I’ve been mostly visiting, the one with the writers and other assorted wordsmiths — seems to have been overtaken by despair recently. Or maybe it’s not despair, exactly. Maybe more like anomie, a sort of formless uncertainty about the whole enterprise of getting language onto paper or screen, into lyrics and scripts.

[…]

I think we could all use a shot in the arm.”

And so it was born, the great web Write Your @ss Off, (or Write-a-Thon, for those who don’t want to use the word @ss…)

Logistics for scheduling a single day to to accommodate the scads of us interested seemed daunting, so a weekend of Write Your @ss Off has been declared. (You need only choose a single day, and only 8 hours therein to participate.) The weekend in question is next: Friday through Monday, February 5 – 8.

In my infinite wisdom, I jumped the gun and asked to take off tomorrow  from my day job. JES generously responded to my d’oh!  comment over on Moonie’s blog, to let me know that tomorrow is okay, too. I’ve been told to “Go for it.”

And so I will. (Quite possibly, I will participate next week as well, since I already have that Friday off…)

The rules for Write Your @ss Off are simple and easy:

You must spend eight hours devoted to writing.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m am oversimplifying. JES makes it clear:

Write some, sure. Nobody could object to that. But even if you never lay your fingers on your keyboard, never pick up your pen or handheld voice recorder, even then: can you set aside 7-1/2(ish) hours in a single block of 24 hours to think about, work on, research, accommodate, market, and/or otherwise honor the act and craft of writing? Your own writing, that is, and not someone else’s?

Easy, right?

So, with those rules in mind, I’ve created my to-do list:

  • Write my daily minimum word count on the current work in progress
  • Write a duplicate amount of my daily minimum word count on something new
  • Submit three short stories to three different markets, 2 electronic, 1 snail mail
  • Sign and mail my new contract with Damnation Books
  • Reply to all my writer friends’ email that I’ve ignored for the last (uh, several) week(s) or so
  • Update my Web page (just some minor things)
  • If I have time, I’ll:

    • Organize my 2009 (Writing) Tax Items
    • Set up my 2010 (Writing) Tax Spreadsheets
    • Read from one of the gazillion writing books I bought this year
    • Write a summarizing blog post

I know it’s really ambitious…but I think if I focus, I can do a lot of these things… If you decide to play along, you don’t need to be nearly so organized. Pinky swear.

You can see all the participants in this really cool map that JES set up over at CommunityWalk. As I write, there are 58 pegs on the map!

Won’t you join us? If so, wonder on over to Moonrat’s blog and let us know in the comments. If you want, peg yourself on the map. I’d love to hear what you’ll be working on in the comments below!

Monday, January 4th, 2010

More on Resolving…

I made a mistake!

While updating my work-progress spreadsheet for 2010, I discovered in error in the “percentage of days written” column. In my post on 2010 Writing Goals, I mentioned that I’d failed to write more than 50% of the days in 2009.

Not so: it turns out that through the magic of cut and paste, I’d introduced a tiny error in my spreadsheet on those months that don’t have 31 days, consequently adding five more days to the calendar year.

I was dividing 370 days rather than 365. So…my actual days of writing last year were almost 53%.

With that in mind, it hardly seems fair to only shoot for a total of 57% days writing this year. What’s 4%? Not much to aspire to after last year’s results.

So…I’m upping the ante over my previous ante upping:

I’m shooting for 64% AND I’m increasing my word count goals by 50%. That should challenge me.

How about you? Have you changed your goals already?

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Have You Resolved?

I have not. However, I am  setting a few goals for myself.

A few years ago I wrote a post on my old Web site about not making resolutions for the new year. I’d have to dredge it up from the archives to quote myself accurately, but my reasoning went along the lines of:

“If you don’t make resolutions, you don’t have to worry about breaking them.”

Short-sighted, perhaps, but it left me feeling perfectly content in December when others were lamenting their lack of fortitude and inability to meet their resolutions (or scrambling madly to attain what a little pre-planning during the year would have accomplished…with much less fuss.)

Now, I simply make goals. I know it’s just semantics, but I’m a wordsmith, right? Semantics are my territory!

Last year I set a modest daily goal, and allowed myself to count my blog posts as part of that goal. I exceeded my goal, nearly doubling what I set out to do.

Don’t applaud yet.

I deliberately picked a small number of words to meet because I work full time, have a 2+ hour commute daily and a youngster…

Time is slim. So I picked a number which I thought was challenging, but doable.

