Monday, May 30, 2011

Lessons from book reviews

In November 2009, I wrote the below post about what you can learn from a reviewer's review. I'm re-running this post now because it turns out now, over a year later, I returned to the same sci fi reviewer's column in my local paper and found that not much had changed with the reviewer, but there was more to learn for me. More about that on Wednesday :)

Learning from Book Reviews
(originally posted Nov. 2, 2009)

Before I started getting serious about writing, I never paid much attention to book reviews in the newspaper. But after I learned about structure, plot, characters (you know, those silly story things), I started paying attention to how published books were written, and in turn, how reviews of those published books were written and what they picked out.

You can learn a lot from reviews. For example, in my local newspaper last weekend, there was a review of three sci-fi novels. The reviewer wasn’t overly impressed with any of them, but here’s what he had to say about the first one (newspaper, name, and book all redacted because the intent here is not to slam the reviewer or the book): “[Author name] is a talented author, fueled by a passionate point of view, and that combination makes [Book title] a powerful, if not exactly uplifting novel.”

Well. You could certainly say that about anything, couldn’t you? Those are some pretty undefined adverbs. This post isn’t a lesson in how to write a book review (because frankly, it’s an art—and the reviewer’s aim is not to make the reader by the book), but rather an exercise. Read a book review—find one online. Go to your local newspaper’s online arm and search for book reviews. If it doesn’t have one, go to the nearest large city’s major newspaper web site. Do the reviews tell you anything about plot? The climatic event? The depth of characters?

To get you started, here’s one I found from The San Francisco Chronicle’s web site,
It’s an excellent example of a thorough review—probably because a writer wrote it. It’s for a book called The Rebel Yell by Alice Randall.

The hook is clearly stated in the review (and not in a “I just read this off the back cover” kind of restating): “Randall raises the compelling question: How could an African American who grew up during the civil rights movement oversee a foreign policy in which imprisoned men were tortured and humiliated?”

I learned that the characterization in the novel is tough to pull off, because the reviewer says, “Randall's execution is haphazard, more concept than character-driven, less dramatized than theorized, and structurally disjointed.”

I learned that not all writers think through the what-ifs, and Randall could have benefited from that: “In her search to uncover the real Abel, Hope never considers talking to his second wife or their three daughters, who feel as flat as cardboard cutouts, props intended to show how Abel lost his way. “

And finally, the last part of the review, the reviewer says, “Randall seems to have wanted to show how a person could lose his humanity, but because she doesn't paint a clear portrait of his later life, it's hard to feel invested.”

This is a great critique. The reviewer tells us the problem areas of the novel, points out where we’ll find depth, but make sure we know that there are blurry patches. All that being said, the reviewer did start with the hook, which is compelling, and so I am left with my own decision whether to read the book (and knowing what to watch for), rather than the reviewer’s. In my opinion, this is the best kind of review because it lays out the strengths and weaknesses of the novel appropriately –and explains them, unlike the sci-fi review I listed first. And, it shows me how reviewers look at novels and what they watch for.

Do you learn from reviews? Do you read them looking for ways in which you can learn and summarize books?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

Small babies are apparently heavily against their mothers taking even one second to check email let alone look at blogs, so I didn't get to read as many as I wanted to this week, but I have persevered in the face of such opposition to bring you...

  • As you know I am a complete softy for any posts that use Star Wars as examples, as Nathan Bransford does to discuss reversals.
  • I'm a huge believer in the rule of three, and in fact was going to post on it ....some day soon...but Alexandra Sokoloff has a great post on it in the meanwhile.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Letting go just a wee bit

I tweeted recently that I had visitors over who were touching Rainbow Puppy while he slept, which never pleases me. Worse, he was on the verge of waking up from the touching, which I might have killed them for. I was ready to lunge at them, I tell you.

Yes, I am ridiculous and over protective, but that is my job. But it made me wonder, how silly and over protective are we about our other children--our WIPs? I know I have been reluctant to share excerpts, samples, first chapters, and even queries in the past for fear of thievery or outright mockery. As the below clip of the Catherine Tate Show shows, we all need to let go sometimes. Really. Besides making me laugh out loud, it was a wake up call as to letting go just a wee bit.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Guest post: Eliminating Passive Voice

Today I'm really excited to welcome Mike Chen to the blog. Mike is a fellow freelance writer, and we have a business relationship in addition to being critique partners. (Need a Wordpress site? Mike's your guy. He has several author web site clients already.) Mike and I have never actually met in person, but we talk almost every week day. Mike is also part of the Small Tales short story project editorial board.

