Tag Archives: writers

Why Writers Write

snoopyWriters write because they have no choice. It’s true. Once a phrase, a plot, a character jumps into your mind, it’s like your head will explode if you don’t start writing down whatever crazy scenario springs to mind. Elizabeth Gilbert was correct when she talks about the muse in her excellent TED TALK called Your Elusive Creative Genius.

But there are a host of other reasons why writers write. Some have lived through spectacularly unfortunate childhoods which have given them incredible stories to share. Here’s my list of some hard-to-put-down memoirs:

Crafting Your Novel – Tuesday afternoons Aug.2 – Sept. 13 (no class Aug. 9) Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10) For more details email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wellsglass castle
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  • On Writing by Stephen King (this one is fantastic for writers)
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman
  • Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Some writers write to educate the public or to teach certain self-help tricks. In fact, self-help books are the world’s best-selling genre!

Here’s why some famous authors write … and which I agree with.

gaiman“The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.” – Neil Gaiman

“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.” – Harper Lee

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” – Gloria Steinem

“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.” – Roald Dahl

“I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.” – Octavia E. Butler

Journalism and Novel Writing

Journalism and novel writing are as different as tea is to coffee, but novel writers can learn a thing or two from journalism.

Years ago, when I was a young journalism student at Concordia University in Montreal, the first aphorism the professors dinned into our heads was ‘dog bites a man’ is not news but ‘man bites dog’ is.

Photo Credit: covershut.com

Photo Credit: covershut.com

The second basic formula we learned was the 5Ws and 1H

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

The third rule we learned was the inverted pyramid. It illustrates how information should be structured with the most crucial piece of information at the top, tapering down to the less important.

Using these three pieces of journalism can help turn you into a better novel writer. This doesn’t mean you need to write your novel in the manner of a newspaper article. Rather, it means you should definitely ask whether your story covers the 5ws and 1H and whether it is as interesting as ‘man bites dog’. After all, who cares if a dog bites a man – that happens all the time. But man biting a dog? Now – that’s a story.  That’s how journalism and novel writing come together. 

The difference between journalism and novel writing is in the way a story is approached. Four years ago, I never would have believed I could have written anything creative. My training was all about taking a story, garnering all the facts and then re-writing the piece inverted pyramid style so that everything was presented in an objective manner.

It took some practice to make the switch from writing facts in a bald manner to teasing out a story in colorful prose. What I have learned from my journalism training is to make sure that I know:

  • Who my main characters are 
  • What my story is about
  • When does all this take place
  • Why is my main character doing what he or she is doing i.e. what is his/her motive
  • How it all happens

Journalism training also helps you to zero in on the main ideas and start your story in media res – also known as  – in the middle of things. 

Do you know the 5Ws and 1H of your story?

*******

2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript”  

 

 

 

Good Writers Take Risks

Good writers take risks. In fact, anyone who wants to be anyone and who wants success doesn’t play it safe; they take risks whether in their plot lines, their characters or their approach. Many of the biggies in our world today dropped out of high school or college and went on to become household names, all because they didn’t play it safe, and took some risks.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Photo credit: Pinterest

You’ll be shocked at some of the names. Of course, these are just a fraction of the famous people out there who didn’t play it safe and made it big.

  1. Thomas Edison
  2. Benjamin Franklin
  3. Bill Gates
  4. Albert Einstein
  5. Mark Zuckerberg
  6. Ellen Degeneres
  7. Steve Jobs
  8. Oprah – yes, Oprah, too (she dropped out of University)

I didn’t come across any well-known writers who played it safe and got famous … and that’s because there are probably no well-known writers who played it safe and got famous. Who wants to bother reading something that doesn’t push the limits, make you think, make you laugh at loud or chuckle at irony or satire or just plain marvel at the scope of a fantastic new world.

I challenge the writers in my writing class to not be afraid to test themselves and throw themselves open, something I try to do in my own work. Sometimes, it may not work and the writing falls flat. But, on the other hand, you may be surprised at what can come out of you when you let your reserve down and allow the beast out. One of my writers – JC – took up the challenge and wrote the most touching letter to her mother. Whether she sends it or not is irrelevant. Everyone in the class had tears in their eyes and were touched. That’s what writing is meant to do. When you bring honesty into your craft (as painful and risky as that may be) you learn to become a better writer … and your chances of getting published skyrocket.

Good writers take risks – what kind are you?

******

2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript

 

 

 

 

 

Writers and Political Correctness

Writers and political correctness do not go hand in hand. I repeat, they do not go hand in hand. If you want to be politically correct, choose something else to do – become a politician.