As I’m reviewing my records (in columnar format in a spreadsheet, with a page for each month and a line for each day, and a “yearly” page with all the months at a glance with auto percentages and red font for negative goals) because I’m just analytical like that…I realized that I’d missed my own point.

I did meet my goal of a certain amount of words per day, but I didn’t actually write EVERY day. Except for the 1st, I wrote every day in January 2009, February only has a few days filled in, the rest of the year is better…especially October, when I went on my Writer’s Retreat… but on average, I failed to write daily.

In fact, I failed to write more than 50% of all days last year….and managed to produce quite a bit of stuff: some of which was published in 2009, some of which has been accepted, and much of which is making it’s rounds to editors now.

(And now I’m sitting here wondering how much more I could have accomplished in 2009 if I’d just considered my goal in a different light.)

I’m upping the ante this year.

My goal is to write between 57 and 71% of the days of the year. The difference between the two is one day a week. Writing four days out of seven = 57% of the time; five days out of seven is 71%. I’m reserving the weekends for family, even though these are the two days that I actually have the most time to write.

I’ll be content to meet 57%. I’ll be ecstatic if I manage 60% or better. Even if I don’t constrain myself to a minimum word count, I should still see the numbers increase for 2010.

My other main goal is to get my office organized. Does anyone else operate out of boxes?

This year, stuff is getting into the filing cabinet. I started doing a bit of that as I prepared for my retreat in September, but I’m determined to get the desk cleaned off, the boxes emptied, and everything still on floppies transferred to some other media.

Some minor goals include trying out Simon Haynes ywriter software with one of the novels I’m working on. I’m also going to try Writer’s Dreamkit software. I bought and tried it a long time ago and didn’t like it…but I’m going to give it a second chance. I’ll write about both here on the blog when I’ve evaluated them.

Finally, I want to get out more and meet more people, whether it’s an additional conference, a reading or a book store. In fact…just about anywhere will do.

So… what about you? Are you resolving?

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Overkill


House iwth Too Many Decorations -

I took this photo on Christmas day.

I call it, “Overkill.” At least twenty-four blow-up decorations can be counted from this angle.

I love it, because it shows so much energy and excitement for the season. The exuberance behind it just makes me laugh. At the same time, I realize it’s just too much.

The theory can be applied to writing, especially journalistic writing. (Remember, “Just the facts, ma’am.” ?)

A news story answers only the whos, whats, when’s and wheres. Follow-up news stories might contain the hows. If it’s more in depth, the whys might be explored.

Whatever you do, don’t offer your own opinion or theory (although you might quote someone else’s) and don’t resort to language greater than one-syllable words unless the word you’re using has no alternative.

In other words, use “red” and not “vermillion”. Do use the word cytosol  instead of saying, “that jelly-like substance between cells.”

More on how to write a news story in another post.

There’s plenty of overkill in fiction, too. It’s best to “kill your darlings” if you find yourself writing too much.

Spare, elegant writing is usually better than ornate, dazzling words. When I see writing like that, all I can think is that the writer cared more about showing off his knowledge (“Look at how many big words I  know!”) than about telling a good story.

I find in my own writing it’s the prose that seemed to flow so freely — when it feels like my muse is sitting on my shoulder and whispering the words right into my brain — that I’ve got to review it for probable “overwriting.”

I’m getting good at not allowing it to appear on the page at all, but sometimes it sneaks in. New writers are especially fond of overwriting…especially if they are aspiring literary artists.

Here’s an example. Start with a perfectly good sentence:

Jane walked through the park, pushing the stroller.

But what about the park? We haven’t really described it in any detail…

Jane walked through the 250-acre, half-wooded park, past the duck pond where children and old men alike paused to throw breadcrumbs, where July sunshine beamed down on the water bouncing light around, pushing the stroller.

It’s getting there, (if a bit awkward) but we don’t know anything about the situation from Jane’s point of view, do we? This sentence is about her, after all. Her and the baby, right? Let’s put some emotion into it. And when you’re done, you’ve got a fantastically overwritten  sentence.

Jane happily walked through the 250-acre, half-wooded park, past the duck pond where children and old men alike paused to throw breadcrumbs, where July sunshine beamed down on the water bouncing light around, pushing the stroller containing a smiling, gurgling infant.

