Advice, Block, Craft, Doubt, Prompt, Tips, Writing

Keep the pen moving

My friend and fellow writer Cristina Trapani-Scott has begun a series she calls Twelve Days of Writing. In her first entry, she told how she taught her creative writing students to get past the inner voice that tells them they can’t write. We all fight that voice from time to time.

Cristina started her students with a prompt and told them to write for ten minutes. The secret, she says, is to keep the pen moving. Chances are you will be surprised that you’ve come up with at least a few good nuggets, even if you veered away from the prompt.

I know a lot of you write flash fiction, often from prompts, but that’s not a habit I’ve developed. I suppose I should at least try this ten-minute exercise. I tend to fight regimentation far more than is good for me. I don’t think a little discipline will kill my creativity. It might just preserve my sanity.

I suggest you check out Cristina’s first lesson and return for the next eleven.


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Craft, Editing, Fiction, Writing

The Secret to Section Breaks

I apologize if you expected I was going to reveal the secret to knowing when and where to use section breaks. I don’t have it. If I were a less obsessed writer, I would break where it seemed natural to me and be done with it. Let an editor sort it out. But I am obsessed and I have become increasingly aware that my nature is not to be trusted in this breaking matter.

Are you experiencing déjà vu? Yes, I brought up this subject less than two weeks ago. The next day, Merrilee Faber wrote an excellent post explaining the ins and outs of paragraph, section, and chapter breaks. I read it, of course, and it seemed so simple. Then I went back to editing with my clear new understanding and soon realized there is an enormous disparity between what I think I know and what I actually know.

I have now called into question 90% of the section breaks in my manuscript. I have also pulled dozens of novels off my shelves to see how the pros do it. Ha! These authors all making the same choices would be just too simple, wouldn’t it? What I did notice is the disconcerting degree to which I would have used breaks where they didn’t and would not have where they did. In other words, I learned nothing from my “research.”

You might be wondering why someone who spends a good bit of blog space denigrating Writing Rules would get so bent out of shape over this one. Well, you see, I can’t abide knowing there’s a rule I don’t understand. How else could I decide whether I want to follow or break it? You have to know the rules before you can break the rules. And yes, it’s also a matter of pride. How can something so simple elude me?

So, what do the books say? One of my favorite revision books is Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon, so I looked up what she had to say about section breaks.

Scene breaks: This is the break between sections in your story. If the point of view remains the same and not much time has passed, the break is indicated by a double-double line space. If the point of view changes and/or there is a larger shift of time or space, double line space then use one or three asterisks or pound signs, centered on the line. Use another line space before you begin your next line of text after the break. You do not need to indent the first paragraph after the break; indentation style will be determined when the manuscript is typeset.

Criminetly! Are you telling me I not only have to know where to put section breaks, but I have to decide which kind of break to use?!  You know what I think? I think the gods of writing rules have conspired to put me in my place.  Well, I’m shaking my fist at you. I will understand this. I will learn to break every section with literary precision. I will dagnabbit!

Your turn: Is there a punctuation or formatting rule that you haven’t mastered?

 

Advice, Fiction, Goals, Novel, Poetry, Publish, Questions, Short story, Tips, Writing

What is your writing worth?

Today, I’m thinking I should add another post category called Reality Check. But that might be too discouraging—to me as well as you. Even though I’ve been querying my novel for a while, it took Duotrope to make me say, “What was I thinking?”

I made my decision to seek publication in ignorance. I had no idea how hard reaching my goal would be because I had no idea how many other writers would be in competition with me. Now I know—there are at least a gazillion. And half of them are better writers than I am.

My goal this year was to see a story I’d written published, so I‘ve been using Duotrope to search for magazines I think might accept my work. No easy task that. I can eliminate those who only publish sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, thriller, erotica, western, etc. It’s just as easy to weed out some others by their rejection rates. If their acceptance rate is in the single digits—or less—I don’t even bother. Many of those magazines publish well-established authors; what chance do I have against the Joyce Carol Oates of the world?

Duotrope shows a description for each magazine, usually taken from their own website, and often I read this description and think the magazine sounds perfect for my work. Then, I go to the site and read samples of what they publish and my hopes are dashed. It’s either completely different in style or tone from what I write, or “too literary,” or “too amateur.” So those are more mags I can ignore.

So now, I’ve established what magazines I need not apply to, but how do I choose among the rest? One big question is whether I want to receive payment for my story or poem. Of course, searching for magazines that pay even a token amount turns up many I’ve already crossed off. And if my search term is “semi-pro and up” I’m going to see a lot of those names I’ve put on my too-elite-for-me list.

Do I need to receive payment to feel good about having a story or poem published? What if a magazine’s acceptance rate is over fifty percent? Some show over ninety percent! How would I feel about being published in one of those magazines?

I think to answer those questions, I have to ask another. Why do I write? It’s clearly no longer for my own entertainment or I wouldn’t be querying agents with a novel. I want my work to be read. But do I only want to be read? By how many people? If I don’t care about payment, and I don’t care how many people—or who—reads it, why not just publish on my blog? What is my writing worth to me? Questions, questions, questions.

Do you have an opinion to share?

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