I am pleased to welcome him as a Maternity Leave Guest Blogger (MLGB).

Eliminating Passive Voice
by Mike Chen

I've been virtual pals with Sierra for so long that I can't even remember how we met. I know we chat a lot about music and writing and business, but I can't particularly recall just how we started our insane curse-filled rants to each other (these are good things, trust me).

I do, however, remember that I critiqued one of her early manuscripts and I approached it with polite brutality. You see, I'm a stickler when it comes to passive voice and show-don't-tell. Maybe not so when it comes to blog posts, but definitely in fiction. I can't stand it when I see something like "He ran to the door" because you can create so much more emotion and imagery with "The floorboards pounded with the sounds of heavy boots as he reached out to grasp the door knob before time ran out."

Writers all have their strengths and weaknesses, but the workshop process helps us improve our strengths and nullify our weaknesses (or at least be aware of them). Based on feedback, I think Sierra and I both share a knack for real-world dialog. My weakness is the overwrought description -- kind of like the opposite of passive voice or show-don't-tell, and Sierra's critique of one of my manuscripts certainly helped me recognize my bad habits.

As for Sierra and her early manuscript? I'm sure she has bad flashbacks of my Word remarks splashing "Show, don't tell" and "Passive voice" all over her early draft. My techniques for rooting these dreaded bits of prose no-nos? Well, I suppose while FINDING them may be easy, correcting them requires a certain amount of creativity. But that's why we're writers, right?

So, my little process goes like so:

1) Open the file on your computer -- because you can't edit what you can't see, right?

2) Hit CTRL-F to bring up that nifty Find box.

3) Perform a search for every instance of Is, Are Was, Had, Has, Have, Does, Done.

4) Appropriately flag and fix.

Now, these searches naturally find passive voice rather than show-don't-tell instances, but they do seem to be linked for a lot of writers. After doing this exercise, I'll go back and read through the manuscript and try to weed out remaining show-don't-tell (which really can't be done with CTRL-F). The brevity of telling certainly can be useful at times, and I don't think anyone needs to eliminate it completely. It's just key to make sure that all of your inclusions of that -- and passive voice -- are conscious decisions.

If this isn't an exercise you've done before, it can be enlightening at first and cringe-inducing by the end BUT it will beat the notion of passive voice so deeply into your writer's brain that you'll catch yourself when using any of those words. And, if you're like Sierra and me, you'll overcome the shellshock of red Track Changes markups all over your pretty Word document and somehow build a strange virtual friendship based on good music and good writing and extreme dislike of assholes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

It's back! Yes! But in a very stunted and shriveled manner. I had only a few minutes.

While I've been off having and caring for that new baby, so many awesome posts have been passing me by like wisps of fog on a chilly night. So here are a few that I managed to capture lately--in Google Reader or on Twitter.

There are a thousand other links and I will put them, but the baby's crying and the four year old whippersnapper is bothering me and wanting something or other, and going "mommy, mommy" and it's just chaos.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Coming up for air

As many of you know or guessed, the blog has been on auto pilot a bit since I had my baby on April 19. It is all I can do check e-mail sometimes, let alone answer it, and blogging has been rather slightly out of reach. (I wrote this post over several nights and stolen moments of days.) I'm relieved that I baked so many posts for you and froze them ahead of time. And of course I am super mega trombone grateful to my awesome guest posters (excepting the nemesis of course!) for making my blog worthwhile as I sink into complete zombiedom in these early weeks of lack of sleep.
(That's Rainbow Puppy* pictured there, milk-drunk and passed out, at three weeks old.)

*Rainbow Puppy is thusly named because of Linda Grimes' guest post for me.

I really wanted to check in and say "hi!" I miss all of you, I miss reading my blogs, and I miss writing. All of that is on hold just now although I do pop on Twitter when I can and I do read blogs on my Google Reader app on my phone while I'm nursing Rainbow Puppy. Thank God for smart phones, because without mine I'd be a Luddite. I do read comments on my posts because I have it set that all comments are emailed to me. Thank you to everyone who continues to comment.