Our responsibility as writers is to tell it like it is. But it’s fiction you say. True, but even in fiction the truth is an absolute necessity. Let’s say you are writing historical fiction. I once came across a writer who was writing a book about the deep south during the time of slavery. That writer refused to use the correct appellation for the slaves. He persisted in calling them African Americans. Well, that was downright wrong. I skimmed through the internet trying to find out when the term African American began being used in the mainstream – it was tough to find anyone willing to discuss this, let alone give it a time frame. But I think I’ve locked it down to the early 80s.

Would this writer be considered a bigot for using the word ‘Negro’? No. because that was the term used during that period of time.

Author Anne Rice has this to say about political correctness.

anne rice

I agree with her 100 per cent. Do you?

It is absolute insanity to say that only someone from one culture should write about that particular culture or race. I actually have experience in this particular area. One of the books that I’m shopping around to literary agents is called THE SHAMROCK TWINS (it is actually with a wonderful agent right now who I (cross my fingers) hope will sign me on as a client). Anyway, this agent I spoke to here in Toronto asked me

1) if I was Irish (no, I’m not)

2) whether I had African background (no, I do not) since my twins end up in Africa on a quest to find their pot of gold.

What rot, is all I can say. A storyteller tells a story regardless where he or she comes from.

Let me know if you believe an author should write honestly and from the heart.

******

2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript

 

 

Genre Fiction

What is Genre Fiction? It’s a term that pops up when submitting to various literary agents and publishing houses. Some want genre fiction; others don’t. But you need to understand what it is before you can figure out whether that’s what you’ve been writing in or not.

The Wikipedia definition of genre fiction is: Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is plot-driven fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre. Yes – well, that helps a lot, Wikipedia. Thanks very much.

What genre fiction really means is that the book is a rollicking good read.

popular books

No snobbery here. No incomprehensible words, no fine writing like Robertson Davies and James Joyce  -who I personally detest and have been unable to finish any of their books. don’t get me wrong – I am a voracious reader and love literary fiction and the classics, as well as other forms of fiction, What I do hate is the pomposity of authors like the two listed above.

Genre fiction can be broken down into several categories, although these keep changing:

Mystery/Suspense

Novels and Thrillers

Horror

Romance 

shadowfeverKaren Marie Moning’s Fever series is fantastic with supernatural elements, but above all is a romance. 

 

 

Science Fiction

Fantasy

ironKevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles is a superb read. For those of you who enjoy mythology, you will love the way he deals with many of the different world mythologies 

 

Historical

Action/Adventure

Westerns

Children’s 

fablehaven(I absolutely loved Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series. Have read it several times, and still find it fascinating)

 

 

 

 

 

Young Adult

All stories have elements which overlap one, two or three of these categories so sometimes writers wonder which genre they are officially writing in. What you need to consider is which area does the majority of the story land? Is the main thrust a romance or a mystery?

One of the main reasons you need to figure out which genre you are writing in is because bookstores need to know where to stack the books. All bookstores have labels such as Romance, Children’s, Teens, etc. If your novel is an orphan, they don’t know what to do with it. Therefore, make sure you know what category you are writing for. Children’s books are divided into even more sub-levels. There are books for children 6-8, 9-12, teens and the lower reading levels are sub-divided even more … but that’s the topic of another blog.

In the meanwhile, choose a genre and give it your main thrust.

******

2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript”  

 

New Literary Agents

New literary agents are a blessing for writers who are looking for agents. Since they are actively looking for clients, new writers have a better chance at having their work read. If you have a query, synopsis and completed manuscript, check out the names below and see whether any of these literary agents are a match for you.

Sandy Harding of Spencerhill Associates

Sandy Harding

Literary agent Sandy Harding is seeking mainly upmarket commercial and literary fiction for the adult market. She enjoys women’s fiction for book clubs, smart page-turning thrillers, works of suspense with complex protagonists, mysteries of all sorts (cozies, historical, traditional), and romance. Most of all she’s seeking writing with a voice so penetrating and a story so captivating the reader simply must keep reading.

To query: email submission [at] spencerhillassociates.com. Put ‘Query for Sandy: [TITLE]” in your subject line. Send the query letter in the body of an email and attach the first three chapters and synopsis preferably in .doc, rtf or txt format to your email

Let her know if the submission is simultaneous. If interested, the agency will contact you within 12 weeks.