There’s a lot of rich detail in the final product, but it’s hard to determine who the sentence is about. Is it about Jane and the baby? Or is it about the old men and children feeding the ducks at the pond? Worse, could it be about the park?

All the extraneous clauses, adverbs and adjectives conceal the point of the original sentence.

Don’t feel like you’ve got to pack every bit of detail into a single sentence. If you want to say more, write another sentence. But beware, sentences in a paragraph can be just as cluttering as words and clauses in a single sentence.

When in doubt, leave it out. 😉

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

The Cliche is Dead, Long Live the Cliche

Or, How to Write Copy Like a Trained Journalist – Part 1

I spent a lot of years working as a reporter. I find writing like a reporter is perfect for writing for the Web, and in most instances, can help to bring your fiction alive as well.

Journalistic writing is characterized by spare prose (“just the facts”), with the most important information at the beginning of the piece. There are other rules, usually found in a style guide (more on that in another post), which characterizes other parts of the writing.

One facet of journalistic writing is to avoid cliches.

A cliche is a phrase or an expression that has become overly familiar through use. Two cliches should be evident in the following sentence:
 

The car barreled down the road at breakneck speed.


Which of the following cliches haven’t you heard?

  • a note of warning
  • beat a hasty retreat
  • black as night
  • cool as a cucumber
  • dazed and confused
  • flood of tears
  • green as grass
  • hard as nails
  • in the nick of time
  • long-suffering
  • made ends meet
  • very much in evidence

(My original list was much longer…but it just looked silly on the page… I think you get the point.)

Cliches should never be used in a news or feature story (or fiction!), no matter how great the temptation–and temptation will beckon. (Trust me on this…it’s so much easier to write the cliche than to think up something new!)

And, there’s a reason why cliches are so popular: they’re familiar and easily understood by an audience. They bubble to the top of your thoughts when you’re considering what to write. And if you’re facing a deadline, it’s easy to rely on tired phrases to get your point across, rather than write fresh copy.

It’s much harder (not to mention more time consuming) to think up something new (especially if you’re like me. I like to dither over phrases and make them “perfect” before moving on.) But the use of cliche represents poor use of language, and in some cases, can identify the author as either inexperienced or, worse, lazy.

Appearing lazy can lose you commissions.

The problem with cliches is they make all stories sound the same:

The robbers terrorized their victims and made their escape on foot, fleeing with the loot.

So, the rule is: avoid cliches like the plague.

When writing fiction, don’t let your characters resort to cliched thought. Avoiding trite phrases will allow their personalities to develop. (And you may find that you learn more about your characters themselves if you have to work hard to make them think on their own, rather than relying on tried and true expressions to get their points across.)

When writing Web copy, keep your thoughts fresh and your words crackling. Cliches allow your reader to skim the writing, but if you use new language, your readers will actually have to think about what you write.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Shiny Kindle Version

Cover: Dragon's Clause by Kelly A. Harmon
 
The shiny Kindle™ version of my story, “The Dragon’s Clause” is now up and running at Amazon!

Amazon is telling me that it’s “still in the publishing phase” according to my account. Yet, there’s a purchase link!

Go see it here, and then come back and tell me how nifty it looks up on the Amazon Web site. 🙂

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Did You Know November 1 was National Author’s Day?

I didn’t! To boot: it was the 80th anniversary!

Let’s be fair: none of the many author/editor/agent Web sites I frequent mentioned the date. I hadn’t heard it advertised anywhere. Only by mere chance did I learn of it. Even Web searches turn up very little.

I did learn that National Authors’ Day was adopted by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1929. (Note: but apparently the holiday has slipped under their radar, since I could find no mention of it on their Web site.)

In 1949 the US Department of Commerce awarded the observance a place on its list of special days, making it official.

The resolution states: “by celebrating an Authors’ Day as a nation, we would not only show patriotism, loyalty, and appreciation of the men and women who have made American literature possible, but would also encourage and inspire others to give of themselves in making a better America…”

(This information from Jane Sutton on her Web site, Jane’s Ride. –Thanks, Jane!)

If you missed it, it’s not too late to celebrate!

Here are some ideas:


  • Buy a new book! How about mine? Here’s a link to Blood Soup.  😉

  •  

  • Have a book party! Ask everyone to bring their favorite and read a few passages from it. (Better yet: ask people to read from things they’ve written… a poem, a short story, a novel, even a term paper.)