So, how are we? Doing great. But, parenting is hard. New babies are hard. Two kids are hard. Sleep deprivation is torture. I really miss writing, and my current WIP is on hold until I can actually sit without another human hanging off of me to write down all the ideas I've had time to form in my head while nursing or changing poopy diapers, because that is what my life has been reduced to. I'm all right with it. This is what I do right now. Of course, the second I'm not doing it anymore (i.e. the baby is sleeping through the night and I have more than a minute to myself), I'll be right in there again because one thing I know about writing: I love it, I can't stop doing it, and it is that thing that I get to do for myself.

What do you think you'd do if you were forced to take a break from writing, for whatever reason?

And a special hello to all my new followers-- thank you for thinking I might be semi interesting enough to read and follow...that is hugely, hugely flattering to this very hormonal mom.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Guest post: On Settling In For The Long Haul

The always intelligent and amazingly lucid Lt. Cccyxxx and I see eye to eye on a lot of things--righteous indignation, for one. But one thing we agree completely on is persistence in our writing. The Lt. has produced a beautiful post on the subject for you.

I am pleased to welcome him as a Maternity Leave Guest Blogger (MLGB). Check out his blog, Skullcrusher Mountain, for more of the Lt.'s wisdom.

On Settling In For The Long Haul

by Lt. Cccyxxx

I was flattered when Sierra asked me to write a guest post, but then began to wonder what to write about. It is too easy for unqualified people like me to offer authoritative-sounding advice on writing and publishing on the internet. But, as it turns out, I am an expert in one thing: not giving up. So that is the subject of this post. Even though some of what I say is couched as directive, it’s just what has worked for me.

If you haven’t been following Lt. Cccyxx (and chances are you haven’t), here’s my story: I completed a novel (literary fiction) a little over two years ago, and have been querying for a year and a half (about 80 cold queries sent). I’ve revised novel and query extensively, incorporated feedback from beta readers, entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest (twice), and pitched in person at two conferences.

I’ve had partial and full requests, but no bites, and I’ve reconciled myself to being in it for the long haul. Here is some of what I have done to make sticking with it easy(ier):

Seek community. How did you find your way here to Sierra’s blog? For me, it was the absolutewrite forums, which I began visiting while preparing to query. There I met my buddy Travener, and through him I met Sierra, KLM, and a small cadre of other fine folks. I don’t need 17,000 followers who never comment – I need people I can interact with, from sharing manuscripts and critiquing queries to plain old moral support.

I’ve sought community offline, too. I work in a profession far removed from writing, and D.C. isn’t exactly known as an artistic town. But the place is crawling with freelance writers and editors, and when I got involved in a local writer’s group I began meeting people and making connections.

Worry about the right things. I never read posts or articles about e-readers, contracts, royalties, or a whole host of other publishing-related subjects. One day, Flying-Spaghetti-Monster-willing, these may be my problem. But now? I don’t make a dime from my writing, and with limited time I worry about things of immediate relevance to me, like improving my craft, writing a better query, and finding the right agent. I don’t even worry about marketing myself (my blog is ample testament to that); there will be time, I figure, after I get a deal.

Two corollaries: first, I take rejections seriously, but I don’t extrapolate. For example, if I query 20 agents and every one comes back a rejection or non-response, my query probably needs work, but I’ve learned nothing about my manuscript because no one has read it.

Second, I try not to compare myself to others in terms of how fast I get requests, an agent, a deal, whatever. Easier said than done, of course, but others’ progress has nothing to do with me or my book.

Write another book. This does not mean giving up on the first book…or even slowing down querying! But I didn’t write my book, and am not trying to publish it, so I can check a box and move on to other endeavors. (If that was the plan, I’d hope someone would give me a good whack on the head with a cost-benefit analysis textbook.)

This goes for you, too: you’re a writer, and you’re going to write another book anyway, so why not start now? It’ll give you something else to focus on, and hey: isn’t writing the fun part? I’m still querying my first, revising a second, and cannot wait to start a third.

Read. Writing and reading are complements. Read widely (not just “YA urban dystopian paranormal steampunk romance,” not that there’s anything wrong with that), read voraciously, read critically. Knowledge of books and authors pays off when you talk to people in publishing. And the more a consumer of books you are, the better you’ll be able to reach the people you most care about: readers.

Accept that this is a learning process. No one pops out of the womb understanding how to query or why every agent defines “synopsis” differently. If Janet Reid’s exhortation to “tell me what the book is about” was as simple as it sounds, there’d be nothing left of the Query Shark but some cartilage, scattered teeth, and a couple of confused remoras.

This is true on the craft side, too. Even if I got the $1,000,000+ advance that all of us (save Sarah Palin and perhaps Snooki) only dream of, I’d still work to improve my writing. Heck, I’ll probably keep learning until I stop writing or die (and hopefully those will happen at the same time). This is one of the things that make a creative endeavor like writing worthwhile.

Finally, take advantage of your freedom. Remember how I said I haven’t made a dime off my writing? The downside is obvious, but there’s an upside: no deadlines, no constraints. My second novel is in a completely different genre than my first. My third will be something else entirely. I’m not stove-piped, stereotyped, or required to do anything – I can go wherever my interests and passions lie, and put in time as I see fit. The problem with day jobs, even when we enjoy them, is that they are full of obligations and expectations. If your dream comes true and writing becomes your day job, you may miss the freedom you have now.

I leave you with words of wisdom from none other than our former President, George Bush Sr. (at least the Dana Carvey version), who said it best: “Stay the course. A thousand points of light. Stay the course.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Google Reader Roundup Re-run

This GRR originally ran on May 7, 2010.

  • Kristen Lippert-Martin has fantastic, pee-in-your-pants inducing exciting news: she's newly agented. Go by and congratulate her! She's a very funny lady.
  • I missed this last week and it appeared in Nathan Bransford's This Week in Publishing -- but never fear. I mine his posts for you, yes! Here is Pimp My Novel's publishing industry misconceptions. My favorite? #1 - anyone can write a book. Eric and i agree: no they cannot!
  • Holy KRAKOW! Agent Kristin Nelson talks about reading her slush pile for the first time in years, and also what problems she sees in opening pages. I'll be posting Monday about opening pages, using what I've learned around the tinterwebs and also from workshops and also crap I make up.
  • You'd better read this form rejection from Tahereh, because a) she's very lovable and b) it made me pee my pants with laughter. Oh, the things that amuse writers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Interesting Books Using Design

Because I am also a designer, books that push the experience of reading to include design always catch my eye. I thought you might be interested in the following two books that came up on my radar.

Tree of Codes
The Tree of Codes, by Jonathan Safran Foer, has done what no other book has done (and as a result, Foer had the dickens of a time finding a publisher). It has a different die cut on each page. A die cut is a specific cut out in the paper. Here's what I found out about this book:

"Initially deemed impossible to make, the book is a production first—as much a sculptural object a work of masterful storytelling. Inspired to exhume a new story from an existing text, Safran Foer took his favorite book, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, an
d used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at an original new story. The story of a last day of life, as one character is chased to extinction, is multi-layered with immense, anxious and, at times, disorientating imagery, crossing both a sense of time and place and giving it universal resonance.

Visual Editions’ involvement with Jonathan Safran Foer began when he expressed an interest in experimenting with the process of using a metal die to cut the pages. With that as a starting point, they explored the physical relationship between pages and how it could be d
eveloped to work with a meaningful narrative; Safran Foer quite literally began cutting into the pages of The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. As the author undertook the challenge of carving a brand new story from an existing text, Visual Editions and the book’s designer, Sara De Bondt, took the project to printer after printer, all of whom said a book with a different die-cut on every page simply couldn’t be made. Eventually, after months of writing, cutting and prototyping, Belgian printers, Die Keure, found a way to make the impossible possible."

If that was too much, then just check the pic:

This is a book clearly not written in English about dreams and uses colored thread to link ideas. Cool, huh? Here's the official information about it:

"Maria Fischer's Traumgedanken book is a collection of 'literary, philosophical, psychological and scientifical texts' about dreams. The book uses threads pierced through the pages and affixed to other pages to make physical hyperlinks between ideas."
My first thought was, hmmm....this book would be best suited to an e-reader, where real hyperlinks could be inserted. But of course that's not the point. This is about printed books, so this is pretty cool. I can't even imagine the production and thought and planning that went into this one.

Have you ever run across neat printed books like this, which push the boundaries of book design and use?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Guest post: The Importance of a Literary Nemesis

Friends, a most heinous and disturbing thing has happened: my nemesis, Simon C. Larter, has taken advantage of my maternal state to filth up my blog with his inane mumblings. I leave the evidence here for you to see, rather like insect droppings after spraying Raid all over a cockroach nest.

I suppose, in that event, that I am compelled by tradition to count Simon as a Maternity Leave Guest Blogger ( MLGB).

The Importance of a Literary Nemesis
by Simon C. Larter

Shakespeare had Dante. Hemingway had Trollope. Moses had Sophocles. The historical record is undisputed: the greatest writers in history have all had literary nemeses. There’s a lesson to be learned here, writer-friends.

Literary Nemeses, Exhibit A (Shakespeare and Dante)
See, we human beings are a stubborn, irascible bunch. Especially we creative types. If someone tell us we can’t do something, chances are we’ll head right out and give that something a shot. The old college try, as they say (even if they didn’t go to college). We’re a bit contrarian that way.

So you—being an intelligent and discerning type (leaving aside for the moment the fact that you’re reading my nemesis’s blog; everyone has their lapses in judgement)—can of course understand the wisdom of finding a literary nemesis early in your career, yes? I thought so.

Literary Nemeses, Exhibit B (Hemingway and Trollope)

Nothing makes you work harder than someone waiting for you to fail. If there’s a nemesis waiting in the wings for some trifling slip-up on your part, you’re bound to work harder to attain perfection, are you not?

Literary Nemeses, Exhibit C (Moses and Sophocles)

My point is, your pursuit of excellence as a writer (and here you can read “publication” for “excellence,” if you like—or you could self-publish; whatever you feel like doing) should most definitely involve the cultivation of a nemesis-type relationship. Really, it should.

But you can’t have my nemesis. She’s indisposed right now, and in any case, I’ve already taken steps to ensure her eventual destruction. Or her career’s. I’m not picky.

Happy nemesizing, folks!

*disappears in a swish of his nemesis cape*

Friday, May 6, 2011

Google Reader Roundup Re-run

This GRR originally ran on November 13, 2009.
On Monday, I have a truly despicable guest post for you from none other than my wicked Nemesis, Simon Larter.

  • Good God, the Rejectionist's Form Rejection Contest Winner is stunning. Guaranteed to instantly and effortlessly make you feel devoid of all intelligence and writing talent, it's so good.
  • Lots of posts this week from agents about not sweating queries--clearly, a movement is underfoot. Nathan Bransford, Michael Bourret at Dystel and Goderich, and Holly Root at Waxman (think this was mentioned last week's Roundup).
Don't forget to check back Monday for the most heinous of guest posts from my nemesis, Simon Larter.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Guest post: Mistakes We Make With Middles

One of the most popular and most-visited posts I've ever had on my blog is the one on beginnings by YA author Janice Hardy, called Something to Get Inciting About. Today I'm really excited to host another guest post from Janice on middles. I learned a lot from this, and I hope you do, too.

Also, I must take a moment to say that Janice is one of the most generous mentoring writers out there, and has consistently been awesome to other writers (like moi).

I'm honored and pleased to welcome Janice as a Maternity Leave Guest Blogger ( MLGB).

Mistakes We Make With Middles

by Janice Hardy

We almost always know how to start. We usually have a general idea where we end. But the middle? That can leave us wandering around and looking for a way out of the whole mess.

Like many writers, I struggled with middles when I was developing my skills. I probably made all the same basic mistakes, took the same wrong turns, and wound up at the same dead ends. After enough frustration, I decided it was time to kick some middle butt and figure out how to get through them without wanting to tear my manuscript apart.

Mistake #1: Just add stuff to make it harder
The plotting advice I’d read said I needed to complicate my protag’s goal and up the stakes. Okay, good advice. I’d make things happen and cause trouble and put more and more lives at risk. I had all kinds of cool stuff happening. So why wasn’t it working?

The Likely Problem: Plot that wasn’t advancing the story
Just adding scenes wasn’t working because they didn’t move the story ahead at all. The stakes never rose (so no tension ever built up to hook readers) because nothing mattered to my characters. They were just dealing with all the junk I was throwing at them.

Mistake #2: Add an extra subplot
I needed something happening in the middle to take up time between the beginning and the end, so why not add a cool subplot that plays out in the middle? My protag can solve this extra problem and then get back to the main plot of the book. So why was I confusing my beta readers?

The Likely Problem: An unconnected plotline
My subplot might have been cool, but it really didn’t have much to do with the plot and took the story in a direction I didn’t want to go in. It felt almost as if I’d started another book right in the middle. That left my readers wondering what I was doing and where the story was going.

Mistake #3: Stretch out the beginning and the end so they meet sooner
Well, since I liked my beginning and my ending, and I kinda knew a little about what happened between those two major events, why not just shove them closer together? Some extra backstory and a few “get to know everybody” scenes added a few chapters, and a few more obstacles before the climax added a few more. So why did my pacing slow to a crawl?

The Likely Problem: Adding too much filler
Backstory and cute scenes don’t make up for the lack of a plot, and without something driving the story, my novel wandered aimlessly and bored readers. My beginning and ending worked because the story moved forward.

My Fix for All These Mistakes: The Mid-Point Reversal
Mistake #1 taught me I needed to have things happen in the middle, but that they had to matter to the plot and advance the story. Mistake #2 taught me my instincts were right and subplots were the right way to go, I just had to handle them better. Mistake #3 taught me that connecting the beginning and the end was important, but the scenes I chose had to be doing the connecting for me.

What I needed was something happening in the middle that related to the plot, allowed my subplots to flourish and be further explored, cause a problem that would set up my ending, and do it in a way that kept the stakes escaping and the story moving.

So I added a major event that happens in the middle of the novel. Something that shakes up the story, surprises the reader, and changes the status quo. That gave me:

• A goal to work toward so the first half of my middle felt like it was going somewhere.
• Something major happening in the middle to keep readers interested.
• A plot-changing event that my characters had to recover from and deal with that advanced the story and moved it toward the second half and the climax.

It also broke the story into quarters, so the giant middle wasn’t so overwhelming. Something important could happen in each chunk, growing progressively worse until the last quarter and the climax. Story arcs that spanned six to eight chapters was a lot easier to come up with than ones that needed twelve or sixteen chapters to fill. It was easier to see where the stakes had to go up (at the end of all those quarters).

How Might You Find Your Mid-Point Reversal?
The mid-point should be something that works with your story in some way. It should enhance it, but take it in a new or unexpected direction, while still building on what you’ve already done. Sending the story sideways is great, but you don’t want to make it feel like a whole new novel. Craft something that is a shocker, but then you see how it couldn’t have gone any other way by all the subtle clues that led up to it. Think about:

Your character arcs
Your character is growing over the course of the novel. Is there something that might happen that moves them forward or shoves them backward on this arc? A step they need to take but might not be willing to take on their own? A sacrifice they haven’t been willing to make? Perhaps the mid-point is the time to have them grow a little (for better or for worse) or make a necessary but distasteful choice.

Your story arcs
Are there any major reveals planned? Secrets or the discovery that things aren’t what they seem change the story without actually making it different. Previous plots are seen in new lights, clues are reevaluated.

Your plot arcs
Having a character act in ways they usually don’t, but have to, can shake things up. Is there a situation where your characters (good or bad) can make a different choice? Something they’d never do? Maybe it’s time to make them do it.

Your thematic arcs
Themes are a great unifying force for a novel. An event that ties into your plot thematically can be used to foreshadow or mirror a later event. Or it can put a character into a situation where they can test out a choice they’ll need to make in the climax—and make the wrong choice. Seeing them fail here makes the stakes that much higher when faced with the same thematic problem again.

There are all kinds of ways to craft an interesting mid-point reversal. Look for situations that give you a lot of conflicts to play with, as these typically offer the widest array of plot possibilities. Situations where there is no right or wrong, where one choice affects multiple characters in different ways (so if someone wins, another has to lose).

A mid-point reversal is like a sign in the middle of that boggy marsh. It’ll help keep you and our plot on track.

About Janice: A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE. DARKFALL, the final book of the trilogy, is due out October 4, 2011. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her online at or chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story.