 

Caitlin McDonald of Donald Maass Literary

caitlin-mcdonald-photo-480x480Literary agent Caitlin McDonald is looking for all science fiction and fantasy fiction (and subgenres) for adult, YA, and MG — especially secondary world fantasy and alternate history. She is also seeking genre-bending or cross-genre fiction, and stories that examine tropes from a new angle as well as diversity of all kinds, including (but not limited to) race, gender, sexuality, and ability, in both characters and world-building

She is not interested in women’s fiction, crime fiction, picture books or chapter books, screenplays or short stories

To query: email query.cmcdonald [at] maassagency.com with the query letter, synopsis, and the first ten pages of your novel pasted into the body of the email.

 

Julie Stevenson of Waxman Leavell Literary

julie-stevenson-literary-agentLiterary agent Julie Stevenson is on the lookout for upmarket fiction, literary fiction, adult thriller/suspense, memoir, young adult, middle grade and picture books.

To query: email juliesubmit [at] waxmanleavell.com

For fiction, you may include 5-10 pages of your manuscript in the body of your email. Please do not query more than one agent at this agency simultaneously. Due to the high volume of submissions, agents will reach out to you directly if interested. The typical time range for consideration is 6-8 weeks.

*******

2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript

Crafting Your Novel

When you read a story that draws you in, it seems like such a simple act. What the reader does not know (and should not know) is that crafting your novel demands time, effort and grunt work. girl-908614__180 (1)Just like an Olympic gymnast makes a back walk-over look easy, a good writer makes their story seem effortless. And that’s the way it should be.

But writing a story doesn’t come easy for most of us. We agonize over the right word; we worry about whether our characters are alive and vibrant; whether our plots and sub-plots make sense and most important of all – whether the story is interesting at all.

But that’s only one part of the equation. The other part is even harder. Writing a query and a synopsis, researching literary agents to find out who would be the best fit for our novel and finally the excruciating pain of waiting to hear from those agents we have sent our souls to.

Many writers fall off the creative path around this time simply because it becomes too difficult to accept rejection. Most agents phrase their rejections in a kind way. Here’s one rejection I received from one of the first middle grade novels I submitted. In hindsight, and after reading the work a couple of years later, I was appalled at my first chapter and how unpolished it seems now.

Dear Ms. Bell:

Thank you for your recent submission. We appreciate your interest in ___________________ Publishing.

It is obvious you have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into this project. Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we do not feel that we could be successful with your work. Please know that sometimes we must pass on well written, marketable projects simply because they do not suit our lists.

 Thank you again for sharing your submission with us, and we wish you the best of luck in placing your work elsewhere.

With best wishes,

Achieving writing success is not about being the best writer or writing the most interesting story of all time. Of course, these factors help and if you can’t write … well, your chances of being published are probably not very good. But there is one component that successful writers have that stands them in good stead and that is stick-to-it-ness. Taking a writing class will help most people because it provides you with a sense of structure and forces you to be accountable. In addition, you get valuable input not only from the instructor, but from your peers as well. And best of all, you get to make good friends.

How many of your writers enjoy your writing classes?

**********

2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-the-Lamppost begin:

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript

 

Writing for Free

Writing for free is a great idea when you have never published anything before.

There are any number of sites such as CommuterLit or FanStory (which also offers critiques by
members) and, yes, they are wonderful opportunities if you have never had a story published before. They offer you the chance to see your story … and your name, in print.

roller-coaster-449137__180That is one heck of a thrill.

But, after that thrill has been enjoyed a couple of times – heck, even a few times, it’s time to start thinking seriously about your future as a writer. Free publishing of your stories will only lead you so far. No one appreciates anything that is given away free. If you intend to actually crack into the world of novels, then it’s time to up your ante. That means selling your stories to publications that pay (and there are plenty who do so … from small to big bucks) as well as entering writing contests and competitions.

award-155595__180

There are plenty of those as well. One potential problem with contests and competitions is you could enter up spending hundreds of dollars on entry fees. But never fear – help is near. There are a huge amount of free (yes, you heard right – free) competitions that you can enter. And, best of all, some of them pay big bucks. You’ll never know if you can win unless you enter.

Then, when you send out that all important query foShaping Your Storyhttp://beyond-the-lamppost.com/creative-writing-classes/r your book, you will have the opportunity of adding that you are the winner of such and such competition. What a way to get your name known and to start publicizing your novel. And, from there, the sky is the limit.

What are you doing to publicize your stories?