  •  
  • Swap books with someone (or ask your guests to bring some to swap). This is a great way to learn about new authors and take a chance on reading genres you might not have picked up otherwise.

  •  
  • Get kids involved by reading with them. I recommend anything by Edith Nesbit and Edward Eager and (almost anything) by Shel Silverstein.

  •  
  • Email your favorite author.

  •  
  • Write something yourself!

  •  

    and, my favorite, from Janette Rallison’s blog:

    • Yes, pull out your Mark Twain centerpieces, your Jane Austen wreathes, and those life-size twinkly Bronte Sisters for the yard. Then let’s all sing a few Thank-goodness-we’re-not-in-school-anymore-so-we-don’t-have-to-read-Hemingway-again carols.

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Susan’s Got Me Thinking…

Community

Susan Adrian posted a great essay on her Web site a few days ago that really got me thinking. It’s called, “How Not to Act,” and she describes two writers she’s following through the course of their careers.

One writer takes the time to comment on blog posts and to reply to comments on her own blog as well as to any tweets she receives, etc. The other doesn’t.

Guess which one sets the better example, according to Susan?

Susan tells it better. Go read her essay and then come back.  I’ll wait.

I know her post is about many facets of Web etiquette, but it really got me thinking about commenting on blogs. I read a lot of blogs but rarely comment – especially if I have nothing new to add to the conversation. After all, why should I comment if my point has already been made? I get tired of reading, “Me, too!” comments on blogs…so why should I inflict them on others?

Why, to build a community, of course.

(And there are much nicer ways to say, “Me, too!” without actually saying it.)

Susan really hit the nail on the head.

If I’m not commenting, how do you know I’m even reading your blog? How do you know I’m out here listening to what you have to say? How do you know I care?

The thing is…you don’t.

So, I think I’m going to change my personal comment policy… I’m going to try to comment a bit more on the blogs I read…even if someone else beat me to my point. At the very least, it will have me considering how can I say, “Me, too!” without using those words? Writers love these kind of exercises, you know…

Thanks, Susan!

 

photo credit: http://isferea.jrc.ec.europa.eu/Communities/Pages/default.aspx
Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Good Review for Blood Soup!

Cover of Blood Soup

Blood Soup went out to several reviewers in September and October and I’ve been anxiously awaiting a response.

I’m thrilled to see the first is a good one.

Kari at Kari’s Korner Reviews apparently enjoyed it very much. I’m doubly honored since Kari reviews mostly romance.

To wit:

With the scary title BLOOD SOUP (Eternal Press, ISBN: 978-1-926704-53-1) by Kelly A. Harmon, it even has a cover that immediately catches your eye and makes you shiver. This is a medieval tale about a kingdom destined for certain dire ruin if the King’s heir isn’t a girl.

The characters in the story work together AND against each other as they secretly manipulate, scheme, hope, and react to the surprising birth of the King’s heir.

Filled with murder, mystery, and very dire consequences, this is a fast paced Novella with vivid portrayal of events and characters, pulling you into this harsh world the author has created and no doubt leaving her with new fans eagerly awaiting her next book.

 

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If you’re interested, Blood Soup  can be purchased:

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Back From Retreat

I’m back from retreat at the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia. This was the view from my window in the early morning. Isn’t it gorgeous?


Glorious Mountain View

If you’re looking for an inexpensive location to get away to for “recharging” your writer’s batteries, I can’t recommend it enough. The Abbey built the retreat house specifically to lure people to the grounds, ostensibly for religious retreat, but not necessarily. My face-to-face critique group chose the Retreat House location primarily for writing.

One wonderful aspect of the Retreat House is a rule of respectful silence.

No talking is allowed at meals, no visitations are allowed in rooms, and guests are requested not to talk when meeting in the halls. In fact, it’s encouraged not even to meet the eyes of others or to nod or greet each other, as one aspect of retreat is meditation, and a simple acknowledgment of another’s presence could possibly interfere with his or her thoughts.

This silence created the perfect atmosphere for writing.

If that doesn’t excite you, the scenery might. Holy Cross Abbey is located in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by mountains and hundreds of acres of pastureland. I spent a few afternoons soaking up the sunshine, banging away at the keyboard, listening to the cows low.

I sound like a commercial, don’t I? I can’t help it. I’ve had a fabulous week on retreat, and I’ve got all kinds of ideas kicking around in my head now. I can’t wait to get started.