Purchase The Shifter
Purchase Blue Fire

Monday, May 2, 2011

Guest post: 8 Ways Blogging Has Improved My Life

Before we get to today's AWESOME guest post, I wanted to announce the winner for Linda Grimes' baby naming contest. The winner is NWFoodie, with her winning moniker of "Rainbow Puppy." Henceforth, my new whipsnap will be referred to as Rainbow Puppy. Please visit Linda's blog for the prizes!

Today I'm thrilled to welcome the hugely popular
merchant of wisdom Anne R. Allen. I adore Anne and can't wait to meet her someday. Anne's blog is very popular indeed and for some reason she thinks I helped not true! Anne is popular because she writes a great blog for writers, with consistently good content. If you haven't been reading her, you're missing out.

I'm honored and pleased to welcome her as a Maternity Leave Guest Blogger ( MLGB).

8 Ways Blogging Has Improved My Life

by Anne R. Allen

Sierra’s asked me to write a post about the power of the blog. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on my own blog about how blogging turned my career around after my book publisher went belly-up, my magazine/newspaper gigs evaporated, and I had to restart a writing career at square one.

But it’s not just my career that has benefited. Here are some ways blogging has improved my personal life.

1) I feel I’m making a difference. I think most writers write because we want to share something of value with the world. With my blog, I’m offering advice to help new writers avoid the clueless, time-wasting goofs I’ve made. If I can keep one newbie from getting scammed, help somebody rebound after a nasty critique, or relieve the growing pressure writers feel to squander too much time on social media, it’s all worthwhile. And who knows? Maybe I’m helping the next Kurt Vonnegut or Margaret Atwood on his/her road to literary greatness.

2) I get instant gratification. When you’re a novelist struggling toward publication—either as a beginner, or after your career has tanked a time or two—you can spend years alone in a room, read by no one. But with a blog, your words reach other humans instantly. You can be heard—satisfying one of the basic human needs.

3) It gives my life structure. I treat my blog like a newspaper column, with a set-in-stone deadline. I’m not getting paid now, but I figure it’s part of a career strategy that will pay off at some point, so I treat it like a paid job. The deadlines keep me disciplined and help me get the most out of my writing time.

4) I get emotional support. Like a lot of writers, I suffer from anxiety and depression. Not surprising in a business that consists of 99% rejection, year after year. But blogging writers provide mutual support and help each other through the bad patches. Not that bloggers are a bunch of whiners, but we give each other lots of attaboy/girl support and empathy. When the rejections roll in, I can go look at comments people have made on my better blogposts and realize I’m getting some acceptance, even if it isn’t from the New York publishing world.

I know there are some agents and their assistants who say that no writer should ever talk about the down times on a blog, but I disagree. As long as you keep comments general—without mentioning names or specific rejections—sharing the ups and downs keeps us from feeling so alone. And when we do have a success to announce, readers will care, and be more inclined to buy our books.

5) I’ve stopped dumbing myself down. I grew up in a rural area where nobody liked a smarty-pants, so I’ve spent a lifetime hiding my brains to avoid confrontations. But here in the blogosphere, smart is good. This has drifted into real life, and I find I’m censoring myself a lot less. Offended by a large vocabulary? Go defenestrate yourself!

6) I’m reading more genre fiction. I meet people online and want to read their stuff. It doesn’t feel like simple guilty-pleasure reading because I’m supporting friends.

7) I’ve stopped frittering time on mind-numbing TV. I still have my Netflix—I adore BBC things with costumes—but otherwise, I’d rather surf blogs or read. This has not only helped me get back in touch with my own smarts, but it’s weeded out some of my less than beneficial friendships. People who only want to rehash TV shows and gossip about celebrities have drifted away. Amazing how I don’t miss them.

8) I’m connecting to my tribe. Every day I can talk to hundreds of people who are mentally alive and intellectually hungry. Writers are shy people. It’s hard to meet each other except at expensive writing conferences. Here in the blogosphere, it’s easy and free!

What about you, fellow scriveners? Do you blog? Has it made a difference in your world?

Thanks again Anne for a fabulous post. I couldn't agree more with your points. Blogging for me has been one of the most wonderful parts of my writing efforts, and put me in touch with you and all my other fabulous guest bloggers, which I am so grateful for. - Sierra