******

2016 CREATIVE WRITING CLASSES AT BEYOND-THE-LAMPPOST

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript

 

 

Free Stuff for Writers

freeEverybody loves a bargain – even writers! Whether you are a seasoned author or a newbie, free stuff is always a bargain. There are sites that offer free software to allow you to write your novel or create an ebook; to nab photos for your blog (as I do); sites that allow you to manipulate and edit the images; and places where you can set up your blog for free.

See below for a list of free resources for creative writers:

  1. Sometimes, we need a kick in the creativity department and this site never lets me down. I’ve used this site many times for umpteen reasons. It has so much to offer. Check it out when you are at a loss for names – whether for a character, a location, real names, fantasy names to people your worlds, book titles, or even pop culture. Mix and match to suit your needs. It’s come in very handy for me.  http://fantasynamegenerators.com/
  2. This free writing software is similar to Scrivener. Like Scrivener it helps you to organize your work and your chapters. You can download it free here.
  3. WordPress is a blogging software that is free. There are a huge amount of free themes that can be downloaded and used to create your own website in a couple of hours – even less time, if you have even a little bit of computer savvy. I use it and their famous 10 or 15 minute install works – took me about 30 minutes the first time, but it works.
  4. Of course, once you have a blog you will need to fill it with copy and photos. Photos help catch a reader’s eye and is extremely important. Here are some great photos sites where you can get images for free. http://www.freeimages.com/ http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/ https://pixabay.com/ http://www.freeimages.com/
  5. Once you have a website and start offering your books for people to buy, you will probably need to get PayPal – it’s a free and easy way to set up an account that allows you to get paid from anywhere  and let’s you purchase items as well pay. There is a transaction fee, but it’s minimal and there are other tools you might want to use as well. Check it out.
  6. PhotoFiltre – Use this free image editor to doctor some of the free images that you select from the sites listed above. It’s relatively easy to use. All you need is a bit of practice.
  7. One easy way to  become a good writer is to read the classics and discover what gives these books their longevity and appeal.  Here’s an easy way to do so without having to buy every one of them. Planetebook allows you to download these classics free. Take advantage of them.
  8. Project Gutenberg (what a great name for a website catering to books, and free ones at that) also offers an incredibly large selection of free books to choose from.  Read and enjoy.

Let me know of any free stuff that works for you.

******

2016 Creative Writing Classes at BEYOND-THE-LAMPPOST

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30  in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3  in Oakville “Almost There: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript

 

 

 

Writing Success Story

Beyond-the-Lamppost Classes First Writing Success story!

Congratulations go out to Ariffa Hossein Ariffa.2on her writing success. Her short story The Red Chair has just been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul – Think Possible.

See page 32 in the book for Ariffa’s poignant short story. Well done, Ariffa and we wish you all the best.

 

How to Achieve Writing Success in Your Stories

It may not seem like it, but there is a well-documented route to writing success: hard work.

When you read a story that draws you in, it seems like such a simple act. What the reader does not know (and should not know) is the time, effort and grunt work that has been put into crafting the piece. Just like an Olympic gymnast makes a back walk-over look easy, a good writer makes their story seem effortless. And that’s the way it should be.

But writing a story doesn’t come easy for most of us. We agonize over the right word; we worry about whether our characters are alive and vibrant; whether our plots and sub-plots make sense and most important of all – whether the story is interesting at all.

But that’s only one part of the equation. The other part is even harder. It’s about Writing a query and a synopsis,equation researching literary agents to find out who would be the best fit for our novel and finally the excruciating pain of waiting to hear from those agents we have sent our souls to.

Many writers fall off the creative path around this time simply because it becomes too difficult to accept rejection. Most agents phrase their rejections in a kind way. Here’s one rejection I received from one of the first middle grade novels I submitted. In hindsight, and after reading the work a couple of years later, I was appalled at my first chapter and how unpolished it seems now.

Dear Ms. Bell:

Thank you for your recent submission. We appreciate your interest in ___________________ Publishing.

It is obvious you have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into this project. Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we do not feel that we could be successful with your work. Please know that sometimes we must pass on well written, marketable projects simply because they do not suit our lists.

 Thank you again for sharing your submission with us, and we wish you the best of luck in placing your work elsewhere.

With best wishes,

Achieving writing success is not about being the best writer or writing the most interesting story of all time. Of course, these factors must be there  – and if you can’t write … well, your chances of being published are probably not very good. But there is one component that successful writers have that stands them in good stead and that is stick-to-it-ness.

What is your formula for writing success?

******

2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-the-Lamppost begin:

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript